|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 0 Sunderland|
Saturday, 10th March 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Ebere's first goal Ezes QPR to victory - Report
Sunday, 11th Mar 2018 13:00 by Clive Whittingham
QPR moved further towards midtable and pushed Sunderland closer to the drop with a laboured performance and 1-0 win highlighted by a goal on his full QPR league debut from Ebere Eze.
Haunted by the seven defeats in eight games that ran the end of last season too close for comfort, concerned by their tendency to go on long losing runs, and facing just about the most difficult two away matches the league has to offer next week QPR needed a win at home to struggling Sunderland on Saturday to keep the wolf from the door and the dissent down to a dull roar.
It’s the third time since the turn of the year they’ve faced such a situation at Loftus Road and, just as they did against Barnsley and Bolton, Rangers did indeed grind their way to three points and a clean sheet. They deserved the win, were much the better of the two teams, and achieved it with a goal on full QPR league debut from one of their Under 23s for the third time this season – Ebere Eze stylishly following in the footsteps of Aremide Oteh at Burton and Paul Smyth against Cardiff. Nine home wins for QPR this season now, the best record south of tenth in the Championship and the same as the teams in fifth and seventh.
But this was a much more basic, stodgy, sluggish performance than the one produced against Derby during the week, with no shots on target whatsoever during the first half. Just the one point against the Rams, and all three here regardless, but that owed much to the quality of the opposition.
That Sunderland are in a bit of a state is no great secret – years of mismanagement and near misses with relegation now manifesting themselves in a seemingly terminal decline. A succession of managerial changes have done nothing to arrest a nosedive which seems highly likely to continue all the way into League One. QPR know all about the effects of bad chairmanship, poor management and dreadful recruitment and will have a degree of sympathy and empathy with their Sunderland counterparts after this latest defeat.
There were a lot of traits in this red and white team very familiar to the good people of Shepherd’s Bush who’ve suffered in kind over the past six years. A massive squad of players (the first time this season an opponent has had more names on the back of the programme than us) chock full of big names and high earners. Where people used to look at us and think “I’d forgotten Shaun Wright-Phillips/Luke Young/Armband Traore was there” now you have Sunderland carrying Darron Gibson, Jack Rodwell and Kazenga LuaLua.
Gary Neville used to talk about “extraordinary events” when analysing the QPR teams of Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp – Stephane Mbia stationary, adjusting his gloves on the edge of the penalty area as Man Utd walked round him to make it 2-0 one afternoon, for instance. And Sunderland produced several of those on Saturday afternoon. Jonny Williams, for instance, a Welsh international who’s always seemed halfway decent at this level, spending the first 30 minutes enacting some of the weirdest and most blatant dives I’ve ever seen and then deciding he’d had enough and trudging off to be replaced by Aiden McGeady (how does he not start?) with 15 minutes of the first half to play was right up there. Likewise Lee Cattermole, a player with several hundred Premier League appearances under his belt, who produced a first 20 minutes here that would shame a pub player and then later sent a 20 yard shot on goal sailing so high over the bar that it actually smacked into the QPR badge on the roof of the second tier of the School End – quite a difficult thing to do even if you were trying to do it.
And then there’s the comedy goalkeeping stylings of Jason Steele. Finding a goalkeeper who doesn’t appear to be deliberately sabotaging their campaign has been a real problem for the Mackems this season. The highlights of an early season draw at home to Millwall have become a YouTube sensation as the stoppers at both ends produced displays right out of the Ademole Bankole house of horrors. All the goals in a 3-0 defeat to Villa midweek looked to have been conceded by a random member of the public who won their place in the team in a raffle. That was Steele, and yet he started again at Loftus Road and rewarded his manager’s faith by costing him the game.
Shortly after half time, for reasons known only to himself, Steele came haring out of his penalty area into a region adequately covered by defenders, on a fool’s errand to try and deal with a bouncing ball that he’d misjudged from the very beginning. Having run under it, and with Little Smyth in behind him and ready to run the ball into the open net, he decided he had no choice but to thrust his arms up and palm the ball away from danger. Deliberate handball, denying a clear goalscoring opportunity, even a referee as lenient and keen to keep the cards in his pocket as newbie Robert Jones had no choice or hesitation in sending him off.
When the spine of your team is a goalkeeper as bad as this, John O’Shea looking and playing like a human-sized bag of sand, Lee Cattermole doing whatever the fuck Lee Cattermole thought he was doing on Saturday, and then Ashley Fletcher on loan from Middlesbrough up front not knowing where to be or what to do when he gets there you’re bang in trouble. This absolute cavalcade of dog shit has won five games all season, and on this evidence they’re lucky to have managed even that.
Josh Scowen, still looking tired to me, wasted the resulting free kick over the bar but Rangers did take the lead soon after that. Ebere Eze, finally given a first start in the league this season after a great loan spell at Wycombe and several impressive cameos from the bench culminating in a great display against Derby on Tuesday, turned out to be the matchwinner. Picking the ball up in the ‘ten’ spot he went on one of those languid, arcing runs into the space between defence and midfield which seem to be his trademark. Whether Matt Smith meant the return pass or, as I suspect, just miscontrolled it didn’t really matter as it allowed Eze to glide away from static Cattermole into the wide open space of the Sunderland penalty box and finish really coolly into the bottom corner. Great moment for him and Rangers, brought the house down.
Weirdly, it might have worked out better for Rangers had Steele stayed on and Sunderland kept a full compliment of players. He was replaced by Lee Camp, who is fondly remembered for his two stints as a QPR player if not for the manner of his departure and subsequent exuberant celebrations when playing against us for Nottingham Forest. Judging him harshly for that rather ignores the way he was treated by Flavio Briatore and QPR at the end of his spell – the chairman overruling manager Iain Dowie and demanding Radek Cerny was picked instead of Camp who’d been number one the previous season – and thankfully he was given a rousing reception from the home fans when he came onto the field. He subsequently made a smart save one on one with Big Smith, who rather panicked and snatched at the chance from the exact same position Eze had been so composed in, and flung himself off to his left to produce an eye-catching stop to deny substitute Bright Osayi-Samuel. Had The Amazing Chuckles stayed on between the sticks I think we’d have won 2-0.
But all of that said, QPR only won 1-0 and completely wasted the first half of the game. Following Tuesday’s small improvement in a 4-3-3 and then big improvement in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Ian Holloway went with what the public wanted. There was a start for Eze at ten at last, but not at the expense of Smyth or Luke Freeman, as the majority had been asking for. There was a back four, rather than a three with wing backs, as the majority have been asking for. Conor Washington was consigned to the bench, as the majority have been asking for. But against easily the worst team in the league, at home, it failed to spark. Rangers didn’t have a single shot on target in the first half and actually relied on two Nedum Onuoha tackles, one after 20 minutes on Fletcher just as he was preparing to shoot and then again six minutes later on the same man recovering a ball he’d lost wide on the right after a hospital Alex Smithies pass, to keep the score deadlocked.
There were positives. The defence, and the full backs in particular, look far happier in this set up, with both Jake Bidwell and Darnell Furlong having solid games just as they’d done against Derby. But one Eze free kick straight into the wall was all we had to show for 45 minutes of one-paced toil, and Jack Robinson and Massimo Luongo tackling each other on the edge of the QPR box rather summed it up. As we’ve said several times there are improvements that can be made, there are different things we can try, the wing backs and back three system has big problems and flaws, but this idea that we’re a change of formation or a dropping of Conor Washington away from suddenly shooting up the table is a bit of a stretch.
The shape changed after half time to more of a 4-4-2. That got Big Smith and Little Smyth up front together and they both benefited from that, and Eze started to get good ball in space to effect the game and eventually score the winner which he hadn’t in the first half. Osayi-Samuel also came off the bench to good, pacy effect in wide areas. But, as suspected, Luke Freeman wasn’t nearly as good as a wide man in a four as he has been as a central man in a three – something Bristol City repeatedly found out during his time there. Scowen, again, looked tired to me and Massimo Luongo was too often guilty of taking extra, unnecessary touches and slowing the play. When Alex Smithies missed the ball altogether coming for a cross in the fifty second minute hearts were in mouths as Joel Lynch, on for Jack Robinson at half time, almost comically headed into his own empty net unchallenged.
Big Smith headed a Bidwell cross wide, Little Smyth drew another good save from Camp from a narrow angle, Darnell Furlong showed his prodigious aerial ability with a header from a pre-planned Freeman corner but planted it straight into the keeper’s arms when a foot either side would have been a goal. Another header from the impressive young full back seemed destined for the net until Matt Smith helped it on its way and was flagged offside – haven’t seen it back but from where I was it was a goal if he’d left it. Freeman and Onuoha were both booked for very strong mistimed tackles.
Sunderland went big in four minutes of stoppage time, and Josh Scowen produced a superb, goal-saving covering tackle to prevent an equaliser at the death. But they finished the game without a single shot on target. When you look at them, and QPR’s now 13-point gap to the bottom three, you wonder really what everybody was worried about. But when you watch Rangers labour like this, and look at what’s coming up later this week, you can’t help but just be grateful for the win however it was achieved.
There’s always somebody worse off than yourself, and rarely has that perspective been quite as stark as Saturday.
QPR: Smithies 6; Furlong 6, Onuoha 7, Robinson 6 (Lynch 46, 5), Bidwell 6; Scowen 6, Luongo 6; Freeman 5, Eze 7 (Manning 89, -), Smyth 6 (Osayi-Samuel 72, 6); Smith 6
Subs not used: Cousins, Washington, Ingram, Wszolek
Goals: Eze 62 (assisted Smith)
Bookings: Freeman 61 (foul), Onuoha 74 (foul)
Sunderland: Steele 3; Matthews 6, Kone 5, O’Shea 3, Oviedo 6; Cattermole 3, Asoro 6 (Camp 51, 7), Williams 3 (McGeady 30, 6), Ejaria 6, Honeyman 6; Fletcher 4 (Maja 87, -)
Subs not used: Jones, McManaman, Gooch, Robson
Red Cards: Steele 49 (deliberate handball denying goalscoring opportunity)
Bookings: O’Shea 70 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Ebere Eze 7 A lazy pick really. The goal and the confidence he showed on his full debut nudges him ahead as the best of a mediocre bunch, but we shouldn’t get carried away. This was no all singing, all dancing, all conquering masterclass – it was a good display and a nice goal against a dreadful opponent.
Referee – Robert Jones (Merseyside) 8 I liked him a lot, and can see why he’s climbed so rapidly from Conference to Championship in little over 18 months. Calm, keen to let play flow, lenient to the point of generous but absolutely right to show the three yellow cards he did and no choice with the sending off.
Attendance – 14, 216 (1,500 Sunderland approx) Nice to see Loftus Road a bit fuller after that League Cup-level attendance during the week – a shame the performance wasn’t as good as it was on Tuesday to reward them for turning up. Crowd obviously boosted by the usual large following from the North East. I always say never feel sorry for anybody in football because nobody will ever feel sorry for you, but I couldn’t help but sympathise with the Sunderland fans travelling to watch this team. We’ve been there, we know what they’re going through on and off the pitch, they’re the ones that suffer most but still follow their team in big numbers. They also joined in the great reception for the unsung heroes presentation at half time, adding to yet another lovely moment from QPR in the Community Trust.
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Pictures – Action Images
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