QPR punished by Leeds for lack of self belief - Report
Sunday, 3rd Nov 2019 21:14 by Clive Whittingham
QPR were beaten by promotion chasing Leeds at Elland Road on Saturday which given the expectations on the two sides isn't surprising, and in the context of Rangers' season isn't a problem, but a lack of belief in the visiting team was more of a problem than anything the hosts offered.
You can accuse this Queens Park Rangers team of a lot of things, inconsistency isn’t one of them.
When they play the division’s poorer teams, Rangers win. Often in very fine style, frequently with a good number of goals being scored, almost always in an exciting and thrilling manner. Four were stuck through Blackburn Rovers, three through Luton, Wigan and Hull, wins on the road have been secured at Millwall, Sheff Wed, Stoke and on Humberside.
When they play the Championship’s better sides, they lose. Often very comfortably, offering meek resistance, in dull spectacles over long before the final whistle has blown. Defeats to Bristol City, Swansea City, West Brom and Brentford rarely looked like being anything else across the respective 90 minutes and onto that pile you can now chuck this grimly routine loss at Elland Road – once again by a wide two goal margin.
The defence concedes two goals a game regardless of how it lines up, who it plays or what the final outcome of the game is.
It’s starting to look very much like we’re going to beat the bottom half of the league, lose to the top half, and finish bang in the middle, which given the general consensus of our chances this season prior to the start of it would be an absolute touch. We shouldn’t lose sight of that on frustrating afternoons like this simply because an early run of good results through favourable fixtures shifted expectations upwards. We’re not meant to be good enough to win at Leeds yet, and we didn't, but the season as a whole is still tracking well above expectation and the result should be set in that perspective.
Probably the most disappointing aspect of Saturday was that despite coming into the game with a division-best record of four wins from six away trips so far, the QPR players kind of looked like they knew they weren’t meant to be good enough to beat Leeds.
Marcelo Bielsa’s side, still mentally scarred by a vintage Leeds collapse at the end of last season so typically Leeds they made a documentary to chart the phenomena, are a different beast this year to last. They’d scored nine fewer goals year on year prior to this game, favouring a more pragmatic approach to 2019/20 than the shock and awe tactics that the maverick Argentinean coach exploded into this league with at the beginning of 2018/19. They’re able to rely on a defence more now the erratic Pontus Jansson has been replaced with Brighton’s Ben White, a player who is genuinely as good as Jansson wrongly believes himself to be. They select Patrick Bamford up front for work rate and back to goal game, rather than goals, which he doesn’t score, preferring to clock up hard luck stories, missed sitters and theatrical dives in the penalty box instead. Partly this is all down to teams, particularly at Elland Road, coming and parking 11 players behind the ball and playing for a point – Swansea and Derby both scored their only shots on target here in injury time to take four points home between them. Partly it’s down to injury problems to their most creative player, Pablo Hernandez, who was back on the bench for this one. But there’s no doubt that Leeds would overwhelm teams 12 months ago, and now they’re becoming arm wrestle specialists.
On Saturday, the excellent Kalvin Phillips apart, they weren’t great, which made QPR’s timid approach and tepid play all the more annoying. There was nothing here to be particularly scared of – certainly Leeds were miles and miles off the performances Bristol City, Swansea, West Brom and Brentford put in against us – and yet QPR were scared anyway, like a footballing clown phobia. We looked better for switching back to a back three, and bringing in Lee Wallace for a long awaited debut on the left of that, Ebere Eze carried the fight in swaggering style, and turning up camouflaged in an identical kit to the Leeds home strip was potentially ingenious, but there were too many anonymous performances from players letting the game pass them by. There are four of five players for whom positive, attacking contributions across the 90 minutes numbered zero. This was about bollocks as much as about tactics, and QPR were found lacking in that department, as manager Mark Warburton admitted in more professional terms afterwards.
Leeds went through the motions and won the game at about 60% of their best. Klich sidefooted their first chance over after ten minutes when well placed to do better, and was then later booked by the always excellent Geoff Eltringham for tripping Ebere Eze after being tricked. Luke Ayling headed a free kick over the bar, Stuart Dallas drew a functional save from Liam Kelly, Patrick Bamford waltzed around the goalkeeper and still didn’t score – partly because that’s what Patrick Bamford does at the moment, and partly because Lee Wallace produced the tackle of the season to deny him a walk in. When “Bam Bam” did find the net in the second half it was disallowed for offside – because that’s where Patrick Bamford tends to stand, on the occasions he is upright.
QPR didn’t offer much in return. An early Eze cross went right through the goal mouth without a touch, and a late squared ball from Nahki Wells was agonisingly out of Jordan Hugill’s reach at the back post. The game was drifting along without the visitors looking unduly troubled, but also without them causing any problems for Leeds, and as time started to tick down to half time that sort of half-arsed, unbelieving approach to the game started to seep into the defence which was twice lucky to get away with basic lack of tracking at attacking throw ins, the second of which Ryan Manning had to rescue with a back post clearance behind for a corner. Sure enough, five before the break, Harrison got going down the left and pulled it back to Tyler Roberts to score with too much ease from the edge of the box.
A fault with the public address system saw the early stages of the second half played out under some sort of trancey lounge music, which rather suited QPR’s meek “I don’t mean you any trouble mister” cowed approach to the game. A deep cross to the back post was headed straight at the keeper by Bamford, because that’s what Bamford does at the moment, and then a low ball right through the six yard box seemed to have put a second on a plate for Bamford at point blank range but he failed to connect with the ball at all, because that’s what Bamford does at the moment. A rare long ball over the top of the QPR defence caught them out and could have had Tyler Roberts in for his second with a sounder touch. Dominic Ball was booked for kicking one too many people.
An injury to Toni Leistner saw Todd Kane added to the right side of the defence and Angel Rangel moved infield. Soon after Marc Pugh came on for Ilias Chair and it was these two substitutions that gave rise to hope, for the first time in the game, that one might not be enough for Leeds and that QPR were actually here for something after all. Kane, who’d been poor against Reading, was back in good form here, bombing down the wing and getting in behind Dallas frequently, mostly thanks to cute through balls from Pugh. Suddenly crosses were starting to pepper the home box, where goalkeeper Kiko Casilla had yet to make a serious save, and this should really have culminated in a seventieth minute equaliser for Jordan Hugill who looked to have been picked out a treat by Kane only to get his feet in a mess under the cross and end up directing a very presentable header wide.
Sadly this brief rally, if you could call it that, was stopped dead in its tracks by a second Leeds goal, and just to really put the tin hat on things it was Pugh who inadvertently passed the ball straight to Jack Harrison to finish into the far corner just as the former Bournemouth man had started to look like the guy who might syphon a leveller for his team at the other end.
The rain fell, the scarves twirled, the fictitious European Cup success was celebrated, and Pablo Hernandez made his return from injury for the final 13 minutes but could only lift a very dangerous late free kick over the bar. When Eltringham played a super advantage through a deliberate assault on the game’s star player Phillips in injury time, Liam Kelly beat away the resulting shot from Roberts to stop it going to three nil.
Leeds had won the game long before that though. Almost from the moment QPR got off the bus, in fact.
Leeds: Casilla 6; Ayling 6, Cooper 6, White 7, Dallas 6; Phillips 8, Klich 6; Harrison 7 (Davis 84, -), Roberts 7, Costa 5 (Hernandez 77, 5); Bamford 5
Subs not used: Meslier, Berardi, Gotts, Bogusz, Clarke
Goals Roberts 39 (assisted Harrison), Harrison 82 (assisted Pugh)
Bookings: Klich 22 (foul)
QPR: Kelly 6; Hall 6, Leistner 5 (Kane 54, 6), Wallace 6; Rangel 5, Ball 5, Chair 5 (Pugh 63, 5), Eze 6, Manning 6; Wells 5 (Mlakar 72, 5), Hugill 5
Subs not used: Lumley, Amos, Scowen, Osayi-Samuel
Bookings: Ball 70 (repetitive fouling), Wallace 79 (foul), Rangel 90+2 (foul), Hugill 90+3 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Ebere Eze 6 Second game in a row he takes the ‘star man’ honours with a six in a lacklustre team performance. A cut above just about anybody else on the pitch bar Phillips but unable to translate the control of the midfield into impact on the game with attackers shut out of the game ahead of him and Rangers lacking sufficient belief and ambition.
Referee – Geoff Eltringham (Durham) 8 Continuing a long line of impressive performances with his usual calm, authoritative, unfussy display. Scrupulously fair to both sides, which isn’t always easy in an atmosphere like this. Very welcome relief after sitting through Simpson and Woolmer’s nonsense last week.
Attendance 35,284 (1,100 QPR approx.) Packed to the rafters with noisy loyalists, twirling their scarves and singing about a trophy they’ve never won, just as it always has been, through the good times and the bad, through the thick and the thin, die hard supporters backing their team, whatever your memory of that upper tier being closed and the stand behind the goal being half empty when Clint Hill scored here five years ago may tell you.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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