|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 3 Middlesbrough|
Saturday, 20th January 2018 Kick-off 15:00
QPR comprehensively beaten by Boro – Report
Sunday, 21st Jan 2018 13:57 by Clive Whittingham
QPR’s improved winter form ground to a shuddering halt at Loftus Road on Saturday with a deserved three nil tonking from Middlesbrough.
And as soon as the form came back, it went away again. Queens Park Rangers, comprehensively outplayed, out fought, out thought and out scored on their own patch by Middlesbrough.
It’s easy to talk about the money Boro have spent this season in comparison to QPR and just shrug your shoulders at the one-sided outcome of a meeting between the sides. They started with £15m Britt Assombalonga up front, former England winger Stewart Downing behind him and £6m former Chelsea man Patrick Bamford joining in from wide. That left strikers Ashley Fletcher (£6.5m), Rudy Gestede (£6m) and Martin Braithwaite (£8m) on the bench. QPR started youth teamer Aramide Oteh up front alongside Conor Washington whose struggles to adapt to this level after moving from Peterborough two years ago are well publicised. On paper, it was like bringing a toothpick to a gun fight – on grass, it looked even more lop-sided than that.
But QPR have won three and drawn one of five home games against the top six this season, including a 2-1 success here against table topping Wolves who’ve spent even more than Boro. Rangers may have made Tony Pulis’ team look like the Argentinean World Cup winners of 1986 but they’re certainly a long way from that. In fact, so far this season, they’ve been a long way short of even being a play-off contender in the Championship – ninth at the start of play, already onto a second manager of the season and with away defeats at Leeds, Forest, Wolves, Bristol City and most recently Millwall under their belts. They were only five places and eight points north of QPR at the start of play, so this shouldn’t have been the lost cause the home team made it look, really from the first whistle if we’re being honest.
Ian Holloway said his team caused Boro “all sorts of problems” in the first 15 minutes, but even that meagre claim bore no relation to the game I was at. There was no tempo from Rangers, no urgency, no bite, no high press, no press of any sort really. That energy - particularly from the midfield three of Luke Freeman, Massimo Luongo and Josh Scowen - which has caused problems for several of the division’s better teams this season was entirely absent. The hooped players stood off their opponents and let them get on with it – an attitude summed up by George Friend’s goal after the half hour which flew into the top corner like a rocket from long range but only after he’d had the time to take three touches of the ball and assess his options with nobody making any attempt to close him down 30 yards from goal.
Such was Boro’s total domination with the ball - and obvious physical superiority and far sounder, simpler tactical plan without it - that it’s easy to conclude that QPR couldn’t really have done much about this. But Rangers just weren’t at it and both the goals they conceded before the break were entirely preventable. Adama Traore had already shot wide and Rangers had survived five minutes of steadily building, incessant pressure from the visitors when the first went in from centre back Daniel Ayala at the back post – the R’s caught out by the old near post flick for far post late arrival at a corner trick that Alan McDonald and Darren Peacock used to execute so often at that end of the ground back in the day. Contrary to Holloway’s opinion that his team had been having the better of things to that point, we’d just finished a conversation in F Block about how it felt like we were already slipping quietly to a defeat when the ball hit the net.
Patrick Bamford had a third disallowed for offside before half time and with ten minutes of the first half still to play Rangers had already been reduced to moving Joel Lynch up front. Now, while it may be a positive to shift a liability out of the defence and into a position he can do less damage, and perhaps Holloway was simply trying to spare young Oteh the ignominy of being subbed before half time, slinging your crap centre half up front out of desperation after little more than half an hour of play is pretty low. Embarrassing in fact. Grant Hall’s absence, even from the bench, after all his injury problems before Christmas, deeply concerning for him, and for those of us staring down the barrel of five more months watching Lynch as that middle centre back – or centre forward, in this case.
Compared to the shape, system and tactics the much-maligned Tony Pulis brought – clearly defined, simple, well drilled, every player knowing his role – this was pretty shambolic. A 30 yarder from Jack Robinson early on that seemed to have Darren Randolph in the Boro goal beaten, and an attempt at a first time volley from Washington chasing another long punt down the field in the final minute of normal time all there was to show for 45 minutes of pretty forlorn, hopeless toil.
Two subs at half time – Oteh, out of his depth, removed for Matt Smith; Bright Osayi-Samuel on instead of Jake Bidwell – only made things worse. The move took Jack Robinson out of the centre back role he’s excelled in this season and left turnstile Lynch in there with Onuoha. That new defence, skewed all over the place, would go on to let substitute Gestede in for a one on one chance which he beat Smithies with only for Robinson to clear from the line, then a completely free header from eight yards which Smithies saved well, and finally Adama Traore into the gaping hole between Lynch and Robinson to slide in a third goal with five minutes left for play. Traore, typically, hadn't scored all for Boro in 49 senior appearances over a year and a half prior to this.
Smith’s arrival did at least worry Boro’s enormous back four into almost conceding a penalty. Referee Oliver Langford is known as a lenient official, and in general we quite like that, but at least one of the two incidents where Smith was knocked to the ground in the six yard box chasing a cross, once with an elbow and the other more blatantly when Ayala had his hands around his neck, looked like they should have been a spot kick. QPR haven’t had a penalty since the opening day of the season against Reading and when Smith was later then penalised himself for much less it became clear he wasn’t about to get one for us here. Langford not the first referee this season who I think has judged the big target man harshly when he’s clearly being fouled in the penalty area. Holloway and Pulis, friends off the pitch, at it like cats and dogs on the touchline after the second incident.
But you can’t play as poorly as QPR did here and go away talking about refereeing decisions. Langford was fine overall, and Rangers weren’t even close to that.
Luongo shot over from miles out, Lynch scuffed a shot at Randolph as the ball bobbled around the area. Osayi-Samuel started well but quickly fell out of the game completely as QPR - as they’d done when in trouble against Millwall - went too long, too narrow, too direct, too early against a back four built to deal with exactly that. The former Blackpool winger was starved of the ball as one long punt after another was pumped up towards Smith, with Ryan Shotton, Ayala and Ben Gibson all more than happy and capable of standing their ground and heading that shit back down the pitch from whence it came.
It was the absolute dictionary definition of a bad day at the office. Second best in every single department and deservedly well beaten by a much better team. Meanwhile, on the other side of Hammersmith Broadway, last week’s 3-1 win at Burton was being put into some perspective by the Brewers’ 6-0 defeat at Craven Cottage.
Oh Rangers, why do we do it to ourselves?
Match Gallery: 13 photos
QPR: Smithies 6; Onuoha 5, Lynch 5, Robinson 5; Furlong 6, Bidwell 5 (Osayi-Samuel 46, 5); Scowen 5 (Eze 70, 6), Freeman 5, Luongo 5; Washington 5, Oteh 5 (Smith 46, 5)
Subs not used: Ingram, Manning, Baptiste, Wszolek
Boro: Randolph 6; Shotton 7, Ayala 7, Gibson 7, Friend 7; Bamford 6 (Clayton 72, 7), Leadbitter 7, Howson 7, Traore 8; Downing 7 (Christie 87, -); Asombalonga 6 (Gestede 69, 7)
Subs not used: Konstantopoulos, Braithwaite, Fletcher, Johnson
Goals: Ayala 24 (assisted Traore), Friend 34 (unassisted), Traore 85 (assisted Gestede)
QPR Star Man – Darnell Furlong 6 Almost not worth handing one out but Furlong did a decent job on speed merchant Traore in the first half causing him to be moved to the opposite wing for the second where he ran amok. And I like Furlong. So there.
Referee – Oliver Langford (West Midlands) 6 Usual calm, unfussy, cardless officiating of the game that we’ve come to expect from him, but I thought at leats one of the fouls on Smith in the second half was worth a penalty and to then penalise him and give a free kick the other way for far less in the third instance was taking the piss a bit.
Attendance 14,182 (2,000 Middlesbrough approx) Bit of defiance from Q Block towards the end which was nice to hear but overall the place was like a morgue in keeping with the performance, the score and the weather. So outplayed had Rangers been that the half time and full time whistles were greeted with nothing very much at all, no booing, no anger, just apathy. The video footage of the Middlesbrough fan pissing in Alex Smithies' water bottle during the second half is disgusting, but did at least result in a scrum scene between stewards and fans in the lower School End which distracted me from the game for a bit.
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