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QPR fightback floors Fulham - Report
Sunday, 18th Mar 2018 19:41 by Clive Whittingham

QPR continued their March resurgence with a 2-2 draw that could easily have been a win at in-form Fulham on Saturday, despite trailing 2-0 just before half time.

If you’d said post Nottingham Forest debacle that QPR would win two and draw two of their next four, playing superbly at times in the process, and get four points from the impending away trips to Aston Villa and Fulham, they’d have carted you off to the same funny farm they should take Ian Holloway’s tailor to.

Yet here we are, eight points later, scoring five goals and dominating long periods of two away games against two of the league’s better teams.

It’s not entirely inexplicable: a change from the much-maligned wing back system to a back four has brought immediate improvements and seen players like Darnell Furlong and Ryan Manning come in from the cold to good effect and Jake Bidwell, Pawel Wszolek and others suddenly start playing their best football of the season. The emergence of youngsters like Ebere Eze and Paul Smyth has added a youthful, skilful, attacking vitality to a team that previously struggled for goals, particularly away from home. But we can’t pretend we saw this coming – LFW predicted 3-0 defeats in both games this week.

Aston Villa had lost a division-low one home game all season prior to Tuesday, had won ten of their previous 12 and had scored 11 goals in winning three in a row before QPR arrived in town. Fulham’s form was even more formidable – no defeats in 16 league games dating back to the start of December, nine consecutive home wins, six consecutive home clean sheets, and recent victories on this ground against promotion chasing Villa, Wolves and Sheff Utd. Their results at Carven Cottage since Christmas read 4-1, 6-0, 2-0, 2-0, 2-0 and 3-0. Having not won any of their first nine home games, Fulham have turned this picturesque corner of South West London into a footballing abattoir, where visiting teams go for a gruesome death. QPR, as we know, had only won two away games all season before this week, and three since the start of 2017, against poor Birmingham and Burton outfits.

Saturday at the Cottage was very different to Tuesday night at Villa Park. During the week Rangers had dominated from start to finish, taking a commanding 2-0 lead and controlling the game from there in front of a couple of hundred of hardy travelling fans. Against Slavisa Jokanovic’s team, and in front of more than 3,000 Rangers fans, they had to come from behind and eventually settle for a draw after initially looking like they were going to go the way of most other Championship clubs that have come here recently.

QPR won at Craven Cottage last term in, frankly, hilarious circumstances – with the hosts missing penalties at the start and very, very end of the game. But their track record on the other side of Hammersmith Broadway is not good, and in recent times they’ve been 3-0 down by half time on three occasions resulting in a 6-0 loss under Neil Warnock and a 4-0 under Chris Ramsey. In an effort to prevent that happening again they focused on defending in big numbers down both flanks – Pawel Wszolek and Jake Bidwell charged with keeping an eye on marauding full back Ryan Fredericks who’d starred in Fulham’s win at Loftus Road before Christmas, Ryan Manning and Darnell Furlong handed the daunting task of holding onto the coat tails of the outstanding teenager in the country at the moment, Ryan Sessegnon, and his not insignificant partner in crime Matt Targett.

That didn’t go too badly, but it ignored another key problem. Josh Scowen had sadly followed Tuesday night’s spectacular return to form with a bout of appendicitis and without him in the middle, and with Manning utilised wide, there was far too much time and space for Tom Cairney between the lines of the defence and midfield. He’d already drawn one flying save from Smithies after four minutes (Sessegnon scored the rebound but was offside) when he took his time and picked his spot from 25 yards with his left foot on the half hour.

There hadn’t been too much to worry about before that – Nedum Onuoha’s blind panic and near own goal under no pressure after Fredericks had crossed from the right apart – and this didn’t quite have the same feel to it as the blow outs we’ve suffered on this ground previously. But QPR weren’t quite as at it as they had been on Tuesday. Luke Freeman and Massimo Luongo were often guilty of holding the ball too long, and then frequently giving it away when it came to a pass. Fredericks fired right through the goal mouth but wide straight after the Cairney goal, Jake Bidwell produced a goal saving tackle right under the cross bar when the move of the half saw Sessegnon complete two wall passes with team mates and beat Smithies with a cross. When QPR gave possession away wide on the left with too many men committed the wrong side of the ball Fredericks was finally able to free himself of Wszolek’s shackles and cross for Lukas Piazon to calmly make it 2-0.

But things swung back QPR’s way on a couple of incidents. First Ian Holloway shifted Manning infield to clog the space Cairney was running amok in, and although Fulham did subsequently go 2-0 up that worked a treat. Then the home side started to get a little complacent, misplacing hospital passes square across their own half on several occasions – Wszolek seized one, ran forwards and drew the first real save of the game from Marcus Bettinelli in the home goal. And finally, in a third minute of two added to the end of the first half, a goal was pulled back.

Fulham set a ridiculously high defensive line from the set piece 40 yards out allowing Freeman to chip it beyond them, Matt Smith to head down and Massimo Luongo - who’d actually looked like he was going to take the free kick in the first place - to arrive late, control, spin, and volley into the net. Three in five and four in ten now for the Australian after just two in his previous 94 but they have weirdly come at a time when his overall performances haven’t quite hit the heights of pre-Christmas in my opinion. No matter, a game changing moment, very different complexion on the half time break at 2-1 as opposed to 2-0.

Second half was something else entirely.

Fulham, oddly nervous, fell in a hole. Darnell Furlong, who’d done such a sound job on our perennial scourge Albert Adomah during the week, took Sessegnon out of the game to such an extent that Fulham substituted him with ten still to play. Cairney went with him, crowded out by Manning after running the show in the first half. Aleksandar Mitrovic, seven goals in five games prior to kick off, became isolated and frustrated - niggled all day on and off the ball by Onuoha, Joel Lynch and Furlong he eventually lost his rag in injury time when Lynch wrestled him to the floor by the neck to prevent him getting up and getting on the end of a quick free kick – referee Chris Kavanagh booked both players.

With the ball Rangers started to do bits. They pressed Fulham high, played at a quicker tempo, committed men to the attack, and dominated the whole second half. Wszolek and Bidwell were particularly excellent attacking down the left, Freeman started to produce more with the ball, Fulham started to panic and turn the ball over in bad areas… the question was, would the pressure count in the form of an equaliser? Ebere Eze had a shot blocked, Matt Smith volleyed the loose ball over. Smith then ran through on goal onto a great Luongo pass, but Bettinelli rushed from his line and saved a poor finish with the end of his penis. Not the day for one of those, poor bastard. Perhaps Smith should have flicked it up and headed it, given his ratio of headed goals to those he scores with his feet? He moves like a removal man carrying in a fridge when played into open space. He looked much more comfortable attacking a Jake Bidwell cross in the air moments later, Bettinelli was equal to it with a more conventional palmed save this time though.

Any thoughts that it wasn’t going to be our day, that the chance had gone, that we’d had our ten minutes and not scored were banished, in part, by more smart moves from the bench. Jordan Cousins added a leggy, athletic boost to midfield when he replaced Manning with a quarter of an hour to go. The fans, very harshly, booed the decision to remove Ebere Eze despite him not quite hitting the heights of his previous two games, but the introduction of Paul Smyth out wide and the switch of Freeman into the middle worked a treat. Smyth started getting at Targett, taking him to the byline and delivering good final ball again and again. I love his directness, and purpose, and basicness – get the ball and then either get to the byline and get a cross in or get into the penalty box and get a shot away. No pissing about, no flicks and tricks, no inverse winger bullshit, just good old fashioned direct wing play. Targett, apparently less enamoured with his new pest, tried to kill Smyth with a crunching tackle which Kavanagh, perhaps rather generously, deemed only a yellow.

Conor Washington had less impact, and continues to look bereft of confidence. It rather summed up his luck when he appeared to block a goalbound shot from Freeman after Smyth had whipped one back into the midfielder’s path.

Fulham died on their arse. It needed a Furlong header at the back post to stop Mitrovic nodding into an empty net, and Smithies sprang from his line to save one on one with Mitrovic, but they were second best to Rangers and did nothing about it. I said something similar after the Brentford game this season but there’s an occasional smarmy arrogance to teams that play total football style out from the back, with every goal kick going short, and defences always splitting wide to receive a pass and so on. It’s a great way to play, fantastic to watch, the purist form of the game, and very effective for teams like Fulham who’ve perfected it. We’d love QPR to play like this, if they were good enough to do it. I’d watch 1,000 hours of Jokanovic’s Fulham over five minutes of Tony Pulis’s fireball. But it’s not wrong, or beneath you, or an abandonment of your values, to just tighten things up and go back to basics for the final ten minutes of a game you’re winning 2-1 at a crucial time of the season when things have gone slightly pear shaped.

QPR had Fulham’s number, they were forcing errors, causing panic and winning the ball back from Bettinelli and the four defenders in front of him repeatedly in the second half. They’d got away with giving it away while playing out from the back and giving it away when Smith failed to convert his one on one, but like Brentford at Loftus Road they kept going with their holistic, holier than thou attitude and style, continued to throw attacking players on from the bench, continued to chance their arm at the back, and eventually paid the price. While QPR got stronger with each move Ian Holloway made, Fulham got progressively worse with every substitution.

Smyth seemed to have been fouled over by the dugouts as the game entered its last ten minutes but with play continuing, Belgian centre back Denis Odoi once again tried to take liberties in possession when last man. With Wszolek in the sort of mood he was in for this second half you just can’t do that and the Pole seized on a loose touch, removed the ball from Odoi’s possession and skipped away from him with one silky first touch, accelerated to the edge of the area and then finished into the bottom corner before Ream, Odoi and others could convene on him and recover a situation entirely of their own making.

Bedlam in the away end, which had stuck with the team through the first half struggles in stark contrast to previous toxic afternoons here and were rewarded for patience, faith and prolonged vocal support in the second half. God only knows what would have happened had Jake Bidwell’s late cross shot not been saved by Bettinelli, or the rebound been converted by Luke Freeman, but few could have begrudged Rangers a third had the net bulged. They had been outstanding since half time and deserved a point at the bare minimum. This was their eighth game against a team in the top four at the start of play this season and could easily have been a sixth win. Five wins and a draw still puts paid to this begrudging, bitter mumble from those who thought we’d be relegated that we’ve only survived by beating an unusually incompetent bunch of teams at the bottom of the league.

Word of warning… Exactly a year ago, QPR did precisely what they’re doing now. Dire run through the winter recovered by grinding out some niggly wins in January and then suddenly in March it all seemed to click. Rangers won five and drew one of seven games through the end of February and start of March – and the draw was at Elland Road where they completely outplayed Leeds and could easily have won. It seemed a corner had been turned, that Ian Holloway had the team playing as he wanted, and optimism about what may lie ahead in 2017/18 abounded. We all know how that ended, the effect it had on the summer, the way it burnt off all of Holloway’s credit with the supporters, the virulent band of online critics of the manager that came together and persist to this day.

That cannot happen again. QPR have some eminently winnable games among their last eight fixtures having successfully dealt with what looked like a tough group of games. The clocking off, the wild team rotation, the early departure to the beach and the long run of defeats cannot happen again. For the sake of Holloway’s position, for the season ticket sales, for the supporters and for next season it cannot happen again.

Press on, build on this, gain confidence, increase momentum, go flying into this summer and then maybe we can cling to the hope that next year weeks like this will be the norm.

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Fulham: Bettinelli 7; Fredericks 7, Odoi 5, Ream 6, Targett 6; McDonald 6, Johansen 6; Piazon 7 (Ayite 68, 6), Cairney 7 (Fonte 79, 5), Sessegnon 6 (Ojo 79, 5); Mitrovic 6

Subs not used: Norwood, Christie, Button, Kamara

Goals: Cairney 32 (unassisted), Piazon 45 (assisted Fredericks)

Bookings: Targett 86 (foul), Mitrovic 90+3 (unsporting)

QPR: Smithies 7; Furlong 8, Onuoha 7, Lynch 7, Bidwell 8; Freeman 6, Manning 6 (Cousins 74, 7), Luongo 6, Wszolek 8; Eze 6 (Smyth 69, 7); Smith 6 (Washington 69, 5)

Subs not used: Ingram, Baptiste, Perch, Osayi-Samuel

Goals: Luongo 40+3 (assisted Freeman/Smith), Wszolek 81 (unassisted)

Bookings: Luongo 49 (foul), Cousins 89 (foul), Lynch 90+3 (unsporting)

QPR Star Man – Pawel Wszolek 8 Possibly at fault for Fulham’s second, but it was the only time the excellent Fredericks got away from him all day and came after QPR had given possession away with several players committed beyond the ball. As at Villa on Tuesday, worked hard, pressed high, key to an excellent second half performance – this time crowned with a goal, skilfully won back and finished. Furlong and Bidwell ran him close.

Referee – Chris Kavanagh (Manchester) 7 Few bits and pieces you could argue with – Fulham will want to know where the extra first half stoppage time came, the tackle on Little Smyth near the end was probably a yellow and a half – but overall not too bad.

Attendance – 23,347 (3,000 QPR approx) QPR fans stuck with the team through a difficult first half rather than getting on their backs and giving it the “we’re fucking shit” routine which has happened here before when we’ve gone under. Great atmosphere in the second half and rewarded with a late equaliser. Fulham seemed quiet, even by Fulham standards, but that’s perhaps understandable given the way their team fell in a hole after half time.

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Northernr added 20:59 - Mar 18
Postscript - Seen the Targett tackle back for the first time since writing the report and it's a great tackle, barely even a foul, so I stand corrected on that.


derbyhoop added 21:06 - Mar 18
This month has been very encouraging. Not just the results but the development of Furlong, Manning, Smyth and Eze. The "word of warning" is timely, after last season's late collapse.

The hope is that this team, especially the youngsters, can push on. We'll need to cut down on the goals against column and find that priceless commodity, a top striker, to really challenge. But a top half finish is acheivable next season

smegma added 21:07 - Mar 18
"I said something similar after the Brentford game this season but there's a smarmy arrogance to teams that play total football out from the back, with every goal kick going short........but it's not wrong , or beneath you, or an abandonment of your values, to just tighten things up and go back to basics "......
I've been saying this all season at Academy games. Preseason in the Youdan Trophy, we're 3-0 nil down and we take a short corner and try to walk the ball in the net.
Yesterday morning, the Under 18s were 5-0 down to Leeds at home and we get a corner on the hour. We took it short. It resulted in another corner . And yes we took it short again and tried to walk it in the net.

As for the referee, he should've booked Cairney at least for the foul on Manning where he used his forearm to Ryan's face as we attacked the Putney End on 60 minutes. Talking of which, Manning did a great job on Cairney second half, hence Cairney was subbed. Ollie was right in that we gave them too much space first half and didn't press them enough, or at all. Second half every player was superb in pressing them 30 yards from their goal. Things are looking up and with the pressure now off maybe we can relax and play the football we have played recently until May. From the start of the season we had accumulated 27 points in our 25 games of 2017. In 2018 we've won 20 points in 13 games so there are shoots of improvement. I don't care whether it's the introduction of Smyth, Eze et al or Chris Ramsey as a match Day coach, the whole squad and management should take the plaudits as a unit.

HastingsRanger added 21:37 - Mar 18
Playing away to such an in form team, this was a very good result. Whilst the first half was disappointing, Fulham are good. The fact that the team did not fold showed great character and players who keep fighting is such an improvement on some of the rot we have had in the recent past.
I agree, the players seem to be more capable of knowing what to do with 4-4-2 and the pace of the younger players makes the ability to keep pressing or working the ball so much easier. The result is they create chances and now seem to score. Substitutions were very sensible too!
Also pleased at having clawed their way back, they continued looking for a winner. Good result and good match to watch!

Burnleyhoop added 21:46 - Mar 18
Superb second half performance. Although I didn’t want Eze to go off (the ball sticks and he always finds a hooped shirt) the introduction of Smyth on that right wing frightened them to death.
Not sure how Freeman got MOM, as Pav was outstanding, absolutely bossed the game. The way he dragged the ball back and and flicked it behind his standing leg was class, along with the finish.

As you say, need to maintain the momentum and finish the season with optimism for next season.


Myke added 23:54 - Mar 18
Thanks Clive. Another very encouraging performance. I said several times in the early part of the season that the midfielders and defenders had to start chipping in with goals and since Robinson's brace against Birmingham, that has been happening on a regular basis. While none of the 5 goals this being scored this week by a striker is symptomatic of our problems up front, earlier in the season the 5 goals would simply not have been scored at all. So credit to everyone involved

TacticalR added 00:51 - Mar 19
Thanks for your report.

QPR? Coming back after being two goals down away? What were they thinking? This really is quite an event given our terrible away form and our terrible record against London teams.

I have to say I was quite impressed with Fulham. Their continental approach of always playing from the back is a world away from a lot of other teams in the division (ourselves included) who nearly always start from long kicks from the goalie. It worked well back in September, when Mackie and Luongo got booked early on for lunging at Fulham defenders passing it round at the back at Loftus Road. It didn't work so well in the second half at Craven Cottage when we had a bit of pace and a bit of craft and were able to chase their defenders.

Targett trying to take out Smyth - unfortunately it looks like a lot of teams are going to be tempted to take this approach.

We definitely missed Scowen. Fulham just had too much time and space in front of the box for their two goals.

The great thing is that we are beginning to get goals (and some very good goals) from the rest of the team, so even if Smith can't put away his chances we can still score.

TheChef added 09:26 - Mar 19
I'm hoping the difference between now and this time last year is that Holloway has already implemented key changes to the team/formation and shown they have worked, so hopefully he'll keep with it and be less inclined to tinker. Last year it really felt like he had less of an idea of what might work or what he was trying to do with the team.

londonscottish added 09:26 - Mar 19
That was some day.

It was the first time I've seen Eze in the flesh and, as my mate said, time seems to slow down for him when he's on the ball. Can't believe he's so young.

Wszolek was at his finest. He's always happier in that more advanced role but by Christ he puts the yards in. He spent the entire game doing lung busting sprints up the field in attack, back to do his defensive duties, over and over again His stats must be insane.

His composure on the ball to take that goal was tremendous. Very easy to fluff that sort of opportunity as Smith and Wash both showed when they had similar on on ones later. I've watched Luongo's goal on replay and that a fantastic bit of skill too.

Anyway, as I said a great day out with various dads and kids/teenager, the chaos on the concourse at half time, that fantastic come-back, a slow pub crawl through Hammersmith on the way home and a curry to round the day off.

An extra bonus was bumping into Finney, Sindy and Clive in one of the boozers. Like I say that day had everything.

terryb added 10:03 - Mar 19
Thanks Clive.

It was certainly a Fulham defender & not Washington that blocked the Freeman shot, but he did make up for it by gifting the ball to Wszolek for the goal!

I didn't think the first half was as bad as many did. A two goal lead would have been very flattering to Fulham & if we hadn't had the best Assistant Referee in the country on the line, Pawel would have been through twice when he was millimetre's offside.

I was also reasonably impressed with the referee.

A wonderful week for the regular away supporters. I feel a little envious of you. Just for a few days though!

loftus77 added 10:19 - Mar 19
Thanks Clive - another great write-up of another fine result.

On the 'Word of Warning' - something that occurs to me is this nagging issue of us and International Breaks. I can't remember when we came 'tearing out of the blocks' after one of them - we always seem to struggle. Last season's late 'collapse' started in this way (Derby away, straight after 2-week break following Rotherham 5-1) ) and others have been similar. Maybe we are more reliant on Mass then we think?! Something for the club to be wary of.

londonscottish added 10:35 - Mar 19

You've just pissed on my chips by reminding of Derby away last year. I went to that one with high hopes after a great run of games and it was an awful display. 90 minutes of lumping it to Smith.


Antti_Heinola added 12:44 - Mar 19
I think the problem with the Targett tackle is that it was dangerous, even though he got the ball - his trailing leg absolutely nailed Smyth, so I can see why it was a yellow. Got the ball, but he was also trying to clean out Smyth too IMO.

jonno added 12:58 - Mar 19
Excellent report, thanks. As I said on the forum, Fulham are good if you allow them to play the way they want, passing the ball about through midfield. However, they cannot play any other way. Once we closed them down further up the pitch and forced them to play the ball longer to their front men, they could not hold onto it and we dominated the second half. To be fair to Ollie, he had identified that but the players did not execute the game plan in the first half. Had they done so, we may well have won the game as comfortably as we did at Villa. Plus of course, we did miss Scowen and it may have been his absence which explained the way we played first half.

windsorloop added 17:53 - Mar 19
A number of subscribers mentioned the inability of the injured Scowen of not playing.
If he did play, who would have been left out, Manning? I thought he put in very good, worthwhile performance linking with Furlong

DesertBoot added 19:44 - Mar 19
What a brilliant week for the players, the supporters and the whole club. Don't rest on your laurels Ollie, keep the formation and the confidence levels until the end of the season - plenty of points still to be won.

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