A win away – Report
Sunday, 14th Jan 2018 22:22 by Clive Whittingham
QPR secured a second away win of the season, and scored three goals in a game for the first time this campaign, with a 3-1 success at struggling Burton on Saturday.
Queens Park Rangers’ best winter since 2007/08 garnered another three points, and a second away win in four road trips, with an oddly professional display at Burton Albion on Saturday. For all the panic and fretting, Rangers are almost as close to the play-offs (ten points) as they are to the relegation zone (nine).
That was reflected in a travelling crowd in excess of 1,000, who took more than fair advantage of the warm hospitality on offer in a genuinely friendly town where every second building is a pub, a brewery, or a combination of both and the streets are interwoven with steel pipes carrying alcohol and a distinctive smell hangs in the air.
Burton look like a team destined for relegation, and if that proves to be the case then the town, the people, the club and the welcome we receive there will be a sad loss from our Championship calendar (assuming we don’t go with them). It was an awayday like few others - a brilliant place, happy to receive us, pubs with signs outside actively coaxing away fans in. Such a welcome difference from a fortnight ago at Millwall, where we were criminalised and caged simply for turning up to support our team.
Despite QPR’s struggles, the size of the following, and the alcohol intake, the away end remained supportive throughout. From the coke-fuelled aggression, in-fighting and abuse of our own players that came with QPR’s lamentable approach to the Premier League and the scumbag hangers on who came to watch it, and then the borderline vitriol that poured forth during the reigns of Chris Ramsey and Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink, we seem to have boiled ourselves back down to a good lot. The hardcore, who by-and-large understand the situation, and just want to enjoy the day and support their team. That isn’t reflected online, but as always it’s the people who attend the least who have the strongest views there.
The remaining congregation’s reward on Saturday - apart from the beer, and the pork pies, and the Scotch eggs - was a win. An away win. QPR’s second of the season, and their first in more than a calendar year that wasn’t at Birmingham City. Maybe it was the sight of St Andrew’s from the train on our circuitous route to this corner of Staffordshire what won it. It was also the first time QPR had scored more than two in a game all season, the first time since a 5-1 shellacking of an inept Rotherham team at the end of last season. A vital win, on a day when nobody below us in the table took three points from their games. Rangers, usually Christmas depressives, have taken 11 points from six league games, including three victories, since December 16.
Not that the win, the three goals, or the performance here was really anything to write home about.
Burton, with their shape, and their plan, and their physicality, are a team QPR have struggled against in recent times, failing to win a single game in five competitive meetings and one friendly. But they looked utterly bereft here, on a run of eight defeats and a 0-0 draw from nine home matches since their last win in this tiny, tidy new ground back in September against Fulham. Three consecutive away wins to play themselves back into survival contention had apparently done little for Nigel Clough’s Brewers, who looked like a laboured and basic League One side from the first minute when Aramide Oteh – a muscular 19-year-old full debutant from Lee in South East London – used a deft touch and fine turn to burst through on goal but then lifted a seemingly easy finish over Stephen Bywater’s bar.
QPR were much the better of the two teams, with Josh Scowen, and particularly Luke Freeman and Massimo Luongo, the best footballers on the pitch. But this was a desperately low quality Championship fixture, easily mistaken for a game from a much lower level, featuring long periods of spirit-sapping boredom and battery. QPR’s Christmas suggests a corner being turned, but it’s a long sweeping bend if it is happening, not a sharp apex, despite three goals on the road. The win, the goals, the result, really the minimum requirement from the way the match played out.
The R’s benefitted massively from the long-overdue inclusion of Darnell Furlong at right wing back, after months of Jordan Cousins trying his best but floundering in an unfamiliar position, and Pawel Wszolek being too far back to utilise his decent final ball to proper effect. Furlong is a natural wing back. Pace and athleticism of youth, attacking instincts of his father and a junior career spent in more advanced positions, defensive soundness that needs work but is still better than a central midfielder playing there out of position, and most crucially tremendous leap and aerial ability. The ‘out’ ball for Alex Smithies and co was over used in the end, such was his propensity to get above his man and win headers for balls lofted wide right, but its most effective use brought QPR the opening goal just after the half hour.
QPR had seen a shot from Freeman blocked and a follow up from the recalled Conor Washington saved at a narrow angle by Bywater, as well as the Oteh miss and a decent one on one save by Alex Smithies underneath perennial scourge of the Rangers Lloyd Dyer, before taking the lead. Washington ran the left channel and returned the ball to Scowen who lofted it up towards the far post where Furlong came steaming in over the top of his man, with a leap Les Ferdinand would have been proud of, to head the ball into an area it was difficult to miss from. Oteh wasn’t going to turn down a second gilt edged chance to get his first professional goal from that sort of range. The senior players celebrated with him as one.
It was the second time in as many league games that a striker from the club’s youth set up had scored a crucial goal for the senior team on his full debut. Contrast that with the comments underneath the club’s announcement that a necessary trimming of a bloated squad had seen Reece Grego-Cox and Michael Petrasso – two twenty-somethings nowhere near the first team picture – released on Friday and you have to wonder whether some people have become so entrenched in their views about QPR and the people running the gaff that they’ve ceased to really be QPR fans at all.
Rangers are, however, always prone to moments of rank stupidity, and having toiled so long and hard for the lead they gave it up straight from the kick off with a goal from Dyer of such defensive calamity that none of Alex Smithies, Darnell Furlong, Joel Lynch or particularly Nedum Onuoha – too busy appealing for a free kick for a foul that never was by Lucas Atkins – escape without blame. We are still, on occasions, the dimmest fucking bulb in the showroom. This was calamitous.
Which had you wondering whether this would be another one of those typical days away with the R’s. Charity Park Rangers, riding in on a sleigh, bearing gifts for the destitute club without a home win in four months and ten attempts. The first goal of the second half was likely to be crucial in this, and had Big Ben Turner’s powerful header from the first corner after the break gone in, rather than being headed over his own bar by the excellent Massimo Luongo, then we’d be telling a different story today.
QPR appealed for handball in the area by Turner when he fell over and seemed to trap the ball with his arms, but then wasted a succession of set piece opportunities they were awarded by referee Steve Martin who controlled the contest with calm authority. While Burton’s physical dominance understandably made Freeman reluctant to just throw set pieces straight into the mixer, watching some of the alternatives we came up with were like being forced to listen to Heart FM on a loop.
When Freeman played one short with little effect but got away with a corner Rangers then spent three passes working the ball back to the exact spot they’d previously had a free kick from only to then waste the fourth pass under pressure. A later one, too clever for its own good, that attempted to get Oteh into the channel to the right of the wall, unravelled predictably. I love Freeman, and his 1950s shorts, and his waddle, but we’re not good enough to be over complicating free chances to deliver quality into the box. Stop waving it around and start fucking.
In open play, however, Freeman was an absolute cut above. He’d already been involved in a move that ended with Washington beating Bywatwer with a low shot that hit the inside of the post, flew through the goal mouth and stayed out, when he set up a crucial second for the former Peterborough man. Rangers had removed Oteh for Matt Smith moments before, promoting one fan to come rampaging into the toilets ranting about the “stupid cunt taking fucking Oteh off and leaving that prick Washington on”. Presumably he was still down there, still ranting, as I peeped my head over the back of the terrace just in time to see Freeman ride one tackle, swashbuckle forward, and then chip a Jordan Speith-style back spinner into space to tempt Bywater from his line and give Washington a chance to round the keeper and slide into the empty net. Vindication for the manager’s apparently random decision to take him out of the team completely, and then recall him suddenly alongside a youth teamer on debut. Also the decision not to try and go toe to toe with a back three that had physically dominated QPR at Loftus Road, and pick two speedsters instead.
There was some more braindead fuckwittery in the quarter of an hour that remained. Joel Lynch giving the ball away in a bad area, then chasing his man back and hauling him down right on the corner of the penalty box for a dangerous free kick and obvious yellow card chief amongst it. But Burton didn’t look like they believed an equaliser would come, while Rangers were now so confident that big Matt Smith was trying half volleys from the edge of the area – Bywater saved, stifling a laugh. Come on Matt, we’ve all had a drink.
Unusually, Holloway’s team killed things off with a third. Luongo, a rampaging force of nature throughout after a much needed rest against MK Dons the previous week, scored his second of the season with a shot that blindsided Bywater thanks to Smith’s presence right in front of him. That’s offside for me, but Smith, Luongo, and the jubilant terrace (lovely, lovely terrace) behind the goal weren’t interested in a Q and A on the matter. Luongo a different player from the tired shell, hanging out of his own arse, we’d seen at Millwall.
Marc Bircham was particularly jubilant on the pitch afterwards, and then ‘took to social media’ afterwards to fire barbs at critics of him and Ian Holloway. Unhelpful, unprofessional, unnecessary… maybe. But as I’ve written a little bit about recently here and in the programme, there is an aggressive, rabid, frothing element of the QPR support online – many of whom don’t go to away games, or to games at all – for whom everything the club does is “shocking”, “disgusting”, “disgraceful” and so on. Anybody that disagrees is a “happy clapper” or “in the pocket of the club” or “looking after their mates” and so on. It’s nasty, it’s over the top, it’s completely exaggerated, and when it’s coming from other supposed QPR fans it stings.
Bircham should know that one away win against a poor team cures nothing, solves nothing, and is potentially only one week away from another home defeat against Middlesbrough. Having a couple of beers on the bus home and letting rip helps neither him, nor his players, nor the club – in exactly the same way as Ian Holloway’s rant post-Brentford damaged his position. But he’s a human, and a QPR fan, and when other members of the church are persistently piping criticism, abuse and calls for him to lose his job into his phone at all hours of the day and night it must be hard to say nothing, particularly when it does go well. We have to stop doing this to fellow sufferers, there are enough enemies out there without making them of each other.
Thankfully for Bircham, for Holloway, for the basic but hard working team, and for the boisterous and hugely supportive faithful behind the goal, Saturday did go very well indeed. I really hope we're back here next year, in the Championship.
Burton: Bywater 6; McFadzean 5 (Allen 60, 6), Buxton 4, Turner 6; Brayford 6, Flanagan 5; Miller 5 (Sbarra 41, 6), Naylor 6, Murphy 6 (Sordell 80, 6); Dyer 7, Akins 6
Subs not used: Warnock, Akpan, Campbell, Barker
Goals: Dyer 34 (unassisted)
Yellow Cards: Murphy 53 (foul), McFadzean 56 (foul), Buxton 90+1 (deliberate handball)
QPR: Smithies 6; Onuoha 6, Lynch 6, Robinson 6; Furlong 7, Bidwell 6; Scowen 7, Freeman 7 (Manning 89, -), Luongo 8; Washington 7, Oteh 6 (Smith 74, 6)
Subs not used: Ingram, Wszolek, Perch, Eze, Sylla
Goals: Oteh 32 (assisted Furlong), Washington 74 (assisted Freeman), Luongo 86 (assisted Washington)
Yellow Cards: Scowen 66 (foul), Lynch 71 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Massimo Luongo 8 Fantastic, dynamic, dominant performance. Him and Freeman a cut above their opposition. More importantly, a goal. If he can add that to his game he’s going to be drawing big money interest.
Referee – Steve Martin (Staffordshire) 8 Very few complaints, calm refereeing and game well under control. Not a particularly difficult game to referee but this performance was in keeping with most of the refereeing we’ve seen at QPR games this year, which has been excellent.
Attendance – 4,264 (1,100 QPR approx) Now our two fixtures with them are out of the way, and hoping and praying we don’t get sucked into the relegation whirlpool ourselves, I’ll be rooting for Burton to survive again. One of the great awaydays on the calendar, enjoyed in great spirits by a sizeable QPR following that stayed with the team, with brilliant atmosphere on the various trains home afterwards. Bow down, standing ovation, two thumbs up for the staff at Coopers Tavern for the hospitality. And the cheese. Brilliant day.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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