|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 0 Leeds United|
Tuesday, 26th February 2019 Kick-off 19:45
Freeman heroics snap QPR's latest losing run - Report
Wednesday, 27th Feb 2019 22:29 by Clive Whittingham
Luke Freeman was the hero in hoops on Tuesday night as QPR snapped a seven game losing streak in the league to beat title chasing Leeds 1-0 at Loftus Road.
Take a nice long breath in through your nose, hold it, and let it go out of your mouth. And relax.
The long losing runs that this Queens Park Rangers team likes to embark upon far too frequently can become self-perpetuating things. After spells of six consecutive defeats under Ian Holloway and now one of seven under Steve McClaren we’ve come to recognise the signs, and fear them far too readily. With injuries and fixtures mounting up it’s quite easy to lose a few on the spin in a short period of time in this league and whenever it’s happened to QPR in recent seasons they’ve quickly gone into a spiral of despair from which there seems no escape.
Tough runs of games in short periods of time breed fear and trepidation before they’ve even begun and a couple of defeats, however narrow or unlucky they may have been, have supporters racing each other to be the one to start the “can we still get sucked into the relegation battle?” thread on the message board. As two defeats becomes three and four so the team starts to rotate through formations and combinations, each one further and further away from the shape that was working for the team when it was doing well. As four defeats become five and six, players inactive for months are suddenly chucked in from the start, then hooked at half time, then never seen again. Who can forget Sean Goss’ Brentford cameo? Players so reliable at one point in the season go to jelly – Joe Lumley from a future England goalkeeper to a future bag-packer at Aldi in six short weeks. Narrow, unlucky defeats become big, thick, thoroughly deserved shellackings. Those that don’t go to games melt Twitter into the ground and those that do start signing songs about old players and before you know it that happy, confident, good looking team of excellent young boys that played so well at Aston Villa on New Year’s Day becomes the empty husk of tired, wizened old gits that flopped so pathetically at Middlesbrough on Saturday. To a large extent we do it to ourselves, and getting out of the nosedive is a whole lot more difficult than getting into it.
Sometimes escape can be found when one of the random twists of the team selection accidentally conjures a solution – see Ryan Manning’s impact when suddenly given a club debut at Wolves the New Year before last, Rangers won 2-1 at Molineux after six straight defeats. Sometimes it’s a freaky accident, like the two injury time goals against Brentford to get a point at Loftus Road last term. Often salvation lies in the fixture list, which eventually pits you against one of the many teams in this league that are so bad you just can’t help but beat them – Birmingham City away last season, Nottingham Forest at home, crucially, the season before. And sometimes somebody just decides they’re not having it any more and does something about it.
Stand up Luke. Everybody look at Luke.
On Tuesday night at Loftus Road against third-placed Leeds United, Luke Freeman decided he’d had enough. Not since Lee Cook made a team containing Zesh Rehman and Chris Barker look competitive at Championship level, leaving Crystal Palace’s Danny Butterfield nursing post traumatic stress disorder in the process, has a player picked his team up by the bollocks and physically dragged it kicking and screaming through the mud to victory as Freeman did in this match.
While those around him seemed beset with self-doubt and nerves, Freeman oozed belief and confidence. While team mates looked weary and fatigued, Freeman was perpetual motion and energy. Where others misplaced passes and fumbled loose touches, Freeman had the ball glued to his foot. Leeds tried everything they had and couldn’t lay a glove on him. He covered every blade of grass, at ridiculous speed, legs whirling around in a circular blur. It was a performance that screamed Player of the Year Award, it was a performance that won’t have escaped the notice of anybody at this level with money to spend this summer, and it was a performance that won the game for his team. I like your little beard.
Few saw it coming. Leeds have wobbled slightly since Christmas but would have gone top with a win in this game in hand after successive 2-1 victories in their previous two games and set about the task with purpose early doors.
As happened in the cup tie between the two teams here earlier this season, a swift counter attack in the very first minute gave Tyler Roberts a sight of goal but where he struck both posts with a shot in January this time his weak hit dribbled wide. Within ten minutes Toni Leistner had, fairly blatantly, blocked a goalbound shot with an outstretched arm right on the edge of the area – referee Andy Davies, who’s been kind to QPR previously this season, played on. Joe Lumley tipped one near post header from an Alioski corner over but then blotted his copy book with a poor throw out that conceded possession and Roberts drew a nervy save from him. Lumley, and Darnell Furlong, looked particularly troubled mentally in the first half – stiff, tentative, second guessing, hesitating, terrified of making a mistake and yet therefore much more likely to do so. Furlong messed up a header, and then a second attempt at a clearance, sparking a penalty box panic. Things didn’t look good. They didn’t look good at all. Pablo Hernandez dribbled one cross shot right through the goal mouth, Patrick Bamford a whisker away from converting at the far post.
Bamford was at the centre of much of Leeds’ threat, but thankfully hadn’t brought his shooting boots to this one. On 27 minutes a missed header from Leistner gave him a clear run on the goal but Grant Hall came back at him with a full Danny Cullip that landed player and ball halfway down Ellerslie Road. Back upright, but unsure what day of the week it was, Bamford volleyed the resulting throw in over. Ten minutes later Hall, having his best game of the season, repeated the dose in remarkably similar circumstances. Bamford, a man who once refuted Sean Dyche’s claim he’d led a sheltered life that effected his work ethic on the field by pointing out he’d achieved grade seven in violin, finished the half by trying to punch the ball into the net from a Leeds free kick. I must have missed the memo where that stopped being a yellow card.
Leeds so dominant, QPR so bereft, that nobody really noticed that visiting centre half Liam Cooper missed the last ten minutes of the half having a new eyeball fitted. Against ten men, Rangers managed one long range shot off target from Mass Luongo.
But they hadn’t conceded early, as happened against Leeds’ fellow promotion chasers West Brom and Middlesbrough in the previous games, and in Freeman they possessed a player who’d already suggested he had more than Marcelo Bielsa’s team could reasonably handle. What danger Rangers had been able to muster in the final third had come through him – one shot wide from the edge of the area, another forceful bit of wing play that set Ebere Eze up for a deflected shot at Cassila in goal. The restart after half time was delayed while a painkiller the size of a baby’s head was rummaged for in the doctor’s bag. Fully dosed up, Freeman came out for the second time in rabid form.
He’d fired a shot across the bows from a Pawel Wszolek free kick in the first minute when Mass Luongo – a man of the match contender himself on any other day – powered to the byline and cut a low cross back for Freeman to backheel into the net for one nil. The slalomed run to lose Pontus Jansson in the six-yard box in the split second before the ball arrived every bit as sexy as the finish. Thereafter he led the visitors a merry dance - skipping, diving, jinking and driving round yellow shirts as if they weren’t even there; chased across the field by two, three, four Leeds players in Keystone Cops mode. He was the roadrunner to their Wile E. Coyote and I could have sat there and watched him play like that all night. Completely unplayable. Mesmeric, determined, relentless brilliance.
One thrust into the Leeds penalty area seemed to have Wells in for a crucial second but Cassila sprung from his line and saved. A cross from Jake Bidwell was headed straight at the keeper by Wszolek. Jordan Cousins, improved again, was set free behind Ayling by Freeman and seemed to be fouled but referee Davies said no. A Freeman corner was sent screaming a foot over the bar by Luongo on the volley – a rare Tony Yeboah thunderbastard alive in the wild, but just too high.
It was starting to feel like one of those nights under the lights at Loftus Road. Jake Bidwell was booked for a bad foul. Nahki Wells for booting the ball away. For the second time this season the Leeds fans decided to pelt the QPR players with missiles – Darnell Furlong struck by a bottle of 3% piss. We were mucking in, we were fighting for each other, we were standing up to the challenges laid in our path and asking plenty of questions of our own. Mayhaps tonight was the night after all. Run snapped, game won, back to the Crown for light ales. Come on you R’s. Come on.
And then Leeds came to life, looking like a true Bielsa team for the first time. Hernandez, slick, into Dallas, fresh from the bench, onto Bamford, back to Dallas, smooth, one touch, instinctive, flowing, liquid football, right through the heart of QPR, nothing we could do about it, and now certainly an equaliser. But no, Lumley saved once from Dallas with his right leg, once from Bamford on the rebound improbably with his left shin, and then a third time from Bamford as he attempted to head in the second loose ball. And with that Joe Lumley was back. Confident, cocky, gobby, strutting, chief troll Lumley, commanding all four corners of his penalty area, handling cleanly as Roberts fired into the near post, taking pressure off his defenders, wasting time in a manner even Ben Pearson would think was a bit much. A young kid having a tough time no longer.
Leeds hooked Kalvin Phillips, which was a shame. His horror tackle that went unpunished at Elland Road in December but has rendered Geoff Cameron inactive to this day, derailing QPR’s season in the process, certainly hasn’t been forgotten in these parts and watching him have his arse handed to him by Freeman in such comprehensively embarrassing fashion here was very gratifying. No matter, Freeman carried on regardless, and while the addition of Barry Douglas from the bench caused concern after his showings for Wolves at this level last season, Leeds never really looked like they believed they had an equaliser in them after the Lumley triple crown and the Scottish wing back was soon firing miles over the bar when clean through in the left channel of the penalty box. As Leistner and Hall stood tall, this would be the first time Leeds had failed to score away from home in the league this season.
Bielsa sent on Izzy Brown in another attempt to wrestle back control of the game. The Chelsea loanee - quelle surprise - seemed more bothered about trying to get sent off than plundering an equaliser. One bad smack on Jordan Cousins drew an immediate yellow card and the crowd wanted blood red when he committed another foul straight away but referee Davies gave him the benefit of the doubt. If there’s some shithousing to be done there’s a rat for that, and Josh Scowen sprinted on from the bench and booted Tyler Roberts up in the air for his trademark yellow literally within seconds. This guy. Bright Osayi-Samuel, another sub, came close to sealing it with a second goal only for Cassila to save low to his left.
Match Gallery: 14 photos
The man of the hour was removed with three minutes left to a standing ovation. He emerged again on the other side of five torturous minutes of stoppage time, beaming from ear to ear, bouncing around his team mates with hugs and congratulations. The run was over and nobody in the ground was quite as delighted about that as Luke Freeman. And then he caught the Central Line home. What a human.
QPR: Lumley 7; Furlong 6, Leistner 7, Hall 7, Bidwell 6; Luongo 8, Cousins 7; Wszolek 6, Eze 7 (Osayi-Samuel 77, 6), Freeman 9 (Scowen 86, -); Wells 6 (Hemed 83, -)
Subs not used: Ingram, Smith, Lynch, Manning
Goals: Freeman 48 (assisted Luongo)
Bookings: Luongo 45+2 (foul) Bidwell 50 (foul), Wells 57 (kicking ball away), Scowen 87 (ratting)
Leeds: Cassila 7; Ayling 6 (Dallas 73, 6), Jansson 6, Cooper 6, Alioski 5 (Brown 81, -); Phillips 5 (Douglas 65, 5), Klich 6; Hernandez 6, Roberts 6, Harrison 5; Bamford 5.
Subs not used: Peacock-Farrell, Berardi, Shackleton, Gotts
Bookings: Brown 85 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Antoine Freezman 9 Emperor penguin.
Referee – Andy Davies (Hampshire) 6 I thought QPR got away with a big Leistner handball right on the edge of the area early in the game, and there were some odd bits and pieces apart from that. Bamford should have been booked for the attempt at handling an opening goal in on the stroke of half time. Not bad though, difficult game to keep a hold of.
Attendance – 14,763 (3,100 Leeds approx.) Second time this season Leeds fans have pelted our players with bottles and coins - happened up at theirs as well. Bit tasty at White City tube immediately afterwards apparently as well. Lovely chap in a grey sweater his mum bought him standing in the middle of Bloemfontein Road afterwards singing "you're getting stabbed in the morning". Not sure why he wanted to wait until Wednesday but there you go.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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