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Queens Park Rangers 2 v 2 Norwich City
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 10th February 2024 Kick-off 15:00
Frey ties up cliffhanger on home debut – Report
Sunday, 11th Feb 2024 23:46 by Clive Whittingham

QPR veered all over league table, and the scoreboard, on Saturday as a fiercely entertaining and at times traumatic encounter against a nonsensical Norwich eventually landed on a 2-2 draw.

Buckle up, this is how it’s going to be.

A bare minute and 30, Queens Park Rangers trying to play with tempo and urgency, Jack Colback slack in his pass, Norwich's £8m forward Josh Sargent in for the game’s opening chance, Steve Cook with the rescue job at some personal cost. Ilias Chair, big stone in tiny hands, fronting up his man and producing a terrific cross to the back post for Chris Willock but… nah. Reginald Cannon, groin held together with elastic bands and chewing gum, a high win on the front foot, home debutant Joe Hodge beats Angus Gunn from 25 yards, but also the post. Sinclair Armstrong, who you wouldn’t want through one on one in the last minute of a play-off final, with a big win on an aggressive press up round the Norwich penalty box, because you wouldn’t want to play against him. Fouled, free kick. Isaac Hayden knocks it across from the far post, Willock among the scramble, Gunn claims. Southampton 0 Huddersfield 1. Have a day off.

QPR have been in the Championship’s bottom three since the last week of September. Since bursting back to life with three wins in a cold December week they’ve now spent two months constantly teetering on the brink of escaping it altogether or falling a mentally mountainous six points behind. Huge opportunities against fellow strugglers Plymouth, Sheff Wed and Millwall have been blown to much hang wringing and doom prophesising. Many threats at being cut adrift once and for all have been rescued, with last gasp Kenneth Paal equalisers, or Joe Hodge slaloming through on Blackburn’s Ainsley Pears (that’s Alan’s friend) for the sort of finish professional footballers at professional football clubs execute.

The R’s have put seven points on the board from the last nine available to not only stay in touch but also drag a whole clutch of other drek down into the mix with them. That Laird-Roberts-Dozzell triumvirate seems to be working out for Birmingham about as well as it did at Loftus Road. The R’s have done that despite starting all three games appallingly: a goal versus the run of play snapped them out of their Millwall malaise; against Huddersfield it manifested into a terrible performance that was singularly fortunate to yield a point; and at Blackburn a Rovers side circling the drain proved perfect cannon fodder to grow into a game against. Jon Dahl Tomasson the fourth Championship manager to fall on his sword after a negative result against Rangers this season – failure to beat QPR is now a sackable offence. Stoke, Bristol City and Rotherham are to come imminently in lousy form, but Leicester, West Brom and Middlesbrough beyond that will surely punish such sluggish beginnings.

Against Norwich, Armstrong’s break on a counterattack drew an overdue yellow card for Gibson. Colback, caught the wrong side, fouled Sargent for a free kick on the edge of the box. Rod v Todd Flanders, fight to the death, he doesn’t want his damn vegetables. Sara curled that one wide as everybody north side of thew Crown and Sceptre held their breath. Not sure I’d want to be giving too many more of those away. Oh, no, wait, I’m wrong, clearly. Hodge, otherwise excellent, passes the ball straight to City on the edge of the area. Paal, at the back post, magnificent in desperate recovery mode. Toner, the referee, hot on more illegal contact on the edge of the box. This free shot deflects off the wall and flies behind. The corner it results in is lethal, inexplicably headed up and away at the near post by Ashley Barnes, returned with interest, bobbling around in a crowd, giant Christ on a tiny motorbike, a Begovic save, a generous free kick. In through the nose, out through the mouth. Southampton 0 Huddersfield 2. Fuck off. Fuck. Off.

This is how it’s going to be. This is your spring. And mine. Needless to say, not the day to be going 1-0 down. Chris Willock’s persistent, malignant refusal to grasp this fact - defence so pathetically half arsed and brain dead you could submit it into evidence for a life support machine to be turned off – brought Cifuentes across the touchline for a furious point and spray. Would you mind, awfully, pulling your fucking fist out of your arse? Bone idle. Sainz, bursting through tackles right and left, shaping to shoot, picking his spot, curling wide, I thought he'd scored, Begovic may as well have been sitting with me. And then, with Willock in possession of the ball and therefore half interested, a cross into the box that tempted Flappy McGrew from his line for a shambling bit of nonsense which presented a chance for Jack Colback to return with interest and technique into the unguarded net. Expertly done. Underrated finish. Sam Field take note. Weights lifted from shoulders. Loftus Road crackling into the contest. I feel so alive. Kenny, pass me Zantac.

Taking the lead, and seeing it through to half time, felt massive. When they do get in front this QPR team do big things with it – all seven wins this season have come after Rangers scored the first goal, and only against Rotherham (a draw), Sunderland (Colback brain fart) and Sheff Wed (unmitigated disaster) have they turned that into a poor result. Southampton 1 Huddersfield 2, by the way. By contrast, only against Huddersfield and Swansea (two draws) have Rangers come back to take anything having gone 1-0 down. And now there's an actual midfield in this team: Hayden showing you can play DM while also progressing your team down the pitch; Hodge delivering a Ted Talk in joining the attack from deep lying positions. Tall, athletic, telescopic sliding tackles; little, pesky, smooth of touch and turn - these two are heaven sent.

Trying to piece together form from a Norwich season so batshit they simultaneously want to sack their manager, sporting director and board while also sitting a point outside the play-offs is like trying to knit fog. Delia sat all crumpled up in the directors' box, imbued with table wine. Among the streaks of David Wagner’s curious reign one consistency is they’re pretty poor away from home. Just four wins on the road in the league all season – the same total as ourselves in 22nd, Stoke in 20th and one fewer than 18th-placed Blackburn. They’ve conceded 30 goals in 15 away matches which is the division’s worst record bar Rotherham who’ve shipped 34 and are yet to win. They’ve won one in their last six away games in the league - albeit an impressive one at Hull – and lost 1-0 at Millwall in that sequence who, as we know, are really not very good.

All in all, it was fucking on. Southampton 2 Huddersfield 2. And then, ten minutes from hell. Because of course.

Ashley Barnes, these days so large if he stands still too long he risks someone colonising him and holding elections, collapsed embarrassingly. An afternoon spent entirely harassing novice referee Toner finally rewarded with the most generous of free kicks. From this, a Norwich corner. Dope successfully roped with a series of aggressive inswingers, QPR fell victim to a cleverly executed low cut back and blocking operation which allowed the outstanding Kenny McLean to sweep home. I am here, again, to say that Asmir Begovic’s footwork at this late stage in his career is absolute amateur hour. QPR’s narrowing of the defence to play to the strengths of the excellent Steve Cook and Jake Clarke-Salter providing overlap opportunities on full backs Cannon and Paal, coping to this point but shortly to be overawed. Jon Rowe on from the bench. Good player. Lot of space there, isn’t there? Lot of space indeed. And the perfect cross. Sargent free header. Norwich in front. Southampton 2 Huddersfield 3. Fuck my life. Like trying to pass a kidney stone the size of a championship snooker table. This is how it’s going to be.

From ascendency and victory, a position of strength, to six points adrift and desolate once more. Head buried into gloves, seeking escape in the darkness. It needed substitutions, and substitutions is what it got. Paul Smyth for the listless and physically spent Willock was an obvious win, but the withdrawal of Hodge and Armstrong for Lucas Andersen and Michy Frey risked removing your most agile players for a pair who, whatever strengths they may bring to QPR, do not have a great deal of endorsement for ‘mobility’ on their LinkedIn. Luckily, David Wagner decided to play some cards of his own at the same time and made his team exponentially worse with each move. Josh Sargent went off – thank God for that. Jack Stacey, a full back who could cope with Ilias Chair, was replaced by Jacob Sorensen, one who could not. You can start to understand why the People's Republic of Greater Anglia are restless. Norwich felt like a good team - constantly able to get into dangerous areas between the lines through Sargent, Sainz, Sara and later Rowe - but enjoying the craic too much to just run off with the game and instead choosing to keep it competitive through nonsense subs and faith in cloggers like Grant Hanley and Dimitris Giannoulis. The substitutions were a huge win for Cifuentes over his oppo.

Off the Hoops went again at a lick. Frey’s terrific, angled flick got Chair in behind the already flailing Sorensen immediately and he crossed early and true right through the six-yard box for any sort of tap in you liked. Every single member of the Allen family twitched.

Between the sand and stone the outstanding Hayden crossed low to the near post where Frey stepped across his man with a good, purposeful early run and header that flashed wide of the post. For the long suffering and constantly attending faithful behind that goal, who’ve spent the last three years watching Lyndon Dykes, a centre forward who makes positive and proactive runs ahead of his marker to pose goalscoring threat from crosses makes him some sort of mythical Greek God. Athena, God of Strategy, with his own name tattooed across his chest, in case he forgets.

Lucas Andersen – think of the roll neck sweaters this guy and Sam Field are going to wear together - had all the information he needed. Smyth’s hard work on defence (Chris, paging Chris, Chris?) won a throw where there was no throw to be won. He took it quickly to the Dane and a foot was quickly drawn back. Frey set off, as centre forwards are supposed to do. The delivery was right on point. The finish was immaculate. Genuinely, look at that turn of foot and contact. Print it out for Joan. Rangers were level, the ground was alive. Southampton 3 Huddersfield 3. Feel the noise. From the tub and the four slice with a handmade 'no funeral' sign to a sizeable return on the Premium Bonds and Jennifer Lawrence sitting on your face. This is how it’s going to be.

Take away the context of the league table, the managers, the boardroom situations… this was a terrific game of Championship football. Unfailingly engrossing, enduringly watchable. I’d have loved every single second of it if I wasn’t so emotionally invested I could barely bring my head out of my hands to stand a glance at it. Two teams, deeply flawed, going to win, playing attractive and attacking football, while constantly stepping on rakes. For every Isaac Hayden and Kenny McLean, a Chris Willock or Grant Hanley. Goalkeepers flapping this way and that. The first time this season QPR looked like they had a team that belonged at the level it was playing at. If we’d started the campaign with this team, and this manager, we’d currently be arguing back and forth about why we’re only tenth. And yet, so wide open. Norwich could score every time they went forward, and only Begovic’s sprawling one-on-one stop stopped Barnes doing exactly that when he took a brief break from trying to referee the game immediately after the Frey goal. Like being in love with a heroin addict. Southampton 4 Huddersfield 3.

A late winner would have blown the place apart. There’s no way the Loft End roof would have survived it after all that grief it took from Yoann Barbet’s free kicks. Frey looked well in the mood, some 14 stone of rampaging testosterone, so many grudges and points to prove he’s basically playing here for free. More of this, and him please. Sadly, the withdrawal of Sorensen’s tormenter Chair, and the superb Hayden (please play Wednesday, please), rather took a foot off the gas. Referee Toner, to this point absolutely fine, seemed to take against Rangers, and Dykes in particular, with a string of bizarre calls. Seven minutes were added and suffered through. Tick following tock following tick following tock. The whole thing was exhausting. Why can’t we just have a nice time?

Rangers applauded from the field. I felt like I’d played. Fifteen games to go. A prostate exam booked in at Stoke three days from now. Southampton 5 Huddersfield 3. This is how it’s going to be. Utterly compelling.

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

QPR: Begovic 6; Cannon 6, Cook 6, Clarke-Salter 7, Paal 6; Hayden 8 (Dykes 86, -), Colback 7, Hodge 6 (Andersen 66, 6); Willock 5 (Smyth 66, 6), Armstrong 6 (Frey 66, 7), Chair 7 (Dixon-Bonner 90, -)

Subs not used: Dunne, Archer, Fox, Larkeche

Goals: Colback 27 (unassisted), Frey 77 (assisted Andersen)

Yellow Cards: Chair 79 (foul), Clarke-Salter 87 (foul)

Norwich: Gunn 5; Stacey 6 (Sorensen 68, 4), Hanley 5, Gibson 6, Giannoulis 5 (McCallum 86, -); McLean 8, Sara 7; Fassnacht 5 (Rowe 58, 7), Barnes 5, Sainz 7 (Hernandez 86, -); Sargent 7 (Nunez 68, 5)

Subs not used: Gibbs, Long, van Hooijdonk, Batth

Goals: McLean 48 (assisted Sara), Sargent 62 (assisted Stacey)

Yellow Cards: Gibson 25 (foul), Mclean 52 (foul), Hanley 76 (delaying restart), McCallum 90+7 (foul)

QPR Star Man – Isaac Hayden 8 An afternoon that really showed us what this team has been missing. Up front, where Michy Frey’s basic movement and early runs across the front of a defender to the near post made him look like some sort of Greek God compared to what we’ve had in his position previously, and certainly in the middle of midfield when Jack Colback scored and Joe Hodge (bar one give away first half which nearly cost us a goal) and especially Isaac Hayden were fairly transformative.

Referee – Ben Toner (Lancashire) 6 Thought he did really well for 75 minutes or so and I had him on a high seven at that stage, but he gave some weird and wonderful stuff in the closing stages of the game and seemed to take against Lyndon Dykes entirely when he came on. This happened with Steve Martin at Carrow Road as well but I’ve absolutely no idea why these referees allow themselves to be pursued around the pitch, harassed and undermined by Ashley Barnes like this. That fat mess would shout in my face like that once, and if he did it again he’d be sampling the early bath water. There’s a Norwich booking for, I think, over celebrating in the wake of the second goal that doesn’t seem to have been picked up in the stats yet, see pic…

Attendance – 17,831 (2,800 Norwich approx.) The support, home and away, continues to be remarkable all things considered and the potential of where we could go with that, under this manager, if we do survive will only make it more heartbreaking if we don’t.

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extratimeR added 00:39 - Feb 12
What an afternoon Clive!

Yes really good game to watch, both teams going for it.
Definitely Hayden MOM, ( class). Really like what Marty doing with Sinclair, yes he was quieter this week, but again his overall game continues to improve .

The nervousness at HQ beginning to disappear, finished game going for winner, crowd were great.

Ashley Barnes, " someone will colonise him and hold elections"

Thanks Clive! Really nailed it, great report.

snanker added 05:30 - Feb 12
Thanks Clive you've identified fight, desire, belief, game plan & a sense of entertainment in a side that has been largely bereft of these professional essentials for a good while. While not the full 3pts we can finally see a team competing to get the essentials right under MC whose savvy Jan pick ups are setting the new standard. Just waiting for the match when Armstrong gets his game altogether and belts the opposition. Stoke would be a good start. Seriously think we have a better chance than ever of climbing the basement stairs and avoiding our current cellar. Reckon it is more than hope for a change !!

tsbains64 added 09:41 - Feb 12
One of the best games of the season Spot on with the report . Hats off the the Rangers faithfull, another full house !

Geoff78 added 10:42 - Feb 12
Agree about the ref. Thought he was very good and then seemed to make a series of bizarre decisions and of course all of in favour of the opposition.

Especially like the Allen clan twitching, even more so as Chair showed he can do more than check back on his right foot for the shot.

dannyblue added 11:01 - Feb 12
Always love the writing, and it's often the prose, rather than the jokes, that make me smile. "Two teams, deeply flawed, going to win, playing attractive and attacking football, while constantly stepping on rakes"

CLAREMAN1995 added 15:36 - Feb 12
Come on dannyblue the prose might be good but the jokes are sublime week after week.
Who would not want Jennifer Lawerence sitting on their face hahaha .

M40R added 17:56 - Feb 12
Well that was a thoroughly entertaining read, as entertaining as the match itself. It was worrying how open we were in the second half with no Field to shield the defence but then at least the midfield got the ball forward faster and more constructively.
We were lucky with how Norwich stood off for the throw and cross for the equaliser.

Myke added 21:38 - Feb 12
'Breathtaking' is the o ly word to describe the report- welcome home. I purely simplistic terms (goals) our new signings have earned us an additional 3 points already, which is just about keeping us in the hunt for survival. Stoke is huge

w7r added 11:03 - Feb 13
Unfortunately couldn't make the game so had to make do with listening in. The match report goes a long way to compensate for my missing out on what sounded a potty Championship fixture.

As per, more magnificence from Mr W. What a talented b*gger he is - some of those lines/jokes/prose - always a superb read. The "rakes" and "Jennifer Lawrence" did me. Where does he get these from?

I don't know how some of our support, (and Clive, given the effort he puts in) have kept going given how pony we've been at times this season, but it feels like their unwavering support is finally being rewarded. Granted it's early days but it feels like change is in the air. I love what Marti is doing and have complete faith in him to turn this sh*t-show around.

U R's

TacticalR added 22:24 - Feb 13
Thanks for your report.

Very appropriate interspersing your report with the Huddersfield result. If that had gone the wrong way it could have made us feel that were never going to close the gap.

It is quite striking how all the new players have been able to make an immediate contribution over the last two games.

A note about the goalscorers:

Colback. The thing he brings to the game (when not making wild tackles) is simplicity. Simplicity of pass and simplicity of strikes on goal.

Frey. Ideally he will make up for his lack of mobility with nous and positioning, the way Austin used to (we saw that with Frey's goal). Having said that (about lack of mobility), Frey did actually do quite a bit of running around pressing defenders.

Apart from that, Willock may be up and down, but he did get in decent cross for the first goal. Hodge's dodgy pass back into our area was a surprise after he's played so well and shows that he's still a youngster learning the game.

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