And then a hero comes along – Report
Wednesday, 13th Jan 2021 17:00 by Clive Whittingham
Charlie Austin marked his second coming at QPR with a goal as the R’s registered a first win in 11 attempts to pull clear of the bottom three at Luton Town on Tuesday night.
The last time Charlie Austin played for Queens Park Rangers he scored for Queens Park Rangers – the two tend to go hand in hand. QPR trailed 2-0 at home to promotion chasing Brighton in the December of 2015 until he made the most of a fortunate near post ricochet to bring one back on the half volley, and then worked enough space for himself to nod in an Ale Faurlin corner two minutes from time. Just there, in the right place, at the right time, with the right finish, as he had been 47 times before. Next time he took the field it was in Southampton colours, back in the Premier League without us, and he bagged a late debut winner at Manchester United, lifting the roof of the Crown and Sceptre in the process.
Rangers have toiled in vain trying to replace him ever since. They went first to Peterborough, because a lot of their friends had bought nice things from there, but only came back with one Conor Washington. They looked around Europe, because a few of our rivals had found value for money bargains, but returned with just Sebastien Polter and later Idrissa Sylla to show for their trip. As the striker market moved to £8m Gary Madine levels of utter stupidity they made do with loans, and found that if clubs are willing to let you just borrow their player for a bit there must be something wrong with them – Jordan Hugill (head over the ball Jord there’s a good lad), Nahki Wells (penalty phobia), Tomer Hemed (not arsed), Jan Mlakar (bit shit). Even when they do well you can’t afford to keep them and all the same problems they were covering up are there waiting for you still once they’ve gone. They wondered whether Aramide Oteh may grow into a solution. If he has, it’s to a different problem than the one we’re trying to solve. Ownership was finally taken of Lyndon Dykes, Macauley Bonne and Charlie Kelman last summer, but it’s been a tough few months of slog for the three of them. The best striker at QPR remains the 54-year-old director of football.
Could it be that QPR simply need Charlie Austin? Without a win in ten games, out of the FA Cup, dipping precariously close to the bottom of the Championship, with the strikers running their own miss of the season competition against Fulham at the weekend, desperation was palpable in London W12. Fortunately, with Austin’s years advancing, fitness declining, waistline expanding and Premier League prospects diminishing, circumstances allowed for a test of the theorem. And, what do you know, seven minutes before half time in his second Rangers debut, there he was again to head home an Ilias Chair corner that had been flicked on at the near post by Geoff Cameron. Just there, in the right place, at the right time, with the right finish, as he had been 48 times before. Luton’s an odd place for the second coming, and yet here it was. Could it be that Charlie Austin simply needs QPR? It is written.
There was a cuddle of unity, great for social distancing, and some knee taking to be done before the football by gas lamp got under way – Luton not the first, and certainly not the last, to find those petrol station torches sold under the promise of ‘the light of a million candles’ tend to underdeliver. Once we did get started, it was clear Charlie was in the mood, making light work of a pitch that looked more like an old boat yard than a football field with a touch, swivel and sweeping 45-yard pass across the field to a team mate. You ever thought about going professional? Not interested mate I’m making shitloads out of computers.
In a frantic opening Bright Osayi-Samuel - I hear you’re a wing back now father - stung the palms of raffle winner Simon Sluga at the near post having been invited to run the length of the pitch with the ball unchallenged. At the other end Seny Dieng saved well with his feet from James Collins amidst a close range scramble provoked by a mistake from domestic errorist Geoff Cameron. Barbet’s header under his own cross bar was key to maintaining the deadlock after Todd Kane had very kindly thrown the ball to Luton then, having received it straight back, presented it to them a second time for sportsmanship’s sake. Quickly though Ilias Chair was feeding Lyndon Dykes and his touch off was struck goalwards by Austin from 20 yards – firm, low, on target, but even Sluga’s fine with daisycutters.
Once the game settled down QPR were, whisper it quietly, the better team. The back three of Rob Dickie, Barbet and Cameron coped well with James Collins; Dom Ball and Tom Carroll were commanding against oddly out of sorts Tory MP for Leicester Central, Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, in midfield; and far from being intimidated or replaced by the arrival of the big name up front, Lyndon Dykes was actually turning in his best performance for the club as his partner.
Here comes the science. When Lyndon Dykes was starting out professional life in the Scottish Championship with Queen of the South in 2016/17 he scored just four times in 27 starts and 11 sub appearances. In 2017/18 that improved a bit, eight goals in 37 starts and seven sub outings. And a season later in 2018/19 he got ten in 52. More startling was the form of his partner, 74-year-old Stephen Dobbie, who was playing for Glasgow Rangers when Dykes was still at infants school, and now needs a Stannah Stairlift to get up to bed every night (won’t be long now, just you wait, things I’m going to do to you). Alongside Dykes, Dobbie scored 26 in 16/17, 27 in 17/18 and 43 (!!) (not a misprint) in 18/19.
Dykes the provider? Dykes the link man? Dykes the foil? Well, it’s a new straw to clutch at, a new narrative to seize upon, and as these reports and previews don’t write themselves and we’re probably stuck with Dykes whether it works or not it’s one we intend to bleed to death slowly over many weeks. I guess you could equally make an argument that we should exhume Stephen Dobbie, but Dykes certainly looked a good deal more effective, lively and happier here playing with a skilled partner, doing a bit of donkey work without the pressure of being the main man. Dare I say this actually looked like confident, Scotland international Lyndon Dykes at times, and after one day of training together there was genuine understanding and link up play between the front two. Austin cushioned a header back for Dykes to volley but that was blocked, then Austin played his new partner through on goal on a decreasing angle and Sluga saved a low shot well with his legs.
Half time, 1-0. Competent. Bordering on good. The same sort of promising, progressive first half performances we’d seen against Bournemouth, Bristol City, Brentford and some teams not beginning with B, but now with a goal and a lead to show for it. Luton, beaten at home only twice all season and victorious here against Norwich among others, you would think, couldn’t be as poor again. There would be our weekly midfield fade to come. At some point Warbs Warburton would get hold of the substitution board. It promised to be a long, torturous second half, and in fact QPR almost conceded within the first minute of it as a series of unfortunate ricochets got James Collins in on goal but he curled wide when faced with Dieng one on one. But this was, at least, better.
In fact, Luton’s attempts to turn round a fairly abysmal first half performance basically amounted to them doing all the same things wrong again, but much faster this time. One of their few decent performers Ruddock-Mpanzu can count himself unlucky that a beautiful, sweeping, curling 20 yarder which beat Dieng all ends up bounced out of play off the top of the bar, but it was the one bit of quality they were able to summon all evening. In general they just tore about the place, giving the ball away, kicking it out of play under little pressure, unable to go through, over or round Rob Dickie, as they had in the first half, just at a far higher tempo. A lot of charging around, kicking, rushing, rope swinging, shouting “AGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHH”, firing weapons into the air. This shit may work when chasing a cheese down a hill, but it wasn’t particularly effective here. No amount of moving Glen Rea backwards and forwards from midfield to a back three and then into midfield again could get any significant juice out of them. Hopeful long range strikes by Dan Potts, in for the recalled Sheff Utd left back Rhys Norrington-Davis, and the increasingly wild Dewsbury-Hall, were dead on arrival – wherever in Harpenden that arrival may have been.
Austin was removed for Macauley Bonne just before the hour. Six sub appearances and a lone start for West Brom this season made that one an inevitability but Bonne had been so poor at the weekend, and Warbs Warburton’s substitutions have been cited so often in Rangers’ recent disasters, that the manager needed this to work. You get the feeling he’d rather be sacked doing it his way than stay in the job ceding ground to public opinion and received wisdom but when he later, as always, removed Ilias Chair as well, he really did have his employment staked all on red with the wheel in motion. He needed this to go well.
It did. In actual fact, as Luton thrashed around in the mud, QPR started to pick them off on the break, robbed of a game sealing-second only by a series of failures in final ball. Chair through on an exposed defence with support to his right chose to go left and shoot himself on 67 – a comfortable save. Four minutes later the same man was in space again, this time he did try to play Bonne in but didn’t get enough pace on the ball and the pair exchanged what I believe would be described on Easternders as “beef”. Away from the meat market, Rob Dickie should have crowned another fine personal performance with a goal but instead headed over at the near post from Little Tom Carroll’s inswinging seventy first minute corner.
Chuckles Woolmer! Fuck me we’d come so far without anybody being killed I’d almost forgotten Captain Chaos was there. That low death count made this his best performance in 13 years of refereeing QPR by a thousand miles, but he couldn’t resist intercepting a counter attacking Carroll pass on the halfway line and then, when Ickle Tom retrieved the ball and freed Osayi-Samuel down the left side anyway, compounded that by hauling us back for a drop ball. Getting a taste for it, he ignored the improved Todd Kane going forwards and delivering dangerously into the penalty area (yes, really) and instead pulled Rangers back for some nonsense free kick 30 yards back down the field. Still, 90 minutes with Andy Woolmer that doesn’t end as one of the bongs on News At Ten is a bit of a result.
For all of that, the score remained 1-0, and QPR remained QPR. Another game that could and should have been killed and wasn’t, another opponent we’d largely outclassed but not buried, another three points in peril on the seas, another witching hour approached. Don’t do it to me Rangers, not in the week when I quit amphetamines. Dewsbury-Hall, barely a foot put right all night, received, spun, and shot in one motion. Unlike Dykes’ first half volley, it passed through half the population of Luton and Dunstable in the penalty area without a block or deflection. Ah shoite, not our night after all. Dieng, at super short notice, and with no sight of the shot, dived right and saved with a strong hand. Stand up Seny, everybody look at Seny.
To the other end. Substitute Albert Adomah away, as he had been at Norwich. Substitute Albert Adomah getting the pass right, as he had done at Norwich. Macauley Bonne’s turn to finish, calmly and accurately, into the far bottom corner. If the tribute to his sister, which Woolmer of course booked him for because that’s the world that poison little gnome inhabits, is a recent thing then perhaps it’s time to cut the former Charlton man some slack for his form, and remember that while we’re savagely tearing into these young lads on social media over something as inconsequential as football, they could have all manner of things going on in the background.
Somewhere in a parallel universe we were all there with him. Through that geezer’s front room and up the back steps, into the Oak Road Stand en masse. The noise as the team emerges with Charlie in our colours once more. A heady cocktail of beer, apprehension, and demon hope. The incredulity, peering down the pitch to the far end, that it could possibly be him who has scored the first. The joy in singing his name once more. The second half, standing to a man, willing the team on, groaning at the substitutions, passing the interminable time by ripping it out of whoever thought a pink dress shirt was appropriate for a night in the adjacent executive boxes. Singing and shouting and screaming eventually dying down into silent nerves, arse clenching tension, and nothing else. The clock ticking through 78, 79, 80 and then back to 79 again. The chances missed, the late Dieng save through a crowd, the gasp, the game barely viewed through our fingers. Luton are shit, they’ve been shit all night, a neutral will tell you they’re not going to score if we stay here until dawn, but to us the experience is torture, savage amusement, with every advance over the halfway line potentially the moment it’s snatched away from us again. Three Luton subs at once, each one more attacking than the last. Danny Hytlon, a striker without a goal in 14 appearances all season – “here we fucking go”, mournfully sighed out of a weathered face two rows back. The lone desperate call of “sortitaght Rangers fucksake” from the singers at the back piercing the agonising, nervous silence. And then Adomah, the hometown hero, advancing towards us, mere yards away, so close you could touch him. The unmistakable and unique collective “guwarn” from the travelling faithful. And all our heads turning in unison to follow his pass across the pitch until Macauley Bonne hones into view, part of our field of vision barely long enough to register who it is before the ball comes fizzing back towards us off his right boot, past Sluga who isn’t even as good a goalkeeper as I am, and into the bottom corner of the net bare inches from where we promptly and immediately lose our collective shit. The noise, the delirium, the limbs, the strangers you hug, the guttural noises you make, the extent to which you and everybody around you take complete leave of yourselves. The unadulterated, unmatched, unrivalled, indescribable joy of nineteenth beating fourteenth in the Championship that non-believers cannot comprehend and addicts currently crave like never before. It is worth it. The miles, the expense, the disappointment, the fucking horrible pub in Stoke. It’s worth it for moments like this. The noise, the songs, the hairy escort back to the station, the Thameslink, the train beers, the huge “You R’s” rattling around under the roof of St Pancras station, the last orders in Mabel’s Tavern… the hangover the next day… the state of your shins… Our reason for existing, hopefully one day to return.
For now we take our joy, locked in our homes, from a returning hero. Turns out the best replacement for Charlie Austin, might well be Charlie Austin himself.
Luton: Sluga 5; Bree 5, Lockyer 6, Bradley 5, Potts 5 (Nombe 77, 6); Mpanzu 6 (Berry 83, -), Dewsbury-Hall 5, Rea 5; Cornick 6, Collins 5 (Hylton 83, -), LuaLua 5 (Moncur 83, -)
Subs not used: Shea, Tunnicliffe, Clark, Kioso, Galloway
QPR: Dieng 7; Dickie 8, Cameron 6, Barbet 7; Kane 7, Carroll 6, Ball 7, Chair 6 (Adomah 75, 7), Osayi-Samuel 6; Dykes 8 (Kelman 90+4, -), Austin 8 (Bonne 59, 7)
Subs not used: Lumley, Thomas, Willock, Masterson, Hämäläinen, Bettache
Goals: Austin 38 (assisted Chair/Cameron), Bonne 90 (assisted Adomah)
Bookings: Bonne 90 (referee being one of life’s genuine bell ends)
QPR Star Man – Charlie Austin 8 You know, call me contrary, I actually thought it was probably Dykes, a tremendous shift across 90 minutes, massively improved by having a proper partner and without the pressure of being the main goal getter. But he didn’t take a presentable chance when it came along, and for not only the lift given to Dykes but the whole team, not only for the goal that got us on our way, but just the whole narrative around the game as well, it’s got to be Charlie hasn’t it?
Referee – Chuckles Woolmer (Northants) 7 Nobody died, this makes it his best QPR performance by a mile. Points off for that weird brain explosion around the 80 minute mark, and for showing so little common sense and compassion in booking Bonne at the end.
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