The rat is back – Report
Monday, 18th Mar 2019 00:37 by Clive Whittingham
QPR recovered from two goals down to draw 2-2 at Hull City on Saturday in a game they could easily have ended up winning, inspired by three second half substitutions and led by a return to form from Josh Scowen.
For so long - for so very, very long – this looked like being so much more of the same.
Queens Park Rangers’ start to 2019 has been a footballing shuttle disaster. Lift off in December, four points and two places away from the play-offs, and then an implosion like few others, vaporising the whole thing to the point where this looks a completely different team and group of players from three months ago. Compare that Wednesday night performance against Rotherham with the earlier games against Villa (twice), and the home games with Sheff Wed, Millwall, Middlesbrough and Brentford. The distance between our best and worst performances in a season remains vast and inexplicable. Prior to Saturday we’d won one of 14 league games. We’d taken five points since the turn of the year, the lowest of any team in the Football League, including the ongoing farce that is Ipswich Town. We’ve been circling the drain, and after 45 minutes at Hull it looked like we were preparing to glug our way down the plughole.
LFW travelled up to Hull on the Friday, because when your team has one win in 14 and has just lost at home to Rotherham United why the hell wouldn’t you want to spunk another three figures on a long weekend on Humberside? A journey of three hours took six as one suicidal maniac after another decided to end their week by driving their car into one of the other cars at high speed on the bit of the A1 we were about to use. Darwinism in action, but of little use to us. We went to see Hull FC v Wakefield Trinity on Friday night because I love Hull FC as well, and Gareth Ellis is back which is British sporting equivalent of the final fight scene on Gladiator, and they’ve just won three in a row and my lot have seemed quite taken with “northern murder deathball” on prior occasions (although one of them was in Perpignan to be fair). And why wouldn’t you want to spend your Friday night watching muscly northern boys smashing into each other? Turns out Wakefield’s northern boys are even bigger and more muscly than the Hull FC ones, and they ran all over the top of us and we lost quite comfortably. I’m starting to think it’s me.
We tried to have a good time anyway, but Assem Allam/Mr Burns’ stadium management company only offers plastic bottles of Coors Light, which only served to sober us up, and there was a “woman” directly behind us with gonorrhoea of the face and a voice like an angle grinder who spent the 80 minutes screaming swear words I’d forgotten I even knew into the back of our heads so that proved tough as well. At full time I realised I’d lost my car keys. Oh how we laughed.
And then there was Saturday. The main event. Queens Park Rangers, rattling over the horizon in a dustbin lorry well ablaze. Oh God. Why do we do it to ourselves? Positives – they’d left the pink kit at home. Negatives – literally everything else.
Steve McClaren, with five coaches in mint green to his left and another four in the stand immediately behind him because there wasn’t room in the dugout to fit them all in, added Geoff Cameron to his line up after three months out injured and dropped Jordan Cousins. He also, quite unbelievably, returned the only positive of the last three games, Bright Osayi-Samuel, to the bench. This did not please the church. This did not please the church one bit. To quell the congregation, a story about a knock in training on Friday was concocted for the Twitter. I’ll tell you something for free, when he came on for the second half that didn’t look like a player carrying a knock, and McClaren’s aversion to giving the former Blackpool man serious game time needs to end right here, and right now. The future’s Bright, the future’s… well, you get the idea.
McClaren said pre-match that they had “addressed Wednesday night’s performance with the players” and that “a response was required”. That response seemed initially to be not only cooking up a second serving of the Rotherham debacle, but also repeating every single mistake we’d made against Hull City when they played us off the park and beat us 3-2 at Loftus Road late last year.
Perhaps we’d been fooled by the BBC Radio Roverside’s assertions all through Friday that The Unmarked Jarrod Bowen had a bad back, a gammy shoulder, avian flu, hepatitis C, a prior family engagement, a mate’s stag do and a holiday booked all at once and almost certainly wouldn’t play. Turns out, shock and awe, he did start, and went on to get his 20th and 21st goals of the season while at the same time breaking a club record for scoring in eight consecutive home games which has stood since Bill Bradbury scored in seven back in 1958/59. We neither marked him, nor stood anybody in the vague vicinity of him, for the entire game, and he could easily have ended up with a personal haul of four or five.
QPR could scarcely have made it easier for him. The back four of Darnell Furlong, Toni Leistner, Joel Lynch and Jake Bidwell was absolutely all over the place from the very first decibel of the first whistle. Somehow both way too deep and way too narrow, but also still far enough up the pitch so that any ball in behind them sparked an immediate panic. Hull had clearly watched the video of our recent second half at Brentford and liked what they saw very much indeed. Mitigation, there was a North Sea wind blowing down the pitch into Joe Lumley’s face in the first half full of sleet and bits of old boat that can’t have been easy to defend in, but Rangers’ efforts to do so were utterly shambolic. Any ball in behind them to turn them around sparked frantic panic, any ball switched from left to right found The Unmarked Jarrod Bowen unmarked, any ball switched from right to left found Kamil Grosicki similarly unattended, and Hull looked like they might score every time they went forward. Just as they had at Loftus Road. None of this was new, they’d done it to us before, this should have been mere revision for us. Clearly we’re that wanker child that didn’t pay attention in class first time around.
Leistner nervously headed behind for a corner after a minute. That came all the way through to The Unmarked Jarrod Bowen, who was unmarked, and returned a low shot that was scrambled away inside the six-yard box. Then Tresemmé’s Jackson Irvine turned the defence around again with another dinked ball in behind and The Unmarked Jarrod Bowen ran in behind, unloaded a shot and drew a particularly fine save from Joe Lumley – big strong hand away to his left, prevented a rebound. Then, as Grosicki cut in from the left and sought out the space on the right, The Unmarked Jarrod Bowen was able to steam into the area and finish smoothly into the far corner. It was a goal that had been coming for every single second of the six minutes QPR had managed to hold out. They couldn’t maintain possession, get out of their own half, put tackles in or, apparently get anywhere close to doing a passing job on The Unmarked Jarrod Bowen. It already looked like an absolute carve up. I missed the screeching gonorrhoea “lady”.
To be fair, there was a response. QPR were something approaching ok for the next 20 minutes or so. Hull had weirdly left out Eric Lichaj and picked Robbie McKenzie at right back instead, while at centre back they had Liam Ridgwell who was a bit of a dog at this level a decade ago and certainly hasn’t improved much for four years of marking Jozy Altidore in the MLS. QPR got big joy picking away at those two, with Ebere Eze turning in his best performance for a while, and Jake Bidwell rampaging away down the left in the sort of attacking form we rarely see from him. That combination saw Eze tee up Bidwell for a shot through the goal and wide on the quarter hour, then again for a cross on 22 that Freeman almost bundled in Leeds-stylee at the near post, and again on 25 when Eze was all tricks and flicks on the byline to create space for a low cross shot that beat the keeper but was cleared from under the cross bar with Wells ready to pounce.
Quite what Wells, who we really have systematically destroyed as a person this season, would have done with an open goal from a yard had the ball made it to him is anybody’s guess. When Luke Freeman, who couldn’t be trying any harder, burst through the middle of the field after a cleared Hull corner and set up Wells for a great chance he dallied over a shot, despite Hull keeper David Marshall inexplicably deciding to take a bit of a walkabout (I like a walkabout) miles outside his area, and the chance for a simple finish into an open goal was lost. Cameron and Leistner headed wide from corners, Lynch was booked for two footing somebody in the back of the head, and there was a very brave block in the six-yard box from a fierce Cameron drive after more good approach work from Bids and Ebs.
But the fundamental problem remained – QPR’s defence was French army standard. Even with Cameron back as protection they were barely League Two level. Centre backs letting balls bounce in dangerous areas, going to compete for the same headers, then leaving other ones to each other. Full backs pulled in so deep, and tight, and narrow, and afforded so little protection, that wingers were able to run amok in the acres of space in the right and left channels. Bidwell is a difficult one to mark here because his brave block from a fiery Mark Pugh shot on 36 after Grosicki had sprung the offside trap and sparked further meltdown back there was goal saving and game changing. Later he put a big loosener in on The Unmarked Jarrod Bowen and carried the ball away afterwards. And going forwards he was unusually threatening. But by retreating so deep, so tight, and so narrow, either under instruction or through fear, he afforded The Unmarked Jarrod Bowen so much bloody space the kid could pretty much do as he pleased. Which, just before half time, he did, collecting a cross, squaring up Cameron (your guess is as good as mine) and smacking a second into the far corner.
The Unmarked Jarrod Bowen is so good. Teeth like a dry stone wall but easily the best player we’ve faced this season over two Championship games. Hull City, under the malignant ownership of the Allam family, will sell him this summer for half his true worth and that money will immediately disappear. The Football League will do nothing about this, the attendances at what is one of the better appointed new stadiums in the country will drop further, Bowen will make a Harvey Barnes-style difference to an upper Championship or lower Premier League team and whoever the Hull manager is next season will be asked to make do with a loan or a cheapo buy, completed in the final moments of the transfer window after a pre-season conducted with a dozen first team squad members. That probably won’t be Nigel Adkins, who despite his heroics this season is out of contract in the summer and not in discussions over a new one. Afterwards he gave a frank radio interview where he said they’d been “rubbish” and basically declared their season over. He was followed by Fraizer Campbell who said the club had passed up a year’s option on his contract without speaking to him, and he was yet to hear anything about his stay here for next season – a situation that currently afflicts two thirds of their squad. It was an odd hour of radio. It is disgusting what the Egyptian owners of this club are doing to it, and how little is being done by the custodians of the league about it. See Blackpool. And Coventry. And Charlton. And Bolton.
But, for now, they were 2-0 up, and to be quite honest this looked like a 4-0 defeat and a Lynch sending off every day of the week and twice on Sundays. As news filtered through from Milton Keynes that Ilias Chair had once again whopped one in from three quarters of a mile out just as Joe Lumley planted his umpteenth clearance of the day into touch on the far side again, the away end started to get a little aggy.
A few things happened to change that. Firstly, Luke Freeman, flogged to death, surrendered to his ongoing hip flexor problem again. It’s never good to lose your best player, and if he’s out for any period of time then we’re so far down Shit Street we may as well take a job as its postman, but – but - it did mean Bright Osayi-Samuel could come on. We’ve missed Geoff Cameron terribly since Kalvin Phillips’ hatchet job on him at Elland Road, but his withdrawal before the hour here through fatigue brought Josh Scowen on and - playing in a more advanced role than he’s usually used in - he was absolutely incredible. Stand up Josh, everybody look at Josh.
It should be said that the wind which Hull had used to well in the first half was now at QPR backs, and believe me as somebody who stood facing into it for 90 minutes you shouldn’t underestimate its impact on this game. No coincidence, for me, that the team with it in their favour in the first half won 2-0 over 45 minutes, and the team that had it in the second half did the same. But this was better from QPR regardless. Wingers, Osayi-Samuel and Wszolek, getting the ball and running at full backs. Midfield, led by Scowen, snapping into tackles, passing the ball to team mates and having shots. Actual shots. There was purpose, and attacking, and a pugnacious “I’m not fucking having it” attitude led by Scow in full on 2017/18 rat form that has been sadly lacking recently but made a huge difference here. He did nothing complicated, and it was everything we needed. We don’t ask for much, we’re not looking for intercontinental ballistic missiles, we just want this sort of application, this sort of drive and this sort of attacking intent. The 2005 Ashes-winning team didn’t get as much crowd adulation as this lot at full time and they hadn’t done anything overly difficult to receive it. Just do that. Much, much more often.
Osayi-Samuel got away down the left after 56, round his man like he wasn’t even there, Andy Impey-style, to cut the ball back and provoke a goal mouth scramble. Then he was away again, feeding Wells with some properly cooked service for a starving boy, and he teed up Wszolek for a cross shot that Luongo somehow spaffed wide. Couldn’t have done it better if he’d been trying to defend it. Fear not, soon Scowen was playing a nice one two with Wszolek and feeding a ball in towards Wells at the near post that somehow, from the best part of 35 yards, rolled all the way past everybody and into the far bottom corner past the weirdly static home goalkeeper David Marshall. Withensea and District Arthritis Care meets the third Thursday of every month, and Marshall should perhaps consider a visit – it’s important to stay active. I’ve seen viewers of daytime Countdown with sharper reflexes than that.
The goal galvansised Rangers, and Scowen in particular, who was now just everywhere, all the time, like that episode of Looney Tunes where Bugs Bunny plays every position in a baseball team. Scowen here was Freeman v Leeds, just not having it, just taking it upon himself to take a game by its bollocks and swing it around in the air. This was the Scowen of last season, and I realised how much I’d missed it, and how much I loved it, all over again. The rat was back, and with Wszolek to one side and Osayi-Samuel to the other, Hull weren’t coping well and knew it. They’ve blown two goal leads against Rotherham and Aston Villa this season already and having been so dominant, they looked well in the mood for another.
QPR’s defence was still barely pub standard. The Unmarked Jarrod Bowen hit a shot wide from acres of space before the hour and then beat Lumley, but not an extraordinary goal line clearance from Lynch, just after. That would be a key moment in the game. QPR scored their first seconds later to make it 2-1 instead of 3-0. Adkins left McKenzie to be slaughtered by Osayi-Samuel and Ridgewell to be exposed by his own chronic lack of ability for the duration, making only one substitution in the whole game to introduce a Chris Martin-themed bouncy castle to the action with 13 minutes remaining. They sell sausage rolls by the yard at this ground – swear to God, the thing is as long as your arm – and they’ve clearly been using them to pay Martin’s appearance fees. If you thought he was out of shape when he slobbed about against us at Reading last year then my God you should see the state of him now. I thought they’d brought Lisa Riley on. Made Tomer Hemed look like Jessica Ennis.
But it was all about QPR from the hour mark on. Scowen monstering the place, Osayi-Samuel on the charge, Wszolek flying down the wing. Steve McClaren’s substitutions this season have been woeful – frequently too late, predictable, and ineffective. Here they changed the game. Scowen had a back post volley from a Bidwell corner cleared off the line by the man on the post. Bastard. There was yet another chance for The Unmarked Jarrod Bowen but Joe Lumley made a great save to keep the comeback on track and after Tomer Hemed replaced Nahki Wells in attack the Israeli international was on hand to just about convert at the near post after Scowen had refused to give up on a long punt forward from Mass Luongo that looked destined for touch. Big, big release. In the away end, and on the pitch. Scowen was screaming the house down. A small but superb band of travelling supporters were in raptures. It felt like a bit of a moment in a season. We mustn’t waste it.
There was more here for us, and it was gratifying to see us push for it rather than start that nonsense “game management” bullshit we’ve tried and failed at when drawing away before.
Ebere Eze was suddenly imbued with the confidence he was displaying this time last year when he burst onto the scene. Up where it mattered in the final third, pressing forwards with purpose, taking players on, trying things, having shots. This is it. This is what we need from him. Fuck whether he tracks back and works hard and tackles people enough. Fuck it right in the arse. We need to pose an attacking threat, we need our ten to be trying stuff, and tormenting people, and making things happen, and finally here he was doing exactly that. He looked magnificent, dreadlocks flowing, like a proper QPR player.
A free kick a minute from time beat the wall, and Marshall, and struck the outside of the post and went wide. A marauding run in stoppage time carried him from wide left to the heart of the box past a cast of thousands and ended in an untidy challenge from a goalkeeper and two defenders on the penalty spot. Anywhere else on the field it’s a free kick, here referee Steve Martin didn’t fancy the hassle of a last-minute spot kick winner for the away side. Loved him in the Three Amigos, not so much here. QPR would have deserved it, Eze would have deserved it, and Hull’s shot-through defence would have deserved it. If the game had gone on five minutes longer we’d have won it, and Eze – suddenly free of the shackles and without the weight of the world on his shoulders for the first time in months – would have scored it.
No matter, this was a great recovery and one that will hopefully provide pointers for what works at this level – running, passing and shooting towards the opposition goal – and what doesn’t – everything we’ve been doing since Christmas.
I’m sure it’s frustrating being the QPR manager, because one week you bring Osayi-Samuel or Smyth on from the bench and they play brilliantly so you start them next week and they play dreadfully. Scowen was the worst player on the planet against Stoke a week ago, and then here played like a Greek God. Likewise Cousins against Leeds compared to Cousins against Rotherham. But there are some simple things you can do to make you life easier.
We did nothing complicated at all in the second half here, and if we do it against Bolton in a fortnight we’ll win that game with yards to spare. Stop over complicating, stop over thinking, just go forwards, go forwards with possession, go forwards with intent, go forwards with the wingers we have playing on the wings, and have shots on the flipping goal. This is a dog league, Hull are still in play-off contention, and we make it look so hard sometimes. Quite apt that this game was turned around by a couple of simple players coming on in the second half and doing simple things really well.
In the away end, a collective exhale. And a party train home. Well done my R’s.
Hull: Marshall 5; McKenzie 5, Burke 6, Ridgewell 4, Kingsley 6; Stewart 6, Irvine 6; Bowen 8, Pugh 7, Grosicki 7; Campbell 6 (Martin 77, 5)
Subs not used: Lichaj, Evandro, Dicko, Milinkovic, Long, Kane
Goals: Bowen 7 (assisted Grosicki), 44 (assisted Grosicki)
Bookings: Ridgwell 28 (foul), Stewart 90 (foul)
QPR: Lumley 6; Furlong 5, Leistner 5, Lynch 5, Bidwell 6; Cameron 6 (Scowen 56, 8), Luongo 5; Wszolek 6, Eze 7, Freeman 6 (Osayi-Samuel 46, 7); Wells 5 (Hemed 79, 7)
Subs not used: Ingram, Hall, Cousins, Manning
Goals: Scowen 62 (unassisted), Hemed 84 (assisted Scowen)
Bookings: Lynch 26 (foul), Cameron 52 (foul), Wszolek 72 (dissent)
QPR Star Man – Josh Scowen 8 I’m so pleased for him. Beloved by the previous manager, he’s one of those players for whom a change at the top has been the worst possible move. He’s had a dire second season, in and out of the team, in poor form, and expressing his frustration with it all in the form of poor discipline. Against Stoke last week he looked absolutely bereft, everything he tried just made things worse and you could tell by the look on his face that he knew he’d been terrible. I really felt for him. Here, he came on and changed the game, along with Bright Osayi-Samuel. Not only in full on rat mode, refusing to let Hull have any ball unchallenged, barring entry to the QPR half at the halfway line, smashing into tackles, rushing around all over the place, not giving anybody a minute’s peace, just like last season… But also as an attacking threat playing in a more advanced role than normal. Scored one fortuitously, set a second up through dogged determination, and with him, Osayi-Samuel and Eze in the form they were for the last 20 minutes of this game we’d have won had the match gone on five minutes longer. Well done Josh, storming back to form just in the nick of time.
Referee – Steve Martin (Staffordshire) 5 He was sort of ok but some big calls could easily have gone the other way. Hull are adamant they should have had a free kick in the lead up to the first goal but I can’t say I agree with them, and that the ball was out for the second goal which it quite possibly was and the linesman on that side had been pretty dodgy all second half so it wouldn’t surprise me. I think if Ebere Eze was tackled outside the area as he was inside it in stoppage time you’d get a free kick, but it looked like he couldn’t be doing with the hassle of an injury time, match winning penalty so waved it away. Three times (Lynch once and Hull players twice) allowed defenders in trouble to con him into awarding free kicks by just collapsing to the ground under no contact, the third of which resulted in Pawel Wszolek being booked for dissent – the Pole was right, they were joke decisions, and if they were really worthy of free kicks then the late Eze incident was a stick on penalty.
Attendance – 11,227 (550 QPR approx.) I have to say, to even take that many, that far, in that weather, after everything we’ve been through so far this year, and for them to sing and back the team as they did at the back of the away end all the way through, was just something else. And the reaction to the second half rally hopefully shows the players just how easy it is to keep us happy – bit of urgency, bit of tempo, snapping into a few tackles, pace and purpose in wide areas, a few shots, a bit of attacking intent. We’re not asking much, and as it turns out that’s all it needs to score goals and win points in this slop league anyway. It felt like a bit of a turning point for a few players, this team, and those fans that travelled, so hopefully it is that rather than another false dawn. Well done everybody behind the goal, simply brilliant.
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