|Queens Park Rangers 3 v 1 Birmingham City|
Saturday, 28th April 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Kids shine as Onuoha and Mackie bid farewell - Report
Sunday, 29th Apr 2018 19:55 by Clive Whittingham
QPR won at home for the twelfth and final time this season on Saturday, comfortably seeing off relegation-haunted Birmingham with an exciting display from a youthful side.
End of term at the school of science, seniors bidding tearful farewells, a class of 2018/19 starting to take shape. On such occasions performances and results can often be hard to come by, particularly when the opposition still have skin in the game, but QPR comfortably polished off a woeful, relegation-haunted Birmingham City side on Saturday with something to spare despite having nothing riding on the fixture.
A team selection that looked like the latest fantastical farce from the darkest recesses of Ian Holloway’s mind actually proved shrewd. Giving boy wonder goalkeeper Joe Lumley a long-awaited first senior appearance for the R’s since Blackburn away in January 2016 behind a back four that included novice right back Osman Kakay, two full backs pressed into centre half service (Darnell Furlong and Jake Bidwell), and central midfielder Ryan Manning at left back looked unfair prior to kick off. But by only selecting players who will definitely be at Rangers next season, including several youngsters who’ve been keenly waiting for a first team opportunity, Holloway safeguarded against any sort of ‘going through the motions’ and was rewarded with an exciting performance and good win.
They had to come from behind to do it. Brum’s only outfield player of any note Jacques Maghoma faced up young Osman Kakay after Josh Scowen had conceded possession, made the most of the youngster’s naivety to take him to the byline and deliver a low cross, and Che Adams slammed in his eighth of the campaign – although only four of those have been in the league.
But Rangers had been much the better side in the opening half hour. Freeman struck a firm shot straight into lone striker Idrissa Sylla’s gut, Ryan Manning marauded forward from left back into space in the penalty box but his shot was too weak to test keeper David Stockdale, a complicated free kick routine that seemed to have gone awry finished with Ebere Eze shooting through the wall but, again, straight at the keeper, then Freeman really should have scored from close range having bundled his way through a crowd scene and toe-poked towards goal. Freeman, who’s been frustrating of late, gave the ball away allowing Jutkiewicz to curl wide from long range, but was much more like his old self overall and that had been Birmingham’s only serious attack prior to taking the lead.
And as they had done against Norwich here a couple of weeks prior, Rangers equalised immediately after going behind. With the away end in full voice sensing survival was just around the corner, Freeman stood a lovely cross up to the far post, little Ilias Chair making a rare start arrived late and tucked the ball back, Bright Osayi-Samuel smacked in his first goal for the club from six yards out. He would have had a second before half time too, but for a remarkable save from Stockdale to tip a deflected volley away from the top corner.
QPR were playing well, albeit against meagre opposition. The Bidwell and Furlong centre half pairing was a surprise success, again with the caveat that Jutciewicz was about as mobile as a bag of cement and carried the same threat as the Andrex puppy – other toilet roll is available, most of it playing in red shirts on Saturday. The touch, confidence and skill of Eze and Chair in particular, supplemented by a return to form from Freeman and Josh Scowen who was superb in front of the defence even allowing for the mistake for the first goal, laid the foundation of a really attractive performance that only improved further after half time.
Only Darnell Furlong will know how he failed to tap home from Idrissa Sylla range when Jake Bidwell’s header from a corner was brilliantly saved by Stockdale – how wonderful that we now take posing a thread from corners for granted after four years of watching St Joseph spaff every set piece up the wall – but it mattered little as a second goal wasn’t far away. Freeman had already drawn another save from Stockdale – a more comfortable two-handed bat away from a 25 yard sighter this time – when he brilliantly tricked his way to the byline and came up with the perfect final ball again. Chair, as he’d done for the first goal, peeled off to the back post and this time struck a volley of his own into the net via a small deflection. QPR have now had five under 20s score for them this season, more than any other team in the division.
At the other end Lumley was fortunate to escape when he spilled a routine shot from Jota into the path of Birmingham sub Sam Gallagher and then appeared to trip the Southampton loanee while desperately trying to retrieve the situation – otherwise excellent referee Steve Martin waved the appeals away. Pretty obvious penalty for my money. Later the young keeper made a smarter save from the Spanish winger as he tried to seek out the bottom corner from the edge of the area. Despite the mistake, Lumley carries himself with a confidence and presence that, perhaps harshly, I just don’t see from Matt Ingram on his rare outings.
Birmingham had started to threaten after the hour mark, with Kakay starting to drown rather and Maghomma seeing good ball. The decision to send Nedum Onuoha on for his final Loftus Road appearance after six and a half years at the club was probably ten minutes later than it really needed to be but Rangers survived without conceding a second and never looked in trouble once he’d come on and Furlong had gone to the right side. Jamie Mackie and Matt Smith also sprang from the bench and almost combined to give the former his own perfect farewell – enemy of football Stockdale made another splendid save to keep him out from close range. He was, however, helpless to stop Matt Smith firing a third in off the post in stoppage time after the giant striker had forced the issue in the penalty area. Rangers have won four of their last five home games, scoring a dozen goals in the process.
News filtering through from elsewhere only made a bad day worse for the visitors. Wins for Barnsley and Burton have put them right back in it and really, on this evidence, it’s not hard to see why. City are one of only three teams Rangers have beaten away from home this season, and this was a first double of the campaign for Ian Holloway’s men. They have won just three, drawn four and lost 16 on the road, one of only two teams with a worse away record than ourselves, and if they are to survive it will be with a points total far short of the usual 52-point safety mark and thanks to the incompetence of an unusually dire collection of teams at the bottom of this division.
Three managers in a season, five in little more than a year, they stand as a monument to the perils of idiot foreign ownership, and the danger of placing trust and money in Harry Redknapp. More than a dozen players were signed last summer at such extortionate expense there was nothing left in the cupboard for any strengthening in January despite a dire league position, and rumours of Financial Fair Play issues abound. Three players who tore QPR apart for Brentford a year ago to the day moved to St Andrews’ on triple-your-money deals, two of them were a shadow of their former selves here and the other was suspended for being a meathead in their last away game. Sam Gallagher tormented Rangers three times for Blackburn last year, scoring in all three appearances against us, but having moved to Birmingham in a loan deal that will cost them around £4m once everything is taken into account he looked completely disinterested here. David Stockdale, who tuned down Premier League football with Brighton to come here in part, he said, because of his daughter’s exams (Stockdale is 32 years old), played well here but looks heavy and has had a poor year. Marc Roberts, awarded an extortionate four-year contract after arriving from lowly Barnsley last summer, was complete pony. This is a collection of individuals here purely for monetary reasons – it’s not a team, and they don’t even appear to get on with each other. Despite the expenditure and the sheer number of additions it is a squad with a defence that can’t stop conceding (three more here to take them to a league high 44 shipped in 23 away games), a midfield that can’t pass the ball and got completely overrun by a bunch of kids in this game, and a strike force that can’t score (just 17 on the road, only Bolton have managed fewer, Gallagher is the top league scorer with six). Redknapp insisted this squad would stage a late run to the play-offs. A better case study of his fuckwittery you’d struggle to design on purpose. An absolute shower of under-committed, over-paid, half-arsed wasters. Garry Monk has an enormous job on his hands.
For QPR, greenshoots of recovery from their own tortured spell of overspend and folly continue to sprout. The away form is diabolical, but they’ve been mostly good to watch at home and were so again here with an average age of just over 23 at kick off. Osayi-Samuel, Eze and Freeman stood out, with Scowen ratting well, and Matt Smith continuing to look fitter and more threatening by the week. Chair probably shaded man of the match, growing as the game went on, always demanding the ball, clearly buoyed by his first senior goal, and showing surprising core strength for a boy of his size. A midget he may be but there’s a big arse on him and he’s not easily bullied or knocked around.
The demon hope springs once more, but that was tempered at full time by the sight of captain Nedum Onuoha bidding farewell to the crowd after announcing on Friday that he will not renew his contract and is looking to return north. Not a startlingly brilliant player, but a very important once for us nonetheless and clearly a very thoughtful and influential captain whatever bile people come out with about not being a “pwopah leadah”. QPR have won 13, drawn six and lost ten with Onuoha in the team this season which means they’ve won just two, drawn five and lost nine without him. As previously said when Clint Hill and Ale Faurlin were allowed to depart, you lose characters and people like that from your dressing room after only very careful consideration and potentially at your peril. It will free considerable wage budget up for new additions, but it leaves us short of experience and his influence off the field will take some replacing. Throw in Jamie Mackie, in floods of tears at full time, another good clubman who adds plenty off the field even though injuries have curtailed his second spell at the club, and it’s a tricky situation to oversee.
The debate about whether Ian Holloway will or should be the one to oversee that will continue to rage on, and this is the time to be having those discussions rather than two months into next campaign. His remit was to slash the wage bill, blood the youngsters, and not get relegated doing it and he’s achieved that with bells on. He appeared briefly afterwards to talk about the game but looked and sounded completely emotionally spent to the point where I wondered if he was considering taking a step back of his own volition.
A soul destroying few weeks for him, losing his old mentor Ray Wilkins and then his mother in a very short period of time, seemed to be catching up with him and you have to be the most cold hearted of his critics not to sympathise with him for that. Whether you rate him as a manager, want him here, think he’s doing a good job or not he’s an emotional, heart on sleeve human being, QPR through and through and enduring a pretty horrible time of it at the moment. Whether we move forward with or without him, and Tony Fernandes’ post-match Tweets (unhelpful as always) about “tough decisions to be made” cast further doubt on that, he deserves and needs a peaceful and relaxing summer.
He can, in the home games at least, be proud of the young team he’s put together. I enjoyed watching them on Saturday.
QPR: Lumley 6; Kakay 5 (Onuoha 67, 7), Furlong 7, Bidwell 7, Manning 7; Scowen 7; Eze 7, Chair 8, Freeman 8, Osayi-Samuel 7 (Mackie 69, 7); Sylla 5 (Smith 77, 7)
Subs not used: Smithies, Cousins, Smyth, Tilt
Goals: Osayi-Samuel 29 (assisted Chair), Chair 70 (assisted Freeman), Smith 90+2 (Unassisted)
Bookings: Manning 57 (foul), Chair 88 (foul)
Birmingham: Stockdale 7; Harding 5, Morrison 5, Roberts 5, Colin 5; Davis 5, Ndoye 5 (Gardner 73, 5); Jota 6, Adams 6 (Gallagher 57, 5), Maghoma 7; Jutkiewicz 4
Subs not used: Grounds, Kieftenbeld, Dacres-Cogley, Kuszczak, Lubala
Goals: Adams 27 (assisted Maghoma)
Bookings: Davis 63 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Ilias Chair 8 Nearly went for Scowen, who I thought was great but gave the ball away for the goal. So instead, with a first senior goal and assist for the first, it’s little Ilias Chair. Like Eze, Smyth and a few others that have stepped out of our Under 23s this season there’s confidence, self belief, and a desire to be on the ball as often as possible that belies his lack of first team experience. Lovely movement for the first and second goal, great touch, surprising strength, and finally a first win at the sixth time of asking.
Referee – Steve Martin (Staffordshire) 8 Would have been a nine, or perhaps even a ten, but for the Birmingham penalty incident when Lumley spilt the ball and then pretty obviously caught the striker as he rushed in for the rebound. That was probably a spot kick, but other than that he was near perfect. I like his unfussy style and how he doesn’t just lazily blow a free kick for every tiny bit of contact, the players soon wise up to it and stop diving about and the game flows a lot better as a result. Probably the best of the regulars this term for me.
Attendance – 15,805 (1,600 Birmingham approx) Bigger than usual stewarding operation, plus a rope (innovative, why didn’t we think of this at all) just about managed to prevent the pitch invasion, although there were still some helmets trying to charge through in a couple of pockets on the Ellerslie Road side. That meant Onouha and Mackie got to say farewell, and hopefully has avoided a fine and capacity reduction for next season. Well done everybody, not that hard after all.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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