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Centre half headaches continue in QPR cup crash - Report
Thursday, 29th Aug 2019 18:41 by Clive Whittingham

Queens Park Rangers bowed out of the League Cup at the second round stage on Wednesday night, going down to a 2-0 home defeat against League One outfit Portsmouth.

At times, this Queens Park Rangers side can be brilliant. Little fleet-footed wizards dancing through the dark, opposition unable to lay a glove. Ten minutes in, new goalkeeper Liam Kelly conspiring with his defenders to catch half the Portsmouth team the wrong side of the ball, Ilias Chair whirling into the space created legs-a-blur, Jan Mlakar freed to the right and Bright Osayi-Samuel just out of reach of the resulting cross at the far post.

Portsmouth had few answers to that, and not many teams at Championship level will either if Rangers can reproduce it often enough. A flicked pass round the corner from Mlakar on 22 minutes will soon require a credit card and two forms of identification to view in the UK — Chair received the smutty goods and smacked them straight at MacGillivray in the visiting goal.

Twice, on 53 and 85, Ryan Manning took the entire away defence out of the game with sweeping crossfield balls into the heart of the penalty area, but the impressive Marc Pugh headed the first one straight at the keeper, and Mlakar tried to feather the second one in when the chance required a more masculine touch. There was a succession of corners played out to the edge of the box to avoid a giant Pompey defence that included Burgess, Downing and Naylor all in excess of six-foot — Matt Smith volleyed each of them miles wide in turn.

Creating chances, isn’t the problem. Rangers have mustered 36, according to statisticians who believe they can accurately quantify what is a chance and isn’t, which is more than anybody else in the Championship — our high-flying opponents on Saturday, Sheffield Wednesday, trail in second on 29. Taking them is. Mlakar, a summer loan from Brighton, rather fluffed his lines in what was a big opportunity for him to show the lone striker position in Mark Warburton’s favoured formation isn’t a two horse race between Jordan Hugill and Nahki Wells. Not, it should be said, that Wells did much to effect proceedings in his half hour on the pitch — booked for a foul on a player crossing halfway immediately after coming on, he was perhaps lucky pernickety referee Ross Joyce didn’t then send him off for taking a second man out over on the Ellerslie Road touchline. One ballooned effort over the bar his sole contribution to the attack he’d been brought on to bolster.

There are more pressing issues than that, however. Specifically, something we picked out at Boreham Wood way back in mid-July — in an effort to find two centre backs who can pass the ball out, we’ve neglected to find two centre backs who can defend their own goal adequately. Rangers are yet to keep a clean sheet this season, conceding 13 goals in seven matches so far — five of those games at home.

Mark Warburton went with Toni Leistner, so impressive as a substitute on Saturday against Wigan, alongside Yoann Barbet in the heart of the defence to deal with former Leyton Orient and Doncaster striker John Marquis, and between them they had the sort of nightmare you wake up from with a sweaty jolt. No sweeping relief at the realisation it was all only a dream for the German and the Frenchman here though, this was real life, and two more goals in the against column were entirely their fault. QPR’s latest cup exit on their shoulders.

There’d been a couple of small warning signs against exactly the sort of energetic, organised, well-coached team you expect when Kenny Jackett comes to town. Leistner gave the ball away, then recovered with an interception, then gave it away again to Marcus Harness, who knows a thing or two about cup runs from his time at Burton Albion but shot wide on five minutes. Twenty minutes down the line only a superb back post header from Todd Kane, sadly not as influential in attack as he had been in his initial outings, prevented a queue of three Pompey forwards heading home at the back post. Kelly made a nervy save from long range a minute later, Manning saw yellow for hacking Harness down, but it wasn’t too much to worry about at this point.

Portsmouth started the second half well, then Rangers fought a way back into it only to kill their momentum with their own substitutions. Warburton, so proactive and effective with his changes so far this season, made things worse here by slinging on Wells too wide, Eze too deep and Dominic Ball at all. I’m trying not to be too unkind to Ball until he’s settled in and found his feet but Jesus Mary and Joseph he’s scary at the base of that midfield. He’d maybe notice it himself if he wasn’t so busy telling everybody else what they should be doing.

Even the negative effect of the changes might not have been enough to deny Rangers a second penalty shoot out in as many League Cup games had Leistner and Barbet not intervened in the final 15 minutes. First, Leistner tripped Marquis in the penalty area. The player wasn’t in a particularly threatening position, he didn’t have a great deal of support, he wasn’t moving towards the goal and had he got a shot away from there a school goalkeeper would have thrown his cap on it — it was a challenge that didn’t need to be made and was made regardless. It’s the fourteenth penalty QPR have conceded from the start of last season and like 12 of the others it was dispatched pretty comfortably into the net by Marquis. Kelly, rightly, booked for his gamesmanship antics in the build up to the kick. Nobody, incidentally, in the Championship has conceded as many penalties as Rangers in the last year.

That felt like game over anyway, but the centre halves conspired to create a second goal even more defensively shambolic than the first. You can perhaps understand and forgive Leistner getting taken out of the shallow end by McCrorie and skinned for pace — Leistner isn’t quick, he knows it, it’s an area of the pitch you can expose him in, facts of life and science. No understanding or forgiveness for Barbet, so deeply asleep in the centre of the field the club doctor might like to check for a pulse, allowing Harness to run off his back unchecked for a simple tap in second. Portsmouth deserved it, and Harness especially as their best player.

There was a consolation goal, deep into injury time, brilliantly dispatched into the bottom corner by Ebere Eze. This, after the sort of prolonged discussion Joyce had seemed keen to have with anybody willing to talk to him all night, was eventually disallowed because it had passed by (but not touched) an offside Nahki Wells some 15 yards out from the goal. It was no more an offside goal than a fucking space rocket, but it mattered little at that stage. Point of personal privilege — goal music played for consolation strikes in lost games in injury time makes us look like even more muggy than that bunch of Palace teenagers who jump up and down with their tops off and pretend to be Napoli ultras while losing at home to Burnley.

Three problems then. One, missing chances, will solve itself as long as they continue to be created. Two, lousy centre back play, looks a more difficult fix with the personnel we’ve got at the club. Leistner’s horror show here will quell the calls for his inclusion that had escalated after the Wigan game, but I still wouldn’t be in a rush to offload him on the European transfer deadline unless we’re forced to economically. You could see here though, all night, against a better side than Wigan, why Warburton doesn’t fancy him.

Three is the concern to me. When we play as we’re set up to, when we pop the ball off first time and get it moving, when there’s tempo and pace in our play, we’re a good team. But that is incredibly difficult, even for the very best teams, to sustain over entire games. And when we drop away from it very slightly, which we will do inevitably anyway but particularly when the personnel at the base of midfield isn’t who it should be, we’re very, very gettable. Portsmouth showed it up perfectly and plenty of others will have taken note.

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QPR: Kelly 6; Kane 6, Leistner 4, Barbet 4, Manning 6; Owens 6, Smith 5; Pugh 7 (Ball 75, 4), Chair 7 (Wells 60, 5), Osayi-Samuel 6 (Eze 60, 6); Mlakar 5

Subs not used: Hugill, Scowen, Masterson, Barnes

Bookings: Manning 40 (foul), Wells 64 (foul), Kelly 77 (unsporting), Kane 90+5 (foul)

Portsmouth: MacGillivray 7; Burgess 7, Downing 7, Naylor 7, Haunstrup 6; Evans 7 (cannon 60, 6), McCrorie 7; Harness 8, Close 7 (Walkes 90+4, -), Curtis 6; Marquis 7

Subs not used: Pitman, Raggett, Harrison, Maloney, Bass

Goals: Marquis 77 (penalty, won Marquis), Harness 85 (assisted McCrorie)

Bookings: Cannon 90+4 (foul)

QPR Star Man — Ilias Chair 7 QPR’s early promise faded as he did. For a while he was the outstanding player on the pitch by a country mile.

Referee — Ross Joyce (Cleveland) 5 The Guinness World Record for the largest speed dating event consisted of 964 singles, and was organised by Ireland’s Mervyn Greene and Denmark’s Mette Boye Hansen at the CHQ Building in Dublin on Valentine’s Day earlier this year. There were fewer, briefer, less pointless conversations held that night than Mr Joyce managed to embroil himself in across 90 pernickety, fussy minutes here.

Attendance — 7,783 (2,600 Portsmouth approx.) Well I doubt that will encourage the League Cup stayaways to return next season. Huge following from Fratton Park as there always is.

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Phil_i_P_Daddy added 20:09 - Aug 29
Leistner looked terrified with the ball at his feet. He’s safer in the middle of a back three, but has some way to go in a back two.
I know a yellow card for a keeper who might get another game in January means fcuk all BUT...WTF was going through Kelly’s mind?! He was determined to fanny about until he got booked. Dick!
Barbet SHOCKING for the their second.

Two steps forward, one step back.

DavieQPR added 23:13 - Aug 29
Maybe it's time to try Hall and Cameron at CB.

Myke added 23:40 - Aug 29
Cheers Clive. Stupid, stupid game to lose. Win that and something to look forward the far side of the international break, other than the samey, win some lose some draw of the championship. It may not lose him credit the way Blackpool's defeat to McClaren did but it's still incredibly frustrating coming so soon after an impressive comeback v Wigan. And as you rightly say Clive, exposes the three major weaknesses we have. Like you, am not too concerned about scoring goals; Hugill, Wells and Eze have already made significant contributions in that regard, although it's high time Chair, BOS and even Pugh hit the target. The CB position is much more serious as we knew it would be and to be fair Warburton knows it too, hence the attempt to sign McKenna. No way would I blame Leistner for the second goal. Where was Kane? As for Barbet his abject failure to track his man was shocking. Don't like to be critical this early in the season, but Barbet really concerns me. They obviously also need more protection in front of them a la Derry. But despite having more defensive mid-fielders than number tens (which is saying something), Cameron, Ball, Smith, Scowen, we seem horribly exposed down the middle
Good luck to Portsmouth they deserve their big day out with Southampton

Northernr added 07:40 - Aug 30
Myke - not sure without looking back at it where Kane was though I suspect the answer was piling forward looking for an equaliser. If we're going to attack from full back, which we should and Kane is good at, there are going to be moments where the centre backs are exposed like that. It's another reason Warburton doesn't fancy Leistner because if you get him out there with no full back he's easily skinnable.

toboboly added 08:07 - Aug 30
From the upper loft the penalty looked very soft. Especially given the tackles on Big Matt Smith over the last few years. Thought we then dodged an actual penalty later when one of their lot was chopped down

Marshy added 10:20 - Aug 30
Shocking team performance. It was if we were the division 1 team, and a poor one at that. Matt Smith is a inferior footballer. Virtually every pass he made was to a Pompey player, or overhit to no one. This has also been evident in other matches this season. We had no positional sense, and there was no width. In previous matches we were excellent in getting crosses into the box, but on this occasion it just didn’t work. For the first time this season Warburton got it tactically wrong.

My first impression was that it wasn’t a penalty. I think the Pompey player was looking for it, and made the most of it. Up to that point BFG I thought had played well, but that was probably because he cleared everything in the air to which he excels. Clearly he is limited when the ball is on the grass. Typical Rangers Non Cup Run. The manager has still a lot to prove, and so do the players.

Antti_Heinola added 10:50 - Aug 30
Agree with all, except the playing of the goal music. Absolutely brightens my night when a game has gone and we still play it. Beautifully ridiculous.

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