|Queens Park Rangers 2 v 0 Portsmouth|
Tuesday, 5th February 2019 Kick-off 19:45
QPR power past Pompey into FA Cup fifth round - Report
Wednesday, 6th Feb 2019 17:53 by Clive Whittingham
Queens Park Rangers knocked League One high-flyers Portsmouth out of the FA Cup at Loftus Road on Tuesday night to make the fifth round for the first time in 22 years.
You want to get drunk? I’ll show you how to get drunk. You want to play League One ball? We’ll show you how to play League One ball. Free kicks, corners, crosses. Pulling, pushing, heading. Tackling, running, intensity. QPR were so keen to muck in against Portsmouth on Tuesday night I half expected Neil Warnock to appear with a story about Paddy Kenny. Sharon. Taarbs.
In contrast to his predecessor, who would regularly find himself marooned in long losing runs from which there seemed no escape, one thing Steve McClaren has been quite adept at this season is stopping a rot. August was disastrous, but recovered with four wins and a draw in September. There was a horrible week that included pastings at Blackpool and Swansea, but it preceded a run of one defeat in nine which lifted the R’s into play-off contention. And now a tired January after a hectic and successful Christmas has received a significant shot in the arm with progression to the fifth round of the FA Cup for the first time since 1997.
He’s done it by being very un-football-manager-like. Usually they’re stubborn beasts, set in their ways, married to their ideals. When the going gets tough they entrench themselves, they double down, they do more of what’s not working because fuck you that’s why. They say ‘non-football people’ don’t understand and Steve Claridge goes on TalkSport and agrees with them. Not McClaren, not this season anyway. After the debacle of the first four games, he switched out of his 4-2-3-1 formation and attempts to play total football out from the back, recognising he didn’t have the players for it, and found solace in a more basic 4-4-2 set-up – albeit one significantly boosted by the arrival of Nahki Wells and Tomer Hemed up front. When it became clear this suited the two strikers but none of the four midfielders behind them, particularly Luke Freean and Ebere Eze pressed into service as conventional wingers, he bit the bullet again and switched back to a lone-striker system even though that meant one of his expensively acquired loaned forwards would have to sit out. And now here again, for a third time, after three straight league defeats, after several defensively disastrous goals against Preston and Wigan that suggested teams had got wise to the counter attacking style and attempts to play out from Joe Lumley… another switch.
It should be pointed out, before we all book sunshine holidays on McClaren’s hair island, that this was not League One-leaders Portsmouth. Not only because they’re no longer leading League One having slipped to third since we last met amidst a January blip of their own, but also because faced with bigger fish to fry and with several January additions (strikers Omar Bogle and James Vaughan chief amongst them) ineligible for this replayed tie they picked a bitty team. Oli Hawkins, just five goals in 25 league appearances this season, scratched around up front but was no match for an impressive, new-look centre half combination of Grant Hall and Joel Lynch – Toni Leistner paying for his Wigan aberrations with a night of quiet reflection on the bench, McClaren dropping his captain. Kenny Jackett, fondly remembered for his part in the great QPR revival of 2001-2004, named only six substitutes. “Ha ha, no really, what’s the team?” was one online response to their sheet being posted an hour before kick off.
But they did have Jamal Lowe attacking in fine style from the right – easy to see why David Wheeler struggled for game time here with a player of this quality ahead of him in the pecking order – and in Christian Burgess and Matt Clarke an imposing pair of talented looking centre backs of their own. That and 3,000 traveling fans behind the goal made it a potential banana skin for Rangers all the same. How like us would it be to go to Fratton Park, stare a south coast gale and a tubthumping crowd square in the face, force the replay and then lose at Loftus Road? QPR, whose FA Cup record reads like the LinkedIn profile of the Costa Concordia’s captain, frequently sunk by obstacles they really should have been able to sail straight past.
Actually, not like us at all. Not this season. Not on Tuesday night. The 4-4-2 was back. Ebere Eze was given a long overdue rest. Bright Osayi-Samuel was picked as a winger on the wing – revelations – to cross from the right and Luke Freeman was designated kicker on a plethora of set pieces of many shapes and sizes. Mass Luongo and Josh Scowen played as the central midfield pair – excellently. There was tempo, there was purpose, right from the off, but more importantly there was width, and there were crosses, and there was just the man for the occasion waiting in the wings.
Behold Matt Smith. Six foot six of brawn from the university rowing calendar. A man completely unsuited to Queens Park Rangers’ style for most of this season - unable to provide either the hold up and lay game or the runs into channels that McClaren’s preferred formation demands of its lone striker, and by his own admission frustrated at being reduced to a white flag substitution when plan A has failed or an extra lump is required to populate the penalty box we’re defending. He’d nearly been seconded to join Millwall’s incineration of the Championship on deadline day but stuck around just long enough for Rangers to realise that if you get the ball wide and chuck good quality service into the box for him to attack, as opposed to lumping it down the middle for him to hold up or flick on, there’s a useful, if rather rudimentary, weapon for our arsenal there.
It took until the seventieth minute to bear fruit, but when Freeman’s corner found Smith ten yards out he was able to head down for Lynch to bundle the ball towards goal and Nahkiiiiiii Wells to force it home from no range at all. Seven minutes later the dose was repeated in more emphatic fashion. Freeman, joking with the substitutes about exactly where he should put a wide free kick before taking it, swung a delicious cross over for the hungry masses and Smith was front of the queue for a buffet lunch. Wallop. That’s how you head a ball. That stayed headered. When that football is long punctured and worn, lying amidst the rotting piles of rubbish on some God awful landfill site in the East Midlands, no-deal-Brexit Britons scavenging around it for food, it will still be headered then. That ball will never be unheadered. Fairly well bastarded into the back of the net for 2-0 and game over.
Nothing more than QPR deserved. They’d been at it. Just as we hoped they would be when offered the chance of two home games for an FA Cup quarter final appearance. A nice switch of play after five minutes gave lovely Darnell Furlong a chance to cross for Smith to power a header over. Five minutes later, same side but inswinging, the ball was agonisingly out of reach of the big target man as he tried to stretch out a telescopic leg. A leg? A foot? We’re not paying you for that man, get your bonce on it. Freeman hit a volley over the bar, then stuck a corner onto Furlong’s nut for an attempt flush off the face of the cross bar. Later Freeman - all action, all waddle, all fucking Dartford mate - cut infield and passed when it seemed to have opened up for a shot.
Bar a bit of a panic in a period Big Racist Ron used to call “early doors” that allowed the excellent Lowe to get a blocked shot away there was little to trouble the stomach lining at the other end. A refreshing change, usually QPR fans churn enough acid to burn a hole in the hull of a ship in this competition. Not sure Joe Lumley needed to tempt fate quite so much with his dalliance over a twentieth minute pass back, but that’s what the pre-match Peroni is for. Massimo Luongo volleyed over.
Second half, still 0-0, but QPR vastly superior. Crowd into it, rain tipping down, floodlights twinkling. A corner worked short to Luongo saw a shot blocked. One brilliant Freeman cross cleared, another glanced wide at the near post by the Australian. Josh Scowen, carried away with it all, shown a booking-and-a-half for trying to make orphans of Ben Close’s kids. That’ll teach him for boiling that rabbit. Referee David Coote arrived with a yellow card. The Pompey physio brought on a carrier bag to pick up the bits. Calls were made to his elderly white-haired mother. Not a good one.
There was still the potential for this to go horribly wrong. The feeling it might started to fester when first Wells ran clear on goal only to delay way too long and allow the eye-catching Clarke to get back with a full Danny Shittu. Then Samuel, playing nicely, got Freeman into space but he shot over the bar. A period of Portsmouth pressure followed. They'd knocked out Norwich City in round three. Pack that in. Scowen, walking the veritable disciplinary tightrope, pulled out of a confrontation he’d usually bring a gun to, allowing a low cross to go into the box and sub Gareth Evans to poke wide.
Fear not fair maiden, two goals were just around the corner, and soon Matt Smith was attempting to volley bouncing through balls into the top corner from narrow angles 15 yards out. Cheeky boy. There was a fumbled scare for Joe Lumley in four minutes of injury time as Portsmouth tried to salvage something by bringing Brett The Pitman Hart off the bench. Lowe, who’ll surely be at Championship level next season even if Pompey aren’t, narrowly failed to find the top corner from the resulting corner. Rangers didn’t very much care, and will now take their place in the FA Cup fifth round next Friday night for the first time since Trevor Sinclair was in dreadlocks and bicycle kicks.
I’m stealing the outro from my old mate Zach Sutton. We’ve seen QPR lose in the FA Cup to a car manufacturing plant before now so if we want to get over-excited about getting through the fourth round that’s what we’re going to do.
Match Gallery: 10 photos
QPR: Lumley 6; Furlong 7, Hall 7, Lynch 7, Bidwell 7; Osayi-Samuel 7 (Eze 72, 6), Scowen 6, Luongo 7, Freeman 8; Wells 7 (Manning 82, -), Smith 8 (Hemed 90, -)
Subs not used: Ingram, Wszolek, Kakay, Leistner
Goals: Wells 70 (assisted Lynch), Smith 77 (assisted Freeman)
Bookings: Scowen 52 (foul)
Pompey: MacGillivray 6; Walkes 6, Burgess 6, Clarke 7, Brown 6; Naylor 6, May 6 (Morris 59, 6), Close 6 (Pitman 74, 5), Dennis 6 (Evans 60, 6) Lowe 8; Hawkins 5
Subs not used: Thompson, Bass, Haunstrup
Bookings: Burgess 76 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Matt Smith 8 Just shading it from Luke Freeman with a big hand in the first goal, a thumping second of his own, and a great all round performance that added a new dimension to the attack. Does help when we service him from wide areas rather than pumping it long down the middle for him to flick on – Osayi-Samuel and Freeman both to the fore in that regard.
Referee – David Coote (West Yorkshire) 7 Allowed a hell of a lot to go on in the penalty area as set pieces were taken. Hall and Smith both had their shifts pulled when trying to attack corners – always a clue something is amiss if you can see the player’s torso. Furlong was also lucky to get away with a similar offence towards the end of the first half. Scowen’s yellow was very borderline, not a good tackle. But the lenience and general willingness to let the game flow added to the spectacle and you’d rather that than somebody blowing the pea out of the whistle. Consistent for both sides.
Attendance – 13,115 (3,000 Portsmouth approx.) Looked like more, felt like more, sounded like more. Cannot wait for next Friday.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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