Rangers' resurgence stalls at Reading - Report
Saturday, 31st Mar 2018 20:49 by Clive Whittingham
Jake Bidwell missed a stoppage time penalty as QPR ended a positive month on a bum note with a 1-0 defeat at lowly Reading on Good Friday.
Queens Park Rangers hadn’t been awarded a penalty since the first game of the season at Loftus Road against Reading, which was scored by Conor Washington in a 2-0 win. They won’t be in a rush to appeal for another after the trauma of missing one against the same opponents in injury time on Good Friday.
It seemed a dominant second half and siege on the home goal would finally reap rewards for Rangers when referee David Coote pointed straight to the spot after an obvious foul by David Edwards on Pawel Wszolek. With Washington substituted earlier, left back Jake Bidwell took responsibility. That wasn’t as left field as some have made out, given that he took and scored one against Blackburn in the FA Cup last January, but his kick was the archetypal ‘nice height for the keeper’ effort and Reading’s Vito Mannone sealed his man of the match performance with a strong two handed save off to his left.
It capped a horrible afternoon for the former Brentford full back who’d been enjoying a resurgence in form since the switch to a back four at the start of March and scored his first goal for the club in open play in the recent win at Aston Villa, but fell in a hole big time here. He got absolutely rinsed by Sone Aluko after 13 minutes, and then naively allowed the former Fulham forward to charge forward unchecked when a cynical foul and ‘take one for the team’ yellow card were required. Aluko has been so poor for the Royals, his £7.5m price tag so laughable, maybe Bidwell thought it was safe letting him go, but in a classic case of a dog having its day this time he let fly from long range and sent the only goal of the game screaming into the roof of the net. Never do that again as long as he’s got a hole in his arse. Just a third goal all season long for the Nigerian and his first in 23 appearances – Charity Park Rangers strike again.
Afterwards Ian Holloway raged at Bidwell taking the penalty, saying it should have been one of his attacking players rather than the left back sticking their hands up and taking responsibility. Quite apart from that rather ignoring the fact Holloway spent his whole playing career at QPR with Clive Wilson as designated penalty taker, I’m not sure how helpful that sort of comment is for Bidwell, the attacking players, or Holloway’s own position really. Not exactly a vote of confidence for a steady pro who had a bad day, potentially pressure applied to a player who doesn’t have the belief to take a penalty to step forward regardless in the future (the spectre of a Matt Smith penalty kick looms), and not really a ringing endorsement of the management when they don’t know, or have no say, in who the bloody penalty taker is.
We can talk about Bidwell and penalties all night, but there were bigger reasons for defeat to a team that had only won three times at home all season, didn’t look much like making it four with their performance here, and spent the final stages of the game playing with ten men – substitute Yann Kermorgant accomplishing the not inconsiderable feat of being even more useless than Big Fat Chris Martin had been before him by picking up two obvious bookings within ten minutes of replacing the former Derby striker as a second half sub. Martin presumably nipping off to catch the early evening two for one offer at Burger Burger Burger.
The first is the ongoing problem with the cutting edge at the top of the field. QPR had just shy of 70% of the possession, and rained 27 shots down on Mannone in 96 minutes of football – not far off one every three minutes. But just three of those were on target, including the penalty.
Conor Washington, recalled up front from the start for reasons only the manager would be able to explain, stuck a great chance for an equaliser wide of the post almost immediately after the restart from Aluko’s opener. Rangers weren’t particularly good in the first half against a Reading side buoyed by the sacking of boredom fanatic Jaap Stam and the arrival of Paul Clement as manager during the week but still a nervous and basic outfit on this evidence. Nevertheless, the visitors created and spurned a succession of chances in the first 45.
Little Smyth volleyed over when a Luke Freeman free kick was spilled by Mannone on 15 minutes, five minutes later a long throw from Darnell Furlong dropped for Freeman but his shot was blocked, then on the half hour a long ball was touched off to Pawel Wszolek but his effort also hit a defender. Freeman delayed too long and saw a shot closed down ten before half time, then almost immediately Reading made a mess of their own throw in but Washington’s flat-footed first touch rolled through to Mannone. The half ended with prolonged QPR pressure, and the ball in the net on two occasions but the first was ruled out for offside as a shot from a cleared corner flashed through a crowded penalty box and in via Lynch and the second didn’t count because, boldly, the referee had blown for half time while Rangers were setting the shot up.
With Reading’s player of the season elect Mo Barrow going the same way as Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon and Villa’s Albert Adomah at the hands of Furlong, this steady procession towards the home goal would continue in the second half almost completely without reply – Martin about as much use as a marzipan dildo in the Reading attack and easily taken out of the game by Nedum Onuoha.
Mannone did well to beat Washington to a good Furlong cross from the right on 53 minutes. The former Peterborough striker, still looking absolutely bereft, was replaced on the hour by Matt Smith who quickly headed a Jake Bidwell cross wide when he should have at least hit the target. Little Smyth, fresh from his debut goal for Northern Ireland during the week, almost matched Aluko’s barnburner midway through the second half but Mannone thrust up an arm and made the save of the match to deny him. Ebere Eze then replaced Smyth, an annoying withdrawal forced by the latest random Ian Holloway team selection (on which more shortly) and quickly dribbled a shot wide after winning the ball back. Bidwell shot over, Smith headed straight at Mannone, and growing frustration only increased when Luke Freeman was yellow carded for what looked like a fantastic tackle – referee Coote had earlier let Joey van den Berg off without a yellow for deliberately hauling Freeman down as he streaked away in a 29th minute counter attack just to exacerbate the situation.
Had Bidwell scored Rangers would have had the point they deserved, and we’d be able to reflect on a fantastic March and a significant and welcome upturn in our performances and results away from home. That’s how fine the margins are – penalty goes left instead of right, game is drawn instead of lost, different atmosphere, different match report, different perceptions. That he didn’t, and that Rangers didn’t manage a single goal against a team that has conceded 24 in its last 12 games, speaks to the lack of firepower that has hamstrung the team all season. That’s a problem Ian Holloway has inherited rather than caused and is not easily remedied bearing in mind our financial circumstances and the current market for strikers – just a third goal of the season for £7.5m Sone Aluko shows you how utterly stupid it is out there.
But you couldn’t help but sigh an exasperated sigh at QPR’s manager. Having finally cracked how to play away in the last two matches against high-flying Villa and Fulham, after spending all season flapping about trying and winning just two road games all season, there were four changes to the team here and while Rangers did dominate they never once hit the heights of Villa Park or Craven Cottage, nor really looked like the were going to score in stark contrast to those two games when the team brimmed with menace.
Loads of explanations, excuses and mitigation for this, as assistant manager Marc Bircham has been patiently explaining on social media today. Massimo Luongo had been playing for Australia during the international break and has looked tired in recent games despite his sudden goal rush; Ryan Manning had played two intense 90 minutes for the Ireland junior side; Ebere Eze has apparently been ill; and there are of course two games in four days over this Easter weekend with Norwich due in W12 on Monday. Jordan Cousins had looked very good as a second half substitute at Fulham, helping the team press home for an equaliser, and hasn’t had enough opportunities in the first team this season. And let’s not forget Reading are fighting for their lives and had a new gaffer in the dugout for the first time – new manager bounce may not be a thing in Shepherd’s Bush but it does happen elsewhere and seeing the back of Jaap Stam and his tedious “football values” after two gruelling years must be a relief and boost akin to waking up in the morning and finding your Mrs has morphed into Kelly Brook.
But then, Smyth and Washington have also been away with their international team in the past week and both started here. Luongo’s Australia game was only three miles down the road at Craven Cottage. Manning may have played twice last week but he’s only made seven starts and seven sub appearances in the previous nine months – is three games in a week really beyond the physical bounds for a 21-year-old lad in those circumstances? Matt Smith “can’t play two games in a weekend” according to Bircham, without further explanation for why that’s the case of a 28-year-old. All three of our Reading fans interviewed pre-match picked out their centre backs, particularly Ilori, as their weak links this season and yet we spent an hour pisballing about with Washington up front by himself while Smith and Idrissa Sylla sat on the bench, apparently with one eye on Norwich on Monday. The perception is two games on the Easter weekend is difficult to manage and needs planning for, but Friday-Monday is no different to the Saturday-Tuesday we have to cope with eight times every season.
As somebody rightly pointed out on our Twitter feed last night, it’s very easy to sit in the pub afterwards tanked up on too much Peroni and play the Monday morning quarter back, ranting on about what a manager should or should not have done from a background of never picking a football team or overseeing a training session in my life. That’s what football fans do. It’s very easy to slate this and that having not been in training all week like Holloway and his people have, with no knowledge of things like Eze’s illness, or who came back from international duty late and/or tired, or who picked up a knock, or who’s having a problem at home. And that’s why I generally try not to do that on here, because what the fuck do I know?
But as a frustrated supporter, traipsing away from this God-awful identikit stadium in the teeming rain (and in the wrong direction as it turned out, hello M4), it was difficult to shake the feeling that we’d seen the Ian Holloway cycle take another turn in the wrong direction. Long losing run gives way to a back to basics approach which yields upturn in form which leads to over-thinking which leads to long losing run. Whether it has any basis in reality or not, there is a perception (not unfair in my view) that Holloway can, at times, faff about needlessly while trying to show that he’s not the clown of his public persona and TV appearances but is in fact a deep-thinking, clever, tactical manager. When things go well, he gets confident and starts second guessing and over complicating, leading to a downturn which is then only broken out of when he calms down and returns to more consistent, steady, predictable team selections. We’ve been through that cycle three times in the last 18 months already, the second circuit of which started a year ago almost to the day with a defeat at Derby that ended a great run of five wins through March and gave way to an April of wild team selections, multiple changes, and seven defeats from eight games.
So much of the talk pre-match was about guarding against that happening again, and yet here we were, with four changes to a team that had been playing exceptionally well, losing to a poor Reading team having just taken four points from good Villa and Fulham ones. I feel for Holloway and Bircham, because they’ll read stuff like this or the aggressive, angry Tweets sent directly to them and be frustrated that people don’t know the full story, don’t understand, don’t work with the players etc. But I couldn’t help but sink into my seat at full time yesterday afternoon and wonder whether this is all just a little bit of history repeating. We’ll know more after Monday’s game with Norwich.
Reading: Mannone 8; Gunter 6, Ilori 6, Moore 6, Blackett 6; van den Berg 6 (Bacuna 55, 6), Edwards 6; Aluko 7, Swift 6 (Evans 84, -), Barrow 6; Martin 5 (Kermorgant 62, 3)
Subs not used: Clement, Jaakkola, Smith, Holmes
Goals: Aluko 13 (unassisted)
Red Cards: Kermorgant 81 (two yellows)
Bookings: Martin 21 (foul), Kermorgant 70 (foul), Kermorgant 81 (foul), Aluko 90+2 (time wasting)
QPR: Smithies 6; Furlong 7, Onuoha 7, Lynch 6, Bidwell 4; Cousins 6 (Luongo 67, 6), Scowen 6, Freeman 7; Wszolek 6, Smyth 7 (Eze 74, 6), Washington 5 (Smith 58, 6)
Subs not used: Ingram, Manning, Robinson, Sylla
Bookings: Bidwell 57 (foul), Freeman 69 (foul), Lynch 82 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Darnell Furlong 7 Between him and Onuoha for me. For the third game in a row Furlong was up against a pacy, skilful threat rated as the opponent’s best player (Adomah at Villa, Sessegnon at Fulham and Mo Barrow here) and he’s come out on top in all three battles.
Referee – David Coote (West Yorkshire) 5 Pretty bog standard Championship referee, infuriating at times and as usual did little to clamp down on time wasting and gamesmanship, but the big decisions (the penalty and the red card) were judged correctly.
Attendance – 20,273 (3,000 QPR approximately) A bit rich for the Reading fans to be singing “1-0 on your big day out”. I mean quite apart from the fact that a trip to this soulless extension of the M4 has surely never been considered a “big day out” by anybody, the attendance for their game here against Sheff Utd a month ago was 6,769 and then suddenly there’s 20,000 in for this so whose “big day out” was this exactly?
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