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Watford bring curtain down on QPR's cup hopes - Report
Sunday, 17th Feb 2019 16:31 by Clive Whittingham

QPR's dreams of a quarter final appearance in this season's FA Cup were dashed by Watford on Friday night amidst a host of missed chances at Loftus Road.

There have been tough weeks in the life of Queens Park Rangers. This is a club that has faced down mergers, proposed moves to Milton Keynes, administration and bucket collections to get us through to the end of the week. It’s a club that has seen two hugely promising strikers killed while still teenagers. It’s a club that has frequently, recklessly, been mismanaged to the point of its very existence.

In such context mere football results pale into insignificance, but we’ve had our fair share of disasters there as well. Relegations, four of them, painful ones, in the last 20-odd years. We’ve had a week where we lost 3-0 at Notts County, then on penalties to Vauxhall Motors, and then 4-0 to Cardiff in a spectacular Saturday-Tuesday-Friday clusterfuck. We’ve been through it, and given our still relatively comfortable situation in the league and the quality of the opponent in this FA Cup fifth round tie on Friday night, this barely even registers. A mere bee sting. Did they use the paddles? Call me when they use the paddles.

It has, nevertheless, been quite a fortnight. Denied a blatant last-minute penalty for a draw at Wigan, miss an injury time spot kick to half a recovery from 4-0 down against Birmingham, then lose to a stoppage time 12 yarder that should never have been awarded in a month of Sundays at Bristol City. And if you thought that added to our hopes of upsetting Premier League Watford on Friday, that somehow the luck would all come back to us on the big stage, that what comes around goes around and all of that hackneyed, cliched shit would apply, you were wrong again. For a capacity crowd at Loftus Road, all that lay in store by way of reward for a pulsating atmosphere and furious effort from the players on the pitch was another big, fat, dripping slice of disappointment. Whatever it is we’re being punished for just fucking tell us so we can promise never, ever, ever to do anything remotely like it again because this is really starting to boil my piss now. Rarely can a team so desperate for a break have received quite so many kicks to the groin in such a short period of time instead.

Initially, Rangers did everything right. Couldn’t fault them. The disappointments and injustices of the previous week were shrugged off. The five-match losing run in the league forgotten about. Queens Park Rangers picked themselves up, took a big breath, stuck their chin out and carried on regardless. Like the stoic mother of six delinquent children. Huge credit. After first Wigan, and then Birmingham, and then Bristol City, many would struggle to even get out of bed, and yet here Rangers were carrying the fight to one of the top flight’s best teams — currently eighth, and in a great position to win this FA Cup this season.

Leading from the front, Luke Freeman and Jordan Cousins. All energy. Quite where Freeman gets it from — 36 starts this season already — I don’t know but what a player to have at your club. With five minutes of the first half remaining a loose pass from Holebas in QPR territory sent Freeman waddling off down the middle of the field like March of the Penguins on x2.5 speed. All narrow and with few options he conjured a wonderful chipped pass which Nahki Wells tried to guide past Huerelho Gomes but the experienced keeper knew that room and had walked that floor and saved off to his left. The spider trapped under a glass looked less certain punching a corner clear on the half hour after initially messing a pass back up, but Mass Luongo’s measured volley went wide when he should have scored with the goal unguarded. So too, at first look, should Matt Smith with a thirty-sixth-minute header from Freeman’s cross which he planted wide of the top corner — the in form target man perhaps distracted by a bloodied bandage covering a nasty head wound suffered after just ten minutes.

Plenty of positives though. Rangers weren’t sitting back and just trying to defend, they were here to win the game and piling down the pitch looking to do that. The tactical set up, once again with three at the back, looked more comfortable than it had done at Ashton Gate and Watford, well below par, were struggling to cause problems. There was a brilliant Grant Hall tackle to deny Sema a clean shot at goal in the area after Janmaat had threaded him through cutely — the rebound went back to the Dutch full back who just missed the far top corner with an improvised effort. But that was just about it, Toni Leistner in particular enjoying the physical challenge posed by a front two of Troy Deeney and Andre Gray and for the most part having the better of it.

Which all made what came next doubly frustrating. Watford took the lead in first half stoppage time from a corner. QPR unable to see out added time to get to the break, nor defend a basic set piece adequately. As has been the theme in recent weeks, their own failings combined with a piece of rotten luck because Tom Cleverley was clearly trying to strike at goal when the ball fell to him on the edge of the area but horribly skewed his volley straight into the path of Capoue who finished into the far bottom corner. When it’s not going for you, it’s not going for you, but then again when you leave two Premier League players unmarked in the box at a corner you’re asking for trouble and, not for the first time just lately, the shot seemed more saveable to me than Joe Lumley made it look.

Perhaps I’m being harsh. If you think so, well I’m afraid I’m only going to double down from this point on. QPR haven’t been in an FA Cup fifth round tie for 22 years and possibly it’s the horrible thought that it might be another quarter century before we’re in one again that colours my feelings towards the second half but by the end I was just left feeling like this was a colossal missed opportunity.

Firstly, because while Watford are a super side, they made five changes for this game and were not particularly good across the 90 minutes. The Hornets constantly looked like they had several more gears to go through if needed, and maybe they just felt it wasn’t necessary to do so, but they rather plodded through this game doing just about enough while always appearing vulnerable. Their only real threat in the second half saw Gray go through on goal, round Lumley and in for a second disallowed by a marginal offside call.

Secondly, because whenever QPR were presented with a chance they passed it up. Concerted pressure at the start of the second half saw Freeman shoot wide twice and when Cabasele passed the ball straight to Wells on the hour he also couldn’t find the target with an attempted curled shot from distance when he had time and support to do so much more. Smith, Luongo, Wells and Wells again. You don’t win cup ties casually missing chances like that.

And thirdly because for the final third of the game, when you really hoped it would be kitchen sink time, Rangers rather just drifted away out of it. There’s been persistent criticism of Steve McClaren’s use of his bench this season — predictable changes, made too late, making the team worse — and it felt like he got it wrong again here. Bringing Ebere Eze on for Pawel Wszolek removed the width from the right where we’d had some joy at the start of the half, and further crowded the middle of the field where Eze was frequently caught with the ball. Tomer Hemed, coming on for Wells, looked, as he had done at Bristol City, about as fit as the guy that used to run Chubby’s Pie and Grill on South Africa Road. A third change then had to be made to get Bright Osayi-Samuel on to restore the width that had earlier been lost, and his purposeful running was soon drawing a free kick and yellow card from which Rangers should have equalised, but not for the first time this season it felt like we got worse for every change we made. A situation exacerbated by Watford being able to bring a player of the quality of Abdoulaye Doucoure, a £50m target for PSG, to shore up their own team for the final 15 minutes.

I’m quite happy to admit I’m being unfair here. Responses to a frustrated Tweet after the match tell me I am. The simple fact is these players are tired, with a huge amount of games in a short period of time and a big effort required to go toe to toe with a top flight team for 90 minutes they’re out on their feet. Watford are a better side than us, with a better bench, and we tailed off towards the end not because of the changes but because we missed chances when we were on top and then there was simply no gas left in the tank.

And when Steve McClaren looks down his bench, what exactly is there sitting there by way of a game changer? He’s got to make the changes because the players are knackered, but it’s a collection of odds and sods available to him to do it. That, in all probability, is the correct answer, and my frustration is just coloured by our FA Cup history, the way the draw in this year’s competition has opened up, and the demon hope that I’d allowed to creep into my consciousness before the game. But I will just throw in though that last season QPR scored 23 goals in the final 18 minutes of games, and eight of those were scored by substitutes — this season in the league we’ve scored eight in that time period, and only four of them have come from the bench.

QPR should have forced extra time anyway. From the foul won by Osayi-Samuel for which Doucoure was booked, Freeman stood one up to the back post, Furlong volleyed back across the face of goal and Toni Leistner, somehow, somehow, at full stretch, managed to skew the ball wide from a yard out with the goal open. And there, as at Wigan, as against Birmingham and as at Bristol, was that horrible dump of adrenalin stuck in the middle of your chest with nowhere to go once again.

If this extraordinary run of bad luck is to turn, it’s taking its sweet time.

Links >>> Knee Jerks >>> Photo Gallery >>> Ratings and Reports >>> Message Board Match Thread

QPR: Lumley 6; Furlong 6, Leistner 7, Hall 6 (Osayi-Samuel 84, -); Wszolek 6 (Eze 76, 5), Bidwell 6; Luongo 6, Cousins 7, Freeman 7; Smith 6, Wells 5 (Hemed 71, 5)

Subs not used: Ingram, Scowen, Manning, Kakay

Bookings: Luongo 73 (foul)

Watford: Gomes 8; Janmaat 6, Kabasele 5, Holebas 5, Britos 6; Cleverley 7 (Quina 84, -), Highes 6, Capoue 6, Sema 6 (Mariappa 74, 6); Gray 6 (Doucoure 74, 7), Deeney 6

Subs not used: Deulofeu, Penaranda, Navarro, Dahlberg

Goals: Capoue 45+1 (assisted Cleverley)

Bookings:, Mariappa 76 (foul), Doucoure 86 (foul), Janmaat 90+1 (foul)

QPR Star Man — Luke Freeman 7 Energetic performance, at the heart of everything good QPR did, looked the most likely source of a goal. Run close by Cousins and Leistner, who played well against a physical front two but blotted his copy book with a shocking late miss.

Referee — Michael Oliver (Northumberland) 8 Bar one fairly blatant Cleverley handball to get himself away down the right in the second half he refereed this very well. Made a nice change after three games of shocking refereeing to have one officiated by somebody who knew what he was doing.

Attendance 17,212 (2,800 Watford approx.) Looked great, sounded great, but not to be.

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PinnerPaul added 17:35 - Feb 17
Can't agree we were unlucky here.

Didn't take our chances & the '2nd' Watford 'goal' WAS on side.

DejR_vu added 17:36 - Feb 17
Reminded me of a lot of our games in the Prem. Played pretty well but just not clinical enough and always giving away soft goals. Watford had one half chance, right on half time and we go in one down. We huff and puff, create four or five decent chances and miss the lot.

TacticalR added 18:01 - Feb 17
Thanks for your report.

I missed part of the first half because I couldn't get in with my ticket and had to get another one from the Box Office.

Perhaps that affected my view of the match, or maybe it's the benefit of hindsight, but despite our good play I was never really convinced by us. I think the problem was that although Watford didn't look like world beaters we just couldn't get our noses in front. Watford also looked comfortable in possession (and possibly capable of stepping up a gear). Despite that Freeman was MoM, and Cousins finally had a good game.

Agree on the subs - in particular when Eze came he looked to be playing too deep and then when he came forward he was getting caught on the ball.

extratimeR added 18:34 - Feb 17
Yes, removal of Pav was mistake, which pretty much every one around me picked up on, as mentioned, position of Eze also wrong decision, surprised as this was something Holloway learned the hard way last season, (particularly in away games),with 15 left on clock he had to go centre at front, (not centre forward and run at middle of Watford defence.

As you say Clive mistake was partially corrected by bringing Bright on.

Hemud- something seriously not right fitness wise, shouldn't have been on pitch, closer in Eze was a better bet to gain free kick/penalty.

Great night, great atmosphere, wonderful support, god knows how they kept going! (players).

Another great report Clive.

cranieboy added 19:54 - Feb 17
I couldn't help feeling the same regarding Lumley for the goal, he didn't exactly stretch himself though he may have hesitated due to the defender in close proximately thinking he may have also stretched for it, small margins but ultimately critical.

PhilT added 20:45 - Feb 17
This result has been playing with my head all weekend, we’ve all seen games this season we deserved lose and points dropped due to poor refereeing but on Friday Loftus Road was rocking, Watford appeared to be there for the taking and we seemed up for it, and it didn’t even feel we were going to do a smash and grab but to deservedly win a game of football against a quality side - but before you knew it players looked tired, two poor subs and it’s all over
Bloody football
Great report Clive upwards and onwards

Paddyhoops added 20:51 - Feb 17
Have to agree with you Clive, any impetus ahead was lost when pav was hooked. Too congested with no real clue how to unlock the Watford defence!!
Cracking atmosphere, hopefully it won't be another two decades to get to the 5th round.
Also one last point, I read your article in the match programme regarding television companies late switching of games. An impressive summing up of the total disregard they have of genuine supporters.
Hats of to the club for giving you the platform to vent your spleen when in some cases it could be seen as biting the hand that feeds!!

CliveWilsonSaid added 21:06 - Feb 17
The one player I thought might have made a difference as sub is now in Accrington I fear. The most disappointing thing was the final quarter of the match for me. Like you I was expecting more of a push but unfortunately we ran out of puff. Oh well. Onwards and err onwards..

Northernr added 21:19 - Feb 17
Pinner - Players aren't the only ones who are exhausted mate. If it's a lazy conclusion it's because I can't keep my eyes open. Nice to see a good referee at work though I thought.

Cranieboy - Lumley's having a bit of a moment. A lot of them are. In his case, stick with it and he'll come through I think. Ingram showed against leeds he's in no state to replace.

CliveWilsonSaid - Yes, and what about Chair yesterday while Eze is struggling? Looking forward to this time next year when the Twitter is all over Chair for being lazy, not tracking back, not running etc.

Northernr added 21:30 - Feb 17
Paddy - Contrary to popular opinion about being in the club's pocket, I just say what I think and if they don't like it, or people don't like it, I'm not that fussed. I'm a nobody at the end of the day so it doesn't matter, it's just an opinion. Matt who edits the programme is died in the wool Rangers and absolutely sound, he's never once told me what I can or can't say in that column nor tried to take anything out or sanitise it. It's why it wins the league prize for best programme every year and it's a shame more people don't buy it. Same with AKUTRs, we're blessed with two great publications and once they're gone they're gone. People need to support them.

gobbles added 22:38 - Feb 17
Great report. Do feel sorry for Leistner, though, because he was actually a couple of yards beyond the far post, so had to try and steer it back at full stretch

robCnelson86 added 09:17 - Feb 18
I have to say the comment saying their second goal was onside is IMO wrong, no one could tell from that angle, if you span that TV angle provided by BT Sport round by a few degrees, i would say the Watford strikers, Head, Chest and shoulders, were further forward than Halls Heel. It will be close but you can definitely score with Head or Chest so arguably the correct call by the officials, despite the little biased dwarf Michael Owens protestations. Definitely agree that the Subs ruined it for us, it looked like he didnt know what to do, as he prepped Eze then left him standing on the side for an extra few minutes after sending Hemed on.

QPRski added 11:36 - Feb 18
Yes, it feels lik we missed a chance.

Thanks for this classc line which made me laugh as it is so apt:

"Whatever it is we’re being punished for just f***ing tell us so we can promise never, ever, ever to do ything remotely like it again because this is really starting to boil my piss now. "

Myke added 12:05 - Feb 18
Cheers Clive, frustrating night all around. I fantasied it would end 0-0 and Wells would score the winning penalty to atone for Birmingham!
Big question is where do we go from here for the remainder of the season? With the season effectively over,it would have been an excellent opportunity for McClaren to use his much vaunted coaching skills on the kids on the periphery of the squad - why we appointed him in the first place as I recall - but with the majority of them loaned out, that chance is gone. Real danger too that the players will wind down early especially the loanees (Has Hemed already thrown in the [beach] towel?). Those fighting for a new contract should keep playing well, but difficult to imagine anything except the season just drifting away. Just as well Ipswich, Bolton, Reading and Rotherham are as bad as they are, but still need to gain a few points sharpish to keep the sleepless nights at bay!

Marshy added 19:58 - Feb 18
It was to some extent a very good performance against a quality team, but throughout the season there has been a distinct lack of quality in our finishing. I think this is an area that Steve really needs to work on with the players. If we would have taken half the chances we have created, we would not only be much further up the table, but in the quarter final of the FA Cup. Clearly it wasn’t to be, but it was not for the want of trying. At least we have a squad of players who might not be the most talented, but are willing to work extremely hard, and give their all. That we haven’t been able to say for a long time. It would be great if we could have a full house for every game. Tremendous atmosphere.

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