|Queens Park Rangers 2 v 1 Leeds United|
Sunday, 6th January 2019 Kick-off 14:00
And for our next trick – Report
Monday, 7th Jan 2019 17:32 by Clive Whittingham
QPR won an FA Cup game outright for the first time since 1997 on Sunday, beating Championship leaders Leeds 2-1 at Loftus Road.
Steve McClaren’s genre-bending, expectation-defying, history-making, hoodoo-busting gang of misfits, youth prospects and other team’s cast offs tore up the rulebook again on Sunday securing the club’s first progression beyond the Third Round of the FA Cup since 2013, and first win in this competition without the aid of a replay since 1997.
Admittedly they did so against a weakened Leeds United team with bigger fish to fry, but with a team sporting six changes of its own including an almost entirely new back four and goalkeeper. When you’ve spent 22 years being booted out of this competition by MK Dons, Grimsby Town, Vauxhall Motors and a host of reserve teams sent by other Championship clubs you don’t quibble over details like who had the biggest dog in the fight. QPR were good, played well, deserved their victory. It’s starting to get unsettling.
Last time Rangers accomplished a win in this competition it was the day of the Trevor Sinclair bicycle kick. An impossible goal, never to be bettered, from further out and higher up and with greater velocity than physics should really allow. It was also the day of the best punch ever seen outside a boxing ring – Andy Impey knocking the Barnsley full back clean out. On Saturday, Rangers lined up with three kids of their own growing sporting Sinclair’s trademark dreads and in Bright Osayi-Samuel a winger channelling all of Impey’s good points when he wasn’t trying to kill people. They had too much ability and speed for a Leeds team containing three boys – Jamie Shackelton, Jack Clarke and Leif Davis – who didn’t look old enough to be travelling to London without their parents.
It felt a world away from September, when QPR passed up a rare chance to go deep into the League Cup by picking a nonsense side and turning in a non-performance at League One Blackpool in round three. There was genuine anger spat down from the away end towards the manager that night, and at a subsequent fans forum, when he was left in no doubt that after decades of the team phoning in cup performances the QPR fans are rather fed up and keen to see a little bit more than balls lumped up to Matt Smith while Josh Scowen tries to get himself sent off.
The manager had been at pains to stress there would be no repeat here, that the cup would be taken seriously, but a combination of injuries to senior players and his tendency to pick the same team whenever possible had rather painted McClaren into a corner. Three players – Luke Freeman, Jake Bidwell and Ebere Eze – have played every game this season and while they all did so again here others – both centre backs, and treasured striker Nahki Wells – were in desperate need of a bit of a lie down and a cuddle. Possibly encouraged by Leeds’ scratchy side, which didn’t include perennial scourge of the Rangers Kemar Roofe (six in his last three games against the Rs) and was helpfully revealed by Marcelo Bielsa on Friday, the balance was struck a lot better than it had been at Bloomfield Road.
That said, when impressive Leeds attacker Tyler Roberts let one go after 28 seconds and struck the inside of both posts it did have a very familiar feeling about it.
That was quickly dispelled by the pace and power in QPR’s attack. Aramide Oteh, finally rewarded for his persistent deluge of goals for the U23 with a first team start, looked a much more rounded, purposeful, dangerous player than the one who’d rather timidly disappeared from games with Middlesbrough and Bristol City this time last year. He cut into the area after seven minutes and drew a save from keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell at his near post. The Leeds’ custodian, who looks more like a Wallace and Gromit character than some of the characters in Wallace and Gromit, was then forced into an even better stop as Bright Osayi-Samuel burst through into a one on one situation from a good Eze pass. Jake Bidwell had a header from a corner more comfortably stopped as a harbinger of what was to come later.
Ebere Eze had already been taken out on the edge of the area for a free kick he struck into the wall when Bidwell then found himself turning beyond Davis in the area. He youngster, naively, hung out a leg, tripping Bidwell and conceding an obvious penalty. Rangers have only had one of these this season, scored by Tomer Hemed at Ipswich, and with the Israeli out injured there was some debate over who might take the responsibility. Eze had calmly put one in the top corner during a pre-season friendly with Union Berlin but it was Oteh, as striker, who insisted on being given the chance. He took four steps and gave it a good belt to make it 1-0. Lovely stuff – the confidence to take it, and then the complete lack of histrionics, posing, over-thinking or too-clever-for-your-own-good run up and taking technique that we see way too often these days. Just put the ball down and give it a smack. Wallop. Good lad.
A shame really that Rangers surrendered that lead immediately and in such soft circumstances. A free kick three quarters of a mile from goal was only deemed worthy of a two-man wall by stand in keeper Matt Ingram who subsequently had a nice clear view of Lewis Baker’s drive down the middle from the moment it left the player’s boot. Nevertheless, an amateurish fumble presented centre back Halme with a simple tap in for 1-1. Halme simply grateful to be away from Oteh for a moment – he would be withdrawn at half time despite his goal. Meanwhile, Ingram was soon dallying over a pass back to the point of disaster and looked absolutely bereft by the break. Frightened of any sort of ball coming within his vague vicinity.
This was, of course, supposed to be Ingram’s season after two and a half years of patiently waiting for Alex Smithies to stop being so ruddy, bloody brilliant. He was rather hung out to dry by QPR’s biblically bad August, asked to not only come into a Championship team as number one for the first time but also to play behind an entirely new back four and with a total-football passing out from the back style that suited none of them. He’s since been benched to watch Joe Lumley grow into the role that should have been his and to make a mistake like that on a rare trip back into the first team was harrowing to watch on a human level, so God only knows what it must have been like to experience for him. He would, to his credit, come back with two important saves in the second half but you can’t shake the feeling he probably needs a fresh start somewhere else.
He would have shipped a second immediately after the first but for Bidwell’s goal-saving tackle on Roberts at the back post as he readied a tap in after good Alioski approach work. Long range efforts from Eze, Kakay and Alioski saw us through to half time. Oooooh, lovely, lovely Elland Road replay on a January night. Like a trip to the in-laws. If your in-laws are Katie Hopkins and Richard Littlejohn.
Fortunately, the QPR players didn’t seem to fancy that prospect any more than the QPR fans. Bidwell, again, threatened from an early corner. Then Jordan Cousins took matters into his own hand with a powerful slalom around two stricken opponents and a 25-yard thunderbastard which Peacock-Farrell did well to get onto the top of the post. It is there, he can do it. More Jordan. More. Believe in Schteve. Say it with me.
The first of Ingram’s big saves came off a Grant Hall mistake. The odd slip was to be expected in Hall’s first 90 minutes since Princess Diana was still in leopard-print swim suits, and when it came it Roberts through on goal but Ingram came out, stayed big, slid under his man and took the ball. Referee Geoff Eltringham rightly siding with the keeper. Alert defending from the other centre half, Darnell Furlong moved infield for this one, averted disaster at the subsequent quickly taken corner - he looks an absolute natural in that position.
His second was better, 13 minutes from time as a corner to the back post fell the way of Harrison who struck goalwards only for Ingram to deny him. By then, the former Wycombe keeper was protecting a lead. Bidwell had been threatening from corners all afternoon with referee and Leeds pre-occupied with whatever Grant Hall was up to under Freeman’s deliveries. This time a firm header sailed into the bottom corner with nobody stationed on the back post.
It was all a bit much for Alioski. He pulled Ebere Eze up off the ground with the clock running down - a bit bloody rich of him to be accusing anybody else of play acting – and then set off down the field to commit a stupid foul on the edge of the box. Yellow card, but more importantly could Rangers banish another, smaller, monkey from their back with the direct free kick? It’s 88 games and almost two years to the day since Yeni Ngbakoto blasted home our last, away at Birmingham in February 2017. Luke ‘Lukey’ Freeman could scarcely have gone closer with this effort – over the wall, past the keeper, onto the inside of the post, and back out into play. I’ll get you Gadget, next time.
The substitutions felt a little later than they could have been as usual – Ilias Chair, Pawel Wszolek and Matt Smith all brought on to run the clock down, Eze, Osayi-Samuel and Oteh given deserved ovations on the way off. But it was Rangers, and Freeman’s super-human levels of energy, that were posing the threats as time ran down – Eltringham returning to book Baker after he’d tried, and failed, to stop him bowling across halfway with pace and purpose once more. Four minutes of injury time sailed on by without incident.
Question is, if it’s a QPR team that wins away from home, a QPR team that wins away from home at Nottingham Forest, a QPR team that keeps clean sheets, and a QPR team that can win in the FA Cup… is it really a QPR team at all?
Match Gallery: 35 photos
QPR: Ingram 5; Kakay 6, Furlong 7, Hall 6, Bidwell 8; Scowen 7, Cousins 7; Osayi-Samuel 7 (Wszolek 86, -), Eze 6 (Smith 90, -), Freeman 8; Oteh 7 (Chair 83, -)
Subs not used: Lumley, Manning, Baptiste, Smyth
Goals: Oteh 23 (penalty, won Bidwell), Bidwell 75 (assisted Freeman)
Bookings: Furlong 72 (foul), Kakay 90+3 (dissent)
Leeds: Peacock-Farrell 7; Shackleton 6, Ayling 6, Halme 5 (Pearce 45, 5 (Temenuzhkovat 79, 5)) Davis 5 (Odour 87, -); Forshaw 7, Clarke 6; Baker 6, Roberts 7, Alioski 6; Harrison 6
Goals: Halme 25 (assisted Baker)
Subs not used: Huffer, Diaz, Stevens, Gotts
Bookings: Halme 20 (foul), Alioski 84 (repetitive fouling), Baker 88 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Jake Bidwell 8 Such a consistent player anyway these days but was a much bigger attacking threat than normal here, to go with the usual solid defensive work. Won the penalty for the first goal and scored the second himself, one of several moments he posed an aerial threat from our set pieces which is unusual. Also made a goal-saving tackle on Roberts straight after the equaliser. Several candidates, but a goal and an assist seals it.
Referee – Geoff Eltringham (Durham) 8 Made an absolute howler in his last Leeds appointment against Forest before Christmas, allowing Roofe to punch in the equaliser, but he’s always seemed like a very good, calm, unfussy referee when we’ve had him and that was the case again here. The Alioski booking seemed a little harsh but I think was a culmination of fouls, dissent and twattery over a few minutes before hand. Penalty was the correct decision and it’s hard to think of much he got wrong.
Attendance – 11,637 (3,100 Leeds approx.) Looked like more to me, particularly with the travelling 750,000 from Leeds. Certainly a bigger gate than I’d thought there would be. Hopefully the same for Blackburn/West Brom in round four.
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