|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 0 Swansea City|
Tuesday, 25th January 2022 Kick-off 19:45
Bring a good book - Report
Wednesday, 26th Jan 2022 16:35 by Clive Whittingham
For two teams that like to play the ball on the floor, QPR and Swansea contrived to serve up quite the artery hardener at Loftus Road on Tuesday evening.
I shan’t take my coat off, I’m not stopping.
With positive results and league position, comes aura and status. Since relegation from the Premier League back into this division in 2015, Queens Park Rangers have had none of the former and even less of the latter. Matches against them, games at Loftus Road, have been seen as fertile ground for opposition teams – even the rotten Rotherham side of 2018/19, that went an entire year winning just a single away game, got that win in W12. Bolton, relegated with them that season, won here that same week.
As the transformation from a perennially sixteenth-placed shambles to a genuine promotion contender under Warbs Warburton has taken hold, so attitudes have shifted among teams visiting Shepherd’s Bush. From three points for the taking, now a draw is seen by many as an aspirational target. Moany Towbury was at least decent enough to admit after Blackburn’s game here that he’d come with a set up designed specifically to eke out a 0-0 draw, only to be undone at the death by a moment of genius from Ilias Chair. Huddersfield, another high flyer, did much the same and lost in very similar circumstances, one nil to a late goal by Luke Amos. West Brom, while certainly more ambitious, were more than content with the nil nil they held here until the final minute last Saturday when Charlie Austin nodded in a winner.
This, increasingly, is the pattern of play in our home games now. Crowded midfields, well stocked defences, multiple men detailed to suffocate any space at all around Chris Willock and Ilias Chair, and sure if you can Bristol City it and grind your way through the full 90 minutes then storm away and win the thing with the last kick then the mission has been accomplished and you go home with the points. To this point that’s been the strategy’s only real success, because QPR always tend to score a goal eventually – only twice this season prior to last night have they failed, only the top three in the division have scored more goals than Warbs’ men. Chances are you’re going to expend a lot of energy and churn a lot of stomach acid trying to bore everybody to death, and then lose the game anyway.
Perhaps, though, one of these had been coming. The wins against Huddersfield, Blackburn and West Brom had all been secured super late in the day. Rangers haven’t scored more than two goals in a game in 16 matches now, since the Preston win here in October, and in 12 of those they’ve scored one goal or fewer. But for Austin’s offside goal against the Baggies Rangers would have gone through four home matches with Stoke, Bournemouth, Rotherham and West Brom without a goal in regulation time at all. Lyndon Dykes' form and confidence in front of goal is becoming a concern again and with Ilias Chair and now Andre Gray away on international duty, it was to be Swansea who succeeded where several others had come close but fallen just short.
In a desperately boring spectacle, played in icy conditions, Rangers had three opportunities to chalk up another ‘job done’ one nil win. Just after the half hour a lovely move down the left flank, where QPR did their best work, ended with a typically brilliant piece of approach work by Chris Willock which seemed to have put the opening goal on a plate for Charlie Austin only for Ben Hamer to save his header very well with his feet – the flag had been raised for offside in any case, this would not have counted even if Charlie had scored, which he really should have done. A minute or so shy of the hour mark Luke Amos embarked on exactly the sort of forceful, purposeful driving run forward that the game was so obviously crying out for and having carried himself into open space in the penalty area unloaded a low shot across the goal which struck the inside of the post and somehow failed to rebound either into the net or to a clutch of onrushing team mates. I rated Amos as one of our better performers at that point so it was something of a surprise to see him replaced immediately after, though that change would (should) have paid dividends when substitute Lyndon Dykes was played into a great position in the area eight minutes from the end by a left side combination of recalled Moses Odubajo and fellow sub George Thomas, but he snatched at a toe-punted shot and allowed Hamer to save when the goalkeeper should never really have been in the picture at all.
Having taken Amos off when he was having more impact than most, Warbs then repeated the trick with Chris Willock – Swansea couldn’t believe their luck, and I’m sure these both must have been fitness related. Not ideal ahead of Reading on Saturday. Odubajo, recalled down the right to watch Albert Adomah’s match fitness, produced his usual rocks and diamonds 90 minutes, brilliant one minute and scarily erratic the next. Who doesn't love a good midfield bicycle kick out of the blue once in a while? The adventures of Yoann Barbet’s headgear were often more entertaining than the game itself, but his passing radar was wildly off kilter after several impressive weeks. The “sign a fucking striker” troops are massing again on Twitter hill – remember the financial constraints, remember how much budget was committed to putting this team together in the summer, brace yourselves for disappointment. Ally McCoist, randomly sitting in R Block, could have done a 20 minute turn here and not looked out of place. Are we sure Les can’t play just every now and again?
Swansea, as we’ve come to expect from teams from that part of the world, as we’re told we should expect from sides coached by Russell Martin, were extremely tidy on the ball. Warbs had withdrawn a striker and added Amos’ energy alongside fit again Stefan Johansen and Saturday’s star man Sam Field to combat their desire to dominate the middle of the field. That worked in as much as Joel Piroe and Hannes Wolf looked lively and dangerous when they got the ball, but that very seldom happened, and the entire extent of their threat in the first half was one finish into the bottom corner by the Dutch striker long after he’d been very obviously flagged offside. But it did mean Rangers were often too deep, and struggling to supply Willock et al further forwards. The Swans carried very slightly more purpose in the second half, cleverly escaping a high press and then spreading the ball wide to the left for a low cross which Piroe turned goalwards and Marshall saved expertly. Marshall then performed an improvised rescue act on the edge of his area when QPR were guilty of nonsing around in a dangerous spot and when pacy Southampton junior Michael Obafemi burst through the backline and slammed the ball home three minutes from the end it looked like the dope had been well and truly roped only for another, correct, offside flag to pull the play back. The Guinness World Record holder for the biggest Royal Doulton Toby Jug ever produced doesn’t look half as big a mug as the soft cunt who decided to throw a flare onto the pitch to celebrate a disallowed goal in a game this dire.
There is a prevailing attitude in modern football that there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ way to play the sport. Unless you’re splitting the centre backs, playing out from the back, utilising a false nine, working ‘through the thirds’, wanking yourself to sleep over your xG stats and all the rest of it, then you’re not doing it right. Everybody else is a troglodyte dinosaur who, even when they are successful in a game, probably shouldn’t be very proud of it and, actually, by many metrics were second best so it kind of counts as a moral victory to the losing team. I certainly know how I like the football I watch to be played, and it’s not with Tony Pulis tracksuited up on the touchline yawping “go on Jon” as Jon Walters sets off after the 382nd channel ball of the afternoon, so please don’t by any means lump me in with those sad, withered ballbags who sit on the sofa with “Keysie” and Gray in Dubai, bitching and moaning about set piece coaches and why English managers are never trusted with the big jobs anymore. But… I could no more watch this Swansea style of football every week than I could Neil Harris’ wheeled cannon football. Russell Martin is new to the club and to the profession, this just his second job after MK Dons, and he’s taken over a club that is having to shed high earners and rebuild on a budget, which as we know is not easy even when you’re not also trying to impose a very specific, technically challenging style of play and ethos in a physical league. His first season has been disrupted badly by Covid postponements, and he was one offside flag away from winning this game one nil away to a promotion contender. As time goes by, he gets together the squad he desires, and the style and ethos takes hold, perhaps they will pass their way to Championship perfection and promotion pushes. But to listen to him speak after this game, about how proud he was, how much courage they showed, how “wherever we go we are going to try to be the team we want to be”, I started to wonder whether I’d been at a different game. Was I the only one that found them, for want of a better word, stupefyingly boring?
The smug, superior, holier than thou tone stretched as far as a side-eyed bitch about the state of the pitch, apparently not billiard-table pure enough for Swansea to treat us to their absolute best stuff. What a tragic shame, however will we cope with such a missed opportunity to experience footballing nirvana? Should have had a go on that ploughed field we played on at Coventry on Saturday mate. A bit bloody rich given some of the dark arts that went on in the second half, players feigning injury to get the game stopped two feet from a touchline they could easily have crossed for treatment, Ryan Manning doing exactly what Ryan Manning used to do for us – falling over onto the ball to force the referee to give free kicks, constantly making out like he’s mortally wounded only to go sprinting off in the opposite direction moments later, kicking the ball away at every free kick. If you’re going to make out like yours is the one true footballing faith, you should surely be well above nonsense like this? Referee Andy Davies perhaps stood for it a bit too long and a bit too often, allowing the game to descend into a niggly, bad-tempered, petty, frustrating dirge. Charlie Austin, like Manning, rarely covers himself in glory in these situations either and having spent the final quarter of an hour rattling around inside Flynn Downes’ head he eventually elicited the reaction he’d been craving during five minutes of stoppage time, the two of them wrestling to the ground in a wholly unedifying spectacle that resulted in a pair of yellow cards which, as he’d already received one earlier when his head first left him, meant a red for Downes. He wasn’t going quietly either, wrestled away from the fourth official on the way off. He’d been a walking red card for a good ten minutes, and I was amazed a footballing mind as vast and powerful as Martin’s didn’t use his final substitution to prevent the inevitable outcome. It was, at least, something happening, otherwise I would have had to wheel out the Prague story again.
QPR’s last three nil nil draws – at home to Stoke and away at Preston last season, and now this one – have all been screened live by Sky Sports. Apart from taking a point, and avoiding a defeat, from a tricky game in which we were miles from our best, the main positive was serving up 90 minutes of such unwatchable rubbish to the host broadcaster in return for their ceaseless pissing about with our fixtures. Chalk it up as one of those nights, and let us never speak of the thing again.
QPR: Marshall 7; Odubajo 6, Dickie 6, Dunne 7, Barbet 6, Wallace 6 (Adomah 61, 6); Field 7, Amos 6 (Dykes 61, 5), Johansen 6; Austin 5, Willock 7 (Thomas 82, -)
Subs not used: De Wijs, Ball, Dozzell, Walsh
Bookings: Odubajo 69 (foul), Johansen 76 (foul), Austin 90+2 (unsporting)
Swansea: Hamer 7; Christie 6, Cabango 7, Naughton 7, Manning 6, Latibeaudiere 6; Downes 5, Grimes 7, Smith 6; Wolf 6 (Fulton 66, 6), Piroe 6 (Obafemi 66, 6)
Subs not used: Bennett, Joseph, Fisher, Abdulai
Red Cards: Downes 90+2 (two yellows)
Bookings: Smith 29 (foul), Cabango 47 (foul), Downes 72 (foul), Downes 90+2 (unsporting), Obafemi 90+5 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Jimmy Dunne 7 Another clean sheet and dominant performance for the in form centre half.
Referee – Andy Davies (Hampshire) 6 There’s probably a discussion to be had about his game management, and whether leniency earlier in the game with things like Manning’s cheating and play-acting, or players feigning injury a foot away from the touchline and getting the game stopped for treatment when they should have been told to move to the side or get up and get on with it, contributed to the messy end in which Downes was sent off. Austin, like Manning, had been engaging in the dark arts long before that incident, and had set up camp in Downes’ head for a good quarter of an hour prior, making the former Ipswich junior a red card waiting to happen. I’ve written several times before about how antics like those that Manning and Austin were up to last night are fetishized and lorded at the moment as “shithousing” and somehow a desirable part of the modern game rather than something to be stamped out, and I’d like to have seen a lot less leeway given to that sort of behaviour last night. But, overall, I actually thought he refereed the thing reasonably well.
Attendance 12,770 (600 Swansea approx.) Poor sods. Long way to come from South Wales on a cold Tuesday night for that, so credit to those that made the journey (though not the wet wipe who forgot to have a look at the linesman's flag before launching his little firework).
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