Very Championship indeed - Report
Sunday, 1st Mar 2020 21:31 by Clive Whittingham
All the good of QPR that makes you look forward to seeing them play this season, and all the bad that holds them back, was on show in an entertaining 2-2 draw with Birmingham City on Saturday.
On the face of it, little more Championship than Queens Park Rangers in thirteenth at home to Birmingham City in fourteenth, ten games out from the end of a season that will end with both in midtable followed by the return of the loan strikers they rely on to their parent clubs and a cruel harvest of their best young players.
In practice, plenty to commend it to the dictionary definition of second tier football as well: goals from abysmally defended set pieces; a weird and wonderful refereeing performance; somebody’s dad roped in to run one of the lines despite not being able to run or understand the rules; weather that veered between winter tundra and summer solstice, often in the same attack; some brass, plenty of muck, plenty of perspiration with occasional inspiration; and, at the end of it all, the thick end of 100 minutes, a draw that doesn’t do much for either side.
Our visitors from Brum (the city, not the little car) have been telling us a story we’ve heard all before so far this season. You know the one, where season ticket holders starting to wonder whether there isn’t a better use of their time and money each Saturday are coaxed into one more renewal with a promise of a new dawn of revolutionary football revolution. A Championship pragmatist happily treading water with a lot of channel balls – Mick McCarthy, Neil Harris, Garrys Monk and Rowett – is jettisoned in favour of some new flavour of the month – almost always a Johnny Foreigner, usually Dutch or Spanish or occasionally Italian – promising to turn Port Vale 2019 into Arsenal 1998.
This almost always ends terribly. Birmingham should know this better than most, having binned Rowett while three points of the play-offs to appoint Gianfranco Zola and promptly embark on a run of two wins in 25 fixtures and a near miss with relegation. At this point a mad panic tends to set in, with whoever flicked the switch or pulled the thing out trying to flick it back or stick it back in. A Championship pragmatist, happy to tread water with a lot of channel balls - Mick McCarthy, Neil Harris, Garrys Monk and Rowett – is summoned by way of football coagulant to try and stem the bleeding. There is, almost always and always almost immediately, talk of getting “back to basics”. If you’re lucky, this happens in the three week period between Neil Warnock telling Sharon he thinks he’s got one more job in him, and somebody else giving him that one more job.
Anyway, undeterred by the Zola disaster, and the subsequent standard financial meltdown induced by Harry Redknapp trying to correct it by signing two dozen of his very best agent’s middle of the road clients on five year contracts, the Blues set off on another voyage into the ideal this year, shoving Garry Monk out of the door and bringing in Pep Clotet, who’s so Gianfranco Zola it’s difficult to believe it’s not him, with an extensive record of making teams complete lots and lots of passes in non-threatening areas of the field without ever actually winning any football games.
And that’s exactly what Birmingham did, up until Christmas. Lots and lots and lots of little tiny passes, completed efficiently, almost always in a sideways direction, ten thousand miles away from the opposition goal. Football to kill yourself to. QPR won 2-0 at St Andrew’s in December and although the game was lit up by Bright Osayi-Samuel’s ridiculously outstanding goal it was a victory achieved without breaking a great deal of sweat or, indeed, facing a single serious shot on target. On New Year’s Day they lost 3-2 at home to Wigan, who hadn’t won an away game since Roberto Martinez, Jesus Seba and Isidro Diaz played in midfield for them and the local paper called them “Los Three Amigos” and made them pose for photographs wearing silly hats, eating paella, starting violent separatist movements, and other things the Wigan Advertiser presumed Spanish/Mexican people liked to do as pastimes.
Clotet kept his job, but the Dongball (named after the club’s ruthlessly useless CEO and defacto director of football Xuandong Ren) was ditched and the team, wait for it, you know it’s coming, went… back to basics. Lucas Jutkiewicz, who you’d get a good price for at a cattle auction, was restored to the attack and Scott Hogan was loaned in to play alongside him. Lee Camp, who’s made in excess of 33,000 appearances at this level, was recalled in goal. Shiny little Spanish trinkets acquired in the summer were returned to sender – Fran Villalba, farewell my friend, god speed Alavro Gimenez, we’ll forever follow your chesty wife on Instagram.
They arrived at Loftus Road unbeaten in 12 and took a first half lead when Maxime Colin leant back and kicked the ball very hard, very far and very high indeed, all the way down to the far end of the pitch when Scott Hogan ran around Liam Kelly and scored into an empty net despite a desperate attempt to prevent the inevitable from Yoann Barbet, at some considerable cost to himself. QPR had lost Grant Hall in the warm up, necessitating a late recall for young Conor Masterson, but despite that upheaval, and Masterson’s inexperience, decided it might be nice, for the first time this season, to try a new high line and offside trap. Shrewd stuff, although unfair to snipe at that without mentioning Masterson’s superb ball and all tackle on Hogan in the second half which saved a certain goal.
You can’t have a back to basics approach without a long throw, it’s one of the rules. Birmingham don’t actually have anybody with a long throw (never stopped Fitz Hall – ed) and so have applied for special dispensation from the league to be allowed to have feet off the ground, or on the field of play, when attempting to launch them. Dispensation granted, they weren’t a million miles away from scrambling one home in the fourth minute, and three after that Jutkiewicz headed a very presentable chance wide of the post.
The leniency over the throw in technique wasn’t the only thing referee James Linington was strangely blasé about. Presumably attempting to “give the game every chance” and let it flow, he rather quickly painted himself into a corner where nothing was a yellow card, because if that thing that had gone before wasn’t a yellow card, then this thing happening now can’t be either. This manifested itself in several ways, but Ivan Sunjic booting Ebere Eze up in the air time and time and time again, including twice in ten seconds just before the half hour, was one of the more noticeable. Not a difficult yellow card to issue that one, nor the deliberate smashing of Osayi-Samuel to the ground by Pedersen after getting skinned on 36, and having not done so it set a rather dangerous precedent for the rest of the game. I didn’t think Pugh's tackle on Bela that led to him being carried from the field looked that terrific either, and I’d have definitely wanted Birmingham’s late penalty shout for a foul in the box by Barbet on Hogan.
Linington was “assisted” on the Ellerslie Road side of the ground by his elderly father, which was nice for the family, but bad for the game. Unable to keep up with play and with as firm a grip on the offside law as I’ve got on my drinking, he seemed to be determined to have a deliberately contrary day, flagging the onside off, letting the blatantly offside play on, giving corners as goal kicks, and vice versa. Jordan Hugill was first to suffer, flagged off when level as he opened the scoring from a low Angel Rangel cross following great Osayi-Samuel approach work on 19 minutes. One in the second half, where four Birmingham attackers went early on a free kick and all ran offside only for the flag to stay down, sent me into a bad place, and I’d like to take this chance to apologise, once again, to anybody sitting within earshot of me. If it makes you feel any better I wake up every Sunday feeling shit about myself, and walk to the supermarket chastising myself for being such a gobshite, so we’re all suffering in our own way. Fucking miles offside though, all four of them.
(n.b. I’ll take some contrary pensioner given a flag on a daytrip passing judgements on offsides over some under sexed dweeb drawing lines from players’ arm pits on a blurry freeze frame any day of the week.)
Why, you may ask, 1,500 words in, am I talking so much about Birmingham City, and James Linington, and that crusty old bed sore running the line? Well because I’m going to finish by talking about Queens Park Rangers who, here and for much of this season in general, are really bloody good to watch.
Rangers’ unbeaten run now stretches to six. Dom Ball at the base of midfield, charging around like a man possessed, and Jordan Hugill’s ‘game boy’ routine up front is opening up a big gap between the halfway line and opposition penalty area in which our collection of talented creatives are thriving. Eze was excellent again, despite the ongoing Sunjic assault, Osayi-Samuel tortured Pedersen all afternoon, and although Marc Pugh is much maligned, and should have been quicker and sharper to a sixteenth minute chance, he’s had a few decent games in the last fortnight or so.
Eze looked to be in for a goalscoring chance on 21 but got caught trying to be too elaborate on the edge of the box. No need for that mate, we know you’re a good player, stop waving it around and start fucking.
That’s exactly what they did straight after half time. Osayi-Samuel, now in top gear, caught Pedersen trying to shuffle a ball out of play, robbed him of it, and was wrestled to the floor. Yellow. Yellow all day long. Yellow every day of the week. I was starting to wonder whether you could pull a weapon on somebody and not get booked in this game, but that thought was interrupted by Eze crossing, Hugill nodding down, and Pugh sweeping in an equaliser. You bloody R’s.
Game was turned on its head within four minutes. A second goal, a thing of beauty, with our best players being our best players, on the ball, in the pockets, finding space, probing the defence, being patient, asking questions, one and two touch, moving the ball, seeking the chance, looking like a proper fucking football team that knows exactly what it’s doing and then, just at the right moment, when it all opens up, springing Bright for a low cross that Hugill rammed in at the near post. I could cry. Seriously. The shit and drek and slop and mess we’ve sat through, at sky high prices, for years, and now we have these players capable of these things. Beautiful boys. I’m in love. They're going to leave me aren't they? They always leave.
They’d have won the game too, if it weren’t for those meddling kids. Eze lacking conviction on a chipped effort when through on goal two minutes from time, Bright catching a shot straight after the Birmingham penalty appeal a damn sight sweeter, both foiled by Lee Camp, rightly given a warm reception for his years of service in difficult times down here but a heartbreaker late on for a second year in a row.
That a third goal was required to win was down to a couple of recurring themes. The foul long throw, again not spotted, saw Hogan almost score at the back post only to be denied by a smart Liam Kelly save. Problem was, that meant a corner, and QPR’s set up for corners is laughably poor.
As discussed in the week, when Martyn Waghorn scored at this end of the ground, with embarrassing ease, from a corner just a couple of days after we’d escaped an identical goal at Nottingham Forest because the wind blew the ball off the mark as it was about to be kicked, it’s almost like we’re trying to concede from these things. The strongest QPR players in the air mark zonally, along the edge of the six-yard box, while the weaker ones are asked to man mark the threats. It’s emperor’s new clothes stuff this – trendy, modern football bullshit, that doesn’t work, done for little other reason than to appear clever. It sounds the wrong way round, and counter intuitive, because it fucking is. QPR compound it by the zonal markers not attacking the ball well enough, and the man markers often leaving players just completely free and by themselves – Harlee Dean, of all people, probably Brum’s biggest aerial threat, allowed to stand completely free for every corner on Saturday – but the set up looks wrong, is wrong, and has cost us more goals off set pieces this season than any other team in the league bar Wigan. Scott Hogan the beneficiary this time, crowning a man of the match performance with a second goal.
Annoying? Yeh. Championship? Very. Two points lost? Probably, though the result felt fair on balance. Enjoyable? You bet. Absolutely. A very good QPR team, hamstrung by its accident proneness, playing football you don’t mind paying to watch. I almost wish we had another Tuesday game this week. Nurse.
QPR: Kelly 6; Rangel 6, Barbet 6, Masterson 6, Manning 6; Ball 7, Cameron 6; Osayi-Samuel 8, Eze 7, Pugh 7 (Chair 74, 6); Hugill 7
Subs not used: Lumley, Kane, Amos, Shodipo, Clarke, Oteh
Goals: Pugh 51 (assisted Hugill), Hugill 55 (assisted Osayi-Samuel)
Birmingham: Camp 7; Colin 6, Roberts 6, Dean 6, Pedersen 5; Bela 7 (Montero 73, 6), Gardner 6, Sunjic 6, Crowley 6 (Kieftenbeld 83, -); Jutkiewicz 6, Hogan 8
Subs not used: Harding, Clarke-Salter, Mrabti, Bellingham, Trueman
Goals: Hogan 24 (assisted Colin), 81 (assisted Gardner)
QPR Star Man – Bright Osayi-Samuel 8 Not quite reaching the startling heights of his season-igniting goal of the season contender up at St Andrews in December, but given the chance to spend the afternoon torturing Kristian Pedersen, the full back on the opposite side to Maxime Colin who still has nightmares about the first game this season, he did exactly that culminating in a fine assist for Jordan Hugill.
Referee – James Linington (Isle of Wight) 4 As both regular readers know, I far, far prefer a referee that’s willing to let things go, keep cards to a minimal, restrict his involvement, allow some physicality in a contact sport and so on and so forth. But I felt here Linington was so keen to be hands off that he rather painted himself into a corner with his leniency. Multiple examples, on both sides, of things that were pretty standard yellow cards being allowed to go, and once you’ve done that and it happens again you kind of have to let them off with it again, and again, because if it wasn’t a yellow card before, then why is it now? Sunjic certainly took plenty of advantage – half a dozen fouls without a reprimand – and Pedersen was twice done all ends up by Bright and just hauled him down without recourse, but there were QPR players doing the same. Throw in a late Birmingham penalty appeal that I’d certainly have wanted, a blatant foul throw not spotted in the lead up to their second goal, and a whole afternoon of highly questionable offside decisions from a lino often behind the play on the Ellerslie Road side of the ground and it’s not going to be a high mark.
Attendance – 14,133 (2,800 Birmingham approx) First time for a few years Birmingham have been given both tiers of the School End, following trouble in this fixture. They want both tiers because it means more support for their team, and we want them to have both tiers because it means more money. Win win. They respond with multiple incidents of bottles and missiles being thrown, including at Yoann Barbet while he was injured in the goalmouth after the first goal, and a flare after Hogan had opened the scoring, so probably back to just the upper tier next year then. Thick as shit.
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