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Typical defensive lapse makes it Saints' day at Loftus Road - Report
Sunday, 24th Dec 2023 22:54 by Clive Whittingham

QPR were once again left to try and pick the scraps of positivity from another home defeat after a defensive calamity and piss weak attack undermined their efforts against Southampton in the last game before Christmas.

When Southampton last came to Loftus Road for a league game they beat a Queens Park Rangers side on its way to relegation with a last minute goal from Sadio Mane. I have to be honest, until I wrote the History column this week I’d forgotten about it entirely – and, believe me, I can usually reel old QPR games off far more readily than I can ever remember what I did with my keys.

The away game, where Charlie Austin’s swivel and hit announced his arrival as a Premier League striker only to be outdone by similarly outrageous brilliance by Graziano Pelle, is there vividly. The home game, in February 2015, however, was part of a run of ten defeats in 11 games as Rangers sank beneath the waves. It just blends in with all the other disappointments.

We still write and talk about the reasons for that team’s failure now, getting on for a decade later, because it was possibly this club’s last chance to pull up a seat at football’s top table in this country and the sport has largely left us behind since. So many of the problems we’re still experiencing today are down to the way we botched those two promotions to the Premier League in 2011 and 2014.

We reflect back on the mad summer of transfers under Neil Warnock, the late trolley dash post-Tony Fernandes takeover, the decision to replace Warnock with Hughes, the malignant influences of Mike Rigg and Kia Joorabchian, the reckless spending of that era and then again under Harry Redknapp, the decision to stick with ‘Arry for that second tilt at the top flight and the horrible mess he made of it, and some of the horrible little Joey Barton and Jose Bosingwa-type twats we inflicted upon ourselves.

There were also a good few sliding doors moments. Shaun Wright-Phillips is reviled as one of the club’s worst ever signings, but when the team was initially playing quite well under Neil Warnock he had a goal incorrectly disallowed for offside against West Brom and hit the inside of the post at both Wolves and Stoke. It’s not inconceivable that Warnock’s men could have been in the top half of the table, with Wright-Phillips pushing for an England recall. Instead, he became a hated figure, who took more than a year to score at all and remained on one goal forever more (quite the goal, mind). The insane summer of reckless overspend under Mark Hughes set the club on the path to disaster but, again, worth remembering that in a winless start which would eventually stretch to 16 games we played very well at home in a nil nil draw at home to Chelsea and Bobby Zamora missed an incredible chance right at the end to win it, and we were winning and playing brilliantly at Spurs before a mad 60 seconds saw us concede twice and lose.

In the end, though, what it all boiled down and added up to was… QPR simply weren’t good enough.

If the 2023/24 campaign ends in another relegation for Rangers, there will once again be recriminations, blame and theories espoused as to how and why it happened.

We’ll talk about how we largely wasted our parachute payments, spending money on flops like Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, Paul Konchesky, James Perch and Joel Lynch. The flip flopping between different managers and styles, often at the behest of different people trying to take control of the ship at any one given time. How when they finally did seem to settle down with a director of football model, a competent CEO, and a coherent lineage of head coach styles, they then went big and early with a spend to push for promotion, blowing the whole plan out of the water because Charlie Austin and Stefan Johansen had a couple of decent loan spells in empty stadiums. We’ll examine the dismissal of Mark Warburton, a manager who had us thirteenth, ninth and eleventh in the league, and the appointment of Mick Beale, a fat gobshite with a slick PowerPoint presentation. The brief but ruinous Beale period in charge, where we spent the last of our money, and saddled ourselves with a horribly imbalanced squad of questionable character, will feature heavily, and the failed attempts by Neil Critchley, Les Ferdinand, Gareth Ainsworth, Lee Hoos and Marti Cifuentes to tidy up that mess.

There will also be those sliding door moments again. The Osman Kakay miss from a yard against Ipswich, and miraculous bit of goalkeeping to stop Ilias Chair equalising from 60 yards. The Jack Colback red card when leading at home to Sunderland. The fisted Swansea goal at the Loft End. The obvious penalty not awarded against Coventry. The hour played against ten-man Plymouth. The lead we held at Sheff Wed until the 86th minute.

What it will all boil down and add up to, again, is that QPR aren’t good enough.

They’ve no real right to be good enough to beat Southampton. Unbeaten in 14 games, with the league’s second top scorer Adam Armstrong up front on 12 goals and six assists, and Che Adams covering him on the bench, the supporters we spoke to for the match preview said a new striker was an absolute top priority for the forthcoming January transfer window. QPR continue to try and battle through a Championship season with Lyndon Dykes, Sinclair Armstrong and Charlie Kelman as their forwards. Despite Fandab Edozie, a £7m signing from Man City, starting the game having scored in the corresponding fixture at St Mary’s, and Scotland international Ryan Fraser later impressing from the bench as part of a loan from Premier League Newcastle, they also need more/new wingers too apparently. Kyle Walker-Peters rampaged up and down from left and right back to try and cover the situation as best he could. They had four players they’d bought for in excess of £10m each on their bench, and Joe Lumley. Must be tough.

QPR were required to make three last ditch defensive blocks of increasing levels of difficulty to repel their hosts in the first half. Edozie’s low cross was touched off to Armstrong A as the time ticked into double figures and Jake Clarke-Salte produced a firm block to repel the subsequent shot. Soon it was Jimmy Dunne’s turn to chuck himself in front of a similar effort from Will Smallbone – I guess you’d have to be good at football to make it through a British secondary school education with that look and surname – and when the Saints midfielder steamed onto the final pass in a flowing move ten minutes before half time Kenneth Paal produced the best last ditch effort of the lot to prevent a close range tap in.

This is, as we keep saying though, only the Championship. Southampton were eminently gettable. Gettable, perhaps, through fatigue – they’ve been drawing a lot away from home lately, and against some pretty out-of-form opposition too in the form of Huddersfield and Preston, hinting at a degree of leggyness as their unbeaten record stretches towards the club record 19. Gettable, maybe, because they took us a bit lightly – QPR have won three home games in a year, and are firmly in trouble at the opposite end of the table to the Saints. Gettable, certainly, because for all the relative advantages in resources afforded to clubs like this at our level it’s all still just the Championship and nobody in this league is infallible. And gettable because Russell Martin is an idealist manager who will take these myriad advantages, a squad like this, an absolute chasm in respective resources, squad depth and ability versus his opponent, and use them to largely piss about trying to score the perfect 100-pass goal out from his own goalkeeper. Stop waving it around and start fucking mate.

As long as he, and his team, don’t, then you have a chance, because they’ll play daft stuff in dangerous areas of the pitch. QPR’s press and counter attack against them was reasonably effective in the first half with Chair whipping a cross in towards Dykes on a counter attack forcing Gavin Bazunu into early action. Next Chair tried to chip Bazunu from fully 60 yards after spitting him off his line when Clarke-Salter again caught Southampton sloppily pisballing about in their own half. When Chair, easily QPR’s best and most effective player again, spotted Smallbone taking liberties in the middle of the park he crunched through him set Elijah Dixon-Bonner up for a shot wide of the top corner and there were further efforts from both him and Andre Dozzell from the edge of the box as the half wore on. A mismatch on paper, but not on grass. Southampton were giving their hosts every chance.

Then Andre Dozzell gave away a daft free kick he didn’t need to in a dangerous position, Armstrong was left with a free flicked on header at the near post from annoyingly decent sub Ryan Manning’s delivery, and Taylor Harwood-Bellis was allowed to brush Reggie Cannon aside all too easily and convert at the far stick.

And that’s QPR. When we play poorly, we get beaten. When we play well, we don’t have the goals within us to make it count on the scoreboard, and we do dumb shit like this to ourselves. QPR had been playing pretty well, the crowd was into the game, Marti Cifuentes was playing cheerleader on the touchline at one point trying to rouse backing for his side’s efforts. Things were going according to plan, there were something here for us. Then we concede a goal that would shame a park team. We can go away from games like this consoling ourselves that if we play in the same way against the division’s lesser sides, like Millwall in the next game on Boxing Day for instance, then we’ll be fine. Then a game comes along against ten-man Plymouth, or second bottom Sheff Wed, and we don’t play like that at all. We start, again, conjuring ways to fuck it up. We are, in the end, not very good.

The second half trundled along in much the same way as the first, with that extra nagging context that QPR would need two to win and one more Southampton goal would end the game.

Martin was absolutely ecstatic at full time, big high fives and hugs for all his players and then the performative fist bumps for yet another packed away end having a lovely time at Loftus Road. His team should have ended this game long before full time though. Once more there was some desperate defending to keep them out: Dunne a desperate sliding tackle on the hour denied Kyle Walker-Peters what felt a certain goal as Southampton overloaded one counter attack; Asmir Begovic the save of the game to frustrate Shea Charles on 71 minutes – another quick £10m worth of 20-year-old flitting about there. Sub Che Adams tried to put one on a plate for Armstrong S but got too much on the pass.

QPR attacked much as they had done before half time – plenty of endeavour and almost zero execution. Ilias Chair split the visiting defence with a pass for Kenneth Paal on the hour which he delivered absolutely pin perfectly into the near post – Lyndon Dykes on his heels, nowhere to be seen. Later, when Dykes had been replaced by Armstrong III, Chair got to the byline and delivered devilishly through the with once a-bloody-gain nobody on hand to supply a finishing touch. Exactly what service is it these forwards are supposedly lacking, please? Short of holding their fucking hand and walking the ball into the net with them what more can we really do for them?

Paal had a free kick deflected wide and awarded as a goal kick; Willock struck low at Bazunu after Dykes had won the ball high up the field; Dozzell shot over after Chair found Willock brilliantly and he crossed well into the box. There were moments, and we again looked better for having the powerful, purposeful running of Ziyad Larkeche introduced down the left side, but did you ever think or feel like a goal was coming?

The midfield was again a source of great frustration. Dozzell, as well as giving the free kick away, passed backwards too much. For this Cifuentes style to work you need people brave enough and good enough to take it on the half turn in tight spaces and play forwards – Dozzell was neither of those things on Saturday. Field was considerably better than he has been in recent weeks, defensively at least where his positioning and interceptions regularly frustrated Southampton’s overly intricate approach work, but he treated possession of the ball like that of a pinless grenade and was too eager, too often to just get it away from him as quick as he could. Dixon-Bonner, the most composed of the three, certainly wouldn’t have been my choice to go off, but Cifuentes does seem to do this with players on a booking and he’d been carded on the stroke of half time for having the temerity to be started on for no reason whatsoever by Joe Aribo (just the £6m he cost). If strikers are too expensive for us to do surgery on our forward line in January, then there are major gains to be had in the middle of midfield instead.

We looked tired long before the end truth be told, exhausted by trying to press high all afternoon against a side as relentlessly good as this. Amongst it, another injury to Chris Willock – triffic. With that came the usual collection of Keystone Cops comedy.

Paal read the play perfectly on 85 minutes and looked like he was going to stride onto an intercepted pass deep in the opposition red zone, until he fell over the football. No matter, Sam Field was on hand to pick up the baton and keep the flame of hope alive, until he too tripped over the baton and burned his face on the fire – Adams was able to run 60 yards back the opposite way with the ball without challenge.

For the second home game in succession we had a chance to play against ten men. Charles’ deliberate clotheslining of substitute Albert Adomah looked wholly unnecessary – it would have taken Buster Merryfield until New Year’s Eve to make the other end of the pitch from that position – and very much like somebody on a booking who’d spotted a great late deal on the Joel Lynch Christmas Express, but Martin says it was a fantastic piece of tactical play to stop a counter attack that would almost certainly have ended in an equaliser and his team mates have applauded his actions so what do I know.

QPR should certainly have had a good deal longer to attack that situation – Oliver Langford added four minutes which would have been ridiculously skinny before this season’s alleged clampdown but was really quite outrageous in these circumstances, and Southampton successfully pissed the first minute and 27 seconds of that away taking one corner. Given what Rangers did with the remaining two and a half minutes, however, maybe it’s for the best. Awarded a throw in in hid own half, Adomah attempted to get things going quickly but chucked it backwards instead of forwards, into his own penalty box instead of down the line and, after letting it bounce all over the show instead of giving it a welly down the field, Dunne ended up giving it away and, to my eye from 100 yards away, was singularly fortunate not to concede a penalty. The absolute farce extended down to the other end where Asmir Begovic went up for a last gasp corner, but delivered more carnage than creativity to the situation. Langford refereed like a man with a train to catch, but in truth he could have added another half hour and the outcome would likely have been the same.

The three wins Rangers stuck on the board earlier this month brought a whole clutch of other clubs back into play at the bottom of the table and helped spark a rush of panicked managerial changes. The memory of those victories is fading after one point from three, and several of those clubs have rather moved off into the distance again. Millwall, who are well in touch and whose own managerial change has not brought immediate rewards, looms large as a fairly pivotal looking game on Boxing Day. Time to make good on the ‘play like that against the poorer sides and we’ll be alright’ mantra, rather than turn out another Hillsborough-esque performance and defeat to further confirm that we are, indeed, one of the poorer sides ourselves.

Maybe we’ll survive and look back on this one as a game where, despite the defeat, we could tell we were starting to get it and turn things around. Or perhaps we won’t, and in another ten years’ time we’ll barely remember this one at all either.

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

QPR: Begovic 6; Cannon 5 (Adomah 84, -), Dunne 6, Clarke-Salter 6, Paal 6; Field 6, Dixon-Bonner 6 (Larkeche 67, 6), Dozzell 5 (Kelman 84, -); Chair 7, Dykes 5 (Armstrong 74, 5), Willock 5 (Smyth 74, 6)

Subs not used: Kakay, Archer, Richards, Drewe

Bookings: Dixon-Bonner 45 (fighting)

Southampton: Bazunu 6; Bree 6 (Manning 32, 7), Harwood-Bellis 7, Bednarek 6, Walker-Peters 7; Smallbone 6 (Adams 56, 5), Downes 7 (Charles 56, 5), Aribo 6; A Armstrong 6 (Stephens 86, -), S Armstrong 6, Edozie 6 (Fraser 57, 7)

Subs not used: Stephens, Holgate, Lumley, Mara, Alcaraz

Goals: Harwood-Bellis 41 (assisted Manning/A Armstrong)

Red Cards: Charles 89 (two bookings)

Yellow Cards: Aribo 45 (fighting), Charles 68 (foul), Adams 71 (foul), Charles 89 (foul), Stephens 90+3 (time wasting)

QPR Star Man – Ilias Chair 7 Possibly along with Jake Clarke-Salter he’s the only one you could really imagine getting near the Southampton side. Mixed his game up well, not always looking to cut in and shoot. Unlucky not to score, and put in several dangerous crosses which better strikers would have done more with. Couldn’t really have done any more for us, and for the third time this season was very unlucky not to score from the halfway line.

Referee – Oliver Langford (West Midlands) 6 I basically got to the end of each half thinking he’d done a very good job, and I’ve always liked his hands-off style of refereeing anyway. But in first half stoppage time he showed Elijah Dixon-Bonner a yellow card, which as we know then means Cifuentes is likely to remove him from the game, when all he’d done was stand there while Joe Aribo booted off at him for no reason. Then came the chaotic end to the match where a second half that should have had at least eight minutes added to it got only four.

Attendance – 17,745 (3,100 Southampton approx.) Another full house despite it all, and of course another packed away end having a lovely time in our back yard. If Christmas is a happy time for you and your family and friends then I hope you’re spending it altogether and you enjoy it – God knows after going through all this, on and off the pitch this year, we deserve it. If, for whatever reason, it’s a more difficult time of year, then I hope it’s as peaceful bearable as it can be, and know there is always a community here for you at LFW, on our message board, via DMs, or in the Crown and Sceptre on matchdays.

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cranieboy added 23:26 - Dec 24
Thanks Clive. Have a great Christmas and hopefully, a great new year.

Loft1979 added 01:23 - Dec 25
At first read this sounds like the speech the gaffer gave to team after the game. After all the posts I have seen I am probably one of the more stoi of QPR fans. Too many pluses here. players to a man are playing soooooo much better. In the end the diagnosis is the same .. no goals. Unless Chair or Willock score we have no chance. Chair needs 10 shots to make 1 . If I was coach he would sit on the corner for a day for trying those 60 yard efforts that he never makes. Apparently Lyon want a midfielder .. please call Lee Hoos .. 5mil will do nicely. I will happily rotate Paul Smyth and Willock or Ziyad out on the left.

That money, I would use on any charismatic goal poacher from Scottish or league one. Or even a loan. I for one think one player… just me can be the difference maker. If we beat Milwall we go into the New Year way ahead of where it liked like we were going to be a couple of months ago.


snanker added 06:49 - Dec 25
Ho, ho, ho ......oh, Merry Xmas Clive and god please a happier 2024, same old same old on the pitch tho !!??

Paddyhoops added 07:26 - Dec 25
Merry Christmas mate. Now let’s all have a drink.
Thanks for all your hilarious reports . They keep us going.

gazza1 added 09:05 - Dec 25
Fair enough report Norf , bit negative but I know where you are coming from. At least we are all (or most anyways) enjoying the football now, we seem to know what we are doing....onwards & upwards. Sign a forward who scores and we should be OK.

Marshy added 09:23 - Dec 25
We never really looked like scoring despite playing fairly well. We seem to getting more crosses into the box, but not enough bodies in there to get on the end of them. If only we had more players like Chair who is so positive with the ball. It’ll be interesting to see what team Marti puts out for Millwall, which now looks to be a must win game. Merry Christmas to one and all.

silverbirch added 20:51 - Dec 25
Thanks, Clive. Merry Christmas and a a happy new year to you and all Rangers.

TacticalR added 12:44 - Dec 26
Thanks for your report.

Ee aye addio, we're not very good. Chair, for all his good work, holding on to the ball too long. Dozzell just seems to lose concentration and go limp: why didn't he shield the ball from Smallbone and instead give away that free kick? A while ago I produced a list Dykes' failings. A new one to add to the list is never being in the right place when a cross comes in. In the absence of any conventional forward firepower we have to rely on brilliant individual goals from Chair and Willock, and in this game those weren't forthcoming.

Having said all that, Southampton 1) have a lot more resources than us and 2) are top of the form table.

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