|Nottingham Forest 0 v 1 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 22nd December 2018 Kick-off 15:00
QPR blow Forest hoodoo out of the water – Report
Sunday, 23rd Dec 2018 20:02 by Clive Whittingham
Toni Leistner’s first half header and a stellar all-round team performance gave Queens Park Rangers their first ever win at Nottingham Forest on Saturday at the thirty fifth time of asking.
It’s been 84 years, and I can still smell the Pierre Van Hooijdonk hat trick.
One of many legendary tales of my grandad’s colourful existence surrounded his nine separate and increasingly desperate attempts to pass his driving test. Reasons for failure included an episode where he turned the car off completely mid-flight and free-wheeled three quarters of a mile down a hill towards a busy intersection to “save petrol” - a trick he proudly told the examiner he’d been “taught by a Scotsman” but one that, nevertheless, counted as major enough for the test to be immediately stopped. On attempt seven his mate Bricky emerged from The Britannia on Scunthorpe’s Frodingham Road one lunchtime and tried to helpfully wave my grandfather out when he felt there was a sufficient gap in traffic. Grandad leant across the examiner, wound down the window, and asked Bricky to “fuck off”. Abuse of a pedestrian is also a fail as it turns out.
The only thing more remarkable than him eventually squeezing through at the tenth time of asking was that he then felt qualified and capable enough to immediately start teaching my grandmother to drive. A nervous woman at the best of times, she infamously used to change gears with both hands provoking an equal mix of terror and lewd comments among her passengers.
In the end the family just assumed he’d never pass, because he never should have done and the history of failure was weighing on his mind. But there’s a constant there: specifically, my grandad was an appallingly bad driver. It was the same liability with the same thin grasp of the rules of the road and penchant for switching the car off at 50 miles per hour getting into the driver’s seat with the examiner each time.
History weighs heavy on sports teams in a nonsensical way. None of the Queens Park Rangers players or management from the four-minute Nigel Clough hat trick, or the last-minute Stan Collymore winner, or the 5-0 Mick Harford game are still at the club. Hell, only four of the players that started Rangers’ 4-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest at the City Ground last season played again on Saturday (Jake Bidwell, Luke Freeman, Josh Scowen, Mass Luongo) and only two of them (Pawel Wszolek, Jordan Cousins) were in the side that drew 1-1 here the year before in Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s last game in charge.
The emotional baggage accumulated through 34 attempts to win a game at the City Ground across 84 years should lie exclusively with the supporters who traipsed up here every time in hope of seeing history made only to return home poorer, drunker and more forlorn. And yet you’ve seen it on the players’ faces, in their demeanour, in their performances and in their decision making in this fixture down the years. QPR don’t win at Nottingham Forest - we know it, Forest know it, and whether the players have been with us for five minutes or five years they seem to know it too. We’ve been absolutely thrashed on this ground numerous times, conceding four goals on five separate occasions and five goals twice. We’ve been unlucky at times as well, and on the end of some odd refereeing. But quite often we’ve beaten ourselves, with a stupid mistake, or a bad piece of goalkeeping, or a lack of ambition, or a naïve piece of play. It has, at times, become a self-perpetuating thing.
We’ve seen similar with the England national team. It shouldn’t matter to David Batty in 1998 that Chris Waddle missed a penalty in a shoot out in 1990, nor to Wayne Rooney and co going to South Africa in 2010 that we’ve only won a couple of knock-out games in tournaments since 1966. But somehow it permeates and perpetuates – England don’t do well in tournaments, and they certainly don’t score penalties in shoot-outs, they’re told and therefore they do. It fits with the natural English pessimism and black humour, that as Jamie Carragher steps up in 2006 we all roll our eyes and start remembering Gareth Southgate in 1996. And so does he.
It was Southgate himself who showed his young team how to take ownership of that sort of thing in Russia during the summer. Don’t fear the knock-out record or the penalty shoot-out, be the one to change it. Don’t talk about something Stuart Pearce did in 1990, make sure they’re talking about something Kieran Trippier did in 2018. You can’t change the past, but you can shape your future, so concentrate on what’s within your control and don’t worry about the rest. What’s gone before is irrelevant. Scoring from 12 yards isn’t that difficult if you’ve enough natural talent to be a professional footballer. Beating Colombia and Sweden doesn’t have to be an insurmountable problem for a squad with England’s ability. And while Queens Park Rangers have had their ups and downs, and Nottingham Forest have had some formidable sides down the years, there’s really no need to treat trips to The City Ground like the final of Takeshi’s Castle.
Steve McClaren, a man swallowed whole by England’s demons in a past life, was the one who finally got a group of players to take ownership of one of football’s quirkier records and succeeded where 19 of his predecessors had failed on Saturday.
It wasn’t done without adversity. Added to the long term absences of Angel Rangel, Geoff Cameron and Tomer Hemed on Saturday was - surprise, surprise -Joel Lynch, who kept up his record of never having played for QPR between December 20 and 30, and missing 14 of the 24 fixtures he should have been available for between those dates over the last ten years, with “a dead leg”. My heart bleeds. I hope he booked out of Gatwick. That necessitated a reshuffle, with Darnell Furlong moving into centre back from the start, Jordan Cousins filling in at right back, and a previously out-of-form Josh Scowen starting in midfield.
All three, as it turned out, were brilliant. Forest had only lost three times this season prior to Saturday and sat seventh at the start of play. There had, so far, been few signs of Aitor Karanka’s miserly Middlesbrough tactics that could have coaxed a hyper active boxer dog to sleep – 32 goals scored prior to kick off was comfortably in the top third of the totals in the league and a recent trip to Aston Villa had, remarkably, finished 5-5.
But QPR had them sussed from minute one – as their outstanding central midfielder Adlene Guedioura stood in the quarter back role and tried to spread balls right and left, Rangers’ back four simply remained in shape and in line, refusing to be dragged from side to side or pulled apart. When Darikwa and Janko ventured forward from full back to try and get the sort of overloads Stoke, Leeds, Rotherham and Hull recently achieved against this R’s team, Luke Freeman and Pawel Wszolek tracked back admirably and put in sterling defensive shifts. At one point, after 22 minutes, when a QPR corner was caught by giant goalkeeper Costel Pantilimon and a counter attack launched, Wszolek sprinted back fully 70 yards to bring the whole thing to a halt with a boneshaker on Janko.
The result was an isolated Lewis Grabban getting a right bastarding at the hands of Toni Leistner, and succession of hopeful/hopeless balls threaded straight through to Joe Lumley. At the base of the midfield, Josh Scowen The Goblin Boy was back to his ratting best, and Mass Luongo continued his return to form. Guediora dragged wide from range on the quarter hour and Joe Lolley was off target from similarly hopeful range a while later. They were being stifled and frustrated and when Carvalho overran an attempt to do it all himself before halftime and launched into a fool’s mission to retrieve the situation from Scowen’s claws, a yellow card was the only outcome from referee Gavin Ward.
The one thing QPR weren’t really doing enough was posing a threat of their own. That changed at the perfect moment, with the stoppage time board in the air and the oranges freshly sliced, they opened the scoring with essentially the last kick of the half. Luongo, so stylish all afternoon, won a free kick in a spot on the pitch Luke Freeman would pick for a set piece given the choice. One hand in the air, he waddled up to the ball and whipped in an undefendable delivery which Leistner helped on into the net for his second goal of the season.
And who was that wrong side of his man? Frantically trying to retrieve the situation with a shirt tug? Not Jack Robinson per chance? Given a second half spent trying far too hard to redeem the situation, resulting in a succession of mishit passes into touch and a wild tackle on Luongo for which he was booked I suspect it might have been you know. Or maybe, having gone behind, and rarely threatened the QPR goal, he was simply regretting the rather crass comments he’d made on Friday about a club that treated him very well during a horrible period of injury and loneliness over the last few years. There was only one thing being blown out of the water by the banks of The Trent on Saturday, and it wasn’t Queens Park Rangers for once. Leistner, who replaced Robinson at Loftus Road, was the best player on the pitch and scored the winning goal. Forest’s match sponsor, rather laughably, named him Man of the Match. I have dead relatives who were closer to being Nottingham Forest’s Man of the Match on Saturday than Jack Robinson.
A predicted onslaught from Forest at the start of the second half presumably got lost in the Christmas post. Their attempts to build momentum persistently frustrated by Wszolek’s dogged determination in developing possession down the right wing, Luongo’s all-action midfield display, and Scowen’s relentless shithousing. Three minutes after half time the former Barnsley man gave it the big licks on Janko in the left channel. They call it a ball-and-all tackle in rugby league, or a three to five year stretch on the high street. Gavin Ward, remarkably, let him away with a warning.
Thoughts that it might just be our day after all boosted by a centre half performance for the ages from Leistner and Furlong. Not since Les Ferdinand wrote his own contract demands with a performance of supreme dominance at Newcastle in 1994 have I seen a player win literally every header he went for across the 90 minutes. Far from fearing the history, the German seemed to be revelling in being the man to reverse it. He was something else on Saturday, and when he wasn’t Furlong continued his blossoming into a very promising young centre back with a calm, composed, no-risk performance. It took until the final ten minutes for Forest to start chucking everything at it, and when they did Furlong twisted his frame into an improbable contortion and produced a diving headed clearance that had my spine creaking just watching him. Go on boy.
Karanka removed Joe Lolley and Ben Osborn as early as the fifty fifth minute, adding old man Daryl Murphy to the attack and Scrabble board nightmare Ansarifard to the midfield. It made little difference. Grabban, in particular, was anonymous and that’s not the first time that’s happened when I’ve watched him. I’m obviously wrong, and hey let’s not forget that I thought Geoff Cameron was a bit shit to start with, but I often struggle to see exactly what it is Grabban is supposed to be good at. This no doubt sets him up for a hat trick at Loftus Road in the corresponding fixture, and sensibly run clubs like Norwich and Borunemouth have spent big money on him in the past, while clubs like Villa and Forest pounce whenever he’s available in the loan market, so it’s a load of bollocks - he’d scored 14 prior to Saturday, the most in the league, so that’s what he’s good at clearly. But when I look at Hemed I see a back to goal game, or aerial ability in Matt Smith, or pace in Paul Smyth, or movement and finishing in Nahki Wells. Is Grabban that quick? No. Is he that good in the air? No. Is he that good with his back to goal? No. Can he grow a beard properly? Absolutely not. Like I say, I’m wrong, but I don’t get it. I’ve had more change out of HMRC than he got out of Leistner and Furlong the Younger on Saturday. Forest now haven’t scored for three games and on this evidence it’s easy to see why.
If there is a criticism of QPR’s two excellent showings against Boro and Forest this week, it’s that they need to do more with their breakaways. Bidwell won one free kick well and then headed not far wide of the top corner from Freeman’s resulting set piece which was fair enough, but when Eze tricked his way clear of the chasing pack with ten minutes to go he either had a shooting opportunity or a square ball to an unmarked Wells to seal the game. Faced with two options, he picked a third, checking back into traffic and losing the ball. First hints of perhaps fatigue or a slight drain in confidence in Eze on Saturday I felt – could do with a goal in one of these two home games coming up.
I expected a veritable hurricane of piss to come our way in the closing stages, particularly when Ward added six minutes onto the end of the game. Gut wrenching, heart breaking, arse clenching, soul destroying – but entirely correct. QPR had been running the clock throughout the second half and deserved to be made to suffer at least a further six minutes. Just our luck though that having banged on about this all season the first time a referee does actually add sufficient time on it’s here, now, in these circumstances.
It only added to the feeling that we’d find a way to screw this up again somehow. There’d been no sign of it, Forest had been insipid, with only a very weak penalty appeal for Cousins’ alleged push on Grabban under a Murphy cross and a crossshot right through the goalmouth from Darikwa with nobody on hand to apply a finishing touch to worry anybody. Forest actually hadn’t had a proper shot on target as the stoppage time got underway, but you knew it was coming, because it always does. We battened down the hatches and readied ourselves for wind, rain, sleet, bits of old boat, shots from all angles, the biggest goalkeeper in the world coming up for a corner (wouldn’t that be just bloody typical), and some prick who hasn’t scored for a million years suddenly popping up with his first for the club.
When Guedioura drew his boot back from the thick end of 35 yards and let rip with an absolute barnburner you assumed that this was the moment we had it snatched away from us again. At 33, he’d been the only Forest player on the day who looked like he really knew what he was doing, and now here he was rescuing his ailing team from a defeat with a shot that flew through the air like a fucking comet and started arcing towards the top corner on a trajectory that provided us with an agonisingly perfect view from behind the goal at the far end of the pitch. Joe Lumley dived right, thrust up an arm, and got enough on the fearsome effort to divert it up and onto the underside of the bar. Grabban was offside chasing the rebound. Strangers were hugging.
It's pathetically small time of course, the scenes at the end more akin to cup semi-final, relegation escape or European qualification, not a win against the seventh placed team in the Championship that lifts us up to the dizzying heights of tenth. But honestly, fuck you and your cynicism if you’re reading this and think that way. There’s history here, and it meant a lot to people who’ve spent a lot of money and time coming to this fixture over the year and been niggled by our weird failure to ever get a victory from it. This was my fifteenth trip, and I’m sure many of you have done more than that. The final whistle was surreal. As Edna Krabappel said when Bart Simpson left town, you wait for this moment your whole life and when it finally happens you don’t know what to say. Hush dear Edna, your tears say more than words ever could.
What’s different about this QPR team from many of its predecessors is it knows what it’s doing. That may sound ridiculous, and damning with faint praise, but it’s no small thing when you’ve been watching some of the rabbles we’ve fielded over the years. We may not always get it right, and we may not always be good enough to win, but the players know their jobs and the shape of the team and where they’re meant to be and what they’re meant to be doing. Toni, stand there and head that. Darnell, stand there and head that when Toni doesn’t. Pawel, can you run like fuck? That’s great news. Lukey, we’d like you to maintain possession please and stick all the sit pieces into dangerous places. Nahki, go up there and score the goals. Joe, save all the shots. It’s not rocket science of course, but it’s also not the world cat herding championships that we turned previous seasons into either. There’s a consistency coming, the gap between the best and worst performances is narrowing, and you basically know what you’re going to get from QPR from one week to the next – bar that Hull anomaly when we took a poor team a bit lightly. We must avoid that pitfall this week as Ipswich and Reading, with a new manager, come to Loftus Road – a big chance to move into genuine contention.
“You watch us lose to Ipswich now” said the same misery who’d ventured on 94 minutes that he was “starting to believe we might get a point”. On Saturday night few among a travelling contingent that will one day number many times those who were actually there gave much of a shit if we do.
News filtered through on the way out that Chelsea had lost at home to Leicester. Hooters looked like the last days of Rome. Merry Christmas my R’s.
Forest: Pantilimon 6; Darikwa 6, Figueiredo 6 (Hefele 75, 6), Robinson 5, Janko 6; Colback 6, Guédioura 7; Lolley 5 (Ansarifard 55, 6), Carvalho 6, Osborn 5 (Murphy 55, 5); Grabban 5
Subs not used: Cash, Steele, Yacob, Dias
Bookings: Carvalho 43 (foul), Ansarifardat 55 (foul), Robinson 78 (foul)
QPR: Lumley 7; Cousins 7, Furlong 7, Leistner 8, Bidwell 7; Scowen 7, Luongo 7; Wszolek 8, Eze 6 (Hall 88, -), Freeman 7; Wells 6 (Smith 86, -)
Subs not used: Ingram, Oteh, Chair, Osayi-Samuel, Kakay
Goals: Leistner 45 (assisted Freeman)
Bookings: Luongo 65 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Toni Leistner 8 Tower of defensive strength, history making winning goal. Plenty of other candidates though, led by Pawel Wszolek’s tireless shift down the right and followed closely behind by the likes of Furlong, Scowen, Luongo and Freeman. Not a bad performance out there, a great team effort.
Referee – Gavin Ward (Surrey) 7 Something else QPR have negative history with that went surprisingly well on Saturday. Rangers couldn’t argue with the hefty amount of stoppage time at the end given the time wasting that had been going on. The bookings he did give were justified but Forest perhaps had cause to feel aggrieved that both Luongo (before he was booked) and particularly Scowen escaped cards for tackles that looked at least a yellow to me from an admittedly bad vantage point. Decent though.
28, 177 (35,000 QPR approx.) The new Trevor Sinclair bicycle kick moment is born. Give it 18 months, everybody you know will claim they were there. The 1,700 that were gave it very, very large at the end.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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