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Queens Park Rangers 0 v 1 Norwich City
Carabao Cup
Wednesday, 16th August 2023 Kick-off 19:45
QPR’s traditional cup cloud comes with some silver linings – Report
Thursday, 17th Aug 2023 18:47 by Clive Whittingham

QPR were once again eliminated from the League Cup at the first possible opportunity, going down 1-0 to Norwich with the final kick of the game on Wednesday night, but the performances of a number of fringe players gave cause for some optimism.

Even when carrying a decent team, with strength in depth, free of relegation worries, the notion Queens Park Rangers might string a couple of victories together in a cup competition has long been abandoned by all but the most hopeless romantics.

In the FA Cup they have been eliminated at the third round stage on 51 occasions, more than any other club in the country. They’ve bailed out of that competition at the first available stage in seven of the last ten seasons, and 17 of the last 22. In the League Cup, the only trophy the club has won in its history, a trip through Everton to a controversial defeat at home to Sunderland in 2021/22 was the first time they’d been beyond round three in 15 seasons. The last time they made a quarter final of anything was the FA Cup in 1994/95 and in the League Cup you have to go all the way back to 1988/89.

In the five years prior to that Rangers had been to the final of both and for those who remember those heady days of the 1980s, aspire to them again, or simply crave a bit of excitement and a few interesting fixtures against somebody other than Preston North End after nearly a decade stuck back in the Championship, the attitude of managers, players and the club as a whole to the knockout competitions has been risible and lamentable. The R’s have been knocked out of a cup by League One opposition in each of the last six seasons, and in 2022/23 it happened twice at Charlton and Fleetwood. Steve McClaren may not have thought it mattered much losing at Blackpool in 2018, Chris Ramsey the same when he was beaten by Carlisle in 2015, but it’s a really good way to burn off credit with the general population in Shepherd’s Bush, and if you didn’t have a lot left in the bank anyway it’s a pitfall to beware. The only time bailing out of both cups as soon as possible actually seemed to do us any good was Neil Warnock’s title winning year 2010/11 – a one-off in so many ways, and 12 years ago now in any case.

On Wednesday night there was, nevertheless, a good deal of sanguine understanding of what Gareth Ainsworth is up against this year. QPR are a poor team, with zero strength in depth, and the queue of season previewers tipping the R’s to finish dead last stretched around the block. A stronger QPR team than this, with a flying start in the league, would have been relegated in May bar a couple of remarkable away wins right at the death and a Reading points deduction. Experience, ability, quality and quantity has drained from even that shemozzle, which at one point won two of 28 games, over the summer. What half decent players do remain are already being struck down one by one by an injury curse that hobbled the squad throughout 2022/23: Jake Clarke-Salter, a frequent truant, has played 15 minutes all summer; Jimmy Dunne’s shoulder has exploded into a thousand pieces; Jack Colback has arrived without a pre-season and immediately fallen ill; Paul Smyth, released by QPR two years ago because he couldn’t get fit, has been injured for much of the pre-season; Chris Willock… I mean who knows anymore? The Clarke-Salter and Dunne injuries immediately forced Ainsworth into picking Joe Gubbins on day one at Watford with predictably horrible consequences. There are several other spots in the team – goalkeeper, right back, central midfield, centre forward – where one injury to one player reduces us immediately to starting somebody barely of League One standard.

With only an unappetising trip to Bristol City waiting in the next round anyway, even the traditionalists and cup fanatics (among whom I count myself) were probably willing to forgo this one. The aims for the visit of Norwich were to get out without serious injuries to key players, and to see who, if any, of the second string and juniors might be able to hold their own at Championship level.

On the first count, they failed. Around the hour mark there was first a clash in the air between Lyndon Dykes and Shane Duffy, both of whom I’d been surprised to see start, leaving the latter with a split head. Within a minute or two another clash on the ground, an awkward twist and fall for Dykes, and a worrying looking knee injury. Ainsworth was about to substitute him, the board was prepared, the announcement was made while he was on the ground, just two days away from retirement, got him a future, gonna sail around the world with his old lady like they always wanted, just christened a boat… With Charlie Kelman apparently now bound elsewhere, probably the reason Dykes had to start in the first place, options for Ipswich on Saturday look as thin as Posh Spice’s garden rake.

On the second, there was better news. The system which worked so surprisingly well at Cardiff at the weekend was back, albeit with different personnel – seven new starters and a change of position for Sam Field who dropped back into defence. The positives, initially, were Osman Kakay once again looking wholly more assured as the right of three centre backs than he ever does as a full back in a four; Stephen Duke-McKenna once again showing that if used for high energy ratting in the middle of midfield, rather than as yet another boy who wants to play creative ‘ten’, then he can be very effective indeed; and Elijah Dixon Bonner who, while not warranting the hype he gets in certain corners of Twitter and needing to affect games more as he grows into senior football, certainly held his own.

Things got brighter still from the bench. Iraqi international Alex Aoraha joined the midfield just after the hour and looked very at home. Morgan Fox first over at full time to point to him and offer congratulations on how he’d taken to a senior debut. Rayan Kolli, though, rather stole the show. Sideshow Bob haircut trailing behind like a parachute in a space shuttle landing, he charged onto the field, immediately booted off with the two Norwich centre backs, swigged from the goalkeeper’s water bottle and tossed it away, and that was all before the ball had even come back into play. He did that thing where, keen to impress, he charged around like an epileptic gnat for the first five minutes and was then blowing at the pace of it all, but quickly settled down into a very assured performance. I was only sorry we didn’t get to see what he would have done with his penalty. Not a boy short on confidence, it seems. Perhaps the solution to the complete lack of suitable output from our B Team and U23s is to dig straight into Micah Hyde's U18s, conquerors of Spurs in last season’s Youth Cup. Kolli was epic that night and it does look like we’ve got or two potential prospects there.

There was, however, plenty to temper that.

Albert Adomah, as on Saturday in South Wales, was a painfully awkward presence in the right wing back role. In the prime of his career he was famed for his availability – he spent three years each at Barnet, Bristol City, Middlesbrough and Aston Villa and quickly rattled up well in excess of 100 appearances for each. Now he looks like a car with too many miles on the clock. He was fairly woeful here, giving the ball away, falling over it, at one point heading it straight up in the air in his own penalty box creating a panic when he’d surely been told he had all the time in the world to bring it down – speak into his good ear guys.

Further forward Taylor Richards, given a chance to show what he could do from the start, turned in a terribly frustrating performance. He looked extremely heavy and one-paced (not a quick pace either). He spent the night in near constant dialogue with the bench, being driven around like a remote control car, albeit one with a battery flat as a witch’s tit. Stand there. Here? Yeh there. No, there. Now go there. Here? Yes here. Now there. And giving the ball away in really bad areas. Twice in quick succession during the same move five minutes after half time – singularly fortunate Norwich wasted both opportunities.

There was, as ever, precious little goal threat. Richards’ hopeful shot deflected into the path of Dixon-Bonner for a scissor kick well wide before half time, then straight after the break a back post cross headed down into Dykes’ path was almost scrambled home but visiting keeper Angus Gunn fell on the ball in the nick of time. That really was it. For all the justified praise for Dixon-Bonner et al and all the attractive work with the ball - it certainly seems the Watford debacle has thankfully changed Gareth’s mindset from “possession can do one” to let the boys play - Rangers created next to nothing all night. They’ve failed to score in five of their last six at home, and the Loft End goal drought continues – the last time we scored at that end was February 25.

The fitness of our players continues to be a concern. You’ve got four debutants, several people who’ve rarely/barely/never played men’s football at all in their lives, the odd cramp is to be expected. But on Wednesday, as at Cardiff on Saturday, by the 70th minute we were absolute baggage across the park. Jordan Archer’s brave and brilliant claim from a first half cross left him with a concussion to be replaced by Joe Walsh at half time. That afforded Rangers an extra sub and they really needed that with Kakay, Adomah, Larkeche, Dozzell and Dykes all needing to be replaced. Stephen Duke-McKenna was running on fumes begging to be taken off. Richards looked shagged before he’d even begun. Is this… normal? Only Sam Field, completely out of position, was able to complete the 98 minutes and look physically sound doing it. It was the same in South Wales on Saturday where a terrific first hour or so caved in to a panicked closing stages because we’d simply run out of fuel in the tank. Ainsworth was so desperate to make further changes he was still warming people up even after making six subs – smart thinking, let’s win the game to boost confidence but make too many subs so we get eliminated and don’t have to go to Bristol anyway.

Norwich chucked some first team guns on late in the day – Todd Flanders, somebody that ate Ashley Barnes and assumed his identity, £8m of prime Brazilian Gabriel Sara – and came on strong just as we wilted. Barnes missed a headed sitter from a corner eight from time, Sara saw a shot well saved by Walsh as time ran down, Placheta shot wide after first Field and then Fox gave the ball away during a move in which QPR held possession throughout and yet still somehow ended up facing a shot on their goal. Another of their subs, 20-year-old Jon Rowe, ended up heading home totally unmarked in the eighth minute of stoppage time from Fisher’s cross – whether it was a Norwich throw to begin with I have very strong doubts, but it had been coming. A third in three games for Rowe to start this season. Harsh on some of the QPR players, and I’m disappointed we didn’t get to see one or two of the confident debut boys take penalties, but you couldn’t say it wasn’t deserved overall.

You could certainly take positives, and I’d have Kolli involved again as soon as possible please he’s exactly what this team and crowd needs at the moment. But don’t forget, Norwich, bottom half of the Championship last term, made eight changes of their own. There’s a lot of talk about brave efforts, pride in the boys, so near and yet so far, but we weren’t playing Arsenal on Wednesday night – this was another Championship team, and not one tipped for anything much good this year. We’re also presumably now back in the ridiculous holding pattern of having a key player injured, but we’re not allowed to know what that injury is or when he’ll be back – Dykes pretty close to the last person you’d pick to get one at the moment too. Good luck Sinclair it’s all on you now boy.

Another defeat, another scoreless game, another extension of our lamentable records, both in cup competitions, and at Loftus Road where it’s just one win in 16. It’s difficult to be too happy and clappy in those circumstances, however good a couple of youth teamers might have looked.

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

QPR: Archer 6 (Walsh 46, 6); Adomah 3 (Drewe 85, -), Kakay 6 (Fox 77, 5), Field 6, Gubbins 5, Larkeche 5 (Paal 77, 6); Duke-McKenna 7, Dixon-Bonner 6, Dozzell 5 (Aoraha 62, 7); Richards 4, Dykes 6 (Kolli 64, 7)

Subs not used: Rendall, Pedder, Bala

Bookings: Field 24 (foul)

Norwich: Gunn 6; Fisher 7, Duffy 6, Omobamidele 5, Placheta 7; Gibbs 5 (Rowe 69, 7), McLean 6 (Sara 46, 6); Fassnacht 6 (McCallum 80, 6), Nunez 5, Springett 5 (Hernandez 32, 5 (Barnes 69, 5)); Idah 5 (Sargent 69, 7)

Subs not used: Gibson, McCracken, Warner

Goals: Rowe 90+8 (assisted Fisher)

Bookings: Omobamidele 61 (foul)

QPR Star Man – Rayan Kolli 7 Probably a lazy, populist pick this one, but I really enjoyed his half hour performance here and along with Aoraha, Duke-McKenna and to a slightly lesser extent Dixon-Bonner there was at least some hope that we have some kids who can help out in this toughest of seasons. Sam Field, the only player we had capable of doing 98 minutes, and all of it out of position, was a clear man of the match for me, and for you guys in the interactive ratings, but lost Rowe for his injury time winner.

Referee – James Linington (Isle of Wight) 6 Think he’s probably got the Norwich throw wrong in the build up to their goal. Some complaints about him waving play on through QPR fouls but not through Norwich ones. Making Lyndon Dykes walk all the way around the pitch with a blown knee felt a bit pedantic. I generally like his style though, and thought he was more than fine here.

Attenance 7,813 (1,500 Norwich aprox) Roughly twice as many as I thought there would be.

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captainmycaptian added 19:29 - Aug 17
The real worry is the 37% posession. What would a full strength Norwich do with 63% ! The lack of goals for is just a massive worry especially at home and especially at the loft end, which as I remember used to be our favourite. At some point you have to decide is you are going down with a fight or a whimper. Maybe we need to go for the throats of every team at home to get the wins we are going to need. 47 more points and counting !! I realise now that I was spoilt when i started watching rangers in the late 80s and early 90s.. Thanks for the reports Clive these are the only ray's of light about our club at the moment keep it up.

probbo added 23:43 - Aug 17
I was lucky enough to see QPR at Wembley in both 1982 and 1986 (although the latter still irks!). Money in football has almost assured these domestic cups will be contested by Premier League teams every year with boring predictability. The 'League' Cup would be much better if they excluded the Premier League sides and made it a trophy for the EFL. I do despair of our form in these comps but I'm pragmatic in thinking our chances of doing anything in either the FA and League Cups are virtually zero.

Marshy added 11:25 - Aug 18
Although it was gutting to lose in the last second, it was good to see the young lads given a chance. For me I thought Stephen Duke-McKenna was the best of the bunch. He really got stuck in, broke up play, neat on the ball and looked very self assured. On the few previous occasions I saw him I felt he showed promise, so it was a surprise he didn’t get much game time when he was out on loan. Rayan Kolli was very lively and energetic when he came on. Looks like he has lots of potential. Given the lack of strength in depth and continuing injuries, these boys are going to have transform to men pretty quickly.

TacticalR added 12:45 - Aug 19
Thanks for your report.

Another year, another cup exit.

I have only seen the highlights and read your report, and it seems that we have at least progressed from the debacle at Watford and can put up a fight. Also good to hear that some players have materialised from the academy, although whether this is due to foresight or desperation remains to be seen.

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