Errors from unusual suspects cost QPR serious shot at champions-elect - Report
Sunday, 25th Apr 2021 19:21 by Clive Whittingham
QPR rather beat themselves at Loftus Road on Saturday, ruining a chance to stick one on the Championship league-leaders Norwich with a series of uncharacteristic errors from some of our most outstanding players this season.
With Norwich and Watford now promoted, and Bournemouth scorching into the play-offs on a hot streak, there’s a very strong possibility that all three teams relegated from the Premier League last season will make an immediate return.
Although Forest and Middlesbrough bounced back in 96/97 and Sunderland and Birmingham did likewise in 05/06 this would be the first time all three have gone straight back together. The greater depth and quality of squad they inevitably brought down with them, and the spending power afforded by parachute payments, has proved even more difficult for the rest of the division to compete with in a season crammed into seven months instead of nine, and completed without a single penny coming in through the turnstiles in ticket sales.
Whether it’s any more than that, and indicative of a widening gulf between the financially chaotic Championship and the well remunerated world above, will only be known this time next year when we gauge the performances of Sheff Utd, West Brom and Fulham. In the meantime there could have been few better placed teams than Queens Park Rangers to get the tape measure out and start charting the chasm.
Norwich have only lost seven times all season but two of those had been in the last week since their promotion was confirmed – job done, party hats on, or so it seemed. Rangers haven’t had anything tangible to play for in weeks, but have nevertheless strung together a super run of form through the second half of the season – 13 wins from 18 fixtures, a points total since the turn of the year bettered only by the top two, and a win at promotion chasing Swansea during the week furthering their reputation as an awkward customer for the division’s high flyers. Only Barnsley have doubled QPR from the current top six, and prior to Saturday Mark Warburton’s side were unbeaten in five (W2 D3) against the three relegated Premier League teams. With eyes on next season, a hit out against the best team in the division would be an interesting chart of progress made.
Unfortunately, Rangers rather spoiled the experiment by beating themselves with a clutch of glaring errors that took the game away from them.
The opening half hour had been an attractive, wide open affair with multiple chances at both ends – Osman Kakay shooting fractionally wide after robbing Todd Cantwell on the corner of the Norwich box, then Emi Buendia almost chipping an opener past Dieng off a poor defensive header from the fit again Jordy De Wijs, happened within the first minute. Teemu Pukki horribly scuffed a shot you’d have backed him to score when Rob Dickie took a turn at an individual error in a dangerous area, and when Osman Kakay tried and failed to intercept a switch of play Norwich were able to get Kieran Dowell into shooting range but he couldn’t find the target. Lee Wallace had a go from 25 yards – come on Lee, we’ve all had a drink – and George Thomas warmed Krul’s palms from similar range.
Then, horrible mistake number one. Despite requiring a facemask to protect his broken nose, and Joe Lumley impressing as his replacement against both Boro and Swansea last week, Seny Dieng had been recalled after his one match ban. Lumley liked the decision so much he didn’t even make the bench, Warbs Warburton willing to go so far as to say they’d “had words” and no further, and the manager’s reward for returning to the Senegal international was a horrific moment on the half hour when he allowed a dipping but largely routine shot from Quintilla squirm all the way through his grasp, out the other side, and a foot or so over the line before Dieng could get back to recover. A goalkeeping error the likes of which I can scarcely ever recall seeing before, and one of several odd moments from Seny in his last half dozen appearances which have just taken a little of the shine off an otherwise outstanding debut season for Rangers. Rob Dickie, you would think, now ahead in the player of the year stakes – although, hold that thought.
The rest of the half played out in much the same fashion – ball exclusively on the floor, we attack you attack, chances aplenty, defending for wussies. Johansen gave the ball away, Dowell shot, Dieng saved nervously. Pukki in on goal, a better save this time, but an offside flag raised. Dykes through at the other end, no flag, great chance, Krul thrust out a leg to repel the danger. One nil to the visitors, could have been 2-2, or anything the normal side of 4-4 really.
Sam Field replaced George Thomas, far less influential than he had been at the Liberty Stadium on Tuesday, at half time and the two sides set about the tit for tat attack and defence all over again. Ilias Chair curled over, Kieran Dowell went down screaming for a nonsense penalty in the same fashion that had blighted the first meeting between the sides this season and referee James Linington rightly laughed it off. Field’s thick yellow card for a cruncher on Oliver Skipp less of a laughing matter.
There was a spot kick coming though, Grant Hanley clumsily through the side of Chris Willock for an obvious foul and QPR’s first penalty since the game at Carrow Road 22 fixtures ago. Bright Osayi-Samuel took the ball that night, but Lyndon Dykes had been six for six from the spot for QPR and Livingston this season prior to that and went with his usual hard-as-you-can approach here. Unfortunately for him the strike wasn’t clean, too low and straight, and saved by specialist Tim Krul with his leg. To compound matters, within two minutes McLean had produced a delicious cross to the far post for marauding full back Max Arrons to thump into the far top corner for 2-0. Norwich did at least have to do their own work for that one, but you couldn’t shake the feeling Rangers had rather beaten themselves.
Game over? It certainly felt that way, but the introduction of experienced pair Charlie Austin and Albert Adomah from the bench gave Rangers a second wind. The lively Chris Willock had already had a close range effort from a corner correctly ruled out when he received a cute ball from Adomah after he’d skinned his man, and a low ball into the area was turned into Dykes’ path by Austin for a close range finish and two one. Rangers won 3-2 when last two goals down at home against Millwall, and should for all money have got it back level immediately when more splendid wing play from Adomah followed by him getting the final ball right in the dangerous area yet-a-bloody-gain presented a simple headed chance at the near post for Charlie Austin that he scored 99 times out of 100 but this time somehow glanced wide.
It had been that sort of day. Dieng, Dickie, De Wijs, Dykes and Austin, all big and impressive figures in QPR’s wonderful post-Christmas turn around, had all contrived to make really uncharacteristic errors in the same match. In yellow, Teemu Pukki, second top scorer in the league, followed up his first half miss with an even bigger horror show – screaming through on goal as Norwich sliced Rangers right through the spleen with a slick five pass move. The Fin, somehow, rolled it several yards wide when one on one with time to think about it.
The theme would continue with the third goal. QPR perhaps a little bit too keen to get going with the play out from the back at a goal kick, doing so before really set and with plenty of Norwich players forward in a press. Dickie received a ball he didn’t really want, too close to his goal and with few options for a pass, tried to find Johansen at the base of the midfield but instead ceded possession in the worst possible place – two passes later Buendia was tapping in match-sealing number three. That cheat sheet tactic of playing this QPR team – let the centre halves have it but press like mad the second it goes into Field and Johansen in midfield – had paid off for whoever Norwich’s opposition scout may be.
Difficult to be too hard on QPR. We’re at the end of a uniquely difficult and testing season for a small, tight squad. They’ve been largely excellent for a full four months straight now, exceeding expectations and entertaining us richly along the way. Norwich, even with the job done and perhaps only playing in third gear, are easily the best team in this division – we won’t face a better five than the combination of Skipp and McLean behind Cantwell, Buendia and Dowell at this level, and actually it was probably McLean, the least heralded of those, who stood out the most. Despite that, the game was decided in large part by QPR making big mistakes – Seny Dieng for the first, Rob Dickie for the third, the Dykes and Austin misses, all freak moments from exactly the players you’d have wanted for those situations. Had they behaved as they normally do, Rangers would have been right in there with the champions-elect and potentially getting a positive result. That’s both frustrating, and heartening.
QPR: Dieng 4; Dickie 4, De Wijs 5 (Ball 76, 6), Barbet 6; Kakay 6 (Adomah 66, 7), Johansen 6 (Bettache 89, -), Thomas 5 (Field 46, 6), Chair 6 (Austin 66, 5), Wallace 6; Willock 7, Dykes 6
Subs not used: Kane, Bonne, Hämäläinen, Walsh
Goals: Dykes 71 (assisted Austin)
Bookings: Field 68 (foul)
Norwich: Krul 8; Aarons 7, Omubamedele 6, Hanley 6, Quintilla 7 (Tettey 89, -); McLean 8, Skipp 7; Buendia 7 (Placheta 89, -), Dowell 7 (Sorensen 74, 6), Cantwell 7 (Hernandez 85, -); Pukki 5 (Hugill 85, -)
Subs not used: Vrancic, Nyland, Stiepermann, Mumba
Goals: Quintilla (assisted Buendia), Aarons 57 (assisted Mclean), Buendia 82 (assisted McLean)
QPR Star Man – Chris Willock 7 Not a performance from either player or team as a whole that matched the heights of Swansea on Tuesday, but I still thought he was Rangers’ best player bar possible Albert Adomah who nearly took the award despite only playing 24 minutes.
Referee – James Linington (Isle of Wight) 8 Very good, big decisions correct, let the game flow, only one card and that was pretty blatant, very few complaints.
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