Back to life, back to reality – Report
Saturday, 20th Apr 2019 14:19 by Clive Whittingham
Signs of life from the corpse in the Swansea game last week turned out just to be gas escaping – QPR were back to their normal selves for an insipid home defeat to Blackburn Rovers on Friday.
It’s been almost 20 years and now 15 matches since Queens Park Rangers beat Blackburn Rovers. You have to go back even longer for a win against them at Loftus Road – 11 meetings since 1993/94. Which is a bit odd really. There may be 230 miles between W12 and Ewood Park, two enormously different areas of the country, but the journeys of these two football clubs through the cesspit of modern football have been remarkably similar since the turn of the millennium.
Both have mixed glorious promotion runs under combative managers – Rovers with Graeme Souness, Rangers with Neil Warnock – and stints in the Premier League with chronic mismanagement by foreign owners, long periods in the doldrums, and brief stints in the division below this one. Why QPR haven’t been able to scrape together a single win against them while being so closely aligned for so long is a bit of a mystery.
They’ve followed each other around this season as well. Both enjoyed hot runs of results during the winter, both got to within two points of the play-off places during peaks in form, and both have dramatically fallen off a cliff through the spring to such a point that relegation worries were only dispelled with much-needed, morale boosting victories last week. Tony Mowbray is still revered in Lancashire for the salvage job he did with Rovers last season, though questions have been asked of tactics, team selections and transfer business during a run of one win and nine defeats in 11 games. Steve McClaren, without that credit in the bank, paid for his one win in 16 with his job.
No real reason for the hoodoo to continue on Friday then. Both teams safe in all but name, neither with anything to play for, both on the back of good results last weekend but Queens Park Rangers holding home advantage, and against Blackburn this season that’s supposed to count for a lot. Taking severe beatings away from home has been a persistent problem for Mowbray’s side: Brentford scored five; Bristol City, Preston and Sheff Wed have all scored four; Rotherham, Sheff Utd, Leeds, Wigan and Swansea have all scored three. Their 45 goals conceded on the road this season is by far the worst record in the league (bottom two Bolton and Ipswich have shipped 40 each). They arrived with a recent record of five defeats and a draw in their last six away games, exactly the same as Swansea a week ago before they were swept aside 4-0 by John Eustace’s team.
There is, sadly, no mystery, weirdness or intrigue into why Blackburn’s long unbeaten run against QPR was continued on Friday though. None at all. One of the teams approached the game in the correct frame of mind, and one of them didn’t. One of them used the opportunity of a game without pressure to play a bit of football, try to score a few goals, try to express themselves and one of them used it as a chance to fuck off early for the summer holidays. One of them played to win, the other barely played at all. One of them turned in a professional display, the other couldn’t even say that.
You need look no further than the two goals that settled the game to tell you everything you needed to know about it. The first came after 20 minutes when Lewis Travis turned back on himself in the QPR area and Josh Scowen took his legs from under him for the most blatant penalty I’ve seen since Scowen did exactly the same to Ben Brereton in exactly the same part of the pitch to cost us the corresponding fixture up at Ewood Park. Scowen’s been much better recently, man of the match in three of the last five games, but what’s he doing there? Hanging a lazy leg out like that, what exactly does he expect? He’s going nowhere, let him go, wave him on his way, wish him well. Don’t do that. To do it once in the away game you can perhaps excuse, to do it twice… words fail me. It just typified the carefree, careless attitude and approach of the team to this match.
Danny Graham took the spot kick and just as he did at Brentford recently Joe Lumley went the right way, got a thick hand on the ball, and still didn’t save it. He really should have done. Earlier Lumley had been fortunate with a low shot from Corry Evans that should have been routinely saved but squirmed out of his grasp and rolled just wide of the post. He was well beaten by headers from Lenihan right to left and Graham left to right in the first half but both squeaked wide of the post. He looked nervous. Still a long way to go and much improvement needed from him, whatever his hyperactive agent might think. A little more head down and hard work and a little less eyelash fluttering at the rest of the Championship wouldn’t go amiss.
The second goal was even more calamitous. It came less than 30 seconds into a second half which QPR kicked off. As usual, as we do with every kick off, we moved the ball back one and punted it aimlessly into a half populated entirely by opposition players. Blackburn said ‘ta very much’, sprung Adam Armstrong down the right where he’d had much the better of an afternoon battle with makeshift left back Ryan Manning, and he crossed for Dack to power home at the second attempt after Lumley had initially saved his first header at point blank range.
Much like Scowen with the penalty, to do that once is fucking stupid, to nearly do it again is something else entirely. Faced with a second kick off inside a minute, QPR once again rolled it back to Mass Luongo and he once again aimlessly hoiked it forward straight onto the head of the same Blackburn defender allowing him to spring Armstrong down the right flank again. I count myself as a patient man, I don’t think you can sit through this every Saturday for 25 years in between working with some of the people I’ve worked with Monday to Friday without strangling the living shit out of somebody if you’re not, but really Rangers? Really? Same kick off again. First class, 64 carat, Emmy nominated, Oscar winning, old fashioned morons.
All this nonsense that’s peddled about the spirit being good in the camp, the preparation being spot on, the team training well, the attitude being good… no. No, no, no, no. It’s not. It’s just not. And they need to stop shovelling it our way right now. It’s like spoon-feeding warm diarrhoea into my ears and I’m sick of it. When you’re conceding goals like this, when you’re doing things like we did for the second goal, then you haven’t prepared properly, you’re not where you need to be mentally and your attitude isn’t right. I don’t particularly want to tee off on John Eustace but he rolled it out again after this one about the lads having a “first class attitude” and that’s not the first time in his brief caretaker reign that he’s stood there in front of the camera and said something that’s just blatantly, palpably, obviously untrue. To a certain extent, what can he say? Well, something other than a flagrant lie wouldn’t go amiss.
There were other incidents as well. Bright Osayi-Samuel was given a start and posed QPR’s biggest attacking threat, as he has done for weeks. He forced a couple of early corners with strong wing play, Tomer Hemed went reasonably close with a header from one of them. Then after decent hold up play from the Israeli international the former Blackpool winger curled one wide of the top corner. He turned down a shooting chance ten minutes before half time to set up Scowen instead and his shot went straight at Leutwiler in the Blackburn goal. This good approach play then a poor finish is becoming a bit of a theme with him, and happened again in the second half when he beat his man, advanced into the area, then dragged a cross shot well wide.. But of more concern was his behaviour on 80 minutes when referee Tim Robinson waved away a trip on him that probably was a free kick and he responded by charging across and belting Elliott Bennett up in the air with a challenge that was, for me, a red card. He was let off with a yellow but this is not a team with a “spot on attitude” it’s just not.
I’m going to mention Nahki Wells too here. He hasn’t had the fitness problems of Rangel and Cameron, nor has he phoned his performances in like Hemed, and so despite a clear loss of form and confidence in the second half of the season I’ve been prepared to give benefit of doubt more often than not to this particular loan. Here though, on as a second half sub, I thought he stank the place up. Twenty minutes left, 2-0 down at home, Blackburn free kick on halfway, he walked past the ball and let it sit in the Rovers’ half for a minute with nobody in a great rush to fetch it. Poor refereeing for not only allowing Blackburn to do that, but facilitating it by having a prolonged chat with a few of their players about something of nothing, but still from a QPR point of view – go and get the fucking ball man it’s our time. He did, eventually. Twelve minutes from time, an outlandish backhealed cross from Manning found him in acres of space and all the time he needed at the back post but he decided to try a nonsense first time volley that flew high over the bar and wasted Rangers’ best chance of the half. Again, just so half-arsed and careless of us – agh may as well have a bit of a swing at it, doesn’t matter anyway. Well, it matters to us mate. Four minutes into six added at the end of the game, a ridiculous tackle and yellow card over by Ellerslie Road, allowing Blackburn to run the remainder of the time away.
I repeat, this is the farthest thing from a team with a “spot on attitude”.
In mitigation, the back four that had looked so much better at the end of last week was completely disrupted by injury and illness. With no Rangel, Grant Hall or Toni Leistner, Eustace was forced to reshuffle back there with Joel Lynch recalled alongside Darnell Furlong in the middle and Pawel Wszolek, like Manning on the other side, pressed into service as a makeshift full back. I would have thought Cousins there might have made more sense but let’s be honest here, it was going to be a bit of a mess with those absentees whatever we did and with Blackburn deliberately coming to play with two out and out wingers and two strikers they were always going to have all on. The task was made even more difficult when shortly after half time poor Cousins suffered what looked like a horrible knee injury down by the dug outs to almost certainly finish his season, and his time at QPR which has never really got going and has been plagued by injuries.
That rather interrupted Lynch’s plans for the rest of the afternoon. Just as he’d done almost a year ago to the day up at Hull, he’d stuck his arm up midway through the first half with some sort of non-descript muscle injury. The standard “give it five minutes after half time” was almost up when Cousins collapsed instead leaving Lynch to lollop on through the rest of the match, latterly as a makeshift target man. Much less sympathy for him than Cousins, because you can set your bloody watch by the guy. Every year the same, just before Christmas, and again mid April, off he pops. Having called Eustace out before, credit to him for making Lynch play to the end here. We’ve indulged his poor performances, frequent mistakes and regular sabbaticals for too long.
There was a consolation goal to stir the congregation from their slumber. Losing two nil in injury time with a penalty box now boosted by the arrival of Matt Smith, QPR prepared another entry for the jury binder in the prosecution’s case that they are indeed the thickest football team ever to walk the earth by taking a short corner. Work of the devil. When it occurred to them moments later that they might be better served just sticking a cross into the box, Leutwiler came from his line for it and Smith headed into the empty net. It’s not rocket science this Championship football lark, it’s just QPR that make it look so bloody difficult.
The injury to Cousins meant an extended period of stoppage time, though probably not as extended as it could have been. Referee Robinson seemed to rather go to pieces after his error over the Osayi-Samuel incident and had an infuriating end to the game where he suddenly started getting all pedantic over the placement of free kicks, while turning a blind eye to some absolutely shameless time wasting from the visitors. Having allowed it to go on for most of the half, and added no time for it, Robinson then decided to book the Blackburn goalkeeper in the ninety sixth minute before literally the final kick of the match.
Deep breath. I say again, I’m a patient man, but can anybody explain to me exactly what the fucking point of that is? There are three games left of the season and you need ten yellow cards for a ban. Leutwiler has none, this was his first (weirdly his only two appearances this season have been home and away against QPR). You do nothing about the time wasting all half, then decide to show the fucking goalkeeper a meaningless yellow literally immediately before full time. I know I’ve been swearing a lot lately and I’m sorry but fuck me sideways, how fucking stupid do you have to be? If ever there was an example of a referee with no feel for the sport he’s been placed in charge of then that was it. I feel like I’m spending my weekends and all of my money just watching a bunch of meatheads do their jobs really, really, really badly. It’s like the first 40 minutes of every episode of Kitchen Nightmares. It’s all Shawshank and no redemption.
Any hope that last weekend’s random 4-0 win against Swansea was QPR snapping out of their funk, returning to form, turning it around, well and truly extinguished here. Nah. That was the blip mate. This was what QPR are, and have been for several months now. To get relegated from here they would need to lose their remaining three games and Rotherham would need to beat Birmingham home, West Brom away and Middlesbrough at home. Millwall would need to win two out of Villa away, Stoke and Bristol City at home, and Wigan away. Wigan would have to win two of Birmingham home, Preston away and Millwall at home. Reading would need to win one of West Brom home, Middlesbrough away and Birmingham at home. Given that Birmingham are a point below us and play Rotherham away, Wigan at home and Reading away then even if that does all happen it’s likely they’d be the ones to go.
It’s not impossible, but we’re there in all but name, saved by the incompetence of others rather than anything we’ve done ourselves. With that in mind I see little reason to keep picking players who won’t be here next season. One, because what’s the point? And two, because which of them is actually sticking a hand up and giving you a reason to? Losing so many experienced players in the summer is potentially a huge risk, but in all honesty who are we in a big rush to keep here and why? We shouldn’t fear radical change, we should be absolutely terrified of any more of this.
It’s a terribly sad, lamentable end to a season that promised so much at one point and now cannot finish quickly enough. Ten home defeats this season. Ten, equalling the club record for a season. It’s four more than last season and only Bolton have lost more on their own patch in the whole league (14). Ipswich have lost eight. Ipswich. We have never lost 11 at home in a season in the history of the club, and there’s still one more to come next week. Even in getting relegated from the Premier League, albeit with four fewer home games, we only lost eight in 2014/15, nine in 2012/13 and eight in 1995/96. When we were relegated from this league in 2001, with a dire team, we lost eight home games all season. The 1968/69 QPR team, promoted too high too fast into the top flight for the first time in its history and relegated in last place, 15 points adrift of safety with only 18 points all season, also lost ten. We can go past them next week against Nottingham Forest. This is not acceptable.
Don’t forget those season ticket renewals.
QPR: Lumley 5; Wszolek 5 (Eze 74, 5), Furlong 5, Lynch 4, Manning 5; Luongo 5, Scowen 5, Cousins 5 (Wells 52, 4); Osayi-Samuel 6, Hemed 5 (Smith 64, 6), Freeman 5
Subs not used: Ingram, Cameron, Walker, Tilt
Goals: Smith (assisted Freeman)
Bookings; Luongo 59 (foul), Osayi-Samuel 83 (being a dick), Wells 90+3 (being a dick)
Blackburn: Leutwiler 6; Bennett 7, Lenihan 7, Williams 7, Bell 7; Armstrong 8 (Brereton 86, -), Evans 6 (Rodwell 65, 6), Travis 7, Rothwell 6; Dack 7, Graham 7 (Nuttall 68, 6)
Subs not used: Raya, Nyambe, Smallwood, Mulgrew
Goals: Graham 20 (penalty, won Travis), Dack 46 (assisted Armstrong)
Bookings; Rodwell 83 (foul), Leutwiler 90+7 (time wasting, joke)
QPR Star Man – Matt Smith 6 I don’t know. Nearly put N/A again, but we’re doing that so much recently. Nearly gave it to Bright Osayi-Samuel, but his finishing was poor and that daft bit of retaliation could have seen his season over just as he’s finally into the team. Smith came on and did what he does when serviced correctly, so maybe it should be him. Nobody to write home about though.
Referee – Tim Robinson (Sussex) 5 Absolutely fine for an hour or so, albeit (as so often at the moment) in a non competitive game. Then got a bit weird. Prolonged discussions with players about nothing very much at all, huge gaping stoppages in play when they didn’t need to exist, free kicks awarded when advantage could have been played and then further faffing about over the placement of said free kicks. Very generous to Bright Osayi-Samuel, and the late yellow card for Blackburn time wasting was, as said, a complete nonsense.
Souls on board – 13, 632 (600 Blackburn approximately) I’m hearing “not renewing next year” from people I genuinely never thought I would. And you can hardly blame them.
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