Pleasing all of the people, all of the time - Report
Thursday, 23rd Jul 2020 18:55 by Clive Whittingham
In the great debate about whether QPR should even try against West Brom at The Hawthorns on Wednesday, few had considered just how perfectly things might work out if they did.
For a while, there was a very serious discussion about whether Queens Park Rangers should actually bother trying to win this match.
Hark at us. Victories, certainly victories away from home, have been hard to come by for QPR for several years now. Seven road wins this season was their best total in six years. Between being relegated back out of the Premier League in 2015 and the start of this season Rangers had won 18 of their 92 league matches away from Loftus Road. To win, Rangers seem to have to scrap, and fight, and strain every sinew. To lose, often, it feels like they need do little more than turn up and slip through the formalities. We lose matches easier and more often than we fall asleep, and make every win feel like the Hundred Years' War, and yet here we were openly pondering whether we should just phone this one in deliberately.
The reason was a mixture of geography, rivalry, bitterness and outright spite. It has hurt watching QPR slip from a top flight mainstay, and the best club in London, through one stint in administration and League One, and then turn down not one but two chances of a reprieve under first Neil Warnock and then Harry Redknapp. We’re a husk of a great club from the 1970s, 80s and 90s and it’s all entirely our own doing. What has made it worse, is watching clubs all around us going past us. When Rangers finished fifth in the Premier League in 1992/93 Tottenham were eighth, Arsenal tenth and Chelsea eleventh. QPR took points from all of them. They did the double over Arsenal the year after, took four points from Spurs. Those three are now all global mega clubs, in towering super stadiums.
That sad trend has continued. West Ham, a First Division club that year, have gone past us. Charlton as well before a recent collapse. Crystal Palace. Fulham, eleventh in the Second Division and playing in a derelict stadium in 1992/93, likewise. And now, through exactly the sort of shrewd financial management, data analysis, scouting and recruitment that QPR have been absolutely crying out for since big money walked through the door here in 2006, so too have Brentford. Whether you sign up for the rivalry with Fulham, or see the Brentford game as a derby or not, is really rather irrelevant. It has made an already traumatic period of supporting our club unquestionably worse seeing sides within walking distance of us come from ten thousand miles behind to become our superiors while QPR mooch around trying to build up the courage to tell us they’ve shit the bed again.
But now, mwahahah, what’s this? Could it be? A final day league table scenario that suddenly puts the hapless Hoops in charge of the destiny of our neighbours. Brentford’s shock choke at Stoke at the weekend allowed West Bromwich Albion in for a second shot at the automatic promotion slots, if only they could beat QPR in the final game. Fail, and it was Brentford’s for the taking once more. Both fail, and Fulham could slip in. The only thing for certain was that both Spartak Hounslow and Tarquin and Rupert needed QPR to do the business at The Hawthorns in a game that, to their league standing, meant absolutely nothing. Championship’s gonna Championship.
Well, wasn’t all this rather delicious? All those televised hammerings at Craven Cottage, all those retched 3-0-down-by-half-time nights, all that money we paid to take Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora off their hands when they were obviously spent, all those bloody choruses of “Queens Park Rangers, it’s happening again.” All those losses at Griffin Park, all those QPR managers running that gauntlet in front of the away end, all the smugness and the crowing and the public masturbation over Matthew Benham and data analysis and chuffing Moneyball and how everybody says they’re the best team they’ve played all season. All those times they signed Neal Maupay while we were giving a three year contract to Jay Emmanuel Thomas. All those times that waddling weirdo with the microphone had refused to say the words Queens Park Rangers, referring to us constantly as “that lot from Shepherd’s Bush”, even when handing the microphone over to a nervous QPR-supporting eight-year-old to read our team sheet out. Well, you all need us now don’t you? Come on bitch, ask us for this favour, but you have to say our name in full when you do so.
Ahhhh what to do, what to do? QPR Twitter, as QPR Twitter is want to do, quickly boiled it down to some cold, hard “facts”. If you wanted us to beat West Brom, thereby potentially gifting Brentford or Fulham a route back to the riches of the Premier League, then you are an idiot, absolutely clueless, probably not from Shepherd’s Bush, and definitely not a "real fan". Alternatively, if you wanted us to lose to West Brom, if you were actively backing against your own side to whom you’ve dedicated your whole life, then you are an idiot, absolutely clueless, probably not from Shepherd’s Bush, and definitely not a "real fan".
Tricky isn’t it? And also completely ignorant of the fact that QPR probably wouldn’t have a choice in the matter. West Brom, by any conceivable metric, are much better than us this season. Higher in the league, with more money to spend, better players, bigger squad, more wins, more goals even (one of only three teams to out score us) and embarrassingly comfortable in victory at Loftus Road in September. Whether we wanted to win, or were intending on trying, or not, didn’t really seem to be the issue. QPR’s starting XI from the weekend win against Millwall was U23 graduate; U23 graduate, free from Liverpool, free from Brentford, small fee from Galway; loan from Spurs, free from Rotherham, free from Stoke; U23 graduate, U23 graduate, U23 graduate. There was a very strong chance that they would be putting out a team here that cost less in total than Jake Livermore took home in salary last week. It could, very conceivably, be quite hard to tell whether QPR were trying or not.
But try they did. Warbs Warburton has never really given the impression of somebody who has it in him to dip below a level of professionalism usually associated with FTSE100 CEOs. He strikes me as the kind of bloke who shits a large house brick if his phone charge dips below 85%, because who knows who may call, what it may be regarding, and how much time they may require? This a man who wished a five-year-old a happy birthday in a lockdown Zoom call with the cheery message, “follow the government guidelines”. He turned up for this supposedly meaningless end of season game dressed like the fucking Queen was coming to dinner, and were he to remove the immaculate jacket, shirt and tie combo I strongly suspect you’d find “integrity of the competition” tattooed on his back. Very neatly, in a straight line, in Times New Roman.
He sent a bold message with his team selection. Back came Bright Osayi-Samuel, who’d been left out of the Millwall win at the weekend after the club accepted a bid for his services from Club Brugge. With Bright since deciding that the lure of Champions League football isn’t quite enough to justify jumping at the chance to play in the Belgian First Division (A) immediately he was back available here, though I found the decision to plonk him straight back into the team, frankly, a bit stupid. Warburton won’t agree, you may not agree, but Bright has one year left on his contract and if he’s not going to extend that then QPR need to sell him, they need to sell him now, and they need to sell him for good money. One injury the likes of which Angel Rangel picked up last week, with nobody around him, and a long lay off with next season just seven and a bit weeks away, and the whole thing could be scuppered. And yet there he was, on the wing, change made to a winning team to do it.
If there was any doubt that QPR had come to play, it was dispelled from the moment the team sheet went in. Come to play they had and come to play they did. West Brom a sack of nerves, QPR a bag of tricks. The pattern was quickly set: the hosts would attack, the QPR defence would open up, the chance would be missed; then QPR would attack, and all the excellent young boys would giggle and show off to the television cameras with step overs and no-look passes and rainbow flicks.
Osman Kakay, good in lockdown but tortured by Grady Diangana here, got caught under a high ball after four minutes and the West Ham loanee stretched clear but Lummers Lumley was quick from his line and cleanly took the ball from under the winger’s feet. Callum Robinson headed a cross from Furs Furlong, once of our parish, wide when he should have hit the target. Romaine Sawyers, Warbs’ dream signing so he reckons, tried from 20 yards and Lumley saved to his left. Krovinović cut the ball back from the byline for Pereira to shoot over and QPR liked the look of that so much they chipped the goal kick out for Kakay to lose to Krovinović again and he cut the ball back from the byline for Pereira to shoot over. QPR responded by concocting a short corner routine, the sole purpose of which seemed to be to give Ilias Chair and Bright Osayi-Samuel a chance to do stepovers in a neutral area of the pitch. We are a ridiculous team sometimes.
But there was to be no roll-over and die. Ebere Eze, looking like the most intelligent and talented player on the field, wasn’t a million miles away from catching Sam Johnstone in possession of a short back pass. Bit lazy inhe? A nicely worked free kick on the half hour was claimed by the home keeper who tried to spring Robinson immediately but Luke Amos had stayed back and, for once, was firm and decisive in a tackle to snuff out that danger. Soon Osman Kakay was doing double step overs and combining with Bright Osayi-Samuel down the right to work the ball in field to Dom Ball and then Ryan Manning. Panicked, the home team started throwing bodies and bits of old boat in front of the ball, but this merely rebounded the Irishman’s first shot straight back to him and now with a clear sight of the goal he found the bottom corner as he had done on Saturday against Millwall. Fifth goal of the season from left back – Warbsball in action.
Cat on the loose. Pigeons everywhere. Brentford and Fulham responded by immediately going a goal down themselves to relegation haunted Barnsley and Wigan respectively. Man if you thought this was delicious before, try it with this sauce.
Right then lads, if you mean business then let’s get in at half time like this and really set the stall out in a solid manner for the second half. Big first ten minutes after the break and if we get through that then this lot really will start to feel the nerves and fold. Wouldn’t it be lovely to finish with an eighth away win of the season, matching the record of the 2013/14 promoted R’s, and signing off in style for those who are leaving. Just keep it nice and compact and don’t do anything stupid for the next ten min-oh actually no they’ve scored. Robinson, back to goal, Barbet, fairly limp, Diangana, in behind, Joe Lumley, legs akimbo. One one. But that’s still not bad, certainly better than we expected, and there’s a lot of pride in how we’re going about this and showcasing what bright talents we’ve nurtured this season to a live television audience so just make sure we get through this four minutes of added time and we’ll go in level at the break, regroup, and come out strong for the second half. One one is actually not a bad score at all and-oh no wait they’ve scored again. Kakay, slipping and sliding all over the place, Diangana, crossing accurately, Robinson, killing it stone dead and finishing, Manning, shoving somebody over at the far post for some reason. God bless that linesman’s flag, the world’s creakiest offside trap had accidentally caught something for dinner.
There was still time for Barbet, ropey as fuck all night, to head a Johnstone clearance straight up in the air for Robinson to meet on the way down and shoot wide. Robinson a January loan from Sheffield United to go with the Hal Robson-Kanu, £8m Kenneth Zohore and loaned Charlie Austin they already had to compete for one lone striker role. We've been cobbling a strike force together out of midget midfielders since our part-used Jordan Hugill packed in. QPR, waving a rubber fist around in a nuclear war, and somehow holding their own.
The defending at the start of the second half was bad, even by QPR standards. In fact, it was bad by any standard you care to draw – French Navy, BBC iPlayer TV license check, Labour Party anti-Semitism cases, Zesh Rehman… West Brom could, and should, have scored on 47, 48, 54 and 55. Robinson missed on three of those occasions: out of reach of Pereira’s cross-shot for one; somehow shooting wide of the post when clean through on goal after Masterson had stepped up and Kakay had stayed deep; and almost embarrassing Lumley with a low shot that squirmed through his grasp and agonisingly through the mouth of the goal with another. Apart from his finishing Robinson was pretty exceptional, constantly on the move and threatening, with an immaculate touch, and when Kakay, unusually, and Amos, typically, put in a powderpuff tackle on Diangana on the touchline even he couldn’t miss from the subsequent cross that put a second goal on a plate. Ryan Manning deciding that instead of covering round and marking the man as the centre backs slid across, he’d stay square, marking nobody, and stick his hand in the air while Robinson slid home. Pillock. Manning once more showcasing all the good bits of his game with the ball, and all the bad bits of it without it in one match. Rangers have now conceded 76 goals in a season, their worst record in 50 years.
Ah well, at least nobody could say we hadn’t given it a shot. All of Warbs’ professional boxes ticked. All the screwing over of near neighbours boxes ticked. A defeat, but not a thrashing. Beaten, but not embarrassed. Proud, not humbled. A reasonably satisfactory night’s work all in all.
Quiet. All of you. They’re approaching the tyrannosaur paddock.
What happened next was so disgustingly filthy it should only be distributed in future covered in a brown paper bag. First, the triumphant return of Barbet’s Diags™. A proper one this time, that stayed on the field, without drifting straight through to the goalkeeper. Ebere Eze smelt space down the right side, checked his run to stay onside, and took the ball in full stride with a single touch so silky and perfect it both took West Brom full back Dara O’Shea completely out of the game and set Eze up with a clear run in on goal in one smooth motion. Faced with Sam Johnstone, Eze feinted to slide the ball into the keeper’s bottom left hand corner while at the same time wrapping his right foot around it the other way, sending it screaming over the goalkeeper and into the top bins. Slaven Bilic, who rarely leaves you in any doubt what he’s thinking, mixed exasperation with admiration on the touchline. A goal that could only have been improved by us all being there together as one behind the goal, watching it come screaming towards us.
I’m sorry. I’m going to need a minute.
If you’re in charge of anything over and above cleaning the toilets at a Premier League football club at the moment and you’re still undecided on whether this boy can not only cut it at that level, but also justify a price of £20m or more, then frankly you should not only be considering a new career, but also re-evaluating what it is you want from life? What brings you joy, what makes you happy, what makes you excited, what makes you feel warm inside, what makes you sigh the sigh of a satisfied man? What, really, is the point of any of any of this? If it’s not this boy, and this goal, then I pity you and whatever soulless zombie existence you’re suffering through. This was, and he is, perfect, and he will remain with me, in my heart, and my memories, and my wank bank, long after he has left. If this, his fourteenth goal of a season in which he’s been ever present in the league, was his final act in our colours then it was a sign off second only to David Bowie. And if I catch some “best league in the world” troglodyte picking him up for want of something better to do, and parking him on the bench because they don’t really know how to handle him, mithering about how he doesn’t quite fit into their factory farm plan to finish seventeenth in the league with no cup runs, and bombing him out on loan halfway through next season to Stoke bastard City, then I am going to be coming round to some houses and somebody is going to get fucking hurt.
Where were we? Ah yes, put ‘Osman Kakay is refreshingly laid back for a man with such responsibility’. First he had another disaster with Amos, but got in a great recovery block to deny Diangana. Then Charlie Austin came on and with his first touch set up Krovinovic for a firm shot that looked in all the way until Lumley produced the save of the night off to this left. An eighty-third minute West Brom free kick found five players fully unmarked in the QPR penalty box, but Ajayi misjudged and shouldered the ball wide. Five unmarked? I was going to leave six but five’s okay I guess. Kakay mused.
Despite Rangers giving up on the idea of defending entirely, West Brom hadn’t scored. Brentford and Fulham both had. The whole thing hung on a knife edge. Next goal promoted. Bilic stuck Kamil Grosicki on from the bench, shoved Kyle Bartley up front with Austin and Robinson. A cross to the back post sailed out on the full, Manning easing Grosicki under the ball. The lesser spotted Marco Ramkilde, a 22-year-old Danish striker ushered in pre-lockdown, came on and ran about a bit, looking tall.
Then Barnsley scored.
Well, you can only lead a horse to water can’t you?
QPR had their point, West Brom had their promotion, Brentford and Fulham have their play-off. Lou Reed wrote a song about this shit once.
When QPR do fall in a hole, and lose heavily at Fulham, or get their pants pulled down at Brentford, there’s a lot of gnashing of teeth, waving of arms, wailing of voice and general testiculating that goes on. We talk about how badly run we are, how much money we waste, how lousy the recruitment is, how sub-standard the players are, how we lack ambition and ability and character and fitness and bollocks. Nobody is safe. We come for Tony Fernandes, Amit Bhatia and Les Ferdinand. We come for Lee Hoos, and whoever the manager is, and whoever the captain is. We come for the fucking tea lady. And we ask where our standards are. Where are our standards? This is Queens Park Rangers, it’s not good enough to play like this, lose like this, concede goals like this. We’re a proud club, this is shaming our badge, and our colours, and our support, and Stan Bowles.
Well, here are your standards. In a game that meant nothing to us, against an opponent for whom this was everything, at the end of a year-long season, without enough players to name a full compliment of substitutes, with half the fanbase actively wanting us to lose for the bantz, we picked the strongest team available, put in the best performance we could muster, took a point off a Premier League team in waiting, and scored the goal of the night. Three seasons ago we lost an identical fixture to this 4-0 at Norwich City. We were pathetic. You can't moan about standards and then hope for a repeat of that here because you don't much like the family down the road.
They came to crown West Brom, and left talking about Ebere Eze. Where were these standards against Barnsley, and Charlton, and Wigan, and Sheffield bloody Wednesday? Well. Quite. But this performance spoke to the manager, the standards he sets, how he conducts himself and how potentially good he is for our demented, accident-prone, wild little football club.
It’ll all fall apart. It always does. But for now this was fine way to round off a very satisfactory season overall.
West Brom: Johnstone 6; Furlong 6 (Townsend 81, -), Ajayi 6, Bartley 6, O’Shea 5; Livermore 6 (Phillips 90, -), Sawyers 7 (Brunt 71, 6); Pereira 6 (Grosicki 81, -), Diangana 7 (Austin 71, 6), Krovinovic 7; Robinson 7
Subs not used: Harper, Bond, Hegazi, Robson Kanu
Goals: Diangana 44 (assisted Robinson), Robinson 49 (assisted Diangana)
QPR: Lumley 6; Kakay 5 (Shodipo 81, -), Masterson 6, Barbet 5, Manning 6 (Gubbins 90+4, -); Cameron 6 (Ramkilde 57, 6), Ball 6, Amos 6; Osayi-Samuel 7 (Kane 79, -), Chair 7, Eze 7
Subs not used: Oteh, Bettache, Kelly, Clarke
Goals: Manning 34 (unassisted), Eze 61 (assisted Barbet)
QPR Star Man – Ebere Eze 7 Absolute sex.
Referee – Darren England (Barnsley) 8 Never noticed him once.
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Pictures – Action Images
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