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Sheffield Wednesday 2 v 1 Queens Park Rangers
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 16th December 2023 Kick-off 15:00
Anatomy of a fall – Report
Monday, 18th Dec 2023 09:18 by Clive Whittingham

If you’d hoped Wednesday’s misfire against ten-man Plymouth would have been a warning headed by QPR, they were in the mood to disappoint you once against Hillsborough on Saturday against another fellow struggler Sheff Wed.

The transformation in Queens Park Rangers from the shambolic rabble under Gareth Ainsworth, an amateur tactical set up from a coach miles too far out into deep water, to one that at least looks like it knows what it’s supposed to be doing under Marti Cifuentes, has rather flushed the place through with confidence. Perhaps overly so.

While talk of surprise play-off pushes and getting Rangers at 500/1 while it’s still available is almost certainly done tongue in cheek, there has been a rather breezy attitude that all in W12 is going to be fine now and we can just sit back and enjoy the better standard of football while our inevitable ascent up the Championship table takes care of itself.

This is not, and was not ever, going to happen. Because teams that have lost 46 of their last 82 games, winning only 19, over two years and four different managers, don’t suddenly start sticking tonnes of results on the board under secret manager number five. Because teams that have only won two of their first 16 games in a season will always find it difficult to swim too far away from the whirlpool with that sort of a millstone around their neck. And because it’s the same group of players that did all those ridiculously bad things, the same group that have let us down repeatedly for literally years now, who the new manager has to pick from.

This week we’ve had a reminder of that at a really inopportune moment.

A home game against Plymouth should have represented a fantastic opportunity to climb out of the bottom three for the first time since any of us last saw proper daylight, above Argyle who’d be dragged firmly back down into the mire as a result, anyway. When they had a man sent off early in the first half it started to border on ‘must win’ territory, as much as any game ever can this early in a season, against a side yet to win away. Cifuentes tinkered with his team, protecting injury prone key men and giving surprise selections to the likes of Charlie Kelman. When he did this at Preston, leaving out Steve Cook and Ilias Chair, Rangers won the game in style and he looked like a genius, but Kelman missed the best chance against Plymouth and was poor. This is still the same squad of players we’ve said for months lacks any real depth in quality beyond its main half dozen players. The Greens are now, once again, six places and points away from us.

Sheff Wed, likewise, felt like a big chance QPR really needed to seize, particularly with a number of the other teams around us in the league playing each other the same day, and with tough Christmas assignments against Southampton and Ipswich looming. The Owls have had a similar season trajectory to ourselves: laughably rank under the incompetent Xisco Munoz after a fairly disastrous summer, much improved under a bright and progressive young European coach, but still ostensibly a pretty dire outfit. Once again, victory not only offered the chance to get back above the dreaded dotted line at the foot of the table, but also place a direct rival further into the shit themselves – win here and Wednesday would be ten points adrift of the R’s.

What Rangers did with that opportunity was in equal parts face-rippingly frustrating and mind-blowingly dumb.

They’d led the game at half time. Wednesday allowing Ilias Chair to cut in from the left onto his right foot, which is surely QPR 1.1 in any pre-game video analysis, and then helpfully heading his cross shot into their own net – Bambo Diaby the man with the warped thought process. This should have been significant – Wednesday were winless in 45 Championship games when conceding the first goal.

The goal was indicative of the home team’s performance to that point. If this is an improvement from them, goodness only knows how bad they must have been under Xisco Munoz. QPR were able to stay in reasonable control of the game, without ever forcing the issue. Too often you could see what Rangers wanted to do in advance, but then they spent hours getting that done. In switching from side to side to stretch the pitch and the opponent, something the manager said they’d been poor at against ten men in the week, there were too many touches, too many sluggish passes. We don’t need to go through Asmir Begovic and Jimmy Dunne to get to Reggie Cannon, and they don’t need to take extra touches under no pressure before passing, just get the thing over there. Out of your feet, bang, first time across the field, and let’s go. By the time we’ve done Begovic and he’s had a touch, Dunne and he’s had a touch, Field and he’s had a touch, and finally Cannon, Wednesday have filed over there anyway. It was slow and laboured. Only really Kenneth Paal and Jake Clarke-Salter understanding the importance of quickening the tempo, and able to execute that.

It was, let’s be honest, a dire match. We’d joked beforehand about what an absolute goat rodeo Ainsworth v Munoz would have been but, while both teams now play in much more progressive and modern styles, this wasn’t really that much more watchable. It’s the same group of players, he said on repeat.

Apart from the goal, QPR’s only threat came when they finally freed Paul Smyth down the right, finally utilising some of the pace he provided with Armstrong behind the high Wednesday press, and he crossed deep for Chair to have a shot blocked behind. Referee Andy Davies wasn’t sure whether it was a corner or a goal kick, so did that Championship referee thing of awarding the corner and then giving Sheff Wed a free kick for nothing very much as soon as it was taken. He repeated the dose in the second half when Will Vaulks curled his corner over Begovic and directly into the goal, but for a death-defying goalline clearance by Jake Clarke-Salter. Why enliven the dirge with a moment of excitement when you can just kill it dead with a free kick to the defensive team instead. You watch that clip through and tell me where there’s a foul on a QPR player anywhere amongst it.

The Owls’ threat was also pretty minimal. Callum Paterson started the game by closing down Asmir Begovic as he dallied over a back pass – what year is this? – and then Vaulks had a long range shot after Begovic and Paal got needlessly confused under a high ball with nobody around. Reggie Cannon’s clothesline takeout of Marvin Johnson was idiotic - a needless yellow card which had him on a tightrope from the fourteenth minute and withdrawn at half time. How about we stop doing shit like that, for a start? Clarke-Salter got a meaty header in as Patterson closed in on a back post cross, and then repeated the dose from the resulting corner – terrific defending to protect the lead directly before half time.

What I expected to happen next was Wednesday to come out, give it the big-un, rattle a few pans, and if we could get through ten minutes of that we could then set about in search of a killer second goal. Clarke-Salter’s magnificent goalline clearance from Vaulks looked like it would make it so. Wednesday, increasingly, took on Hail Mary shots from long distance, missing the target by variations measured in miles. A yellow for Di’Shon Bernard for tripping Paal on a counter attack, and a subsequent cross from the QPR left back toed wide at the near post by sub Lyndon Dykes, should have heralded a momentum shift.

So, go play. At half time Lyndon Dykes was introduced for Sinclair Armstrong, presumably to hold the ball up and allow us to play higher up the pitch. Chris Willock, too, came on for Cannon, with Elijah Dixon-Bonner switching to right back – changes, again, designed to get us in possession of the ball, progressing down the pitch, playing in the right areas, scoring second and third goals. Instead, the attitude was ‘probably already done enough here’, and what football we did have was mostly turfed down the field for Dykes to flick on to nobody. I think this week you could probably criticise Cifuentes for the first time, rotating a team that had won three in a row and ending up with one point from two games against rival sides. He knows injuries to a couple of key players will put him behind the eight ball, and is trying to manage that, but it would it have been better to go at these two matches with stronger line ups and then sack off Southampton and Ipswich if necessary?

Still, I can’t believe he wanted Rangers to play as they did in the second half. QPR were horribly, horribly slapdash in their work. Barry Bannon was the best player on the pitch, as he so often is, but you can help yourselves in that regard by not letting him step infield onto his left foot in 30 yards of space within sight of the goal. That’s basics. We were lucky Begovic was able to stretch off to his right and make a save in that instance. At one stage we trapped Sheff Wed by their own corner flag, but didn’t press home the advantage, allowed them to play out, and within ten seconds had turned a promising situation into the standard Sam Field yellow card for fouling during a counter attack. Similarly, having cornered Anthony Musaba two v one on the touchline, QPR allowed him to wriggle free and then Dozzell hauled him back by the shirt for another needless yellow. Paul Smyth tried to take a shortcut out of a defensive situation by falling on the ball, was penalised for handball, then got up and booted off with Bannon. More stupidity, more yellow cards. Just play the fucking game, this lot are crap. At one point Osman Kakay booted a clearance from the edge of his own box high into the sky, and back down under his own crossbar - Begovic, fortunately, caught it.

Be it sloppiness, hubris, complacency, arrogance, or that Queens Park Rangers just aren’t very fucking good after all, it was all about to come home to roost in a gut-wrenching end to the game. With the away end in full George Michael voice, Rangers finally put the ball on the ground and passed with purpose into a position to seal the victory. Ilias Chair, to the byline, cuts it back, defence nowhere, Sam Field… piss weak, straight to the goalkeeper. He’s had that chance three times in four away games now – at Rotherham he struck it low and wide with his right, at Norwich he swiped it wildly across the goal to the other side, and here he limp dicked it straight to Cameron Dawson. He should have scored all three for a gain of six points and five places on the table, but he certainly should have learned enough from the prior two misses to make a better fist of this latest attempt. Put a bit of minge round it.

I hadn’t even finished typing “that could cost us” in the notes when Bailey Cadamarteri led a queue at the Morrisons meat counter down the far end. A third goal in four games for the teenager and, with Jimmy Dunne charging out of position to no gain, and the rest of the QPR defence frantically dropping deep to seek salvation close to their own goalline allowing a low cross to be pulled back into acres of space in the penalty box, one we’ve seen conceded at least a dozen times in the last year. We love that one.

Had we played forwards with any ambition or intensity, further goals were there for us. Osman Kakay should have scored even after Sheff Wed had equalised, but dragged a shot across goal. A point was a poor result. With Steve Cook on to try and help the defence hang onto their 1-0, it was the least we should have got. Instead, that only surrendered the midfield more, and dropped us deeper still. Things were about to get even stupider.

Ilias Chair and hris Willock, out by their own corner flag, tried to pick their way out of a situation that required a large wellington. Just take your medicine, you’ve fucked it up, cost us two points, let’s take the one we’ve got and get on with the important business of seeing if East Midlands Trains fancy running any trains from the East Midlands tonight. But no. Now you want to play, do you? You’ve had all half, when leading, to get on the ball and do whatever you like. Your manager wants you to pass the ball, go forwards, search for second and third goals. Do that, do that when it matters. Not now, in stoppage time, when it’s all gone to shit, and you’re trapped by your own corner flag. Flicks and tricks and round the worlds and back heels, now? Now? And, while we’re at it, Stop. Letting. Barry. Bannan. In. On. His. Fucking. Left. Foot.

In the ensuing carnage, one off the post, and Musaba banged in the winner. I felt like somebody had shot my dog. You couldn’t say we didn’t deserve it though, we absolutely did. A disaster entirely of our own making.

Links >>> Ratings and Reports >>> Message Board Match Thread

Sheff Wed: Dawson 6; Valentin 5 (Palmer 71, 5), Diaby 4 (Gassama 46, 5), Bernard 6, Famewo 5; Musaba 6, Vaulks 6 (Fletcher 79, 5), Bannan 7, Johnson 5; Patterson 5 (Buckley 70, 5 (Byers 85, -)), Cadamarteri 6

Subs not used: Bakinson, Ihiekwe, James, Vasquez

Goals: Cadamarteri 86 (assisted Gassama), Musaba 90+4 (unassisted)

Bookings: Bernard 57 (foul), Bannan 64 (fighting), Vaulks 78 (foul), Musaba 90+5 (excessive celebration), Palmer 90+7 (time wasting)

QPR: Begovic 5; Cannon 5 (Willock 46, 5), Dunne 5, Clarke-Salter 6, Paal 6; Dixon-Bonner 5, Field 5, Dozzell 5 (Cook 83, -); Smyth 5 (Kakay 73, 4), Armstrong 5 (Dykes 46, 5), Chair 5

Subs not used: Archer, Richards, Duke-McKenna, Drewe, Pedder

Goals: Diaby og 37 (assisted Chair)

Bookings: Cannon 14 (foul), Smyth 64 (fighting) Dozzell 72 (foul), Field 82 (foul)

QPR Star Man – Jake Clarke-Salter 6 I don’t know, tough choice from a distinctly mediocre performance. Some key defensive headers in the first half, and a huge goalline clearance in the second. Was also, along with Paal, the only one who seemed to grasp the importance of moving the ball quickly, with tempo, first time, rather than constantly taking extra touches and slowing things down.

Referee – Andy Davies (Hampshire) 6 That’s a hell of a lot of yellow cards, and he felt over-involved at times – particularly with his constant awarding of free kicks to the defensive team at every attacking corner – but hard to argue with any of the bookings and it was a very niggly match between two low quality sides.

Attendance – 24,739 (1,335 QPR) Fantastic away support again all things considered. Love the new song, though if I may make a suggestion it works on different levels if you change it to “gave Beale my heart”.

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Addinall added 10:00 - Dec 18
Re the goal line clearance I thought Begovic was fouled.

BrianMcCarthy added 10:51 - Dec 18
I thought so too, Addinall.

HastingsRanger added 11:42 - Dec 18
Begovic was not fouled but chose to go round a static forward, who simply stood his ground. Should have stayed goal side. Not picking on him, as I think he has been excellent of late, but it was a goalkeeping error in my books.

tsbains64 added 11:58 - Dec 18
My Saturday was looking so good with 10 mins to go

Loft1979 added 14:52 - Dec 18
If we win this game we would be on a streak of 4/5 and bemoaning the Plymouth game. As it is I felt as per Marti’s comments that there were lessons to be learned. In fact both Wed and Plymouth have done the same trick to much better opponents. So lessons in my opinion suggest; Sam Field needs to be the defensive midfielder. Period. I also wonder if he could be shopped as one of our better players and often mentioned in trades. With Elijah’s emergence and Jack Colback and Dozzel in the rotation I could see this happening to generate funds supposedly needed. I still think Ossie can be an asset on the right side of a 3CB set, possibly late in games. And finally, maybe Chair should could shift to a central role and left Chris stay on his favored left wing with Sinclair on the right…as is the next 2 games are going to be interesting.


RuislipHoop added 16:39 - Dec 18
We are not good enough to stay up but at least Marti looks like the right manager to bring us back up the following season..

Sittingbournehoop added 21:12 - Dec 18
One point out of six when it could’ve been six, the reason we’ll go down. We invited them to come at us sitting so deep, a Wednesday winner felt inevitable! Gut wrenching stuff, the only consolation with relegation would be a good clear out, but seems the right manager to get us back in the Championship.

Myke added 22:32 - Dec 18
We have criticised managers like McClaren in the past for flogging the same team to death when riding high in the table at Christmas time and then damn nearly getting relegated when they collectively ran out of steam/got injured. So I think we have to trust the manager's judgement when it comes to squad rotation. He seemed an absolute genius versus Preston and could start what is generally accepted as his strongest team v Hull when he had an 8 day break.
But we know - so he certainly knows - just how fragile Clarke-Salter and Willock are, not just physically but psychologically too, and it is his job to manage that. If he had reversed his thinking and 'sacked off' Preston and Hull and then got results in the last two, the overall position would be similar. We are always going to react with ecstasy or despair to the most recent result. His job is to be more measured than that. We may well be relegated - but not yet.

Northernr added 08:02 - Dec 19
Absolutely Myke, think he's probably learned a bit this week about who he can and cannot trust to rotate in though.

ABITB added 12:05 - Dec 19
Absolutely agree with Clive on this. Best team out for Ply and Sheff, 2nd string out for Saints and Ipswich. How hard can it be? Taxi ! !

Myke added 15:31 - Dec 19
Yes Kelman looks out of his depth at this level, although we thought the same of Smyth a couple of years ago and now seems capable of holding his own. No sign of Uncle since Mati took over - is he injured? I know Ainsworth overused him but I would have thought he would be more useful off the bench than say Richards for example.

TacticalR added 22:15 - Dec 19
Thanks for your report.

Another frustrating game when we could have really done with a win.

Very true about the needless yellows for Cannon, Field and Dozzell. When we are grabbing the opposition players by the waste it makes us look lazy and incompetent.

As you point out, bringing Steve Cook on to shore up the defence actually made us worse as we surrendered the midfield and ended up defending deep. For the first goal we had lots of defenders, but Sheffield Wednesday still managed to get through a pass to their attacking players. For the second goal Chair played us into trouble by turning backwards and trying to pass around in the corner area, and ended up giving away a corner, which led to the goal.

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