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Act three – Report
Sunday, 10th Mar 2024 17:58 by Clive Whittingham

The nagging doubt that QPR had emptied the tank against Leicester and West Brom and wouldn’t be able to back up in dreaded game three of a three-game week came to horrible realisation against Middlesbrough at Loftus Road on Saturday.

Did somebody say ‘typical bloody Rangers’?

The nourishing victory at Bristol City, the banana skin avoided at home to Rotherham, lift off at Leicester, and then a performance against West Bromwich Albion on Wednesday that offered so much promise for the future and was absolutely not that of a team that’ll be having any relegation worries come May.

After so much misery and bleakness, stretching almost solidly and uninterrupted across two years and five managers, just the merest hint of the clouds starting to clear over Shepherd’s Bush. Out of the bottom three, looking upwards to teams we might be able to catch as opposed to down towards oblivion, and just daring to dream a little bit about what a future built by Marti Cifuentes might look like for QPR. The strange sensation of actually looking forward to going to Loftus Road for a game creeping its way in despite all attempts to suppress it.

Well, of course, we can’t be having that can we? Enjoy yourself? Have a nice time? Lovely Saturday at the football with your mates? What you’re long overdue, after just one defeat in nine games, is a good, old fashioned afternoon of bollock kicking. Bend over and assume the position, I’ll fetch my booting boot – the one with the steel toe cap.

A two nil home loss to a midtable Middlesbrough side with little to play for was absolutely not in the script. In a tough run of remaining fixtures, this is probably one you’d have had a ring around, against a side with only two wins in its last nine fixtures. For all the talk of ‘you’d have taken four points at the start of the week’, which we will come onto, Rangers are not in a league position where you can afford to be passing up chances like this quite as readily as they did here. Having fought so hard to escape the bottom three, it’s now likely only a win at Sunderland next week will keep the R’s north of the dotted line with Birmingham at home to Boro on Tuesday and Huddersfield having their Rotherham gimme next weekend.

The first half was not too bad, while never coming close to the levels Rangers had set in the two previous matches: Jimmy Dunne headed an early Lucas Anderson corner over; a good high win from Michy Frey set Chair up for a chance curled wide; prolonged pressure with Andersen at its heart saw Chair closed out and Willock only denied a fourth career goal against this opposition by a sprawling Seny Dieng save on his return to W12. Markus Forss biting down hard on a wanker sign from the Lower Loft, and then getting booked for a late hit on Andersen (not the face, anything but the face) hinted at frustration in the Boro ranks as a season that’s rather drifted away from the highs of last spring comes to its conclusion. QPR could have capitalised on that when Frey won the ball high up again and Chair’s attempted lob over Dieng wasn’t executed with enough height. For all the stick Frey has got in the wake of the game, I did think he was quite effective in these early exchanges – but quickly tired.

There were also warning signs as well. Sam Field rather typified the whole thing – so good against the Baggies in the week, so laboured here. Without Hayden as the crucial pivoting six in the Cifuentes system, the midfield was comprehensively controlled by an impressive pairing of Jonny Howson and Lewis O’Brien – and you don’t win many games while losing the midfield. Boro piled through Field after 11 minutes and Begovic was off his line with unusual sprightly alertness to clear the danger into the stand. Much more typical was Begovic collapsing from a standing start and getting nowhere close to covering his bottom corner as one mishit Forss shot bobbled wide, and then booting a lousy Steve Cook pass back straight up in the air.

When Cook’s doing sloppy things, when Field’s levels have dropped, you know you’ve got problems. Far from galvanising the team and lifting the place to greater heights, the exertions of Wednesday night seemed to have exhausted everybody. Things were flat, on the pitch, in the stands, even in the pub beforehand. After the Lord Mayor’s Show is one of those trite football cliches rolled out for want of something original to say, but you’ll rarely see a better sporting example of it than this. That thick hangover we all woke up with on Thursday morning had bled right the way through into the weekend. It looked like somebody has swapped the caffein tablets for Diazepam.

Things got worse after half time. Forss missed what was essentially an open goal after Begovic messed up a clearance – both players probably quite glad of an offside flag.

Cifuentes tried to enliven things with a triple substitution but - while none of Chair, Field or the obviously leggy Frey could really have any complaints about being removed - the replacements didn’t improve things at all. Lyndon Dykes may as well not have been there – if you’re wondering why the manager is sticking with the obviously quite limited and certainly very tired Frey then the Scottish international provided a firm answer. Smyth did at least get things going a little bit – sprinting through the middle onto a Hayden chipped pass he looked all set to glide around Dieng with a Routledge-style first touch only for the excellent Sepp van den Berg to rescue the situation with a crunching slide tackle. Later little Smyth won a corner off a lung busting run from an excellent quick Begovic release. But Hayden’s main involvement was a poor, slack touch, foul in the attempted retrieval, yellow card, and free kick from which Rangers’ defending was shockingly bad and allowed Emmanuel Latte Lath to bobble in a yucky opening goal.

That was always going to be crucial. Boro, who’d sat quite deep, tight and narrow before this, happy to soak things up and hit on the break as and when, were ideally set up to lead a game as an away team and pick the opposition off. Alongside van den Berg, who won’t be at this level for long whether Boro get promoted or not, Matt Clarke could have played in a suit. You can’t help but think a team with this central defence and central midfield should be doing a bit better than eleventh. Attempts to pick a way through the red shirts largely came to nought with Chair off the pitch and Willock, after all his recent improvements, sadly ineffective. Andersen’s cute through ball on 74 might have made something for somebody, but I’m afraid if you want Dykes to read things like that you’re going to have to print them in a bigger font.

A second goal at the other end felt a lot more likely and sure enough Forss provided it with a back post header from an acute angle that should have weighted the whole thing in the goalkeeper’s favour. It was unfortunate really, after the chaotic officiating in midweek, that referee Leigh Doughty spoiled an impressive performance to this point by failing to spot a pretty obvious pull on Willock’s shirt for a QPR free kick at one end that then directly led to a goal at the other. He’ll say, justifiably, Rangers had more than enough chances to deal with the situation between the foul and the goal, not least at the moment of its scoring when any professional goalkeeper in the world must surely be doing better than this.

Begovic was hit and miss to begin with. Middlesbrough away actually one of his big highs, along with a nil nil soon after that at Birmingham. Increasingly, though, he looks a liability to this team. I still think of that one against Millwall at home he let roll through his gloves – only a goalline clearance preventing that from costing us more points in a big game there. His decision-making is delayed, he’s slow off his line and around his box, his footwork for saves is absolutely non-existent – basically collapsing down in instalments from a standing start which means if the ball is further away than the length of his body then he’s not reaching it. He looks his age, and then some. I can’t ever really remember one of these Rob Green, Richard Wright, Carlo Cudicini types who’ve taken the bench sitting option late in their career being brought back as a first choice before, and with this as a test case I don’t think anybody will be trying it again any time soon. Against Leicester, and then twice again here, Begovic has conceded goals in a manner you’d expect of an amateur Sunday league goalkeeper. Seny Dieng at the other end, back to his calm and commanding pre-2023 form, only highlighted the problem further. How well he’d suit this manager and style.

Realistically you’re not throwing Joe Walsh into this situation, Murphy Mahoney is injured, and Jordan Archer is another of our highly questionable recent bits of goalkeeper recruitment and not Championship standard, so it’s Asmir for better or worse for the remaining games. With nine games left, several huge ties against the teams around us among them, it feels like this situation is going to come to a head in a big moment – he’s either going to do something amazing to win us a game at which point all is forgiven and we shake hands happily in the summer, or he’s going to cost us when we can least afford it.

The game drifted away from an already low level after that; Michael Carrick’s men with the points long since tied up and well aware of the fact. Jake Clarke-Salter and Luke Ayling were both booked for a bit of stuff and nonsense in front of the dug outs, and Dieng and McNair (still only 28 it says here, I feel like we’ve played him twice a season for 30 years) both saw yellow in five added minutes for wasting time. Four more braindead and needless yellow cards you’ll never see – it’s done lads, it’s over, what on earth are you doing?

It's often at this point that I tend to tee off on my own side a little bit. Talk about their mental fragility, talk about how this group will always let you down sooner or later, talk about how quickly they get all cocky and happy with themselves after just a couple of decent results and then always fall flat on their face. Certainly that was how I felt after the loss at Stoke in February. I’m not going to do that here, because this didn’t feel like that to me.

With the lack of squad depth we’ve got, we know three game weeks are a problem for this team. We’ve now won only two out of nine when it’s game three in a three-game week this season, and it’s three out of 15 and five out of 25 if you take it back further through the reigns of Ainsworth, Critchley, Beale and Warburton. This was the three-game week to end them all – with that monumental effort and concentration required at league leaders Leicester, and then the fabulous performance and all the emotion tied up in it on Wednesday. Boro meanwhile played an hour of their midweek homer with Norwich against ten men.

I’m also giving Cifuentes a bit of a pass. There is, as usual, a ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ thread of message board experts talking with great authority and confidence about what the Spaniard got wrong and what he should have done instead. There must be some fucking good managerial records among our regular posters, but I do get it – talking about what football managers should have done differently is basically what websites and message boards like this are for and you’d certainly rather that than another 300-page thread on Brexit or Covid. Would I have dropped Isaac Hayden? No. Would I like to have seen a bit more of Sinclair Armstrong running at Matt Clarke? Yes. Did I think it was a lot to ask of Frey to double up his effort from Wednesday here? Yes. Did any of it work? No. But, that’s cricket. The manager and his staff are in possession of all manner of data on the fitness, physical condition and running yards of their players that you and I are not. We can sit here and say Frey looked leggy after Wednesday, they could probably bury you in paper that says the opposite. They also see these players in training every day. Unlike his predecessor, Marti Cifuentes has shown us more than enough to be given benefit of the doubt in such situations.

Despite recent upturns in form and performance, I still think the idea there’s an all-conquering team waiting to escape from this squad of players if only the idiot manager would pick it in the right order is a bit of a pipe dream. On the contrary, I think you've got a gaffer here getting far more out of this group than he's really got any right to. Primarily that’s because of the lack of quality we’ve got up front – we’ve still only scored more than two goals in a game once all season (Stoke H). Frey went off early, with the score at nil nil, so it’s not like starting him cost us a game. Dykes then came on and was even worse, so that’s why the manager wants the Swiss striker out there more often than not.

A tight game for the most part, the first goal was always going to be massive and, despite us not playing brilliantly, Willock, Chair, Dunne and Smyth could all easily have got that for us on another day. Perhaps Cifuentes et al thought let’s go with Frey, Chair, Andersen etc again, we'll run it on take-off power as long as we can, ask them to give it all they’ve got for as long as they’ve got, and let’s try and get in front in the game. One nil up and it’s a totally different ballgame and outcome from the same team selection and the same performance. Then you can bring Armstrong and Smyth on to go up against a defence that’s having to push higher up the field chasing a game. It could easily have worked. Dunne almost accidentally chipped Dieng from long range just before the Latte Lath goal. Instead, we make several individual defensive mistakes all in a row and concede it.

Like I say, when you’ve even got players of the standing of Steve Cook knocking sloppy back passes around, Sam Field letting people walk through him in midfield… it’s a tough day in store. Everybody was below par. I thought, overall, we just looked absolutely spent and exhausted, and there are really good reasons for that.

So, let’s instead finish on positives.

The general consensus was March’s fixtures were incredibly tough for us, and I’ve read comments to the effect of the best we could hope for is to be within striking distance (three points/one win) of the teams above us by the end of it. We’ve now burned off the three most difficult games in that sequence, and actually we’ve taken four points and stayed outside the bottom three. That’s above expectations, and if the results had been the other way around this week (LDW) we’d be in very good spirits this morning I think.

We’ve now got the polar opposite of the dreaded three-game week situation. We have a full week to prepare to face a Sunderland side that is onto a third manager of the season, is missing Jack Clarke, and has long since checked in on the Mykonos highway – losing six games in a row. Then we have two weeks to prepare for Birmingham in the Bush, and Swansea away. Then basically another week to prep for Sheff Wed down here. That’s a lot of time on the training ground with this manager, the squad’s basically injury free, and those are good fixtures to have. I’m absolutely not saying we’re going to win them, we might bollocks the whole thing up, and Birmingham and Sheff Wed are going to be terrifying experiences looking at the league table, but that’s four winnable games spread out nicely across four weeks. You couldn’t really ask for a lot better at this stage in our situation.

With now nine games left we certainly can’t afford many more of these, and it’s really highlighted the importance of actually winning the game when you do play as well as we did against West Brom, but it’s still all on us. We’ve got a great opportunity to escape this mess over the next four or five games. We’ve shown enough this week to suggest we’re good enough to do that. Let’s see what they do with it.

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

QPR: Begovic 3; Dunne 5, Cook 5, Clarke-Salter 6, Paal 5 (Larkeche 78, 5); Field 5 (Hayden 55, 4), Colback 5; Willock 5, Andersen 6 (Armstrong 78, 5), Chair 6 (Smyth 55, 6); Frey 5 (Dykes 55, 4)

Subs not used: Fox, Hodge, Cannon, Walsh

Yellow Cards: Hayden 64 (foul), Clarke-Salter 80 (fighting)

Boro: Dieng 7; McNair 6, van den Berg 8, Clarke 7; Ayling 7 (Dijksteel 90+4, -), Howson 7, O’Brien 7, Engel 6; Forss 6 (Silvera 78, 6), Latte Lath 6 (Greenwood 78, 6), McGree 6 (Azaz 90, -)

Subs not used: Barlaser, Jones, Gilbert, Glover, Thomas

Goals: Latte Lath 64 (assisted Clarke), Forss 76 (assisted Ayling)

Yellow Cards: Forss 39 (foul), Engel 66 (foul), Ayling 80 (fighting), Dieng 90+2 (time wasting), McNair 90+3 (time wasting)

QPR Star Man – Lucas Andersen 6 I don’t know, maybe? Star man with a six says a lot. I thought he was the one that was getting on the ball and trying to make things happen more than the rest, but I’m biased in his favour because I love what I’ve seen of him so far. You couldn’t really say a lot of positive things about anybody on Saturday.

Referee – Leigh Doughty (Blackpool) 6 All the calm, confident and assured control of the game that was so badly lacking on Wednesday, and that we’ve come to expect from this official in his brief time in this league. Sadly though, for him and for us, Chris Willock is blatantly fouled in the lead up to the Boro second goal and it wasn’t a difficult decision to get right.

Attendance 16,689 (2,000 Boro approx.) As flat as Loftus Road has felt for a long time, after all the hum and buzz of Wednesday. Such a shame. It just didn’t happen did it? On the pitch, off the pitch… a strange and frustrating day.

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joolsyp added 18:30 - Mar 10
Agree on Andersen, particularly on his first half performance where he seemed to be everywhere across the front 3. Love watching him play and you have to think keeping him fit and fresh will be crucial to our survival. Trying to stay optimistic particularly with our next little run of games although wondering whether we're more likely to get the wins we need from the likes of Sunderland, Swansea and even Preston away, than we are at Loftus Rd against Brum and Sheff Weds?

ParkRoyalR added 19:53 - Mar 10
We win at Bristol City (with Dykes) and Leicester (with Dykes + Armstrong) and we're now saying the Manager made the right call in ignoring our two best performances in a long time and starting a visibly jaded Frey? Disagree on that one Northern.

Manager has 9 games, needs to keep it simple and work out why we played so well in those games and he chose to change it.

Phil_i_P_Daddy added 21:03 - Mar 10
Dykes couldn’t anticipate his own orgasm.

ParkRoyalR added 21:17 - Mar 10
Anticipated Willock's pass alright at Leicester.


snanker added 23:49 - Mar 10
Pretty good summation Clive from what I saw. Yep you bet, Begovic now past his use by date and more & more of a risk with each game. The scenario you have mapped out for him is spot on and just hope he has a couple of match winning saves left in him !!? R's physically and mentally spent in the 2nd half and really needed to go in a goal to the good at half time. Still in it tho' and lucky Baggies had a big second half at the JS Stadium & helped out with some goal diff as well !!

Myke added 23:58 - Mar 10
Great report, Clive. I had this down for a 0-0 after the exertions of the past week, which would have kept our little unbeaten run going. Seeing WBA's result v Huddersfield today, not only does us a favour, but indicates mid-week was a very decent point. Stoke the real winners this weekend and is indicative of the value of ONE win it is so tight.
Agree with your synopsis except for "With the lack of squad depth we’ve got," That was actually a very strong bench on Saturday. Everyone of them have the ability to improve the team (not saying they always do - clearly not on Sat - but have the potential to) and influence the game positively. No Adomah, Kakay or your man from Brighton. I think were simply exhausted. Frey hadn't played for a year, charging around in the dying minutes during the week. It is a pity that Dykes Scotland position is so cast iron that he is more concerned with staying fit than playing well.
With this squad and a week's preparation we will be fine - this was just one game too far

Geoff78 added 09:35 - Mar 11
I agree that Saturday's defeat is not a reason for despair, but it may mean plenty of nail biting moments through to the end of the season.
On current form and from where I'm looking Marti is the best manager we've had since...Warnock? But I'm sure we'll all continue to think we could have picked a better team or made better substitutions.

Rangers67 added 10:41 - Mar 11
Good report Clive, have to agree re Dykes and Begovic, both either not up to level required or can,t be arsed

Marshy added 11:59 - Mar 11
I did feel that our 3rd game in a week would be our undoing. The first half was quite reasonable, but after that we just ran out of steam. Could we have Senny back please. It’s fair to say that Begovic has made some very good saves this season, but I do think he is a liability behind what is a very decent back 4. With the way things are so tight at the in the relegation scrap, I think it’s highly likely that the bottom 3 will not be decided until the very last day of the season at Coventry in May.

TacticalR added 17:04 - Mar 11
Thanks for your report.

Definitely lacking in oomph after our recent heroics against Leicester and West Brom. It was back to earlier in the season when we never quite looked like scoring, and not scoring leaves the door open to the opposition. As you point out, we generally don't do well in three-game weeks. Andersen as star man seems reasonable - there is always that feeling that something is going to happen when he's around.

tsbains64 added 08:33 - Mar 12
Spot on Chris, loved the optimism about our situation . Agree its in our hands-we are going to need quite a finish

qprsteve007 added 17:35 - Mar 12
On the first goal Begovic was unsighted by the player between the scorer and Begovic who is two foot offside and in a directly inline so he's interfering with play and so I think it's only fair to give Begovic a pass on that one.
But on the second you are completely right i'm 68 and I think I would have kept that out !
When Smith went past Seny did catch he's arm, he was either very lucky or clever that the contact was not more obvious but did just allow the defender to get back at Smith and make the clearance.

meeloun added 08:51 - Mar 14
与作业代写 机构确定好了合作之后,同学们也同样要知道具体的一些服务内容都有哪些。

sarahjames101 added 09:45 - Mar 29

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