|Nottingham Forest 3 v 1 Queens Park Rangers|
Monday, 5th April 2021 Kick-off 15:00
Very QPR indeed - Report
Tuesday, 6th Apr 2021 16:01 by Clive Whittingham
QPR, so good against Coventry on Friday, so poor against Nottingham Forest on Monday, as was, is, and seemingly ever more shall be.
A club than once followed a nation-thrilling televised 4-1 victory against Alex Ferguson’s storied Manchester United at Old Trafford with a limp FA Cup exit at Southampton should rather lose its ability to shock with so-called ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ performances.
Particularly this season when, as presciently discussed in our match preview for this one, the gap between Queens Park Rangers’ best and worst is a yawning chasm. Looking at the performances at Watford, at Bristol City, at home to Brentford and Bournemouth, you’d struggle to believe it was the same team and same group of players that churned out such tepid sludge against Huddersfield twice, Wycombe away or Derby at home. Sometimes, as with Cardiff, Rotherham and Millwall at home, this QPR side can switch personalities halfway through games.
Two games over the Easter weekend, as it turned out, was the perfect microcosm; Coventry swept aside at Loftus Road on Friday in a sandstorm of high-tempo pass completion and gilt-edged chances to score, three nil and it should have been many more besides; followed quickly by Nottingham Forest away where Rangers were everything they hadn’t been the game before, back to slow, ponderous and unthreatening football played almost entirely in front of an untroubled opponent. Beaten 3-1 and, like Coventry just days before, lucky to get that.
Again, it should have come as no surprise. The home match was the seventh time Rangers have played a game this year after a break of eight days or more and they’re unbeaten in those, with four wins and three draws. The away fixture was the thirteenth time in this ludicrous Championship calendar we’ve had to follow a midweek match with another within three or four days and from those we’ve taken only three wins, three draws and now seven defeats.
Arguably these were QPR’s best and worst performances of the entire season, produced within four days of each other. The swashbuckling manner of the Good Friday rampage versus Mark Robins’ team, and all the hope and optimism that came with it, set against a pretty abject showing against a dysfunctional club and shambolically assembled squad, whose own season has been little better than dire, who had scored three goals in a game only twice all campaign (one of those against Wycombe), and whose top league scorer prior to Monday was ‘own goals’ with four, had the needle rising on the exasperation meter.
There were questions flying around about the team selection. Robbed of Jordy De Wijs and now Geoff Cameron through injury, a new body was required for the middle of the back three and although Sam Field has played there for West Brom and shown great adeptness at defending his own box in recent weeks, moving him back disrupted a midfield combination with Stefan Johansen that had been one of the best bits of Friday’s cakewalk. The club isn’t really helping itself here pretending that Todd Kane has simply vanished from the face of the earth after his ill-advised and disrespectful comments in interview a fortnight ago – he hasn’t warranted a mention in any communications before or since the game but had he played here Osman Kakay could have gone into that back three as he has done very soundly several times over the last year. It also didn’t help that Kakay then played poorly at right wing back, while Dom Ball (who could also have gone into the three) turned in his worst performance for the club after taking Field’s position in midfield.
Likewise, Albert Adomah rising from the bench for a 20-minute cameo against his former club, looking fresh and doing more than any of his tired team mates, beautifully setting up a well-taken consolation goal for fellow sub Lyndon Dykes in injury time, raised question marks over why exactly he’s not involved more. The switch to wing backs doesn’t really suit him, because I’m not sure he’s got the defensive game to play in those wide roles, but he could also go into the spots that Ilias Chair and Chris Willock take up in this formation (both have been rested for players other than Adomah recently). Amidst all this ongoing, never-ending chat about the Championship fixture list it does feel odd that one of our top earners, hardly dead in the ground at recently-turned 33, is getting so few minutes. Especially as when he does make it onto the field (Luton A, Watford A, Norwich A, now Forest A) he’s frequently coming up with a killer bit of play in the final third for a goal.
This is all Monday morning quarterback stuff, of course. What is football fandom if it’s not gathering round in whatever form the government deem legal this week to use our vast experience of playing Football Manager and watching QPR to decide what a guy who’s got far more right than wrong since he came through the door, a guy who sees these players in training every day of the week and knows better than anybody who’s in what condition or form or mood, really should have done with the benefit of hindsight? That chat always increases after a bad result and performance, particularly one where there were some debatable team selection moves, and especially when we fall quite so far and fast from the level we were at on Friday to this shambles in such a short period of time.
It’s also grating that we’re really quite so starkly different when rested as opposed to not. We’ve been beaten over the head with the sport science, the low budget and therefore small squad, the unusually harsh ridiculousness of a truncated Championship fixture list, and all of that, enough to know it intrinsically, inside out, and accept it. Next season this league will go back to starting on the first Saturday in August as opposed to the middle of September, so there will be fewer midweeks, bigger gaps between games, not so much pile-up when matches are postponed, hopefully fewer Covid-related cancellations, and so on. But if you’re waiting for the Championship to give you four games a month and a nice week out on the training ground in between matches, and whenever it doesn’t you just throw your arms in the air, toss out a performance like this, lose the game you’re backing up in and say ‘well what do you expect, human beings get tired?’, you’re never getting very far at this level. The fixture list was borderline unworkable before, it’s crossed that border to a ridiculous extreme in 2020/21, and in 2021/22 it’ll go back to just being unworkable again.
That all said, let’s have this right. Half an hour gone, QPR’s first real move of the game, score still at nil nil, Chris Willock put a chance on a plate on the edge of the area with a ball so lovely Stefan Johansen and Ilias Chair rather got in each other’s way trying to gobble the thing up. Johansen’s low shot still beat Brice Samba all ends up, but missed the bottom corner by a foot. Go 1-0 up there, different game against the league’s third worst attack. Scrape a win, or a point on the road, like we did against Wycombe at home, and Preston away, and nobody is talking about the lacklustre performance a fortnight on, just the way the results are stacking up nicely since the turn of the year.
Likewise the goal that did break the deadlock at the other end, scored right on the stroke of half time by the impressive 18-year-old Alex Mighten, could easily have been prevented had Yoann Barbet done what any Championship centre back worth his salt should do in that situation, at that time in the game, and found the back of the stand with the ball, instead of pisballing around with it until Sammy Ameobi took it off him and rolled it square for an unmissable opener. That happened just as QPR had started to play a little bit of football in the game. So many of QPR’s games this year, both wins and losses, could easily have gone the other way on a different day, and those two moments mean you could have a crack at making that argument about this one as well.
Forest, though, were good value for the win. Chris Hughton may not be the world’s most inspiring manager, his football more artery harderner than pulse racer, but he’s four wins, four draws and no defeats against QPR across his career and his ability to set a team up defensively shone through here. As with similar meek losses to Derby and Huddersfield, QPR were allowed to have the ball in certain areas, passing the ball amiably between the three centre halves without a Forest man in the picture, but when it came into the midfield area the press was high, strong, purposeful and in big numbers – way too much for Dom Ball to cope with. Both wing backs, so crucial to how we’ve turned this season around, so good against a hopelessly set up Coventry side, were pushed back down the field by Ameobi and Mighten and swamped with numbers when they did try to cross the halfway line in their own attacks. There is a cheat sheet to playing this QPR team, Forest had clearly had a good sight of it pre-match.
Another recurring theme of the games we have fallen over in this season reared its head in the second half when we responded to being outnumbered in midfield by taking off a midfielder, a move that was very swiftly followed by Lewis Grabban popping one in the top bins from the edge of the area on the end of a swift counter attack, and James Garner making rather the fool of Seny Dieng with a wide free kick after the unusually out of sorts Rob Dickie had been schooled by Mighten and given a free kick away.
Garner, along with Krovinovic, were the best players on the pitch, with Mighten and Forest full back Tyler Blackett not far behind. Blackett got in behind Kakay as early as the fifth minute and put in a cross that Grabban should have done more with. A combination of Dieng and Wallace cleared from the goal line when Ryan Yates headed an early corner powerfully towards the net. Dieng made a sprawling save on 28 as Krovinovic searched out the far corner from the edge of the box. There was a chance for a fairly anonymous Charlie Austin two minutes before half time, attacking the near post to divert a Barbet cross just over the bar. That was in QPR’s best spell and had they gone in level you might have had hope for better after half time, but Barbet’s brainfart fucked all that. Even when he’s playing well, and he has been doing, and was doing here, he’s still got that sort of needlessly over complicated fuckwittery in his game. And that’s why he plays for us, and not somebody better.
The second goal had been coming long before it was scored. Dieng rather fumbled an early save from Ameobi and got away with it, Blackett brilliantly took Kakay and Dickie out of the game with a powerful left wing slalom and cross to the near post where Mighten toed wide, Ball fouled Krovinovic and Garner’s masterful free kick looked top corner bound until Dieng produced the save of the game. The removal of Ball, who’d been dreadful, made sense, and the arrival of Lyndon Dykes did in theory at least mean QPR could start going over the press a bit more rather than continuously running into it. But taking that body out of midfield without replacement burst an already creaky dam and within six minutes Forest had added two more goals.
The final quarter of the game turned into an absolute procession of substitutions. There’s been little chat about the introduction of five subs to our game recently as we’ve just all got used to it and accepted it as a thing. It, and the ability it gives managers who are leading to just kill off huge great chunks of matches, should absolutely not be tolerated as a thing when the calendar returns to normal. One of QPR’s new introductions was Albert Adomah, who did more in 23 minutes than the rest of the team in the rest of the match combined, crossing first for Lyndon Dykes to score but for a blatantly obvious pull back by Scott McKenna – just the two hands round the shoulders there, not enough for our old chum Keith Stroud to spot – and then again for a real goal for the Scottish international with the final kick of the game. Two goals in open play in two away games for him after a long 23-game drought one of few positives.
Stefan Johansen’s silly crack through James Garner for a yellow card smacked of tiredness and frustration – the Norwegian had been a shadow of his brilliant self, admittedly while asked to do the work of two men. Quite what Cyrus Christie’s excuse was for a similarly horrible smash through Ilias Chair in the last minute of a game his dominant team had long since won I’m not sure. Prick.
This, ultimately, is QPR this season. Sometimes very good, often after a rest. Sometimes very poor, often when asked to back up. The whys, wherefores and solutions to that and for the summer months, which are now mercifully just seven games away.
Forest: Samba 6; Christie 6, Worrall 7, McKenna 6, Blackett 7; Yates 6 (Colback 81, -), Garner 8; Ameobi 6 (Freeman 77, 6), Krovinovic 8, Mighten 7; Grabban 6 (Murray 78, 6)
Subs not used: Ribeiro, Soh, Smith, Dias, Knockaert, Taylor
Goals: Mighten 44 (assisted Ameobi), Grabban 63 (assisted Krovinovic), Garener 69 (free kick won Mighten)
Bookings: Yates 32 (foul), Krovinovic 66 (foul), Christie 89 (foul)
QPR: Dieng 5; Dickie 5, Field 5 (Bettache 80, -), Barbet 4; Kakay 5, Johansen 5, Ball 4 (Dykes 60, 5), Chair 5, Wallace 5; Willock 5 (Adomah 69, 6), Austin 5 (Kelman 80, -)
Subs not used: Lumley, Bonne, Thomas, Hämäläinen
Goals: Dykes 90+4 (assisted Adomah)
Bookings: Johansen 73 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Albert Adomah 6 ‘Nuff said.
Referee – Keith Stroud (Hampshire) 6 Much like Jeremy Simpson on Friday in that he had precious, mercifully, little to do in a completely uncompetitive game, and yet still contrived to get big, fairly basic, decision wrong near the end with Dykes clearly pulled back in the penalty area, with two hands, round his shoulders, as he attacked a cross from the right for a very obvious penalty not given.
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