Out of the blue, an Oakwell horror show - Report
Saturday, 14th Dec 2019 22:12 by Clive Whittingham
QPR wasted a chance to move into play-off contention, and blew away all their defensive improvements of the last three games, with a chaotic 5-3 defeat at basement club Barnsley on Saturday.
Ahhhhhh Queens Park Rangers, how long we’ve been together, how well we know each other, and how you still hold the ability to surprise and disappoint me.
With a degree in hindsight from the School of Hard Knocks, we should have seen this coming. Walking down the Uxbridge Road, we should have seen this coming. Because if you’re bottom with only two wins all season and the second worst defence in the entire league, QPR are exactly the team you want to play. John Jensen, Lloyd Doyley, Swindon Town… it’s always been the way. Ancient Chinese proverb states, team/player on bad run looks for QPR in fixture list.
And if you hadn’t clocked that before you fought through all manner of rail meltdowns and roadworks to get to Barnsley’s Oakwell ground, then the alarm bells should have been ringing loud and clear the moment you did arrive. Wind from the arctic, rain from the Pennines, that sort of sleet that blows into your face at a right angle. QPR warmed up in snoods and picked their way off the sodden playing surface trying not to dirty their blue boots in the mudbath that surrounded it. Metropolitan elites in the Brexit north. How do I love you, let me count the ways.
But in all honesty, despite having them do this to me for the last 25 years of my life, I didn’t see this one coming at all. Barnsley are the sort of young, idealistic side that like to play football ‘the right way’ and will forgo pragmatism in defence in favour of flooding their attack. When we’ve played teams like that this season – Blackburn, Luton – we’ve not only won, but won really well. They were also bottom of the league at the start of play, and while it’s traditional for QPR to struggle in games they’re meant to win and then bloody some big boy’s nose in one they’re not, this season they’ve been remarkably consistent in beating all the teams below halfway in the league and losing to all the ones above it. Had they won here it would have completed a set of victories against the bottom four in the Championship in the first half of the season. Rangers have drawn with four of the next five above them (with Charlton to come next week) and then also beaten fourteenth and fifteenth. You get to twelfth placed Cardiff before you find a team we’ve lost to. Reading down from the top, the eight defeats we’d suffered prior to kick off here had all come against top half teams, including the top five at the start of play.
Initially that’s exactly as the game started. QPR were camped in Barnsley’s half in the opening stages. The Tykes could barely get out of their own penalty box and when Jordan Hugill, in for Nahki Wells, drew a foul out by the corner flag a free kick from Ebere Eze caused consternation in the goal mouth and a scrambled clearance.
I’d also started to believe, after Wednesday’s routine 2-0 win at Birmingham, that the defensive woes that had seen QPR concede two goals a match for nine straight games might finally have been ironed out. Grant Hall was magnificent at St Andrew’s, and Toni Leistner likewise against Preston at the weekend. From no clean sheets in 24 games, Rangers had suddenly got two in as many outings and had only shipped one unstoppable Martyn Waghorn free kick in three games. Somehow though, that all fell away in South Yorkshire.
Mark Warburton has earned justifiable praise this season for turning around a team that won only three games in the whole second half of last season, for performing such drastic emergency surgery in the summer to such a high standard, and for doing all of that while also cutting the playing budget. In the last week he’s banished criticism about the supposed ‘lack of a plan B’ with a more direct approach to beat Preston, and then cleverly shuffled his team to add steel to the midfield for the Birmingham win. When Maxime Colin was booked for dissent at St Andrew’s, Warburton quickly shifted Bright Osayi-Samuel onto his wing knowing the full back couldn’t deliberately foul him if he got in trouble – a goal of the season contender was the very swift reward for his shrewdness. But he’ll be criticised for this one, and that grief won’t be without merit.
QPR are in the middle of 11 games in little more than five weeks. If you try and flog the same eleven players to death through that you get exactly what Steve McClaren got last January – a team too exhausted to cope with a similarly ridiculous run of seven games in February, and a long losing run at the worst possible time of the season. Rotation is necessary, and Warburton has so far done it in a calmer, more methodical, more understandable way than Ian Holloway’s random tombola draw of six changes a game regardless of result. But here, having won two games to nil already this week, it felt a little bit much. Changing a defence that had finally seemed to settle and start working as a unit, moving Ryan Manning away from the left back spot he’s excelled in, changing the formation out of the 4-2-3-1 we’ve looked more comfortable in, all to accommodate a return for Lee Wallace at left back felt a bit much. Taking Bright Osayi-Samuel off the wing where he’s not only been a potent attacking weapon in the last three games, but also put in some excellent defensive shifts which have helped stem the tide of goals conceded from crosses, and putting him up front with Jordan Hugill also felt a bit change for change’s sake. For all of this chopping, changing and switching around the only senior player who got a rest from it all was Marc Pugh, who’s only started four times all season anyway so shouldn’t exactly be short of breath.
The problems with it all surfaced very early in this game. Warburton talks of Lee Wallace like a long lost son, and Ebere Eze was fulsome in his praise of the veteran Scot’s impact in the dressing room when asked on the QPR Podcast during the week, but the simple fact is bringing a 32-year-old who, for one reason or another, had barely played any football at all for the previous 18 months, out of the SPL for the first time in his life and sticking him in the Championship was always likely to be problematic. QPR have now lost four and drawn one of the games he’s started for us and conceded 15 goals in the process. He and Manning looked wholly uncomfortable in each other’s company down the left flank today, and both were heavily involved in a first Barnsley goal in which Manning conceded possession, Wallace got skinned far too easily by the superb Jacob Brown, and Conor Chaplin was able to get in at the near post and pound an opener into the top corner.
That needn’t have mattered greatly. Barnsley had let in 42 goals in 21 games at kick off, while only West Brom (20) have recovered more points from losing positions than QPR’s 12 this season. Sure enough, before a quarter of an hour was up, Jordan Hugill ran in behind in the left channel, executed a glorious chipped finish towards the far corner which home keeper Samuel Radlinger did well to tip onto the post, and Luke Amos followed up for an empty netter equaliser.
Barnsley were rightly aggrieved that play had been stopped a moment before the goal, with Geoff Cameron bang in trouble surrounded by four home players and about to lose the ball in a dangerous area, for a non-existent head injury to Amos which didn’t even require treatment. Play was restarted by the ball being handed back to Hall, who passed to Lumley and three balls later it was 1-1. If you will invite Keith Stroud to dinner, expect some inappropriate stories to be told, and his maverick stylings would have increasing impact on the game as it progressed.
Anyway, one one, start again. Or not. Within five minutes QPR had switched off at a free kick and got completely caught out by one simple long, straight, diagonal ball across the pitch. Although Manning got back at Jordan Williams with a tremendous tackle the ball ran for an Alex Mowatt corner which, typically, was allowed to flash all the way through the goal mouth to Chaplin, totally unmarked at the back post, and he smashed in a second.
Here we were again, conceding two piss weak goals a game, leaving people unmarked at corners, letting wingers get in behind full backs, switching off at quickly taken free kicks. One step forward, and two back. Panicked, it could easily have been three immediately when a dreadful throw from Joe Lumley was easily intercepted and quickly returned to the business end of the pitch where Todd Kane – another who’d been so good for two games but was little short of abysmal here – almost put through his own goal but for a superb reaction save by his goalkeeper. A Barnsley free kick was then punted straight into the wall.
Warburton had seen enough, and admitted defeat on his midfield diamond experiment after half an hour. Kane trudged on with a soggy piece of paper from the dug out and Rangers returned to 4-2-3-1, with Amos and Cameron the deep two, and Manning pushed higher than he’s been all season to the left of a three. But Barnsley's three-man midfield hunting pack, and a trio of hard working, speedy forwards, was still too much for Rangers even back in their favoured shape.
There was a good tackle by Manning on Williams again to concede another corner – Stroud had a long look and think about awarding a penalty. Had he done so, I’d have been on the pitch. The first bit of good QPR play for nearly half an hour then resulted in a foul on Geoff Cameron on the edge of the box and a free kick for the unusually out of sorts Ebere Eze to shoot over – although how Osayi-Samuel sprinting into the penalty area one on one with a full back wasn’t deemed an advantage I’m not sure. Barnsley then got a big thick slice of Stroud to take into half time themselves when Leistner appeared to take down Chaplin at the near post after the Barnsley man had reached a low cross first but no penalty was awarded. I’d have wanted it. Alex Mowatt, growing in influence, had a fierce volley from the edge of the area well blocked by Cameron.
Two one half time, still all there for us. They concede a lot, we score a lot, fix a few structural things out, stop doing braindead things and accept that dry-weather football is not for a December day in Barnsley and things could still, easily have been fine here. In the event, things were the farthest thing from fine. Nothing was fixed up at half time, in fact the same issues were starting to manifest. Manning and Wallace, again, fucking up high down the field allowing Joe Thomas, on in the first half for the injured Mike-Steven Bahre, to streak away into space and tee up the ceaseless Cauley Woodrow for a shot over.
Wakey wakey Rangers. Or, you know, hit snooze again. Three one on 52 minutes when Brown broke free in the area and drew a save from Lumley, Woodrow seized the rebound and bundled it to Chaplin, and he smashed a hat trick into the unguarded net. Nothing more than Brown, Woodrow, Chaplin, Barnsley and Queens Park Rangers deserved.
And yet. And yet… Straight away, Manning burst into the penalty area down the left, tried a cross shot from an acute angle which Radlinger did well to get a thick hand to, but the rebound eventually worked its way to Amos who finished coolly through a crowd scene into the roof of the net. Three two now, and with problem child Wallace removed for Nahki Wells and Manning now back to the left side of the defence everything was there to play for once more. Joe Lumley passed one straight to Brown, unmarked on the edge of the box. Never mind that, keep paddling.
Rangers, infuriatingly, decided now was the time to start a nice new line in missed sitters. First Jordan Hugill reached a hopeful ball in behind the defence first on the edge of the box, but couldn’t nudge it past a stranded goalkeeper. Then Nahki Wells got to the byline down the QPR left and cut a ball back which forced a Richard Keogh-like error out of the otherwise decent Bambo Diaby but just when we needed Bobby Zamora’s left foot we got Osayi-Samuel’s right and the ball flew high, wide and ugly. This became a bit of a theme – off went Wells down the left again, in came the low cross behind the panicked defence again, here came Ebere Eze this time with the goal gaping and the keeper stranded but a needless extra touch allowed the ranks to mass on the goal line and the resulting shot somehow didn’t squeeze in. When Warburton threw all caution to the wind and took off Cameron for Chair, the Moroccan was presented with yet another gilt-edged chance with his first touch and hit the cross bar. It's a bit Jeremy Corbyn to concede five at Barnsley and be talking about how you could easily have won regardless, but it's not unfeasible given the chances created second half.
When they strap me to the chair please let them know the murders were just.
Cameron’s last act before he went off was to concede a penalty kick. It started, like so many of QPR’s problems on the day, with the failure of an attack down the left with too many men committed forward. This time Manning and Osayi-Samuel failed to combine and, disappointingly, were too busy berating each other to track back with any commitment or meaning as the Tykes broke. I haven’t seen it back, but it looked a spot kick all ends up to me after Woodrow – absolutely excellent all day – twisted Cameron’s blood and drew an obvious foul in the area at the far end. He took the kick himself. QPR’s last penalty save remains Matt Ingram at Brentford the season before last – we’ve conceded 17 with an eighteenth over the bar since then, more than any other team in the league.
Come back Alex. I’ll do anything. Hoovering, foot massage, long lingering talks about where it all went so right. We can go bowling. Anything you like. Just come back.
What is it now then? Four two? Ah yes, and so we began the weekly losing of the plot by Keith Stroud. Because you see what happens when you’ve got balls going off for throw ins that are obviously one way but given another, only to then be changed when players from both teams laugh at how bad the call is; and free kicks are awarded for things that aren’t free kicks, while other stuff that obviously should be penalised is waved away; and players are booked for very little while others are let off with much more; and the team that’s winning is allowed to engage in Olympic-standard levels of time wasting over every throw in, free kick and goal kick with absolutely nothing being done about it and no time added on at the end of the game; and goal celebrations are allowed to just continue unchecked at the far end of the pitch for the time of an average dinner party; and some throw ins are allowed to be taken from wherever the player chooses while others are forced under pedantic pain of death to happen on exactly the right spot; and some blatant and obvious dives are rewarded with free kicks while other players who have actually been fouled are then penalised themselves for falling on the ball; and every, single, tiny, little, fucking, bastard thing that happens in the match requires the convening of a mother’s union with intensely irritating, highly patronising, interminably long, hand-gesture infested lectures about the square root of fuck all… well then people start to get a bit aggy.
Stroud has already been booted off the league’s list once for not knowing the rule on encroachment at penalty kicks. That he’s been restored, and is still being given games at this level, is scandalous. Nothing short of that. The EFL talks a lot about “protecting the integrity of the competition” when it suits them, but it’s entirely compromised by having a lunatic like this pissflapping around for his own merriment and the general annoyance and bemusement of everybody else.
When Chair dropped Brown deliberately the Barnsley player was so incensed that he stood up and threw the ball at the QPR man. Barnsley booted the ball into the main stand while a scuffle ensued. Yellow cards all round. Rangers then allowed the free kick to be passed forwards twice without challenge and Diaby, the only defender on either team who looked like he knew what he was doing, swept home a deserved fifth from close range. The defending for that one, frankly, was shameful. You cannot defend like this, at any level, and after a couple of weeks of getting the basics right and being rewarded for it, it was soul destroying to see us slide back into this slack, unprofessional attitude to protecting our own goal. People haven't travelled great distances at huge expense in the freezing cold to see goals like this phoned in.
Soon after, Australian midfielder Ken Dougall was fouled, but Stroud decided to penalise him for handball after he’d picked the ball up to take the free kick he thought he’d been awarded. Amidst chaos entirely of the referee’s making, QPR attempted a quick free kick through to Nahki Wells who was then absolutely hacked at with a two footed horror show by Mowatt. Wells, not without just cause, reacted to the challenge and so off we went again, with one scuffle over there where Stroud had fucked up, and another scuffle down here where that had led to somebody nearly having their leg snapped off. Cards all round again. Three I think this time. It’s Christmas after all.
I wouldn’t leave this festering wank sock in charge of a remote control.
Four minutes of added time – and frankly anybody who has any idea of what they’re talking about who watched this half of multiple substitutions, prolonged goal celebrations, squabbles, time wasting and injuries and thinks four minutes is fair enough can get in the fucking sea – brought another yellow card for Grant Hall and a third QPR goal, finished neatly by Ilias Chair off a Bright Osayi-Samuel assist. It was the first time on the day that the former Blackpool winger, who flitted between various central roles for much of the afternoon, had been able to get going down the wing one on one with a full back. After all the damage he wrought from that position against Derby, Preston and particularly Birmingham, that it took until the ninety fourth minute for that to happen once is criminal.
That certainly wasn’t the only element of the QPR performance you could describe in those terms.
Barnsley: Sahin-Radlinger 5; Williams 6, Diaby 7, Anderson 6, Odour 6 (McGeehan 83, -); Dougall 7, Bahre 5 (Thomas 31, 7), Mowatt 7; Woodrow 8, Brown 8, Chaplin 9
Subs not used: Sibbick, Thiam, Mottley-Henry, Marsh, Collins
Goals: Chaplin 7 (assisted Brown), 18 (assisted Mowatt), 52 (assisted Woodrow), Woodrow 60 (penalty won Woodrow), Diaby 82 (assisted Brown)
Bookings: Thomas 68 (foul), Brown 81 (retaliation), Dougall 84 (handball), Mowatt 85 (dissent)
QPR: Lumley 4; Kane 4, Hall 5, Leistner 4, Wallace 3 (Wells 56, 6); Eze 4, Cameron 4 (Chair 67, 6), Amos 5, Manning 4; Osayi-Samuel 5, Hugill 6
Subs not used: Smith, Pugh, Mlakar, Ball, Barnes
Goals: Amos 12 (assisted Hugill), 54 (assisted Manning), Chair 90+4 (assisted Osayi-Samuel)
Bookings: Chair 81 (foul), Wells 85 (retaliation), Hall 89 (foul)
QPR Star Man – N/A
Referee – Keith Stroud (Hampshire) 4 Every circus needs a ringmaster.
Attendance 12,212 (769 QPR) Scant reward for battling the long distance, dire weather and various rail meltdowns. Some odd things shouted – “fuck off back to West Ham” at Hugill at half time, after he’d created the first goal, chief among them – but I guess you can understand the frustration on a day like today. The away support at the moment is, by and large, fantastic and people deserve better than this for their time and expense.
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