|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 1 Watford|
Friday, 15th February 2019 Kick-off 19:45
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.
Match Gallery: 54 photos
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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