Right system, right players, right result - Report
Wednesday, 3rd Oct 2018 18:10 by Clive Whittingham
QPR changed shape, and outcome, at Reading on Tuesday night, with Toni Leistner's first goal for the club sealing a much deserved and needed three points.
One thing Steve McClaren does seem adept at is pulling a result out of the fire just when he, and his team, and the fans, and the club really needs it. No bad thing in a season that could yet result in a battle to avoid the drop.
At the end of August, after the worst start to a league season in the history of the club, and a horror week in which ten goals were conceded in two matches, a 1-0 home win was scraped off the bottom of the barrel against Wigan Athletic – actually no mean feat given their results so far this season. It was accomplished mainly because the visitors missed a load of chances and Joe Lumley made a couple of great saves, but also because two good Championship strikers had been added to a squad previously trying to make do with Matt Smith, Conor Washington and Idrissa Sylla.
That sparked an unbeaten run of five in which ten points were posted to lift Rangers clear of the early relegation picture taking shape down at the bottom of the Lancashire and District Senior League. But as September ticked round into October, things were threatening to go south once again. Three defeats without a proper shot on the goal, including a surrender of a promising League Cup situation at Blackpool that suggests for all his PR-friendly patter McClaren still doesn’t really get the club and the fans of it yet, culminated in a pathetic showing at Swansea with players walking about the pitch letting the game take place around them and the home team strolling through at will unchallenged.
Dragging your die hards to far flung corners of the country on broken coaches and extortionate trains to serve them that sort of tripe doth not endear a leader to his subjects, and mutiny was in the air once more as the good ship QPR limped into port somewhere in the vague vicinity of Reading on Tuesday evening. No, you’re mixing metaphors.
Once more, as against Wigan, McClaren made a big, correct call before kick off. This time it was to drop the hero of the Wigan game, Tomer Hemed, to the bench in order to revert back to the 4-2-3-1 set up that McClaren has favoured his whole career and which QPR look a lot more comfortable in with the players they currently have available. At Swansea Rangers played with two tens out of position on the wings, two central midfielders way too deep in a four to protect two poor centre backs, and two full backs horribly exposed by the positional deficiencies of those out of position in front of them. It was a horrible, crow-barred mess of square pegs and round holes built to suit the two strikers, only one of whom looked like he was vaguely interested in proceedings. It was clear that it had to change, not least because Rangers’ best performance of the season so far came in the 4-2-3-1 set up, without Hemed, against Millwall.
McClaren bit the bullet, and with only Jordan Cousins now out of position, they looked all the better for it. On the front foot from literally the first minute as a strong tackle from Rangel freed Eze - looking so much more comfortable, natural and threatening as a proper ten – to dummy past the penultimate defender and square up the last who was forced into a desperate tackle and corner concession. Within ten minutes a slick move down the left flank, where Freeman was also looking much more effective and happy feeding into Eze and Nahki Wells to his right, ended with Bidwell crossing well and Cousins heading powerfully over from close range when he maybe should have scored. Further prolonged, excellent, attractive, one-touch passing on the edge of the Reading area carved out a similar chance from the opposite side soon after – Tiago Illori, who didn’t look wholly in control of his own feet all night, volleyed just wide of his own bottom corner Zesh Rehman-style. It was good from Rangers, a stark difference to Saturday. Almost competent, almost like they knew what they were doing.
We couldn’t be having that of course, we’ve got a reputation to uphold, and soon Leistner was striding out from centre back and missing a header prompting a wild, panicked swing from Angel Rangel that came scarily close to lobbing his own goalkeeper Joe Lumley from 20 yards out. I’ve seen some fuckwittery from this club over the years, but that really would have been any prize from the top shelf if it had nestled in the back of the net. We should just start turning up to games in a clown car I reckon.
Anyway, viral GIF disaster narrowly averted, QPR thankfully went back to dominating the game. The problem, as it has been all season, was whether a goal would come – QPR had managed seven in the league prior to this, the lowest total in the division, and as Toni Leistner somehow failed to convert from point blank range on the end of a devilish free kick from Luke Freeman ten before half time you began to wonder.
Particularly as, with the pleasure window open, Joel Lynch’s terracotta turnstile routine clicked into life once more, getting too tight to Yakou Méïté and allowing himself to be turned in the left channel before a shot was unloaded into the side netting. Méïté, standing in for top scorer Jón Daði Böðvarsson who’d been injured in the warm up, stood Lynch up and spun him again in the second half before striking a low shot off the base of the post. He’s improved this season, but still has three or four brain farts a game that better strikers will punish more effectively – stoppage time here, winning the game 1-0, he was nutmegging people on the edge of his own box and then charging forward into the centre forward position. Chuck me the keys, I’ll drive.
That’s right, 1-0. It did come. A shame, in some ways, that it wasn’t the flash counter attack seven minutes before the break that broke the deadlock – Wells’ pass through the centre backs to Eze worthy of a print on canvas, Eze’s touch and awareness to hold it up just long enough to return the favour a thing of beauty, Wells’ finish seemingly destined for the far corner until keeper Sam Walker sprawled left and saved.
Instead, it was a scrambled effort from a corner that did the damage. Midway through the second half a set piece, after Walker had saved smartly again to deny Cousins from 20 yards during a spell of pressure, was played into the near post and flicked on by Cameron causing chaos. A goal seemed certain to result from the free for all in the six-yard box, and Rangers looked to have stone wall grounds for a penalty for handball on the line as Wells tried to force it home. Amidst the chaos and confusion, Toni Leistner struck a shot firmly enough to power through the crowd scene and into the net for his first goal of the season.
Nothing more than Rangers deserved. Earlier Wells had struck the top of the wall with a presentable free kick after a foul on the industrious Freeman, and if anything it looked like the visitors would go on and score more.
However, like at Bolton, taking the lead away from home seemed to spark needless worry against poor opposition. Rangers sunk too deep, too soon, inviting pressure. McClaren made the right substitutions, Pawel Wszolek and Josh Scowen’s legs wrestled control of the game back quickly and efficiently in the dying stages. But he waited too long to do them with Geoff Cameron, in particular, and not for the first time, looking absolutely spent after an hour – and not much cop before that.
Fortunately, apart from Méïté’s one off the post, Reading’s main tactic for the second period seemed to be based around conning penalties out of referee Andy Davies. Double fortunately, Davies wasn’t having any of it. First he booked Méïté for going down as he ran past Toni Leistner in the box – haven’t seen it back, it looked a pen to me at first glance. Then Ezatolahi went the same way, into the notebook for a much more obvious flop under no contact at all. I wondered whether Reading were deliberately playing on the human nature of match officials, who having had enough courage of their convictions to wave one appeal away from a home team and issue a yellow card may be intimidated into awarding a questionable one the other way next time. If so, they’d backed the wrong horse. This was a man who’d had the stones to give two penalties against Millwall at The Den on Saturday, and besides there were no Reading fans in attendance to provide the intimidation factor. Just for good measure, he waved a third appeal away from the home team’s best player Andy Yiadom after he’d charged forward from left back and beaten two men on his way into another theatrical penalty box tumble. No card that time though, that would have been a bit much.
Méïté headed wide with Lumley beaten shortly after hitting the post but the introduction of Scowen and Wszolek dragged the game back into QPR’s control for the closing stages, and they could and should have added a second when the Pole swung a low cross into the path of fellow sub Hemed who’d sloppily run offside and then missed the chance anyway.
Beggars can’t be choosers. Right system, right players, right result. Rocket science this aint.
Two away wins and it’s not even March.
Subs not used: Mannone, Blackett, Rinomhota, Loader
Bookings: Méïté 55 (diving), Ezatolahi 68 (diving), Sims 70 (foul)
QPR: Lumley 6; Rangel 6, Leistner 7, Lynch 6, Bidwell 6; Cameron 5, Luongo 6; Cousins 6 (Wszolek 82, -), Eze 6 (Scowen 80, -), Freeman 7; Wells 7
Subs not used: Ingram, Hall, Osayi-Samuel, Smith
Goals: Leistner 64 (assisted Freeman/Cameron)
QPR Star Man – Toni Leistner 7 With a goal and a clean sheet he nudges ahead of Freeman and Wells, who were both really good and much more comfortable in this shape and system. Couple of nervous moments, bit of a sitter missed in the first half, but probably just shading it in what was a much better all round team effort than Saturday – significant improvements from several players, notably Massimo Luongo.
Referee – Andy Davies (Hampshire) 11 QPR got a lot out of him. He laid his stall out early when challenges from Luongo on Barrow and Méïté on Lynch that were easily yellow cards were allowed to float past with a word on the run. Whether he’d have awarded the penalty for the handball on the line for Leistner’s goal we’ll never know – though as he didn’t book the player involved anyway we assume not. I’ve heard Méïté’s was a dive, it looked a penalty to me at the time. The other two were dives, and rightly ignored. Blew for half time ten seconds early, which I’m all in favour of, we’ve all got homes to go to. Overall, in all seriousness, maybe a 6/10.
Souls on board – 13,568 (1,200 QPR approx). My arse. Wouldn’t want whoever was in charge of counting this measuring me up for a carpet.
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