QPR celebrate Loftus Road anniversary in fine style - Report
Sunday, 10th Sep 2017 19:44 by Clive Whittingham
QPR marked 100 years of making a mess of things in the same place by turning a comfortable 3-0 win against Ipswich Town into a 2-1 injury time panic.
It’s inevitable, and only right, that on such occasions memories drift back to the good times: the play-off wins under the lights, the thrashings of the British game’s biggest clubs, the free-scoring European campaigns and the wonderful players. On the one hundredth anniversary of Queens Park Rangers moving to their beloved home, nobody wants to dwell too long on the 3-0 defeats to Stockport County, and the Karl Ready back-passes.
QPR have been blessed with some outstanding footballers, maverick talents and personalities. But they are a club that has won one League Cup, one Copa Del Ibiza and just eight promotions in getting on for 150 years of existence, 100 of those spent at Loftus Road. There have been more bad times than good, particularly just lately.
Had Rangers tried to celebrate an anniversary with the first game of September three seasons ago they’d have done so with a 4-0 defeat (to Man Utd) and a team that included Rob Green, Armand Traore, Rio Ferdinand, Mauricio Isla, Steven Caulker, Niko Kranjcar, Leroy Fer, Junior Hoilett, Sandro and Eduardo Vargas managed by Harry Redknapp. Had they done so five years ago they’d have seen it in with a 3-1 loss (to Man City) and a team including Green, Jose Bosingwa, Anton Ferdinand, Fabio Sa Silva, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Ji Sung-Park, Eseteban Granero, Andy Johnson and Bobby Zamora managed by Mark Hughes. They came into this one without a win in the month of September in four years and 13 attempts (D6 L7).
Those teams, assembled by those managers, cost the club an absolute fortune. They were what the chairman wanted, what the fans wanted, what everybody thought was the gateway to QPR once more becoming a force in the English game. Their ruinous legacy is currently being mopped up by an altogether more sensible team of senior execs. Their results, on the field, spoke for themselves.
Instead, the 100th birthday of Loftus Road was seen in on Saturday, in the Championship, with a team led in silky-style by a midfield three made up of a free transfer from Barnsley, a bargain buy from Bristol City and a punt from Swindon Town. The two-man strike force featured a guy who was working as a postman and playing for St Neotts when the afore-mentioned well-paid wasters were phoning in their QPR performances, and a hamstrung 31-year-old signed on a free from Nottingham Forest. The best of the defenders on view in Hoops was a free transfer from Middlesbrough, where he hadn’t played at all for two years owing to a double leg fracture. QPR have halved their wage bill once in the last three years and are in the process of halving it again. Their manager was most recently sacked by Millwall, and before that resigned at Crystal Palace basically saying the Premier League and the situation at Selhurst Park was too much for him.
And yet they were far better to watch than their millionaire predecessors ever were. The shape -which shifted fluently from a back three with Pawel Wszolek and Jake Bidwell as wing backs, into a back four with Wszolek pushed up and Alex Baptiste coming across to right back – was more effective, more advanced, more positive and attacking, more tactically astute than anything Hughes or Redknapp ever once came up with during their time here. The quality of football, with Massimo Luongo and Luke Freeman freed to do damage down the pitch by the arrival of the wonderfully effective and consistent Josh Scowen, was better than anything the storied Champions League footballers ex of Real Madrid, Manchester United, Chelsea, Roma and Tottenham ever once produced for us. QPR were good to watch. Really good. And it feels so much better doing it this way.
This was not a 2-1 game. Ipswich arrived second in the fledgling league table after four wins from their first five games, but their fixtures had been kind, injuries had mounted up (particularly in defence), they’d managed just 34 shots on goal so far this season and conceded 82, and they’d been outplayed comprehensively last time out against Fulham. They were again here, and for 88 minutes the scoreline flattered them.
Two minutes in, Conor Washington skipped past his man and fired straight at visiting keeper Bartosz Bialkowski. Four minutes later he headed wide after good build up finished with a cross from Massimo Luongo. Bialkowski then saved from the Australian when he tired his luck off a Pawel Wszolek cross. Luke Freeman nearly profited from a defensive slip on the half hour but, again, didn’t unduly trouble the keeper with his shot. Immediately after that Washington looked like he was going through only for Dominic Iorfa (not that one) to execute a fine saving tackle. Another good move ten before the break ended when Washington, whose control was mostly immaculate, just failed to bring it down in the area.
Ipswich, by contrast, fed on scraps in the first half. Scowen, whose knack of always being in the right place just as danger occurs around QPR’s penalty box is uncanny at the moment, headed over his own bar to deny Joe Garner a free header from close range after Grant Ward had skipped past Jake Bidwell and crossed. It would be a full half hour before they threatened again, and when they did Baptiste killed the chance stone dead with a great tackle on Martyn Waghorn, whose four goals from four starts since moving south from Glasgow Rangers in the summer is a splendid return for somebody built like a mascot for Greggs the Bakers.
QPR would finish the game with 55% of the possession overall, 22 shots on goal to Ipswich’s eight, and eight shots on target to Town’s two. They finished it with the three points the performance warranted as well, thanks to two goals either side of half time.
The first wasn’t without controversy. Massimo Luongo, for once looking fresh on his return from a long-haul international break with Australia, typified his powerful midfield display on the day with a surging run away from a crowded midfield area into the red zone – though he’d almost certainly handled the the bouncing ball to get it under control in the first instance, a fact missed by referee Andy Davies and his assistant but certainly not by Ipswich manager Mick McCarthy and his staff. Play was allowed to roll on and Luongo fed Wszolek who, as usual, picked somebody out in the penalty box for his cross rather than just slinging it over and playing the percentages. That somebody was Jamie Mackie, and he arrived right on time to sweep it into the bottom corner from 12 yards out.
Half time brought an array of former QPR favourites out onto the pitch (lovely reception from the travelling Ipswich thousands for Paul Goddard), led by Andy Sinton whose campaign for the QPR Supporter of the Year award really is in full swing. A passionate speech - half Kevin Keegan, half Al Pacino - that veered wildly from the verge of bursting into tears to sounding like he was about to rip his tie off and start calling out non-believers, roused the mood still further. Within three minutes of the second half starting it was 2-0.
Luke Freeman, who’s missed four very presentable chances already this season by over-thinking and trying to place side-foot finishes into the net, got off the mark for the campaign with an old-fashioned toe-punt. Having turned into space cutely on the edge of the box, the former Stevenage man poked an instinctive effort goalwards with all the trademark playground dip and swerve of a shot we all remember fondly from our childhood. Bialkowski wasn’t set for it, but might have struggled anyway as it flashed into the net double lively.
The keeper made rather a meal of Massimo Luongo’s 30-yarder on the hour, but would have been powerless to stop a subsequent, lower effort from the same player at the same range later on. Luongo’s shot curled round the keeper, beating him all ends up, but missed the far bottom corner by inches. The increased effectiveness, improved physicality, greater involvement and more attacking mindset of the 2017/18 Massimo Luongo is still to be married up with a cure for his chronic goals shortage, though he couldn’t have gone much closer here.
Washington shot straight at the keeper on one counter attack, then beautifully pulled down a long ball from Baptiste to set himself up for a volley which Bialkowski saved comfortably to his right. Rangers spent the thick end of 20 minutes camped around the Ipswich box through the second half, helped in no small part by Freeman’s expert delivery from corners. One scramble, in the sixty-eighth minute, seemed certain to result in a goal for captain Nedum Onuoha on his two hundredth appearance for the club but his shot deflected wide.
Ian Holloway sent on David Wheeler for his debut after a deadline day arrival from Exeter, and he could have scored with his first touch but instead fired through the goal mouth and wide. Matt Smith also stepped forward from the bench and he too could have scored immediately when a lucky ricochet in the six-yard box presented him with the ball at a narrow angle and he struck the cross bar with an instinctive shot.
Ipswich shuffled their pack a couple of times, sending on Freddie Sears and Tom Adeyemi, but what few chances they did have were snuffed out by familiar figures in a dominant home display. Baptiste nailed Waghorn as he got a clear sight of goal in the fifty-second minute, Alex Smithies made a standard save from a low David McGoldrick shot, Scowen was lucky to escape with a blatant pull back on Skuse as Ipswich broke after the hour, Baptiste produced a quality block shortly after that and Nedum Onuoha’s fine tackle to prevent a goal five minutes from time seemed to have ended any hope of a comeback once and for all.
But QPR aren’t noted for doing things the easy way. Ipswich signed 21-year-old Kosovan Bersant Celina on loan from Man City to some fanfare in the summer and though the young winger hasn’t forced his way into the starting 11 so far, that will surely change after an impressive 14-minute cameo here. When Luongo lost his footing four minutes from time it was all the invitation Bersant needed to skip infield and unleash a shell past Smithies and into the top corner from 20 yards. Suddenly 2-0 was 2-1, a comfortable win was back in the balance, and five minutes of added time were being signalled by the fourth official.
Oh Rangers, twas ever thus. Bastards. Always twirling, twirling, twirling towards disaster even when it seems and feels like nothing can possibly go wrong. From the best and most complete team display in a number of seasons to an all out blind panic in the blink of an eye. Fun in the sun to Nightmare off the Bloemfontein Road. Suddenly water was being taken on and the ship was listing badly, threatening to become inundated and overwhelmed. Ipswich pummelled the penalty box incessantly, and should really have equalised when an injury time free kick fell to Adeyemi unmarked but he lifted a volley over when it seemed easier to score. It could, in spite of everything that had gone before, finished 2-2, and anybody who’s been pilgrimaging here for any serious portion of the 100 year stay wouldn’t have been in the slightest bit surprised. Thankfully the third and final sub Kazenga Lua Lua did a fine job of running the clock down by holding possession in the Town half and the final whistle brought three points and great relief. It should never really have come to that.
It's a bit early for assessments, conclusions and ‘told you so’s’. This season could yet easily end in the disaster many predicted before a ball was kicked. The cycles Ian Holloway’s career has run in dictates that as this settled team and system continues to impress, so his confidence will increase which in turn will bring about needless complications, second-guessing of opponents, weird and wonderful team changes. Results will spiral to the point of no return at which point he will “go back to basics” and so we’ll start on the upward curve again.
Rangers will face tougher tests than this, perhaps starting on Tuesday night when it will be very interesting to see whether the back three of Baptiste, Onuoha and Robinson will be quite so effective against an all-out, unashamed, rudimentary, gratuitously violent aerial assault from Millwall, led elbows first from the front by Lee Gregory and Steve Morison. I suspect not, and wonder whether Matt Smith may come back in from the start, if only to add muscle to the defensive set up at opposition corners. Ipswich, oddly for the Mick McCarhty sterotype, have gone for a smaller and more mobile front line this year and we'll face the exact opposite of that in two days time.
This may yet go south, and history tells us it probably will. For all the improvements, QPR still haven’t won away in nine attempts dating back to February, so hold fire with that bunting for a while yet. But the tighter the money is getting, the more QPR are having to think carefully about who they sign in an over-heated market, the better the signings are performing and the better the team is looking. Whoever would have thought it? Well, again, anybody who’s spent any time calling Loftus Road their second home over the last 100 years actually.
QPR: Smithies 6; Baptiste 8, Onuoha 7, Robinson 7; Wszolek 7 (Wheeler 77, 6), Bidwell 7; Scowen 8, Luongo 8, Freeman 8; Mackie 7 (Lua Lua 82, -), Washington 7 (Smith 82, -)
Subs not used: Furlong, Manning, Lumley, Osayi-Samuel
Goals: Mackie 43 (assisted Wszolek), Freeman 49 (unassisted)
Bookings: Freeman 90 (foul)
Ipswich: Bialkowski 6; Connolly 6, Spence 6, Iorfa 6, Knudsen 6; Ward 5 (Celina 76, 7), Skuse 6, Downes 6 (Adeyemi 66, 7); Waghorn 5 (Sears 67, 6), McGoldrick 6, Garner 5
Subs not used: Gerken, Rowe, Kenlock, Woolfenden
Goals: Celina 89 (unassisted)
Bookings: Downes 34 (foul), Connolly 90+5 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Massimo Luongo 8 I thought all three of QPR’s midfielders were absolutely exceptional on Saturday, and are a real driving force for the team’s improvements this season. I initially wrote this up as Luke Freeman, with his goal pushing him over the top, but on reflection I’ve gone with Luongo, not only because he was exceptional, but also because it’s the first time we’ve seen him come back from international football and kick on. Previously there’s been a real negative impact on his performances after the long-haul Australia trips but here he looked even better than before he went away. He looks thicker, more muscly, more forceful, more purposeful than before. Long may it continue. Hopefully, finally, with the odd goal thrown in too. Scowen, Freeman and Baptiste could all easily have taken this instead though.
Referee – Andy Davies (Hampshire) 5 In keeping with the refereeing of all QPR’s games this season, I thought he was very decent for large parts of it, unfussy and gave the game every chance. But there were a couple of pretty obvious decisions, including a QPR corner in the second half given as a goal kick, which he guessed at and got wrong. And you can’t give a particularly high mark to a referee who made an error as basic as missing Luongo’s handball in the run up to a crucial goal – however unlucky, unsighted or lacking in help from his assistants he may have been. Probably better than a five, but I doubt Mick McCarthy would agree.
Attendance – 14,060 (2,200 Ipswich approx) There was a lovely feeling to the old place on Saturday, with Ipswich bringing a load down and the QPR fans responding to their team’s excellent performance. Throw in the sight of two dozen former QPR heroes on the field at half time and the reception they got, followed by Andy Sinton’s typical Al Pacino-type speech over the public address system and it was a really great way to mark QPR’s anniversary on this ground. The only way it could have been a more apt and fitting tribute is if Ipswich had equalised late on.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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