Roofe on fire as QPR’s struggles continue – Report
Monday, 11th Dec 2017 09:33 by Clive Whittingham
Kemar Roofe scored a hat trick for Leeds as QPR slipped to another defeat at Loftus Road on Saturday – now six without a win for the beleaguered R’s once again.
Dispiriting, demoralising, depressing.
Another defeat, a fifth in sixth matches and twenty eighth from Ian Holloway’s 54 game second spell, has Queens Park Rangers descending the Championship table so fast they’re starting to whistle through the air. A game at Birmingham City next week, where Rangers last won away from home 17 games ago back in February, has the look of a relegation six-pointer. It is a matter of mere weeks since Rangers beat the top two in the league to move within four points of the play offs.
It is strength-sapping and soul-destroying, something you could clearly see on the faces and in the body language of the players when Leeds’ Kemar Roofe rose to head a soft opener down at the School End after an hour of Saturday’s match with the Yorkshire side. A running jump on stationary defenders, a keeper stuck on his line for a cross no more than five yards out, it felt like an easy goal to score and a soft one to concede. Heads dropped immediately and within two minutes, after a string of dangerous Leeds corners, it was 2-0 – same player, similar distance, with his right foot this time.
QPR had been ok before that. In the game and playing some reasonable stuff. Conor Washington had one shot blocked, another volley wide, and was then annoyingly in an offside position interrupting a move that ended with Massimo Luongo zinging one into the top corner. Matt Smith, starting up front alongside the former Peterborough man, headed over a Jake Bidwell cross against the team he used to play for. The move of the match, from back to front, through a string of first time passes, ended with Luke Freeman toeing over Pawel Wszolek’s intelligent cut back.
But Leeds’ keeper Felix Wiedwald hadn’t had a serious shot to save by the time his team surged into a quick-fire two goal lead – criminal, given how accident prone the German stopper is and how little it takes to beat him as we’d find out in injury time. And they could have been in front early when Nedum Onuoha, rushed back from a hamstring injury and playing basically on one leg, made a mess of a pass pack and Alex Smithies had his clearance charged down. Smithies later palmed a dangerous cross behind and Rangers were then fortunate not to be reduced to ten men in the first half of a game for the second time in a week when Josh Scowen hacked into Roofe tight to the touchline. Referee Chris Kavanagh, kindly, opted for a yellow, and afforded the same benefit of the doubt to Giles Phillips when he went in late on Luongo moments later.
In the end it was Leeds’ extra quality and talent at the top end of the pitch that won the day. Once the basic and easily marked Caleb Ekuban had gone off injured – more of a blow to QPR than his own team – and Roofe had moved into the lone striker role things began to click for them. Saiz, a summer signing from Spain, was the wonderfully effective best player on the pitch behind him and would have scored before half time but for a terrific recovery tackle from the wrong side of his man by Jake Bidwell. Leeds deserved their win, a sixth on the road already this season compared to QPR’s zero.
Which brings us back to exactly what QPR can do about all of this. Even the £3m it cost Leeds to bring Roofe in from Oxford is probably beyond Rangers’ means these days – and Leeds fans had been writing the former West Brom academy graduate off as their own version of Conor Washington prior to Saturday. Holloway said afterwards he’d “hardly seen him” despite the three goals – quite what relevance that had to anything I’m not sure. How you add the sort of quality of Saiz within QPR’s budget and in the current transfer market is a problem that isn’t going away, regardless of who the manager or director of football is.
Rangers still nearly staged another late rally. They’ve come from two down to draw with Millwall and Brentford at Loftus Road this season and when Wiedwald inexplicably allowed Pawel Wszolek’s hopeful long punt to bounce up and over him in the final minute of normal time the deficit was halved – the first goal awarded using the new goalline technology at Loftus Road. Wszolek’s reasonable return to the side and form a positive on a bleak day.
Soon substitute Idrissa Sylla was in with a clear sight of goal and another remarkable comeback looked on but the keeper redeemed himself with a fine save one on one. When Massimo Luongo got his choice wrong in the next attack Saiz broke and Roofe was able to complete his hat trick on the counter with Smithies and Bidwell’s efforts to prevent him looking tired, and Matt Smith’s brave length of the field charge back to try and get a tackle in all for nothing.
More fans had stayed to see it than you’d expect, stung by missing the Brentford recovery and Holloway’s subsequent lambast perhaps, but the atmosphere all afternoon was odd – almost completely silent for almost the entire match. The biggest cheer of the afternoon came when it was announced the drinks service had been suspended prior to half time in the away end and the overall feel of the place was of a forlorn, cold, fed up group of the club’s die-hard support sitting quietly and waiting for the inevitable.
The question is exactly how this is going to get any better any time soon. To listen to some you’d think the answer was obvious, the solution clear, and the results will be immediate when it happens – sack Ian Holloway, replace him with a presumably better manager who wants to come to QPR with no money to spend for some reason, and everything will be rosy in the garden again. I just don’t see it. I don’t see it because I don’t think anybody any good would want to come here, I don’t think our record suggests we’d find them and appoint them even if they did, and I don’t think a lot of the problems afflicting Ian Holloway – budget, FFP, injuries, cost of strikers – would change very much for whoever else we might get to have a go.
However, as during the run of defeats in April, which eventually stretched to seven from eight, some of the things Holloway is doing are infuriating. The lack of width, the lack of crosses, with seven wingers in the squad and two strikers that thrive on good service from wide areas, is grinding my gears down to a fine powder. To introduce Bright Samuel here in the manner we did – first through an already crowded middle, and then as some sort of makeshift left back – was as unfair on him as David Wheeler’s recent start as a lone striker at Derby was on the other new arrival. Both Wheeler and Samuel are being given precious little opportunity to perform, selected completely at random after weeks of inaction, often for very short periods of time, almost always out of position.
I still haven’t quite got over Kazenga LuaLua being lambasted in the press on Sunday, picked from the bench on Monday and then sent back to Brighton on Tuesday, like some sort of footballing version of Craig David’s Seven Days. I really like the look of Ilias Chair, he came out of this game with great credit for a tenacious and positive display of technical play and hard work, but to solve the problem of your three best players all being ball-playing central midfielders by throwing a fourth ball-playing central midfielder into the mix, crowding the middle of the park to the point of complete gridlock, again seems bizarre to me. Get it wide, get to the byline, get some crosses in – it’s one of the few things we do have the players for.
While I do think we’d benefit from a bit of simplification and consistency in the team selection I also think it’s like everything else that gets suggested. A change of formation, the selection of wingers, a more astute and tactically aware assistant for Holloway, less maniacal team selections, a different manager altogether – everybody talks about all of these things like we’re just one quick fix away, like we’re a great team waiting to happen. Some of it would help in my opinion, but this is a team and club with problems that will not be solved overnight. A year ago we were talking about Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink being too defensive, not playing wide players, picking Karl Henry too much, and if only somebody came and “let them off the leash a bit” we’d be off and away. Result – another midseason change of manager, another change of tack, another big long run of defeats.
For me the answer lies next summer when a host of players, including the biggest earners, are out of contract. That could bring an end to our own period of austerity, create wiggle room in the transfer market, get the wage bill to where it needs to be, and we can give next season a go with our final parachute payment. We’ve just got to crawl through what was always going to be a horribly tough season and get there still a Championship club.
Whether we’ll manage that or not is starting to look increasingly doubtful, but anybody looking for a quick fix or massive improvement this season, with the cards dealt as they are, is going to end up disappointed.
QPR: Smithies 6; Wszolek 6, Onuoha 6, Robinson 6, Bidwell 6 (Sylla 71, 5); Scowen 6 (Hall 78, 6), Freeman 6, Luongo 6, Chair 6 (Osayi-Samuel 64, 5); Washington 5, Smith 6
Subs not used: Cousins, Manning, Lumley, Wheeler
Goals: Wszolek 89 (unassisted)
Bookings: Scowen 20 (foul), Luongo 55 (foul)
Leeds: Weidwald 5; Ayling 6, Jansson 7, Cooper 7, Beradi 6; Vieira 7 (Pennington 80, -), Phillips 7; Alioski 7 (O’Kane 70, 6), Saiz 8, Roofe 8; Ekuban 5 (Cibicki 38, 6)
Subs not used: Lonergan, Borthwick-Jackson, Anita, Shaughnessy
Goals: Roofe 63 (assisted Alioski), 64 (assisted Cibicki), 90+4 (assisted Saiz)
Bookings: Phillips 29 (foul), Vieira 56 (foul), Alioski 60 (dissent)
QPR Star Man – Jack Robinson 6 Precious few candidates for this, O thought Robinson played and defended pretty well and is one of the few bright spots from the season so far so, meh, give it to him.
Referee – Chris Kavanagh (Manchester) 8 Very decent, nothing major wrong, gave Phillips and particularly Scowen the benefit of the doubt for bad tackles in the first half.
Attendance – 15,506 (2,800 Leeds approx) As said, noticeable how many people stayed to the end when 2-0 down, comparative to Brentford, but Ian Holloway’s praise of the fans for helping the team was transparent. For almost the entire game the whole crowd sat there in a glum silence, waiting for what felt like the inevitable. Bar the cheers for the alcohol withdrawal from the away end this was as quiet as I can ever recall the place.
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