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Dunne’d in the gob – Report
Saturday, 30th Mar 2024 20:21 by Clive Whittingham

QPR took what could be a potentially giant step towards securing their Championship status with a last-minute home win against fellow strugglers Birmingham on Saturday, sealed by a remarkable first goal of the season from Jimmy Dunne.

Football teams get themselves relegated in broadly two ways.

The first is the one Rotherham United are currently inflicting on their supporters: the abject crash and burn. Be it through long term decline, mismanagement, incompetence, finance, recruitment and retention, fire, plague and/or pestilence, your team is simply out of its depth at the level and incapable of competing. “We’re not good enough,” as Brian Clough so succinctly summed up in his last ever post match.

Queens Park Rangers have certainly experienced a few of these. Their maiden foray into First Division football proved a little bit too-high too-soon after successive promotions and they finished dead last in 1968/69 with just 18 points and four wins – a full 12 back even from the team in second last. In 2000/01 they were relegated from the second tier by nine points, winning just seven games out of 46 (one away), conceding five times on three separate occasions at Wimbledon, Preston and Sheffield Wednesday. In 2012/13 the R’s blew potentially their last ever chance of a seat at football’s top table when they dipped out of the Premier League with four wins, 14 points adrift of safety, and Harry Redknapp describing the 19 away fixtures as “bonus games”.

The second is less clear cut. Your team is certainly not very good – nobody ever ended up at the bottom of a 24-team league after 46 rounds of football by accident, whatever modern day contrarians may say about the irrelevance of league tables so as to appear more knowledgeable – but what side of the dotted line you end up on in May is decided one way or another by a series of moments. These can be refereeing decisions, incredible goals, injury time equalisers, key players snapping their shins, penalties missed and penalties scored. If the moments start stacking up in your favour, you might just be okay. If they don’t… well, it might be time to see if that pub on the roundabout in Stockport is still a thing.

QPR have endured these seasons for and against. When John Gregory’s class of 2007 lost 5-0 at Southend live on Sky that felt like a pretty big negative moment to try and recover from, but recover they did with things like the surprise capture of Inigo Idiakez from Derby, the triumphant return of the popular Lee Camp, Marc Nygaard’s freaky goal at Leicester, Dexter Blackstock’s magnificent clincher in a key game in hand against Preston, Paul Furlong’s last-second Loft End winner against fellow strugglers Luton. By contrast, in 1996, there were key moments throughout which consistently went against Ray Wilkins’ side. Two nil up and cruising through a Monday Night Football against Spurs, Teddy Sheringham conned a nonsense penalty out of David Ellery triggering a meltdown and 3-2 loss. Simon Barker blazed a penalty over the bar in a home draw with Middlesbrough, Kevin Gallen had one saved by John Lukic to kill the momentum of a comeback against Leeds. There was the childhood-wrecking Eric Cantona goal. Karl Ready calmly taking his own goalkeeper out of the game with a suicidal passback that put Keith Gillespie in for an empty netter and another 3-2 home defeat, this time to Newcastle. Then there was Eoin Jess. The post mortem summary simply read ‘Sold Les Ferdinand, replaced with Mark Hateley’, but Rangers were only five points away from Southampton and Coventry that year – it only needed a couple of those moments to go the other way.

Under Gareth Ainsworth, 2023/24 was very much shaping up as option one – the footballing shuttle disaster. Two wins from the first 14 games, and in several towards the end Rangers appeared to have abandoned all hope, plan and strategy of even ever crossing the halfway line, let alone troubling the opposition goalkeeper or scoring an actual full-blown goal. When Chekhov saw the long winter, he saw a winter bleak and dark and bereft of hope.

The turnaround under Marti Cifuentes, given what he inherited and the resources and time he had at his disposal to do anything about that, has been remarkable. QPR, at one point eight points adrift in the bottom three, have climbed out of the relegation zone despite continuing to operate with obviously substandard goalkeepers and strikers. It has moved the R’s into a clutch of teams competing to stay in the Championship and left them in that grey area where you might still go down – this still, at the end of the day, a team with the division’s fifth worst attack, second worst home record, that only won twice in the first three months of the season – but maybe also survive. For Cifuentes’ QPR it is becoming about moments.

This has given cause for concern. Underlying numbers vastly improved, team clearly and obviously transformed, light at the end of the tunnel that might not be an oncoming train this time, but the moments… steadfastly flowing in the wrong direction. Sam Field left six points on the table with lousy finishing late in the winter games at Rotherham, Sheff Wed and Norwich. Rangers led at Hillsborough into the last minute and lost. In stoppage time at Portman Road over Christmas, Keith Stroud-wannabe David Webb stared straight at an Ipswich player punching the ball away from the back post with his fist and ruled boys will be boys. There was another blatant handball penalty missed by the officials in a home draw with West Brom where QPR battered their opponent but missed a penalty that was awarded and saw another effort implausibly cleared from underneath the crossbar by former player Darnell Furlong. These are starting to feel a lot like the sort of things that happen to teams that get relegated.

What we really needed was a moment the other way. It could be an amazing piece of technical brilliance, like the Nygaard goal. It could be a narrative-driving last-second winner like Furlong’s Easter downing of Luton. Something that suggests there’s some higher, mystical power at work, and that it’s on your side. It could be a player scoring while four yards offside with the linesman asleep, a penalty incorrectly awarded, a comeback from two goals down… we’re not fussy, but it needed to go our way, and it needed to be soon.

And on Good Friday, we went to Loftus Road, and watched through scarcely parted fingers as just such a moment unfolded before us in absolute magisterial beauty. The sort of once-in-a-decade moment that nourishes the soul of downtrodden, long-suffering football fans and restores their faith in their life choices. The sort of I-was-there moment that will dominate history articles and retro social media accounts for decades to come, and every time you stumble across the clip you cannot help but stop what you’re doing and watch it all over again. The sort of better-than-sex moment that pops into your head at randomly for the rest of your life, while you’re sitting having a quiet beer by the roaring log fire of a country pub, or feeling the surf between your toes on some faraway beach, to bring a warm glow to your insides and a small upturn to the corner of your mouth. “What you smiling about?” a loved one will enquire, and you’ll have to make the quickfire decision about whether to lie and say something romantic, or tell the truth that actually it was that time when…

It will never leave you, I, or anybody else who was there to see it. It is Carlton Fisk’s homerun, narrated by Robin Williams, except it’s in hooped shirts not red sox, and it’s you telling the story, to your grandkids, friends, people you’re sitting near on the tube, and anybody else who’ll listen. This is what sport can do to a person.

None of us will ever forget where we were and what it felt like… when Tyler Roberts walked onto Birmingham’s best chance of the match and spaffed the thing out for a throw-in on the far side of the ground. Art through pain, indeed.

While I guess we shouldn’t have been shocked to see Roberts and Laird keen to make a trip this close to Reign Mayfair, the former’s inclusion for just his tenth ever career start at Loftus Road – quite the stat for somebody who spent a year of said career ‘playing’ for QPR – was the main surprise sprung by Gary Rowett. This Birmingham’s sixth permanent or temporary manager of the season. The catastrophically hubristic decision to replace a perfectly functional John Eustace with the thick person’s thick person, Wayne Rooney, and the very sad situation surrounding his inevitable replacement, Tony Mowbray, has left the Blues’ season in tatters. From surfing the Tom Brady-led takeover tide of optimism, to potentially starting the rebuild of the St Andrews’ club in earnest in League One, Brum arrived in W12 with one point from six games and three consecutive 1-0 losses immediately prior. As we could have, and indeed did, warn them – this sort of thing will happen if you recruit the sort of characters who’ve been playing for QPR recently.

Going full circle to Rowett was supposed to settle Birmingham down enough to ride out the storm with Championship status intact. Lots of grit and little imagination, lots of channel balls and little finesse, lots of big old bastards playing central midfield in a 4-4-fucking-2. Go on, get past that. Will there be nil nil draws? You bet.

In fact, having gone with a back three, including another of QPR’s former problem children - Dion Sanderson – the visitors were weirdly open in the first half. Three times Rangers really should have taken the lead. Chris Willock feigned to pass to Lucas Andersen, went to the byline instead, cut a nice cross back to the edge of the six-yard box, and Ilias Chair’s header was well saved by John Ruddy. Sam Field, trying to nudge in the rebound, denied by Sanderson. Neither Sanderson nor Ruddy should have been given much of a prayer by Andersen four minutes later but the Dane didn’t get the contact right on Kenneth Paal’s sumptuous centre and the ball bounced out via the top of the crossbar. He didn’t even get that close when beautifully chipped through by Ilias Chair on the half hour – blazing high, wide and substantially less handsome than his passport picture.

You waste these chances at your peril, particularly with Asmir Begovic creaking about at the other end – a bizarrely casual attempt to deal with a bobbly Steve Cook backpass looked for several horrifying moments like the Bosnian was going to shuffle off into the back of the net with the ball, and one of several hesitant moments when required to come off his line in this game resulted in Jay Stansfield pushing the ball past him but then rather messing up the chance to set up an empty net opener.

All square at the break, not the day to concede first. Not the day to concede first, and you could feel it. Things started to get cagey. Things started to get tense. Field got back at Stansfield brilliantly to deflect wide. Chair slashed over when he had time for a more considered attempt. More hesitancy from Begovic as centre backs pleaded with him to come and collect. Savage amusement at the School of Science.

On razor thin margins are such deadlocks broken. Lee Buchanan, not for the first time, taking advantage of professional sport's bed wetters’ charter that every game or match must be immediately halted, and all nearby hospitals put on an emergency footing, whenever the vague possibility somebody may have perhaps ‘suffered’ even a pretend bump on the head – lessen we play on for 30 seconds or so and they explode into a thousand pieces. While there was clearly the square root of fuck all wrong with Buchanan, QPR couldn’t complain too loudly – Sam Field had done exactly the same in the first half to force a stoppage when he felt it convenient to his team, such is our sport in 2024 and its direction of travel into the future.

Where things did get odd, however, was referee Josh Smith taking a ball that had been in QPR’s possession high up in an attack on the right wing and marching it back 60 yards down the field, into the Rangers half, whereby he unceremoniously chucked it at the nearest home player, allowed Birmingham to contest it, and set in motion a chain of events that saw Isaac Hayden injured in a tackle for which he was yellow carded, replaced in the middle of the midfield by Jack Colback, and then, through the confusion and newly opened spaces which highlight just how important Hayden is to this team, drove Birmingham’s best player, Juninho Bacuna, for a slickly taken opening goal into the top corner of the School End net. Fuck off please. Fuck off all the way over there, and then when you arrive fuck off all over again.

Birmingham winning, Sheff Wed winning, QPR now losing, Marti Cifuentes’ men back in the bottom three they’d spent months working so hard to escape. The response was mercifully swift. Andersen’s deep free kick found the outstanding Jimmy Dunne in towering form at the back post – a vital outlet for Rangers from every dead ball and defensive situation all afternoon. His header down sparked scramble, sparked block, sparked Steve Cook effort one, sparked Steve Cook effort two, and where once Darnell Furlong stood firm, today there was only Aiwu to helpfully nudge it on its way into the bottom corner. Cook’s first for the club, though not for the want of trying. Can you feel your heart beating now?

Back to the tension. Back to the stomach knots. Back to Stansfield, with a clear sight of goal, somehow shooting wide when it felt easier to score. Back to the pub for a couple round us, who couldn’t stand to look at it anymore. Those who stayed saw Chris Willock volley miles over the bar, unmarked, eight yards out, after Dunne had wrought more havoc in enemy territory. Perhaps not quite a full Hugill, but one a player of his ability should be scoring.

There can be few more Gary Rowett things than having your goalkeeper waste time on a draw in a game against a team one place and point ahead of you in the table with ostensibly the worst home record in the league. This is the sort of miserable shit he got the sack for here previously. John Ruddy seemed to find the whole thing hilarious. Jack Colback did not – a stupidly needless foul and yellow card – though his performance seemed to improve markedly after that. Strange character at times. Look at Jake Clarke-Salter though, monstering the ground Danny Shittu style to clear Stansfield, the ball, and half the Birmingham bench out into the main stand when a dangerous counter looked on. Magnificent stuff.

Another home game slipping by. Another week of league table staring to come. Another winnable opportunity passed up. Another game closer to that horrible set of fixtures to finish with. And it could have been even worse still, with Paik drilling an injury time free kick low, to the side of the wall, through the crowd, and mercifully straight at Begovic. Few could bear to watch, haunted by the ghost of Wigan’s Shaun Maloney. Those that did were grateful for the keeper’s safe hands with sharks circling a potential rebound. Maybe a point isn’t so bad after all, when a catastrophic alternative like that gets dangled in front of you. Quite fancy the draw now do you?

Deep sighs and prayers of thanks all round as Begovic chipped away towards Dunne down the right side again. The Irishman won the header, because that was the outcome over and over and over again all afternoon. Sinclair Armstrong, on for the ineffective Michy Frey, nicely backed Sanderson into a panicky clearance. Dunne, on a continuing run, checked the blind spot over his left shoulder and pulled out into traffic.

In April 1994, without David Bardsley through injury, a group of QPR players gathered around a free kick in an away game with Oldham Athletic. Ray Wilkins said he’d widen the angle slightly for Les Ferdinand to “have a hit at it”. The resulting 30-yard comet laid waste to most of Greater Manchester – a barnburner of such devastation the area is yet to fully recover. One the way back to the halfway line Wilkins said “I didn’t mean for you to hit it that well, but that’ll do”. And when I said QPR needed a bit of a moment to go their way and shift momentum a little bit, I’m not sure I envisaged something like this in even my wettest of dreams. But, it’ll do.

Such brilliance has been a far cry from the sporting suffering of the last two years at Loftus Road. Jimmy Dunne, as one of those you do get the impression genuinely cares about the situation, has had it tougher than most. Here to win promotion, per his first interview when he signed, this one-time protégé of Man Utd and Burnley has cratered with the team and the club. His form, at times, has been horrific. His performance in a Christmas loss at Millwall was the sort ‘it’s not me it’s you’ disasterclass that has this manager handing you your cards – three other starters from that game have essentially never played for the club again. We’ve inflicted some right little twats on ourselves of late, Jimmy Dunne is not one of them. It’s been tough to watch.

Recalled as an unorthodox right back with Reggie Cannon ailing under the weight of a first Championship winter, and Osman Kakay one of ‘Millwall three’, Dunne was seen as a bit of a novelty act to begin with. The Irish Cafu, we chuckled, as he performed a ‘Cruyff turn’ three miles wide and West Brom’s left back ended up somewhere out by the Hayes Bypass. Steadily, improbably, it seems he might be quite good at it. The extra height is most welcome for a team who’ve conceded more from set pieces than anyone else in the league and scored fewer than anybody else from their own. Being able to chip an out-ball his way has been heaven-sent for a centre back and goalkeeper combination struggling with Cifuentes’ preferred play-out-from-the-back method. You expect that of him. You do not expect the sort of devilish left-footed cross that almost set up Sam Field’s winning goal and hat trick in that same game with the Baggies. And if you expected what came next here, I reckon you’re lying to me.

Off his chest with deft and craft, off the ground with poise and balance, off his left foot (left foot) with ferocious dip and accuracy, off the scale brilliance that was a goal from the moment he hit it, off with the roof of this rusting paradise. A goal with a noise before the noise. A sound of people realising something incredible is about to happen to them. Few deserve it more, than Jimmy Dunne, than us, and than QPR. After the last two years, an overwhelming rush of maybe this is going to be alright after all.

When moments like this go your way, how can it not be?

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

QPR: Begovic 5; Dunne 8, Cook 7, Clarke-Salter 7, Paal 6 (Larkeche 87, -); Hayden 7 (Colback 60, 6), Field 6; Chair 6, Andersen 6, Willock 6 (Smyth 76, 6); Frey 5 (Armstrong 59, 6)

Subs not used: Dykes, Fox, Hodge, Cannon, Walsh

Goals: Cook 65 (unassisted), Dunne 90+2 (unassisted)

Yellow Cards: Hayden 58 (foul), Colback 76 (foul)

Birmingham: Ruddy 6; Aiwu 6, Sanderson 5, Buchanan 5; Laird 5, Paik 6, Bielik 6 (Gardner 90+1, -), Drameh 6; Bacuna 7 (James 85, -), Stansfield 5 (Hogan 85, -), Roberts 4 (Miyoshi 73, 5)

Subs not used: Etheridge, Dembele, Sunjic, Hall

Goals: Bacuna 62 (assisted Laird)

Bookings: Laird 47 (foul), Roberts 51 (foul)

QPR Star Man – Jimmy Dunne 8 Who else?

Referee – Josh Smith (Lincolnshire) 6 I had this down as a seven, or possibly even eight, but I simply don’t understand the sequence of events that saw the play stopped for one of several non-existent injuries feigned by Buchanan, with QPR in possession and moving forwards down the right wing, and then restarted again 40 yards back down the field, with a ball chucked by the referee at a QPR player and Birmingham allowed to contest it. It resulted in the injury to Hayden, a free kick and a yellow card, and very soon after that the opening Birmingham goal. I feel for the official to some extent – the current bed-wetting about people possibly getting bumped on the head while playing professional sport has seen protocols brought in that footballers were always going to game to their advantage and Sam Field had done exactly the same act as Buchanan in the first half when he felt a stoppage would benefit QPR – but the chosen location and manner of the restart felt pretty wild to me. Still, one defeat in eight now for Rangers with this referee and he’s pretty decent overall.

Attendance 17,170 (1,800 Birmingham) Brilliant to see, hear and feel Loftus Road bouncing like that at the end. Disappointing that an apparent balls up with the away allocation meant a large chunk of lower School End seats had to be fenced off for segregation rather than sold – and we understand it’ll be the same for Sheff Wed next week too.

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Ian Randall Photography

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UPPERLOFTNZ added 20:43 - Mar 30
In tears, both kinds

Marshy added 21:17 - Mar 30
At the moment Jimmy struck the ball, my thought was that it was going over the bar. I think that was probably due to all the near misses we had, not just in this game, but many over the course of this season. When it actually went in, for a moment I was frozen not believing it was in the net. Then the euphoria set in. What a goal! Having now viewed it back several times, it is without doubt a thing of beauty.

A40Bosh added 21:19 - Mar 30
I’d still give James Dunne a 10 for how he has made me feel since 5:00pm on Good Friday and it still has not subsided.


BlackCrowe added 21:32 - Mar 30
Lush. Thank you.

NewYorkRanger added 22:00 - Mar 30
Love these reports. Love going to games with my youngest daughter and very occasionally having something to cheer about. Love QPR. Love Loftus Road. Love The Scorpions

hopekillsyou added 22:05 - Mar 30
So right about the “ series of moments” and how the Gods have conspired against us for so long ( or at least it feels that way with handballs missed and late goals conceded and just general fxxk-ups)and it could be, it must be that that wondrous goal reflects a cosmic shift and all will now be ok. Please.

Myke added 22:14 - Mar 30
Super report Clive. Spent Friday afternoon in a&e as my wife underwent a series of tests. Few places make time slow down more effectively than a hospital waiting room. Due to the circumstances I couldn't watch the game but relied on regular updates so it was much later that night before I witnessed Dunne's moment of beauty. Combine the waiting room and leading 2-1, meant time didn't slow down or stop but seemed to go backwards for the next 6 minutes. My wife is fine my blood pressure on the other hand...

T_Block added 22:39 - Mar 30
Jimmy Dunne 11
Do not care what anybody says
43 points-need 5 to stay up.
One win two draws from seven games

Paddyhoops added 23:12 - Mar 30
Don't think I've ever watched a goal back as much as that winner.
Still buzzing .

ivoranidea added 00:18 - Mar 31
Great report but why oh why are you so down on Begovic? You have him 5, for what, for not making any mistakes?? He might not be the best keeper in the league but he’s done a decent enough job and, in case you didn’t notice (which I know you did) it was his long punt down the pitch that led to Jimmy Dunne’s screamer.

100percent added 02:04 - Mar 31
fantastic report....the range of emotions throughout the game was completely ridiculous... From JU in the Upper Loft I thought Ruddy had made an implausible save.... the joy of realising it was a goal is indescribable .. definitely a sublime QPR moment... Viva Cifuentes!!!

daveinmelbourne added 02:30 - Mar 31
As you’ve described in the past, that was an absolute fking thunderbastard of a shot! I feel we’ll be okay as we’ve now this fantastic coach whose team is now starting to play how he’d like. And, IF we stay up, next season could be fun.

ozexile added 07:23 - Mar 31
Who are the 3 who've been bombed since Millwall? Kakay, Cannon, Dozzell?

Northernr added 07:55 - Mar 31
Larkeche started there as well and has only had a couple of very brief sub appearances since. Dozzell and Kakay bombed completely.

kernowhoop added 09:41 - Mar 31
Most of us would probably have expected Jimmy's effort to end up at the back of the Upper Loft. Not the fans at the LR end of the SA Road stand though. I am pretty sure that the cameras caught them beginning to celebrate before the ball crossed the line. A wonderful moment.

TacticalR added 14:19 - Apr 1
Thanks for your report.

Until *that* goal, this looked as though it was heading for a draw. At times we looked like a team of individuals...Chair and Willock in particular showing a touch of self-indulgence, hanging on to the ball for too long or going for impossible shots. Also frustrating that Chair, Willock and Field weren't able to get their head over the ball and all ended up skying shots from good positions.

Birmingham were better than expected, and knew how to get the ball forward quickly. We looked disoriented after Hayden went off, with very poor marking of Bacuna for the Birmingham goal.

Attackers can't score? Midfielders can't score? Defenders to the rescue: Cook and super-Dunne. Agree that it feels like ages since a key moment has gone our way, and finally one has.

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