Talk to me about your fairytale ending - Report
Sunday, 10th Feb 2019 19:46 by Clive Whittingham
QPR were a missed injury time penalty away from recovering from four goals down to draw for the third time in the history of the club on Saturday - former charge Lee Camp the hero for visitors Birmingham City.
When Birmingham City and Queens Park Rangers drew 0-0 at St Andrew’s in September it was one of the worst things I’d ever seen – and I include the funerals of some very dear and close relatives in that.
When the two sides met again at Loftus Road on Saturday it was like few football games ever played. More outlandish plot twists than a Brazilian telenovela, more narrative arcs than the complete works of Alfred Hitchcock, more angles than a dodecahedron and a cliffhanger ending that made heroes of villains, villains of heroes and left a huge ball of adrenalin dumped in the chest of everybody who was left there to see it with nowhere to go. It was alarming and distressing, then exciting and exhilarating, and then crushingly, soul-sappingly, leg-bucklingly disappointing. It was football, and QPR, at its, and their, very best and very worst. It was a game we’ll never forget, and one we have nothing to show for. If you slept soundly last night you’re a better man than I.
The seeds for the circus were sewn here against Portsmouth on Tuesday night. QPR, in poor January form but keen to seize a chance for FA Cup progress, switched to a 4-4-2 formation and left out their captain Toni Leistner following his personal aberration at Wigan last weekend. This worked a treat. Grant Hall and Joel Lynch impressed as a new-look centre half pairing, Mass Luongo and Josh Scowen were all pugnacious energy in midfield, the service from Bright Osayi-Samuel and Luke Freeman in wide areas was second to none and for once Nahki Wells wasn’t left to forage up front alone, joined by a man of the match performance from Big Posh Matt Smith.
It was a reasonable decision from manager Steve McClaren to stick with the same team and set up. There were fears that Rangers had grown tired and stale in their 4-2-3-1; that Ebere Eze, Leistner and others had played too many minutes this season; that teams had figured us out in the first round of fixtures and were picking us off in the corresponding games. Change felt necessary, change felt good, change got that illusive fourth round win and change deserved a chance to be unchanged. When Osayi-Samuel ripped Bristol Rovers apart in a cup game at the start of the season and then dropped straight back to the role of unused substitute, including for that artery-hardening 0-0 in the second city, McClaren was, rightly, criticised for it. Here the players who’d done the job midweek were given the chance to go again at the weekend.
But there was a problem. In fact there were three problems. The first is that every QPR manager in recent times has been wary of opening this Rangers side up too much by taking the extra fifth man out of midfield in favour of a second striker. Despite howls of derision about playing two up front and not being overly negative and Mike Bassett and four-four-fucking-two from the pubescent plebs who think interspersing their rampant masturbation with late night sessions on Fifa and Football Manager qualifies them in any way to judge professional football managers, Mark Hughes, Harry Redknapp, Chris Ramsey, Neil Warnock, Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink, Ian Holloway and now Steve McClaren have all be loath to do it. There’s good reason for that, and while it worked fine against a scratchy Portsmouth team during the week problem two was exactly that – Birmingham were a significantly stronger opponent. Problem three was tabled by visiting manager Garry Monk. City, themselves dropping out of play-off contention with a six-match winless run since the turn of the year, had arrested their own slide a week ago at home to Nottingham Forest by switching to a midfield diamond formation with Jota tucked in at ten behind strikers Che Adams and Lukas Jutciewicz.
The three issues collided in a perfect storm. Lynch and Hall, absolutely fine dealing with Portsmouth’s third choice striker Oli Hawkins between the two of them, simply could not cope with Che Adams and Lukas Jutkiewicz as a forward pairing. Hall tried to go toe to toe with Jutkiewicz physically and lost every round. Lynch was so horrifically bad he made Adams look like a Greek God. And with protection of the deep-lying midfield two removed altogether, and Josh Scowen’s difficult second album scraping the bottom of a new low, Jota had the freedom of West London to run amok in the acres of space behind his front two and in front of an over-awed centre half pairing.
A warning of trouble ahead had already come down from the crow’s nest lookout after six minutes. Jutkiewicz piling in on a good Maghoma cross and Grant Hall just about clearing. A quarter of an hour later Lynch quickly turned a situation where he was in front of Adams with the ball into one where both had disappeared off behind him. He looked like a drunk trying to negotiate a metal fire escape. Adams finished crisply for 1-0. Six minutes later - centre halves high and square in deep water with no life belts, Jake Bidwell deep and narrow flawing the offside trap fatally - Adams was in again, onto a through ball from Jota. Round Joe Lumley he went for 2-0. Like taking a huge chocolate bar from a dead baby.
This was an eighteenth goal in 33 appearances this season for Adams, and the sixth consecutive Championship game he’d scored in matching a record set by Paul Devlin for the Blues back in 1997. He wasn’t done yet either, though there was time before his crowning glory for Gary Gardner to draw a nervous save from Lumley after Nahki Wells had kindly passed him the ball and then Jota plonked the resulting corner straight on the head of Birmingham’s biggest player Harlee Dean who’d been left completely unmarked and scored with ease. Because why would you mark him? School for the gifted.
That was on 36 minutes and with the absolute piss taking in full swing Jota was soon marauding in from the right via backflicks from first Adams and then Jacques Maghoma to unload a shot off the inside of the post and, with Joe Lumley apparently happy to just give it up and wave it on its way, back out to Adams to tuck in for a 20 minute first half hat trick. It was like watching an abattoir burn down.
There’d been an early chance for Wells who should have done better with a header from Bright Osayi-Samuel’s cross shot, and the former Blackpool winger had another one tipped away by returning Loftus Road favourite Lee Camp, but you couldn’t argue with the score. When Matt Smith bundled one in from a corner late in the day it felt less like consolation and more like chum being tossed overboard. The bastard goal music played anyway. There needs to be a moratorium on such behaviour in these circumstances. What next a job lot of the clapping sticks being shipped in from the other side of the Hammersmith Broadway? A replica of the Norwich City “snake pit” flag parade? Our own version of the topless Crystal Palace teenagers jumping up and down with their arms round each other singing about socialism? Goal music at 1-4? Get in the fucking sea.
Don’t shine that light in my eyes mate. I’ve lost a pint of blood.
There’s history here. As the famous cover of A Kick Up The R’s once read, QPR are never more dangerous than when they’re 4-0 down at half time and here we were with one foot already on the ladder for the long climb back. McClaren made two half time changes. Frankly there aren’t enough substitutions in the world to perform the amount of surgery the team required at half time in this game but bringing Toni Leistner back into the defence and going to three at the back to match the Birmingham front three helped immeasurably. Leistner won every header in the second half, including several against Lynch and Hall. If I was Leistner sitting on that bench through that first half I’d have ignored those two clowns as well. With Scowen also mercy-killed, the much-maligned Jordan Cousins came on and provided exactly the sort of muscular midfield protection in front of the defence we’ve struggled to find since Geoff Cameron was injured, and were entirely lacking in the first 45 minutes here. Water had been taken on, the vessel was listing, but the hole had been plugged, Jota didn’t have the space he’d had in the first half and Adams and Jutkiewicz were back under some semblance of control.
Momentum shift. Plot twist. Key change. The first thing QPR did was make it 4-2 – Wells expertly teeing up Smith for a side-footed finish at the Loft End. Days and weeks of time to go. Atmosphere returning. Among the fans that had found it within them to stay for the second half, belief was starting to course.
There was still time for a final moment of complete cuntfuckery from Lynch before he was finally hooked back to a place where he was no longer a danger to himself and others. Miles out of position, with Maghoma breaking over halfway line into space, Lynch decided he was going to attempt to kill the Birmingham man to death, and so very deliberately intercepted his path and swung a wild boot at his knee caps as he ran past. He missed. Completely. But got booked for it anyway. Of course he did. Fucking oaf. Leaving Maghoma to run on and set up Jota for a shot past the post. Not only did he miss, but he also injured himself doing it. I mean, I just, I’ve been doing this a long time, and I try, I really try, but oh my fucking God. He missed and injured himself. There are no words.
Turned out to be a good thing, I didn’t have to watch him any more, QPR didn’t have to legislate for him any more, and now Pawel Wszolek’s was on to attack down the right where Osayi-Samuel was one of the few who could count himself unlucky in the first half but was nevertheless removed at the break to allow for the tactical switch. Wszolek was great in the final half hour, his rank inconsistency lately something of a concern, though someway down the list of problems we have to address after this.
Referee Darren Bond everybody. *Applause*. Championship ref-bot 2.3 had already long decided he was going to give Matt Smith nothing all day, declaring open season on the striker. When he was booted up in the air over by the far touchline nothing was given. When Furlong then suffered a lesser foul immediately at the hands of Maghoma the Birmingham man was booked but when he then came across to the other side of the pitch and deliberately tripped Luke Freeman with a far more blatant offence in a far more dangerous position Bond decided to leave him on the field. Just because. Leistner tried an ambitious long ranger, Camp fumbled it in the bottom corner, Smith seized on the rebound, Morrison pushed him over. No penalty. Just because. I swear we’ll have been taken over and ruled for a thousand years by new ant overlords before Matt Smith is awarded a penalty. Make sure that free kick in a neutral part of the pitch is in the right place though you little scamp. Take it back. Back over there. Take it back. Back over there. Take it back. Back over there. Take it again. Back over there. Take it back. Back over there. Take it again. Back over there. Insufferable jobsworth. There’s one in every village.
No matter. A sense of injustice only built the atmosphere further. Hall headed the resulting Freeman free kick over. Smith had a searing, deflected volley from the edge of the box (do not adjust your set) spectacularly saved under the cross bar by Camp. Smith flicked a right wing cross into the path of Wells who missed an absolute sitter. Camp got away with an unorthodox fumble and parry from another Smith downward header from a cross from the left. Smith was absolutely everywhere, shrugging off the scandalous lack of protection from the referee, facing up to the physical onslaught from Dean and Morrison, picking himself up from a head injury and playing on one leg by the end with the sniff of a hat trick and a ninth career goal for a third different club against the side his dad once briefly turned out for. A back post header was saved by Camp again, a goalkeeper who thought his career was over 18 months ago now having a full Danny Coyne down at the Loft End. Gripping stuff.
It just needed that third. And here it was. A cross from Wszolek, too deep. Freeman collects, could cut it back to Bidwell, instead goes to the byline and stands it up, Smith in there again, Wells in there again, Camp flapping around, defence imploding, Jordan Cousins striding onto a full volley into the top bins. A rare Tony Yeboah barnburner seen in the wild. Here we fucking go. The place was alive. If you haven’t experience this you haven’t lived. Ten full minutes to go. Loftus Road absolutely bouncing. Tell me again about how keen you are to leave this glorious home of ours because you haven’t got enough pissing leg room. The 1984 Alan Mullery 5-5 with Newcastle team; the 1997 Stewart Houston 4-4 with Port Vale team; the 1906 Chicago Whitesox - watch out boys, you’ve got company. Steve McClaren’s 2019 Queens Park Rangers, roaring back with wind in their wet sails. It seemed not a matter of if but when. Not a matter of one point, but would there be enough time to still win three. It was as if the whole pitch had been tipped up towards the Loft End. Can he do it? Can Andy win Wimbledon? Can he do it for Charles Darwin?
Smith nearly made it 4-4 off the bloody kick off, a diving header glanced wide of the post. If it had gone in we’d still be there now. There or the Crown. Splashing around naked in a vat of euphoria and Peroni. There’s another lifeboat for the daddies on the other side sweetheart. Don't call the police I'll call them myself. Birmingham, losing their own minds in the pandemonium, were still throwing strikers on and going for more goals. None of the Preston, Norwich, Sheffield United clock running aresholery here boys, have a big thick slice of Isaac Vassell for your Che Adams and see how you cope with that. Not well as it turns out, Jota through to another attacking substitute Kerim Mrabti to force a good one on one save from Lumley. When they got a late corner they passed up the time wasting opportunity and slung it in there anyway. Absolute lads. There was enough electricity in the place to power the national grid for a month. What is going on? What is happening here?
What is happening here is five minutes of added time. And Joe Lumley going up for corners. And everybody on their feet. And can you actually believe what we’re witnessing? And will the grandkids ever believe us when we tell them? And is there anywhere you'd rather be than Loftus Road when it's like this? And a penalty kick. A penalty kick. Luke Freeman cleared out by the third substitute Craig Gardner amidst more goal mouth chaos. A penalty kick. Darnell Furlong couldn't bring himself to watch. I think I'm going to throw up. Aramide Oteh scored QPR’s last, but he wasn’t here. Tomer Hemed scored the one before that, but remained an unused sub because of the earlier emergency surgery. Talk about Luke Freeman and Matt Smith, on a hat trick, in hindsight if you must, but you’d want Nahki Wells on duty for such a situation wouldn’t you?
Apparently not. The dreaded stuttered run up. A kick easier to read than the Daily Star’s crossword. A mass incursion into the box by desperate Brummie defenders ignored by the refbot. A narrative-seizing dive to the right by Lee Camp. And a save. An easy save. A miss.
He missed it.
QPR 1st Half: Lumley 3; Furlong 4, Hall 3, Lynch 2, Bidwell 4; Osayi-Samuel 6, Scowen 3, Luongo 5, Freeman 5; Smith 6, Wells 5
QPR 2nd half: Lumley 6; Leistner 7, Hall 5, Lynch 5 (Wszolek 61, 7); Furlong 6, Bidwell 6; Cousins 7, Freeman 8, Luongo 7; Wells 5, Smith 9
QPR Overall: Lumley 4; Furlong 5, Hall 4, Lynch 3 (Wszolek 61, 7), Bidwell 5; Osayi-Samuel 6 (Cousins 46, 7), Scowen 3 (Leistner 46, 7), Luongo 6, Freeman 7; Wells 5, Smith 8
Subs not used: Ingram, Eze, Manning, Hemed
Goals: Smith 41 (assisted Freeman), 48 (assisted Wells), Cousins 80 (assisted Freeman)
Bookings: Lynch 53 (foul)
Birmingham 1st half: Camp 6; Harding 7, Morrison 7, Dean 7, Colin 7; Gardner 7, Kieftenbeld 8, Maghoma 8, Jota 10; Jutkiewicz 8, Adams 10
Birmingham 2nd half: Camp 9; Harding 6, Morrison 5, Dean 5, Colin 6; G Gardner 7, Kieftenbeld 7, Maghoma 6 (C Gardner 74, 6), Jota 6; Jutkiewicz 6 (Mrabti 68, 5), Adams 7 (Vassell 82, -)
Birmingham overall: Camp 8; Harding 6, Morrison 6, Dean 6, Colin 6; G Gardner 7, Kieftenbeld 8, Maghoma 7 (C Gardner 74, 6), Jota 8; Jutkiewicz 7 (Mrabti 68, 5), Adams 9 (Vassell 82, -)
Subs not used: Pedersen, Mahoney, Davis, Trueman
Goals: Adams 21 (unassisted), 26 (assisted Jota), 42 (assisted Jota), Dean 36 (assisted Jota)
Bookings: Maghoma 58 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Matt Smith 8 Absolute warrior. Scored twice, went close to a hat trick on three other occasions, got the square root of fuck all out of the referee, battered from pillar to post, playing on one leg by the end. Magnificent stuff.
Referee – Darren Bond (Lancashire) 3 Complete shithouse. Decided very early on he was giving Matt Smith nothing at all, which got a bit ridiculous by the end when he was being kicked up in the air at every opportunity and bundled over for a penalty more obvious than the one he did eventually award. Booked Jacques Maghoma for one tackle, then when the same player committed a worse foul in a more dangerous area of the pitch on a player streaking clear into an attacking position minutes later didn’t show a second yellow for no other reason than he didn’t very much fancy sending him off. Having turned a blind eye to those big incidents he then decided to get ridiculously over-officious and jobsworthy over the placing of several free kicks and throw ins deep, deep into neutral territory when the game could just have been allowed to flow. Then when he finally strapped on a pair and awarded the injury time penalty (which was less of a foul than the one on Smith earlier) he allowed the save to stand despite mass encroachment from the Birmingham players, including one who’s basically level with Wells as he strikes the ball. A complete fucking pain in the arse all afternoon. A total waste of flesh and breath.
Attendance 14,234, (1,800 Brummies approx.) Fantastic atmosphere second half, sticking with the team, roaring them on to try and salvage the point they very nearly managed. And then, a standing ovation at the end regardless, that’s proper support. But all the talk of the fightback, the spirit, the ‘new QPR’, the brilliant support should not distract from the fact QPR have now lost four league games in a row, they’ve conceded eight goals in a game and a half at home to two midtable teams and they haven’t won in the league since Boxing Day. This is a slide that needs arresting, and quite where we’re going to be able to do that looking at the fixtures coming up isn’t clear. We’re not far away from the traditional full on QPR panic here.
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