|Blackpool 1 v 1 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 6th November 2021 Kick-off 17:30
Perception vs reality – Report
Sunday, 7th Nov 2021 19:29 by Clive Whittingham
QPR finished the latest rush of games between international breaks with a hard fought and slightly fortuitous 1-1 draw at Blackpool which leaves them sixth as we enter the fortnight off.
As Queens Park Rangers’ ticked past 17 games for their league season, and 800 miles travelled in four days, so they landed in Blackpool, a perfect place to measure the distance between perception and reality.
Perception – yaaaaaaaaaaay Blackpool. So good to have them back. We’ll go in a big group and stay over. With any luck it’ll be August Bank Holiday, or Easter Monday, and there’ll be sunshine, pubs, beer, rollercoasters, a bit of blue for the dads... It’ll be like when we used to come here when we were kids, only with more drinking, pissing about with traffic cones, and looking at tits.
Reality - hmmmmmmm Blackpool. Gone so long we’d forgotten all the small print. Go in a big group and end up staying in The Addams Family’s sitting room. If it’s not midweek (and it’s frequently midweek) then it’ll be in the depths of winter. Often it’s both. The pubs are more places to shelter from the conditions outside, rather than anywhere you’d want to spend time, and chances are you’ll end up spending some hard earned in a Walkabout.
Perception – eyes down, look in for a classic of the QPR In The North genre. A milky, autumnal sunshine that flicks off the declining tide illuminating a lone metal detector enthusiast scanning the shoreline while we drink Peroni and pass Friday afternoon in the waterfront beach bar has long since vanished by the time we emerge hungover and blinking into the light on Saturday. QPR in Blackpool usually means biblical weather, and God hasn’t disappointed this time. A spiteful, vengeful wind whips in off the Irish sea bringing salt, spray and bits of old boat with it to smash straight into your face. By kick off this has been replaced with an ominous cloud, black as pitch, which has helpfully picked up all the water there has ever been in the world and tipped it out on a square mile around Bloomfield Road in roughly a quarter of an hour. Some fans entering the away end, now mercifully covered, look like they’ve been in the actual sea. Rangers will no doubt turn up in hats, gloves and snoods, play like a bunch of tarts, get kicked from pillar to post, bitch and moan the whole way through, and lose.
Reality – QPR are rarely beaten here. When they come to shop they return home with bargain trinkets like Trevor Sinclair, Bright Osayi-Samuel and Kaspars Gorkss, and when they come to play there are frequently points in the offing for them. For a club that wins on the road as seldom as ours, three defeats from now 15 visits to a place is fairly remarkable. Sure, we once stood on that open side stand and looked a category four hurricane straight in the eye for 90 minutes only for Damion Stewart to fuck up and let Ben Burgess score 30 seconds from time, and there was Steve McClaren’s cup nadir which you can tell still rankles with me three years later by the amount of times I bring the bloody thing up, but mostly this is a place of Richard Langley hat tricks, Heidar Helguson headers, Chris Day wondersaves and Leroy Griffiths karate chop action. Rangers had won four and drawn one of six prior league visits.
They got another positive result on this latest trip to the seaside thanks to a brilliant goal midway through the first half from Chris Willock. He picked up the ball after a surging run from his own half by Ilias Chair and when the otherwise excellent Jordan Gabriel made the mistake of funnelling him inside onto his right foot that was all the invitation he needed to search out the inside of the far post and back of the net with goalkeeper Daniel Grimshaw completely stationary to open the scoring. That was enough for a draw, and four points from two long distance away trips in four days which made for a very satisfactory week. Had Albert Adomah showed more composure, better finishing, or awareness of the queue of team mates waiting for him to go across the goal, when Chair played him clean in on goal in a late counter attack, then this could have been a win. Lyndon Dykes, who looked like he could do with a proper pair of studs in for most of the afternoon, may also reflect that an injury time chance laid on a plate by a brilliant Rob Dickie cross may have been better attacked with his head than directed wide with a boot. There was a win in this with just a little harder push.
Perception – QPR are underperforming. Optimism levels in Shepherd’s Bush were heightened for this season by the way the previous one finished – 15 in 23, Norwich and Watford, yadda yadda – and securing the four loan signings who were so key to that run permanently. For various reasons, none of those four new arrivals have hit the same heights again: Jordy De Wijs, not unsurprisingly, is injured again; Sam Field awaits his first minutes this term but was back on the bench for the first time here; Charlie Austin joined him after an unhappy few weeks; Stefan Johansen missed out with a chest infection. Wins, when they do come, tend to be nervous and tight affairs, like the recent 1-0s against Blackburn and Cardiff, rather than the scorching, swashbuckling performances we saw earlier this year against Coventry, Sheff Wed, Bristol City, Stoke and Man Utd among others. When you’ve seen this team play like that, it’s hard to fathom the struggles with newly promoted Blackpool, who were much the better team for long periods here and in Gabriel, Keshi Anderson and our former youth team charge Josh Bowler, had the game’s three outstanding players.
Reality – QPR are sixth. Two months on from the “they won’t possibly keep this up” assertion of Twitter’s @analytics xG fetishists, there Rangers still are in the play-off places which was exactly the aim at the start of the season. This despite struggling with injuries – just as Field, and hopefully Lee Wallace, return, so Sam McCallum is now out long term and seemingly about to be joined by Moses Odubajo. He started this game well, then cracked into one of the stupidest tackles you’ll ever see on Bowler tight to the touchline and was then withdrawn at half time we thought because of the yellow card tightrope but actually it turns out because his hamstring is playing up now as well. That necessitated a chop and change, reverting to a flat back four with Adomah pushed up ahead of Kakay down the right, Barbet heading over to left back, and Chair through the middle supporting Dykes ahead of Luke Amos and Andre Dozzell in midfield. They battled that adversity, the conditions, a relentlessly impressive home team, a white hot atmosphere you rarely see or hear from home crowds at this level any more, and they came through with a result which could and perhaps should have been even better still but for two wayward finishes at the death. Blackpool look good, several teams (including Fulham) have already lost to them and there'll be plenty more where that came from over the coming months. We’re really not doing too badly – I’d be amazed if you wouldn’t have taken this position at this point in the season when we started, or four points from these two games this week.
Perception – Rangers cannot defend. On nine occasions already this season Mark Warburton’s side has required two goals just to get a point. They’ve conceded goals in the last minute of games five times in ten fixtures. They’re light in the centre of midfield and with the wing backs trying to compensate for that by joining the press it’s easy to get in at an exposed back three, behind which Seny Dieng is rather struggling for form. It can all feel a little bit seat-of-your-pants at times and that was certainly the case here where Blackpool had an early goal controversially disallowed (Perception: Madine is offside. Reality: the ball was over the line anyway so it should have counted, though if he wasn’t such a greedy fucker the error by young referee Josh Smith and linesman Akil Howson would have been irrelevant) and went dangerously close on numerous other occasions. Rob Dickie’s heroic block denied Dougall on ten minutes as another Bowler set piece dropped loose, eight minutes after that Gabriel turned back inside Odubajo in the area tight to the byline and was wrestled to the ground for a half decent penalty shout. It felt like the R’s were cashing in a few refereeing chips accumulated over the prior few weeks of controversies against us.
Reality – Rangers had kept four clean sheets in eight games prior to this one. Theirs is still the eighth leakiest defence in the Championship, but that’s progress from a few weeks ago when it was the worst bar Peterborough. Rob Dickie was commanding and assured again, Jimmy Dunne a tower of strength under a barrage of wind-assisted high balls bar one near mix up with Dieng over a dodgy back pass. For all Pool’s impressive play, for all QPR’s apparent failings, for all the harum-scarum (Dieng flapped around in the wind all afternoon but saved well at his near post as Expiteta threatened to bundle home from a corner, former Kings Lynn prospect Sonny Carey struck the outside of the post late on) the home team did only score here off the sort of basic individual error that has become too commonplace this season. Yoann Barbet, who was erratic at Cardiff during the week, trying to be too clever by half under a routine cross when the conditions called for a safety-first approach, allowed Gabriel in on Dieng and he rather needlessly thrust out an arm to fell the advancing attacker. Gabriel had already toed the ball well wide of the goal, hence a yellow card, but that meant he didn’t need to make the challenge at all. Barbet’s fault in the main though and, as I’ve apparently got as much chance of saving a penalty for QPR as Dieng has, Madine was able to make it 1-1.
There was so nearly an own goal at the back post from Kakay in the final minute amidst more penalty box carnage. Dom Ball added some much-needed legs and physicality to a midfield that had suffered through Luke Amos visibly tiring on his first league start for a year, but he then hamstrung his own efforts by getting booked immediately after coming on – as he sadly so often does. The draw was seen out, the top six place remains in our possession. After the break, hopefully with Odubajo not too badly hurt and both Field and Wallace fit to return, the injury issues will start to ease and with six games in six weeks through to Christmas (four at home) so will complaints and excuses about an unworkable fixture list. We’ll know more about what the reality of QPR this season truly is then, but for now it’s mission accomplished this week and for the first three months of the season.
Blackpool: Grimshaw 6; Gabriel 8, Expiteta 7, Husband 6, James 6; Bowler 8 (Mitchell 79, 6), Wintle 7, Dougall 7, Dale 6 (Carey 73, 6); Anderson 8, Madine 6
Subs Not Used: Connolly, Yates, Casey, Gretarsson, Moore
Goals: Madine 54 (penalty won Gabriel)
Bookings: Madine 36 (foul), Anderson 60 (foul)
QPR: Dieng 5; Adomah 5, Dickie 7, Dunne 7, Barbet 5, Odubajo 5 (Kakay 46, 6); Dozzell 6, Amos 5 (Ball 73, 6), Chair 7; Willock 7 (Austin 73, 5), Dykes 5
Subs not used: Archer, Field, Duke-Mckenna, Thomas
Goals: Willock 26 (assisted Chair)
Bookings: Odubajo 33 (foul), Adomah 50 (foul), Dieng 53 (foul), Ball 82 (foul), Dunne 90+5 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Chris Willock 7 Biggest attacking threat and beautiful goal at the end of a tough week.
Referee – Josh Smith 5 Very difficult game to referee, and the EFL’s youngest middle man copped plenty from an enthusiastic home crowd. The Dougall/Madine disallowed goal is wrong, it’s a big decision which has cost Blackpool the match, so the mark is never going to be particularly high. Of the other big decisions: I’d have wanted the Odubajo/Gabriel penalty appeal in the first half but I can maybe see why it was waved away; their penalty they did get, along with the yellow rather than the red, is fair enough; most of the bookings were just, though Odubajo can perhaps count himself slightly fortunate it was only a yellow; Dougall lucky not to have seen yellow for persistent and ongoing haranguing of the match officials. Tough task for the referee, but it certainly felt like QPR got the rub of plenty of green here.
Attendance – 11,769 (1,500 QPR approx.) There’s an awayday to come where we’ll talk about all this in more depth, but I haven’t seen and heard an atmosphere from a home crowd like this for quite some time at this level. Fantastic from all three sides, made the task facing QPR even tougher. Plenty of teams will lose here this season against this excellent young team with this sort of backing.
Pictures – Action Images
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