QPR make their point at Millwall - Report
Thursday, 11th Apr 2019 19:09 by Jordan James Foster
The effort, determination and resistance so sadly lacking in recent weeks came back into the QPR performance at Millwall on Wednesday night, but wasn't matched by quality in front of goal. Jordan Foster was there for LFW.
If someone asked me where I would like to spend a mild evening in April, the chances of me saying watching Millwall take on an out of form QPR side set to the backdrop of police sirens and helicopters would be low on the list.
Yet for our very own self-proclaimed ‘Rat’, Josh Scowen, it’s the type of occasion that that gives him that warm, fuzzy feeling most of us get when you finish work the final time before a two-week holiday. An unorthodox journey through football, skills developed away from immaculate carpet-like pitches, Louis Vuitton washbags and supercars – the completely opposite of Millwall's Ryan Tunnniclife. Tunnicliffe is a product of Manchester United's academy and an FA Youth Cup Winner in 2011. His performances that year earned him the coveted Jimmy Murphy Young Player Of The Year at the club and drew comparisons to his idol Roy Keane. Their performances were chalk and cheese here.
To put Scowen’s journey into a bit more context, on the same day a QPR side made up of Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips lost 2-1 at home to Norwich (in which the aforementioned was sent off after a petulant scuffle with Bradley Johnson), Scowen’s Hemel Hempstead side took a battering against local rivals St Albans in the Evo-Stick Premier Division in front of just 400 fans. Back in the present, as Rangers looked to put an end to their dismal run, he encapsulated the team’s performance; intelligent, aggressive, cunning and determined.
Steve Maclaren’s now infamous quote about having a team of men once he had signed four Premier League players had never rung so true. QPR’s real team of men, ironically now made up of players that will largely be here next season, has rarely looked so alpha this season. Scowen, in particular, was exactly what the doctor ordered and what we really bloody needed here. He scrapped and fought and ran and tackled as Rangers pulled themselves one point closer to securing another year of Championship football. Relegation not mathematically impossible but unlikely now.
With the ball he tucked in and when not in possession he worked tirelessly to cover Darnell Furlong whilst Luke Freeman operated in a similar role in front of makeshift left-back Ryan Manning in a narrow 4-4-2. Geoff Cameron and the returning Massimo Luongo operated in front of Joel Lynch and Toni Leistner, Cameron often dropping in as a third centre back when required, with Matt Smith and Nahki Wells in attack. It was nice to see a clear game plan from the off as Eustace and his band of Merry Men’s homework was paying off.
Within the opening minute good work by Ryan Manning forced keeper David Martin into making a save off an awkward Smith volley as Rangers started the brighter of the two. Moments later Scowen and Luongo were snapping into challenges with urgency and determination that has been missing in recent weeks, the pair bouncing around like a beach ball caught in the wind not letting their opponents rest. The ball broke to Scowen as the tag team led another break, who cutely won a freekick off Pearce allowing another chance for Freeman to deliver towards the head of Smith again, but neither Leistner or Lynch could make a final connection as the ball rolled past the post.
Yet as quickly and well as they had started, it was all very nearly undone within the first quarter-hour in the most typical Rangers' fashion. Millwall forward Lee Gregory looked to race onto a hopeful punt over the top before going to ground under a challenge from Lynch. The general consensus from the away end was that it was a red. Lynch Easter getaway booked etc etc. Yet despite referee John Brooks judging 20 innocuous challenges as fouls in the first half alone, he let Lynch off the hook.
Joe Lumley collected the loose ball and wasted no time in starting a counter attack whilst Millwall remonstrated with the referee but Wells' shot was well blocked by James Meredith. The resulting corner was headed over by Smith as Rangers played percentages at every opportunity. Not content with his escape, Lynch was soon into the book for the sixth time in 11 games and the twelfth occasion this season for abusing the linesman over another soft call.
Caretaker manager John Eustace, the animated puppet master on the side, left no one within a five mile radius of South London in any doubt of what the game plan was and where he wanted the play/ball to be: as far away from the QPR goal as we could get it. If the ball is bouncing just outside the Millwall area, hit it. If it's bouncing on the half-way line, hit it to the corner. Just keep them turning. I lost count of the amount of times in the first-half he punched his open palm, encouraging players to get stuck in and set the tempo. And, to be fair, it worked.
The hosts did, inevitably, grew into the game and have spells of pressure. After belatedly realising that a midfield of Freeman, Luongo, Cameron and Scowen all playing centrally would leave space on the wings to exploit if they could turn the ball over at speed they began to threaten. Thankfully they may have had the ideas but lacked the ability to switch the play well to either full-back effectively. On the odd occasion it did come off, Rangers defended as a unit and came across well although it would be fair to say Ryan Manning got slightly less help with Jed Wallace than Furlong was afforded with the talented Ben Marshall.
Manning has flattered to deceive in a central midfield role but the Irishman made a more than fair claim for Jake Bidwell’s starting spot at fullback here. His impressive delivery allowed him to stay 10-15 yards further back than Bidwell normally would, staying compact and tight whilst still producing the type of crosses needed when you play Matt Smith. Sometimes he didn’t know whether to stick or twist, clearly worried about being caught out for pace by the lively Wallace. It probably isn’t that surprising though given his lack of playing time this season and the general horrendous form of the team recently - but he stood up to the challenge well and blocked several crosses into the box with little protection in front of him.
One of their few chances in the first half saw Jake Cooper escape the attention of Lynch at a rare corner before heading straight at Lumley who duly launched another counter attack. The keeper seemingly benefitted from having no Pawel Wzsolek in the side to aim for with every pass and this time each throw or kick was precise and varied.
The ‘Rat’ stole the moment of the first-half six minutes before the break, going all Taarabt circa 2011. Demanding the ball from Lumley he pulled off a Bergkamp-esque flick around the oncoming Ryan Leonard and Cruyff turn away from another blue shirt before spreading the play out wide and set up another Rangers attack down the left hand side through Manning as the team grew in confidence.
It was much of the same after the interval, Luongo snapping at Romero and offering an open invite to Millwall's fans to add to the atmosphere by abusing the officials - one of the few occasions they added to an otherwise unusually under-whelming atmosphere for a London derby. With Cameron protecting Lynch and Leistner, dropping in to make a third centre back when required, there was at least a game plan and some type of style evident. If anything we looked more rough and dogged than the hosts. For all Millwall’s pre-match talk of it being a massive opportunity for them, they were limited to half-chances from set pieces as Rangers’ stood up to the physical challenge.
With Bright Osayi-Samuel stripped and ready to come on at the hour mark for more than the 15 minutes he was afforded at the weekend, the game was set up for a well deserved away win. The replacement of Wells was surprising to say the least but with the two banks of four working so well and showing no signs of tiring, some credit has to go to Eustace. Wells’ worked hard but it just isn’t falling for him at the minute.
BOS showed he knew very little about position or movement as a forward as he wandered all over the final third looking for the ball. But then all of that nearly became irrelevant. Freeman evading two tackles, weaving in and out like a slalom skier, somehow managed to dig out a scooped pass over the static Millwall defence, with backspin Ronnie O’Sullivan would have been proud of Cumbersome centre half Cooper knew what was next, frantically trying to get his body to react and turn as BOS raced past him and through on goal. As with so many other times this season his finishing let him down firing straight at Martin and rebounding to Freeman who forced another save. The youngster knew what a chance it was, kicking the ground before and walking off on his own before Freeman intercepted and encouraged him to keep his head up on the way to take the resulting corner.
He got another chance minutes later after being found this time by Scowen who was still haring all over the pitch when others began to wane, twisting Cooper one way and then the other before drilling the ball across goal. Gas and air was nearly requested on the pitch by the referee for Big Matt Smith who had tried for all his worth to join the counter.
The lack of playing time for the former Blackpool man has been well documented recently and far better than anything I could say, but again he showed why he really should be starting. Positive on every occasion he’s in possession, he has the potential to grow into a really big player over the next 18 months. But there maybe an argument for him remaining on the bench. Attacking and terrifying tiring defenders in equal measure. It’s far easier as a young player to remain consistent as a sub, playing for the last half hour rather than having that impact across a full game. Leave the fans wanting more whilst the manager can protect him and take the flak (see Hudson-Odoi at Chelsea). Remember when Ebere Eze's name was chanted last year as he warmed up as a substitute. He was an unused substitute at The Den, now infuriating fans for not being able to produce spell-binding, match winning performances in one of the hardest league in world football at the age of 19. Wildly unrealistic comparisons being made when he was on it, to being thrown on the scrap heap as he struggles to find form. The life of being an enigma at QPR.
Overall not the most pretty of away days or performances, but effective and what was needed. The result and performance was well supported by the travelling contingent who don’t ask for much. Incredible what happens when you play players actually having something to prove instead of those already being set up to moves abroad by their agents.
This report was brought to you largely by QPR fan ‘Tim’ who saved the day after overzealous Millwall stewards scanned my ticket twice and refused to let me in thinking the ticket had already been used. They wanted me to walk around the ground, to the home box office to discuss the matter. Not on Tim’s watch who immediately produced a spare. That is what being a QPR fan is all about, if one of us is going to suffer, we are all suffering. No one gets out of it that easy!
Millwall: Martin 6; Romero 6, Cooper 5, Pearce 6, Meredith 6; Wallace 6, Tunnicliffe 5 (Morrison 83 5), Leonard 5, Marshall 6 (O'Brien 78 5); Thompson 6, Gregory 6
Subs not used: Amos, Mcauglin, Williams, Elliot, Skalak
Bookings: Marshall 14 (foul), Tunnicliffe 30 (foul)
QPR: Lumley 6; Furlong 6, Leistner 6, Lynch 6, Manning 7; Scowen 8, Luongo 7, Cameron 6, Freeman 7 (Wszolek 90); Wells 6 (Osayi-Samuel 62, 8), Smith 7
Subs not used: Ingram, Cousins, Eze, Walker, Hemed
Bookings: Lynch 24 (dissent), Manning 33 (foul), Luongo 49 (foul)
QPR Star Man: Josh Scowen 8: Summed up the performance of the team. Covered every blade of grass, supported his teammates and used the ball well. When so many have gone to The Den in recent years and rolled over and died, Scowen took the bull by the horns (along with Manning, Smith, Leistner, Lumley, Furlong, Mass etc) and stood up to the challenge. He’s not the perfect midfield but he cares and he gets stuck in. Right now, that’s exactly what we need.
Referee – John Brooks (Leicestershire) 6 Picky. Clearly wanted to keep a hold of a London derby with a lot of whistle and card, particularly in the first half. Generously let Lynch off with what looked like a foul on Gregory as he went through on goal.
Attendance:13,132 (QPR 1,008): Seen some mocking of Rangers for poor numbers but managerless, on one of the worst runs in the football league across London at rush hour when it’s on the red button was never going to draw much of a crowd. A fairly good atmosphere produced as Millwall sat silent for the majority of the game.
The Twitter @JordanJFoster
Pictures – Action Images
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