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Last second heartbreak for vastly improved QPR - Report
Tuesday, 3rd Jan 2023 19:06 by Clive Whittingham

The response to Thursday's nadir was there from QPR against Sheff Utd on Monday night, and until ten seconds from the final whistle so too was the result.

There are ways to lose games of football. Queens Park Rangers know them all.

If you’re a relatively recent convert, say only the last ten years or so, you’ll still have potentially seen Rangers concede six goals in a game on four different occasions. Yessir, we love one of those every now and again, where it all goes a bit J G Ballard. A proper, full on, public rectal prolapse, bleeding out across the pavement, neighbourhood dogs scenting the blood and shit, circling for the easiest hat tricks of their professional careers, while Rob Hawthorne commentates for the people at home. Straight from the kick off sometimes, let’s get a goal into us nice and early, establish our intentions and credentials right away. Good for the soul those ones. Remind us of our place in the world. Wouldn’t want the fucking QPR fans getting ahead of themselves would we?

The last-minute heartbreak, the two nil home sludge-a-thon, the one where you try something that doesn’t work for an hour or so and then just think ‘fuck it, let’s get Matt Smith on’… Sometimes we go all Andie McDowell Pantene commercial with a “wild and crazy and out of control” 4-2 loss to Chesterfield when we’ve got a good team that’s heavy odds on favourite and they’ve got a team assembled by asking around on the Market Square that afternoon. Other times we just get whacked by an obviously better team, with better players and better coaches and better bank balances, and you just shrug your shoulders and have to admit it is difficult to beat a United States Navy Virginia-class nuclear submarine when you’ve only got a board with a nail in it.

We do not discriminate by day, time or season — we lose at night and during the day, in the autumn, the winter, the spring and, on the one occasion Covid-19 made us play games there, very, very often in the summer as well. We really don’t like playing Friday night for some reason, but that doesn’t mean we don’t get our arse handed to us on the other days of the week as well. We lose to the team on the otherside of the Hammersmith Broadway, and Newcastle United, and to pretty much everybody else in between. Some teams we lose to more than others — Nottingham Forest away can be a bit like taking somebody with a nut allergy on a tour of the KP factory — but we’re very inclusive. Manchester City can beat us, as you’d expect Manchester City to do, but so can Stockport County, which can feel like a bit of a liberty.

QPR are like Ticketmaster — they’re an organisation that exists for one thing, which they’re not very good at . If you’re going to chuck your toys out of the pram every time this club loses then said toys are not going to spending much time in said pram. If you’re going to stomp off and refuse to return whenever our not-so-Super Hoops underperform then you won’t be spending much time in W12 — you’ll be richer and probably happier for that, but who really wants that for themselves? Life’s not meant to be easy, this stuff is character building.

Nevertheless, there was just something about the Luton debacle on Thursday night that flicked a switch for me, and a quite a few of the regulars in the Crown too. There have to be, at some point, some minimum standards on things like running about, putting the odd tackle in, competing physically with the opponent. For me QPR dropped below that against Burnley, and excused themselves because Burnley are obviously very good. Benefit of doubt given, to then do so again, when a large crowd had returned to Loftus Road regardless, in a grudge match against Luton Town who have all the same economic restrictions we do and more, had me going all 'you won’t like him when he’s angry'. I think we can both agree that I’ve put up with a lot in this marriage, but I found certain specific things that went on in that match unacceptable.

Perhaps that opinion is coloured by the opponent. In my time following QPR I have watched Fulham, Crystal Palace, Brentford, Watford and others go past us, from pre-season friendly fodder to established Premier League teams, in new or redeveloped stadiums. Palace, fucking Palace, buy our best player now, and give him all that top flight football and international exposure we used to be able to offer their players here. We sit in the Crown now and watch Brentford, fucking Brentford, running the rounds of the kitchen through Liverpool. It’s getting old and, with a new stadium on the way and shit hot recruitment department in fine form, we’re now under the threat of watching poxy Luton bastard Town sail off into the distance as well. A Conference outfit a decade ago. Perhaps it was just me being a standard internet-age hyperbole merchant/twat, constantly having to come up with ever stronger and more extreme forms of outrage to keep the whole clicks and content show on the road, overreacting hideously to a game the professional in charge of the team felt could have gone either way. Or, perhaps I was right.

Whatever the case, I ventured back to Loftus Road on Monday night hoping for some sort of response. Not a result, necessarily, because although Rangers did win 1-0 in the away fixture against Sheffield United they’re one of very few teams to have got any joy from this opponent at all this season, and the Blades arrived in West London on a sequence of eight wins from nine matches, well clear in the automatic promotion spots and seemingly cantering back to the Premier League at the second time of asking. Their away record is better than every home record in this league apart from Burnley, the only team to have outscored them. Their defensive record is the league leader. They have a £20m central midfielder in their team who’s built like the Buxton Opera House. But… something. Pride and passion and all that guff that takes up 85% of the conversation time on the Keys and Gray show, and that football fans get very vexed about when it’s perceived to be missing. But also, some tactics, some resistance, some brains, some physicality. Some basics really. We don’t need Pep Guardiola to pop down to Heston to teach us how to run about. I wanted to see us compete. It’s only the Championship.

Initial signs, not brilliant. Sheff Utd all a bit fast and good, QPR all a bit 'take my wallet just don’t punch my face'. Some of the early defending rattled around in the grey zone between ragged and shambolic. Having given a sloppy ball away Rangers were lucky Billy Sharp missed the resulting cross entirely. Later, played in by N’Diaye, Sharp struck a low shot that Dieng saved well with his legs. A goal here for the visitors could have set us off on the rail replacement bus service to Shattered Dreams Parkway once more. Coming from behind used to be a strong suit of Mark Warburton’s team, but every game Rangers did win in 2022 they did so from the front bar Reading at home this season and Luton away last.

First goals are important. Lyndon Dykes doesn’t score many of them himself, but he tracked all the way back to the edge of his area on ten minutes to put a rabble-rousing tackle in on Doyle as he looked to get a shot away, and from there the crowd and team began to grow into the game a little bit. Sam Field put a good tackle in on Sande Berge, and then soon after committed a clever professional foul to halt an attack. Chris Willock, recalled to the left, started to team up with his little mate Illy to good effect. The tactical set up, like everything else, was a polar opposite to Thursday night. There was just something a bit about us, in stark contrast to any of the last four home games, and when Sheff Utd rather arrogantly and carelessly botched a short goal kick routine Chair returned the ball with interest, off a lazy attempted block from Egan who’d given it away in the first place, and into the back of the net past stranded League One Wes.

New narrative, new dynamic, new page one with a turn to three — call the press hall, tell them it’s a stop. Tyler Roberts started playing well. His ball through the six-yard box on 23 minutes was terrific, and has to be gobbled up by somebody however well Ahmedhodzic defended it. Bouyed, the Leeds loanee sat Ciaran Clark down and stole his lunch money, winning a corner. When QPR, as they’re rather prone to do without Stefan Johansen taking them, got the delivery wrong United broke at pace and Osman Kakay, a surprise inclusion with Ethan Laird absent, committed a splendid tactical foul of exactly the kind we’ve been lacking in recent times. Kakay, until he tired, cramped up and became a liability in the closing moments, had a really impressive 85 minutes on his comeback here.

Sheff Utd had perhaps expected a hall pass, instead they were getting an interrogation. QPR, at last, all you want and more. Things began to fly from end to end as the two fighters started swinging. Roberts took a swipe at a presentable chance from a QPR corner and fluffed it. Breaking through what seemed like a pretty obvious foul on Tim Iroegbunam, the impressive N’Diaye at one point looked like he was going to slalom through three defenders at once to score but was just about crowded out. Dunne needed to nip in ahead of Sharp as he lined up a shot. Dickie the same with Baldock and, when Josh Smith again played on through what looked like a Sheff Utd foul, Stevens whipped a 20 yarder just past the post. Not having that, the tireless Dykes set off after the visitors again forcing Foderingham to pick the ball up outside his box for an obvious free kick and yellow card. Rob Dickie’s fierce strike from the edge of the box was blocked well by Clark. Entertainment to get the blood pumping, after the four artery hardeners we've suffered through prior.

For the visitors, trouble at mill. Foreman Heckingbottom decided on a shift change: James McAtee added pace, drive and floppy hair; Jack Robinson brought a long throw and nothing else of value whatsoever. Having brought a gun to a toothpick fight and somehow gone behind, now the Blades decided to “get ugly” as their manager said afterwards. Not for the first time on the night, Seny Dieng was roughed up. Not a difficult decision for the referee to make, but he was surrounded by visiting players regardless. Straight to the other end and they were treated to a nice free kick when Foderingham went flapping around like Christ in a crucifix shop. Hmmmm. I know we like our team to be better than this, but it does feel sometimes like we get talked out of decisions we should get. Both decisions probably correct - less so Sam Field seeing yellow, a bit of a joke relative to one that Baldock was later let off with through the back of Chair.

QPR started the half well. Lyndon Dykes was all action, all night. I thought he was excellent, and we’ll set aside the frustration I have with him, and this team in general, that nights like this only make games like Luton sting all the more — because they can fucking do it, they are fucking capable, and here they fucking were showing that. An early chance dropped his way and deflected just wide — nicks off defenders were becoming a theme here, and sadly there was one more crucial one to come. Dykes brought Willock into proceedings but his shot was well wide. A second goal would have been heaven sent, and the longer QPR had to wait for it the more chance there was of something going wrong. Roberts, his best performance for some time, did all of the right, but held on too long, and on the resulting counter attack Sharp drew Dieng, chipped him, but missed the empty net by a foot or so. The sequel to that wasn’t any easier to sit through — another poor QPR corner allowing United’s best player, N’Diaye, to go streaking away almost the full length of the pitch where his Senegal international team mate Dieng loomed large and in perfect poise to make a great save one on one.

You start to think it’s your night. When these moments of light appear through perpetual darkness at QPR, it often comes just when all hope seems lost, just when you’ve given up on them entirely. Shades of Luke Freeman versus Leeds as Rangers kept going, kept plugging away, kept tackling and niggling, kept getting on the ball. Lyndon Dykes, rampaging around, an absolute pain for all who played against him. Sam Field, standing up to an immense midfield challenge. Jimmy Dunne, every header. And the clock starts to drain away and the witching hour approaches and the crowd finds its voice and the belief starts to creep back in a little bit. Come on you R’s. Just a little while longer. Or, better still, a second goal. They might have had one, when Dykes’ latest bit of battering ram approach play got Chair some good ball in the area, but with a queue of options for a pass he selfishly took on a shot and spurned the golden moment. Never mind, 14 to go now, keep going, keep trying, keep willing. Keep going. Keep going. Tick followed tock followed tick followed tock. Come on you R’s. Come on you R’s.

Of course you look back on that chance for Chair to square the ball, in the horribly cold and depressingly sober light of Tuesday, and wonder what might have been. What if Dickie’s shot at the end of the first half had gone in? What if a second deflection off Egan had beaten Foderingham close to the end, rather than looping onto the top of the net? What if we hadn’t, for the umpteenth time on the night, not totally wasted that late corner we got as a result? Did we perhaps sink back too far, too soon? Could we have made other substitutions, particularly given that Osman Kakay, making a first league start since August, was obviously baggage by this point after a fine personal innings? Could Sinclair Armstrong’s speed have been useful to us on the break? Are you allowed to bring a second goalkeeper on? Coulda, woulda, shoulda… all the way through the five minutes of allotted stoppage time, and out the other side (because of an injury to Kakay) into a heartbreaking equaliser from John Egan, scored with a shot that was flying straight to Seny Dieng before it struck Dickie and changed course, in what proved to be the very final second of play. Ultimately it simply was not, as it turned out, our night after all. Fair, perhaps, on the balance of the play and the chances in the game, but sickening in the way it played out and desperately harsh on the QPR players and their manager.

Still, in every way apart from the result, I got what I came for. I whipped them last week because I absolutely do not intend to spend the next five months of my life trekking around the collapsing infrastructure of this country, spending money I don’t have getting to Huddersfield and Middlesbrough and Rotherham and Burnley to watch a team that pulls its legs out of tackles, that ducks away from headers that might hurt a bit, that phones in tepid resistance to the might of Luton Town. I wanted to see them run, and run they did. I wanted to see them tackle, and tackles there were. I wanted first contact, I wanted second ball, I wanted 50/50s. They gave me, us, all of that in spades. Neil Critchley, having got things badly wrong against the Hatters, had the set up spot on here, playing to the strengths of the team’s best players and its centre forward. The form team in the division against the hopeless rabble we have become lately, and we went toe to toe from minute one (well, minute four-ish), competed, made them uncomfortable, scored, led, and came within perhaps ten seconds of winning the game.

What frustrates me most about this team is it’s not a Steve Slade-Karl Ready-Iain Dowie collection of crap footballers, and nor is it a Joey Barton-Jose Bosingwa-Shaun Wright-Phillips assembly of mercenary wasters. It can be a very good team, we’ve seen it in multiple games through the first half of the season. It’s unfathomable to me that they can dip quite so far below their line as they have done recently. Having re-established some minimum standards here — hell, having restored some fucking dignity — let us never speak of QPR 0 Luton 3 again, nor see its like repeated by these players at any point between now and May.

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

QPR: Dieng 7; Kakay 7, Dickie 6, Dunne 7, Paal 6; Field 7, Iroegbunam 6; Chair 7, Willock 6 (Amos 74, 6), Roberts 6 (Adomah 78, 6); Dykes 7

Subs not used: Richards, Shodipo, Masterson, Armstrong, Mahoney

Goals: Chair 11 (assisted Willock)

Bookings: Field 57 (foul), Dunne 86 (foul)

Sheff Utd: Foderingham 5; Ahmedhodzic 6 (Bogle 83, -), Egan 6, Clark 5 (Robinson 46, 6); Baldock 6 (Jebbison 70, 6), Berge 6, Norwood 6, Doyle 6 (McAtee 60, 7), Stevens 6; Ndiaye 7, Sharp 6

Subs not used: Davies, Basham, Brooks

Goals: Egan 90+6 (assisted Stevens)

Bookings: Foderingham 39 (handball), Jebbison 90+2 (foul)

QPR Star Man — Lyndon Dykes 7 A microcosm of the whole team: you couldn’t fault him, or any of them, for their effort and impact here; the frustration is it shows that he, and they, are capable of it, which makes performances like last week’s all the more galling.

Referee — Josh Smith (Lincolnshire) 6 Some bits and pieces as there’s always going to be — Sam Field’s booking felt harsh given some of the other stuff that wasn’t carded, such as Baldock’s late and frustrated hack at Chair, and like Neil Critchley I think there’s an argument for a foul in the build up to the sickening equaliser — but overall I thought he refereed a competitive game reasonably well.

Attendance 14,451 (1,500 Sheff Utd approx.) A lot more than I thought would be here after the Luton debacle, a lot quieter than I thought it should be given how the game panned out.

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Andybrat added 20:03 - Jan 3
Brilliant. Clive, been waiting all day. My 43 mile drive back to Reading was with a smile and ( I can’t believe this) my non football supporting wife checked the scores on line to ascertain my mood after me kicking the cat ( not literally) following the Luton game. Same players, different team. Ozzie was awesome, Roberts finally showed us his real self, Willy and Illy scaring the sh1t out of premier league players. Lyndon definitely m.o.m It was quiet but I think that was for a simple reason, I reckon there are a few less fingernails in West London. You can’t bite your nails and scream COYRS at the same time, I tried and failed. Hoping a few ( Sam particularly) gets a rest next week. Amazing grub in the C&S so almost a perfect evening.

Marshy added 23:50 - Jan 3
Great improvement compared to the Luton defeat. Passion, effort and style were all back, and the team played how we know they can play. The “last second” goal was absolutely gutting, but when you look at how far our form had fallen, this performance was so pleasantly surprising. Let’s face it most of us thought this would be another certain defeat, so even ending up with just a point is actually a real bonus.

When we look back at important events of the year of 2022 we had 3 British Prime Ministers, but more significantly 3 Queens Park Rangers Managers. Come on my team, let’s make 2023 all about 3 Points!

jonath1 added 00:46 - Jan 4
"the rail replacement bus service to Shattered Dreams Parkway" is beyond poetic. I have been on that drafty bus so many times with QPR. But still I love them. It's madness. It's being a fan.
Thanks Clive for another super write up.
Such a mixed bag of results/performances from the new manager. No idea what to make of it.

062259 added 05:15 - Jan 4
I wish I could take as much encouragement from the game as you, Clive. Sure, it was an improvement on Luton but that is the lowest of low bars. The Sheffield United keeper was not unduly troubled all night and only beaten by a deflection. Rangers mustered a handful of half-chances but nothing more, and the forwards don’t do half-chances these days. Chair and Willock were busy but not really threatening, and nobody in midfield looked like picking the United defence, either through the middle or round the sides. Workmanlike and sincere, but that’s about it.

Northernr added 07:20 - Jan 4
That's rather the point though, they weren't even 'workmanlike and sincere' last week.

padstow added 09:34 - Jan 4
Having brought my American wife all the way from the States for her first game in person, she now believes she's a lucky mascot and wishes we lived here now so she could buy a season ticket! She was either giddy at the performance or, more likely, succumbing to the off screen charm of Mr Whittingham, meeting him by sheer coincidence before the match (thanks for the beer by the way Clive!) but I had to explain to her that her reaction would have been completely different had her first match been Luton. Getting suckered in to a relationship based on the photoshoped Tinder profile picture of the Sheffield game will no doubt be followed up with the first date 'beaten with the ugly stick' horror show in the next match but, either way, she really enjoyed it and, somehow, a new R is born!

Jimjams added 09:36 - Jan 4
Do you think anybody ever says anything to Chair? I mean we love him but is there anyone in the UK who doesn't know he never passes in the box!? I was screaming

stneotsbloke added 10:27 - Jan 4
Loved "flapping around like Christ in a crucifix shop".
Gutted at the late equaliser but hugely encouraged by a vastly improved team performance.
Plenty of good performances but it was great to see Ossie Kakay play so well, he's an ex Acadamy player and has been with us for not far short of ten years, he's our player and whilst he struggles a bit at times he showed tremendous spirit and good ability, was really pleased for him.
Sam Field continues to be the understated star of this team.

bellomatic added 10:39 - Jan 4
Great report, Clive.

Love this line: "QPR are like Ticketmaster – they’re an organisation that exists for one thing, which they’re not very good at" Haha... what a farce it is to be a fan!

It looked like the team were enjoying playing football for the first time in a long time. Perhaps that's the magic of having Illy and Willy back together.

thehat added 13:41 - Jan 4

Loved the report Clive - I nearly never went as I was happily sitting by the fire with a glass of wine watching Brentford destroy Liverpool and the Darts.

Fortunately my Brother talked me into it and I'm glad I did. I know the late late goal hurt but my god that was light years better than Luton.

We competed and were aggressive which made the difference.

Willock still needs to pull his finger out and Chair needs to learn to pass and make better final decisions. However we do look better with them both playing

Dykes was top draw and Field is having a great season and looks the real deal.

R_from_afar added 14:04 - Jan 4
"Having brought a gun to a toothpick fight and somehow gone behind..." Lovely stuff! :)
Thanks for a match report which is every bit as good as the team's performance.

I am so pleased that those who ignored the form guide, gritted their teeth and attended in person got to experience a fantastic effort from the Rs.

TacticalR added 20:08 - Jan 6
Thanks for your report.

Fair point about the teams overtaking us while we tread water, especially when the Premiership is becoming much more weighted to the South in general and London in particular (a reflection of the British economy). On top of that there is a niche for clubs with smaller grounds to survive in the Premiership as ticket money is less important relative to TV money (even if most clubs still want to rebuild their stadia to maximise revenue).

Sheffield United had their chances. Billy Sharpe and Ndiaye should probably both have scored. But this was really about us, and about the performance, and that's why I wasn't too disappointed about us conceding at the end. I said before the game that given the dire situation we have been in for weeks that we at least needed a goal to get ourselves going, and fortunately we got the first goal, and that gave us something to hang on to. Once again, as earlier in the season, we can live with the problem of our non-striking striker if we can get goals from midfield. Let's hope this will kickstart us and break the spell of the terrible run that started under Beale.

lazaretarsonist added 09:35 - Jan 9
It's a risk, but in my opinion it's a risk we should be taking. Can't think that we overpaid for this. best of luck

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