Profligate QPR punished by Sarr's sickener - Report
Sunday, 22nd Dec 2019 22:28 by Clive Whittingham
QPR missed a boat-load of chances and eventually succumbed to a last-minute equaliser in a fiercely entertaining, immensely frustrating, frequently thrilling and constantly chaotic 2-2 draw at home to Charlton Athletic on Saturday.
This story, like so many told about Queens Park Rangers, is not one with a happy ending. But that doesn’t mean it’s not one worth reading, one to avoid, one to forget or one to regret being a part of.
For every last minute goal to celebrate, there is somebody on the end of a last minute concession, and if the undeniably gut-wrenching pain of Naby Sarr’s defensively shambolic last-second equaliser is all you can take away from Saturday then I neither blame nor castigate you for that. Take it with you, it is all that matters in the end after all. Queens Park Rangers 2 Charlton Athletic 2 it says in the newspaper, and on we go through the drudgery of another Championship season. It was, without doubt, a sickener.
But, I don’t know, it feels cold, and bleak, and unnecessarily miserable to boil 95 raucous minutes of two enterprising second tier teams going all out attack to try and win a game - playing attractive football on the ground - down to a mistake in the final ten seconds of it that cost one of the sides two points and won one for the other. And it’s Christmas. So that’s not what I’m going to do, and if that’s not for you then that’s fine too. But expect a lot of flowery Friday Night Lights shit over then next 2,000 words, and minimal hankering for Tony Pulis’ PornHub collection of Ryan Shotton man of the match awards in 1-0 home wins against crap sides from dead end places in joyless competitions.
It’s very, very easy – and probably nearer the truth than the idealistic claptrap I’m about to trot out – to say that if only QPR could be a little bit more Rafael Benitez and a little bit less Renford Rejects it is absolutely all there for us this season. I’ve repeatedly explained why I think this is the weakest Championship there has been for several seasons, and we’re competing in that piss poor division with a better-than-expected haul of points on the board already and a player in Ebere Eze the likes of which we’ll be lucky to have again for another decade or more. We could, quite easily, look back on a season in which some distinctly mediocre sides will inevitably be contesting the play-offs, in which there is only one outstanding team and they aren’t particularly brilliant compared to some of what has gone before, and where we have two Premier League strikers and Eze to pick from in attack, and only finished midtable, with a good deal of regret. We could be pissing our lives up the wall here. A big missed opportunity. Wouldn’t be the first time.
But there are too many ifs. If we had Alex Smithies in goal we’d be in the top six. If we’d signed Scott McKenna in the summer when we wanted to, we’d be in the top six. If we could defend properly, we’d be in the top six. If we were more clinical in front of goal, we’d be in the top six. If we just had one consistent, dominant, bollock-breaking, ball-playing player to anchor the midfield rather than trying to make the best of Geoff Cameron and Dom Ball, we’d be in the top six. If we hadn’t had to tear the squad up completely in the summer… If referee X hadn’t give decision Y… If FFP wasn’t such a fucker… If, if, if. A lot of ifs, too many, in fact, to be that surprise gatecrasher of the promotion party.
Which leaves us in that ‘work in progress’, midtable category. Once you’re there, it becomes about things people like Peter Reid, Steve Claridge and Sam Allardyce like to go on Goals on Sunday and decry as hocus pocus, and blue sky thinking from “non football people” who “don’t understand the game”. They’re probably right, they know a good deal more about it than I do, and I’ve frequently criticised Rangers this season (particularly after Middlesbrough at home and Fulham away) for a naïve lack of pragmatism at times when games are clearly drifting away from us and just need a little ten minutes of Shaun Derry. But if QPR were one of those sides trying to grind things out, trying to pack their penalty area and see off danger rather than flood forward and cause problems themselves, would they actually be any further on than they are as we head into Christmas 2019? (If you don’t know the answer, please see the 2018/19 “we defend our penalty box with our lives” chapter in your textbook on how Steve McClaren’s tenure unravelled). I’d buy a ticket to QPR’s thrilling, infuriating, riotous, incompetent, shambolic, furious 2-2 draw with Charlton Athletic on Saturday over one for that Middlesbrough v Stoke assault on the senses on Friday night every time. Every time. Four teams likely to finish lower midtable this season – and in that circumstance it becomes how you go about it.
I’ll take our approach over theirs. It brought an opening goal just five minutes into the game on Saturday, as Eze lifted a free kick into the penalty area and the ball broke free for Geoff Cameron to thump in his first of the season. It also would have buried the Addicks before they’d ever really got into the game, as happened to Luton here earlier in the season, but for woeful finishing from Nahki Wells. First Jordan Hugill headed down intelligently at the back post only for Wells to somehow hit the top of the bar with an absolute sitter from point blank range. Then Charlton got themselves in a dreadful mess with a Matthew Rose-style back pass from the hapless Ben Purrington that sent Wells screaming through on goalkeeper Dillon Phillips with nobody else even in the same half of the field. The Bermudian took too long, thought about it too much, tried to be too clever, and the keeper made an incredible save.
I’ve played a bit of insignificant small-sided football in goal in my time. What do you not want in that situation? Striker taking a firm, powerful, decisive shot early in the process before you’re set. What would you prefer? Striker dribbling it closer and closer, taking longer and longer, thinking more and more, and turning it into a battle of minds it needn’t be. You’ve got them then, you become the favourite.
There’s me being horribly arrogant. Have I , or you, or any of us, ever gone through on goal against a professional goalkeeper in a Championship game in front of a full house of spectators? Have we any idea, really? No. But it was a bad miss, and after a flying start to the campaign there is now a concern that Wells’ season may go into the same sort of death spiral it did 12 months ago, which also started with gilt edged chances missed in situations that cost us points. From a panic about whether his form would take him away from us in January to more monied competitors, we’ve had him present an equaliser to Middlesbrough and now this horror where his misses not only cost us a win but his lousy second half clearance from a corner also led to the first Charlton equaliser. It’s a problem not only because Premier League strikers do not come cheaply, even on loan, but also because by trying to crow-bar both him and Hugill into the same team we have to move out of the 4-2-3-1 shape that suits the rest of the players best. You do that because their goals make up for the failings elsewhere, but when they stop scoring you’re in trouble. Rangers were a different beast in this match once Wells had been removed for Bright Osayi-Samuel.
Charlton were tits deep in shit themselves. One nil down and it should have been three. That’s not to say they didn’t have chances – Joe Lumley made a good save with his legs to stop Lyle Taylor equalising Cameron’s goal straight from the kick off. But this was a team without a win in ten games and with an injury list that the script writers of the Casualty Christmas Special would baulk at, and initially at least they looked exactly that. Referee Matt Donohue, with all the passive naivety we saw from him at Cardiff earlier this season, allowed a blatant and fragrant attempt to kick Eze out of the game from Darren Pratley continue unchecked for a quarter of an hour under the It’s a Bit Early For A Yellow Card Legislation of 1988 before finally booking the crusty old git for repetitive hacking and dissent. With that nipped in the bud, and Jonathan Leko forced off through injury barely ten minutes in, they looked to be in all sorts of problems.
But I couldn’t help but admire how they went about things thereafter. Lee Bowyer has a face like a sunken scrotum, a voice like somebody who rings TalkSport to argue with Adrian Durham, and a track record of drug bans, kicking Asian lads up and down Leeds High Street, and smashing up suburban McDonalds, but he’s proving surprisingly adept at this management lark in the face of a complicated ownership situation, a miniscule transfer budget and years of terminal decline. Like QPR, he came into this game with two up front, a player every bit as impressive as Eze in Chelsea loanee Conor Gallagher, and a determination to play attractive attacking football and go for the win. When things were going awry half an hour in – despite already losing one substitute to the Leko injury and no doubt having several players just back from lay offs and either playing on the needle or ideally not wanting to do 90 minutes – he hooked Ben Purrington from his personal nightmare and sent on Jason Pearce instead. Brave, decision, procactive, game-changing management. Purrington didn’t look impressed. Don’t play like a fucking tart then mate. Showers are that way.
The game quickly evened out. Doughty headed a cross down at the back post, Todd Kane somehow got it up and over his own goal without making it 1-1. Wells then did likewise for Hugill who struck a deflected volley wide, then headed the resulting corner over. Gallagher cut in and shot, Lumley parried the ball, Luke Amos deserves a pint for his work tidying up the rebound. Kane was beaten on 42, Lumley got a strong leg to Bonne’s cut back. Wells forewent a counter attack in a minute of added time but Rainier Wolfcastle swooped in and destroyed Taylor’s hopes of an equaliser after Kane was twisted inside and out once more. BYE BALL.
Honestly, I love it when it’s like this. Captivating, absorbing, incompetent nonsense. Monkeys in the bottom of the cage, pooh being flung everywhere. Come on, we’ve all had a drink. Rangers got away with allowing an unmarked queue of players to form at the back post from multiple crosses and corners at the start of the second half. At the other end a wonderful ball by Amos got Eze in for a shot that was well saved by Phillips and Wells was harshly pulled for a foul on the rebound. Ryan Manning and Albie Morgan had a fight. Yellow cards both. Don’t worry about it, let’s get on with the quiz.
Charlton equalised, as they inevitably would do in such unadulterated footballing carnage, when Morgan struck a firm shot from the edge of the box and Lyle Taylor flicked it past Lumley at close range. Unfortunately for him, given the narrative that was to form later, it was Wells with the piss poor back post clearance from a corner that set it all up.
The game barely skipped a beat. Now Charlton were in the ascendency. Lyle Taylor hit the bar when he should have scored. Joe Lumley came through a crowd scene to avert further danger on another occasion. Gallagher was spoken to about a 90s haircut.
Now it was the turn of Mark Warburton to act, summoning December’s player of the month elect Bright Osayi-Samuel from his bench to go on and deliver the sort of punishment to Jason Pearce even the producers of Game of Thrones would feel a bit gratuitous. Charlton simply couldn’t get the ball off him. A pornographic mixture of upper body strength, pace and close control completely swung the game back in QPR’s direction. He was involved immediately, tormenting a corner for our team, which we wasted, because that’s what we do. Moments later he collected the ball on the far touchline and set off on a Roy Wegerle-style slalom across the field through a collection of increasingly desperate challenges and tackles. On and on he went, round one, through another, past a third, on an Andy Impey-like hunt for the byline, and when eventually he achieved that aim and Charlton could stand it no more he whipped the ball back into the six yard box for Marc Pugh to slam a first goal for the club into the empty net. SHIT THE FUCKING BED. No end product? Not me, never believed it.
Where are we now? Two one up, 15 minutes to go, I’ve got three sides of notes still to come don’t you worry about that. No, you shut up. Bright came in off the right side, Eze did the same from the left, and the pair met, perfectly in-sync, in the middle of the field, 20-yards out, for the former to tee up the latter for a low shot towards the far corner that would have sealed the game but was brilliantly saved by Phillips – who was excellent, to be fair to him.
A Charlton cross to the back post was touched back for Taylor whose shot was well saved by Lumley setting up a counter attack in which Eze was a fraction away from sending Osayi-Samuel sailing clean through in goal only for Charlton to intercept and counter back themselves requiring further intervention from the excellent Grant Hall which then allowed QPR to flood back the other way and get Bright flying into the right channel of the penalty area from where a low shot was tipped away from the far corner by Phillips with an exceptional save. Gary, it’s really burning, what we gonna do? More fuel. On came Ilias Chair and Josh Scowen for somebody and somebody else. Charlton moved the world’s biggest human Naby Sarr from centre back to centre forward. Fuck it. MORE. More please. Both teams embarked on a series of three v three counter attacks for shits and giggles. Do these feel like the actions of a man who’s had all he can eat? Keep bringing it.
In an alternate universe I’m writing a report that says, actually, QPR saw out the stoppage time far more adeptly and professionally than they ever usually do. Bright and Eze tricksed and turned and combined and cajoled the five advertised minutes (as opposed to the four that were announced) away very effectively. At the front of the F Block one local decried Eze’s two attempts to dribble around the beleaguered Charlton defence and score a decisive third – which did, admittedly, feel like him trying a bit too hard for personal glory – rather than take the ball to the corner and waste time.
Warbs Warburton warned it would be like this. And when Phillips launched one last punt forward in the final ten seconds of the game and Geoff Cameron walked under the ball the defence crumpled leaving Sarr, of all people, with a chance to touch.
And break our poor hearts.
Charlton will point out that as well as having their exceptional start to the season derailed by a biblical injury crisis they’ve also been on the end of such rotten luck as a ninety sixth minute own-goal equaliser at home to Hull, a stoppage time loss at home to Huddersfield, a pair of goals at Luton that both could easily have been disallowed, an injury time loss at Millwall, an injury time loss to ten men at Bristol City…
Ebere Eze, crouched by the South Africa Road stand and staring off into the distance for what felt like hours after the final whistle, wouldn’t have much time for any of that. Bowyer was the first person to go and console him.
One man’s fairytale is another man’s nightmare.
QPR: Lumley 6; Kane 5, Hall 7, Leistner 7, Manning 6; Cameron 5, Amos 6 (Scowen 78, 6); Pugh 6 (Chair 78, 6), Eze 7, Wells 4 (Osayi-Samuel 66, 8); Hugill 6
Subs not used: Barnes, Wallace, Bouncing Bomb, Smith, Ball
Goals: Cameron 5 (assisted Eze), Pugh 70 (assisted Osayi-Samuel)
Bookings: Manning 53 (unsporting), Amos 55 (foul), Hugill 81 (foul)
Charlton: Phillips 7; Matthews 6, Lockyer 6, Sarr 6, Purrington 3 (Pearce 27, 5); Leko – (Morgan 11, 7), Pratley 6, Gallagher 8, Doughty 7 (Oshilaja 88, -); Bonne 6, Taylor 7
Subs not used: Ledley, Solly, Maynard-Brewer, Dempsey
Goals: Taylor 56 (assisted Morgan), Sarr 90+5 (assisted Phillips)
Bookings: Pratley 17 (dissent), Morgan 53 (unsporting), Matthews 89 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Bright Osayi-Samuel 8 Absolutely changed the game, turning something that felt like it was drifting away from QPR into something they looked certain to win until the injury time collapse. Terrorised Charlton. I completely hear Mark Warburton’s rather tetchy response to criticism about not picking him from the start, citing the crowded fixture list and also the benefit of bringing a player like him on fresh against a tiring defence, but at the same time I look at how Bright played against Derby, Preston and Birmingham, the difference he made to us not only in attack but also covering back to help his full back (Kane nowhere near as good in this game without Bright covering as he and Rangel had been in the recent games Osayi-Samuel started) and I can’t help but think that rewarding him for that by sticking him out of position up front against Barnsley and then leaving him on the bench here isn’t quite right. As ever, I’m a drunk in the stands, Mark Warburton’s a professional football manager.
Referee – Matt Donohue (Manchester) 6 I’ve heard and read loads of grief for this referee so far today but I didn’t come away thinking he’d done anything particularly wrong. He’s new on the Championship list this season, and he’s often quite weak when it comes to dealing with cynical, senior, experienced professionals engaging in the dark arts – we saw that in spades against Cardiff earlier this season and then again here with Darren Pratley hacking his way through Ebere Eze in the opening stages. There was a shout for a late penalty on Hugill, but I didn’t particularly think it was. And five minutes of stoppage time was completely fair – compounded by somebody in Ellerslie Road throwing the ball away causing extra time to be added in which Charlton scored – and was what was added despite the incorrect announcement that there would only be four.
Attendance – 16,166 (3,000 Charlton approx.) No better place to be in the world when it’s like this. Absolutely packed, end to end game, floodlights streaming down, fantastic away support* the likes of which we haven’t seen down here probably since Newcastle were last in this league… Nowhere I’d rather be.
(* Leeds would have taken more).
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