|Queens Park Rangers 2 v 0 Millwall|
Wednesday, 19th September 2018 Kick-off 19:45
QPR go through the gears in comfortable Millwall win - Report
Thursday, 20th Sep 2018 12:00 by Clive Whittingham
QPR turned in their best performance of the season so far to comfortably see off a dire Millwall side 2-0 at Loftus Road on Wednesday night.
Nothing fragile about this one. This was proper. Queens Park Rangers, back in a 4-2-3-1 set up and looking slick. Millwall, barely above park standard in the first half, with few ideas what to do about it. Ebere Eze channelling Adel Taarabt against the club that released him as a junior. Nahki Wells a suave and elegant line leader. It was a lovely way to spend a September evening.
A month ago QPR looked like they just wanted a cuddle. Conceding goals by the bucketload, making their worst ever start to a league season, losing 7-1 at West Brom, manager already under pressure, players looking like hollowed out shells. There has been a recovery since, but even then questions remained. A win against Wigan at home was a real tonic, but achieved only thanks to the visitors missing a string of chances. A draw at Birmingham was creditable given Rangers’ biblically bad away form, but Garry Monk’s side were absolutely woeful and the R’s took to wasting time at 0-0 long before the end. A win at Bolton was great considering QPR view road games like trips to the in laws, but again a promising first hour and 2-0 lead gave way to a panicked cling in the final third of the game. QPR had scored the fewest goals, had the fewest different scorers, had the fewest attempts in the area, had the second fewest touches in opposing penalty boxes and won the second fewest corners in the whole league at the start of play.
Millwall. Now we’d see. A team Rangers hadn’t beaten in six attempts. A team that went 17 matches unbeaten through the second half of last season to almost make the play offs. A team that took four points from us in the two league games in 2017/18. A team so physically intimidating, so unashamedly direct, so Millwall, that it often feels unfair that QPR aren’t allowed to arm themselves for meetings with them. How would said fragile recovery stand up to a raging torrent of long balls, high elbows, simmering aggression and grizzled testosterone being repeatedly whacked towards our penalty area? Millwall, eh, phwoar, Millwall, yeh, nobody likes us mate, phwoar, eh, Millwall, innit, come on the ‘Wall, Millwall, eh, yeh, want some do yah? Cop that. Like professional football's version of a Michael Bay movie.
Don’t worry about it.
Rangers went into the game without Tomer Hemed. His arrival, along with Nahki Wells, has transformed the Rangers team but the game clashed with Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar, and he’d been sitting around in fancy headgear not eating for 24 hours prior to kick off. He would start from the bench, and spend the first half stuffing his face with pasta salad. A blow, it seemed, until the game started, and the team took shape. Wells led the line alone, superbly, with Eze back in his favoured ten spot behind him, tormenting Millwall throughout. Freeman played to his left adding eye catching bits and pieces, Jordan Cousins was an unlikely hit wide on the right. Geoff Cameron got his first start since joining from Stoke at the base of the midfield with Massimo Luongo. It didn’t look like it should work, but work it did.
Steve McClaren’s new look team went on the front foot from the first whistle. Eze won the first of 3,546 free kicks on the night in the first minute allowing Wells a sighter from the edge of the area which he lifted over. He then missed the target with a similar effort from wider of the goal after he’d been fouled himself. Millwall had few answers to him or Eze other than to keep tripping them up and Shaun Williams (particularly out of his depth) had been booked for repetitive fouling before we’d even reached the quarter hour mark. A shame really that we’re so crap with direct free kicks – any advances on Yeni Ngbakoto away at Birmingham for our last successful one?
Flowing moves, littered with neat touches and concise passing, saw first Eze cross low to the near post where Wells just failed to get a toe to the ball, then Cousins go clean through onto a delicious chipped pass from Wells and draw a save from Ben Amos from a tight angle. In a way it’s a shame the opening goal was so rudimentary when it did come – Freeman catching Millwall out with a corner played out to the edge of the box, Wells left unmarked and able to lift the ball to the back post, Luongo back heading the ball into the net thanks largely to Amos’ lousy goalkeeping. A first goal of the campaign for the Australian against the club he opened his account against for last season almost a year ago to the day.
Within a minute and a half it was 2-0.
Lynch and Leistner dominant, interrupting Millwall play and freeing Luongo to feed Wells whose deep cross was returned to the danger zone by Jake Bidwell and knocked over the line from close range by Eze with Amos again playing the role of the town drunk. Eze indeed, or at least that’s how Rangers were making it look.
Bar a late flurry of corners, and the ongoing problem this season of QPR allowing a queue of unmarked players to form at the back post for crosses, this was a near perfect half. QPR’s best 45 minutes for really quite some time. Joe Lumley such a spectator it almost seemed unfair he hadn’t paid to get in.
It couldn’t surely continue like this? Millwall had started ex-Barnsley boy Tom Bradshaw up front for the first time rather than Steve Morison alongside Lee Gregory, and while not exactly nuanced there had been far less of the get it, boot it, hang em, flog em style that we saw from them last season. That clearly hadn’t worked, Bradshaw a good little player but chronically misused here. The script was written for a second half transformation. Morison would come on, Neil Harris would run the rounds of the kitchen through them, they’d take to the field for the second half with a circus cannon, the QPR defence would go so deep they’d start reciting renaissance poetry to each other and a long, drawn out aerial bombardment of the School End penalty box would begin.
Well, not quite. Morison did indeed come on, but my God mate the absolute state of him. Kindly put, at 35, he looks someway short of the physical standards required for Championship level football. More bluntly, he looked like a dad in a dads v lads match, and not one of the good dads either. At one stage he headed a presentable chance so far wide it could easily have been mistaken for a defensive clearance. Later they sent on Tom Elliott, the world’s biggest human being, but he epitomised the Lions’ main problem on Wednesday night – all brawn and no brain, all physique and no ability. They were oddly poor, like they’ve gone away from what worked so well for them last season to try and be a bit more sophisticated and now can’t quite work out how to get it back.
There were periods of pressure, Lumley had a couple of flaps and gangly centre half Jake Cooper showed why he’s scored seven goals in 55 league starts from the back with a header off the tallest jump ever accomplished by man that crashed flush against the bar and dropped into the surprised, grateful arms of the young keeper. Had that gone in, maybe it would have set up a grandstand finish and perhaps Millwall could have avenged the fixture here last season where they surrendered a two goal lead and ended up with a draw. But really it was QPR playing all the football and looking the more likely to score again. A counter on the hour saw Freeman and Wells combine to test Amos who made a nervous save but bounced back up well to stop Bidwell netting the rebound.
Eze continued to cause the visitors all manner of trauma. One moment where he let substitute Skalak think he’d miscontrolled the ball, then rolled it away from him and accelerated off into the distance inducing panic in the Millwall man and a deliberate foul and yellow card was pure Taarabt and Wegerle stuff. Hemed, full of chocolate and on from the bench, curled that free kick round the wall and Amos saved well. A cute back flick from Eze had Luongo through on goal but Amos saved with his legs and Cousins somehow contrived to strike the rebound straight at the defender on the goal line.
Referee Rob Jones booked Eze for a dive in the penalty box late in the day which looked completely fair enough to me at the time (referee only gets one look) but actually, on the Sky replays afterwards, he did get clipped. A third goal would have been more than fair. The low flying aircraft drone from the away end had ceased long before the end, replaced with abuse of their own team and early departures.
Interesting problems for Steve McClaren ahead of Norwich on Saturday now. QPR looked really good in this system and shape, with Eze absolutely unplayable at ten and Wells leading the line beautifully. Geoff Cameron added extra defensive protection ahead of the excellent Lynch and Leistner and that strengthened the team despite him continuously giving the ball away – who would have thought it, a Stoke player who looks great without the ball and dire with it. Do we go back to the 4-4-2 to accommodate the return of Hemed and move Eze back out to the flank? Or stick with this after the best performance of the season so far?
Certainly different, nicer problems to have than the ones we were facing a month ago.
Match Gallery: 30 photos
QPR: Lumley 6; Rangel 6, Leistner 7, Lynch 7, Bidwell 6; Cameron 6, Luongo 6; Cousins 6, Eze 8 (Smith 88, -), Freeman 7 (Scowen 81, -); Wells 8 (Hemed 72, 5)
Subs not used: Ingram, Baptiste, Osayi-Samuel, Wszolek
Goals: Luongo 30 (assisted Wells), Eze 32 (assisted Bidwell)
Bookings: Leistner 63 (foul), Freeman 70 (foul), Eze 84 (diving)
Millwall: Amos 4; McLaughlin 5, Wallace 6, Cooper 6, Meredith 5 (Elliott 79, 5); Wallace 5, Williams 4, Leonard 6, O’Brien 5 (Skalak 74, 5); Gregory 5, Bradshaw 5 (Morison 46, 4)
Subs not used: Romeo, Martin, Webster, Karacan
Bookings: Williams 16 (repetitive fouling), Skalak 82 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Nahki Wells 8 Between him and Eze for me, and Eze’s goal should probably just edge it for him, shining in that number ten role again. But Wells, at the moment, looks absolutely different class. The movement, the speed, the quickness of thought, the ability to deal with all manner of difficult balls to him. Played lone striker here against much bigger defenders in a notoriously physical team and it didn’t bother him one bit. Doesn’t matter that he’s not scoring when he’s playing like this.
Referee – Rob Jones (Merseyside) 6 Booked Eze for diving when it was a penalty but, to be fair, at normal speed at the time I thought he’d thrown himself as well so forgivable. Much better than his last performance here.
Attendance – 12,398 (2,000 Millwall approx.) Miiiiiiiiiiiiiiilllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllllll….
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