Kane strikes back at critics as Rangers roll on - Report
Sunday, 21st Feb 2021 18:14 by Clive Whittingham
Six wins from seven now for QPR as Bournemouth become the latest victims of a new year rennaissance from Mark Warburton's men.
Queens Park Rangers are completely out of hand at the moment. They’ve won six of their last seven games and gone from not beating a team in the top half of the league all season to victories over three top six teams in three weeks. A relegation zone that seemed to be luring them in like a siren mere weeks ago, now a distant ten points away and eyes are firmly fixed up the Championship table to see how far this run of form may take Rangers and who they can reel in next – an eighteen point gap has been closed on Bristol City in 21 days.
Success has many fathers. The addition of Stefan Johansen to toughen a weak midfield and Charlie Austin to spice a bland attack are the most obvious differences from a ten-match winless run which threatened Mark Warburton’s employment leading into Christmas. Johansen was excellent again on Saturday, coolly finishing his first goal for the club after catching Bournemouth pisballing about in their own penalty – a special moment for Cherries’ centre back Chris Mepham, a first assist for the club he and his family support.
But a change in system from 4-2-3-1 to a back three with wing backs has arguably had even more positive effect than the new additions. Austin looked a little leggy here as fixtures start to pile up again, and both he and Johansen were withdrawn immediately after that opening goal on the hour. QPR went on to win the game without them, scoring a late winner when sub Albert Adomah crossed and Todd Kane scored at the far post with fellow wing back Niko Hämäläinen not far away from beating him to it at the near.
In truth, this was the least convincing of Rangers recent successes. Right up to the moment Kane bunted the winning goal over Asmir Begovic I think most people of a hooped persuasion watching would have been happy to settle for a point on the balance of play. As well as the formation change and new arrivals, sometimes winning begets winning. QPR have played far, far, far better than this at time this season and not won – Brentford away, Bristol City at home, Watford at home, the first meeting with Bournemouth at Dean Court. Confidence, form, momentum, fate… from not being able to stand up for falling down a month ago, now Rangers are capable of grinding out victories against good teams without even playing particularly well. What a time to be alive.
Let’s have it right, on paper Rangers had no right to even compete in this game. Bournemouth’s rise from the cusp of the Conference and financial oblivion to five years of Premier League football was meteoric, but the fairy-tale perpetuated by the media that this was some sort of park team dragged their kicking and screaming solely by the will and skill of Eddie Howe did rather ignore a significant, FFP-busting, Russian-led investment in players. They certainly weren’t shy to splash the television money while there either and while there has been an inevitable feeding frenzy post relegation that has seen mainstays of their top flight team like Callum Wilson, Josh King, Aaron Ramsdale, Nathan Ake, Ryan Fraser and others all depart, theirs is a significant body of talent for this level. David Brooks and Dominic Solanke were both missing here but Jefferson Lerma wasn’t - £25m of Colombian international midfielder to play against Dom Ball. Just shy of £50m was spent on Lloyd Kelly, Chris Mepham, Lewis Cook and Philip Billing, who all started. Asmir Begovic, a £10m goalkeeper with 63 Bosnian caps to his name, was in goal in a side that also included one-time answer to England’s prayers Jack Wheelchair, and Southampton loanee Shane Long up front. It was another one of those days where the majority of the players on the opposition bench would not only walk into QPR’s team, but also be one of its stars. Among their number, January recruit and perennial scourge of our midfield Ben Pearson The Goblin Boy, cut from the womb of the queen rat.
On top of that, caretaker manager Jonathan Woodgate sprung a surprise with his team selection, matching Rangers up with a back three of his own, and picking striker Junior Stanislas as a makeshift left wing back. You could forgive Warbs and the gang for not seeing that one coming and it took QPR a really good, thick 20 minutes to come anywhere close to getting to grips with it. In that time Bournemouth could and should have scored three times – Dieng getting a vital touch to a cross shot from Philip Billing after he raced through a busted offside trap with all the time to do as he pleased, then saving really well one on one when Shane Long did the same thing in the opposite channel. Rob Dickie’s near post header was vital to avert danger from a super Lewis Cook cross in between those two incidents.
There was a moment of panic at the other end when Austin took the ball off Begovic’s toe as he took a Tony Roberts-length of time to deal with a pass back, but other than that the only way Rangers were able to compete in the game was through tactical fouls – Barbet was booked for his, Wallace really should have been for cracking into Smith, Chair saw yellow for hauling down Wilshere. A very inventive free kick in first half injury time was an inch away from bringing about a spectacular opener for Cook. As against Brentford during the week, the best thing about the half time score was the half time score. As the teams trooped off for Wilshere’s fag break it was, somehow, still nil nil.
Barbet hit the Bournemouth bar from a Chair free kick won by Dykes to suggest the second half would be different from the first, but Rangers were soon scrambling at the other end to crowd out Billing on the edge of the area, Kane then twice denied Stanislas a chance to shoot, and finally Smith turned the ball wide at the back post when it seemed easier to score. Seeing enough, Warburton readied three substitutes all at once, but the ball refused to go dead. Billing almost beat Dieng at full stretch onto a long ball to do damage before the changes could come, only for Rangers to then take the lead themselves against the run of play.
You see here’s the thing about Bournemouth. For all the names, and the money, and the talent, there’s a question mark as big as the International Space Station orbiting their collective attitude to this season. In the play-off picture, and comfortably so, a return to the Premier League may yet still be achieved, but top six is the minimum this squad should be looking at this season and frankly they’re giving Harry Redknapp’s 2013/14 £80m QPR squad a run its money in giving a fuck. Only Huddersfield, Coventry, Sheff Wed and Wycombe have won fewer than their four away games so far and Jason Tindall has already paid the price for recent defeats to Derby, Reading, Luton and Sheff Wed through which you’d have been forgiven for thinking the Cherries players weren’t really arsed. David Brooks, a splendid young footballer on the odd occasions he’s fit to play, less interested in the standard of his work than anybody else employed in this country at the moment on his recent outings. The lackadaisical, carefree, careless way in which possession was tossed needlessly from side to side lethally close to Begovic’s goal rather summed up their attitude – no surprise it was Johansen executing the high press to take advantage of the opportunity, sliding in QPR’s first ever goal from a Norwegian.
Warbs pressed ahead with the changes anyway, and soon removed Chair and Dykes for Albert Adomah and Mac Bonne as well. Big surgery to carry out on a team midway through a second half, and it was actually one of Bournemouth’s new comers Sam Surridge who was involved tellingly to force an equaliser soon after – heading down for Long to bundle the ball over the line from no kind of range, suspicions of handball as he did so. Long’s first goal in 30 appearances dating back almost exactly a calendar year to Southampton’s 2-0 win against Villa on February 22, 2020. God we’re good to waifs and strays.
A draw seemed likely from that moment on. Referee Darren Bond had been woefully inconsistent with the cards in the first half, letting Wallace off with an obvious yellow then very harshly carding Mepham for far less, and he continued in the same vein in waving away a pretty obvious shove on Dom Ball down by the corner flag only to then give a free kick to Surridge on the edge of the QPR box for an almost identical incident. Stanislas hit the wall with that effort, and then arrogantly wasted another well positioned dead ball after Kane’s vital tactical foul on Surridge, attempting to beat Dieng from 35 yards on a difficult angle rather than just crossing the ball. Chairman of his own fan club that lad.
Punishment was swift. Adomah may not have the legs and engine he did, but you put him in the final third with the ball at his feet, as Mac Bonne did with a lovely touch around the corner on 83 minutes, and the service he provides is usually on point. His low cross here every bit as difficult to defend as his assist for Bonne’s goal at Luton, and Osayi-Samuel’s glaring miss at Norwich. Thankfully Kane watched it all the way and remained composed in his finish, a goal and celebration to bite back at his many critics.
Rob Dickie, in particular, was superb over the closing stages, making a Richard Dunne-style pact to meet every ball with a firm header. But far from clinging onto the win, Rangers actually pressed on and should have had a third. Dickie’s brilliance freed Willock, impressive from the bench once more, and when Begovic parried his dangerous cross Bonne had to score into the open net but snatched at the chance and hit the post. Soon he was through on goal in the right channel after more excellent approach work by Willock, forcing a good save from Begovic. Dominic Ball, another man on a mission in the closing stages, freed Bonne for a third time in four minutes added on, this time he beat Begovic but not a goal line clearance from a desperately retreating defender. QPR had lost Chair, Johansen and Austin, and improved regardless. Coming home with a wet sail and all three points once more.
How are they doing it? Frankly, who cares?
QPR: Dieng 7; Dickie 8, Cameron 7, Barbet 7; Kane 7, Ball 7, Johansen 7 (Field 59, 7), Chair 5 (Bonne 72, 5), Wallace 6 (Hämäläinen 59, 6); Austin 5 (Willock 59, 7), Dykes 5 (Adomah 72, 6)
Subs not used: Kakay, Lumley, Bettache, Kelman
Goals: Johansen 59 (assisted Mepham), Kane 83 (assisted Adomah)
Bookings: Barbet 27 (foul), Chair 37 (foul), Kane 81 (foul)
AFCB: Begovic 6; Mepham 5, Carter Vickers 6, Kelly 6; Smith 6, Cook 7 (Groeneveld 86, -), Lerma 6, Stanislas 5; Billing 7, Long 6, Wilshere 5 (Surridge 67, 6)
Subs not used: Riquelme, Rico, Pearson, Travers, Kilkenny, Anthony, Zemura
Goals: Long 68 (assisted Surridge)
Bookings: Mepham 45+1 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Rob Dickie 8 Immense through the closing stages, adopting that Richard Dunne determination to be on the end of anything and everything that crosses the halfway line. Cameron and Barbet good alongside him once we’d got to grips with the Bournemouth shape and survived early scares, Willock and Field excellent off the bench once more.
Referee – Darren Bond (Lancs) 6 Well certainly a vast improvement on the nonsense he chucked out at Cardiff last month, but still some maddening inconsistencies. How on earth Wallace wasn’t booked for clattering through Smith in the first half leaving him with a dead leg was a mystery only deepened by Mepham then being booked for far less. Likewise the pretty obvious foul on Dom Ball by the corner flag he ignored, only to then immediately award Surridge a dangerous free kick at the other end for a near identical offence.
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