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Dykes' long awaited goal secures crucial QPR win - Report
Monday, 22nd Apr 2024 11:13 by Clive Whittingham

QPR moved themselves to within touching distance of Championship survival with a scrappy, hard fought, tense 1-0 home win against Preston on Saturday.

At the tail end of the 2013/14 season, Queens Park Rangers enlisted the help of a verbose, erudite Geordie called Steve Black to try and drag their flagging corpse of a team across the line to promotion from the Championship.

This was ridiculous, for two reasons.

For starters, QPR had thrown such a grotesque amount of money at their team that it should have been easily able to steamroller anything else in that division.

Before we even get into transfer fees, QPR paid out north of £80m in salaries alone for their squad. To begin with the strikers were Bobby Zamora, Andy Johnson and Charlie Austin, who they spent £5m bringing in during the summer. At one point they added Javier Chevanton (22 Uruguay caps, seven goals) to that, and sat him on the bench with Oguchi Onyewu (69 USA caps). When Austin popped his shoulder, Rangers used the January transfer window to cover him by loaning in Republic of Ireland international Kevin Doyle (62 caps), West Ham’s Mobido Maiga (59 caps for Mali), Man Utd’s Will Keane, West Ham’s former Man Utd starlet Ravel Morrison, and Champions League winner Yossi Benayoun (102 caps for Israel). This is for a team competing in a league that, at that point, included Barnsley, Doncaster, Yeovil… Wigan, Huddersfield, Blackpool… Charlton… You know… WINNERSH.

They won 1-0 at Yeovil, through a late penalty, awarded by young referee Gavin Ward. That was, no exaggeration, £82m of pay-roll playing £1.5m. That they needed a motivational speaker to get them over the line was preposterous. At one point, through September, QPR kept eight consecutive clean sheets in an unbeaten run of 11 games – as you should when your centre back is Richard Dunne (80 Ireland caps) and your goalkeeper is occasional England international Rob Green. Cameroon international Benoit Assou-Ekotto was in this team, on loan from Spurs, on full money. The board’s attitude to their Premier League failure very much just ‘do a Newcastle’ and nuke the Championship with so much cash you couldn’t help but succeed.

Secondly, it was very difficult to pin down exactly what it was Steve Black did.

He was, undoubtedly, a terrific bloke. We interviewed him, at length, at the end of the season, in his garden on Tyneside – an interview frequently interrupted by his vivid descriptions of the plants and wildlife around him, the glorious sunshine and, at one stage, a moment where he went for a lie down on his bed. His record hung on his work, primarily, with Jonny Wilkinson and the England rah rah ruggah ‘bugger me Ajay’ World Cup winning team of 2003. But nobody was ever really able to put a finger on his super power and quantify it. Whenever you asked him – and we did, repeatedly, among the flowerbeds and rest sessions in the back bedroom – there would be a lot of chat about the Japanese concept of “Kaizen”, and woolly stuff about everybody just doing a little bit more, telling our colleagues what we mean to each other, identifying our motivation for being here (MONEY – get the crystal, get the crystal).

Some at the club at that time have described the guy as some sort of genius wizard, capable of motivating and galvanising the worst dressing room in football. Others roll their eyes at the mere mention of him – a “talker”. What mattered, though, is QPR got the job done. They believed the bearded man enough. They beat Wigan through an excruciating play-off semi-final, and then won through against Derby in the final at Wembley despite a catastrophically incorrect team selection and Gary O’Neil being sent off with much of the second half still to play. Black was front and centre in the dressing room champagne supernovas. All the problems that covered up were there waiting for us again in August, but super short term, at the business end of the season, who cares? Like Reggie Macklemore rubbing Niles Crane’s head before games, who cares how or why it works, as long as it works?

Back at present day Loftus Road on Saturday night, QPR needed to find something that worked. Two wins over Easter had apparently put them safe, relative to their imperilled position through the winter, but perhaps that was the problem – since then intensity levels had dropped, one point had been taken from three games, a crucial six pointer had been lost to Sheff Wed, the gap had closed up, and the good people of Shepherd’s Bush were back to staring at league tables. The steps we take to avoid our fate are the ones that lead us directly to it. Did it have to be pretty? Did it have to be enjoyable? Did it even have to be any good? No, it did not, it just had to work.

Asmir Begovic has been a problem to this team for some time. Placing so much faith in somebody who’d spent almost all of the last five years bench sitting was always going to be risky, even before manager Gareth Ainsworth started cooing over him like the second coming and talking about what a miracle and privilege it was that such a mighty, noble steed was willing to grace silly, little old QPR with his presence. This felt like a decision driven more by the location to his new soccer school business than the good of our club. Performances have declined rapidly from a low starting point, mistakes have been made in key games culminating in a disastrous late howler to cost two points at Plymouth. His fitness and mobility have dropped off alarmingly, he ages years in weeks – I can’t rise, it’s not happening. The general mood around his presence not improved by his frequent media, podcast and social media fawning over Chelsea, a club he seems to hold incredibly close to his heart for someone who made 17 league starts five years and clubs ago. A message board thread on his failings runs to 20 pages, 50,000 views and nearly 500 replies. Not an opportune time for him to be flashing his attendance at Chelsea 6 Everton 0 on Monday night. Read the room.

QPR had already been busted once – Kenneth Paal beaten, collapsing for a foul he was never going to get, a cut back into heavy traffic, Chris Willock with a creditable bit of backtracking to rescue the situation – when Liam Millar skipped through on goal after 12 minutes. The Canadian, on loan from Basel, was North End’s most threatening outlet all day, far too much for Paal to cope with, and a goal seemed certain as he squared up to shoot from dead centre, eight yards out. Begovic closed down the angle, stood up, and made a big save. Does that render all of the above untrue? No. Does this mean all is forgiven, we trust him now, maybe he’d like to stick around for next season? No. But on Saturday, none of that mattered. Preston have won all ten games they’ve led at half time this season. We just needed him to make that save, and he did.

Lyndon Dykes has also been an issue. Only the bottom two teams in the league had scored fewer than QPR’s 40 at the start of play. Ilias Chair and Dykes started the day joint top scorers on a pathetic five each. First choice forwards Dykes, Sinclair Armstrong and Michy Frey a paltry eight league goals between them in 51 starts and 32 substitute appearances. Dykes hadn’t scored a goal in 16 appearances and hadn’t scored away from home since this time last year at West Brom, 23 away games ago. That is his only goal away from Loftus Road in 53 road trips going all the way back to a 4-1 loss at Fulham in October 2021, two and a half years ago. The last time a QPR striker scored anywhere, at all, was Sinclair Armstrong at Leicester, eight games ago. Rangers have failed to score in half their games since and the six goals they have managed have been shared between defensive trio Sam Field (three), Steve Cook (two) and Jimmy Dunne (one). The scoreless runs among the strikers stood at Dykes (16 apps), Frey (seven) and Armstrong (seven).

QPR had already missed chances – Lucas Andersen, no goals in 14 appearances, improvised a volley wide of the post after Chair’s cross was cleared in his direction – when Dykes gave them the lead after 20 minutes. A cross from Willock which looked the very definition of routine for goalkeeper Freddie Woodman was inexplicably spilled and Dykes was, finally, in the right place at the right time to slip a low finish into the empty net. An extraordinary goal born entirely of a cataclysmic goalkeeping error. Does it render all of the above untrue? No. Do we now expect Dykes to become the goalscoring striker we need after all? No. But on Saturday, QPR needed a goal however they could get one.

Woodman, who while a junior trying to make the grade at Newcastle United sought the counsel of a local motivational guru by the name of Steve Black (How about that, eh? These reports don’t write themselves you know…), did his absolute best for QPR all day long. The keeper has been one of Preston’s better players this term by most accounts, but he played here as if he’d spent the day in the Crown with us. After Andersen had stood a cross up for Dykes to nod down perfectly only for nobody to be following up, and Willock had crossed a devilish ball right through the goal mouth also to find nobody there, Rangers stuck a corner over and Woodman flapped at the ball embarrassingly. A tame second half header from Dykes was just about clawed and parried nervously away from the bottom corner. Another Woodman drop was nudged towards goal by Jimmy Dunne but comfortably cleared. It was bizarre. If the game had been taking place in Serie B you wouldn’t have hesitated to call it a fix with goalkeeping like this.

Did it result in more QPR goals? Did it balls. Rangers have still only scored more than two goals in a game once in 45 games this season - Stoke at home when the visitors played the second half with ten men – and once in 77 matches going all the way back to Cardiff at home in October 2022. Across that run they have failed to score at all on 32 occasions (18 of those this season) and scored only once in a further 28 games (14 this season).

You couldn’t fault the effort. Sam Field ran his blood to water. Jack Colback produced perhaps his best performance for the club – aggressive on the press, high on the win, one of your most experienced players stepping up in a big game just as you hoped he would having been preferred to start ahead of Isaac Hayden. Even Chris Willock, after some less then gentle cajoling, was working hard on defence. But the situation was rather summed up by Lucas Andersen, who was everywhere, constantly involved, always wanting the ball, trying to make things happen, delivering a number of dangerous set pieces, and then when it came to actually putting the ball in the net having some sort of existential crisis – at one point in the first half the Dane chose an elaborate pass back over his left shoulder rather than take the clear run through on goal PNE were offering him. Rangers wanted a penalty ten minutes from time – Storey deflecting Chair’s cross away with his arm, ball travelling a decent distance, referee right there looking at it, where’s Roger Furnandiz on the line when you need him? – but would you have backed them to score it?

What it needed, then, was a clean sheet. Rangers had kept nine of these in 30 games under Marti Cifuentes prior to kick off after nine in their previous 52. Steve Cook is usually the key man in this. With him Rangers concede goals at a rate of 1.033 a game, without him it doubles to 2.083. He has played in 11 of the team’s 12 clean sheets this season, and the team has only won one game without him – though, ironically, Preston away is the anomaly in both cases. Cook was good here, though may have done better with a bobbled chance in the second half from another dangerous Andersen corner.

It was Jake Clarke-Salter alongside him, however, who really caught the eye. Sky gave man of the match to Cook, I’ve seen votes for Field and Colback… respectfully, are you mad? Clarke-Salter’s was a centre back performance for the ages. Tight game, no further goals being scored, nerves frayed, action fraught, it was time to roll up the sleeves and muck in. Clarke-Salter relished the challenge. Clearances were often improvised and last ditch, there was stretching this way and that, sometimes it was about getting a body in the way, but he did it all and then some. At one point he Cruyff turned us out of a sticky spot and sprung in attack in one gloriously silky motion. Preston made the mistake of chipping a lazy long ball up towards Liverpool loanee Layton Stewart – Clarke-Salter took a 20-yard run at it and headed the ball, and the man, back into the middle of last week. Eat that and tell me you’re still hungry. This was not a man in the mood to be beaten.

Without the second goal it was always going to be tense. Preston introduced Milutin Osmajic, who recently scored a hat trick against Huddersfield off the bench with goals on 83, 87 and 90, and only a fine recovery challenge by Jimmy Dunne at the back post prevented him setting off towards repeating that feat here. QPR started to scramble and panic, snatching at clearances, when really there was no need. Tick barely following tock. Isaac Hayden and Sinclair Armstrong, fresh from the bench, maintaining possession out by the corner flag a rare moment of composure, but even that quickly dissolved into possession concession, free kick, sprinting back, panicked defence again. Hope is not a strategy.

The noise and atmosphere had been there as expected, but the ‘come on you R’s’ was starting to take on a pleading tone. The JRR Tolkien school of football – an interminable journey and saga. Gavin Ward, who’d spent the first half letting Will Keane and Robbie Brady tot up the fouls and then immediately booked Jack Colback for looking at him a bit strange, added five minutes and played more than six. Lyndon Dykes saw yellow for being started on by Jordan Storey. A low Preston cross. A clear chance for Frokjaer. Bodies heaved in the way. Don’t you bloody dare. Screeching whistles from the stands. Blow the fucking whistle for the love of God. Torturous, savage amusement. And, then, relief, release and Silver Lining.

Done it the hard way, of course. But doing it any way at all was the only thing that mattered. Rangers, now, so very nearly there.

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

QPR: Begovic 7; Dunne 7, Cook 7, Clarke-Salter 9, Paal 5 (Fox 84, -); Field 7, Colback 7; Chair 6 (Hayden 90+1, -), Andersen 5 (Smyth 68, 6), Willock 7; Dykes 7 (Armstrong 90+1, -)

Subs Not Used: Hodge, Dixon-Bonner, Cannon, Larkeche, Walsh

Goals: Dykes 20 (assisted Willock)

Yellow Cards: Colback 36 (delaying restart), Dykes 87 (fighting)

PNE: Woodman 3; Storey 5, Linday 6, Hughes 6; Millar 7, Browne 6, Ledson 6, Brady 6 (Holmes 79, 5); Woodburn 5 (Frokjaer 67, 6), Riis 6 (Stewart 67, 5), Keane 5 (Osmajic 79, 6)

Subs not used: Cunningham, Evans, Whatmough, Mawene

Yellow Cards: Brady 58 (repetitive fouling), Ledson 68 (foul), Hughes 76 (foul), Storey 87 (fighting)

QPR Star Man – Jake Clarke-Salter 9 Exceptional.

Referee – Gavin Ward (Surrey) 6 Well, we’ve certainly had worse games with him. I think that’s a big shout for a penalty against Storey who leans into the ball and gets a good long look at the cross. I’d love to know exactly what Dykes was supposed to have done for his yellow card when it was Storey instigating and carrying the whole thing on while Dykes basically stood there and laughed at him. And to suddenly get all officious and book Colback for kicking the ball away, when you’d spent the first half an hour making it clear that it was to be very light touch, hands off refereeing with Brady and Keane allowed to take considerable liberties with that, was fairly typical. But, like I say, he’s been so much worse than this down the years.

Attendance – 16,464 (750 Preston approx.)

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tsbains64 added 12:47 - Apr 22
I thought I saw Mr Woodman in the Crown earlier on !
Mr Black was a legend - met him once in Westfields and made me and my lad feel like heroes.

ParkRoyalR added 13:04 - Apr 22
Nearly there...
Be interesting to see Willock's & Chair's goal-scoring stats this season as like Andersen have become goal-shy, although thought that was Chair's header on target in 2nd half rather than Dykes,
Not sure what they are doing in training but Andersen like Smyth at Plymouth running away from the centre of the goal rather than putting his laces through the ball is just odd.

loftboy added 14:51 - Apr 22
Although Ward played 6 minutes Preston made two subs as the board went up, the game didn’t restart until the 91st minute so 6 minutes was correct ( only thing I’m going to give him credit for though)

extratimeR added 15:05 - Apr 22
Yes Clive, agree about Jake , he reminds me a lot of Roy McFarland at Derby, ( a great Centre Half who was clever, physical when he needed, and could take the ball up the pitch, playing next to Colin Todd helped as well!).

Very hard work, but Preston are a good side.

Always remember Wigan away for my worst ever hangover.

Great report Clive. Class

Myke added 17:58 - Apr 22
When all the stars were aligned- Ergodic, Dykes and - we couldn't go wrong. Cheers Clive

Geoff78 added 19:36 - Apr 22
Jake CS was such class I may have given him a 9 on the ratings. I can't remember any mistakes at all, though there must have been some. I thought Colback was booked for being lippy, but certainly couldn't be sure from my seat.

Just had a look at the match stats. They don't give a picture of JCS's performance at all, which just shows what do stats know?

Anderson has a passing success rate of 65.5% compared to 84% for Illy, who wasn't great and 74% for Chrissy. Not sure if that proves anything but I don't think Andersen had been that great since he came. He looks good and his dead ball delivery is an upgrade (not difficult). I think he's still adjusting to the physicality of the Championship and hopefully his class will show next season.

Cracking report.

Marshy added 19:59 - Apr 22
Thank goodness we have a fairly solid back four, as obviously scoring goals has been a problem all season. Going 1-0 ahead was always going to be about hanging onto a slender lead. A goal from Dykes now that’s a rarity, but a very welcome one. On the day I thought he had a decent game. As did Willock, Cook and particularly Clarke-Salter. Thinking of player of the season, at this point I’d give it to Steve Cook!

djsvd7 added 22:30 - Apr 22
Pretty sure I saw Dykes pull Storey's foot as he was trying to get up, causing the confrontation.

royinaus added 03:01 - Apr 23
Interesting that Birmingham, Blackburn & Plymouth have the same record over the last 5 games as us - won 2 - lost 2 & drawn 1. So do Leeds!
Sheffield Wednesdays is slightly better....

snanker added 04:04 - Apr 23
Thank you again Clive for a top report and phew nearly there. The gut churning is finally abating a bit ! A result from the football gods cheers with Begovic and Dykes finally earning their keep this weekend !!!! CS putting himself about too in a Macca like out of my way performance. SC a rock and we've had our share of good fortune at the right time of the season like GA's previous one. Not over yet tho !

stainrods_elbow added 18:06 - Apr 23
I think your opening sections, Clive, mainly make it clear that football teams aren't forged on balance sheets, but out of spirit, skill and teamwork. Money certainly helps, and gives unfair advantages at times, but it can equally be used to assemble sides that are duds.

TacticalR added 19:31 - Apr 26
Thanks for your report.

Wasn't Blackie a shaman, tasked with casting out evil spirits? I believe he was quite effective at that.

We saw the good and the bad of Dykes. When he broke through with just the keeper to beat he shot wide. Fortunately he was in the right place for once when Woodman fluffed that cross.

Woodman looked so nervous after that howler that if we'd have had any sort of strike force they could have had a field day.

On the positive side we really needed a win and we got it.

ProudDad added 23:55 - Apr 26
That was the most stressful 30 minutes since Zamora Day. Dont get down there as much as I'd like since I live a fair distance away but I wish I'd been there tonight for the coup de grace.

Looking forward to next season with my usual blind optimism COYRs

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