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Queens Park Rangers 0 v 2 Sheffield Wednesday
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 6th April 2024 Kick-off 15:00
Complacent QPR caught cold by Owls – Report
Sunday, 7th Apr 2024 21:57 by Clive Whittingham

As ever, just when QPR think they’ve got it all sorted and drop their intensity, so their chronic lack of ability comes back to bite them – for the second time this season, Sheff Wed revelled in the opportunity.

With two wins from two games over Easter, Queens Park Rangers were suddenly feeling pretty safe in their Championship skin, daring to dream and plan for second tier football in 2024/25, hell perhaps even in danger of enjoying themselves a bit after two years of footballing water torture. Somebody, or something, somewhere out there, always senses when Queens Park Rangers are starting to enjoy themselves. This joy is a sin which must be suppressed and punished. It’s like being in the Catholic Church.

If Rangers are indeed to survive this season then they’ll have done it despite losing on their own ground to Ipswich, Sunderland, Coventry, Blackburn, Leicester, Southampton, Cardiff, Watford, Middlesbrough and now, implausibly, Sheffield Wednesday. The latest of those was potentially the biggest disaster league table wise, and inarguably the worst performance. Sheff Wed, particularly once the game’s outstanding player Ian Poveda was stretchered off, were outrageously bad. We didn’t think we’d see a worse team than Sunderland playing at this level again for a long while, and yet two weeks later here it was. QPR found a way to lose to them regardless – scoring the crucial opening goal for them by allowing Gassama to run a ridiculous distance along the byline unchallenged before laughably whacking the ball into the net off him in farcical circumstances. A goal that summed up the standard of a biblically awful football match.

How, and why? At the Crown & Sceptre on Saturday evening, where the local coroner was convening an inquest, reasons and theories for QPR’s latest grisly demise at Loftus Road were wide and varied.

Perhaps the exertions of the six-point weekend from two keenly fought games with Birmingham and Swansea had caught up with a team we know struggles in three game weeks. Maybe there was a deal of complacency after five wins, two draws and just one defeat in eight games that lowly Sheff Wed would prove something of a walkover for the apparently revitalised Rangers – just turn up and win. Possibly that feeling of relative safety, after spending so long in peril, had relaxed the team too much – ah we’ll be fine now, win a game, or even two, and you’re talking about idiot scum like Huddersfield and Millwall having to win three or four out of six. Don’t worry about it. QPR never more of a danger to themselves than when they get all smug and self-congratulatory.

Manager Marti Cifuentes was keen to shoulder the blame himself after the game. He said: “I’m very disappointed but especially with myself. When I look at the performance, I didn’t prepare the team well enough for the kind of game that I knew it would be. I take responsibility for this defeat. One result will not change my confidence in the players. That’s always the danger – not only in football but as human beings. Sometimes we tend to relax and those moments are very dangerous. When you think you are doing so well, suddenly football always gives you the reality that if you are not at 110% it’s very difficult. We tried during the whole week to let them understand that this was a very difficult game – probably the most difficult game of the season. It looked like Sheffield Wednesday were playing for their lives and unfortunately I was not good enough to convince my players that today we needed that kind of intensity.”

Certainly, his decision to start Sinclair Armstrong for the first time since a similar sub-par showing at another struggler, Stoke City, didn’t work the way he intended. Armstrong didn’t help much – dumb fouls that are always going to be given as fouls however much you try and blame the referee, chucking yourself to ground theatrically and expecting officials to do you a favour, lack of composure resulting in poor shot and final ball choices in the final third. It’s adult football this Sinclair, 23 starts and 36 sub appearances deep into it it’s about time you grew up into it a little bit now. But the rest of the team was culpable too. The temptation, or perhaps instruction, to just knock long channel balls for Armstrong to try and spring onto with his pace and power all too strong for a team that abandoned the semi-attractive football it has been playing to get itself out of trouble and went back to something approaching the unwatchable slop it was throwing out at the start of the season. This was a Hellenic League quality game, and QPR’s contribution to it was, for want of a more creative word, boring.

The start, at least, was halfway reasonable. Armstrong cut in and shot at the child Sheff Wed had playing in goal, and later charged in for what looked like it must be either a penalty or a goal kick but ended up being given as a corner by coal-fired referee Graham Scott who rather chugged through this whole thing at a distinctly leisurely pace. Chris Willock curled wide of the post after Armstrong got in on a long clearance. But Poveda had already got in round the back of Rangers after just two minutes to force the game’s first corner. After Sam Field had done that thing where he pretends to be injured so we can have a bit of a water break and a chat on the touchline – a tiresome trend in the modern sport which referees are ridiculously acquiescent to despite everybody knowing exactly what’s going on – the hosts fell absolutely fast asleep and never roused themselves. Less a team talk, more a carbon monoxide leak.

Wednesday really should have taken the lead when Poveda’s growing influence ended in the perfect cross for Josh Windass to score into an empty net from a yard out. Fresh back from injury, Windass could only somehow skew the ball right back from whence it came. Harder to miss than score. Amber warning light flashing, bells ringing, nobody responding. Sorry to sound all brutal about it, but the sight of Poveda going down hurt and unable to continue was most welcome in the context of the game, and relegation battle. Nobody more relieved to see the back of him than Kenneth Paal.

It left the visitors with Barry Bannan pulling the strings for ten also-rans around him, and should have presented QPR with a second chance to seize the game they scarcely deserved. Sadly, one talented hobbit directing ten cloggers was still more than enough to have much the better of QPR and eventually deserve the win. Gassama, on for Poveda, immediately ran essentially clean through on the goal but scuffed his shot wide.

Wednesday are the only team in the division not to be awarded a penalty this season, and they thought they had one six before half time when Isaac Hayden’s frankly pretty ludicrous sliding tackle sent Gassama sprawling right on the cusp of the area. Scott opted for a free kick on the edge, Josh Windass was booked for offering the linesman his thoughts on the call, Jimmy Dunne headed the free kick clear. Wake. Up. Wake up.

QPR had been turned round at the toss so unusually kicked towards the School End second half. Apart from the change of ends it was all much the same. When Armstrong did get free ten minutes into the second stanza, Chair ran around him the long way to overlap down the wing and they both set off towards the corner flag, when the Wednesday defence was busted and there were wide open gaps down the middle of the field to run through towards the actual goal.

It all felt a bit like one of those football games you play on the Sunday of the stag weekend away – ha ha, we’re all a bit shit, and hungover, look where that’s gone for fuck’s sake, what are we like. That feeling was only increased by the state of the opening goal, the likes of which you’ll have to wait a long time to see again. Absolute high farce. Smith would have added a second soon after but for Begovic’s save, after a simple bouncing ball created needless havoc in a defence that had been receiving high praise of late.

Ilias Chair, on the rare occasions he was involved, mostly shot wildly from daft distances and angles - because it's only Sheff Wed, right? Chris Willock, back to the half-arsed, disinterested Chris Willock of 2023, gets 50 lashes and a video on repeat of his shot high, wide and ugly over the bar on 74 minutes - because it's only Sheff Wed, right? The more direct approach took Lucas Andersen out of the game entirely, his sole contribution a shot off the underside of the bar and back out into play midway through the second half – unlucky, mostly the angle of such a shot would take it into the net, but you can’t play like this and start chatting mealy mouthed shite about when it’s not your day it’s not your day.

Collectively, Rangers' attitude and approach to this game was reprehensible. Short cuts and excuses, all across the park. Danny Rohl celebrated the game-sealing second on the pitch, sinking to his knees and punching the air. Both goals were followed by long, drawn-out, festivals of celebration designed to rile the home crowd and run the clock down. I don't blame the Owls for this at all. When your opponent treats you with such disdain and lack of respect, you're fully justified in rubbing it in at a bit when that blows up in their face. You'd obviously expect the referee to add more than six minutes on for the whole palaver, but Graham Scott has bridge club at the local community centre these days so had to be getting back.

Lyndon Dykes came on to pep things up, stood on his heels and admired the defensive clearance of a very presentable near post cross on 73, then interrupted another attack and got himself booked for belting somebody in the back of the head in back play - because it's only Sheff Wed, right? Moronic. Bereft. I hope he tells decent jokes on the bus because otherwise it’s difficult to know exactly what he is contributing at the moment

Three times QPR headed the ball over the top from close range when it felt easier to score. Jimmy Dunne from Chris Willock’s near post centre, Sinclair Armstrong after Dunne flicked on Smyth’s long throw, and Dunne again when Chair finally showed some patience and finesse with his approach work. It just all felt so weirdly lethargic, the crowd bored into a silent stupor. Stoppage time, rather than chasing an equaliser, was spent conceding a defensively shocking second. Anthony Musaba, it seems, really likes an injury time goal against QPR. The away end dissolved in a sea of limbs, and fair fucks to them for that – Rangers have probably provided their two best moments of the season.

Whatever the reason, the R's just weren’t at it on Saturday and this isn’t a team good enough to withstand even a 5-10% drop off in its intensity. We’ve marvelled at Cifuentes’ ability to get a team with a dodgy goalkeeper and no proper strikers winning regardless, but the wins they have picked up have all been closely fought ordeals. When you struggle for goals, as QPR do, every point won has to be dragged from an opponent by force and will hang in the balance right up until the final whistle. If you drop your levels, even slightly, then that arm wrestle quickly goes the other way because Rangers are not a good enough team to win games by accident when not at their best.

That it’s happened twice now against Sheff Wed, just when form had been good and confidence should have been building, is deeply frustrating. Twice now QPR have had the opportunity to put a ten-point gap between them and the Owls, twice they’ve lost the game in shambolic fashion to narrow that margin to four. Switch those six points around and Wednesday would be all but down, QPR definitely safe. And it’s only our incompetence, or perhaps mental frailty, that has prevented it. Throw Huddersfield’s late winner into the pot and it’s a chastening day with a bitter aftertaste. Wednesday, by contrast, are only still alive virtue of their ability to win games exactly like this – six points from Rotherham, six from QPR, three each from Blackburn, Stoke, Birmingham and Plymouth.

The situation remains as it was. QPR get another win, and perhaps a draw somewhere, and you’re suddenly requiring two or three of Sheff Wed, Huddersfield, Birmingham and Millwall to win three of their remaining five matches. Even if we don’t win again several of them will have to win two of five to catch us, and there are other teams in the doom queue ahead of us if they do so. But four points is still a slender margin, QPR’s fixtures are not kind, and this was easily the most winnable of the games they have left. When your team is capable of vomming out slop like this, you should always be worried about them.

This QPR team, for all its recent improvements, has always had one of these in them. They don’t want too many more over the next four weeks.

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

QPR: Begovic 5; Dunne 5, Cook 5, Clarke-Salter 5 (Smyth 69, 5), Paal 4 (Fox 69, 5); Field 5, Hayden 4 (Dykes 69, 4); Chair 4, Andersen 5, Willock 4; Armstrong 4 (Adomah 90+3, -)

Subs Not Used; Walsh, Cannon, Larkeche, Dixon-Bonner, Hodge

Yellow Cards: Hayden 40 (foul), Dykes 76 (foul), Andersen 90+5 (foul)

Sheff Wed: Beadle 6; Iorfa 5, Diaby 6, Ihiekwe 5, Famewo 5 (Pedersen 81, -); Poveda 7 (Gassama 29, 6), Bannan 7, Palmer 5; Smith 5 (Valentin 81, -), Ugbo 5 (Paterson 69, 5), Windass 5 (Musaba 70, 6)

Subs not used: Dawson, Hendrick, Vaulks, Cadamarteri

Goals: Gassama 59 (unassisted), Musaba 90 (assisted Gassama)

Bookings: Windass 40 (dissent), Palmer 43 (foul), Bannan 90+1 (foul)

QPR Star Man – N/A

Referee – Graham Scott (Oxfordshire) 5 Very much the vibe of the actual appointed referee getting stuck in traffic so one of the dads agrees to fill in to get the game on.

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bosh67 added 22:33 - Apr 7
Excellent write up as always Clive. 3 things you can guarantee in life. Death, taxes and QPR doing this after 2 good results.

Myke added 22:58 - Apr 7
Cheers Clive, your downbeat mood matching the performance. I feel that Marti 'blaming himself' is instead a thinly veiled criticism of the players for failing to listen to his warning at how intense SW would be. I know the 'long ball' stuff is not pretty, but I could understand the manager's strategy. On Monday, he knew that Swansea crossed early and often so went with four CB's, which worked to a tee and rightly earned praise. Yesterday, he knew Rohl would have his players pressing from the edge of our box, so it was a reasonable strategy to knock high balls for Armstrong to run onto to beat that high press. If that was the plan I was surprised that Smyth did not start ahead of Willock as he is both faster and more direct, which might have suited better.
But whatever the tactics, we needed a lot more energy and determination than we showed on Saturday and there is no doubt that - despite the coaching staffs warnings during the week - complacency had crept in. I don't necessarily agree with you that we are as bad a team as you make out - I don't think a 'bad' team could have dominated WBA so completely as we did at Loftus Road. But you are dead right - and this applies to every team in the Championship, even Leicester - if you are not fully up for it every game, you will get punished . That is the nature of this division.

Phil_i_P_Daddy added 23:23 - Apr 7
We were never in the game from first to last. All credit to Wednesday for maintaining an impossibly high tempo and press throughout. THAT’s what a team fighting relegation should look like.

ParkRoyalR added 23:24 - Apr 7
Being harsh, but it's a forum for opinions, I'm thankful Frey's likely unavailable on Tuesday b'cos if an hour before kick-off I'd seen Marti put his name down to start I'd jump back in the car and drive home.

Had he not already seen at Stoke away this set-up would not work?

Jimmy Dunne single-handedly won the only Must Win game we've won and we are not being helped Marti's over-thinking and starting either Frey or Armstrong as a lone striker.

Win the physical battle and control the game first and then you can try and be too clever.

kernowhoop added 08:41 - Apr 8
'Twice now QPR have had the opportunity to put a ten-point gap between them and the Owls, twice they’ve lost the game in shambolic fashion to narrow that margin to four.'

That summed up perfectly the precarious situation of any team in the lower reaches of the Championship in 2023-2024. It is what is really meant by a 'six-pointer'. Let's hope that some of that complacency has crept into the Plymouth team.

TacticalR added 11:07 - Apr 8
Thanks for your report.

Very disappointing that we could not get something from the game. We have seen many times that the team has difficulty in games with any sort of expectation, especially at Loftus Road, although we seemed to have got past that psychological barrier with wins at home against Rotherham and Birmingham.

As we all know, the problem is up front. We struggle to score, so it's not surprising we struggle against defensive sides. We have won our two most recent games through defenders scoring, and we can't rely on that happening every week. If we can't score, then an opposition goal of the type we conceded turns into a disaster. I was particularly frustrated by Chair and Willock taking shots from distance when the angle was against them. It feels like they are both short on ideas and gambling on scoring wonder goals, trying to replay their greatest hits.

Wednesday weren't great, but they knew what they were doing, knew how and when to be physical, and knew how to get over the line.

Marshy added 12:49 - Apr 8
An abysmal performance where we couldn’t match the intensity of the Wednesday press. It’s so frustrating when we showed real resilience in the last couple of matches, to almost none in this one. Much is debated game by game as to which striker we should start from Dykes, Armstrong and Frey. Trouble is none of them score often enough, and we’ve had to rely most of the season on goals coming from our defenders and midfielders. Therefore if they don’t score, don’t select them! For Plymouth I would go with the following in a 4-3-3;

Dunne Cook Clarke-Salter Fox
Hayden Field Colback
Anderson Willock Chair

Maybe a bit of a gamble, but I think worth a try.

Stainrod added 16:50 - Apr 8
Generous to give Willock 4. Normally such marks are awarded for effort, but I saw none.

The hoof it up to Armstrong and hope approach might have had some outside chance of success if anyone else had felt sufficiently motivated to canter after him, but leaving someone without composure or (it would seem) much cognitive resource with no other blue and white hoop within 30 yards was always going to test his footballing and mental prowess.

Marti has trained him not to stray off-side, can he now train him not to fall over or (worse) give away incredibly cheap free kicks WHEN HE HAS THE OPPOSITION DEFENDER UNDER PRESSURE?

I would also suggest a few lessons to Lyndon Dykes on explaining where the near post is, but that is surely a lost cause.

Surely we can't be this complacent at Plymouth?

extratimeR added 00:46 - Apr 9
Absolutely correct Clive.
Had a bad feeling about this game, we are always awful against them.
Banham always controls game, ( even sitting 60 yards off).

A draw would have been ok, and yes Marti has quite correctly accepted some responsibility for this dreadful performance.

Marti a tadge slow in reacting to Sheffield Weds changes in second half.

Cheers Clive.

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