Point made - Report
Wednesday, 9th Dec 2020 15:19 by Clive Whittingham
QPR improved from Saturday, and took the lead with a super goal at Millwall on Tuesday, but paid the price for not getting a second and their inability to take throw-ins properly on a night when most of the attention was on everything but the football.
It was one of those soul-sapping, faith-draining occasions when the football is the last thing on the agenda at the football match. A night for hot takes and cold opens, hamfisted official club statements, cringingly awful pre-match political circus, and the sort of head-shaking solemn broadcast coverage that makes you think Diana Princess of Wales has corked it all over again.
Warm congratulations and back slapping all around this morning for managing to get through a Championship football match without a(nother) racist incident – but only after a restricted crowd was begged in a letter to essentially not fuck this up for the home club live on television, and the uppity little black boys had been told their chosen form of protest was not appropriate and should be replaced with a flag and a bit of a hand hold. The sport remains the same today as it was yesterday: riddled with this problem, with no clear plan or pathway towards its solution, and obsessed with gestures that look good for the host broadcaster on which it is entirely dependent but mean and achieve nothing when so persistently backed up by zero action.
Yes, well done everybody indeed.
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Championship games are coming “thick and fast” at the moment. Here were two sides struggling more than most to deal with that schedule – Millwall without a win in eight and finding it difficult to score goals despite heavy summer investment in strikers, QPR on a run of three straight defeats and woeful in their weekend loss at Huddersfield Town. Two out of form teams, with chunks of what short turnaround they had between matches taken up by meetings about exactly how to lift the baggage this fixture came with, it was perhaps a bit inevitable the game itself would, shall we say, struggle to get going. If you’d tuned in purely to gape at the pre-kick-off car crash and then put something else on, you were one of the lucky ones. The first half played out like an insurance seminar.
Crosses mishit into empty stands, set pieces planted firmly on the head of the first man, execution of simple passes so abject it could make you weep. From Ray Wilkins to Ball and Cameron in one lifetime. If I hadn’t seen such riches…
What good Millwall did they did it through wing back Mahlon Romeo, the only person to emerge from the off field bullshit over the last four days with any credit at all, and clearly a man on a mission down Millwall’s right side in this game. When his endeavour was able to supply chances to Troy Parrott his touch, turns and shots were sharp, crisp, and dangerous, but two first half efforts were saved well by Seny Dieng.
QPR’s equivalent was Little Tom Carroll in midfield, the only ball player on either team who even seemed to want to try and get some pass completion flowing, and Ilias Chair who, like Romeo and possibly for similar reasons, looked absolutely determined to make this game his. Carroll’s well-constructed one-two in the box might have brought him an eighteenth minute opener but for Cooper’s sliding tackle. Chair wasn’t a million miles away from slamming in the opening goal five before the break at full stretch but it would have been disallowed – possibly errantly – for the ball going out of play for a goal kick in the build up.
It was, to this point, a game for the centre backs: Rob Dickie standing up well to everything you expect when you go to play at The Den; Millwall’s three of Hutchinson, Pearce and Cooper almost entirely untroubled by Lyndon Dykes’ ongoing toil. By half time, an argument/constructive discussion about whether the radiators should be on three or four at the moment had broken out back at base. Ball’s embarrassingly shambolic dive for a penalty, rightly carded by Australian referee Jarred Gillett, rather summed it all up.
While it was difficult to imagine Warbs Warburton, with all we know about his football philosophy, advocating passing as rank as this, and some of the park-standard first touches we saw, I wasn’t sure at half time how disheartened he would be overall. For all the defensive disasters there have been on his watch – Huddersfield’s second on Saturday the hundredth goal conceded since he arrived at the club – he did show twice at the turn of the year, away at Swansea and Forest, that he is not adverse to digging in for a gritty away point to halt a worrying losing run. Perhaps mindful of his predecessors’ tendencies to lose their jobs after embarking on repeated runs of six straight defeats, he got a 0-0 at the Liberty Stadium and City Ground when he needed one last season, and I couldn’t envisage any other outcome from this at that point. We should have known with the pre-match removal of Willock and return of the Ball and Cameron recipe for thick midfield stodge.
Fortunately for the spectacle, and my pulse rate, that was clearly not QPR’s intention at the start of the second half. They came out with real purpose and attacking intent, finally passing the ball with a degree of tempo and accuracy, delighted to get Chair and Carroll on the ball often and in threatening areas, and going to win the game. They did more in the first 15 minutes of the second half than either team had done in the first put together.
Bialkowski saved down by the foot of his post when Ball tried his luck from the edge of the area, but could then do nothing to prevent Chair powering his team into the lead with a strike more associated with his time at Stevenage than anything he’s done in our colours, cutely assisted from wide by Carroll as one would expect. Chair and Osayi-Samuel – well known Marxists both - making it abundantly clear what they think of flags and handholding with their goal celebration.
It could, and should, have been 2-0 immediately. Millwall conceded a free kick almost straight from the kick off, Yoann Barbet took it quickly, Chair pulled it out of the sky immaculately in the penalty box, Dykes fluffed a very presentable volley straight at the keeper from 12 yards. Maybe we should have told him it was a penalty? You couldn’t say the same about Chair’s 20-yard strike towards the bottom corner which Bialkowski saved brilliantly with one hand just as it seemed certain the net would ripple. Dykes shot wide. Dickie glanced a header from a corner across goal when a firmer connection may have brought greater reward. Carroll’s lofted pass to get Osayi-Samuel in behind Malone was a delight but he ran out of space and time at the near post and Bialkowski saved once more.
Now another familiar QPR trope was coming into play – the inability to kill off games when well on top – and a third failing we’ve seen all too often before was about to cost them dearly as well. QPR give possession away from their own throw ins almost as if it’s their religion and would offend some weird full back god somewhere if they didn’t. It is miraculous if we ever keep the ball for more than two touches after a throw and quite a lot of the time we don’t even manage one – just plant it straight on the head or chest of a nearby opponent instead. We’re so bad at them it could be a legitimate opposition attacking tactic to start kicking the ball out down by the corner flags and just waiting for us to do the heavy lifting for us and sure enough, while miles on top in the game and with confidence visibly draining from the hosts, we managed to turn a QPR throw in on halfway into a Millwall goal within the space or about ten seconds. That we also fell fast asleep at a quickly taken free kick in the process – despite Millwall making it clear they’d be taking all of their free kicks quickly all night – only exacerbated the frustration. That it was deflected past Seny Dieng by Osman Kakay, and struck by Jon Dadi Bodvarsson the amazing non-scoring striker (no goals in 20 club and country appearances this season)… well you get the picture. All too typical QPR in so many ways.
Bodvarsson was one of five second half Millwall substitutes made that gradually wrestled back control of a game that looked to have deserted them. Lively striker Tom Bradshaw was added to the attack with him, and our old friend Big Posh Matt Smith came on to lead the line. Agricultural maybe, but each change Gary Rowett made gradually turned the needle another notch back in his team’s direction. By contrast, and in keeping with the recent trend from the Rotherham home game, QPR’s substitution made them worse.
Firstly, only two were made when five were allowed, which makes the incessant talk about tiredness, legginess and the Championship schedule ring rather hollow. Secondly, our two most effective players in the second half, Carroll and Chair, were removed, and QPR immediately went back to relentlessly, doggedly giving away possession every time they won it back. Thirdly, neither player coming on played well. George Thomas, somebody I have high hopes for, had a bit of a stinker, unable to get into the game at all, looking nervous and rushed, snatching at the ball and frequently just hooking it on and back to an opponent. Macauley Bonne, as he’d shown against Rotherham, is not going to drop off and receive a ball with his back to goal, nor keep and recycle possession. Create a chance and he might take it, as he surely would have done when a rare accurate Yoann Barbet Diag™ got Bright in for a cross that put a goal on a plate but for Cooper’s late, great intervention. But he’s not a man for these occasions and the closing stages of this game, like the Rotherham one before it, was one in the eye for the “play two up front” enthusiasts.
From looking so attractive and threatening at the start of the half, we turned into an absolute dog team for the last 15 minutes, happy to hand the ball straight back to Millwall at the first possible opportunity. The Lions lacked the knowhow, confidence and ability to take advantage, and Rob Dickie emerges with credit for his role in repelling all boarders in the late stages of the game as they started just pumping long junk towards a penalty box now packed with three out and out strikers. It was a result we’d all have gladly taken at the start of the game, but like so many before it this season one that could and should have been so much better. How much we’ll rue these mounting missed opportunities to post wins we’ll only know come May.
Millwall: Bialkowski 7; Hutchinson 6, Pearce 6 (Bodvarsson 66, 7), Cooper 7; Romeo 8, Woods 6, Williams 6 (Smith 64, 6), Malone 6; Wallace 6 (Burey 89, -), Bennett 6 (Leonard 64, 6), Parrott 6 (Bradshaw 74, 6)
Subs not used: Fielding, Wallace, Thompson, Ferguson
Goals: Bodvarsson 70 (assisted Wallace)
QPR: Dieng 7; Kakay 6, Dickie 7, Barbet 6, Hämäläinen 6; Ball 5, Cameron 6; Osayi-Samuel 6, Carroll 7 (Thomas 77, 4), Chair 8 (Bonne 77, 5); Dykes 5
Subs not used: Kane, Willock, Masterson, Bettache, Kelman, Kelly, Adomah
Goals: Chair 53 (assisted Carroll)
Bookings: Ball 16 (diving) Barbet 75 (foul), Bonne 90+1 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Ilias Chair 8 All action performance including a brilliant goal. Only denied a second with a similar strike by a good save from Bialkowski.
Referee – Jarred Gillett (Gold Coast) 8 Controlled a potentially difficult match very well, with few errors and the big decisions correct. Has a bit of a reputation as a card happy official but only showed three here, all justified, and controlled the game in an unfussy, unobtrusive manner.
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