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A matter of routine - Report
Monday, 3rd May 2021 12:37 by Clive Whittingham

QPR made it eight away wins for the season, and sealed a top half finish, with a comfortable 2-0 win at Stoke City on Saturday.

John Eustace has been in charge of Queens Park Rangers before. One win in 15 league games over four months, consecutive home defeats by bottom two Rotherham and Bolton, had put paid to Steve McClaren’s brief time in charge, leaving his assistant to pick up the pieces as caretaker for the remainder of 2018/19 starting with a trip to runaway league leaders Norwich. Rangers were three nil down by half time, lost by four, and Eustace spoke after the game, and again in the summer when briefing Warbs Warburton on the mess he was inheriting, about a “losing mentality” within the group. If you think we’ve come a long way since January, check the ground covered since May 2019.

On Saturday, with Warbs taking his troublesome knee back under the knife for a second time, Eustace, and Neil Banfield’s deckchair rental empire, were left to mind the shop once more. Their task: an away game at Stoke. Stereotypes about cold, wet, windy, inhospitable Tuesday nights rather diminished by the lack of a crowd, the glare from the Saturday afternoon sunshine, and a pitch that looked like a snooker table, but not an easy game by any means. The result: a comfortable victory. An eighth away win of the season, the same as promoted Watford, the same as our promoted team of 2013/14 and as many as we’ve managed since then, only two shy of the ten Neil Warnock’s all-conquering 2010/11 team posted.

The QPR support base carries a flag with it on the road that says “we never win away”. And we don’t. Five that year under McClaren, including one added by Eustace at Sheff Wed on the final day; just three under Ian Holloway the year before; six in 16/17; four in 15/16; two, two and three across three long, arduous Premier League campaigns in which the manager himself admitted we treating them as “bonus games”. The best part of seven years and half a dozen managers to win 20-odd away matches — Norwich have 15 in the last seven months. It’s basically become little more than a drinking club, with the same 900-or-so die-hards rattling around the country on the train, getting tanked up in a different place each week, watching a team so abysmal on the road we’ve got a whole repertoire of black humour, songs and flags for it, and then home to the loved ones ready to do it all over again in a fortnight. That 4-0 loss at Norwich suffered in Eustace’s first game in caretaker charge has become the norm to such an extent it isn’t even our only 4-0 loss at Norwich in recent years.

Now though, new normal. An end of season dead rubber, following a very satisfactory second half of 2020/21 for QPR indeed, was never going to carry with it the coiled, nausea-inducing, panic stricken tension the savage amusement of watching Rangers ordinarily inflicts on the team’s adoring/exasperated public, but the sheer routine nature of the victory, the relaxed atmosphere in the garden at the Crown and Sceptre, the sort of carefree, blasé reaction to it all really shows how far we’ve come. Before Christmas, even the few home wins we managed to scrape together against the likes of Rotherham and Cardiff felt like trying to shit out a snooker table, now we win 2-0 at Stoke in third gear. A fifteenth win of 2021, from 24 games played, at home to Luton next week will equal the club record for the start of a calendar year — (15 from 24 in 1961, 23 in 1930, 22 in 1976 and 2003 — hat tip Jack Supple).

There was real intent about QPR from the beginning in this game. The management took Grandpa Simpson’s “you should have fired into the air, she would have run off” and turned it into a team selection. Both strikers, Charlie Austin and in form Lyndon Dykes, were in from the start, but alongside rather than instead of both Chrissy Willock and Ilias Chair. Stefan Johansen was as near as we came to a defensive presence in the midfield. It was a starting 11 with plenty of chest hair. Stoke’s have been hamstrung by a biblical list of absentees, more body count than injury list, all season long, an early play-off push disintegrating in exactly the opposite manner and direction QPR’s campaign has gone. Their joy at having mercurial Nick Powell back for the final two matches lasted precisely 13 minutes before he returned to a treatment room with more footballers than beds. Even the writers on ER would think this ‘a bit much’. You could get 2/1 on a QPR win before kick off, and that was like buying money.

Lyndon Dykes had already roughed up Adam Davies — one of four goalkeepers used by the Potters this season — under a looping, deflected Ilias Chair cross as the time ticked into double figures. The Scottish international, now seven goals and three assists in nine QPR appearances, then caught the giant Harry Souttar lumbering out from the back in possession, immediately returned it to the sizeable gap he’d left behind, and Charlie Austin took a touch to set himself before arrowing one into the far bottom corner from 20 yards. Much like the team as a whole, something very difficult made to look an easy matter of routine by somebody on top of his game.

The nearest Stoke had to an equivalent was Rabbi Matondo, on loan from Schalke who once paid Man City £9.6m for his services. He volleyed one chance over the advancing Dieng but wide of the far top corner, drew a deliberate foul and obvious yellow card from Yoann Barbet, then after half time skinned Lee Wallace alive before marauding into the penalty box and shooting high into the side netting. Other than that, and a low cross from Powell’s replacement Joel Thompson which wasn’t a million miles away from finding Steven Fletcher in the middle, there was little threat and Seny Dieng escaped the afternoon without a serious save to make.

QPR were the better team, without ever really exerting it, and the game started to have quite a sloppy, end-of-season feel to it. Johansen charged across to brilliantly end one Stoke counter on 35, and the second half began with brilliant rear-guard defence from Rob Dickie and, particularly, Jordy De Wijs as the home team tried to rally and chase the game. Thompson curled a very well placed free kick a foot wide of the top corner after a foul by Willock. When QPR did get the ball down and play the looked superbly slick, such as a flowing move ten before half time which Willock finished with a curling shot at the goalkeeper. Chair’s click and collect round a man on 53 was delightfully impish, leading to a corner off a good Osman Kakay effort and a chance for Austin, somehow completely unmarked, which Davies did brilliantly to save up and over the bar with a desperate, outstretched leg.

You couldn’t really sum up the pattern of play, and QPR’s role in that, any better than with the second goal. Seny Dieng had only just moments before survived a terrifying moment where he almost nutmegged himself with a piece of miscontrol, and it looked like another disaster might be on the cards when De Wijs and Dickie momentarily left a through ball to each other and Tymon threatened to go through on goal, but De Wijs got back with a wonderful tackle and from then on the fun started. A move involving sub Sam Field twice, Yoann Barbet, Lee Wallace twice, Ilias Chair, Chris Willock, and final Stefan Johansen ended up worked into the path of Osman Kakay to finish precisely across the goalkeeper and in for his first league goal of the campaign, and second for the club following a September effort at Plymouth in the League Cup. Sheff Utd preparing a £13m bid as we speak. A goal not entirely dissimilar from the glorious Ebere Eze strike we registered on this ground last year — perhaps investing in a pitch of this quality for us to play this sort of football on might be as high as new players on Warbs’ summer wishlist.

Ilias Chair hit decent Kakay service wide, and Stoke sub Sam Vokes missed a similar chance from even closer in when he had to score, as the game drifted away into a comfortable away win that rarely looked in much doubt. Dieng’s nervy parry, rescued by Yoann Barbet on the rebound, an unusual moment of worry at the back.

Stoke’s injuries are not the only sizeable, unwanted list looming before them. There are 20 players out of contract here this summer, including the mercurial Powell, and the club currently has a dozen, mostly very high earning players, out on loan in all four corners of the globe as it embarks on exactly the sort of post-Mark Hughes clean up we’re currently six years deep into. FFP concerns were escalating with each declining parachute payment, even prior to a prolonged Covid-19 lockout of fans, and the government using the weekend of a sport-wide boycott of social media to quietly slip into today’s Times that “no restrictions after June 21” actually means “no restrictions after June 21 unless you’re going to a football match” will have come as even less welcome news in these parts than it has elsewhere. Their summer squad rebuild looks every bit as dramatic, and traumatic, as the one we were facing in 2019.

If they complete it half as well as Warbs, Eustace, Ferdinand, Hoos, Belk and everybody else involved with this QPR turnaround, they’ll have done very well indeed.

Links >>> Ratings and Reports >>> Message Board Match Thread

Stoke: Davies 7; Smith 5 (Vokes 76, 5), Batth 6, Souttar 5, Norrington-Davis 6; Obi Mikel 5; Matondo 7, Clucas 6, Powell — (Thompson 13, 6), Tymon 5, Fletcher 5 (Brown 56, 6)

Subs not used: Cousins, Forrester, Noukeu, Coates, Norton, Jones

Bookings: Brown 86 (foul)

QPR: Dieng 6; Dickie 7, De Wijs 7, Barbet 7; Kakay 7, Johansen 8 (Bettache 83, -), Chair 7 (Thomas 75, 6), Willock 7 (Bonne 82, -), Wallace 7; Dykes 7, Austin 7 (Field 63, 6)

Subs not used: Kane, Carroll, Hämäläinen, Walsh, Adomah

Goals: Austin 17 (assisted Dykes), Kakay 70 (assisted Johansen)

Bookings: Barbet 28 (foul), Bonne 90 (foul)

QPR Star Man — Stefan Johansen 8 Class apart again, culminating in the defence splitting assist for Osman Kakay’s goal.

Referee — Craig Pawson (Sheffield) 7 End of season dead rubber so far within the capabilities of a Premier League referee he probably could have done this one in his sleep, although I did wonder whether Brown’s needless, frustrated late smash through Rob Dickie might have been worth more than a yellow. One of those in between ones.

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gazza1 added 13:19 - May 3
You are becoming a hard man since lockdown Norf.....surely Wallace deserved a 7 marking. Was he our worst outfield player?? Played a big part in the fantastic 2nd team goal, was 'up & down' like a hoars(spelling??) draws, played in a defensive that conceded no goals. Harsh if you don't mind me saying so!!

E15Hoop added 13:22 - May 3
A win in third gear as you rightly say, and for all the obvious positives, I found myself getting a bit frustrated that we didn't press home our advantage more clinically (as the risk of plagiarising the Warbler Bingo Cliche card).

Foe me, the one weakness still remaining in Lyndon Dykes' play is a consistent, high conviction high press on the opposing goalkeeper, and you could see Sir Charles of Hungerford remonstrating with him a couple of times on this issue. Of course, the fact that the first gal came from exactly that kind of press on a central defender only served to underline that point.

Again, to rinse the MW cliche handbook, this team looks so much better when on the front foot, that it always irritates me when we take our foot of the gas and seem to lose focus and concentration, meaning that our three centre backs in particular get put under unnecessary pressure. However, I strongly suspect that this is a message being hammered home behind the scenes at Harlington, so we can hopefully expect a lot less sloppiness next season to go with the genuinely exciting forward play we've been treated to this year.

Northernr added 13:51 - May 3
Gaz, you're probably right, and I've shifted him back up because it's the end of the season and I'm feeling benevolent. For what it's worth, I thought Matondo was their best player, and Wallace had a tough job on with him - got caught very badly for the one Matondo ran on and put into the side netting. Kakay on the other side played just as well as Wallace, and scored, but wasn't as good as Johansen for me, so if Johansen is 8, then kakay is 7 and Wallace is 6. But, like i say, it's one mark, it's the end of the season, so he can have his 7.

dmm added 13:52 - May 3
Clive's not the only one to comment that this was a lower gear win. I'd actually describe our performance as often quite sloppy with numerous passes going astray under little or no pressure. Still room for improvement there I think but winning when not playing particularly well is a sign of a good team. Of course, we were head and shoulders above a pretty dire opposition who we happily seem to like beating.

Northernr added 13:57 - May 3
I think it's a great sign mate. Remember pre-Christmas we had to play out of our skin to get anything at all, and often we'd play well for a big chunk of a game (Brentford, Bristol City) and lose the thing anyway. Anything slightly below our maximum and we just weren't at the races at all (Preston, Swansea). To go from that to sliding casually into a 2-0 win at Stoke as if it's nothing at all is great news.

gazza1 added 13:58 - May 3
We are in a 'good place' Norf, lets hope it all continues next season and we have happy faces in the SAR!!!

derbyhoop added 14:11 - May 3
Winning in 2nd gear. WTF! This isn't the QPR we are used to.
As well as the 4 loanees, one of the main changes seems to be our ability to press the opposition in danger areas. Sorry, E15, Dykes is excellent at it. The players cut down passing lines (see FA coaching manuals) and don't give opposition defenders decent options. Closing down keepers is, 9/10 a waste of effort, if you can stop their CB having easy passes to full backs.

Phil_i_P_Daddy added 14:28 - May 3
Could just be my fading memory, but it's SO nice seeing us pushing all the way to the finish line at the end of a season with no promotion/relegation incentive.

E15Hoop added 14:31 - May 3
Ok, Derby, if I take you at your word, then Dykes needs to commit to staying with his allotted centre back, and the rest of the team need to get consistently tight to whoever they're picking up. Too often for me, Dykes seems to get caught ambling vaguely towards the keeper, meaning that neither the line nor the player gets covered.

As I said, when we commit, it works, and we've been generally much better at doing this over the last few weeks with tangible positive results. However, we're still too sloppy and inconsistent in this and a few other areas.

BrianMcCarthy added 15:05 - May 3
Thanks Clive,

Very enjoyable report. Unusually, I have fairly different marks for our players than you. I thought we were sloppy in possession, created fairly little, were under constant attack but looked comfortable just because Stoke were so poor. I completely agree that we played in third gear and that it's great to win away while only in third gear but overall I wouldn't rank it as a good performance.

My marks, FWIW:

Dieng 6;
Dickie 6, De Wijs 7, Barbet 6;
Kakay 7, Johansen 8, Chair 6, Willock 6 (Bonne 82, -), Wallace 6;
Dykes 7, Austin 6.


joolsyp added 15:23 - May 3
Interesting comment about the pitch Clive. I think we’ve played our best football away from home this season on pitches that *look* larger than the KPFS, although as we all know that could be just an illusion. Discussion of a new stadium has revealed we’d like a similar setup to what we have now - pitch size on the smaller size of average with fans close to the pitch to recreate that special atmosphere that we’ve all missed so much. Should we be re-thinking this?

DesertBoot added 15:55 - May 3
2/1 was indeed buying money and bookies have priced us pre-Christmas form since January and this was won in a canter.
When Nick London spoke of Stoke's "bloated squad" - immediately Sparkless came to mind.

DavieQPR added 16:06 - May 3
Strange but Stoke have the smallest playing area in the League at 100 x 64m. Ours is 102 x 66m.

Paddyhoops added 16:07 - May 3
Kakay's goal was a superb team goal.
If Citeh or whatever premier leauge wantaway six had scored it. The pundits would be creaming themselves.
We should be proud of this team . I am.

LazyFan added 17:40 - May 3
Jordan Cousins is one of those out of contract, but everyone told me when they leave QPR they go on to be better players. Seems their memory is selective!

Burnleyhoop added 20:01 - May 3
The new normal....playing with intent.

Having watched so many half arsed, lame, can’t be bothered performances over the years, this new modus operandi is a revelation.

It is a cultural phenomenon and comes from strong, capable, respected leadership.

If this is the real deal, next season could be a special.

HastingsRanger added 22:43 - May 3
Thanks for the report, as always.

Good to see our manager missing a game for a real knee operation, compared to one missing the game for a 'knee operation'.

I find this run in very reminiscent of the teams in 1971/72 and 1981/82, where a proper understanding developed and the results at the end of the season showed real promise for the great follow on seasons.

A lot will happen this summer (both for us and others .. surely Derby will get rid of Rooooney and Forest will realise they need a squad of under 60, Stoke will be able to close the hospital) but it certainly looks promising for an enjoyable campaign next season. A credit to manager, players and physios to get us here. As you have said, with all the losses in the summer, it did not seem likely.

Makes a pleasant change!

HastingsRanger added 08:49 - May 4
Also appreciate the research on pitch size. It always amuses me the way commentators start with references to our compact ground and by the end can't help themselves into talking about the small pitch! I have never heard that said of Stock, even in the Delap era.

londonscottish added 13:30 - May 4
Phrase of the week 1 - "shitting a snooker table".

Phrase of the week 2 - "liquid football".

That second goal was magnificent.

extratimeR added 23:46 - May 4
Thanks Clive
Yes, weird watching an RSS away game and relaxing!

Very good football in spells, and some great passing moves down the pitch.

Yes, Matondo is very dangerous, (when he was at Man City he was timed as their fastest player over 100 metres).

Dykes, just gets better, Dickie will increase his presence next season, be interesting how Warbs will encourage him to carry the ball through midfield next season.
Great report as usual Clive.

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