|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 0 Wigan Athletic|
Saturday, 25th August 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Hemed stops the rot with debut goal - Report
Sunday, 26th Aug 2018 17:48 by Clive Whittingham
At the fifth time of asking, and with no little amount of terror and trauma along the way, Queens Park Rangers are up and running in 2018/19.
A 1-0 win against Wigan Athletic, scraped together with a controversial goal and a number of near misses at the other end, barely papers over the cracks. But it does allow a club that’s felt like it’s been collectively holding its breath in recent weeks to exhale. One can only hope it allows confidence and freedom to start seeping back into a beleaguered squad of players.
Many, many issues remain, but the club does look to have had a reasonable stab at solving a long standing one at the top end of the pitch. Since Charlie Austin’s contract situation forced the club’s hand in January 2016, QPR have tried Sebastien Polter, Conor Washington, Idrissa Sylla, Matt Smith, Jamie Mackie, David Wheeler, Ebere Eze and Aramide Oteh through the middle as centre forwards, with little consistent success. Newcastle, Aston Villa and others have inflated the market for Championship strikers to the point where even a mediocre one can set you back north of £8m and QPR simply cannot compete. Even the cost of borrowing a promising youngster like Tammy Abraham or Sam Gallagher from the division above has rocketed – dead money, as you’re never likely to be able to keep the player.
But having lost the first four games in increasingly incompetent fashion, the club has bitten the bullet this week and added two strikers to their ranks temporarily. Tomer Hemed, a 31-year-old Israeli target man from Brighton, and Nahki Wells, a 28-year-old from Bermuda via Burnley, have joined on loan for the rest of the season and the difference having players of that standard kicking about in the final third of the pitch was there for all to see on their debuts, despite obvious lack of match practice and fitness.
Hemed looks exactly the kind of experienced, intelligent, broad-shoulderd, back-to-goal striker QPR have been desperately in need of since Heidar Helguson’s time at the club came to an end. He scored the game’s only goal ten minutes before half time, acrobatically hooking in from close range after Luke Freeman’s corner had dropped on the edge of the six-yard-box via a pretty blatant looking push by the recalled Joel Lynch on opposite centre back Chey Dunkley. Referee Steve Martin waved away long, loud complaints from the visitors and awarded the goal.
Wells, meanwhile, has scored three times at Loftus Road already during his Huddersfield days and has a smooth playing style and eye for space that gives clue as to how and why. Twice, once at the start of each half, he got to the byline at the end of a nice move and cut the ball back into a dangerous area – visiting keeper Christian Walton claimed the one in the sixth minute, Luke Freeman met the one right from the kick off at the start of the second and tricked everybody in the ground into thinking he’d scored with a low shot into the side netting. Nice to see us not just launch a kick off into touch.
Wells looked like he might get the goal his performance deserved 20 minutes from time when he went screaming through on goal but play was pulled back for a free kick and a yellow card to Hemed for the tackle that sent his new team mate clear. He curled another shot on goal after a series of corners on 79 but Walton was equal to it. Hemed and Wells were baggage by that stage, and replaced in the final ten minutes by Conor Washington and Matt Smith, but they’d more than done their jobs by then.
There was a new face at the other end of the field as well. Matt Ingram’s personal torment ended with a return to the substitutes bench he’s occupied for most of the last two years. Joe Lumley, called up for a fourth league start of his young career, started with a spectacular camera save off to his left to deny Josh Windass on his full Wigan debut, and finished deep into stoppage time by fighting his way through a crowd scene in front of his goal to plant two fists on a free kick and clear Wigan’s final throw of the dice. The final whistle sounded immediately, and Lumley went tearing off towards the South Africa Road stand celebrating as if he’d scored the winning goal himself.
He’s confident, and loud. You can see it in his step and you can hear him all over the ballpark. Compared to Ingram, who looks like he’s scared of any football coming anywhere in his general direction, it’s night and day. I really feel for Ingram. He’s waited years for this chance, biding his time behind Alex Smithies, and it could scarcely have started worse for him. Replacing a goalkeeper of Smithies’ quality, becoming a first team regular again after two years not playing proper football, playing behind a defence shorn of its best and most senior players over the summer, building trust with his team mates and the supporters, finding his feet at a level he’s never played at before… all of this stuff was going to be difficult enough already. QPR should have been making life as easy and simple as possible for him to give him the best chance of success, instead they decided to completely change the style of play as well and add passing and playmaking responsibilities to his to do list. He’s been hung out to dry by his manager basically, but it was definitely time to take him out of the firing line and credit to McClaren for making the big, tough decision. The difference of having a brash, noisy, confident, dominant goalkeeper back there was nearly as profound as suddenly having Hemed and Wells up front instead of Smith, Sylla and/or Washington. It was the team’s first clean sheet since March, the first time this season that we haven’t shipped a goal through the 35-55 minute pleasure window.
But, for all those positives, this was a nervous win that relied as much on luck as judgement. Three times hearts were firmly in mouths as Wigan efforts whistled so close to the goal without going in that you started to wonder whether there was a hole in the net. Luongo, off the pace again, gave away a cheap free kick on 21 minutes, one of several Rangers conceded in dangerous positions throughout the afternoon, and Windass whipped the free kick wide of the top corner. Same behaviour on 36 minutes, this time from Toni Leistner, produced the same result with another dangerous Windass free kick whistling right through the goalmouth and narrowly wide.
The first half was a bitty affair. Nathan Byrne and Angel Rangel both saw yellow for bad tackles. Former Orient man Gavin Massey, the scourge of Stoke during the week, was forced off with a hamstring injury. Centre back Cedric Kipre had such a weird afternoon that I thought he might be in the running for the QPR man of the match at one stage – Walton looked like he was ready to kill him for his decision to stick the ball out for a Rangers’ corner under no pressure at all.
The second was, for the large part, a backs to the wall effort from QPR. Wigan have been free-scoring this year, with ten goals netted in their first four league games, and although they ended up drawing a blank here you could see why. Even losing Massey early, they looked threatening in attack, committing big numbers forward and possessing some real ability in the form of Nick Powell. QPR helped them along the way by conceding a succession of stupid free kicks in dangerous areas. One of these, from Bidwell, sparked a scramble in the penalty box once the ball was delivered and was the start of a period of concerted pressure on the QPR goal after the hour – Lumley saved at his near post from Powell, Will Grigg skimmed a header straight at the keeper immediately afterwards then later curled a shot high and wide.
Attempts to run the clock down in the final ten minutes repeatedly descended into anarchic scenes in the School End goal mouth. Quite how Dunkley guided his back post header wide five minutes from time when leading a queue of unmarked players at the far post only he knows. Lumley was celebrating in the back of his net as the ball bounced harmlessly out, but within a minute it was flying around in his six-yard-box again sparking scenes akin to a fire alarm going off in a creche. Steve McClaren was yards on the pitch at one point, begging his team to come out from under their own crossbar. Through the carnage, Joel Lynch had his best game for some time, winning a series of important headers and clearances just when they were needed – including, most crucially, early in the second half when his flick stopped a certain Grigg goal from close range.
McClaren leant against the wall of the tunnel for support in his post match interview. A man who once oversaw a blown European Championships qualifying campaign as England manager described it as “one of the toughest weeks of his career”. In that context, the win really was all that mattered.
QPR: Lumley 7, Rangel 6, Leistner 6, Lynch 7, Bidwell 6; Eze 6 (Wszolek 87, -), Scowen 6, Luongo 5, Freeman 6; Hemed 7 (Washington 80, 6), Wells 7 (Smith 87, -)
Subs not used: Ingram, Cousins, Baptiste, Kakay
Goals: Hemed 35 (assisted Freeman/Lynch)
Bookings: Rangel 27 (foul), Hemed 71 (foul)
Wigan: Walton 6; Byrne 6 (Vaughan 75, 6), Dunkley 6, Kipre 4, Robinson 6; Massey 6 (James 32, 6), Evans 6, Morsy 6, Windass 7 (Roberts 83, -); Powell 7, Grigg 6
Subs not used: Bruce, McManaman, Jones, Connolly
Bookings: Byrne 28 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Tomer Hemed 7 Nudged ahead of Wells and Lynch courtesy of the goal, which was expertly finished. QPR have been at their best in recent years when they’ve had that sort of striker with a back-to-goal game who can bring others into play, and at their worst when they’ve tried to get the likes of Matt Smith and Idrissa Sylla to do it. Even when clearly only fit for an hour of play, he made a big difference.
Referee – Steve Martin (Staffordshire) 6 I like him, I like his hands off refereeing style, I like how he lets the players get away with a bit rather than pernickety whistling for every little bit of contact. But that was a foul by Lynch for the Hemed goal, so he can’t have too high a mark.
Attendance 11,564 (450 Wigan approx) Tolerant, patient atmosphere when it could have been really toxic. Lot of empty seats though aren't there?
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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