|Queens Park Rangers 3 v 2 Middlesbrough|
Saturday, 6th August 2022 Kick-off 15:00
And then I looked up at the sun and I could see - Report
Monday, 8th Aug 2022 00:35 by Clive Whittingham
Everything you wanted, everything you worried about, everything you loved, everything you hated, and in the end QPR 3 Middlesbrough 2.
After four wins in seven months, after 13 defeats in 20 matches, after sitting through 16 games in 29 weeks in which Queens Park Rangers scored one goal or fewer (usually fewer), the faithful needed something. We're a patient bunch, but, yeh. Dad, do something… Something better.
When your alarm goes off each morning and it’s either another 14-hour day at work to try and amass enough money to pay to heat your home this winter, or another punitively expensive round trip to Blackburn bastard Rovers to watch QPR attempt to muster a single shot on the goal through the medium of passing the ball around between their centre backs, patience starts to wear thin. Like Victoria Beckham starts to wear thin. Faith starts to seep away. You go from not fancying Rangers to win, to not even believing they’re capable of a point, to wondering if they’ll even have a shot, to hoping against hope they manage to get through 90 minutes without one of them letting go of an accidental shit on the pitch while bending down to tie their boots. White shorts as well, recipe for catastrophe. You go from ‘come on QPR these are here for the taking’ to ‘please God Rangers try not to embarrass us/yourselves’ through a multitude of stops en route, all of which can be accessed from the 08.30 from Euston. A summer might have been nice, but we weren’t allowed one, because we’re having a World Cup in Qatar, in November, because that’s a thing that’s acceptable now.
We needed something. Anything. Any. Thing. Come on now, stop pissing about.
Be fair (for once in your life Marge be fair) QPR are rather prone to delivering in such circumstance. When even the die-hards are fading, Rangers tut, roll their eyes, sigh ‘go on then’, and provide a little grist for the grindiest of mills. Samuel Di Carmine driving home from 25 yards through a literal and metaphorical Birmingham blizzard, a late (and late) offside flag flashing through the snow at the death to rule out a late Brum equaliser; Luke Freeman’s emperor penguin routine v Leeds, crowned with an impudent back-heeled goal; Adel Taarabt’s sublime false nine masterclass and velvety assist for Shaun Wright-Phillips to silence Stamford Bridge; Ebere Eze blinking into the bright Villa Park lights and introducing himself to the world with a display of astonishing poise and prowess for a teenage boy, slaying Big Racist John’s Villains to such an extent that only the 400 away fans were left in the ground for the final ten minutes of the game - just us, and him, cosy; Marc Nygaard turning Marco Van Basten on St Patrick’s Day at Leicester, Dexter Blackstock going all Tony Yeboah on Preston Knob End. Moments in time and pieces in the puzzle of our lives. 'We were there' moments, because we’re always there, and just when we threaten not to be, just when we say we’re out, they pull us back in again. All of them, all of them, delivered at times of extreme crisis, during periods of outright despair, at points when the club was at its most ineptly shambolic, and the team at its most mismanaged.
After last week’s seventy-fifth trip of the calendar year to the fucking north on that fucking train at that fucking price for that fucking result and performance, where it’s still fucking raining in the worst drought since 197-fucking-6, it was time for daddy’s sugar. And right on cue QPR delivered. They didn’t deliver something. They didn’t deliver anything. They delivered everything. Eyes down look in on the bingo card of a game for the ages. One of the best goals you’ll ever see. One of the worst. A save Seny Dieng will tell his grandchildren about. A goal Zack Steffen’s grandchildren probably would have done a better job with. A red card, and refereeing controversy - Chris Wilder one hackneyed story about a conversation with Sharon away from the full Warnock.
QPR have beaten Middlesbrough 5-0 by accident before, even Paul Bruce scored, and at one stage that absolutely looked on again. So complete was the destruction and domination that anything seemed likely and possible – I wondered whether Sam Field might score. At another it didn’t even look like Rangers had it in them to cling onto the crumbling edge long enough to take a single point from the game. I’d call it cliffhanger ending, but it wasn’t the ending, it went on for the thick end of an hour. Amongst our early learnings... Mick Beale's team is really good to start with and then gets worse by a magnitude of Oh My God after about 35 minutes. An emergency on the runway at Heathrow, Turkish Airlines’ biggest plane swooping low over the stadium on take-off power on a go-around, Big Jet TV racing to the scene. Sometimes you lose 1-0 to Blackburn in an artery hardener, and sometimes you involve yourself in a pulsater like this that pumps the blood so quick you fear your heart won’t be able to keep up with it. At QPR that can often happen within the same week. Actually, at QPR, that can happen in the same game. And it did on Saturday. Whatever I/we say, there's nowhere else I'd/we'd rather be.
Let’s do some minute by minute or we’ll be here all night (I’m happy to do that if you are?). Not since Steve McMahon’s Blackpool has there been a worse choice of opening day outfit than Mick Beale’s thick black tracksuit as the sun stripped paint and cooked eggs on the roof of the executive boxes, but he’d have loved his team’s start to the game. It's only a narrow gantry at Wigan, as Donovan comes forward. Lyndon looked interested. Sound the alarm. Charging about rattling people again. Australia advanced fair into the air, over the top of an unsuspecting nobody on five minutes. Right, good, I’m invested. And so was he. Forty-eight of these, we wouldn’t have a problem. Less so Jimmy Dunne’s seventh minute challenge – he’s put the reducer on him early doors, said Ron – an obvious yellow let off by referee Josh Smith under the It’s A Bit Early Yet Treaty of 1986. Ryan Giles, problem child, in round the back of Osman Kakay, long day at the drive through window.
Everybody shut up. My boy is on TV. Chris Willock - hamstring re-attached to the bone with enough elastic bands and chewing gum for a first start since March, a noticeable increase and improvement in bulk and manliness – was deep, wide and available when Ilias Chair and Sam Field expertly fucked off some limp notion of Middlesbrough attack. And then it was spin and go time, runners in motion, passing options out the wazoo, front foot football. Willock monstered the space in fluid stride, Isaiah Jones sensed trouble at mill but was shrugged aside (note that new upper body strength for later), walking spellcheck Anfernee Dijksteel was next to try but was so pathetically inferior Boro took him off at half time to think about what he’d done (you bring great shame on family), and still Willock went on. It was Taarabt, it was Eze, it was Wegerle and it was Les. It was also time for a shot. Widening the angle sublimely to open up passage straight to the top bins Willock put so much behind it his whole body lifted from the ground, thighs cocked, bum at right angle to the turf. It went like a bloody missile. Analytics hat on – all the shots should be like this. Some poor bastard on air traffic control shit a brick the size of the Palace of Westminster. If you’d told the goalkeeper about it, a week ago, and invited him to bring him, and him, and his fucking dinner, he wouldn’t have got within the same post code as it. Without the net clinging for dear life to the back of the posts to stop it this was a shot that would have come with a death toll. If it’s not our goal of the season I cannot wait to see what is, and if you didn’t applaud it, Boro fan or not I don’t care, then please report to the Hague for your war crimes tribunal. Do not pass go. Do not collect £200. I could hear Nick London and Andy Sinton from my seat. Sinton goes tumbling... penalty. Queens Park Rangers. What a club to be part of.
Jesus Christ. Print it out for Joan.
Forty-eight hours ago a wise drunk sat at this table and wrote about what confident QPR look like. Lo and behold, here they were. August Rob Dickie was here, buying rounds. A fearsome creature. His tackle on 23 minutes to halt a Middlesbrough attack was big, and thick, and meaty. Get out of my pub. We need to find a way to extend his mating season into the winter. Sam Field followed suit with a block on the edge of the box as things went to shit a bit – Jimmy Dunne, in for the injured Jake Clarke-Salter (we’re going to be writing that a lot I fear), was first on the scene with the congrats. See. It is there. It is within them. A high press (where was that last week?), a win back off a Boro throw (where was that last week?), a power drive from Dykes off the edge of the box tipped round the top corner in a surprised panic by Steffen (where was that last week?). This is the frustration when they’re so shit, we know they can be so good.
Oh, it was on, alright, and when Ilias ‘Illy’ Chair rapped his size fours around a right footed inswinger from the resulting corner Steffen went flapping about underneath it like a right twat and the ball bounced into the unguarded net off Dunne’s bonce. The Manchester City loanee, and his manager, said this was a free kick, but the former will have to check that horsehit in at the desk if he’s going to keep goal at this level, and the latter is merely covering his arse having seemingly replaced one chuckler with another in Boro’s ongoing goalkeeping clown school. I would love it (love it) if that goal had been scored at the other end and Chris Wilder been asked about it. You, and I, and anybody with half a brain in their head knows exactly what he would think and say – all that ‘I’m from Sheffield mate’ schtick about crashing in through the front door and when men made steel for a living and Emmerdale was still called Emmerdale Farm. Bore off chap, it’s a fucking goal and you know it. Stop clutching your pearls. Somebody subbing Marcus Forss for crusty Stoke reject Tommy Smith 68 minutes into this chase needs to look closer to home. Is it getting better, or do you feel the same? Will it make it easier on you now, if you’ve got someone to blame?
Two nil. Balls out of the bath. Chair tried to chip the goalkeeper from the halfway line. Not making this up. Nearly did at as well. This is a team that didn’t have a shot on target a week ago, now trying to chip Premier League loanees from the halfway line. Worth a go over the top of Flappy Mcgrew but still, that’s not the point I’m making.
Boro were busted and desperate for emergency surgery, but half time was still a quarter of an hour away. Rangers were rampant, and wishing this day would never end. Stefan Johansen’s delivery from a wide left free kick threaded the needle to such perfection there was a queue of scorers longer than Morrison’s meat counter. Three came up on the display, and Lyndon Dykes held the matching ticket. Quentin Tarantino would have thought this level of bludgeoning a bit gratuitous. Total carnage. It was, as we call it in F Block, a stairs goal, and we missed the absent friends who’ve toppled down that concrete with us down the years. Chloe Kelly, immaculate, word perfect. Stanley Bowles Stand, family on the field. Lyndon Dykes. Dogs and cats living together. Mass Hysteria. And happiness. This is our happy place. This was QPR at their, its, our, very, very best. What a time to be alive. We asked them for something. They gave us everything. A day of days. Eight nil. Eight nil this I’m telling you. Watch this.
Then Middlesbrough scored from a corner.
Here we fucking go. You asked me to enter, and then you make me crawl.
Matt Crooks unmarked, and whenever those three words appear in a sentence in this league it’s likely that a roof of a net is about to be collecting a header. This happened for a couple of reasons. One: amidst a starburst of Boro attackers approaching an inswinging corner Stefan Johansen – I think, sue me, played very well apart from this – lost his man in the chaos. Two: broader theme, we’re not allowed nice things. Half time was beautiful, and poignant, and I wanted it to go on a lot longer, and know where Chloe got that jacket, because you, and I, and everybody invested in this, knew exactly what was coming.
Wilder peeled the paint from the dressing room walls to such an extent we heard it rumbling through the upper tier of the stand. Dijksteel was mercy killed and McNair (a surprise absence for me, one of their best players) was summoned in his stead. Duncan Watmore, not even as good as our strikers, was hooked for Chuba Akpom (cruel parents). This five subs bullshit we’re putting up with in the hope Klopp might shut the fuck up for a bit means you can afford to lose your rag at half time like this now. Sweepstake opportunity – if it’s not Mourinho, who’s the first manager to do all five at half time? My money’s on ostrich hunter Nigel Pearson.
We all knew exactly what was coming. In an extended period of first half injury time Jimmy Dunne had been caught taking risks shepherding a ball out which should have been at the back of the stand and only Rob Dickie’s heroic block prevented it going to 3-2 right then and there. This is the mental fragility, paper-thin confidence levels, lack of self belief, dearth of leadership and meekness I talked about in the match preview. This team that once came from behind more prolifically than any other in the division now crumples under the slightest hint of adversity. And boy was there some adversity coming here. Dickie made a mistake straight away, ball got scrambled behind for the first of half a million second half corners. Rangers decided it would be fun to start ceding free kicks around their own box for shits and giggles – Dieng got his feet right to palm an initial deep delivery behind. Rattled, panicked, unable to escape, the R’s were indebted to their Senegalese stopper for a flying intervention off to his right as Akpom honed in on another cross. Akpom, Akpom again, and Howson, all had shots blocked or narrowly wide. I turned to my brother mid-trauma and he said he’d taken Boro to win at nines – 3-1 at this stage. Only at QPR. Why can’t we just have a nice time?
Only QPR could get through that crucial first ten minutes of that, in the face of a fierce piss hurricane, and then concede in the eleventh minute just as they’re meant to be losing heart and you’re supposed to be building back into things. The carving apart of what tattered remains were left of Rangers’ first half display was complete when Crooks put it on a plate for Marcus Forss and that was three two. That’s cricket, Harry. Holy Toledo.
Welcome, everybody, to the longest half hour of your life. If you want the science, Andie McDowell, then as best as I can explain it in the first half QPR’s narrow 4-3-3 piled right through the middle of the pitch, with a trim and forceful Luke Amos a crucial and impressive missing link between the first three and second three from last week, and Willock that added bit of class in attacking areas. Boro’s strengths lie in wide areas, and QPR took the ball away from there and went for their immobile innards with excellent young boys. In the second half, two subs hence, the Teesiders started doing exactly what I feared to begin with – working heavy overloads on Osman Kakay and Kenneth Paal as they tucked deep and narrow infield and got Jones and Giles in behind them with ease and glee. Aurora borealis. At this time of year, at this time of day, in this part of the country, localized entirely within your 18-yard box!? The ice hockey power plays were back, back and forth around our penalty box, just as they had been here in February. Clock, just, refusing, to, tick. But this was all in the mind now. This was momentum. QPR no longer believed. Boro had a hard on you could hang a duffle coat on. Could have all been different had Steffen’s latest pisballing about and cession of possession to Ilias Chair resulted in the goal it surely should have done. But, again, we’re not allowed nice things. It was a mood shift akin to a coming out at an Amish Christmas.
If anybody can explain how Howson missed inside the six-yard box off perfect support play from Giles just before the hour you’re a better writer than I. I’d have scored it myself, a dozen Crown Peronis deep. The crosses, and shots, and corners, and free kicks, and scares kept coming. Giles in behind Kakay – doing his best. Jones in behind Paal – welcome to England mate, take two of these four times a day. It was, in the end, a really valuable thing for our team to come through with points bagged, and hopefully they’ll take belief and resilience from it. But to sit through it live was a painful torture. How rusty do you like your tenterhooks?
My dad used to run in the heat, my grandad used to call it "savage amusement". This is supposed to be fun. I’ve been coming to QPR for a long time now, and I feel like I’ve sat through a thousand of these. We just, don’t, ever, do it easy. There’s a lovely fella on my left shoulder moves further and further into the aisle as the time ticks down, until there’s barely half of one buttock clinging onto his seat. “Come on now” he shouts, when things get really desperate. Dawn sits next to me, she’s stuck me out longer than anybody else in that seat, I think she hates me, and she makes the teeth emoji a lot when people do things like slam un-defendable crosses through our six-yard box and somehow nobody gets a touch to them. Tracey pretends she doesn’t care, but I’ve been to Burnley with that girl. Paul sits in front of me to the right with his boys, and has the habit of turning off to his left, folding his arms and legs up into a bunch to cover his exasperation when he can’t bear to look any more, which is fun because that means he’s looking straight at me and I like to fold myself up to my left when I can’t stand it any more too which means I turn away from him and straight into Dave who sits back one and left from me and watches the whole thing through a medium of paralysed terror. Allen sits in front of us and tells inappropriate stories about guest houses he’s frequented in Hartlepool. Simmo thinks the referee is a cunt, and is telling him this. Seann shouts “what is happening” a lot. Rob can’t fit his legs in the seats. Everybody, everybody, thinks QPR need to get up the pitch a bit, and we all rise and wave our hands as one to try and encourage this. My grandad also used to tell me "they can’t hear you, Clive". Ghosts on my shoulder. Be nice if one of them could have a word with somebody up there, but apparently that’s not a thing either. Even Mick Beale is imploring us out a bit at this point. But the world’s most confident man looks stiff and nervous. That tracksuit was a dreadful idea. Don’t think this shit isn’t weighing heavy.
And this is how our little bit of the world functions as QPR dangle the biggest, fattest thing you’ve ever wanted in front of your face and then threaten to withdraw it and replace it with an invitation to Boris Johnson’s birthday party. Mark Warburton’s reign started with one of these nonsenses against Luton, brilliant opener, 3-0 lead, set-back, panic, shitting of the bed, frantically trying to clear up before it’s time to check out. Hanging grimly onto a 3-2 is the most QPR of all the QPR things. This is where we eat. Lee Cook, airborne diving header, in a shirt that doesn’t fit.
All you can do is watch and wait. Seventy five. Seventy six. Seventy seven. Seventy seven. Seventy seven. Seventy six. For once in your life Marge…
Things came to a head a quarter of an hour from time. The hot, steely knife was out again. What was left of the butter could resist no longer. Don’t shine that light in my eyes mate, I’ve lost a pint of blood. Giles, everything we need in a full back, crossed low. Crooks missed intiailly, McNair followed up to score. Three three. It had been coming. Except, no. A linesman’s flag. Samuel Di Carmine, in the snow, one of those nights, under the sunlight, at Loftus Road. In the West Paddock a chap got out of his seat and went to give assistant referee £20. Respect to you fella. I think we’d all have happily chipped in.
Belatedly, QPR made substitutions, and given their impact I wonder whether Beale may have a bit more faith a bit earlier with these bench options. Albert Adomah, so off the pace last week, came on and gave an absolute masterclass in intelligent retention of possession and clock running in the opposition half. Honestly, he should teach a class in this. It was textbook, and nearly brought a killer goal as well as we finally put a move worthy of note together and Adomah drilled a shot past the beaten keeper but a foot wide of the post. And the much-maligned Bonne, with Dykes giving everything I’d asked of him last week and now spent, came on and closed up, ran down everything, and prevented Boro playing unchallenged balls forward from the back. I liked him a lot, with hindsight I’d have liked to see him ten minutes prior, and his hassling quickly drew a red card from Lenihan for illegally preventing the former Charlton man having a clear run on the goal. Referee Smith might do him a favour and put it down as denying a clear goalscoring chance (one match ban) but really the tackle was bad enough for a red regardless (three games). Perhaps Bonne isn’t dead to us after all, a very creditable outing here.
Six minutes of stoppage time, of which we played eight. Nico Hämäläinen introduced as a second footman – can you, and you, and you all mark him for the next few minutes please?
Whichever one of you sinned in a previous life and inflicted this shit on us, you’re a dick.
This time, this time, they saw it through. At The Crown and Sceptre, where the council have sportingly supported their prospects of ongoing trade by removing a music license for playing music too loud, beers less celebratory, more medicinal. As Graham Taylor once said, what sort of thing is going on here? Everybody in there looked like they’d played in the game. There were far away looks in eyes. We shouldn’t be this invested. But, here we are.
It’s been a long time coming, a long time running, and we can’t stop now.
QPR: Dieng 7; Kakay 6, Dickie 8, Dunne 7, Paal 6; Amos 7, Johansen 7 (Dozzell 82, -), Field 7; Willock 8 (Adomah 74, 7), Chair 6 (Travelman 88, -), Dykes 7 (Bonne 87, -)
Subs not used: Masterson, Shodipo, Walsh
Goals: Willock 13 (unassisted), Dunne 27 (assisted Chair), Dykes 38 (assisted Johansen)
Bookings: Johansen 77 (very fouly foul), Kakay 90+1 (time wasting)
Boro: Steffen 4; Dijksteel 4 (McNair 46, 7), Lenihan 6, Bola 5; Jones 6, Crooks 6, Howson 6, McGree 6, Giles 7; Forss 7 (Smith 68, 5), Watmore 4 (Akpom 46, 7)
Subs not used: Fry, Boyd-Munce, Roberts, Finch
Goals: Crooks 41 (assisted Giles), Forss 56 (assisted Crooks)
Reds: Lenihan 90+2 (denying an obvious goalscoring opp/serious foul play)
Mellow yellows: Forss 17 (naughty, naughty), Bola 73 (pointy finger foul),
QPR Star Man – Chris Willock 8 The goal is the goal, we’ve had that wank. Consider this was his first game back after months out with the worst sort of hamstring injury. Consider how long the medical boys wanted him to play, and how long he did play. Consider how toothless we looked las week, and how lethal we were with him here. Consider the moment just after the hour where his brilliance nearly set up a goal for Sam Field, then from that corner we were busted on the counter attack and it was Chris Willock chasing all the way back into our penalty area to execute one of several heroic late blocks on shots. It was a put your body on the line sort of day, and Willock was head of the queue.
Referee – Josh Smith (Lincolnshire) 6 Curate’s egg. The Premier League is chock full of 50 somethings refereeing a young man’s game, hamstrung by employment laws around retirement age and some such bollocks that means we end up with Jon Moss waddling round making a catastrophe of the Championship play-off final. In an effort to get younger referees onto that list, several are on the fast track, and we’ve had two in two games with Thomas Bramall and Josh Smith here. This went badly wrong for Stuart Attwell and Gavin Ward early in their careers and these referees need to be carefully managed. There were woeful inconsistencies here – harsh yellows for some stuff, obvious bookings elsewhere turned away. You can tell these lads are good referees but lack experience, they’re learning on the job here. Wilder’s comments on his performance were wholly unfair, the penalty he wanted wasn’t even appealed for by his players, and he’s covering his own arse signing a dodgy goalkeeper for the second which is perfectly legit. The biggest gripe I had was he pulled us back for our own free kick on the halfway line in first half stoppage time when Illy was in at the other end, and came very close to making that same mistake for the Bonne break in stoppage time which he (just about) played on through to its red card conclusion.
Attendance 15,796 (2,800 Boro approx.) Hat tip to that Boro away support as always. One of the great clubs in this country, top support at great expense during rail carnage from a town with everything stacked against it, and a club that’s been through the ringer while surrounded by more media-friendly ‘storied’ rivals. One of the best awaydays on the calendar. Can’t wait to go there for the return fixture. Proper club, owner, manager, team, place.
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