It’s all the same, only the names will change - Report
Sunday, 28th Jun 2020 20:26 by Clive Whittingham
Miles below par QPR were beaten 1-0 by a relegation haunted team for the second time in a week on Saturday, this time crashing to defeat against Charlton Athletic at The Valley.
For the second time in a week since football resumed, Queens Park Rangers lost in timid fashion to one of the Championship’s relegation-haunted sides, barely threatening the opposition goal and leaving themselves open to questions about attitude, commitment and application. Charlton Athletic and Barnsley even play in the same colours, just to heighten the sense that nothing has really improved for an extra week of training and fitness work. Lather, rinse, repeat. Always repeat.
Manager Mark Warburton was quick to claim this had been a better display by his team than they’d produced last Saturday, though that really says more about how bad they’d been against Barnsley than it does any sparkling moments of inspiration produced at The Valley. Possession was indeed heavily weighted in the visitors’ favour, but they struggled to do anything with it and across more than 90 minutes of play they only mustered one serious shot on target.
That really should have been enough to get them a point, given the simplicity of the chance. Straight after half time a cross from deep on the right by Geoff Cameron, back from a ban, was perfectly set up for My Chemical Hugill to steam in at the back post and equalise but he contrived to strike straight at the already-committed keeper from point blank range and spurn the opportunity. I guess it made a change from his lean-back-and-sky-it sitter technique of choice, but my God it was a hell of a chance. I’ve a dead grandmother who would have scored it.
Rangers had already been 1-0 down for more than half an hour of play by that stage. Just as they’d done against Barnsley at Loftus Road, they treated their opposition to a defensively shambolic opening goal before the game had really had a chance to get going. Fifty-six-year-old Darren Pratley was the beneficiary this time, dominating a crowd of QPR defenders in the air with embarrassing ease at a Josh Cullen corner and planting a firm header towards goal which Liam Kelly really should have saved but allowed to squirm in via a post. Three months in lockdown has done nothing to correct Rangers’ woeful defensive set up at corners while Charlton have returned to action with two 1-0 victories, both secured with set piece goals. Pratley has now scored five Championship goals in five years – two of them against QPR.
What followed by way of pursuit of an equaliser was a mix of the bad, mad, sad and utterly perplexing. Rangers did get the ball in the net at the other immediately to be fair to them but Ilias Chair’s effort was ruled out for a very generous free kick decision against Bright Osayi-Samuel in the build up. Despite referee Tim Robinson’s decision, that actually boded well for the rest of the game. Osayi-Samuel had tormented Charlton at Loftus Road in December, setting up a memorable goal for Marc Pugh with a mazy run around a clutch of defenders. Chair also looked much more lively than he had seven days ago, winning an early free kick in a dangerous area from Tom Lockyer through pugnacious hard work that caught the centre half trying to shepherd a ball out for a goal kick – that one of three first half incidents that really should have wrought yellow cards from Robinson but only received a warning. Ebere Eze had also curled an early sighter wide of the post with the score still at nil nil. So maybe a groove had been found despite the early Pratley set back.
However, it was to prove the first and last time Osayi-Samuel took his full back on for pace and strength down the outside. Given how he was playing before the lockdown, given what he’d done to this opponent the last time he’d played them, his performance was the oddest of all. Time and time and time and time again he passed up the opportunity to take his man on and get to the byline, choosing over and over and over to come back infield instead and play a safe, unthreatening pass backwards or sideways, crowding the space Chair and Eze would have liked to operate in in the process and allowing Charlton to assemble two narrow banks of four on the edge of their box and resist all comers with relative ease. If I didn’t know better I’d say it was the performance of somebody who’d had a good Thursday night out, or somebody with half a mind on a big money move elsewhere and keen not to pick up an injury that might scupper it. Bright was not only QPR’s outstanding attacking threat before the coronavirus pandemic halted professional football, he was one of the most dangerous players in the league. From that, to this. The difference was stark. He was hooked on 71, and he can have no complaints whatsoever. He was lucky to last that long.
The lack of width was screamingly obvious all game, and played right into home manager Lee Bowyer’s hands. Angel Rangel looked every day of his 37 years at right back and was unable to overlap Osayi-Samuel quickly enough or often enough to at least help counter the problem of him going infield all the time. To try and correct this, one of a litany of problems with his team, Warburton sent on Todd Kane midway through the second half to add a younger, more attacking option from right back but his 20 minute cameo could kindly be described as woeful, littered with poor decisions and misplaced passes.
He wasn’t alone in that. Yoann Barbet seemed to be on a sponsored give-the-ball-away in the first half, handing possession back to Charlton on half a dozen occasions before half time. He was lucky that the most dangerous of these, on 15 minutes, only wound up at the feet of former QPR loanee Tomer Hemed. The Israeli international looked every bit as heavy, sluggish and ineffective as he had for the vast majority of his time at Loftus Road and fluffed that very presentable chance before basically disappearing from the game entirely and being subbed on the hour blowing out of his arse, looking like a sack of shit on a hot day. Absolute baggage.
Hemed was, however, unfortunate not to get a free kick on the edge of the area when Conor Masterson body-checked him out of the way on 17 minutes after another Barbet give away (I hope it was a good cause). When the Frenchman then got drawn out high up the field he deliberately tripped Macauley Bonne to get himself out of the deep water he’d landed himself in – like Lockyer before him, escaping the referee’s notebook only through the official’s extreme leniency. Pratley became the third man in that club on the half hour, cynically interrupting a QPR counter with a deliberate trip – again, just a word on the run.
QPR were sloppy, casual and slapdash. Their performance lacked concentration. You can talk about match sharpness with plenty of justification, but incredibly basic things were butchered horribly: ten yard passes, keeping the ball off your own throw-in, marking at set plays… One particularly ugly passage of play saw Osayi-Samuel fire a pass back at Rangel three million times harder than it ever needed to be played, and then having just about snared it the Spanish full back in turn blasted what should have been a simple 15-yard pass along the floor five feet off the deck straight at Ilias Chair’s head. Chair did his best with that, and plenty else besides, as this week’s ‘best of a bad bunch’ candidate in chief, but his reward was being substituted on the hour for Mide Shodipo. I’m starting to think I’ll play for QPR before Jack Clarke does.
A half-hearted handball appeal at one end off a Rangel cross quickly developed into a Charlton counter attack at the other with Bonne drawing a save from Liam Kelly at his near post. More good stuff from Chair – an intelligent ball followed by a cute run that opened up space behind him for a team mate to move into – gave a shooting chance for Ebere Eze but he blasted high and mightily over the bar. Barbet’s first attempted diag of the day landed in the arms of home keeper Dillon Phillips without a QPR player in the picture.
Hugill’s golden opportunity missed could have changed the complexion of the second half had it gone in. Instead, the second stanza settled good and early into a predictable, apparently unbreakable pattern. QPR held a lot of the ball, sure, but the chronic lack of width allowed Charlton to mass men across the bredth of the penalty box and form a crowd scene. Attempts to pick through the forest of bodies had most success when Chair and Manning were involved – the former setting up the latter for a near post cross bravely claimed by Phillips quickly followed by an intricate string of passes in the area at the end of which Manning poked an improvised effort wide.
On the rare occasions the Addicks stopped sitting in and broke down field, they looked far more likely to score than QPR did. Bonne actually found the net with a header from an Aiden McGeady cross on 57 minutes but he’d strayed offside when he had no need to. Pratley headed another corner wide – referee Robinson somehow contriving to award another corner for it rather than a goal kick – and only a great Conor Masterson stretched clearance on 73 prevented a walk-in second. They very steadily made a string of their own substitutions to disrupt QPR’s attempts to inject tempo into the game, though the ever-durable Jonny Williams remained unused having only just recovered from a cut finger which ruled him out of a Fifa version of this fixture against Ebere Eze during the lockdown. If he makes it through to the end of the season without coming to a mischief on the concrete stairs Charlton must now ascend and descend twice a match to reach their new changing facilities I’ll be amazed.
Warburton tried a variety of his own options from the bench, including a Championship debut for the tidy looking Faysal Bettache. Shodipo looked the most likely of the new additions to produce something positive, and at one stage drove the best part of 80 yards through the centre of the field right into the heart of the Charlton defence only to find that Hugill had helpfully parked himself in an offside position to receive the killer pass when it eventually came. Luke Amos was forgiven his personal horror show in the first game back and brought on to add legs to a central midfield where Cameron had done ok but tired, and Dom Ball had mixed adventurous ideas above his station and far too much sloppy passing. The Tottenham loanee, sadly, contributed a pathetic effort to stop Charlton sub Alfie Doughty getting in on goal and not a lot else. Kelly dealt with that danger, then had a duck fit with the forlorn looking Amos.
It was a 1-0 Charlton win long, long before the final whistle actually confirmed it. QPR with big issues at both ends of the field, once again looking considerably less fit than their opponent, and with several players who’ve starred across the season as a whole now looking and playing like their minds are already on their next move once these lockdown games are done. Elements of this performance, and the players’ body language, were alarming. Once again, as with Barnsley, it looked like the opposition wanted it more.
With promotion-chasing Fulham to come in a London derby on Tuesday followed by two long treks up north, including a meeting with our legendary former manager Neil Warnock at Middlesbrough, if there isn’t what grizzled old NRL coaches call “an attitude adjustment” in the next 48 hours then it could be a very long week/month/final nine games of the season indeed.
Charlton: Phillips 6; Matthews 7, Lockyer 6, Pearce 6, Oshilaja 7 (Purrington 77, 6); McGeady 6 (Doughty 60, 6), Pratley 7, Cullen 6, Morgan 6 (Green 84, -); Bonne 6 (Field 84, -), Hemed 5 (Aneke 60, 6)
Subs not used: Williams, Amos, Sarr, Davison
Goals: Pratley 12 (assisted Cullen)
Bookings: Pratley 76 (foul)
QPR: Kelly 5; Rangel 5 (Kane 71, 4), Masterson 6, Barbet 4, Manning 5; Cameron 5 (Amos 71, 5), Ball 5 (Bettache 77, 6); Osayi-Samuel 4 (Oteh 71, 5), Chair 6 (Shodipo 60, 6), Eze 5; Hugill 4
Subs not used: Lumley, Kakay, Gubbins, Clarke
QPR Star Man – Ilias Chair 6 Looked vaguely interested which set him apart from quite a few of his team mates. Set up first half chances through harrying of defenders and looked our most creative player before getting the hook on the hour for reasons I’m sure exist but I couldn’t quite fathom.
Referee – Tim Robinson (West Sussex) 5 As rusty as most of the players, which I guess is understandable – no reason the referees should be back up to match sharpness any quicker than the footballers themselves I guess. Lockyer, Pratley and Barbet should all surely have been yellow carded for first half fouls, an indication perhaps why one of the division’s traditionally more pedantic and picky referees has gone from 3.7 yellows a game last season to 3.03 this and just one red card in 27 outings.
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