Familiar failings floor QPR at Fulham - Report
Sunday, 24th Nov 2019 15:07 by Clive Whittingham
QPR were so good for so long at Fulham on Friday night, but ultimately left empty handed thanks to their inability to mark lone strikers attacking wide service, and a propensity to self destruct in challenging moments of games.
When you shovel the thick end of 20 players out and bring another 16 in during one transfer window it’s difficult to know what to expect from the squad you end up with. Now, 17 league games later, Queens Park Rangers have a very strong idea of what they have on their hands, and it was all there in microcosm on Friday night at Craven Cottage. Everything we’ve come to expect from Mark Warburton’s team, everything we’re coming to love and loathe about them, played out across one block of 90 minutes.
So much of it for so long was so good. Think of some of the drek we’ve sat through since that 2010/11 promotion season, some of the sub-standard footballers we’ve paid a fortune to, some of the managers who’ve phoned in unimaginative team selections and tactics, some of the pedestrian, coma-inducing, festering piles of dog chocolate masquerading as football we’ve been forced to suffer through, and then look at some of what we produced here.
Wing backs flying forwards down both flanks, led by QPR’s best player on the night Todd Kane, getting in behind their opposite numbers and delivering dangerous service from wide. Luke Amos, finally looking like the player we thought we’d signed, linking the defence and attack creatively and energetically through midfield. Ebere Eze, immaculate of touch and long of dread, gliding balletically around, and often through, mesmerised and humiliated defenders, turning it on in a big televised game for the first time. Two high quality strikers with noses for space, and goals, and when to go and when to stay, when to shoot and when to pass.
This has been too much for several Championship teams to keep a hold of this season. Blackburn, Wigan, Stoke, Sheff Wed and Hull City among those to have been blown away. But this was the first time since Rangers went 3-0 up in the first half an hour at home to Luton that Warburton’s team has turned it on right from the kick off. The R’s flew out of the international break like a stung bull, rabidly tearing into Fulham from first whistle, taking the lead in the third minute when Kane tricked past weak Joe Bryan defending and crossed for Jordan Hugill to open the scoring despite the desperate attempts of Dennis Odoi on the line. Soon Eze was cutting a ball back for Nahki Wells to drill goalwards and then when Kane got into full flight again on the quarter hour he almost forced an own goal from Tim Ream at the near post – his miscued clearance came back into play off the frame of the goal. Hugill, to Eze, back to Hugill, a volleyed shot, a Marek Roddak save. Eze round one, through the legs of a second, soul pocketed, but Wells offside.
This was good. This was better than good. This was dominant and composed and creative and attractive. It was purposeful and threatening and dragging Fulham out into some deep water they didn’t want to be in. What it wasn’t was 2-0 when it should have been, and it was now time, at the midway point of the half, for the other side of QPR’s class of 2019/20 to rear its ugly, unwanted head once more.
The high wing backs, in theory, offered the home team’s two outstanding players Ivan Cavaleiro and Anthony Knockaert space and licence to get into dangerous channel space and start running at the centre back trio of Grant Hall, Toni Leistner and Lee Wallace. There’d been precious little evidence of this happening or being a problem in the first 26 minutes, with all the damage being caused by Ryan Manning and Kane going the other way, and even when the Whites finally did expose that weak spot by getting right back Odoi round the side of a weak Manning tackle tight to the touchline there needn’t have been a catastrophic level of danger to fear. After all Aleksander Mitrovic, who has scored a league leading 12 goals this season and has been on the scoresheet in six of Fulham’s seven wins so far, was out suspended and his replacement Boobycar Kamara – Jordan has one to drive to the shops – hadn’t scored in a bazillion years (January 1 actually, ten Fulham appearances ago). Even if he was any good, playing as a lone striker should have meant that one of QPR’s three centre backs could have marked him and yet, as has been the case against Bristol City, Blackburn, Middlesbrough and others this season, having been beaten too easily wide and allowed a cross to come in Rangers then ignored the only opposition centre forward on the pitch eight yards out from goal and he put a free header into the bottom corner. Warburton can protect his centre backs with his “defend as a team” stock line as much as he likes, and Manning’s effort on Odoi prior to the cross wasn’t good enough, but between Hall and Leistner this was an absolute shambles in the middle. Hall, in particular, caught thinking about other things.
Rangers, stung by being drawn level in a game they were dominating, immediately burst through on goal at the other end but Nahki Wells, with options to his right, tried a difficult finish and was denied by Rodak, who played brilliantly against us last season in the away game at Rotherham while there on loan. Fulham, apparently as surprised as anybody to be level but suddenly realising this porous defence was there to be got at, quickly got Cavaleiro streaking through into the area after Cairney had been allowed to turn too easily in midfield and he nearly uprooted the post with a firm shot towards the bottom corner.
Twice before half time more enterprising Kane work crafted chances for Hugill – first catching Rodak in a nervous moment presenting a shooting chance that was deflected wide, then being met with a toe by the loaned West Ham forward which forced a good save from the keeper.
Quite how it was 1-1 at the tea and oranges nobody could really be sure, but that was a much better score for Fulham than it was for QPR on the balance of play. Most of the half time chat was about how we’d maybe missed our chance to bury a game that was there for the burying, and that Fulham couldn’t possibly be as insipid again in the second half given the talent available to them. To be fair, the second period initially started much the same as the first with Amos impressing and teeing up Eze for a shot at Rodfak, then Hugill and Kane combining nicely to get Manning into space down the left and his low cross shot was cleared behind. But, sure enough, home manager Scott Parker started to address situations, bringing on Bobby Reid for the ineffective Harrison Reed to offer more centralised support for Kamara, and crowding Eze’s influence out of the game under a mountain of bodies. Amos’ withdrawal, presumably for fitness concerns as he feels his way back, exacerbated that situation further and Ebere disappeared from a game that had danced to his tune in the first 45. Another persistent problem with this QPR team was about to present itself and cost them the game.
Ostensibly, it’s a goalkeeping error again. Plain and simple. Joe Lumley, whose nervous start to the season is now manifesting itself in a fairly torrid campaign, played a hurried, careless, massively overhit, lethal pass out to nobody at the base of midfield. Fulham’s Johansen seized on it, calmly played Kamara in, and he finished into the far corner for 2-1. Lumley, not for the first time this season, was full of remorse and apologetic gestures in front of the away end at full time. The away end, because it’s not the first time this season, delivered a frosty response.
We have an issue in goal. This is obvious. Neither Lumley nor Liam Kelly have looked particularly good, confident or secure this season. But the bigger, wider, more immediately solvable problem for me is a lack of game smarts. This group of players wouldn’t sense danger if you lit a fucking fire under their bare feet. It had been obvious that the game had changed, and Fulham had made some tactical moves to counter Rangers, from the moment Reid had come on for them and Amos had gone off for us. No hindsight involved here, our group had been saying the same thing to each other in the away end for five or six minutes before the goal – it felt like it was coming.
Now it is not surrendering our grand ideals of being a play-out-from-the-back side, it is not the purists conceding ultimate defeat to the cynics, and it is not permanently giving up on our style of play and ethos to assess a situation like that, or the one we found ourselves in against Middlesbrough, and have a pragmatic ten minutes. Just for a little while, go very slightly longer very slightly more often, and let’s play off Hugill in their half of the pitch. Just for a few minutes, let’s commit a few fouls, trip a few people, delay a few restarts. Ten minutes. That’s all I’m asking. Break the game up, disrupt their growing momentum, get our defence five or ten yards further forwards, get some sustained possession back in their defensive third of the field, get a firm foothold back in the match, and then go on and build from there into a big finish where you can do all the wonderful things you were doing in the first half. Instead, another shambolic goal conceded from another pass out from the goalkeeper that was never on and didn’t need to be played even if it was.
Game now completely out of control, Knockaert almost immediately struck the inside of the post with almost as much force as Cavaleiro had the outside of the one at the other end in the first half. That really would have been game over at 3-1 but, in actual fact, the hosts didn’t need it, as they were able to cruise through the remainder of the game relatively untroubled, professionally seeing the situation out with periods of sustained possession, delayed set pieces, niggle and stout defending – all the stuff QPR had needed around the 60 minute mark and lacked. Having been so good for so long, to drift out of the game to such an extent that our only real attacking moment of note in the final 25 minutes was sending Lumley up in desperation for an injury time corner, was deeply, deeply frustrating.
For me, the game showed exactly where we are. We are well capable of taking it to Championship teams and giving them a real fright, which considering where we’ve come from is a big positive. QPR’s team on Friday was made up of five free transfers, three youth team graduates and three loans – Fulham have some seriously big money players at their disposal. If we can maintain belief and continue to play like that we will, as we have done so far, give lesser teams than them a real hiding.
As I say, I think we lack pragmatism in key moments. We do dumb things at dumb times. This will inevitably lead to fingers being pointed at Mark Warburton and the style of play and the ‘lack of a plan B’ and the ‘he’s been found out’ cliched stuff that has followed him around his whole career. I think we could improve our game management, and I’d expect people like Lee Wallace to be coming to the fore in moments like that in a way we haven’t seen so far this season, but overall I think we’ve got a couple of players in key areas that aren’t quite good enough, either for the level they’re playing at or the way they’re being asked to play. We are a goalkeeper, a dominant centre half, and a midfield link man away from being a good team – Amos’ 60 minutes here suggests he could solve the latter problem if he can stay fit and confident.
What you should do in that situation, when you’ve heavily backed a manager with a very specific ethos and he’s repaid you by showing more than enough promise that he could get this right in time and produce something quite special for us, is sit tight through these difficult spells and evolve over a few transfer windows. Maybe Scott McKenna will be available from Aberdeen again in January? Maybe Alex Smithies, or somebody of that standard, might go on the block at Cardiff or elsewhere? Stick Smithies and Leeds’ Ben White in this team and watch the difference.
What QPR usually do is panic, and start chucking babies and bath water around, supporters and board combing to turf a manager out at the first sign of trouble and replace him with somebody who has a completely different style of play and management, requiring further major squad surgery over the coming months and years. I suspect we’re now only poor results against Forest and Derby away from the beat of the Neil Warnock jungle drums rumbling through the streets of W12 once again.
Fulham: Rodak 7; Odoi 6, Mawson 6, Ream 6, Bryan 5; Johansen 6, Reed 5 (Reid 54, 6), Cairney 6; Knockaert 7 (Christie 76, 6), Kamara 7, Cavaleiro 7 (McDonald 90+1, -)
Subs not used: Bettinelli, Kebano, Onomah, O’Riley
Goals: Kamara 27 (assisted Odoi), 64 (assisted Johansen)
Bookings: Bryan 61 (foul)
QPR: Lumley 4; Hall 5, Leistner 5, Wallace 6; Kane 7, Manning 6; Ball 6 (Mlakar 81, -), Amos 7 (Chair 66, 6), Eze 7; Hugill 6, Wells 5 (Scowen 66, 5)
Subs not used: Smith, Pugh, Osayi-Samuel, Barnes
Goals: Hugill 3 (assisted Kane)
QPR Star Man – Todd Kane 7 One in the eye for those willing to write him off as “simply not very good” after a poor substitute performance against Reading – caused Joe Bryan problems all night, bombing on down the right flank, setting up the first goal and almost drawing a second out of Tim Ream.
Referee – James Linington (Isle of Wight) 6 We didn’t seem to get a lot from him, but I’m not convinced there was a lot to give us. Couple of minor things, bit lenient with the cards on a couple of occasions, standard slapdash Championship attitude to timekeeping and clock running, but not too bad overall.
Attendance – 18,320 (2,000 QPR) Friendly QPR on QPR fire at half time after some, not unreasonably, objected to spending the entire second half soaked in beer because the ‘let’s have a party on the concourse’ bantersauri think pints flying through the air look good on their YouTube channels. Typical bit of officious, jobsworth stewarding at the end to try and shovel 2,000 QPR fans down one staircase at once while a second sat empty and unused behind a line of yellow coats.
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