Impressive Baggies return Rangers to earth - Report
Sunday, 29th Sep 2019 18:46 by Clive Whittingham
Growing optimism and excitement among QPR fans encouraged with the early signs from their new look side were tempered somewhat by a 2-0 defeat to West Brom on Saturday far more comfortable than the scoreline suggests.
For all Queens Park Rangers’ clear and obvious improvement between last season and this, there’s still something of the naughty eight-year-old boy about them. They just can’t help but do stupid, avoidable, schoolboy things that get them into trouble. Capable of providing moments of great joy, and others of enormous frustration. You love them, but they exasperate you. They're yours, but at times you wish they weren't.
On Saturday lunchtime they welcomed West Bromwich Albion to their corner of West London for what was, on paper and in practice, the toughest test of a promising start to the campaign so far. There was little money sloshing around in the pre-season promotion markets for the Baggies, despite a recent prolonged Premier League stint and big parachute payments. They’d faded badly last season once the division’s outstanding player, Harvey Barnes, was recalled from his loan and their much vaunted strike force of Jay Rodriguez and Dwight Gayle has also moved on. Of the four forwards that ran a seven goal sword through QPR a year ago, only our former charge Matt Phillips remains – booed on his return to Loftus Road after his provocative celebrations in front of the away end in that match.
Slaven Bilic, sacked by West Ham two years ago and since dividing his time between television studios and an easy pension top up in Saudi Arabia, looked like exactly the sort of ill-considered appointment clueless foreign owners of British football clubs often make because it’s a big name they’ve heard of rather than because he’s suitable for the job. This is Bilic’s first ever season at Championship level as player or manager, which apparently matters because the Championship is a technically superior maze of intrigue, complicated formations, innovative thinking and surprise tactics each more surprising than the last and not at all a bucket of mediocre slop.
But he and they have started well. The only remaining unbeaten team in the Championship after a busy summer of transfer activity that has shed ageing high earners and equipped them with a much younger, much more physically imposing, much quicker, much better balanced team with all the same attacking potency they held this time last year. That Charlie Austin still looks miles short of the pace of the game at this level after a year of inaction at Southampton matters little when he’s supported by 23-year-old Brazilian Matheus Pereira on loan from Sporting and 21-year-old Grady Diangana on secondment from West Ham. The pair of them, sporting more hair on Saturday than I’ve ever been able to grow in my entire life, were an absolute joy.
To hold them and get a result, to continue the first run of four consecutive wins since 2013, to perhaps take a shock early lead in the Championship table, QPR would have to be sharp, they would have to be tight, they would have to concentrate, and they would have to defend far better than they have in games this season to date. For all the positives, the lofty league position, the five wins, the three away wins, the breaths of fresh air and so on, the R’s, like their visitors, were without a clean sheet at kick off.
Instead what they did, eight minutes after successfully holding the Baggies to a scoreless first half, was allow prodigious 18-year-old left back Nathan Ferguson to run 40 yards with the ball and score with a long range strike to the near post that Joe Lumley should really be saving in his sleep. QPR’s accident prone young keeper is starting to cop a bit of stick from an impatient crowd, which in turn is exacerbating a situation where his confidence is draining away and he’s second guessing his decision making. Even prior to the goal he’d been dilly and dallying, shillying and shallying and frightening the horses with a series of increasingly terrifying bouts of possession with his feet. Playing out from the back only works if it's done swiftly and decisively, the longer you hold onto the ball the more the space and options are closed down and the greater the chance of a mistake in a bad area. Lumley looks trapped in a vicious circle. Though whether he can distribute adequately or not rather pales into insignificance when he’s conceding goals like this.
In his meagre defence, the absolutely outstanding Ferguson was allowed to run far to far unchecked. I’ll mitigate for Nahki Wells before prosecuting by saying he had pulled up with a back injury moments before, but his complete lack of tracking back to effect Ferguson was particularly galling on this one. It couldn’t even be described as a token effort, standing stock still in the middle of the field and watching the West Brom left back disappear over the horizon. Still, it was goalkeeping 1.1 and was a decisive moment in the game.
Worse was to come. Still in the game with six minutes to go and only a goal down, there was still the outside possibility of a grand stand finish and an equaliser being sucked in down at the Loft End. Bright Osayi-Samuel and Marc Pugh had been brought on for lacklustre Ebere Eze and Wells to search for it. But that plan went clean out of the window when one long punt down the field somehow caught the otherwise impressive Toni Leistner and Yoann Barbet too high and too square, allowing Bilic’s own second half replacement Hal Robson-Kanu a clear run on goal. He didn’t look particularly confident, and nor was Barbet’s subsequent collision and trip on him deliberate, but it was a clear free kick and obvious red card for refeee Geoff Eltringham. Rangers then compounded this by building a wall with more holes than a tramp’s trainer through which Pereira was able to slide a second goal onto Lumley’s unsighted side. Cameron and Leistner the guilty parties this time. Stupid boys.
As far as scoring goes, that was it, which gives QPR the opportunity to say that but for two rudimentary individual errors they’d have got a 0-0 draw from by far and away the best team they’ve played all season. But if we’re perfectly honest, that’s a manifestly unfair summation of a game West Brom dominated from beginning to end and could and should have won by many, many more goals.
Rangers, top scorers in the league aside from their visitors, failed to muster a single shot on target in the entire game, leaving goalkeeper Sam Johnstone free to practice new, creative and wholly unnecessary time wasting techniques throughout the second half. Bar one snatched shot high over the bar in the first half, Nahki Wells was barely spotted all afternoon after six goals in his previous three games for club and country. Semi Ajayi, whose gone from one of the worst players I’ve ever seen on this ground when he lost 5-1 here with Rotherham three seasons ago to one of the best in the division, kept the Bermudian firmly in his pocket while the enormous Kyle Bartley alongside him absolutely monstered Jordan Hugill into complete submission. Behind them you couldn’t fault the willingness of Ilias Chair and Ebere Eze to try and work a solution to the problem, but they were suffocated by a midfield marshalled expertly by Jake Livermore. Forced to go deeper and deeper looking for good ball, Eze started making potentially lethal mistakes in his own box, bailed out of one particularly hair-raising experience by Yoann Barbet before half time, and was withdrawn early in his first big televised chance to showcase his obvious talent this season. Those who want him to stay forever 1, QPR club accountant 0.
Ball, as a lone defensive midfielder, was little match for the brilliance of Pereira and Diangana who ran amok. Austin, for all his sluggishness, would have scored after eight minutes with a first time volley from close range that Barbet blocked brilliantly. The Frenchman, in the first half at least, had been having his best game for the club so far for my money, with the trademark diags coupled with unusually sound defensive work, until his latest second half brain explosion for the second goal.
But what summed up the whole game most was right wing back Todd Kane’s afternoon of torment at the hands of young Ferguson. Time and time and time again Rangers freed the former Chelsea man onto one his trademark forays forward down the right, time and time and time again Ferguson removed the ball from him with little fuss. Going the other way, Ferguson succeeded in everything Kane had tried and failed, providing yet another attacking outlet an already overworked Rangers defence could well have done without.
As at Millwall last week, and Wigan at home before that, I was disappointed with a reverential first half performance from Rangers. They weren’t positive enough, assertive enough, or aggressive enough. They looked to be in a coping mechanism, but whereas a week ago at The Den they realised after 40 minutes there was nothing really to cope with, here the opponent was formidable. Still, too much respect was paid, as manager Mark Warburton freely admitted afterwards. Darnell Furlong, confident and slick on his first return, was booked early for a master blaster on Ryan Manning, but rather than leave him walking a tightrope he continued to grow and dominate the game down his side of the field. He and his team were more aggressive, more purposeful, and on the front foot more often. They weren't here to mess about, they were here to effect things, while QPR looked more in the mood to let things come to them.
Bar one moment in first half stoppage time where Chair sat two defenders down in the area and cut the ball back to nobody, the goal threat was negligible. At the other end balls flashed this way and that through the QPR area. Barbet and Cameron both had to commit professional fouls and accept mandatory yellow cards just to hang onto the coat tails of free wheeling attackers. That domination only got more severe after half time and but for Lumley saves with his chest from first Pereira, then substitute Edwards, then another with two fists from Diangana, and finally, spectacularly and one-handedly, from Robson-Kanu at point blank range, this would have been far worse.
Mark Warburton has been proactive and effective with substitutions this season, but couldn’t turn the tide of this one with three switches. Bright Osayi-Samuel was introduced to try and give Ferguson something else to think about, but Rangers barely gave him the ball and he was able to get away on just one run down the touchline in his 20 minute cameo. His introduction also necessitated a switch to 4-4-2 and a central midfield pairing of Dom Ball and Geoff Cameron which brought to mind the halcyon Ian Holloway days of Steve Palmer and Matthew Rose playing together in there. This in turn required another substitution to correct, with Pugh arriving to return us to a 4-2-3-1 set up but he, too, saw precious little of the ball.
I’m not sure I want to be particularly harsh on any player or the manager after this one. We were simply and comprehensively beaten by a much better team. I don't think there was a combination of players or substitutions that would have dug us out of this one, albeit I found the first half performance needlessly insipid.
With that in mind, quite why West Brom felt the need to engage in various morally bankrupt time wasting techniques when they were bossing proceedings to his extent I have no idea. Nor really while Pereira blotted the copy book of an outstanding personal performance with a theatrical collapse to try and get Ryan Manning booked, then a patronising tickle of the Irishman’s chin on his way off after being subbed which sparked a needless flashpoint. Bilic clearly agreed, fishing the Brazilian back out of the dug out to apologise to the QPR coaching staff. Can’t help but like the fella, unless you’re French of course. Referee Geoff Eltringham, like every other Championship referee before him, allowed both to take place unchecked, and then added the standard four minutes at the end. It didn’t matter, one of those we wouldn’t have scored all night jobs, but second tier teams’ obsession with shithouse tactics and clock running and the point blank refusal of referees at this level to do anything about it festered last year and continues this.
This disappointing no-show, albeit against a very good team, leaves QPR with four wins against poor sides and one against a medicore one, and three very comfortable defeats against the more talented Swansea, Bristol City and West Brom. We wondered aloud before kick off what role a favourable fixture list had played in the positive start to the season and were delivered a fairly emphatic answer here. Wednesday night in Cardiff without Hall or Barbet will tell us more, before bogey team Blackburn arrive in Shepherd’s Bush next Saturday.
QPR: Lumley 5; Cameron 5, Leistner 7, Barbet 6; Kane 5, Manning 6; Eze 5 (Osayi-Samuel 70, 5), Ball 6 (Smith 85, -), Chair 6; Hugill 5, Wells 5 (Pugh 77, 5)
Subs not used: Wallace, Scowen, Masterson, Kelly
Red Cards: Barbet 83 (denying clear goalscoring opportunity)
Bookings: Cameron 22 (foul), Barbet 34 (foul)
West Brom: Johnstone 6; Furlong 7, Ajayi 7, Bartley 7, Ferguson 8; Livermore 7, Sawyers 7; Phillips 7 (Edwards 71, 6), Pereira 8 (Krovinovic 87, -), Diangana 8; Austin 6 (Robson-Kanu 61, 6)
Subs not used: Gibbs, Zohore, Bond, O’Shea
Goals: Ferguson 53 (unassisted), Pereira 84 (direct free kick, won Robson-Kanu)
Bookings: Furlong 16 (foul), Robson-Kanu 89 (kicking ball away)
QPR Star Man – Toni Leistner 7 For the second game ina row I thought the big German was our best player. Battled well with Austin for the first hour, albeit with Austin clearly off the pace of the game, and then Robson-Kanu for the final 30. Harshly penalised a couple of times for robust but fair challenges. Strong presence in the air and on the ground. Several ‘dog on the playground’ runs through the middle of the field to spark panic on both sides. Effective and fun.
Referee – Geoff Eltringham (Durham) 6 I quite like him. I’ve seen him cop a fair bit of stick for yesterday but bar two throw in calls on the South Africa Road side of the ground in the second half which were clearly the wrong way I didn’t really have too much of a problem. The Barbet red card, the big decision in the game, was correct, as were the other yellow cards. Thought he was harsh on Toni Leistner a few times, penalising him for what looked like fair challenges on Robson-Kanu to me. I didn’t like the way he allowed Jake Livermore to follow him around for huge swathes of the first half giving a running commentary on the game, nor the complete lack of preventative action taken against Johnstone and others for flagrant time wasting in the second half, but they’re persistent failings of referees in that league not just a problem with this official. Marks off for all that but overall not too bad, unfussy, unobtrusive.
Attendance – 13,959 (2,000 West Brom approx.) A shame. A shame it was a 12.30 kick off, and a shame the team were such a distant second best, both killing an atmosphere that should have been jumping after the recent run of victories stone dead. Lovely, well deserved and well judged receptions for Charlie Austin when he’d been subbed and Darnell Furlong at full time.
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