I have often walked down this street before - Report
Sunday, 10th Nov 2019 18:48 by Clive Whittingham
QPR were caught cold by struggling Middlesbrough, then wrestled the advantage back, then gave it up all too easily in an immensely frustrating game at Loftus Road on Saturday.
Oh God, it’s a trap. A trap we’ve stepped in a thousand times before. Stupid, unlearning QPR.
Middlesbrough. Bloody Middlesbrough. Here they come, lowest scorers in the league. Top scorer on four, no goals in five. Second top scorer on two, a defender. Fourth top scorer, a collection of expensively assembled and well-paid players on nought. They’d managed 11 goals prior to Saturday which was enough for two wins from 15 games, both of them at home, both 1-0. Their last goal was Friday October 4, at Birmingham, and they lost anyway. There have been four matches since then. Their away games had brought four defeats, three draws, and four long sets of 90 minutes on the road when they failed to score.
And the injuries. Oh my days, the injuries. Jonathan Woody Woodgate - best known for the worst Real Madrid debut of all time, sexual conquests with Big Brother contestants, and 100 hours of community service for walloping an Asian lad up and down Leeds High Street – cut a forlorn figure in his Thursday “presser” as he listed the absentees from his beleaguered squad. First choice goalkeeper Darren Randolph, forward Rudy Gestede, alleged striker Ashley Fletcher, Football Manager regen Ainsly Pears, Tony Pulis wet dream Ryan Shotton, Next catalogue model George Friend, the artist formerly known as Marcus Browne, Millwall scholar George Saville on the naughty step, somebody masquerading as Ben Liddle… divorced, beheaded, died, divorced, beheaded, survived (but unavailable). Excellent young boy Tyrone O’Neill recalled from a seven-goal, 14-game spell at mighty Darlington. Bear bones Bondy, you’ll have to ask the chairman. Two goalkeepers on the bench, if only they could find two goalkeepers to put there.
We’ll piss this won’t we? Got the fucking answers written on our arm for goodness sake. Sneezy, Dopey, Bashful. Walking on the moon. We’ll shit em.
Except, not. Woodgate has turned the surgery into a house of lies. They’re not injured at all. Randolph, Friend, that Ashley Fletcher bloke who pretends to be a footballer, they’re all here. Ainsly Pears and Ben Liddle are on the bench. He’s meant to have the squits that bloke. And here they come, right from the kick off, over the hill with a bastard flamethrower. Free kick, wide right, into the box, headed in, 1-0. Time still being measured in seconds. There’s some confusion over whether it’s Daniel Ayala, or one of the panicked QPR players in a makeshift back three of Grant Hall, Geoff Cameron and Lee Wallace. When referee David Coote and his linesman reach a conclusion they decide that Ayala was offside, which he certainly didn’t look, even if he did head it, which I’m not convinced he did.
Whether they’d taken it lightly or not, QPR’s set up didn’t suit them at all, and they were in trouble from second one of minute one. Having escaped the Ayala goal, they almost immediately had Britt Assombalonga screaming through on goal only to be denied by a goal saving tackle from Lee Wallace even more remarkably executed than his theft of Patrick Bamford’s soul a week before. The decision to penalise Ball for a thirteenth minute foul on Johnson was generous, McNair’s curled set piece landed on the roof of the net over a scrambling Joe Lumley – back in for an injured Liam Kelly. Johnson’s seventeenth minute cross to Tavernier found him flagged offside – again, lino on the far side was our best friend – but he headed straight at the keeper.
There were some signs of life from a stunned home team. Better on nine minutes – Manning in space in an attacking position, feeding Ebere Eze into the left channel for a shot to the near post into the side netting. Better still on 18 – a great move with Manning winning an initial header in midfield and then piling forwards onto a return ball that he cut back for Amos who arrived late and shot wide via a deflection. But, in truth, we’d been caught cold, and on 22 minutes that manifested itself with Manning and Wallace – two players out of position – getting caught between two stools and allowing Howson to steam in and cross for Assombalonga to open the scoring.
What hadn’t been coming, by any stretch of even the most optimistic QPR fan’s imagination, was a well-crafted equaliser. And yet here it was, shimmering in the autumn deluge, Nahki Wells played in behind a busted offside trap, finishing below Randolph for 1-1 almost as soon as it had become 0-1. Chair with the assist, cutely turned around the corner in a tight space as only he can. Love him, sexy little goblin.
Now, for the first time, we started to see the Middlesbrough we thought we were welcoming. Easily panicked, doing silly things, listening to the voices in their heads. Amongst a shambolic start, QPR were still threatening from several creatively constructed attacking set pieces which, as they had against Brentford, persistently got Grant Hall free and unmarked for a header at goal. Boro didn’t like that, they didn’t like it one bit. One before half time was punched away by Randolph, one immediately after the break went straight at the keeper when it was a goal a foot either left or right, and in between those the Irish stopper somehow landed Hall’s header in his own net by flapping it into the back of Jonny Howson in the six-yard box. Middlesbrough fans, to a man, rate Randolph as the best keeper in this league, but I’ve never seen it, and I didn’t see it here. This amateur hour special was a coupled with a kicking game from the Rob Green Greatest Hits album and a time wasting repertoire that would have shamed Paul Gerrard – and quite why on earth Middlesbrough would want to be wasting time when this game was there for their taking I have not the foggiest idea.
Nor, really, did I understand how QPR were winning the game. Even in the last few moments of the half when they’d somehow climbed back on top of a match they were never remotely in they were doing some remarkably stupid things. Dominic Ball, fighting fires in a beaten midfield, inadvertently got Assombalonga in with a misplaced header straight after Rangers had gone in front. Nahki Wells was harshly booked for getting involved in something he needn’t have bothered with. When Chair and Eze tried to execute a short corner routine, Boro read it and Eze was immediately flagged offside. Like Donna Air appearing on Celebrity Mastermind.
But, for all of that, we were winning. We were winning against a poor team, in all kinds of trouble, with no confidence, and a manager under pressure. Boro are so bad, we were beating them by accident, and in the process moving into sixth in the Championship table. Sixth. This was a gift horse nodding joyously over the horizon, and QPR stared it straight in the gob.
Straight away at the start of the second half Geoff Cameron was turned too easily by Fletcher - a theme of the day – and hauled him down for a free kick and yellow card – somehow, wrongly issued to Grant Hall. Later Cameron was booked, while Hall was allowed a way with a word on the run for an obvious yellow card tackle, so referee escapes all round. Having got away with that, Rangers were then caught with Ebere Eze doing some ill-advised headed keep ups on the edge of his own box which ended up with an even more presentable Boro free kick which Wing pinged over the bar. Sixteen percent of Middlesbrough’s shots this season have been by Wing from outside the area – he hasn’t scored since the opening night. Let off, after let off, after let off. QPR gave the ball away from the resulting goal kick.
Look, I’m enjoying this season. I think we’re great to watch. This is a new team learning its trade and trying its best and, in general, producing some tremendously entertaining stuff. After sitting through Mark Hughes, Harry Redknapp, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Steve McClaren, I won’t have a word said against this. And had Manning’s fierce drive from a cleared short corner on 59 gone in and not been tipped over, or anybody been on hand to convert two superb crosses in quick succession from him and Kane on 66, then nobody would be caring or mithering today. When substitute Jordan Hugill was fouled on the edge of the box referee Coote played advantage and Wells launched one which Randolph tipped over. But, *Diane Abbott voice*, Rangers… Rangers… please… play the hand of cards you’ve been dealt.
Yes, we all thought Middlesbrough were going to be this, and actually they were that. No, nobody could have anticipated a beautiful autumnal morning turning into Apocalypse Now from the sky. Of course, we all took Jonathan Woodgate at his word when he said all of his senior players were dead and he was bringing the under 12s down to the big smoke for a day out. But when all of that blows up in our face, and we somehow end up winning the game regardless, then take that and run with it. Put that rim to my lips and let there be wine within. Run that horse down that course.
In teeming rain, on a skating rink pitch, with our ball playing centre back Yoann Barbet injured and – in possession at least – sadly missed, with the back three floundering badly, with Dom Ball fighting a losing battle in midfield, and winning regardless… recognise it and adapt. Of course, we want to play incredible football, and score beautiful goals, and God knows we’ve all enjoyed being there for our attempts at that this season. But, in certain circumstances, there’s no shame in pragmatism. You can have a sensible 20 minutes of seeing a game out without sacrificing yourself at the alter of John Beck. QPR point blankly refused to recognise this to the point that Nahki Wells played an unbelievable, suicidal, non-sensical back pass into the heart of his own penalty area which Assombalonga lifted beyond Lumley for 2-2. Two goals conceded for the eighth game in a row, now the only team in the whole Football League without a clean sheet.
Quite why on earth Boro - who were good value for a win anyway, completely unaffected by a pair of ineffective QPR substitutions and often only stopped from dangerous attacks by professional fouls which brought yellows for Ball and Cameron (suspended for Fulham) – would start wasting time and settling for a point when there were three here for them I don’t know. Very grateful for it though.
With David Coote - like every other referee at this level - refusing to take action against the clock running until the moment the clock had run down at which point a meaningless yellow card was issued to the goalkeeper, Boro did indeed leave with their point. The way they’d carried on in the last quarter of an hour it felt like an escape. In actual fact, it was an enormous missed opportunity for their first away win.
They wouldn’t even have got that point had Jordan Hugill scored when he should have done two minutes from time when he came piling in on Kane’s perfectly flighted cross. It looked a goal from the moment it left Kane’s boot and if you were a Boro fan, in their situation, with a local boy who’d previously struggled on loan from them arriving right on time at the back post, you’d have assumed it was going in for a 3-2 defeat. Typical Boro, they would have said.
But he headed wide, and instead it was typical, typical QPR.
QPR: Lumley 5; Hall 5, Cameron 4, Wallace 5; Kane 6, Manning 5; Ball 6, Amos 5 (Scowen 62, 5), Eze 6, Chair 6 (Hugill 62, 5); Wells 5
Subs not used: Smith, Pugh, Mlakar, Osayi-Samuel, Barnes
Goals: Wells 25 (assisted Chair), Howson og 44 (assisted Hall, pre-assist Eze)
Bookings: Wells 42 (unsporting), Hall 53 (foul), Ball 83 (foul), Cameron 89 (foul)
Middlesbrough: Randolph 5; Fry 6, Ayala 6, Friend 6; Howson 6 (Dijksteel 65, 6), Johnson 6; McNair 7, Wing 6, Tvaernier 6 (Clayton 77, 6); Fletcher 7, Assombalonga 7
Subs not used: Coulson, O’Neill, Walker, Liddle, Pears
Goals: Assombalonga 23 (assisted Howson), 65 (assisted Wells)
Bookings: Fry 90+2 (foul), Randolph 90+4 (time wasting)
QPR Star Man – Dom Ball 6 Fourth game in a row I’ve been scrabbling around for a man of the match among the sixs and in a broken midfield, in front of a fractured defence, and next to the wholly ineffective Amos, I thought Ball did well to hold things together. Chair good as well.
Referee – David Coote (West Yorkshire) 6 Awakward one to judge. In general, I thought he was fine, but I’m not sure why the Boro goal was disallowed, and I swear he booked Hall incorrectly for a Cameron foul and then fudged subsequent bookings for both to avoid sending either of them off. Further marks off for wholly ineffective policing of the time wasting – I’m sure Randolph is devastated by that yellow card after 94 minutes with the job done – and I still can’t work out how or why they’ve disallowed that first Middlesbrough goal so I suspect if I was writing for their site I’d be giving a five.
Attendance – 14,404 (1,400 Boro approx.) A few years ago you couldn’t go on a QPR podcast without a Mark Lazarus or Dave Thomas coming on as the guest and saying they hadn’t heard from the club for years, never got invited back, felt unloved... What a transformation to get to this point now, with that tremendously moving half time address with Dave. You can see and hear what it means to these players to come back and know they’re still loved and remembered here and the next person who coats off the Forever R’s for admitting somebody they don’t feel they’ve contributed enough can get in the sea. Andy Sinton has led this charge - with help from Ian Gillard, Martin Rowlands, Andy Evans and others – and is an absolute treasure at our club. Thank you to him for helping make QPR a club I’m proud to support again, pulling it back from the point it was at a few years ago where it felt like it was moving away from me and others like me. And while we’re being mushy, Middlesbrough bringing that many fans down to London through a flooded north of England on extortionately expensive trains to watch a team that has only won twice all season, hasn’t scored for four games, hasn’t won away… was impressive. They were a credit to their club with their support during the game, their applause for Dave Thomas at half time, and their pre-match respect of the silence which can often be disrupted by late arrivals who’ve been on it all day. Proper club, proper fans, proper place – looking forward to getting back in Dr Browns for the return fixture already.
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