A rot stopper - Report
Wednesday, 12th Feb 2020 15:02 by Clive Whittingham
QPR halted a run of four consecutive defeats in all comps with a 0-0 draw at Swansea on Tuesday night - a game they should, in truth, have won comfortably on the balance of play.
Over the last two and a half seasons Queens Park Rangers have burned through three contrasting permanent managers. In total, 56 different players have made senior appearances including two Matt Smiths an Alex Smithies and a Paul Smyth. They have gone from scouting Europe to scouting the lower leagues to not scouting at all and merely signing Premier League players the manager has heard of. And back again. There was a recruitment consultant who became head of recruitment and then left acrimoniously. Warbs Warburton signed Dominic Ball.
Through it all, the consistency on the field has been remarkable. After 32 games in 2017/18 QPR had 39 points and a -9 goal difference. After 32 games in 2018/19 QPR had 39 points and a -9 goal difference. To accomplish the same in 2019/20 they’d have to achieve a season first – a 0-0 draw – and break out of something else that’s become something of a constant in recent times, an alarming run of consecutive defeats.
They’ve often come in batches of six. For Ian Holloway, six straight losses between November 26 and December 27 2016, another six from March 31 to April 22 2017 and then five defeats and an incredibly spawny draw with Brentford between November 4 and December 9 2017. For Steve McClaren, six defeats and a win in the cup through February last year, then after a solitary win against Leeds another seven-match stretch without a maximum. They’ve all had their own methods of solving the problem – sling an untried kid in, start a fight with the fans, give the ball to Luke Freeman and hope for the best, mistake Tomer Hemed for a professional footballer – but still the crises have kept coming. And now, after a January transfer window which screamed “which way to the beach?”, it was Warbs Warburton’s turn.
Four straight defeats in all comps, five consecutive losses on the road, no goals scored for two and a half games. Nahki Wells gone, crowd deflated, Chicken Little tuning up, those who love nothing better than to pass the time predicting that Wigan and Barnsley will suddenly double their current points total in half the time it took them to amass their current haul while QPR may never win again struggling to mask their tiny stiff pencil dicks. It’s the time of year again folks, it must be February in Shepherd’s Bush.
To escape, the QPR manager loosened his grip ever so slightly on his values. Warburton the idealist, Warburton the academy education enthusiast, Warburton of “we defend as a team” infamy, became, probably for one night only, Warburton the pragmatist. Methuselah’s Volvo replaced Todd Kane at right back. Geoff Cameron, older still, was restored to the midfield along with another ultra-defensive CM Dom Ball. Back on the grass enthusiast Yoann Barbet was back on some competitive grass for the first time in a good three months. Coal-fired Marc Pugh got a start, Warburton ordering the last boiler lit.
This was less a team selection more a recipe for Dundee cake, pure stodge to clog the arteries of a supposedly pretty home side that has become the preferred destination for Premier League sides to park the excellent young boys they have absolutely no intention of ever using themselves. There’d have been more cornflower still if old man Lee Wallace could do two games in three days, but the refreshed legs of Ryan Manning at left back made for a rather tasty sultana addition. Harry Redknapp tried something similar once with Stephane Mbia and Samba Diakite as a holding midfield pair. Three were killed.
Geoff Boycott, day two, afternoon session, baking hot, flat track. Go on then, get past that.
Or so it looked on paper.
In actual fact, QPR went on to dominate this match from start to finish and could have won it several times over but for a series of woeful finishes from a forward line that at one point was the most prolific in the division but now suddenly can’t find its own arse with both hands.
These began after three minutes of play. Rangel, back at a club he served for a decade through multiple promotions, a cup success and European campaigns, powered through powderpuff tackling to get Jordan Hugill clear of the last man in the centre of the goal but - as it’s been so often for him this season - his technique was all over the show and he leaned back enough to lift a gift of a chance high over the bar when it seemed easier to score. Always with the leaning back - get him the heaviest neck chain we can find in CashConverters with a fucking lead crucifix.
Six minutes after that the sort of risky play in a defensive area that has too often of late brought goals against almost brought one for. The difference Ryan Manning can make to the team shining bright as he was freed by a combination of passes in his own half and then crossed early towards Hugill once more. Home goalkeeper Freddie Woodman, on loan from Newcastle, had a full Bankole. No drill. A good three yards outside his box he looked right until the last second like he was going to catch it before belatedly getting his bearings, panicking, and missing the thing entirely. Kyle Naughton was more alert than Hugill behind him and rescued his keeper with a good header.
Ebere Eze, alternating the ‘ten’ role with Bright Osayi-Samuel and looking bang in the mood, hit one long range shot into a blocking defender, then struck BOS with a second sending the ball an inch wide with Woodman beaten. The offside flag would have ruled out a goal but they didn’t dwell on that, combining again quickly with a delicious ball over the top that Osayi-Samuel just couldn’t get under control first time but still reached at the second attempt only for the keeper to spring from his line and smother. Later Osayi-Samuel got the right side of Naughton – a terrific battle all night – and the pair wrestled their way into the area before Hugill cleared the cut back. This was all in the first 15 minutes. QPR looked good, and while we stand by our comment in the preview that simply insisting players who aren’t naturally clinical finishers need to be more clinical is like pointing at people who aren’t tree surgeons and demanding they be better tree surgeons, you can see where the manager is coming from. Should have been 2-0 at least.
Swansea, for their part, looked abject. The worst team we’ve faced since Swansea in the FA Cup. They won seven of their first eight games this season to set the early Championship pace with effusive praise coming the way of manager Steve Cooper, who’d previously won the World Cup with the England U17 side. They, and he, have rather been basking in the glory and resting on the cushion of that start ever since, now seven wins from 28 games in all comps and completely devoid of invention, ideas and threat here. Rhian Brewster, a high profile January acquisition from Liverpool, was a peripheral figure with the Swans unable to beat QPR’s press, or successfully get in behind a back line which, admittedly, looked a whole different proposition with Rangel, Barbet and Manning all returning in fine style. Geoff Cameron’s touch of death nearly got Brewster in after five minutes, and the resulting trip on him should have been a yellow card, but Chuckles Woolmer was in benevolent mood.
Benevolent didn’t really cover the maverick official’s approach to Andre Ayew. In reasonably quick succession the striker-cum-winger belted Ryan Manning twice and Yoann Barbet once with fouls that, on their own, could have brought yellows and collectively certainly merited one. When Ayew then tripped Manning again on 41 Woolmer called him across, pointed to the location of the previous three and… sent him on his way. Almost immediately the Swansea man committed a fifth, which Woolmer played on through and failed to return to afterwards, and a sixth followed straight after half time. Angel Rangel and Kyle Naughton, meanwhile, saw yellows for first offences and, in the latter’s case, he’d barely touched Bright Osayi-Samuel at all. Immunity from yellow cards is an odd super hero power, and wondering exactly what Ayew might use it for passed half time nicely. Good or evil? Fighting crime? Excessive celebrations in front of the away end after a last minute penalty winner? It’s going to be that isn’t it? Bastard.
Meanwhile, QPR kept dominating and passing up opportunities. Bright was allowed to go from halfway to the heart of the Swansea box Birmingham City-stylee but the angle was tight by the time the shot came and Woodman saved with a foot. When he had a better sight of the sticks after glorious Eze approach work the shot was pitifully weak and straight at the keeper. A great Ryan Manning cross from a short corner flicked off Hall’s head at the near post when a firm connection was required and was spaffed wide by Barbet’s left foot at the back post when the right peg would have been more use. Hugill’s 50p head failed to trouble the scorers.
Swansea were a bit odd. Connor Roberts got in behind Manning, poorly positioned too far infield – the drawback of him being there – but decided to try and cut back a good shooting chance and Barbet scrambled back to clear. Later Roberts blocked a shot from Ayew after he’d skipped past half a dozen would-be challenges. Nice of somebody to do a bit of defending. Apart from diminutive Yan Dhanda playing ten with a reasonable degree of class it was difficult to see exactly what the hosts were trying to accomplish – Connor Gallagher and absolute shadow of the Charlton man of the match who’d impressed so much at Loftus Road in December. They’d finish the game without a shot on target.
The second half continued much as the first had ended. Bright Osayi-Samuel pulled back Kyle Naughton deliberately in a rare dangerous Swans counter attack and, after checking he wasn’t Andre Ayew, Woolmer issued a yellow card. Hugill, meanwhile, was still on his heels doing his best Connor Washington impression as first a cross from Rangel deflected perfectly over the first centre back and in front of the second, then later Osayi-Samuel got round Naughton and flashed a devilish low cross right through the goal mouth. He got booted in the bollocks late on and I was almost gutted I hadn’t had the chance to do it myself – get in there man, come on, it’s literally your job.
Gallagher, wet look hair tied back in a Croydon facelift making him look like something Dean Gaffney might dredge out of Faces Ilford, passed one straight to the hard working but painfully ineffective Marc Pugh who invited Geoff Cameron to try one from 35 yards. It wasn’t bad actually, deflected wide, but steady on down Geoff, we’ve all had a drink. Eze sent the resulting corner 80 yards back across the pitch straight to Mark Warburton who had, in fairness, said Monday’s “shape and set pieces” training session had been “light”.
Seventy three minutes, Ayew fouled Manning again. Oh Andre, you little scamp, this is the final, final warning I’m going to give you before we move onto ultimate warnings. On you go.
Swansea then took off Dhanda, the best of an utterly lousy bunch, for Kalulu, which I was very pleased about until the new man got round Manning too easily and banged one into the near post where Kelly was somewhat fortunate to get away with an unorthodox and ill-advised side-foot clearance right into the oncoming traffic. It was the first serious Swansea threat in 85 minutes of play and was followed immediately by another undefendable Manning cross which Cameron and Woodman both missed at the near post and Osayi-Samuel poked wide of the open net at the far.
Of course, the stage was now set for that last minute Ayew penalty winner, and by Christ didn’t QPR try their darndest to give it to him. Penalty concession enthusiast Yoann Barbet, so sound and welcome in return all night but now with a devilish look in his eye, was at the heart of both incidents, first flicking a header back to Kelly rather than planting it giving Brewster a chance to nip in and steal the ball from the keeper. Three separate grabs at the ball eventually regathered possession for the Scottish keeper, and the replays backed Woolmer’s call that he hadn’t illegally tripped his man in the process.
That’s a lot more than you could say of Barbet’s clumsy trip on Ayew, going absolutely nowhere, right on the precipice of the box in two minutes of stoppage time. It was a penalty, and only the theatrical fall of the Swansea man can explain why it wasn’t given, because Chuckles Woolmer has given penalties against us for far, far less and apparently seems to be having some sort of love affair with the guy who was felled. Not booking him for diving seemed a disappointing waste of a 90 minute set - come on Chuckles we can usually rely on you for the big comedy pay off.
It would have been a QPR way to lose a game they’d bossed from start to finish. But we needn’t have worried. It was written: played 32, 39 points, -9 goal difference.
As much as things change…
Swansea: Woodman 5; Roberts 6, Rodon 6, Guehi 6, Naughton 7; Grimes 5, Gallagher 5; Ayew 6, Dhanda 7 (Kalulu 74, 6), Celina 5; Brewster 5
Subs not used: Fulton, Routledge, Mulder, Scully, Cullen, Cabango
Bookings: Naughton 90 (foul)
QPR: Kelly 6; Rangel 7 (Kane 83, -), Hall 6, Barbet 7, Manning 7; Ball 5, Cameron 6; Osayi-Samuel 7, Eze 7, Pugh 5; Hugill 4
Subs not used: Lumley, Oteh, Chair, Clarke, Amos, Masterson
Bookings: Rangel 41 (foul), Osayi-Samuel 56 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Ryan Manning 7 I would have gone for Yoann Barbet on this, given the difference he made to the defence and the return of the diags, but he could easily have had a hand in two Swansea penalties in the final two minutes, the second was all him and was a spot kick and should have lost us the game. So I’ve gone for Ryan, who did also make positional mistakes defensively, but added so much down the left in distance covered, passes made and crosses delivered. Would have had two assists on any other night with any other strike force. As with Chair and Osayi-Samuel previously this season, a young player being quietly taken out of the firing line for a couple of weeks seems to have done him the world of good. Sound management.
Attendance – 14,778 (250 QPR approx.) Natives restless.
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