|Wycombe Wanderers 1 v 1 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 19th December 2020 Kick-off 15:00
Familiar failings and tough questions - Report
Sunday, 20th Dec 2020 16:37 by Clive Whittingham
QPR surrendered a precious one goal lead late in the day at relegation rivals Wycombe on Saturday, leaving manager Mark Warburton facing the growing wrath of an increasingly irritated support base.
A long time after the Wycombe equaliser, which you may remember from such shambolic concessions as Huddersfield away, and a long time after the final whistle, which scattered graphite on the roof of QPR’s corner of the internet, the stream through which we now funnel our support flickered back into life and the managers appeared before us.
Warbs Warburton went first. Something about first contacts and second balls, which we’ve heard before. Something about “not looking after the football”, which you’d take a lot more seriously if he hadn’t, for the second time in as many weeks, butchered the closing stages of a winnable game against a basic and direct opponent by removing his two best ball players from the field in a pair of unfathomable substitutions.
Then up stepped Gareth Ainsworth, introduced by the BBC’s Jacqui Oatley as “QPR manager Gareth Ainsworth…” Oh how he, and we, laughed.
That was always going to be the story of this fixture. Mark Warburton, on QPR’s latest run of six matches without a win, under heavy pressure, away to a team that up to and including last year were a lower league side Rangers were using to develop their young players, managed by a former hero of Loftus Road who some would like to see return to the club in Warburton’s place.
Narrative thickly woven, Warburton doubled down. No win in six, one goal in four, but unbowed and uncowed by pressure and mounting dissent - if he’s going to lose this job, he’s going to lose it while stubbornly sticking to plan A. You know what the team is. You knew what the team would be last week, you know what it’ll be next week, and you knew what it would be yesterday, save for the slight variation in the positioning of Little Tom Carroll depending on circumstance. Here, he was employed as the pressing ten, which meant the stodgiest stodge that ever did stodge was back together at the base of the 4-2-3-1 in the form of Dom Ball and Geoff Cameron. That’s it. That’s always it. Lyndon Dykes alone up front, Ilias Chair trying to win the game himself from the left, Bright Osayi-Samuel barely arsed on the right, Rob Dickie’s giant head, Yoann Barbet’s Diags™, and off we jolly well go again. Maybe it’ll work this time…
For all of the manager’s constant back reference to sports science, an unworkable fixture list, fatigue, injuries, tiredness and so on, there is very little rotation and variation in selection. Rangers have been almost uniquely fortunate with injuries this year relative to the rest of the division, touch wood, losing only Luke Amos for any length of time. Osman Kakay was injured here and Lee Wallace has seemingly been dumped back in the woods somewhere, but Wycombe were the latest opponent we’ve faced, after Reading, Blackburn and Stoke in particular, to come into the game with an absentee list that dwarfed ours – including promotion winning centre back pair Anthony Stewart and Darius Charles. Amongst an ever growing wave of criticism of Warburton, I’m yet to really hear it acknowledged that we’re not only failing to win games, we’re failing to win them while at relative full strength against heavily depleted sides – Stoke were missing their three first choice keepers and didn’t have a striker to start with on Tuesday. Only Cardiff (21) have used fewer players than QPR (22) this year, and that number includes George Thomas who’s started once, Conor Masterson who’s started three times, Charlie Kelman and Paul Smyth who’ve shared five substitute appearances.
So we knew how QPR would set up and play, and to a large extent we knew what to expect from Wycombe too. While Gareth Ainsworth has done, and continues to do, an obviously remarkable job under the circumstances, he’s seldom linked with a move elsewhere and that’s probably down to his team approaching the task in much the same style you’d expect Terry Hurlock to approach arranging a stag do. It is a bracing watch, and against a team that had conceded more from set pieces than any other in the Championship it took precisely a minute and thirty seconds for Bayo Akinfenwa to flick a long throw into the path of Scott Kashket who, mercifully, shot close enough to Seny Dieng for the keeper to make a good save with his legs.
Rob Dickie and Yoann Barbet enjoyed the drama of that so much they decided to start crashing through the back of players facing away from the goal in neutral positions, allowing Wanderers’ set piece specialist Joe Jacobson an opportunity to swing over decent ball. To be fair though, both centre backs stood up well to it. Dickie stood his ground after an early clash with Akinfenwa left him spewing blood with the Wycombe man standing over him letting him know there was more to come, and was probably QPR’s best player on the day. He was on the end of this three times for Oxford last year so knew what to expect and it showed.
He might have scored a goal of his own with a looping header from a corner on the quarter hour but Ryan Allsop got across and scooped it out of the top corner one handed. Allsop then had to fling himself the other way to palm away a long distance effort from Geoff Cameron that could have done with a crowd of bodies to travel through if it was to unduly trouble the keeper. Still, QPR had survived, settled, and started to play a little bit, and when they put together a bit of fluff down the right hand side on 28 minutes it freed Chair at the byline and his low, near post cross was turned past his own goalkeeper for the opening score by Jason McCarthy.
The rest of the half would have moved any neutrals unfortunate enough to be watching on to tears. Multiple sets of head tennis. A long free kick twice cleared and twice returned to the QPR penalty area eventually requiring Rob Dickie to powerfully ease David Wheeler out of a dangerous position. Repeated fracturing of QPR’s hopelessly skewwhiff offside trap. A header over from Akinfenwa. When Osayi-Samuel cut in after a prolonged spell of pontificating on the right touchline he ran straight into Dykes, losing possession, and setting up a counter attack which ended with a long distance but well directed header from Wheeler, palmed aside by Dieng. Dickie, once more, the man with the thick, headed clearance as Jacobson tried to torment the visitors with a devilish delivery.
In the cold and the wind and the rain it was never going to be pretty, and it was never going to be easy. Wycombe have the division’s lowest budget, possibly ever, by some considerable distance and have only won two games all season, but they know what they’re doing, they’re difficult to play against, and apart from Blackburn (5-0) in their first away game of the season, nobody has been able to sweep them aside – ten of their 20 games so far have been settled by a one goal margin and a further six of them drawn. QPR were leading at half time, and that really was all that mattered.
One of those single goal defeats came at league leaders Norwich, thanks to an injury time free kick that should never have been awarded on the edge of the penalty area for one of the more egregious dives you’ll ever see on a football field. The referee that day was Gavin Ward, a ten-year veteran of QPR games with a hooped history as long as Idrissa Sylla’s neck. The baby faced official didn’t seem to have much time for the Chairboys here either. Once he’d generously let Akinfenwa off without a yellow card first for smashing Dickie and then for deliberately clattering Dieng to prevent him setting an early counter attack away, most of the 50/50 calls seemed to go Rangers’ way, including a huge shout for a handball penalty five minutes into the second half. Wycombe were increasingly grisly with the official, picking up two bookings for dissent (one of which was credited to Jacobson afterwards but certainly went the way of Knight for my money), which might have played still further into QPR’s hands, were the visitors able to maintain possession for more than one pass and three seconds at a time.
They’d started reasonably positively, Carroll crossing for Dykes to miss at the far post from close range, and Cameron flicking on Chair’s free kick forcing a good save from Allsop, but they quickly descended through nine circles of footballing hell to the point where they literally couldn’t put two passes together. Just handing the ball back over to Wycombe and letting them reload the wheeled cannon was never likely to yield a tremendously positive outcome for Rangers and they should have conceded first on 57 minutes when Dieng parried a strong Horgan shot straight back down the field and Kashket somehow headed over the open goal, then on 60 when Horgan beat a shambolic nonsense of an offside trap to go clean through on the goal only for Dieng to save brilliantly one on one when a goal seemed certain.
I’m developing a fascination with just how utterly clueless we are with free kicks awarded to us on the halfway line. We act like some enormous winged insect we’ve never seen before has flown in through the window – panicked looks, flapping arms, buck passed on who’s going to deal with it and how, DA FUCK DO WE DO WITH THIS? This has been a bit of a running theme in recent games, and Todd Kane came up with an absolute doozy just after the hour when he played a high, crossfield ball, backwards from the right back spot, behind our own defence, almost plum onto the head of Akinfenwa, and eventually to be retrieved from a difficult spot by a now heavily pressed Niko Hämäläinen who gave it away. QPR free kick on halfway to dangerous Wycombe possession inside two touches. And this was far from an isolated incident.
When we did eventually put four passes together, lo and behold it got Hämäläinen into good space in the left channel of the penalty box and he hammered over the bar. But my God the multiple times we just forked possession back over to them, the basicness of it all… at one point we did our favourite trick of chucking it straight to the opposition from one of our own throw ins, giving Wycombe sub Fred Onyedinma a clear run through the centre of the field that, again, had to be rescued by a Hail Mary Rob Dickie recovery lunge.
I have some sympathy with Warburton here. He doesn’t want them to play like this. He doesn’t want them to pass the ball like this. He doesn’t want them to give the ball away. He’s a football purist, too much so if anything, it must break his heart sitting over there on a box of Neil Banfield’s ice lollies, watching this unmitigated shite. Once they’re over the white line they’re on their own, making their own decisions. When you’ve got Bright Osayi-Samuel with the ball at his feet, 34-year-old Joe Jacobson in front of him, and 50 yards of clear green grass beyond, and he chooses to come back inside because he can’t be fucked pushing it past him and having a go, is that the manager’s fault as well? Is it his fault BOS later skied a great chance over the bar from six yards out – Ward so incredulous that he’d missed that he erroneously awarded a corner?
What I don’t have sympathy for is repeating mistakes of the past and expecting a different result. At Millwall last week QPR were leading 1-0, and dominating, against a fairly basic, physical opponent. They conceded a goal against the run of play, after giving the ball away off their own throw in naturally, but should have been well placed to attack the last quarter of an hour and go for a win on the balance of play. Warburton took off Tom Carroll and Ilias Chair, the two best players on the night, the two best ball players in the team, and threw on wide midfielder George Thomas and striker Macauley Bonne. Rangers were biblically awful thereafter, unable to hold the ball, unable to pass, unable to control the tempo of the game, unable to find their own arse with both hands. From a match they should have won 2-0, they were eventually lucky to escape with a draw. Ok, that’s what that button does, we don’t press that again, put a little sticker over it so we remember for next time.
Here, off went Carroll, off went Chair, on came wide midfielder Chris Willock, and on came Bonne. I can’t speyk. If it’s a sports science thing, and Carroll did come to us via a ten month lay off with a hip complaint, then why are they playing every game? Why not keep them out there against Millwall and Wycombe, get the wins on the board, rest and rotate them next week? Why are we using so few players if we’re concerned about their fatigue? Why are we making so little use of our subs? Only two of five changes made here, Bettache, Kelman, Masterson so steadfastly rooted to that fucking bench we may as well change their first names by deed poll to Unused Sub. So many whys, but chief among them is why you make substitutions that you know, that have been proven, not to work in near identical circumstances just last week. No, we weren’t keeping the ball at all well with them on the field, but removing them isn’t likely to improve that.
There’s no defending it. I’m sorry, I really wish there was. Don’t try.
Three minutes from time this merry band of misfits went clear into the Wycombe half in essentially a four on two situation, chose the wrong pass on three successive occasions, executed that wrong choice appallingly, and yet still had an opportunity to hold possession high down the field by the Wycombe corner flag with time ticking down. From there they contrived to give the home team the ball back through Bonne hopelessly toeing a simple pass into touch for a throw in under no pressure at all. It was excruciatingly painful to watch, and within 20 seconds it was in the net at the other end. Young Wycombe sub Anis Mehmeti allowed to drive at Todd Kane unchallenged, just as Huddersfield’s Josh Koroma had been before him, and score at the near post with Dieng perhaps a little culpable too. Kane redeemed himself slightly with a brave back post challenge to prevent a third sub, Uche Ikpeazu, piling in to win the game on an injury time cross, but he, like his manager, is not learning from nor correcting past mistakes. We concede the same goals over, and over, and over, and over, and over, and over again. When Warburton is sacked, and that’s starting to feel rather inevitable now, it will be this failure to address, correct and/or cover for known defects in his team that costs him his job.
I still wouldn’t sack him, personally. For all the reasons I’ve given before. We need to settle and stick with a manager for a period of time to try and build something coherent and long term, not always just bin them off at the first sign of a bad run of form. We’ve built this squad in Warburton’s image, it would need another big overhaul in the coming transfer windows unless we appoint somebody similar to him, which we almost certainly won’t. The realistic, available alternatives who would come here is a bleak list of uninspiring nobodies – about to be reduced further by Brexit rules on appointments from abroad which come in on January 1, in case you were hoping for a leftfield Barnsley-style continental appointment. We change the manager over and over again, it makes no difference. We rarely even get a new manager bounce, which would suggest the manager is not the problem, and the problem will therefore not be solved by bringing in somebody else who, ten months down the line, will also be doing your head in with their team selection, substitutions, and interview cliches.
Warburton, however, doesn’t make it easy for the diminishing population of that camp. Initially I was quite impressed by some flexibility shown – recalling Toni Leistner at Millwall, switching to a back three to accommodate two strikers, moving Geoff Cameron to right back against Cardiff – which ran contrary to his “plan B is to do plan A better” notoriety. But there’s none of that flexibility at the moment. The more criticism he’s getting, the more the pressure grows, the more stubbornly entrenched he seems to become. To make those two substitutions again, creating the same problem for the same outcome…
Look, I clearly know nothing about the game. Never played it to any level, never coached it, never managed it. Drunk, no-nothing gobshite with a website, spouting off crap about something he has next to no idea about. I’m sure if Warburton saw this he’d be able to tell me what a lot of unfair rot it is, how I’ve no clue about the physical condition of the players, why certain things had to be done a certain way, why Carroll and Chair, why Bonne and Willock, why not somebody else. I’m sure he’d be as frustrated with me as he was when we met in the summer, all over again. Easy to sit at the back and throw bottles, Richard Littlejohn. But as the common or garden fan in the stand, the last 15 minutes yesterday blew my mind. And it was still blown an hour after the final whistle, sat silent and alone in a dark living room, staring into the abyss across scattered Peroni bottles and increasingly finding it staring back at me, when Jacqui Oatley appeared before us and introduced Gareth Ainsworth as the Queens Park Rangers manager.
Wycombe: Allsop 6; Grimmer 6, Knight 6, McCarthy 5, Jacobson 6; Freeman 6 (Mehmeti 76, 7); McCleary 6 (Onyedimna 66, 6), Wheeler 7, Horgan 6; Kashket 5 (Ikpeazu 76, 6), Akinfenwa 6
Goals: Mehmeti 87 (assisted Jacobson)
Bookings: Knight 51 (dissent), Allsop 86 (dissent)
QPR: Dieng 6; Kane 5, Dickie 7, Barbet 6, Hämäläinen 6; Cameron 6, Ball 6; Osayi-Samuel 5, Carroll 6 (Willock 77, 5), Chair 6 (Bonne 81, 4); Dykes 5
Subs not used: Adomah, Masterson, Bettache, Thomas, Kelly, Kelman, De Silva
Goals: McCarthy 28 (own goal, assisted Chair)
Bookings: Hämäläinen 90+2 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Rob Dickie 7 Stood up to the physical and aerial assault really well, deserved to lead his team to a win and clean sheet.
Referee – Gavin Ward (Surrey) 6 I’m sure if I was a Wycombe fan I’d be ranting and raving about the penalty (which I haven’t seen back, but Ainsworth seems to think is a stone-waller), and a referee who did seem to give every 50/50 decision to QPR, so I’m not going to mark him too highly. That said, if you are going to charge around smashing people, you are probably going to get a lot of free kicks given against you, and another part of Wycombe’s style seems to be to appeal noisily for absolutely everything as if it’s all the worst decision they’ve ever seen before in the world, so it’s difficult to really tell what the referee is getting right and wrong as every single decision sparks an enormous, emotional, angry fall out. There were a couple – Akinfenwa on Dickie and Wheeler on Ball – early in the first half that were solid yellow cards, allowed to go under the unwritten “it’s a bit early yet” rule. Quite a difficult game to referee I think.
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Letters from Wiltshire #26 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #25 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #24 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #23 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #22 by wessex_exile
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