|Queens Park Rangers 2 v 0 Nottingham Forest|
Saturday, 12th September 2020 Kick-off 15:00
Dykes floors Forest with knockout blow - Report
Sunday, 13th Sep 2020 21:03 by Clive Whittingham
QPR got their 2020/21 up and running in fine style on Saturday, beating much fancied Nottingham Forest 2-0 at Loftus Road.
Back but not back, returned but not returned, football but not football, Queens Park Rangers began their 2020/21 season behind closed doors on Saturday, just as they’d finished their 2019/20 only six weeks ago.
A truncated summer it may have been but much has changed in the People’s Republic of Shepherd’s Bush in a short period. Talismanic player of the year Ebere Eze has secured his big Premier League move while the peril of relying on loaned strikers was highlighted for a second time in quick succession when hopes of keeping Jordan Hugill at Loftus Road were dashed by a richer club offering a deal far beyond our reach, as had happened with his partner Nahki Wells in January. Out of a thirteenth placed team has gone 45 goals in three fell swoops. Captain Grant Hall got his free transfer to Middlesbrough. There are increasingly acrimonious contract stand offs in play with Ryan Manning and Bright Osayi-Samuel.
In their stead, gambles. Rangers own a striker now, but they’ve had to shop in Scotland to do it, and they need 24-year-old Lyndon Dykes to make the step up to Championship football, lead the line, and not get injured given he’s the only senior forward at the club currently. George Thomas couldn’t make the grade at Leicester, can he in W12? His time at Coventry says yes, a loan spell at Scunthorpe suggests not. Rob Dickie is another stepping up from lower reaches having moved from League One Oxford to join a defence which shipped 76 goals last term. Neither Luke Amos nor Tom Carroll won many friends or influenced many people in previous loan spells.
This is where QPR are now. Mismanagement and missed opportunity in years past, FFP rules, Covid-19, and simple economics at a club which still requires a hefty six-figure investment from its owners every month just to operate as it is now, have made it so. It meant they were many people’s tips for relegation in 19/20 but Mark Warburton was able to put an enterprising young team on the field which improved its league position by six places, winning more games, winning more away games, scoring more goals and playing better football. Praise for that not inconsiderable achievement was muted and short lived, replaced quickly with ever more apocalyptic prophecies of just how dreadfully this team is certain to do in the new campaign. “What is there to be excited about?” “I’m personally dreading this season.” “That defence will not keep a clean sheet.” “0-2 Forest. All day every day.” “We look incredibly weak as a squad.” “My honest opinion is we are fucked.” “Relegation worthy starting eleven.” The faithful have become the faithless.
In town to face the have nots, the Nottingham Forest Have Everythings. They start this season with the same manager they started the last for the first time in ten years, but a bottle job like few others in lockdown that saw them miss the play-offs altogether on a six goal swing in the final round of matches has Sabri Lamouchi skating on thin ice with his overly defensive style before a ball has been kicked. As per, half a dozen signings have been made to paper over cracks. Four of them are past 30. One of them, former QPR favourite Luke Freeman, is having 100% of his Premier League salary picked up by Forest as part of a loan deal. Another, Loyal Taylor, has a contract so whopping he was happy to sit out and watch Charlton get relegated without him rather than risk losing it to an injury – Forest see that as an opportunity to exploit, rather than an arsehole to avoid. Layer upon layer upon layer of signings, made by four different managers in three years (Zach Clough, remember him, still kicks around from Mark Warburton’s time in charge). They carry 30 senior professional players as it stands.
A cakewalk then? Well, yes, but not baked to the doom mongers’ recipe. QPR were bright, clever and creative. They repeatedly manipulated the ball in behind Forest’s exposed right back Jordan Lawrence-Gabriel and should have scored at least once by doing so – just before the half hour Dykes not quite arriving in time to sweep home Lee Wallace’s centre at the end of a flowing move. They posed threat from inventive set pieces, finding the net through home debutant Rob Dickie after nine minutes only for the goal to be ruled out for a foul in the build up. Referee Tim Robinson satisfying his fetish for defensive free kicks at attacking set plays – it’s all the same, only the names have changed. In the second half Yoann Barbet headed into the side netting from a tight but presentable angle after being worked free at the back post from a free kick, while Dykes hooked a volley over with his unfavoured foot after a cute chip over a defensive wall by Ilias Chair.
Some of the most maligned players and parts of the team were Rangers’ most impressive. Osman Kakay, seemingly on his way out of the club for a career in lower divisions or Scotland just a few short months ago, played well at right back. Lucky, perhaps, that Lewis Grabban and Joe Lolley rather got in each other’s way attacking a Tyler Blackett cross after the left back had been released behind him diving into a tackle in the first half, and that Grabban then shot a foot wide of the post in the second after Kakay had tired to intercept a through ball and fallen over it, but solid for the other 88 minutes. Lee Wallace, a surprise pick at left back as Ryan Manning ascends the cliché mountain to the status of Contract Rebel, coped so well with the often outstanding Lolley that Forest removed their man before the hour. Little Tom Carroll passed the ball forwards, dangerously, rather than sideways, neutrally. Big Bad Luke Amos was exactly that, leading an energetic press from the front with Lyndon Dykes that suffocated Forest’s deep lying pair of Jack Colback and Ryan Yates.
The defence as a whole, for long periods of time, was in danger of looking veritably solid. Maybe Rob Dickie should be handling the country’s track and trace efforts?
The first question was would it be enough for a win? QPR are not adverse to turning promising performances into disappointing results via the medium of missed chances, and when it got to half time at 0-0 you feared for them a little bit. Could they be as good again? Could Forest be as poor? Yes and yes. Joe Lumley’s superb pass out to the left flank after the break was met powerfully in the air by Wallace and that was enough to get Dykes in the wrong side of Figueiredo who clumsily brought him down for an obvious penalty. Bright Osayi-Samuel and Ilias Chair appeared to be playing rock, paper, scissors on the pitch for the right to replace Eze as penalty taker in chief but Dykes, with two successful conversions from the spot in Livingston colours already this season and a first international goal for Scotland during the weeks buoying his confidence, took the responsibility on himself and Julian Dicksed it into the roof of the net harder than a football has ever been kicked before. Wallop. A penalty with chest hair. Had keeper Brice Samba been able to get anywhere near the thing I’m not sure he’d have wanted to. He'd have been killed to death. Just rewards for Rangers, and Dykes, for their respective displays.
The second question was could the surest ‘both teams to score’ bet on the coupon hang on for all three points after getting their noses in front? There were scares along the way, particularly Ryan Yates seemingly grazing the post with an improvised effort from an acute angle, and Lewis Grabban leaning back and giving the full Jordan Hugill treatment to their chance of the match with seven minutes of regulation time left for play.
Could easily have been 1-1 there, and then it’s a different complexion, match report, set of player ratings, mood, feeling and everything else. But in truth Forest, now winless in eight games either side of the break in which they’ve scored only five goals, looked uncomfortable in their own skin. They would finish the game without a single shot on target. Luke Freeman, so influential during his time in QPR colours, barely registered his presence on the field at all. Only really substitute Sammy Ameobi could match the QPR players’ energy and confidence but even his first attempt at getting his team going was plucked straight out of the sky by Joe Lumley who then immediately returned fire with a raking ball to free Bright Osayi—Samuel on the counter and Lawrence-Gabriel was forced to commit a bad foul and take a yellow card to keep his team in touch. Later another great QPR move ended with Osayi-Samuel blasting over the bar.
Warbs Warburton sent on George Thomas at just the right time – his energy and physicality in evidence with a good clearance at a difficult moment in his own penalty area as time ticked down. Manager and players deserved some icing for their cake and when Geoff Cameron still had energy to get forward in injury time and feed Dom Ball into the area with a clever pass he tried to reverse a finish into the far corner drawing a parry from Samba which Ilias Chair swept into the net on the rebound.
In the Crown and Sceptre… scenes.
Twenty-four hour rolling news, Jim White, computer games, social media, and other factors besides perpetuate the idea that if you’re not signing players, you’re really not doing it right. Who’s going where, how much for, windows slamming shut, Sky sources, Twitter ITKs and all the rest of it actually feel like the game itself now, with the matches just getting in the way of the real quiz. Fans harangue their clubs like Glengarry Glen Ross for not doing ever more business for ever more players at ever increasingly large amounts of money. Why aren’t we in for £30,000 a week, 33-year-old, Steven Fletcher? A. B. C. A always. B be. C closing. Always be closing. Always. Be. Closing.
Once upon a time that was us. We would indeed have been the ones wafting three-year contracts at 30-year-old Loyal Taylor after one decent Championship season. Much like Forest now, we didn’t actually get a lot better for it, saddling ourselves with a dislikeable group of disparate individuals, and storing up problems for down the road. We’d also regularly get turned over in games like this, against smarter teams doing more with less.
Nice, even if it is just one game at the start of a long season, for that boot to be on the other foot for this weekend at least.
QPR: Lumley 6; Kakay 7, Dickie 7, Barbet 7, Wallace 7; Cameron 6, Carroll 7 (Thomas 75, 7); Osayi-Samuel 6 (Smyth 90+3, -), Amos 7 (Ball 84, -), Chair 7; Dykes 7
Subs not used: Kane, Oteh, Masterson, Kelly
Goals: Dykes 54 (penalty, won Dykes), Chair 90+4 (assisted Ball)
Bookings: Dykes 77 (foul)
Forest: Samba 5; Lawrence-Gabriel 5, Figueiredo 4, Worrall 5, Blackett 5; Yates 6, Colback 6; Lolley 5 (Ameobi 59, 6), Freeman 5 (Mighten 73, 5), da Costa 5 (Taylor 73, 5); Grabban 4
Subs not used: Smith, Jenkinson, Dawson, Johnson
Bookings: Figueiredo 53 (penalty concession), Lawrence-Gabriel 62 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Lyndon Dykes 7 Led the line, battered Worrall and Figueiredo into submission without incurring the wrath of a referee who’s been rather pedantic on forwards challenging defenders in the past, won the penalty and nearly took the roof off with it. A great start.
Referee - Tim Robinson (West Sussex) 7 Robinson has something of a fetish for awarding free kicks to the defensive team at set pieces, often for very minimal physical contact by attackers. When the Rob Dickie goal was disallowed earlier, and with Lyndon Dykes about as physical as forwards get at this level, it felt like it was going to be a long afternoon. But that didn’t transpire, he refereed the game well, and the penalty decision was correct.
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