Same old FA Cup story for sorry QPR - Report
Sunday, 7th Jan 2018 19:03 by Clive Whittingham
Another year, another embarrassing early FA Cup exit for QPR, this time at the hands of lowly League One outfit MK Dons at Loftus Road.
A strong team selected, a dominant performance, 19 shots on goal, one awful mistake, one conceded – whatever they try, Queens Park Rangers just can’t make their FA Cup numbers add up. It’s now 21 years since they won a tie outright, and 22 years since they did so in the Third Round. Their 48 exits at this stage of the competition now the country’s joint worst record with Plymouth.
Ian Holloway must wonder what he’s got to do having lost seven of his last eight Third Round ties. He resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes to his side, replacing just the tiring Massimo Luongo with youngster Ilias Chair from last week’s win against Cardiff City, with an eye on building confidence and momentum ahead of next week’s important league game at Burton.
But it was two of QPR’s more reliable senior players who contrived to present League One MK Dons with the only goal of the game after an hour – Grant Hall overhitting a pass, Josh Scowen racing to keep it from going for a throw only to turn it into the path of MK’s best player Ousseynou Cisse who accelerated into the penalty box and curled the ball beyond Alex Smithies. As a result, Rangers have neither the rest, nor the confidence. It was second only to a replay in Milton Keynes a week on Tuesday in the worst case scenarios.
It was a defeat made all the more galling not only because of who the opposition are, and their lowly position in League One, but also because they didn’t seem to have turned up with much ambition to win the game. They ended with two players booked for time wasting, including the main culprit goalkeeper Lee Nicholls, and referee James Linington ended up playing eight minutes of stoppage time to account for the flagrant clock running. But that had begun in the first half, with the score at 0-0. Despite QPR’s record in this competition, MK it seemed had come for a replay only to be handed a victory on a plate.
QPR couldn’t really complain too loudly given their insipid first half efforts, which involved a lot of sideways and backwards passing and far too much hoofing the ball up towards Matt Smith. Engaging in that route one nonsense again made almost as little sense against a particularly big and physical League One side as it had done at Millwall last week.
Nevertheless, they did have the better of the possession and chances. Smith and last week’s over-exposed hero Paul Smyth got in each other’s way and made a bit of a emss of a good Luke Freeman through ball on the quarter hour, then Freeman himself fired a free kick into the wall and volleyed the rebound wide. On the half hour what looked like a pretty obvious penalty for a blatant push on Chair just as he jumped for a header in the area was waved away by Linington. Chair was just off target with a shot from a partially cleared corner right on half time. I like him, he’s tidy, but he needs to add some thrust and incision moving forwards to that as he gets more game time under his belt.
But Rangers had been very laboured. Too slow, no tempo, easy to play against, easy to defend against. Robbie Muirhead had a shot deflected onto the post in the sixteenth minute after Freeman, the only one who was driving forward with any purpose, got a pass wrong and caused a counter against his team. Alex Smithies caused a moment of scramble and panic by coming for a free kick on the half hour and not getting there. The warning signs were there, QPR weren’t playing well enough, and as ever the reserve-game style atmosphere caused by having two thirds of the ground closed for these games really didn’t help.
Holloway replaced Jordan Cousins, who I thought played quite well wide right against Cardiff when nobody else did, at half time with Pawel Wszolek which at least added a little width and attacking intent from right wing back. QPR still really struggle with that element of their system this season. They’d already lost Alex Baptiste to injury early doors after an obvious foul on him at a fourth minute MK corner forced his exit – Grant Hall came on to replace him.
With two changes made and attacking the Loft End, Rangers did at least start looking something a bit more like it. Scowen, who’s starting to look a bit leggy for me since an excellent first half at Birmingham, showed a good burst of energy and purpose to power through the MK team straight after half time and draw a save from Nicholls. Joe Walsh made a mess of the resulting corner causing a second which Scowen volleyed across goal and Jack Robinson turned over. A better move three minutes later ended with Wszolek crossing for Smith (hold the front page) but his header was saved by Nicholls who’d positioned himself well.
And then the goal came. Out of the blue, against the run of play, entirely of QPR’s own making. Fair play, though, to the scorer, a throw back to the era before Demebele’s were trendy and everybody had a Cisse in their team. Measuring approximately eight feet tall it might have been worth checking whether MK had planning permission to erect the Malian in the middle of their midfield for this one – the free transfer from Tours played really well for his team and finished a deserved goal beautifully.
Chair was immediately removed for the returned Ebere Eze, back from a successful loan at Wycombe. It seemed the headlines were all written for him when he skipped past two players on the edge of the box with his very first touch of the ball and unloaded a shot that looked goalbound before striking a defender. One can only imagine the hype and reaction had that gone in, at the end of a week where I’ve seen Paul Smyth’s teeth more than my own. I thought he looked okay, but even this game against a League One side in a half full stadium seemed to be a noticeable step up in pace from what he’s been playing at before – or maybe that’s just his languid style.
Smyth, meanwhile, much quieter here than he had been against Cardiff – as you would expect of a kid learning the ropes of professional football. Downplay. Always downplay. We never learn. That said, he did brilliantly win the ball back, get to the byline and cut a cross back that caused a huge scramble and saw Freeman have a shot cleared from the line in the sixty fourth minute.
It was pretty obvious how the final half hour was going to pan out. If you thought MK lacked ambition before they scored, they basically abandoned the QPR half of the field altogether after they’d taken the lead. Rangers may as well have shoved Alex Smithies up front for all he had to do at the School End. The time wasting was as bad as I can remember, and MK players were routinely dropping to the floor with phantom injuries demanding the game was stopped. After Freeman brilliantly tricked his way past McGrandles and headed for goal the MK man cynically grabbed his shirt with two hands and hauled him back to the point that Freeman was actually dragging him along. When the QPR man reacted angrily, McGrandles flung himself to the floor clutching his face trying to get Freeman sent off. Both players were booked.
Could QPR relieve the frustration with a goal? Well, no. And nor did they ever really look that likely to. Smith headed over a decent Jake Bidwell cross, then forced a good save from Nicholls with another header from a Smyth cross after great work by Robinson, and finally the keeper got lucky with another save that just hit him off yet another Smith effort. Freeman had a shot deflected just wide.
Of course it did reach a point where you didn’t actually want Rangers to score. The thought of trudging up to bloody Bletchley next Tuesday in the freezing cold, walking across various central reservations and duel carriageways in the dark, to sit in a completely empty, totally silent, bowl next to a big Asda and an Ikea to watch another 90 minutes of this was about as appealing as an episode of Piers Morgan’s Life Stories. Clearly Luke Freeman felt the same, because when Rangers were awarded a beautifully positioned free kick right on the edge of the area slightly right of centre in the eighth of seven added minutes at the end of the game he very carefully placed it four yards over the bar, into the Lower Loft and the final whistle sounded immediately afterwards.
I was impressed with the team selection. For too long we’ve just tossed this game away, throwing together a team that has never played together before and never will again, offering absolutely no opportunity to the players involved to really show anything and further harming our chances in the league by damaging confidence, derailing momentum and winding supporters up. We’ve won only four of 16 games immediately following FA Cup ties in recent years, which shows that all the resting of players and all the rank humiliations we’ve suffered as a result have been for almost zero gain. That cannot be the case at Burton next week.
The team should have been plenty good enough to beat MK and on another day, without the mistake, without the mixture of good goalkeeping and good luck from Nicholls it would have been. But QPR weren’t very good truth be told and in the end the only positive you could take from the day was that it at least wasn’t one of those thrashings like the 3-0 loss to Shef Utd, or the 4-2 we suffered against this same opposition previously. Rangers were way off the pace in the first half, sucker punched and not clinical enough in front of goal in the second.
Again, as at Millwall, trailing in a game against a team that has surrendered all its attacking intent, we were going too long, too early to Smith. The best moments came when Wszolek, Bidwell, Freeman and Smyth crossed for Smith, and we have to find a way to stretch teams widthways so much better than we do at the moment when in those situations in future.
A future that, once again, doesn’t include involvement in the FA Cup. With Bristol City losing as well Rangers don’t even get their traditional rest day when everybody else is playing the fourth round.
It never rains…
QPR: Smithies 6; Baptiste – (Hall 11, 5), Onuoha 5, Robinson 6; Cousins 5 (Wszolek 46, 6), Bidwell 6; Scowen 5, Chair 6 (Eze 61, 6), Freeman 6; Smith 5, Smyth 5
Subs not used: Lynch, Lumley, Oseyi-Samuel, Oteh
Yellow Cards: Freeman 71 (retaliation)
MK Dons: Nicholls 7; Williams 6, Walsh 6, Wootton 6, Brittain 6 (Ebanks-Landell 80, -); Cisse 8, McGrandles 6, Upson 7, Muirhead 6 (Agard 77, 6); Aneke 6, Ugbo 6 (Thomas-Asante 90+1, -)
Subs not used: Sietsma, Seagar, Nombe, Kasumu
Goals: Cisse 60 (unassisted)
Yellow cards: Muirhead 66 (foul), McGrandles 71 (foul), Wootton 87 (time wasting), Nicholls 90+2 (time wasting)
QPR Star Man – Luke Freeman 6 Well if you’re one of those compulsive types who just has to have a star man awarded then I don’t know… errr….. Freeman.
Referee – James Linington (Isle of Wight) 6 A referee QPR have never lost a league game with but have twice now suffered cup defeats against lower league opposition with him in the middle. I thought he could have carded more, earlier, for the most blatant and flagrant time wasting I can ever recall seeing in a game, which started early in the first half with the score at 0-0. By the time he did book a couple, the job had been done, and he even delayed a throw in further to write down Wootton’s name. All that said, it was refreshing and unusual to see an official actually add a decent chunk of stoppage time (eight in the end) for time wasting – usually it goes on all half and they just add the usual four or five minutes, so good for him on that front. Should have been a penalty on Chair in the first half.
Attendance – 6,314 (1,800 MK Dons approx) Don’t mock the afflicted.
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