|Nottingham Forest 0 v 0 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 22nd February 2020 Kick-off 15:00
What you worried about? - Report
Sunday, 23rd Feb 2020 20:55 by Clive Whittingham
QPR fought hard for a 0-0 draw against Nottingham Forest at The City Ground on Saturday, an away trip they haven't lost in years.
In the first week of January 1934 Queens Park Rangers made their first ever visit to Nottingham’s City Ground to play Forest. They’d beaten Kettering and New Brighton (it’s on the Wirral apparently, I know, I was surprised too) to gatecrash that year’s FA Cup Third Round and they were promptly annihilated 4-0 by the red half of a city not long shot of Robin Hood but still someway from opening its first Hooters.
QPR’s attempts to better that heavy defeat on this ground stretched the thick end of a century. They tried on 34 separate occasions and 20 of those ended in defeat. Not just little defeats either – there were four further 4-0 losses to go with the first one, a 5-0 in 2010, a 5-2 in 1989. Good QPR teams would lead here only to concede in injury time, on the opening day of the 1990/91 season, or thanks to the one weak link in the team being the goalkeeper, in 1994/95. Neil Warnock’s all-conquering 2010/11 outfit would have added Forest’s scalp to all the others but for referee Andy D’Urso inexplicably failing to award a penalty for a blatant foul on Tommy Smith in a 0-0 draw. None of them would manage to nail a win.
For QPR, getting a victory at Nottingham Forest became akin to trying to shit out a snooker table. Painful, prolonged, never ending, impossible. With every passing attempt the task only seemed more difficult, more unlikely to be accomplished, more unrewarding – like trying to force yourself to sit through a whole series of Question Time. Thousands did it, fearful of skipping the trip to Nottingham that turned out to be the one and forever having to pretend that you were there the day it finally happened, but this had long since ceased being a labour of love, or an exercise in patience, and morphed, instead, into an absolute chore.
That was until December 2018 when Luke Freeman drew back a left foot and planted a trademark undefendable free kick flush onto the head of Toni Leistner for the only goal of the game. A 1-0 win, celebrated like European qualification by a travelling band of success-starved weirdos. It was life affirming and of all the QPR managers to break the hoodoo, it was Steve ‘Schteve’ McClaren to do it. Of all the varying teams we’ve brought here, it was a fairly shambolic lot who would win just five away games all season and three of their final 23 games in the Championship to finish 19th who did what so many other more talented groups had failed to do before them. For McClaren, and Leistner, and Joe Lumley, and Freeman, and Jordan Cousins, and Jake Bidwell, and Josh Scowen, and Pawel Wszolek, but not Joel Lynch because it was the week before Christmas, there will always be Nottingham Forest away, December 22, 2018. Merry Christmas my R’s.
Thing is, once you’ve successfully stormed the citadel, the task doesn’t feel nearly as daunting as it once did. You move in, you make yourself comfortable, you get a sideboard from Ikea - the wonderful everyday. Insurmountable mountains become mere troubling inclines, teams we made to look like the French World Cup winners of 1998 shrink back into teams being carted around the park by Ben Watson. Once you’ve dreamed the impossible dream, fought the unbeatable foe, born the unbearable sorrow and run where the brave dare not go once, it doesn’t seem nearly so daunting when you try and do it again. Marching into hell for your heavenly cause becomes more like a commute.
Nottingham Forest have been a powerful force in the sport in this country. Brian Clough took them to two European Cup triumphs. The problem is, they’ve never stopped harping on about it since. It’s little coincidence that the only time they’ve been promoted back to the Premier League in the last 25 years was when The Crazy Gang’s Dave Bassett was manager, sweeping aside the club’s ideals and traditions with a direct style of football up to Kevin Campbell and Pierre Van Hooijdonk and throwing grenades into a stuffy, self-important dressing room in the form of Andy Johnson and Alan Rodgers. Since then seasons have followed a familiar pattern of an enormous summer of transfer activity raising already heightened expectations, a new manager being hailed as the new Cloughie, a decent start giving way to a sticky patch, a premature sacking, and the process starting over again. They don't think much of Mark Warbs Warburton in these parts, but he merely parred the course. Lately, under a variety of foreign ownership, this process has accelerated so that that cycle is often completed twice in a calendar year, with a pre-Christmas sacking heralding the dawn of a new Cloughie in time for a January transfer window splurge.
For Sabri Lamouchi to have even seen in the start of February is an achievement, given what has gone before, and to have Nottingham Forest fifth at the start of play was worthy of significant note. They’d won 4-0 at Loftus Road earlier in the season, Rangers’ biggest defeat of the campaign so far from what was, on the night, probably the best team we’ve played - apart from Brentford, who are the best team anybody's played.
But it’s all been very Nottingham Forest since then. A win away to Justice League leaders Spartak Hounslow was swiftly followed by a 2-1 loss at everybody’s banker away win Birmingham City. A 2-0 home televised win against Leeds United moved them to within striking distance of the summit and had the last dregs of semen from the nostalgic old soaks in these parts glistening on the surface of The Trent. They followed that up with a 1-0 home loss to Charlton Athletic.
If you’re of the opinion that this is a league with no outstanding teams, Nottingham Forest are not going to trouble your conclusion. They’re fine. Decent. Capable of opening up and having a really brilliant night against somebody, but mostly quite stodgy and functional. They play a 4-2-3-1 that occasionally shifts into A 4-3-3, like pretty much everybody else, and have one or two outstanding players you need to smother with double marking, like everybody else. QPR, with the hoodoo lifted and the monkey slain from their shoulders, were able to do that perfectly well on Saturday, with Ryan Manning and Marc Pugh worthy of praise for keeping a right channel attack containing their best player on the day/this season Matty Cash and winger Joe Lolley reasonably quiet.
Beyond those two, Sammy Ameobi looked kind of dangerous in that same sort of way Paolo Wanchope used to be dangerous – if he’s no idea what he’s going to do next, how the hell is the defender going to guess? He, thankfully, was taken off after an hour to be replaced with… another central midfielder. A move from the Tony Pulis wankmag that one. Carvalho, who’d come on after an hour in the first meeting and been a strong eight, was allowed twelve minutes here. Lewis Grabban, beard like a wizard’s anal thicket, never threatened to add to the 16 goals he’s scored in 33 appearances this season as a lone striker and again emphasised how little you get for your money when trying to buy supposedly proven Championship strikers in the present market - £8m Jordan Hugill toiled gamely at the other end, but couldn’t help adding further weight to the prosecution’s case. Weirdy beardy's late header wide was fairly abject.
It still might have been enough to win. Ameobi had already rounded Hall and crossed low to the near post where Yoann Barbet hacked it behind for a corner, and Grabban had gone through on goal from an offside position drawing Liam Kelly from his line for an exaggerated one on one save that he made rather a mess of and was glad of the flag, when Joe Worrall came up from the back and planted a firm header into the net from a Lolley corner.
QPR have conceded the first goal in the game more than anybody else in the league bar Luton Town this season and this was typical of the sort of soft, easily defendable, sloppy mess we’ve shipped in that stat but it was never going to be allowed from the moment Lolley had gone ahead with the taking of the corner despite the high winds moving the ball off the spot he’d placed it on. It may be nitpicky, it may be pedantic, it may be jobsworthy, but you can’t take a set piece with a moving ball and this ball was blatantly moving on this occasion. Referee Rob Jones spent a long time reaching his decision with the linesman, aided by Ryan Manning’s running commentary, but the ‘offence’ was blatant, the decision obvious, and they got it right.
QPR were lucky to get away with the slack marking there, and Forest then had three chances in quick succession around the 20 minute mark they should have done more with. Kelly made the save of the game to tip Ameobi’s top-corner bound drive over the bar immediately after the disallowed goal. Then during a succession of wide set pieces the ball was teed up for Grabban to spaff one into the cricket ground. Finally, Manning and company let Joe Lolley venture in from the right wing onto his left foot in space on the edge of the box but just when you expected him to search out the top corner he skewed it horribly into the stand. We take that chance far too often – allowing players who are well capable of scoring from that sort of range get into shooting positions unchallenged, Jarrod Bowen basically got his move to West Ham on the back of us doing that to him.
But with those chances missed this quickly settled into exactly what it mostly always has been for the last couple of decades, if only the context of us never having won here could be lifted – a standard Championship sludge between two standard Championship sides. QPR finally put a decent bit of attacking play together ten before half time when Hugill nodded onto Ebere Eze whose immaculate control should have set him up for a shot but he elected to pass once more and found Marc Pugh in space but his weak attempt was neither a cross nor a shot.
As time ticked down in the first half Ameobi caught QPR cold when they thought the ball was going out for a goal kick, hooking it back into play over the stranded Liam Kelly, but Ryan Manning intervened with a brilliant, brave, effective defensive header at the far post with a queue of Forest players waiting to open the scoring. That probably nudged him ahead of the pack for the man of the match award, in a day of team work over individual brilliance. Annoying that the chance had come from rank bad game management in first half stoppage time from first Angel Rangel and then Geoff Cameron, playing hopeful, suicidal, low-success-rate balls into traffic in two minutes of first half stoppage time and giving it away rather than just playing away down the line and seeing out time. But overall QPR were much more solid and pragmatic than they have been this season, and those two old heads, along with Dom Ball, were at the heart of it. Yoann Barbet, two clean sheets in three since his return, also worthy of mention, once he’d got his eye in on the diags which, for the first 15 minutes at least, resembled my long golf game and had the locals scurrying for cover in the side stand.
Once they’d realised there was nothing to fear – and there really wasn’t – QPR were actually the better team for much of the second half. Pugh, much maligned but decent here in attack and defence, fed an overlapping Manning for a near post shot that Samba beat away. Osayi-Samuel had a tremendous battle down Ribeiro and Diakhaby’s side all second half and drew a booking from the latter for a deliberate foul to interrupt a counter before the hour. Eze took the resulting free kick around the blind side of the wall and was within about a foot of catching Samba out in the bottom left hand corner. An incredible crossfield ball from Eze soon after that, brimming with vision and big money summer bids, would have brought an opening goal had Nahki Wells been on the end of it, as he had been against Cardiff, but presented with the same chance in the same situation, Jordan Hugill rather made a mess of things. Game boy, hard working, loves his mum, wouldn’t fault him too much, but my God he’s a basic bitch.
There were other bits and pieces. A good overload down the QPR left on 68 saw Osayi-Samuel cross to the near post for a clearance, Kelly looked miles out of position for a subsequent Forest chance on 70 but Grabban very sportingly kicked it straight at him while hopefully distracted by a plan for his next visit to the barbers. Kelly went for another wander soon after that chasing a deflected Cash shot sparking a scramble in which Rangel looked to clear from the goal line twice to cap an excellent personal display, but a free kick from referee Rob Jones brought the passage of play to an anti-climax. Osayi-Samuel rather needlessly picked up a ninth booking of the season for delaying a mixture of delaying the restart and dissent, leaving him just one shy of a two match ban. Wor Jordan was also booked, for being him.
For it all, neither keeper really had a save to make second half. It was standard Championship fare, between two very Championship teams, neither manager apparently with the wherewithal to change things significantly from the bench.
Match Gallery: 16 photos
That’s worse news for Forest, who were the home team, who aspire to promotion, and who’ve signed three quarter of a million footballers over the last couple of seasons but still apparently lack anything to change a game beyond Grabban and Lolley, bar tiny bits of cameo for Carvalho. For QPR this was a good result, achieved in unusually solid and pragmatic manner in a season in which only Luton Town have conceded more goals. The return of Yoann Barbet has made a difference, but so to – as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Ian Holloway and Steve McClaren all quickly found, often to much outcry from supporters – has parking two auxiliary extra centre backs in deep lying midfield positions in front of the back four.
Two home games to come this week will do much to set the tone for the remainder of the season, but there’s little to be afraid of in Derby and Birmingham. Nor, really, as it turns out, should we have been so scared about coming to Nottingham Forest.
Forest: Samba 6; Cash 7, Figueiredo 6, Worrall 6, Ribeiro 7; Watson 6, Silva 6 (Carvalho 78, -); Lolley 6, Ameobi 7 (Yates 60, 5), Diakhaby 6 (Mighten 71, 6); Grabban 5
Subs not used: Jenkinson, Dawson, Walker, Muric
Bookings: Diakhaby 54 (foul),
QPR: Kelly 7; Rangel 7, Hall 6, Barbet 7, Manning 7; Cameron 6, Ball 7; Osayi-Samuel 6, Eze 6 (Amos 88, -), Pugh 7 (Chair 76, 6); Hugill 6
Subs not used: Lumley, Kane, Masterson, Clarke, Oteh
Bookings: Rangel 63 (foul), Hugill 76 (foul), Osayi-Samuel 90 (delaying restart)
QPR Star Man – Angel Rangel 7 I was going to give this to Manning, who kept a difficult flank of Joe Lolley and Matty Cash under control, ably assisted by Marc Pugh who’s played quite well the last couple of games. But I’m a bit of a Manning fan boy, and wary of my bias getting the better of me, so I look to the other side where the recent upturn in defensive performances has coincided with the return of Rangel, very steady and experienced here with two goal line clearances in the second half thrown in for good measure. Can he do two games in four days though?
Referee – Robert Jones (Merseyside) 7 One or two quibbles and niggles – letting people take free kicks from wherever they pleased, not booking Dom Ball when by our count he was on the thick end of half a dozen fouls by the end of the game – but the big decision in the game was judged correctly, bravely, and overall he was pretty decent.
Attendance – 28,750 (1,459 QPR) For all the grandstanding about “another sell out at The City Ground” and the giant flag parade that greeted the two teams at the start, the atmosphere seemed to die away awfully quickly once the game had got started and, considering Forest are still well in the promotion hunt as the season rounds its final bend, the home crowd were very quick to start getting on the back of their own team when things didn’t immediately go swimmingly for them. All of which, naturally, played into QPR’s hands.
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