|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 0 Sunderland|
Tuesday, 26th October 2021 Kick-off 19:45
Paint by numbers - Report
Wednesday, 27th Oct 2021 20:06 by Clive Whittingham
A combination of poor finishing, woeful penalties, and one of the worst refereeing errors you'll ever see, saw QPR crash out of the League Cup against Sunderland at Loftus Road on Tuesday.
There are things I want to be doing today, and things I do not want to be doing today.
Things I want to be doing today. Punching. I’ve only ever thrown one punch in my life but today feels like a good day to start getting involved. Proper, full blown, nasty, gratuitous, Tarantino film-style punches right in some randomer’s face – lot of blood and bone fragments. Back of the head, never saw it coming, dead before he hit the ground, straight to jail, do not pass go, do not collect £200. Kicking things. Innocent wildlife, neighbour pets, big pile of bricks, something like that. Over and over again, repeatedly, for a good 20 minutes or so, until my foot is all bloated and purple, the bone and cartilage are mush and the adrenalin and pain are coursing up and down my leg begging me to stop as I swing it back and forth like some sort of giant pendulum. Starting a fire. Family house, old folk’s home, primary school, something we can really get going while I stand outside laughing maniacally and the police tell the press they fear the actual toll could be far higher. Joe Public loves a good mystery blaze. Falling. Off something tall, so there’s a good few seconds there where I can bask in the relief that it’s nearly all over.
Things I do not want to be doing today. Writing this match report. When you haven’t been to the quarter final of the League Cup since 1988, the quarter final of anything worthwhile at all since 1995, and you draw the lowest ranked team left in the competition at home and then do this with that opportunity (or, rather, have this done to you) then the last thing anybody wants to do is reflect back, remember, or think about QPR v Sunderland very much at all really. When I was at college I fancied a girl we're going to call Jenna and - being a total coward with zero self esteem but sudden access to her mobile number through my mate Si - came up with a masterful plan to have a few beers when I got home by way of Dutch courage and then send her a text message asking her out. Except that when I got home there was no beer, and so rather than abort an already stupid plan I decided to start necking a bottle of Tesco own-brand gin (plain white label, GIN, no further details) mixed with some from-concentrate orange juice while I watched Chelsea v Leeds in the Monday Night Football. I did this rather too enthusiastically, only realising how drunk I was at the point that it was too late to turn back, sent some form of message to her before passing out, deleted it immediately so Sober Morning Clive (poor bastard) wouldn’t see what Drunk Evening Clive (a proper dick) had done, and woke up the following morning with a large brain tumour. At college a day later Jenna (who did not reply, and is not now my wife) recounted the message, and plenty else besides, to her giggling friends in the library… while I stood alone, listening, dying inside, trapped on the other side of the pissing book stack, until the time for my lesson drew so close that I had to come out, reveal I’d been there all along and heard everthing, say “excuse me” and walk through the group to the exit, which wasn’t even closed when they started to laugh and scream “oh my God” at each other in the way teenage girls do when weird, little, blond misfit boys called Clive do a litre of gin and start sexting you in the middle of the night. I prefer that story, and that memory, to that of QPR v Sunderland, and have enjoyed telling it to you far more than I’m going to this next bit.
However, I am contractually obligated to do so, and it bollockses up the numbers and stats in the end of term reports in May if I don’t. So, here it is. It’s going to be a paint by numbers affair. We’re going to do a little bit about QPR to begin with – for whom several problems are now starting to manifest and risk derailing a promising start to the season. Then there’ll be a bit about Sunderland, who after years of decline and mismanagement have well and truly got their act together, were often the better of the two teams in this game, and look an absolute shoo in to come flying out of League One and be quite a considerable threat in this league next season if they keep this team together in this form and this style. Then we’ll do a bit on Keith Stroud, and that’ll be the end of it. It’ll take 20, maybe 25 minutes, and I want you to bear in mind throughout that what I would rather be doing now is blasting through five or six bottles of wine at once, not even bothering with a glass, until I drop down dead in a pool of my own purple sick in the living room, liver blasted into a thousand pieces, to be discovered only on Friday when the regular readers (hello to both) notice their fucking Forest match preview hasn’t turned up, and the neighbours start to smell something funky through the partition wall. So, if I give Luke Amos a seven because I thought he did a difficult job well for an hour before tiring, rather than the six you think he deserves having faded with fatigue, just leave it this time yeh? And if I start saying things like ‘Andre Gray looks a good signing doesn’t he?’, or accidentally mistaking Sunderland’s current 6ft 1in tall, white, Scottish striker Ross Stewart as Sunderland’s former 5ft 5in tall, black, English striker Jermain Defoe, then that’s going to be fine as well, because professional people make glaring, basic and obvious mistakes at work all the time apparently, and it’s jolly bad for their mental health if you start giving it the old “how the fucking fuck can you possibly fucking do that you enormous cunting cumsponge of worthless fucking effluent” Malcolm Tucker routine. Ok? Ok.
Here's the QPR bit. As expected, Warbs Warburton resisted the urge for a raft of changes, though with Lee Wallace still injured and Sam Field and George Thomas both feeling their way back through an afternoon U23 game at Bristol City, it’s difficult to really see where changes might have occurred. Osman Kakay replaced Albert Adomah at right wing back, Moses Odubajo did likewise for Sam McCallum on the other side, De Wijs rather than Dunne, Willock back in from the start with Chair, a first start in a year for Luke Amos in midfield instead of Stefan Johansen.
This team created four chances in the first half and should really have taken two of those. Lee Burge’s fourteenth minute save from a low Yoann Barbet shot on the quarter hour looked fairly miraculous, and he was then beaten all ends up when Alves (I think, couldn’t really tell through the blinding glare of our new super LUX floodlights) got in a horrible mess under a cross three minutes before half time but the ball flew just past the top corner. The goalkeeper shouldn’t have been in the equation when the industrious Lyndon Dykes intercepted a Sunderland throw and put Gray into clear blue water 60 seconds later, but he shot straight at him; or earlier when the best move of the half ended with Osman Kakay intelligently cutting the ball back for Ilias Chair to shoot wide when he had to hit the target. When we get to who’s to blame for all of this later remember these misses, and three utterly hopeless penalties in the shoot out, just as much as you remember the match officials. In the end, it’s on us. It has to be on us, because the refereeing isn’t going to get any better, and we’re not climbing any league tables or progressing in any cups by making the most excuses.
It may seem odd to say about a team that had scored in 28 consecutive games prior to this one, the longest such run in the country, but there’s still a sort of carefree, laissez-faire attitude to goalscoring chances at QPR that is particularly acute when we’re playing a team like Peterborough, or League One Sunderland, who we think we should beat. Ah well, never mind, there’ll be another chance along in a minute. That mean, ruthlessness that Warbs spoke about in the summer isn’t there and it wasn’t the only problem that carried over from London Road. Picking two up front, and Willock and Chair, and wing backs, again left Luke Amos facing a hellishly difficult job of doing the work of two or three men in the middle – a tall order for somebody who hasn’t started a game for a year. I thought he did it manfully, really quite brilliantly for the first hour until he inevitably tired, and along with Dykes and probably Dieng was our only real shout for a star man award across the 90 minutes. Nevertheless, playing this system, surrendering that midfield space, is making it very difficult for us. It requires the wing backs to get involved in the press, and that in turn means that when the press is beaten everybody who’s accomplished that is now through on a totally exposed back three and goalkeeper.
Here’s the Sunderland bit. At any point over the last decade, Sunderland at home in the cup would have been tantamount to a bye. Much like QPR they got caught up in the Premier League trap of trying to sign the same big-name players as more storied, richer, attractive rivals and ended up collecting the sort of Rodwell/Barton festering turds who don’t care where they’re going as long as the money is green, and paying way over the odds to get them to a less fashionable club and place. Their meltdown was spectacular, through two catastrophic ownerships, two relegations, and one eye-popping Netflix documentary. But there is something stirring in the North East once more. The boardroom is calmed, the backroom well staffed, the insanity taken out of the recruitment, the wage bill cut, the age of the squad slashed, the style of play and philosophy improved. They boasted 15 wins from 18 games played prior to kick off. Dennis Cirkin, 19 from Tottenham; 22-year-old Ron Thorben Hoffman from Bayern Munich; Leon Dajaku, 20, man of the match here by a street, also on loan from Bayern… these are shrewd, clever moves by a club that suddenly knows what it’s doing.
Outnumbering and controlling the midfield in a 4-2-3-1, with academy graduate Dan Neil impressive in the deep role, and QPR-player-in-waiting Luke O’Nien a persistent pest more advanced, I thought they were good value for their progress which, again, is worth bearing in mind before we get to part three. Dajaku slid through the middle on a counter attack after three minutes and drew the first save from Dieng on an angle – could have been one nil there and then soft as shit. Neil also piled through the available midfield acreage with the time still in single digits and drew a better save still from the keeper, who would go on to keep a sixth clean sheet of the season in easily his busiest and best performance though, still, is more likely to successfully colonise Mars than get remotely close to saving a fucking penalty it seems. Can we bring Alex Smithies back in a sort of designated kicker role? They worked constant, persistent, enormous overlaps down the QPR right, and only the latest all-or-nothing near post chuck and hope block from Yoann Barbet stopped that resulting in a goal seven minutes after half time. The Frenchman then blotted his copy book with a poor giveaway leading to less of a counter attack more of a charge of the Light Brigade on 69 minutes that finished with Defoe’s glaring miss. Barbet would repeat that brain explosion in stoppage time at the end of the game, just as he had done at Peterborough, and only the final, best and most important save of the night from Dieng denied Aiden McGeady (he’s still got it Eddie) and got us to penalties at all.
Here’s the bit about the refereeing. You will of course be aware that QPR won the game through a Charlie Austin goal at the Loft End ten minutes from time. He’d earlier had a powerful sighter just over the bar after replacing Gray as a substitute, and when Ilias Chair drew a fairly outstanding save from Burge and fellow sub Albert Adomah’s follow-up on the line was blocked by Dennis Cirkin’s hand he forced the winning goal home from close range, into the empty net with his head. Except that, after an imponderable delay, in which referee Keith Stroud had clearly given the goal, linesman Mark Dwyer raised his flag to rule it back out again. Who he’s flagged offside is difficult to determine, because nobody is, before we even get to why on earth it’s not a penalty anyway for the handball. Whether he’s got himself confused because the goalkeeper had landed in front of the defender so wasn’t last man, we’ll never know, because no explanation is ever forthcoming. What role Stroud, who even on a night like this when he was perfectly fine for most of the match is only ever moving closer minute by minute to his next abject catastrophe, played in this we’re also forbidden from asking – though given the inordinate delay in the decision it’s reasonable to assume they at least had a conversation about it through the ear pieces.
It’s a howler. One of the most obviously incorrect, easy-to-get-right, difficult-to-get-wrong decisions you’ll see. We’re told they can only give what they see, and quite what he thinks he’s seen here is a mystery. It’s cost QPR a quarter final place, a substantial amount of money, a win, a memorable night, progress, momentum, mood and plenty else besides. It’s a catastrophically bad call and I suppose what some of you want me to do now, what you’re all expecting me to do now, is crack my fingers, lube up the rubber fist and go 25 inches deep on the dozy fucker that inflicted it on us. Tempting as it is, and racing certainty that’s exactly what I would have done if I was writing this last night when no amount of Crown and Sceptre Peroni could douse the burning flame of injustice, I may be your latest disappointment.
Refereeing in this country is in a dire state considering the money the game has that it could be throwing at it. Our officials were by some considerable distance the worst and most inept at the European Championships in the summer – it stuck out to the point of national embarrassment. The pay, conditions, stress and abuse do not attract people to the job in enough quantity for there to be any kind of quality. Mark Dwyer’s punishment for this horror is Sheffield United v Blackpool on Saturday, and then Coventry v Swansea next Tuesday – because there’s nobody else. Keith Stroud is back next Tuesday at Peterborough v Huddersfield. When he made an absolute pig’s ear of Swansea v Hull last month what did they do? They gave him Bournemouth v QPR, the televised game of the night, on the Tuesday. What did they do when he nearly blew Brentford’s 2019/20 play-off bid up with an incorrect red card for Rico Henry at Swansea? The overturned the card on appeal, and gave Stroud another play-off semi-final the year after. It took his ‘incorrect in law’ nause up of Newcastle v Burton for them to do anything about him at all, despite him being clearly and obviously the worst referee in this league for a decade or more, and even then it was just a month on the sidelines.
We’re stuck with a bad combination of assessors looking for and rewarding the wrong things (so officious little wankers like Tony Harrington get promoted while Geoff Eltringham spends the rest of his life in this league) and a lack of any decent talent coming through into an unattractive job. People like Stroud and Dwyer just hang around on the list, for the sadistic love of a job they’re terrible at, making horrendous mistakes weekly, never punished, never demoted, because really who else is there and what would that achieve? Here, as is the case every week, the referee was the oldest man on the pitch by a distance, in an increasingly fast, frenetic and fitness-based sport. Dwyer's probably part time, fitting his inept officiating around some poxy office job, in a league from which promotion is worth £120m to each team. We’re going to Cardiff next week and Andy Woolmer is waiting for us there, another crusty old disaster artist with no business being within 200 miles of professional sport at this level… but… again… who else is there? With abuse, assaults, threats, rank pay, appalling senior management, dire assessment from incompetent assessors… why would you be a referee? Every week there's a story of some poor old boy getting punched on Hackney Marshes because he didn't award some roided-up meathead a penalty kick.
All you can do is take it out of their hands as best you can. Score in the first half when you should have done. Wind out of the sails, Austin subsequently missed his penalty (not sure getting to the Loft End early and standing there waiting that long was the best tactic given his form and mood in general), Chair blazed his hopelessly over the bar, and Yoann Barbet managed to find exactly that spot in the Upper Loft that all his fucking free kicks hit as well. The sad, forlorn kicks either side of Dykes’ lone conversion rather betrayed the declining confidence and growing doubt in this team – certainly when you compare it to the swashbuckling, almost cocksure conversions of the shoot outs against Orient and Everton in the earlier rounds, and Sunderland's pea-shelling here. Score those, the disallowed goal doesn’t matter.
I know you want anger, I know you want rage, and believe me I've churned enough stomach acid today to burn a hole in the hull of a ship. But there’s a big game coming up on Friday, I'm concerned with a lot of what I've seen in the last two matches, and the focus needs to be forwards, on that, and on us; not backwards, not on woe-is-me injustice, and not on a refereeing decision that's been and gone. However obviously horrendous it was.
QPR: Dieng 7; Kakay 6 (Adomah 72, 7), Dickie 5, De Wijs 6, Barbet 5, Odubajo 5; Amos 7 (Duke-McKenna 84, -); Willock 6 (Dozzell 73, 6), Chair 6, Gray 5 (Austin 62, 6), Dykes 7
Subs not used: Johanson, Ball, Archer, Dunne, Drewe
Bookings: De Wijs 15 (foul)
Sunderland: Burge 8; Winchester 7, Alves 6 (Doyle 69, 6), Wright 7, Hume 6 (Cirkin 24, 8); Neil 8, Evans 7 (O’Brien 65, 7); Gooch 7 (McGeady 65, 7), O’Nien 7, Dajaku 8 (Prichard 69, 7); Stewart 7
Subs not used: Flanagan, Harris, Hoffman, Wearne
Bookings: O’Nien 17 (foul), Gooch 39 (dissent), Stewart 90+4 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Lyndon Dykes 7 Led the line strongly, scored his penalty, looked our biggest threat. I thought Luke Amos had a great first hour before tiring, and this was much better from Seny Dieng up to but unfortunately not including the shoot out.
Referee – Keith Stroud (Hampshire) 4 Will be the death of me. And will then probably insist on coming to the funeral and holding the proceedings up with one his prolonged hand puppet theatre routines.
Attendance – 15,372 (3,000 Sunderland approx.) Again, as I looked around at the place, and absorbed the atmosphere, I couldn’t help but reflect on what a colossal, sodding waste of an opportunity this really was. A League One team at home for a quarter final place. We’ll be waiting a while for another.
Pictures – Action Images
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