QPR attack misfires in Ipswich stalemate - Report
Thursday, 28th Dec 2017 11:55 by Clive Whittingham
A rare clean sheet couldn't bring a second consecutive away win for QPR at Ipswich on Boxing Day as the R's attack misfired once again.
Queens Park Rangers’ main problem through the first half of 2017/18 has been injuries to their defenders. In this first match of the second half of the season, the first return fixture of the campaign., they kept just their fourth clean sheet so far, just the seventh since Ian Holloway returned as manager some 55 league games ago.
With Nedum Onuoha back, Jack Robinson discovered as a far better option to turnstile Joel Lynch (enjoying his annual Christmas sabbatical), Alex Baptiste holding his own and Grant Hall no longer laid up that crisis has eased and with it has come five points, with just two goals conceded – one from an uncharacteristic mistake from goalkeeper Alex Smithies, the other from a diabolical penalty decision in the home game with Bristol City.
Attention, concern and criticism will now revert back to what everybody anticipated would be the key issue when the season started – Rangers’ sub standard forward line. A boatload of chances missed, a golden opportunity to register just a second away win of the season passed up and an amateur standard of decision making, final ball and finishing in the last third of the pitch at Ipswich on Boxing Day brought it back into sharp focus.
Rangers, as they had been for the first half at Birmingham and first hour against Bristol City, were pretty decent by their admittedly low standards. They looked a little open at the back to begin with and needed Alex Smithies to continue his flying form from the Bristol game with a smart save from David McGoldrick after five minutes. The Ipswich forward later curled just wide of the top corner with the keeper beaten, and Smithies was lucky to escape in first half injury time when the hosts nearly beat him at his near post direct from a corner – the former Huddersfield stopper subsequently chucked himself left to make his save of the game from Callum Connolly in stoppage time and keep it scoreless at half time.
But Ipswich were pretty poor. They’d ostensibly started with four strikers – Martyn Waghorn, Joe Garner, McGoldrick and Freddie Sears – but lacked craft to supply them and missed the central midfield presence usually supplied by Cole Skuse. QPR survived their early and late scares to have the better of the middle period in the first half.
Idrissa Sylla, starting up front with Luke Freeman playing off him, drew Town keeper Bialkowski after seven minutes but was forced wide, then forced a save but was flagged offside, and later missed the target with an outlandish scissor kick attempt. Freeman, excellent throughout, would have had Masimo Luongo through on goal after 14 minutes but for a big block tackle, then did find Jake Bidwell at the back post with a twenty-third-minute free kick only for Bialkowski to save under his cross bar. Baptiste headed the resulting corner straight at the keeper. Several times the ball whistled right through the goal mouth with nobody on hand to apply a finishing touch.
That pattern would continue during a second half so frustrating it almost had me pining for the 90 minutes of Call the Fucking Midwife I’d had to suffer the day before. Over and over and over and over again QPR broke well from midfield, crossed the halfway line with numbers in hand, accelerated towards the penalty area and then either made the wrong decision, made the wrong run, or created the chance and missed it regardless. Freeman and Pawel Wszolek were gifted particular space and time in possession in dangerous areas but Sylla twice took fresh air shots at low crosses from the right side.
When Massimo Luongo brilliantly won the ball back on the touchline with a ball-and-all tackle he had acres of space in front of him to advance into the penalty area but then having done so he panicked, got caught between several options, and ended up delaying the shot so long it was blocked. Despite his big improvements this season, and the breaking of his goalscoring duck against Rotherham and Millwall during 2017, the sight of the posts still seems to terrify the Australian.
The advancement of Freeman had created space for this week's surprise witness (each more surprising than the last) Jordan Cousins in midfield, and hopefully soon Ryan Manning, and it was the former Charlton man who freed Wszolek to cross for the worst of Sylla’s misses. Cousins looked decent, and athletic, but QPR were chronically short of pace going forwards. Freeman is many things, and he was the best player on the pitch here by a street, but quick isn’t one of them. When Holloway’s patience snapped with Sylla he sent Matt Smith on which cured none of the issues that existed before – he was in for a tap in when Wszolek broke over halfway unattended yet again but this time Jonas Knudsen got in a lifesaving last-ditch tackle on the Pole just as he was squaring it for what would have been a winner.
You can’t afford to be passing up opportunities at this rate and expect to still win games – particularly as an away team, particularly with QPR’s record away from home, particularly with Rangers’ lack of clean sheets. In the last ten minutes you started to wonder whether it would be a repeat of Boxing Day here two years ago when Town won with the last kick, or Preston away more recently, or countless other occasions when the R’s have given a creditable account of themselves, not made it count, and then been sucker punched.
The Ipswich fans, silent throughout, suddenly broke out into a huge ironic cheer as Mick McCarthy finally surrendered the sort of ideals that made Grimley Miners’ Welfare such a dominant force in the Yorkshire and District Hoof and Hope Division 4 back in 1981/82 and let Manchester City’s young, talented and foreign Bersant Celina have a go for the final eight minutes off the bench – replacing Freddie Sears, whose name on the team sheet is the only indication that he took any part in this game whatsoever. Celina had scored a brilliant goal at Loftus Road in Setember, again only after being sent on late as a sub, and he had the chance to do so again here with time ticking down.
Josh Scowen had been harshly booked for kicking the ball away – at 0-0, after 18 minutes, not exactly prime time-wasting territory – in the first half by referee Andy Davies, a man who looked heartily pissed with being asked to work on Boxing Day and determined to take it out on everybody else who was there for enjoyment with a maddeningly inconsistent and pedantic performance. Scowen had committed two fouls since then and been warned severely after a third when Ipswich finally put a move together that would have had David McGoldrick through for a winner had the self-styled ‘little rat’ not taken one for the team and hauled him back. Free kick awarded, second yellow card rightly administered, Scowen was off and Ipswich had a chance to win the game from 20 yards against ten men. Celina beat the wall, and Smithies, but missed the top corner.
By now Bright Osayi-Samuel had been introduced alongside Smith. Too late for my money, just as his withdrawal against Bristol City came too early. With his pace in attack, it was actually still QPR pressing for the winner despite the numerical disadvantage.
Freeman broke again with a minute of normal time remaining, Smith and Samuel both made the same run narrowing the angle, Freeman got caught in two minds in the area and miscontrolled it, Smith made a mess of trying to retrieve it. Another opportunity gone. Then Wszolek crossed towards Smith sparking a big handball appeal, mainly from the QPR bench, against the excellent Dominc Iorfa (not that one) as he lost his footing in front of Smith.
It was painful stuff. It would all have been forgotten had Smith’s immaculate control, flick over the defender, and first time Tony Yeboah-style volley from long range found the top corner, but he seemed to be concentrating too much on keeping the shot down and getting his knee over the ball than really hitting it and Bialkoski saved reasonably comfortably. A once-in-a-lifetime, goal-of-the-season moment lost to overthinking. The final whistle followed soon after.
How you solve this problem with QPR’s blunt attack isn’t easy. Those who rant on like it is often retreat back to solutions that would require a time machine – if we hadn’t bought Conor Washington that money could have been used, if we hadn’t bought Sean Goss, Bright Samuel, David Wheeler, Ariel Borysiuk and Yeni Ngbakoto that might add up to enough for a striker. It wouldn’t in the current market, even if you were in possession of a Delorean and a flux capacitor.
As we’ve said so many times, the perfect storm of QPR being on their FFP limit and teams clubs like Newcastle and Aston Villa coming into the Championship massively inflating the market for strikers is screwing us. Even if you could cobble together £2m-£3m (which QPR can’t) you’d only be taking another punt on another League One player like Washington, which may or may not work out. We often cite Ashley Fletcher costing Middlesbrough £6.5m from West Ham during the summer despite only making 47 senior starts and scoring nine goals (eight on loan at League One Barnsley) as an extreme example of what QPR are up against – for that investment Middlesbrough have had in return five starts, 12 sub appearances and two goals.
“Get a loan in” doesn’t really wash either. Sam Gallagher, decent young striker at this level but relegated in the last two seasons on loan at MK Dons and Blackburn, could be about to go down for a third time at Birmingham who paid £1.2m to borrow him from Southampton, plus all of his £10,000 a week wage at his parent club, plus a further £8,000 a week on top of that themselves, plus a £200,000 agent fee - £43,000 a week for the season to borrow a player for nine months. He’s scored three times this season. That’s the market we’re in, and we’re right on the cusp of breaching FFP again.
I’d like to see more game time for Osayi-Samuel. If we’ve got nothing else we could at least frighten opposition defences with a bit of pace – a big problem at Ipswich on Boxing Day. And I’d like to see us try things for a bit longer – the former Blackpool man started once at Barnsley in September and was hooked at half time, then for an hour at Bristol City before being withdrawn (Holloway says he had cramp, not surprised given how little he plays) and then he was back on the bench here. Sylla and Freeman was the eighth different striking combination we’ve played in nine games. I appreciate we’re trying to find something that works, and that to a certain extent it’s shuffling deckchairs on the Titanic, but it wouldn’t hurt to give something three or four games up there to bed in would it? Rather than trying something, changing it after an hour, then picking something different the next game.
But, fundamentally, there are no easy answers. A clickbait story that we might try and tempt Peterborough into letting us have their latest prolific striker Jack Marriott in exchange for Washington and some cash would be a creative way to try and solve it, but it doesn’t sound like the kind of deal a shrewd operator like Darragh MacAnthony, who funds his club through big cash sales of promising players, would go for, nor something Washington would be that keen on. And even if it was true, it’s still taking a risk on another League One striker stepping up.
Tough one. And, on Boxing Day, a real shame, because QPR deserved to win and were one decent striker away from doing so.
Ipswich: Bialkoski 7; Iorfa 7, Chambers 6, Webster 6, Knudsen 7; Bishop 5 (Ward 42, 5), Connolly 6, Waghorn 6, Sears 5 (Celina 84, -); McGoldrick 6, Garner 6
Subs not used: Smith, Spence, Crowe, Kenlock, McDonnell
Bookings: Knudsen 24 (foul)
QPR: Smithies 7; Baptiste 6, Onuoha 6, Robinson 6; Wszolek 6, Bidwell 6; Scowen 6, Luongo 6, Cousins 6 (Osayi-Sauel 82, -); Freeman 8, Sylla 5 (Smith 80, 5)
Subs not used: Furlong, Hall, Lumley, Chair
Red Cards: Scowen 88 (two yellows)
Bookings: Scowen 18 (kicking ball away), Scowen 88 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Luke Freeman 8 Best player on the pitch. So good in tight spaces, so dynamic and creative on the ball. Dithered when in shooting positions though, and was often let down by the movement of those ahead of him.
Referee – Andy Davies (Hampshire) 5 Bit of a pain in the arse really. Pedantic and picky over minor offences, then waved away other stuff that obviously should have been given, often in the same passage of play. Sending off was correct, although whether a yellow card for kicking the ball away when it’s 0-0 after 18 minutes is really appropriate I’m not sure.
Attendance – 18,696 (703 QPR) As usual, lovely ground but almost completely silent for the whole match. There’s been a notably more supportive and less hostile atmosphere at the last three QPR games – Birmingham, Bristol City and now here. Not sure what’s causing that other than the support being boiled right back down to the die hards.
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