|Watford 1 v 2 Queens Park Rangers|
Monday, 1st February 2021 Kick-off 19:45
QPR toast first cup final success since 67 – Report
Tuesday, 2nd Feb 2021 16:30 by Clive Whittingham
A fairy-tale last-minute winner from boyhood QPR fan Albert Adomah sealed Rangers’ first cup final success since 1967 on Monday night as the R’s came from a goal down to beat global giants Watford 2-1.
Bar one boozy night in the steaming Ibiza summer of 2005, it’s been a long time between cup final drinks for Queens Park Rangers.
Once taunted by fans of Peterborough United for not being famous anymore, Rangers hadn’t even been famous in the first place when last they ascended the hallowed Wembley steps to collect major silverware. The pictures were black and white, the commentator was Kenneth Wolstenholme, the sixties were swinging, and one Rodney Marsh was leading an unheralded Third Division team from the front, recovering from two goals down to defeat heavy favourites West Bromwich Albion 3-2 in front of just shy of 98,000 people.
Oh, there have been other big hits and near misses: eventually ground down by Spurs through two FA Cup finals in 1982; shocked and humiliated by Oxford United in 1986; done in extra time by Cardiff in Cardiff in 2003; victorious in almost farcical circumstances against Derby in 2014 in a play-off. But a cup final win? Well, let’s just say we’ve been cracking jokes about the Copa Del Ibiza, The Dryworld Cup, Masters Football and runs to the latter stages of the London Evening Standard Fives even longer than the writers of Last of the Summer Wine have been trying to contrive situations where three old gimmers might feasibly find themselves accelerating downhill in a bathtub on wheels.
Monday evening’s televised lockdown fixture at Vicarage Road offered an opportunity to make history. A chance for the class of 2021 to write their name into club folklore alongside those of Springett, Hunt, Sibley and the first, second and third comings of the great, wonderful, Mark Lazarus. One day we may sit down by a smouldering fire with our grandchildren, as our grandfathers did with us, and tell tales of Dom Ball’s pioneering forays and ideas above his station, Todd Kane’s all-out assault on the skulls of Championship left backs, and Yoann Barbet’s trademarked diags, being sure to role the R in his surname as we go. A new squad of legends-in-waiting bussed north through the rain to ink their names into club history books, while the faithful sat locked in their homes praying Alan Parry might climb out of Watford’s lower colon long enough to even clock that our boys were present.
Cup finals are never easy, that’s rather the point of them, but this looked near impossible. In 67, Third Division Rangers had only to overcome a two-goal deficit against an Albion side two divisions their senior. This, against titans of the European game Watford, was a whole different ball game. William Troost-Ekong was playing. Tom Cleverley was playing. Joao Pedro was playing. Nathaniel bloody Chalobah was playing for goodness sake, a player of such enormous, prodigious, supreme ability even all-conquering Newcastle United had poked their head round the door for a brief show of interest as the walls of the transfer window closed in. Giants of the modern game. Won't somebody please think of the children? What chance our rag-tag- cabbage-patch, band of hopeless misfits in the face of this roaring hurricane of footballing excellence, led so shrewdly by chump of the week, *checks notes*, Xisco Muñoz? Slim to none is what, and Slim’s been seen at the railway station. Thanks for coming, just be glad to share the pitch with such luminaries and then feel free to fuck off back to wherever exactly it is you play your silly little Championship games while Watford are completing five (five) consecutive seasons of lower mid-table Premier League finishes.
How did the plebs approach the impossible job? Well, initially with provocative chutzpah. Warbs Warburton selected a back three which has served him well on the road of late – five unbeaten away from Loftus Road with two wins to nil leading into this. Macauley Bonne was in from the start up front alongside Charlie Austin with Lyndon Dykes self-isolating, as he’s been doing for most of the season. Stefan Johansen had answered a ‘Cunt Wanted’ small ad in the Hammersmith and Fulham Gazette and crossed the Broadway just in time to add some street smarts to the world’s politest midfield. Rob Dickie, Jebediah Springfield and Louis XV were the centre halves with Todd Kane to their right and a haunted house to their left. Early corners were forced, by Kane, and by Ilias Chair. Johansen came charging through onto a slack back pass from Troost-Ekong and almost tackled the ball into the net as reserve goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann took a Tony Roberts length of time over the clearance – first choice Ben Foster ruled out, presumably after somebody finally caught up with him and shoved that chuffing GoPro up his arse.
There were moments of enormous comedy, as you’re always likely to get when semi-professional, provincial underdogs come in from the sticks to play against the big boys under the bright lights like this. Dominic Ball, at one point, tried to duck under a Charlie Austin pass that was played along the ground. Magnificent scenes. Later, when receiving a ball with space to turn out and away, he panicked and ended up toeing it straight back towards his own penalty box, then tried to dig himself out of the situation by chipping Watford manager Troy Deeney, then pushed the perpetual Ballon d’Or nominee over on the edge of the area. Referee Jarred Gillett laughing too hard to blow for the free kick. At one point Barbet tried to engage in a push and go foot race of such epic distance the ‘push’ sent the ball most of the way back down the Metropolitan Line and the ‘go’ would have taken up most of the rest of the evening had it not mercifully drifted into touch. If only football were so simple as to be conquered by punting the ball down the touchline, shouting ALLEZ and chasing after it – you have to watch Rugby Union for theorem that advanced usually. Not to be outdone, soon Geoff Cameron got rather carried away while playing out from the back and rounded the Watford full back at such unsustainable speed he ended up lolloping straight into touch with the ball still at his feet. Yeeeeeeeeeeeee haaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhh!!!! What a club.
Through it all, it was impossible to notice that mighty Watford were, really, not that mighty at all. Not in effort, not in tempo, not in threat, and most of all not in set up. Lining up in a basic 4-4-2, they should have been able to win the game simply by allowing right winger Ismaila Sarr to torment the ghost of Lee Wallace. In actual fact, it took them half an hour to give him the ball at all, at which point he promptly carted Wallace down to the corner flag and drew a needless foul and obvious yellow card. Even this, apparently, did not alert them to the possibilities down that flank, and they stopped giving Sarr the ball again – not that he looked overly arsed about going to fetch it himself I might add. Down the other side they seemed content to afford QPR so much time and space that even Todd Kane was starting to look good in it. We’ve said he needs to work on his crossing, and the Hornets obligingly provided him with 90 minutes of practice here, all the ball and time he could ever possibly want to sling over one centre after another, never once a thought of perhaps switching Sarr to this side to drive Kane back and make him do a bit of defending, or going towards the QPR man to tackle him. It was, frankly, bizarre.
That’s not to say that Watford couldn’t have won the game. They look very much like QPR’s 2013/14 Harry Redknapp side, so lavishly funded and furnished that a 100 point and 100 goal procession to the title shouldn’t be too much of an ask, but mostly just going sulkily through the motions, doing just about enough to maintain a top six spot, rarely bothering away from home, chugging along in second gear with the handbrake on. But QPR 2013/14 did, eventually, get the job done, and when Pedro’s slick backheel through Barbet’s legs set Cleverley away to win a corner from which Sierralta headed goalwards, it needed a combination of Seny Dieng and the bar to maintain the deadlock. Amidst the carnage that ensued afterwards, Yoann Barbet cleared from the goal line.
Barbet put in another creditable effort moments later, one of few who’d stayed alive to the absolute madness of the modern offside law which states a cross can be directed towards two strikers standing ten yards beyond the last man in the penalty box, forcing the defenders to defend, and the flag shall not be raised if a third late comer subsequently arrives on the scene to pick up the scraps from an onside position. Barbet telegraphed it, took it round his own goalkeeper, and cleared it behind. He's quietly playing rather well of late.
Half time, 0-0. BBC1 breaking into scheduled programming to cross live to the scene of a potential upset in the making. Could it be? Well, quite possibly yes. Some of QPR’s passing out from midfield to the wings, particularly from Chair and new boy Johansen, was actually pretty sublime. Dom Ball and Johansen started the second half with an energetic high press that eventually freed the former to feed a decent tee up for Charlie Austin to strike low and hard towards the far corner – deflected behind. Rats.
Immensely frustrating, therefore, that Rangers should then immediately master their own downfall with a series of basic errors from senior players. Ball went first, laying a relatively simple pass up woefully short of Barbet forcing the Frenchman to try and retrieve the situation with a string of his favourite wild sliding tackles. There were two chances for Lee Wallace to clear the resulting corner, the first a free header with time to pick a spot which he directed straight into traffic, the second a ball away down the line or into the main stand on his favoured foot which he delayed long enough for Cleverley to block it back into a problematic area. Geoff Cameron, having a breather on the perimeter track, then tried to rectify all of this by haring into a needless, clumsy tackle on Sarr. You don’t need a referee as good as Jarred Gillett obviously is to spot that, I think even Keith Stroud could have managed it, and Priam King of Troy dispatched the penalty kick in his usual manner, stopping only to run past Seny Dieng and call him a cunt on his exit route. You’re playing with the real men now children. The five-step approach was as far as Deeney had run all game.
QPR had failed to win any of their dozen fixtures against teams in the top half of the table this year, while Watford took the division’s best home record into the game. Rangers had conceded first in 12 matches so far this season, and won none of them. It felt like a long old night from here. Brave effort in the face of such fierce opposition mind, come her and let me pat you on the head young man.
In actual fact, the game continued much as it had before QPR accidentally burned out the clutch of their clown car. Watford ambling about, going through the motions, doing just about enough. Seriously talented players like Will Hughes, Sarr and Pedro were peripheral figures, not driving the plot and not driving mystery, just moving the van from place to place. They continued to give Kane the freedom of the park and he had absolute justification for an exasperated, arms-out plea for an explanation from Bonne when he returned Chair’s lovely crossfield spray first time right into the area any striker worth his salt should have been seated with cutlery in hand and napkin tucked into his top. Dinner bell well and truly rung, Bonne nowhere to be seen. Down the left the Caledonian Sleeper trundled into view as Barbet slid him down to the byline and his cut back cross wasn’t far away from the waiting Austin. QPR’s returning hero also had a shot on the turn blocked by Troost-Ekong.
The more the game went on, the less the scoreline reflected the pattern of play. Watford had spluttered into life for a couple of ten-minute spells, been absolutely gifted a goal, and barely looked arsed for the rest of it. Homework into the opposition seemed to stretch as far as knowing we can be quite charitable to cloggers on dire runs, and Andre Gray (one goal and two lockdown parties this season, no scores in his last 12) was duly summoned for a spell somehow even less effective than Deeney’s. QPR had played the football, created the chances, and trailed anyway. Such is life. Wallace’s deflected cross cried out to be converted from point blank range but Bonne studded it straight to the goalkeeper.
One couldn’t help but wonder what might have been if only all this space Watford were happy to cede down their left could be exploited by somebody who can actually cross a ball. Warbs Warburton wondered this as well, brought on Chris Willock, and then watched as the young winger hooked a glorious ball back from the byline with his first touch and Charlie Austin hungrily monstered the cross at the far post. One one, deservedly so, a fiftieth QPR goal for Austin in 93 appearances across two spells, the first person to reach that milestone for the club since Paul Furlong, the fastest to do it since Clive Allen managed it in 90. Kiss my face, butter my arse, back in bloody business. A second goal in as many away games scored off our own throw in, after two decades spent throwing them straight back to the opposition. Sorcery.
Stirred from slumber, Watford rallied slightly. Rob Dickie was in the right spot on the goal line to prevent Tom Cleverley’s low volley finding the bottom corner in a scramble ensuing from Rangers’ incorrect belief the ball had earlier gone out for a goal kick. Ken Sema was on by this point, somebody who not only looked interested but also fancied testing QPR’s right side out defensively. This made him Watford’s man of the match by a distance, and immediately changed the dynamic down that flank. From being rather disappointed to only be drawing 1-1, Rangers were hanging on rather. Dieng fumbled under heavy pressure from Deeney, still making his way back from his penalty conversion. Barbet cleared well at the near post after Sema took the long way round Willock and cut a dangerous ball back. Why on earth hadn’t he started? Questions to be answered by the next Watford dugout dweller, who we’re expecting to be appointed later today. There really needs to be a vaccination-style government-funded website where you can check how long it is until it’s your turn.
On came Albert Adomah, Charlie Kelman and George Thomas. You couldn’t help but wonder exactly how much sport science benefit we were going to get out of resting Charlie Austin for eight minutes in a game that was there for the winning and losing, particularly with Bonne playing so poorly and soon cramping up himself, but this was to be a night where the changes went well for the manager and against the backseat Monday morning quarterbacks. Willock put in a nice cross which Wallace attacked with a first time volley so wild it came with its own death toll, then fell over the football when it dropped back at his feet. Aggggggggh it bit me with my own teeth.
Then the miracle. Willock, first committing exactly the sort of cynical, disruptive foul we so rarely do to prevent a late Watford break. Prize from the middle shelf. Then the same player strong and slick in possession as Rangers took a turn to attack. Thomas, in good space, and with no designs on heading to the corner flag to protect a creditable draw. Kane, getting a cross right - print it out for Joan. Adomah, a touch for the ages, taking a whole postal district out of the equation, and a finish into the far corner. Dreams of away end limbs. Dom Ball, rushing to join the melee, dived over the crowd of teammates and face-first onto the gravel track. A touch so lush, a finish so crisp, a moment so beautiful, even Neil Banfield got up, risking the loss of his deckchair. A stampede to switch from Main Event to Sky Sports Football in time for the trophy presentation produced a blip on the Richter scale.
On the second day of February 2021 I do hereby declare that Punxsutawney Phil, seer of seers, prognosticator of all prognosticators, emerged reluctantly, but alertly, in Punxsutawney PA and reported, in groundhog-ese, seeing an erection so large it would last for a further six weeks. Plucky upstarts QPR, three away wins on the spin for the first time since 2013, six unbeaten away for the first time since 2011, soaring majestically up to seventeenth.
And all I can say to anybody is keep clear of Shepherd’s Bush tonight.
Watford: Bachmann 6; Navarro 5, Troost-Ekong 6, Sierralta 6, Ngakia 5 (Wilmot 83, -); Sarr 5, Cleverley 6, Chalobah 5 (Sinckernagel 83, -), Hughes 5 (Sema 67, 7); Deeney 5, Pedro 5 (Gray 67, 5)
Subs not used: Cathcart, Elliot, Dalby, Barrett, Hungbo (alright mate don’t show off)
Goals: Deeney 52 (penalty, won Sarr)
Bookings: Sierralta 54 (deliberate handball), Navarro 90+3 (foul)
QPR: Dieng 7; Dickie 7, Cameron 5, Barbet 7; Kane 7, Ball 6, Johansen 7 (Willock 67, 7), Chair 6 (Adomah 82, -), Wallace 5; Bonne 5 (Thomas 89, -), Austin 6 (Kelman 82, -)
Subs not used: Lumley, Kakay, Hämäläinen, Bettache
Goals: Austin 73 (assisted Willock), Adomah 90 (assisted Kane)
Bookings: Wallace 33 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Todd Kane 7 Now, not to be all sniffy and damning with faint praise about this, because Kane was effective, and did set up the winning goal, but Watford’s tactic of leaving him completely unattended with acres of space whenever he had the ball, and posing him no offensive threat whatsoever until Sema got going in the final quarter of an hour, did rather leave him to dip his bread as he pleased. You couldn’t help but wonder what a better crosser of the ball might have done with the same opportunities, particularly in the first half, and it took Willock precisely four minutes to prove exactly that point. But, after a tough season, and a lot of criticism, a good night for Todd.
Referee – Jarred Gillett (Gold Coast) 8 Very good again, with all big decisions correct, and the game calmly and effectively managed. Rather generous on a couple of occasions with his yellow card, which you’d ordinarily expect to see for Cameron’s tackle for the penalty, and Willock’s late cynical foul to disrupt a last-minute attack, and Austin’s deliberate foul on the Watford keeper to stop him launching a first half counter. But he’s been the best referee we’ve had this season in both his games so far.
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Letters from Wiltshire #48 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #47 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #46 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
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