|Stoke City 1 v 2 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 3rd August 2019 Kick-off 15:00
Eze's glorious goal helps QPR stun Stoke - Report
Sunday, 4th Aug 2019 20:43 by Jordan James Foster
Queens Park Rangers started their 2019/20 season with a result and performance no one would have expected up at Stoke City - Jordan Foster was there for LFW.
A summer which has seen 14 new signings, ten departures and a new manager in Mark Warburton and first-team coach Neil Banfield overseeing proceedings meant many didn't know what to expect as Rangers arrived in Staffordshire on Saturday afternoon.
Yet Warburton's young, expressive and brave side opened the scoring after eight minutes through new signing Jordan Hugill after good work by Bright Osayi-Samuel. They doubled their lead early in the second half, Ebere Eze scoring the goal of the season on day one in a real 'I was there' moment. The home side hit back through Sam Clucas with ten minutes remaining and continued to press for an equaliser as Rangers' began to tire, but they held on for a memorable opening day victory – their first on the road since 1987.
It has been well documented through pre-season that Warburton would favour a short passing game, much like his predecessor Steve MacClaren, and has been allowed to make drastic changes to the squad to achieve this. Warburton set his side up in his favoured 4-2-3-1 which quickly reverted to 4-3-3 when out of possession, much like his time at Glasgow Rangers and Brentford.
A relatively new back four of the returning Angel Rangel, Grant Hall, new signing Yoann Barbet and Ryan Manning protected keeper Joe Lumley. Depending on how you saw it, a midfield trio of another new addition in Luke Amos alongside one of McClaren's infamous warriors Geoff Cameron and the rat himself Josh Scowen supported youngsters Osayi-Samuel, Eze and the new striking hope for this year Jordan Hugill in attack.
Despite all the promise and early season optimism, it was nearly a very different start with Scowen going full August 2018 on the travelling fans by playing a pass which was somewhere near Lumley, Barbet and Hall but not close enough to any of them to fully go for. Wales international Sam Vokes looked to capitalise but Lumley was out quickly to deny the forward as Scowen immediately apologised to his teammates as Warburton looked anything but amused on the touchline.
It was a nervous first few minutes for all, particularly loanee Luke Amos who looked anxious and slightly overawed on his debut as he missplaced numerous passes wide of their target. The experienced head of Cameron next to him helped build his confidence with a quick word in the ear. And moments later the towering American held off Clucas, rejected the easy square ball to Amos, and hit a 35-yard pass over the top of makeshift fullback James McClean for Osayi-Samuel to whippet after. Looking at it at the time and since, I don't think Jack Butland or McClean appreciated the pace of the former Blackpool winger. I suspect they did come five o’clock. The winger hung up a cross from the touchline for Jordan Hugill to tuck away into an empty net on the half volley with three red shirts around him.
Stoke got their first attempt on goal with a helping hand from replacement referee Darren Bond, who awarded a dubious foul allowing Sam Clucas to flick Nick Powell's freekick just wide of Lumley's goal. With the lead, Rangers continued to dictate their opposition playing a slow passing game and happy to keep the ball and wait for openings.
Whilst it certainly has elements of the style of play that Schteeve was desperate to facilitate, it's far more intelligent. The benefit of having Hugill – more on him later – means that there's no chest-height drive out to a full-back to deal with or Barcelona-esque two centre halves splitting with a deep midfielder coming to collect. This year nearly all players now comfortable with the ball at their feet and looking for a pass, rather than the square pegs in round holes of last year when Toni Leistner would take the ball off Lumley by the corner flag only to pummel it into another stratosphere for fear of being caught in possession.
But most of all there seems to be a clear plan, instructions and style of play that the players are able to follow. The plan for any in attendance was clear for Rangers, isolate Osayi-Samuel against McClean. Early in the first-half, he evaded another tackle from the Stoke man and cut inside this time, running straight at the statue-like Stoke defence. Hugill took Danny Batth away with his run and then was bundled over in the box only for the referee to continue his questionable afternoon by giving a foul against the new number nine.
Twenty minutes in and Rangers again were pushing down Stoke's left hand side. Rangel's three the ball to Osayi-Samuel who held off McClean again before rolling the ball back to the veteran, who delivered a pinpoint cross that was harder for Scowen to miss than score. He of course could only manage the former but Rangers had Scowen, Hugill, Eze and Bright all waiting in the penalty area for the incoming ball. Nick Powell volleyed just wide on the half-time whistle as they limited the chances of Nathan Jones' side who for all their forward's physical presence were well managed by Barbet and Hall.
Rangers couldn't have played any better in the opening half, after dictating the ball, their opposition and the game from nine minutes onwards, but many expected Stoke to come out a new team after the break. As predicted, they began to commit more men forward to the attacks early in the second half. A foul on Luke Amos just outside the centre circle allowed Barbet to show off his wand of a left foot. As had been the plan all afternoon, hitting Stoke before they could set, the former Brentford man restarted play by sending BOS away again with a long diagonal ball over McClean. The 21-year-old burst into past his opponent and fired a low ball into the area which Collins spooned only for Scowen, on a yellow card by this point, to go full “pitbull chasing after a tennis ball” and take the ball plus numerous Stoke players out of play trying to slide in for the rebound.
There's been a lot of talk about Osayi-Samuel online over the summer and towards the back end of last season. With him in the last year of his contract it’s a massive season for the youngster who has been criticised previously for his end product. But I would imagine there won't be too many that will give an experienced professional like McClean as much of a run around as he did yesterday. If the Irish international got too tight, he would lay off and spin in behind. If he tried to drop off he was able to turn and run in towards the centre-halves in the space created by Hugill. When he did get to crossing position as on two occasions, he created a goal and then very nearly created another. It was so bad at one point, McClean decided to full on rugby tackle the youngster as they both sprinted for a long-ball. He just didn't know what to do with him.
McClean not knowing whether to stick or twist and the new rule of being able to take goal kicks whilst players are in the area were just two small ingredients in what must be one of the greatest team goals QPR have scored for many a year. Another Nick Powell corner which came on and then went back out squandered possession for the hosts. I haven't seen a player so poor at taking set pieces yet so insistent since the Joey Barton days. A quick goal kick by Lumley who immediately looked to send Osayi-Samuel away against McClean for the 98,573th time of the afternoon whilst the majority of Stoke's defence were still making their way back.
McClean again tried to get tight to the winger whose immaculate touch allowed him to protect the ball from him and now Joe Allen, biding his time he rolled the ball back to Rangel. Intelligent play instead of rushing, last year Rangel might have looked for a long diagonal ball to Eze who was one on one with his fullback. But this year it's a lot slower, he instead chose to go inside to Amos who under pressure went back to Hall and then Lumley who in-turn fizzed a pass into Barbet, taking three players out of the game as Stoke, to their credit, tried to press.
Now almost certainly last year at this point with Lynch and Leistner present, the play would have been applauded and one of the previous mentioned two would have gone long. But again, it's different this year. Barbet, comfortable at taking the ball on the half turn pings a pass back out to Rangel. Cameron looks to create an angle with the huge amounts space now available because Stoke are so cautious of being caught out by Osayi-Samuel's speed they've dropped so deep to overcompensate the counter. He then finds Eze with a first time pass and from here, it's magic. Just magic. The speed of the dribble, the fact that Hugill occupies Batth leaving Eze with just youngster Nathan Collins in his way, the fact that his balance and ability to go either way mean the Stoke defender gets caught square and then loses his balance as he scoops the ball with his left foot and then guides it effortlessly with the instep of his right past England international Butland in the Potters' goal. Even in the celebration he barely broke the same stride of the run and finish covering his mouth as even he couldn't believe the audaciousness of the effort. Hugill, all raw and relatable just ran towards the west London contingent behind the goal with his arms aloft obviously in as much shock as the rest of us.
Those who haven't seen much of Hugill might have been slightly underwhelmed with the signing. His record at Preston really didn't seem all that and he's hardly set the world alight in the few loan moves he's made since the move to West Ham. But it's now very easy to see why Warburton was so desperate to bring him in. He's almost a hybrid of former striker Heidar Helguson and former foe Grant Holt. He's pure shithousery. Early on, Cousins put in a number of stern challenges on Eze, the second of which he was assisted by an overzealous Stoke defender Tommy Smith as they bundled him out of play. Innocuous as it may have seemed, a few minutes later when a typical Batth clearance was dropping out of orbit, Smith positioned himself under it for what would seem a relatively easy exercise for a former Premier League defender. Hugill, was uninterested, until that is he saw there was a chance for redemption. He weaved past Batth and Collins as the ball dropped, Hugill now hitting top speed, smashing Smith like a train and flicking the ball on in the process. Batth remonstrated with the referee as he picked his fallen colleague off the floor and shook out the concussion. Of course, Danny Batth wouldn't be Danny Batth, all muscles and sunbeds, without him trying to even it up. But every time the forward felt even the slightest touches in his back from a red shirt, he would go down in instalments grabbing the ball in the process leaving the referee no choice but to give a foul – much to the annoyance of the Stoke captain. Hugill would return to his feet, limp a little and get in the area all whilst continuing to laugh at Batth's petulance. He lived rent-free in his head all afternoon.
But his ability to bring others into play, occupy defenders and create space for the likes Eze and Osayi-Samuel is exceptional. After watching him, it's not hard to see why West Ham made a move when they did, especially if he was finding the net too. Like many out there he tired around the 70th minute as Rangers slumped deeper and deeper. Amos was the first to make way, his tenacious energy and technical ability all but pointing to him being a Premier League player in waiting. It was his legs and engine which cause the midfield diamond of Stoke's problems all afternoon. As soon as he went off, Rangers lost something despite his replacement being the promising signing of Marc Pugh. The most polite thing that could be said about Pugh is that he probably hasn't done preseason and it showed.
With just over ten minutes remaining and the away side dropping deeper, Clucas pulled one back from close range. Leistner was then on for Hugill with Eze moving to the forward position and Leistner making a third centre-half as it was a full attack v defence training drill for the remaining time.
Despite all the plaudits, memes and replays of the goal it would all have been pointless with seconds left to play. Stoke hitting another diagonal ball into the box, Lumley, who must have been told to be more proactive with his goalkeeping by coming for nearly everything led to him steaming out of his goal attempting to claim the ball, only for him not to put his hands up and said ball hurtle over his leap for it to be headed wide of the empty net. Our luck in this time, and again when Pugh got away with what looked like a fairly blatant handball in his own area at the death.
With Lee Wallace, Todd Kane and Matt Smith all expected to be starters, there's clear competition for places all over the pitch and for once could we be looking at a really exciting season when very few predicted it?
Stoke: Butland 5; Smith 5, Batth 5, Collins 4, McClean 4: Cousins 5, Allen 5, Clucas 5, Powell 5 (Gregory 5, 68); Afobe 4 (Ince 6, 71), Vokes 5 (Campbell 5, 81)
Subs not used: Federeci, Edwards, Martins Indi, Woods
Goals: Clucas 81 (assisted Ince)
Bookings: McClean (foul)
QPR: Lumley 6; Rangel 6, Barbet 7, Hall 7, Manning 7: Cameron 7, Amos 7 (Pugh 68, 5): Osayi-Samuel 8 (Shodipo 72, 6), Scowen 6, Eze 8; Hugill 7 (Leistner 81, 6)
Subs not used: Kelly, Smith, Mlakar, Chair
Goals: Hugill 8 (assisted Osayi-Samuel), Eze 53 (assisted Cameron)
Bookings: Cameron (foul) 16, Scowen (foul) 22, Barbet (foul) 24
QPR Star Man - Bright Osayi-Samuel: Was so key to QPR getting a result, could have easily have been given to Eze for that goal but for his overall influence on the game and despite McClean's “whole hearted” approach to defending he kept going and ruined any idea of McClean being a full back for this year.
Referee – Darren Bond (Lancashire) 4: A change from advertised official Geoff Eltringham. Started handing out cards to Rangers players for every foul they made but despite numerous fouls on the away side he was far more lenient. Whilst it could be argued Rangers deserved their bookings, 18 fouls made by Stoke, four more than QPR yet only one booking seems odd at best.
Attendance: 24,000 (1400 away)
The Twitter @JodanJFoster
Pictures – Action Images
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