|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 1 Derby County|
Tuesday, 6th March 2018 Kick-off 19:45
Luongo levels late but Smyth steals the show - Report
Wednesday, 7th Mar 2018 19:38 by Clive Whittingham
It took 86 minutes and 21 shots on goal for QPR to finally force an equaliser against Derby County at Loftus Road on Tuesday, but they then came within inches of a fairy tale ending.
Just like that, all of a sudden, there he was. In the ninety fourth of the 90 minutes, clear and clean through with nobody around him, like a runaway giraffe barrelling into territory he’d never seen before and had no idea how to behave in. Joel Lynch Centre Forward, the latest hare-brained scheme from the manager who previously brought you Georges Santos Lone Striker and Steve Palmer Central Midfielder, with only Scott Carson standing between him and one of those moments on one of those nights at Loftus Road. Everybody would always remember where they were when it happened – although, sadly, precious few of them were actually in W12 to see it.
Lynch, who’s not even particularly good in the position he’s meant to be picked in, steadied himself, allowed the ball to sit right, swung his left leg at it in the style of a novice golfer, and connected far too well. The ball flew straight and true, striking Carson straight in the chest and bouncing away to safety. A scuffed shot a yard further left or right and I think we’d all still be in the pub now. Is that the office? Clive won’t be in today. Wouldn’t expect him tomorrow either.
If the sight of Lynch, pressed into service as an auxiliary centre forward for the final four minutes by injury and tiredness to Matt Smith and a lack of other bench options (Bright Osayi Samuel’s disappearance after a good cameo against Barnsley is bizarre), lolloping through on goal was a shock then the source of what would have been the assist was anything but.
It was actually visitors Derby County who thought they were going to get to launch the last attack of the night as they crossed the halfway line. Sadly for Gary Rowett’s listing side, they’d trusted the ever-accident-prone Richard Keogh to do it and he was about to become the latest victim of Paul Smyth. Despite an all-action 90 minutes of tearing about the place and carrying his team kicking and screaming through adversity, all done while Derby tried to boot him off the park, Little Smyth chased back into his own half, rounded Keogh, pinched the ball from him, dumped a man four times his size on the floor and then freed Freeman who fed Lynch.
Not good enough, as it turned out, for the winner, but that Smyth-Freeman combination had at least brought a richly deserved equaliser a few moments before. Derby, and Andre Wisdom in particular, had long since decided the only way to achieve brief respite from Smyth’s persistent niggle and speedy counter attacks was to whack him. Referee Simon Hooper, for some reason, had also long since decided that they would be allowed to do this without receiving a yellow card. But when Wisdom, yet again, felled Smyth tight to the byline it gave Freeman a chance to chip a cross to the near post where Massimo Luongo made the most of a defensive sleep to power in a header unmarked. Freeman moving back ahead of Wolves' duo Douglas and Jota in the division's assists chart in the process - this was his eleventh.
While he and Scowen both look tired after being flogged through every minute of every game they’ve been available for this season, Luongo has suddenly scored three times since Christmas having only managed two in two and a half years before that. Much more the sort of form you’d expect of a player of his ability in that position.
It may have come late, it may only have been an equaliser, but it was no more than QPR deserved. They had 60% of the ball and 21 shots to Derby’s four. Smyth set the tone early, crunching into Tom Lawrence to win the ball back in his own half, then charging forward with it at such pace and with such purpose that all Craig Forsyth could do was deliberately haul him to the ground for a yellow card so obvious even Simon Hooper had to administer it.
Derby, as they often do at this time of the year, have suddenly had a collapse in form, with one win in nine drifting them out of the automatic promotion picture having looked odds on for second before Christmas when they won ten out of 13. It wasn’t difficult to see why here. Tom Huddlestone has always had a pass on him but his size, weight, age and chronic lack of acceleration and speed is shared by far too many of his team mates in an ageing side. The most one-paced man in One-Paced-Ville was (following an early injury to Joe Ledley) teamed at the base of Derby’s midfield with Bradley Johnson who also looks like he’s eaten the real Bradley Johnson and assumed his identity. One of the few who could have added mobility, Tom Lawrence, spent the whole evening paying only passing attention to play less it distract him from a 90-minute argument with Luke Freeman.
QPR had the legs on them, but after three games without a goal against the Rams over the last season and a half it felt, all the way through to be honest, like it was going to be one of those nights where Rangers bang away for 90 minutes and get nothing. The R's were, at times, still too keen to loft balls up towards Smith, which was meat and drink to Keogh and Davies for most of the night and Smith didn't do much with it on the occasions it wasn't.
The big target man did hit the angle of post and bar with a shot from the edge of the box in the first half, but missed a catalogue of headed chances besides including one from a Nedum Onuoha flick off a Darnell Furlong long throw that looked easier to score, and another from a looping cross from Pawel Wszolek where he had a clear run on local hero Keogh and had Carson beaten but sent the ball wide.
Ian Holloway had finally ditched his back three formation after Nottingham Forest dismantled it for the second time this season, and Rangers looked much better for it. Furlong, in particular, gave a dominant display in an orthodox right back role, piling in over the top of his man and winning headers with ease. The R’s looked more comfortable in a 4-3-3 to begin with - this defensive set up much more confident and secured than the one Forest tore apart - and went close after a quarter of an hour when Smith flicked a throw into the path of Onuoha who missed from close range.
Nevertheless, they went in at half time behind.
You’re never more than ten feet from a rat in London, and you’re never more than 15 away from a Chelsea loanee in football. The latest one to cross our path, Kasey Palmer, was the outstanding player in Derby colours and seven minutes before half time he produced a goal from nothing with a gloriously intricate slalom through a crowded space on the edge of the box followed by a pass to Weimann who deserved the goal for his overall show. With Matej Vydra, oddly, left on the bench, the pair of them were Derby’s only threat, and the goal they crafted for themselves felt for so long like it might be a winner.
QPR moved things up another notch when they went to 4-2-3-1 in the second half. Cheering when Conor Washington was substituted is wholly counter productive, but he’d had a woeful night and his withdrawal could have come a long time before. Ebere Eze came on, slotted into the ten behind Big Smith with Little Smyth one side and Freeman the other and started dictating things. Gliding into space and round Derby’s over-fed and leaden-footed midfield combo, Eze looked great and must be pushing for a start at the weekend. Twice, once from him and once from a Freeman volley, Carson fumbled 25 yarders skidding off the surface, regathering the first and toeing the second away from Onuoha who was sniffing for a rebound. This looks a potentially exciting set up.
It could all have come to naught had a diving header from Davies in the fifty sixth minute been fumbled into the net by Alex Smithies as it initially appeared it had been. Typically, QPR’s brilliant keeper recovered his own mistake with an outstanding reaction save a split second later. Landed on his wheels, pulled over next to them and said ‘What you worried about?’.
What seemed like a fairly blatant tug by Keogh on Matt Smith as he attacked a cross at the back post was waved away by Hooper, like so many other penalty appeals by QPR’s big target man have been this season. He does chuck himself around, he does pull and push as much as he gets pulled and pushed, but Keogh was wrong side, knew it and definitely hauled him down. I think I could name 750,000 things more likely than Matt Smith getting a penalty (QPR haven’t had a spot kick since the opening day of the season) and theimpression that referees have a preconceived idea about him and judge incidents with that bias is really grating.
You could have understood, if not forgiven, QPR for letting the frustration get better of them and giving up, particularly against an experienced team with much more to play for, especially with a centre half pressed into action up front, and with the introduction of Pawel Wszolek for the excellent Furlong not really helping the cause. But Rangers had scored nine goals in the last nine minutes of games this season prior to last night, including five in injury time, for a total of seven points. This team will keep plugging away, and they added a deserved eighty-sixth minute leveller to that record as a result.
Lynch making it 11, six and nine was, sadly, just too good to be true.
QPR: Smithies 6; Furlong 7 (Wszolek 74, 6), Onuoha 6, Robinson 6, Bidwell 6; Scowen 6, Luongo 6, Freeman 7; Smyth 8, Smith 5 (Lynch 86, -), Washington 4 (Eze 60, 7)
Subs not used: Cousins, Ingram, Manning, Perch
Goals: Luongo 86 (assisted Freeman)
Bookings: Scowen 90+3 (foul)
Derby: Carson 6; Wisdom 5, Keogh 6, Davies 6, Forsyth 6; Huddlestone 5, Ledley 5 (Johnson 15, 5); Weimann 7, Palmer 8 (Vydra 83, -), Lawrence 5; Nugent 6 (Jerome 71, 5)
Subs not used: Anya, Pearce, Roos, Hanson
Goals: Weimann 38 (assisted Palmer)
Bookings: Forsyth 15 (foul), Weimann 82 (foul), Lawrence 87 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Paul Smyth 8 By a country mile, superb performance. As a kid trying to make his way in the first team you’d expect all the work rate, hustling, harrying, tearing about the place. What he’s bringing as well is skill, control, a great final ball from wide areas and seemingly some genuine ability. He takes his full back to the byline and delivers a cross, which few other QPR players do/can do. Be interesting to see if this continues once starting games becomes more routine and he’s not running on quite so much adrenaline. Derby couldn’t handle him, and the only way they coped was by trying to kick him out of the game which brings me onto…
Referee – Simon Hooper (Wiltshire) 5 First and foremost, I thought he was incredibly lenient on several Derby players who, consistently stripped by Smyth for pace, resorted to fairly blatantly trying to boot him out of the match. Andre Wisdom, it seemed, would have been let off with a warning if he’d pulled a gun on the little QPR winger – no booking at all, despite several hacks at him. Secondly, I hate it when referees obviously get pre-conceived ideas in their mind and make decisions accordingly. Matt Smith pulls as much as he is pulled, and is prone to throwing himself to ground in the penalty box, so gets little sympathy from referees, but he was obviously pulled back in the second half by a defender who’d ended up on the wrong side of his man and knew it. Hooper was waving an obvious spot kick away before the incident had even happened.
Attendance – 11,488 (1,000 Derby approx) Again, felt and looked like a lot fewer, but this was an entertaining game and the players deserved their applause at the end from the precious few who bothered to stay and give them it.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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