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Same old story for QPR in Sheffield – Report
Wednesday, 21st Feb 2018 08:21 by Lee McAlpine

Another away game, another defeat, another performance that only really started once the game was lost… Lee McAlpine was at Bramall Lane for LFW to see more of the same from QPR last night.

When Clive asked me if I was able to cover the away games at Wolves and Sheffield United, it was a request made with a deal of sympathy such was the poor form of our team. He was escaping to Australia, leaving behind both the creeping anxiety of the possibility of a relegation battle, as well as the growing fury and animosity of the internet mafiosa and a general black-cloud feeling about the football club. Both games ended with predictable defeats but while the Wolves game was encouraging and exciting, last night’s was the complete opposite as QPR limped half-heartedly to another away-day blank.

Two welcome home wins, either side of the spirited away performance in the Black Country, have left QPR very comfortably in lower mid-table, with only an even more disastrous run of results than last year's "sixer", looking likely to drag us into Sunderland"land". Our fans can be bitter at times, but can you imagine the mood amongst the Black Cats, as their team of overpaid misfits charge towards the third tier? The Wearsiders have been so relentlessly crap all season, with virtually no heart in any of their performances, defeat tonight at our limp opponents from last Saturday, must surely mark their absolute surrender to the inevitable.

During Clive's temporary, egg-chasing, transportation, we have played some good football, along with accumulating welcome points. A number of promising youngsters are now well and truly part of the first team set-up and being given good game time. Our (almost) guaranteed safety, will give Holloway the opportunity to allow more action for these fledglings in proper Championship games between now and the, almost certain, dull season end. But Tuesday was not the night for any such pragmatism from the manager; it was just another same old, same old. This was just like so many other games this season, falling behind when seemingly well in the game, concede a second, fight back a bit, but in the end come away with nothing.

Following the victory over the Trotters on Saturday, I was looking forward to seeing more of the likes of Eze, Smyth and Bright Osayi-Samuel at Bramhall Lane. We are now in the position to rotate in a number of places, rather than flog the usual starting 11. Our large squad has given us a pretty exciting looking bench in recent games, with Alex Baptiste being the only defender. Our enviable collection of speedy, tricky youngsters will be used in upcoming games and these relatively pressure free opportunities could be the making for some of them. It would also be great to see some of the defenders from the under 23 squad, rather than the likes of: the sure-to-be released, Perch and limited Baptiste. For far too long, there has been an absence of home-grown talent in our first team, thankfully this now seems to be about to change, well maybe next week or the week after or…….

I was hoping for a rest for much-maligned Conor Washington this evening. I can't recall a striker who works as hard as he does for his team. In recent weeks he has been (nearly) so very good, with a mixture of relentless running and getting himself into so many promising situations. Sadly, so often, he has not been rewarded with the goals that his efforts and approach play has perhaps warranted. I really don't get the stick that comes his way though. Maybe he isn't quite good enough for this level, but while he wears our colours and puts in the effort he does, he will never get abuse from me- especially during the game. It was the same story again tonight, lots of effort but all outside the box and he was heckled by our “finest” at the back of the stand when substituted late on. These were the fans whose rendition of “We’re effing not very good” was halted by Freeman’s excellent goal.

The pre-match injury news was that Bidwell and Robinson were struggling. Baptiste would be an obvious replacement (if inferior version) for Robinson, but the Bidwell spot did have more interesting possibilities. Ryan Manning at left wing-back would’ve been ideal, but his Mark Dennis impersonation against Barnsley, meant he was still banned. Changing to a back four with Darnell Furlong (if fit) sounded OK but I was hoping for something a little more “off the wall” such as an U23 player or possibly young Smyth – I know, maybe a bit adventurous. Apparently Perch was also ready for a comeback; I really didn’t want his ineptitude at Wolves to be rewarded with an instant recall, despite the concerns over other injured defenders. Robinson didn’t make it for this one, but Bidwell did and he put in another one of those “neither here nor there” performances.

Our hosts have had a pretty good season following promotion from League One and have been hanging around the top six for most of the season. Billy Sharp has always been a “thorn in our side” and he’s been in good form recently, including two goals in their last home game to beat Leeds. They have goals throughout their side with Leon Clarke (yes him!) actually being the division’s second top scorer with 15. James Wilson, who was going to be the next big thing at Manchester Utd, is also on loan here but was an injury doubt. More importantly John Fleck, who was also suspended for the game at Loftus Road, has been consistently naughty since and was banned again. This looked like being a stern test and certainly proved to be although United didn’t need to play that well to beat us.

An evening fixture in Sheffield is a good one for me, especially falling in the middle of half term, as it meant an early start in a city with so many great real ale pubs. How anyone can swallow fizzy, crappy chemical-Carling in the Steel City is mind-boggling? But anyway this is a loftforwords report not a CAMRA piece, so we lined up with a uninspiringly predictable: Smithies , a back three of Lynch, Onuoha and Baptiste. Bidwell and Wzsolek were the wing backs, Scowen, Luongo and Freeman held the middle, with Smith and Washington up front. All the potential excitement was on the bench, plus Ingram and Perch.

Over the years, Bramhall Lane has been one of those (few) lucky away venues for me. I know I said this about Molineux, ten days ago but statistically we have done pretty well here, with Warnock's team (I said this in the Wolves' report too) smashing United 3-0 in the promotion season. Another good one, under lights as well, was when League One Rangers, beat Warnock's Championship side 2-0 with a brace from Martin Rowlands.

Saturday’s victory over Bolton saw a very unusual Man of the Match award, with Joel Lynch receiving the award amidst improving form. Lynch has been a massive disappointment for me since his move from Huddersfield; he would’ve been torn apart if he’d stayed with the promoted Yorkshire side. The regularity, in which he’s caught out by simple movement of opposing strikers or gives away stupid free kicks in dangerous area, has been shocking. That along with his annual Christmas holidays in the Middle East, while his teammates suffer the punishing holiday schedule, has left me with the impression of a sub-standard player who doesn’t really give a stuff about our team. He was OK(ish) tonight, bar a part in the poor defending for the second goal, but nowhere near getting another LFW top billing.

Just like so many other games this season, nearly all the play in this game was anywhere except either penalty area. In the early stages both teams passed it around reasonably well without threatening, until Lundstram broke into the box forcing Smithies into a smart save. The ball broke to another Utd player whose effort was cleared off the line by Onuoha. Rangers won a couple of corners which were wasted and Washington did well to wriggle free on the edge of the box but his shot comfortably cleared the bar.

The game continued to meander about in the middle, until the twenty seventh minute when they won a corner, which led to the deadlock being surprisingly broken. A goal of pure simplicity, near post header, flicked to the back for a tap in. The Q.P.R. defence looked around at each other, wondering who to blame. Lynch and Onuoha watched the action replay on the screen to the side of us and then trudged back to their starting positions. I haven’t seen a replay so I’m not sure who should’ve been marking Clarke at the front or Stearman at the back, but whoever it was supposed to be; they didn’t do it very well. The lead could’ve and should’ve been doubled when Sharp robbed Onuoha on the edge of the box and somehow managed to chip the ball wide as Smithies closed him down.

We hadn’t been a threat in the first half but at least we were only one goal behind. That didn’t last long once the second period got under way. If the first was an example of poor defending, then this one was even worse. Bidwell was caught in no-man’s land; Sharp was set free down the right. His centre was somehow allowed to get past Lynch and Baptiste, and Lundstram couldn’t miss, passed a helpless Smithies. It was just so easy. No-one was that surprised around me, oh well another away day defeat. If there was to be a third goal then it would surely be a third for the home side, such had been our lack scoring opportunities so far.

Miraculously, and completely out of the blue, Rangers got back in the game. As the small, noisy lot at the back of our stand told anyone in hearing distance that we were not very good, Luke Freeman proved he is quite decent. Picking the ball up inside the Sheffield half, he shimmied and tricked his way passed a couple of opponents, before tucking the ball into the net. A really good goal, all of his own making and now it was game on. Holloway sent on Smyth for Baptiste and for the next ten minutes we had Utd on the back foot, but unlike at Wolves, we didn’t create any real opportunities despite some good approach play. Smyth was lively and combined well with Wzsolek, but the home side defended well and slowly but surely the game faded into a more equal affair.

Osayi-Samuel came on for Washington with ten minutes to go and Eze replaced Luongo with just three to play, but neither substitute did anything of note. One final chance fell to Smith in the late stages. Freeman swung in a great cross from the left and Smith got up well and powered a header straight at Blackman, who saved comfortably. This was exactly the same kind of chance Smith had against Villa, a foot either side of the keeper and it was in. But as usual, with the ball safely in his hands, the keeper chose to dive on the floor and demonstrate his excellent time-wasting skills; he was superb at this. The referee kept hurrying him up and did add five minutes on at the end. It didn’t really matter though as Utd did a very professional job in playing out time well away from their goal and the three points stayed in South Yorkshire.

I felt this was a disappointing display from us and as I said earlier, Sheffield didn’t need to be that good to see us off. We simply didn’t hurt them where it mattered; a very familiar story this season. Too many of our players had a very off day and some of them seem to have too many of these. I’m probably repeating myself from earlier reports, but our two wing-backs don’t get forward enough when the opportunities arise, and both are guilty of constantly turning back inside and taking the easy options. Luongo and Scowen were both guilty- unusually - of giving the ball away cheaply tonight and our forwards were so isolated from each other and the rest of the team.

Sheffield United fans turned up tonight and expected an easy win, and although the score line doesn’t give that impression, really they got that. I don’t understand Holloway’s post-match comments at all: “I think we are getting closer to what I want.” These were certainly true of the send half effort at Wolves, but not tonight. This was a pretty ordinary display that might be Ok against the likes of Sunderland and Bolton, but when faced with teams that know how to defend and attack, we are going to come up short, time and time again.

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QPR: Smithies 6; Baptiste 5 (Smyth 66, 6), Onuoha 5, Lynch 5; Wszolek 5, Bidwell 4; Scowen 5, Freeman 6, Luongo 5 (Eze 87, -); Washington 5 (Osayi-Samuel 80, -) Smith 5

Subs not used: Ingram, Perch, Chair, Furlong

Goals: Freeman 63 (unassisted)

Sheff Utd: Blackman 5; Basham 6, Stearman 7, O’Connell 7, Baldock 7; Evans 6, Duffy 6 (Leonard 75, 6), Lundstram 7 (Lafferty 84, -), Stevens 7; Clarke 7 Sharp 5 (Donaldson 74, 5)

Subs not used: Wright, Eastwood, Evans, Brooks

Goals: Stearman 27 (assisted Clarke), Lundstram 50 (assisted Sharp)

Bookings: Evans 77 (foul)

QPR Star Man - Luke Freeman 6 Not a great night for anyone standing out in QPR colours. Will go for Luke Freeman, for the goal and great cross that Smith should’ve equalised from late on.

Referee: Oliver Langford 6 This was a pretty easy game to referee as there was hardly a decision to make. Kept his cards in his pocket, bar one obvious yellow for Evans in the second half. As usual Smith got nothing despite his rough handling and ref could’ve put a stop the endless time-wasting of the Utd keeper, but chose to ignore it.

Attendance 25,339 (400 QPR approx)

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toboboly added 10:10 - Feb 21
First goal sounds just like recent ones we have conceded from corners. Lack of consistency/tactically naive/just not very good?

Agree it would be good to see some of the U-23 defenders getting a shot instead of Perch/Lynch/Bidwell over the next few months.
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isawqpratwcity added 10:18 - Feb 21
Thanks for a very blunt and candid report, Lee.

Relegation may be a remote possibility now but we are not a particularly competitive team. You have to look at the games where we out-performed this season and wonder 'how the bloody hell did we do that?'
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Phil_i_P_Daddy added 10:21 - Feb 21
I’m not convinced that Olly has the dressing room. And that is a MASSIVE slur on the players, because if you can’t play for, and be motivated by, Olly then, well...
Olly talks the PR talk pre/post match, but I can’t help feeling he’s banging his head against a wall and is bravely going through the motions.
Dead man walking?
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THEBUSH added 11:33 - Feb 21
I can see us in a deep relegation situation next season, far deeper than this season.

Quite a few posters want us rid of our older defenders who are out of contract etc..

For me if we only rely on our youth and under 23´s were gonna get hammered next season.
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terryb added 11:58 - Feb 21
Thanks Lee.

I really liked your comments on Washington & lager!

The near post corner is a hell of a difficult situation to defend if the ball & the run are correct. However, we are being caught out by it far too many times.
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DesertBoot added 12:01 - Feb 21
Another excellent report Lee, thankyou. So many away games now it's a familiar pattern but just change the name of our opponents - good start, miss chances, fall behind, start playing (maybe score), lose. United's recent home form is poor so it's disappointing the likes of Eze and Smyth weren't in the starting XI to "surprise" them.
Washington is there to score goals, he doesn't score goals so really shouldn't be automatic choice up front.
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TacticalR added 17:15 - Feb 21
Thanks for report.

We looked naive defensively, especially on the first corner, when Stearman came round the back unmarked and scored. Corners are turning out to be quite a problem for us this season. We have a lot of smaller players, we look vulnerable on opposition corners and rarely score from our own corners.

At least Freeman restored a bit of pride with a brilliant individual goal, but that only underlined that nothing is coming from our 'official' strikers.

As you point out, the key feature of Sheffield United's goals was their simplicity. They have a goals production line, we are forced to rely on hand-crafted masterpieces.
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YorkRanger added 21:06 - Feb 21
Enjoyed the report Lee. I wasn't at Wolves and I think I'm probably a bit more upbeat about last night than you are. Two poor goals to concede but I thought we were quite competitive but clearly lacking that edge up front. I thought Freeman was very good and at times it seemed like he was on a one man crusade to salvage a point.
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HastingsRanger added 22:38 - Feb 21
Thanks Lee.
The first half was just shaded by them but the simplicity of the second goal, followed by a period of battering looked set for a heavy defeat. I think the ease of conceding is clearly a problem but the fact we find scoring so difficult why it matters so much. Freeman's goal was a joy to watch but out of the blue. From then on, with a more potent forward line, we should have rescued a point, as I felt we were on top for the latter period.

I feel for Smith (will never get us a penalty ever) sometimes but his header straight to Blackman should really have been a goal. Similarly, as mentioned above, there is no doubting Washington's commitment but he just can't cut it at this level. Of the back players, I thought that Lynch has a much better game, more reliable than Onuoha last night. I don't understand why the full back positions aren't being covered by Furlong and Manning, as the ease of getting behind the slow fullbacks for the second goal and similar would have not happened. A decent enough game though.
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tsbains64 added 19:56 - Feb 22
We only start playing when we are 0-2 down
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Myke added 22:33 - Feb 22
Thanks Lee. Good to hear Clive getting some warm-weather (arm-bending) training in. His point about our dire away form putting enormous pressure on our home results still rings true and becomes more so with every away defeat. To be fair, we have managed to beat (or at least not lose to) the teams below us home or away, but the nature of our home wins seem to be more 'ground out' while we lose with relative ease.
Once again we find ourselves facing a team that, at the very least, we need to draw with on Saturday and it is tense stuff.
We are heading into a very difficult March, with only Sunderland in the middle offering real hope of 3 points. April looks kinder, but we don't need to be facing into the last half a dozen games requiring 10 or 12 points to be safe.
While I still have concerns for this season, I certainly don't share THE BUSH's negativity for next season! So much can/will happen over the summer that it is impossible to predict how it pan out next year and I think it's futile to be even thinking that far ahead.
While I agree that getting rid of all the old heads would be an error, losing Perch and Babtiste (whatever about Onouha) can't possibly weaken the team. If our better players - Freeman, Luongo for example - were lured away that would be a cause for concern. But one season at a time...
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