Back with a blank, QPR beaten by Barnsley again – Report
Sunday, 21st Jun 2020 17:22 by Clive Whittingham
QPR lost to the Championship’s bottom side Barnsley for the second time this season, and first time at Loftus Road in 26 attempts going back to 1950, as football returned with a sad sigh to an empty Loftus Road on Saturday.
A year ago Barnsley celebrated winning promotion from League One with the division’s meanest defence by waving goodbye to the two centre backs and goalkeeper who got them there. It’s been a hard slog since for statistically the youngest squad in the Championship, with one managerial change under their belts already and two defeats to nil against Reading and Cardiff in the week prior to lockdown. Varying degrees of meltdown at Luton, Hull and Charlton immediately above them have offered hope, but seven points adrift at the bottom of the table with just nine games left to play means, if there is to be summer salvation for the Tykes, they’re going to have to get a bloody move on.
Queens Park Rangers were just starting to motor themselves when an abrupt halt was called to the season back in March. Unbeaten in six games and on the back of a sixth away win of the season at Preston, one of the hot pre-season tips for Championship relegation was positioned just six points shy of the play off positions. With two of the division’s brightest prospects in red hot form among their number, and remaining fixtures against the teams lying 24th, 23rd, 22nd, 20th, 19th and 15th, there was a good deal of optimism around the Rangers faithful about their team’s chances in this strange, surreal season climax.
Of late, though, one or two warning signs. Marc Pugh, bit part player but experienced dressing room presence, was suddenly released from the remainder of his deal with the club saying further appearances would trigger a contract extension they couldn’t afford. Earlier in lockdown Pugh had done the media and podcast rounds, talking up the team’s chances and his own role in them upon resumption. Then, on the eve of the season, club captain Grant Hall went the same way, unwilling to risk a forthcoming free transfer somewhere else by picking up an injury. The club, so measured and considered in its public statements and PR for years now, came out unusually strongly against the season resumption date, and two warm up friendlies against West Ham and Chelsea were lost by an aggregate score of 11-2. While fans talked up play-off hopes, it was starting to look and feel like the club were just keen to get the remaining fixtures out of the way, grateful that 11 points separates them from a particularly low quality and crisis-riddled bottom five.
I set the scene like that, because that’s exactly how this first behind closed doors game played out. Barnsley played like it mattered. QPR played like it didn’t.
Austrian manager Gerhard Struber, rocking suit trousers and an expensive belt with a pyjama top, sent out an adventurous line up that had Reds fans scratching their heads pre-match. Debuts for Romal Palmer in attack and Jack Walton in goal, and only a substitute role for Conor Chaplin who’d scored three times when these sides met at Oakwell in December. Six of their starting 11 – Ludewig, Palmer, Walton, Ritzmaier, Simoes, Sollbauer - had made less than ten first team appearances prior to lockdown and Ben Williams had only made 13. Seven of the 11 were 22 or younger. But as in that chaotic 5-3 win, the Yorkshire side flew out of the traps, catching QPR stone cold, scored once early and were really very unfortunate not to add a second and third.
Elliot Simoes, a 20-year-old whose eclectic career has already included stints with Benfica, Sporting and FC United of Manchester, waltzed through a yawning gap between Conor Masterson and Yoann Barbet to roll the opener past a tame attempted save from Liam Kelly after seven minutes. One of several long, diagonal passes over the head of left back Ryan Manning gave impressive youth team graduate Jacob Brown a sight of goal which he headed wide. When top scorer Cauley Woodrow mishit a shot completely inside the QPR penalty area, Barnsley were still able to retain and recycle possession and get him the ball back for a second attempt which was blocked. When Masterson gave the ball away sloppily just after the quarter hour, Manning was skinned down the sideline and only the faintest of touches off Yoann Barbet diverted the resulting cross away from Brown at the near post. Later Manning was grateful for the benevolence of referee Andy Davies who somehow failed to card the Irishman for a deliberate, cynical trip on Brown after he’d again been sold short and then stripped.
Ragged just doesn’t cover it. As one message board hero put it, the sort of performance QPR usually reserve for when you've brought a friend along for their first game. "Yeh, come down Saturday, we're really good to watch this year."
On the very rare occasions QPR did manage to get a foot on the ball they were way too predictable, looking time and again for Bright Osayi-Samuel down the right as plans a, b, c and d. Barnsley surrounded him with at least two, and often three defenders and nullified the threat. There were nice touches and occasional flashes from Ebere Eze on the other side, but he was a peripheral figure and unable to influence the game as he can. Others – Ilias Chair, Luke Amos, Dom Ball - couldn’t even claim to have reached the standard of peripheral in a dreadful first half performance that allowed the bottom-placed visitors to dominate from start to finish. At one point a QPR free kick on halfway that offered a chance to put some service into the box was passed once, sideways, to Luke Amos who passed it once, sideways, to a Barnsley player setting up another dangerous counter attack in transition. Up front Jordan Hugill, going through a My Chemical Romance phase with a 90s swept fringe and a lot of time spent locked in his room lamenting how Mark Warburton just doesn’t understand him, battled gamely, won the odd free kick, and did very little of any note, use or quality.
There were some improvements as the half went on. Christ alive it would have been hard for them to get any worse. Masterson volleyed over an Eze free kick when he might have done better, then Alex Way did find the net via a deflection after the first bit of genuinely decent open play from Rangers and Eze but play had long since been called back. But Barnsley finished the half as they’d started it, well in the ascendency and threatening Liam Kelly’s goal. Alex Mowatt, everything the QPR midfielders were not, cut in onto his left foot and shot wide off a desperate block. Lamentable pressing and marking from the resulting short corner routine gave Woodrow a look at the whites of the goalkeeper’s eyes but, again, desperate, last ditch defending smuggled the ball clear of danger. The last action of the first half saw a Mowatt free kick flick backwards off Barbet’s head, over Kelly, and flush onto his own crossbar. It would have made an apt second goal that both sides would have thoroughly deserved.
Ch-ch-changes. Turn and face the strange. Off went Luke Amos. Bless him, it feels like kicking a puppy, but my God he’d been poor. Couldn't find his own arse with both hands. On came Mide Shodipo to join Chair, Eze and Bright behind Alex Band to try and bolster the attack. Soon somebody I hadn’t seen before claiming to be Lee Wallace joined him, moving Manning into midfield to little improvement in his poor personal showing. Mark Warburton, however, did not name a fully expanded bench of nine, and when you’re bringing on Todd Kane for Angel Rangel ten minutes from time of a 1-0 home loss to Barnsley it betrays how few other options you have at your disposal. Barnsley, for their part, took goalscorer Simoes off injured and replaced him with Chaplin, who QPR could probably have done without seeing at this point given the havoc he’d wrought against them previously. Referee Andy Davies, just as he had done at QPR v Sheff Wed in 2016, clocked off early as well to be replaced by fourth official Sam Purkiss.
It was, for all the incompetence, only 1-0. Barnsley have won three and lost 12 on the road this season and hadn’t won at Loftus Road since 1950 – 25 attempts, 22 defeats, three draws, one goal of all time. It wasn’t quite time to loot shops and turn over parked cars just yet. Rangers should have been level within five minutes of the restart, Wheatus somehow heading a very presentable near post chance straight back to the left wing from whence it came rather than towards the goal. No matter, soon Rangel was reading a perfect intercept and freeing Osayi-Samuel into some rare space wide right but this time Dougie Poynter gave a free kick away when the cross came in.
There was now, at least, some tempo and purpose to QPR’s play. Chances came, and went, in a steady flow. Shodipo’s hard work chasing a lost cause to the byline surprised Barnsley and sparked a scramble in their penalty area which Walton, still to make a proper save, belatedly defused. A good counter attack at the midway point of the half saw John Rzeznik release Eze into space but he shot over after creating the angle for a clear sight of goal. Later Eze beat two men on the edge of the area but shot tamely straight at the keeper. And with time running out the best opportunity of the whole game for the R’s fell to Charlie Simpson whose finish when essentially clean through on the goalkeeper after brilliant Eze approach work was oddly, pathetically weak and allowed an easy save. A bizarre incident to end a dire day.
Only Luton and Hull had conceded more than Barnsley’s 62 league goals this season at the start of play. In truth, they never really looked like relinquishing just a seventh clean sheet of the campaign. They were able to stifle attempts to inject any life into an increasingly tired second half with relative ease. Three separate substitutions were made to go with the fourth at half time – one of them, Kenny Dougall, looked like he’d been given an awful fright. A worrying looking knee injury to Conor Masterson, senior centre back 2/2 in the current QPR squad, should have presented an ideal chance for one of the new token-gesture drinks breaks but the stand-in referee allowed him to be treated, then restarted the game, then stopped it for water again a minute later. Has it always been this boring? Ritzmaier had a shot from an odd angle blocked by Ball as the visitors continued to find it far too easy to penetrate the QPR penalty box – that time a suicidal throw by Liam Kelly and lousy touch by Angel Rangel set the chance up. When they did so again with a quarter of an hour left for play, Chaplin had what looked to me like a very decent shout for a penalty indeed.
That would really have put the tin hat on the whole thing but was, as it turned out, purely academic. Barnsley’s win to go with Middlesbrough and Hull’s defeats, and Luton’s draw, keeps them in the hunt with fixtures against Stoke, Luton and Wigan to come. They finish with Forest, Leeds and Brentford which looks tough, but they looked fitter, sharper and more on their game than just about any other side I’ve seen so far this week and stand a puncher’s chance with several of the sides above them seemingly trying to spend next season in League One deliberately.
The damage done to QPR’s league standing wasn’t particularly great. They’re now seven points from the play-offs with a fixture fewer to chase that down, and nine points away from the drop zone rather than 11. The idea of Hull City ever winning again this season, never mind doing so four more times than us between now and the conclusion, should keep all but the most panicky QPR fan sleeping relatively soundly. But with experienced players departing, several others possibly with more than one eye on where they might be moving in the forthcoming transfer window, and a squad looking desperately thin in key areas, there’s a very different complexion on Rangers’ remaining fixtures today than there was 48 hours ago.
A fixture list we thought was favourable to our chances, may actually be more beneficial to our opponents. Play like this again, and QPR could very well be useful cannon fodder for teams in need over the next month or so.
QPR: Kelly 5; Rangel 5 (Kane 80, -), Masterson 5, Barbet 5, Manning 4; Amos 4 (Shodipo 46, 5), Ball 5 (Wallace 61, 5); Osayi-Samuel 5, Chair 5, Eze 6; Hugill 4
Subs not used: Lumley, Oteh, Bettache, Clarke
Barnsley: Walton 6; B Williams 6, Anderson 6, Sollbauer, Ludewig 6 (Thomas 84, -); Ritzmaier 6, Mowatt 8; Brown 8, Simoes 7 (Chaplin 46, 6), Palmer 7 (Dougall 57, -); Woodrow 7 (Styles 74, 6)
Subs not used: Radlinger, J Williams, Schmidt, Oduor, Halme
Goals: Simoes 7 (assisted Williams)
Bookings: Chaplin 90+2 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Ebere Eze 6 Best of a very bad bunch. Carried QPR’s biggest goal and creative threat while being miles and miles short of his best.
Referee – Andy Davies (Hampshire) 6 (Sam Purkiss (London) 46, 6) Davies was generous not to card Manning for a bad foul in the first half. A worse hack on him by Chaplin in injury time, booked by substitute referee Purkiss, was probably a yellow and a half. Chaplin had earlier had a penalty appeal which fitted the ‘seen them given’ cliché perfectly.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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