Repeats don't rate - Report
Tuesday, 8th May 2018 00:52 by Clive Whittingham
QPR lost on the road for the fourteenth time this season on Sunday as the Mercantile Credit Trophy came to a merciful conclusion at Elland Road.
If this was to be Ian Holloway’s last match in charge of Queens Park Rangers – and he made it very clear afterwards that if that is to be the case he’ll have to be pushed rather than jump – then it was both sad and apt that it ended this way. Losing away from home, with two midfielders at full back and two full backs at centre half, in front of the boiled down die-hards who still pay to travel for this.
An excellent home performance and win, with a number of the club’s prominent youngsters to the fore, against Birmingham a week ago had optimism coursing for the 2018/19 season ahead. But then, as has happened time and again since Holloway returned to the club 18 months ago, it was followed up by a limp away display and comfortable defeat. All the positives and all the reservations summed up perfectly in one seven-day microcosm.
You shouldn’t ever read too much into the dead rubbers at this point of the season. Sad as it is, in the modern game it’s actually surprising QPR have remained as competitive and dangerous as they have through April and May when they knew they were safe and the goals for the season had been accomplished. A final day 2-0 defeat at a historically tough place to visit like Elland Road, in a Sunday lunch time kick off, in the blazing sunshine, with a scratchy starting 11 out there, should neither be a surprise nor any particular cause for concern. But set in context, it highlighted many of the failings of the second Holloway era at exactly the point he didn’t want them showcased.
Remember, Leeds had nothing to play for either, and make no bones about it this Leeds team is absolute crap. Prior to kick off they’d won only three games in all competitions since December 30, a run that included an FA Cup defeat at mighty Newport County. They poached manager Paul Heckingbotoom from Barnsley on February 6 but he’s only won three, drawn four and lost eight of his games so far and already seems like he’s heading towards the exit door. All three of the wins have come at Elland Road but two of them were against relegation candidates Barnsley and Bolton, and all three were only by a single goal. They had lost four, and won only one, of the six games immediately prior to this one and only kept one clean sheet in 16 outings. In all, 13 Championship sides have left Elland Road with a point or more this season. QPR never once threatened to join them.
There was a period of about ten minutes in the first half when Rangers seemed to realise the opposition wasn’t up to much. Matt Smith hit the top of the bar from a narrow angle, Pawel Wszolek (playing right back, naturally) got round his man and won a corner, Josh Scowen volleyed over from long range on the quarter hour. That wasn’t too bad. Rangers playing ok, Leeds going through the motions. Most of the entertainment was provided by the home fan who managed, very impressively, to crowd surf from the front of the South Stand to the back and back again before being set upon by stewards for no reason at all. Get a proper job, the kid deserved some sort of gift token not ejection.
Then the corners started.
Midway through the first half Ekuban, who plays with all the finesse of a man who won his place in the team in a tombola, had a header deflected wide at the near post. QPR set up for the resulting corner with no defender on either post, and only one defender (Jordan Cousins) in the six-yard box with goalkeeper Joe Lumley at all. This allowed whoever Leeds wanted to send in there a free run into an uncrowded goalmouth. Footballing Dignitas. Rangers were incredibly fortunate not to concede from the first one as Adam Forshaw whipped an inswinger into the gaping space between keeper and defence and a mad scramble ensued in which Lumley made two very fine reactionary saves to keep the scores level.
Wooooo hooooo well done Joe. Lovely boy, loves his mum. But let’s not try that again eh?
Hmmmm. Three minutes later Ekuban stumbles and bumbles his way into the penalty area again and hits a shot that Darnell Furlong blocks behind for another corner from the same side. Same set up, same vacant six-yard box, same mad scramble and panic as the ball is whipped in. This time it’s cleared behind for another corner. Same side, same set up, same vacant six-yard box, same mad scramble and panic as the ball is whipped in and this time Kemar Roofe hooks in from close range for his 356th goal against QPR this season.
I’m a patient man. I can sit through conferences on the business of television financing, for days I can sit there and listen and take notes and produce stories from what is said. I’ve been in relationships with in laws who I didn’t like, and didn’t like me, and I’ve sat there through dinners, through long weekends, through fucking holidays and I’ve smiled and made polite conversation. I’ve stood in the lift at work and talked to the plastic Chelsea fan about how great or terrible something that’s going on at “The Chels” is this week and I’ve nodded and smiled when he asks me if “I still go along and watch QPR a bit”. I have spent prolonged periods of time in Washington DC. I have renewed season tickets knowing that Zesh Rehman would be there waiting for me again in August. I have been to the QPR away games this season, I have seen the three wins and more importantly I have seen most of the other 20 games that weren’t wins. I am not easily cracked, or broken, or casually driven to ripping my seat out of the concrete and beating whichever soppy bastard thought that was an adequate set up for defending a Leeds corner at Elland Road to death with it. But I must confess, reader, watching them do it three times in three minutes, with incrementally worse outcomes each time until Leeds had scored, without anybody anywhere saying “maybe this isn’t right, maybe we should try something else” was trying. Very, very trying. Like a brain tumour is trying.
And that was the game really. QPR were doing that thing again where they play Matt Smith up front by himself, with nobody within 30 yards of him, and pump long balls at his head – so even when he does win them, there’s nobody around to do anything with it. Leeds, who played pretty well actually given the state they’re in, coped with that very easily and were soon dominating the match, playing high up the field, crowding Eze and Chair out of the game and swamping Josh Scowen at the base of the midfield. Kalvin Phillips was particularly impressive, certainly no end of season slacking off in his cut, thrust and robust challenges, and their man of the match was young left back Tom Pearce who just before half time drew a save out of Lumley with a powerful drive from a difficult angle and then whipped the rebound into a dangerous area for Ekuban to head wide.
Then there was referee Darren England, who carelessly cut me and laughed while I bled with three minutes of additional time to the first half for a succession of injuries, including a nasty looking ankle problem for Scowen which I was surprised he played through. End damn you, will this bloody season never end? Put a fucking bullet in me. Three minutes? Why do you torment me so? Ahem, sorry. Furlong headed a well worked Freeman free kick over in that added time after Eze had been fouled on the edge of the area.
I had a little sleep at half time and was quite angry when my brother woke me up on his way back from the bar at the start of the second half, but of course you need to be awake between 35 and 55 minutes with QPR this season because that’s when all the goals get conceded. All. The. Goals. All the goals. All the goals, all season, in the same way, at the same time.
You had to feel a bit for Joe Lumley, who completely muffed his kick allowing Phillips to seize the ball in a dangerous area with all the QPR players the wrong side of him and return it with interest into the bottom corner. Least surprising development since Kat's last return/departure from Eastenders. Lumley had played well apart from that, with the two feet saves in the first half and later a superb block at point blank range when Alioski seemed absolutely certain to make it three, but this was a youth team goalkeeper concession from a youth team goalkeeper just to temper the rising hype about the young stopper. Might not be a bad thing in the long run, people were starting to talk like we’d exhumed Lev Yashin.
Those numbers again. QPR finish the season with 70 goals conceded – only four teams have conceded more and four of the teams below us have conceded fewer or the same. Of those, 28 have been shipped in the ten minutes immediately before or after half time, including seven in first half stoppage time and another six in the moments immediately following the half time team talk (35, 36, 37, 38, 38, 41, 42, 43, 44, 45, 45, 45, 45, 45, 45, 45, 47, 47, 48, 48, 50, 50, 51, 52, 52, 54, 55, 55). Much like the Leeds corners in the first half, and the away form overall, this is a persistent problem that has manifested itself and continued throughout the season unchecked and nobody on or off the pitch at QPR seems to know what on earth they’re going to do about it.
That was the theme of the day for me –absence of ideas about how to solve long-standing problems. The Leeds corners, the witching hour before and after the break, and the ongoing inability to even grind out draws away from home.
Things might have been interesting had Luke Freeman’s effort - which beat home keeper Bailey Peacock-Farrell all ends up but missed the far post from 20 yards out - gone in immediately after the second goal, but QPR finished the game with only one shot on target. Bar a horrible tackle from Phillips on substitute Bright Osayi-Samuel – a yellow and a half – the final third of the game was intensely, stupefyingly boring and Rangers never once looked like they were going to come back into it. They sent on Osayi-Samuel, little Smyth and Oteh for Wszolek who’d done ok out of position, Eze who’d been a little half-arsed and casual for my taste, and Chair who’d been bullied out of the game by Phillips. It made not a blind bit of difference. The final whistle was like having your dog put down – sad, but thank God it’s all over with.
I’m not here to slag Ian Holloway off. I don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m just expressing frustration as a supporter at the end of nine months of away matches which have yielded three wins. I am in the camp who thinks he’s achieved what he was asked to this season, under taxing conditions, and has probably earned the right to show he can meet higher aspirations next season. But after six wins, eight draws and now 24 defeats on the road since he returned it’s pretty obvious he doesn’t know why we can’t win away, nor what he’s going to do about it. Only Bolton and Birmingham have a worse away record than us this season, and even Bolton have only lost 13 away games to our 14.
It looked like we’d finally cracked it in that week when we took four points at Villa and Fulham and outplayed both of them – but since then we’ve lost another four on the spin and scored only once. And we’ve played some absolute drek in that time. Reading should be baking us a fucking cake.
In the first half here there were several moments where Joe Lumley was remonstrating with those further up the pitch after he’d kicked long when they’d come short, or vice versa. There was another where Ilias Chair went into some sort of frustrated spasm after the ball went out, tearing around the midfield area waving both arms around in violent circle motions and yelling at all team mates in ear shot. Very telling I thought because it wasn’t directed at anybody in particular, nor about anything specific, just a general exasperation. They all looked frustrated and confused. Whatever they were supposed to be doing, they clearly weren’t doing it, but nor did they seem to know exactly what it was, nor what it should look like.
And that, ladies and gentlemen, has been Queens Park Rangers away from home 2017/18.
This time Holloway admitted to picking the wrong team, leaving out the pace of Osayi-Samuel and Smyth when it was needed on the counter attack and to support Smith. Fine. Admirable. But Osayi-Samuel was excellent last week against Birmingham, scoring a goal and flying forwards to great effect, why on earth would you leave him out anyway? Reward him with another start. Not the first time that’s happened – notably little Smyth being rewarded for his brilliance and goal v Sheff Wed with a place back on the bench for a loss at home to Preston. If it’s working well, leave well alone.
I want to make a case for Holloway, I do want him to stay, I think he’s done an underrated job in difficult circumstances and earned the right to try and take us on further. I don’t think his biggest critics take those circumstances into account enough, nor how another manager might cope with them. And I don’t think enough credit is given for a home campaign that has produced results good enough for a play-off push and performances that have often been entertaining.
QPR being bad away from home is nothing new – three wins out of 23 under Holloway this season, six out of 23 under him and Hasselbaink last season, four out of 23 under Hasselbaink, Warnock and Ramsey the year before, two out of 19 in the Premier League the season before that. That’s just 15 away wins in four years and 88 attempts under a smorgasbord of different managers, it’s not a new thing or an Ian Holloway thing. Wolves have won as many away games this season as we have since May 2014.
But that doesn’t make it ok. We have to aspire to better, this cannot be us forever, and we’ll never be much better than the 15th-18th we’ve kicked around in all season if we religiously piss all our away games up the wall. I find it concerning when Holloway discusses the problem, because it’s pretty clear he doesn’t really know why it’s happening nor what we’re going to do about it. Post Brentford he talked about trying to develop an identity but not quite being there yet, which is fair enough as Brentford have been building constructively a lot long than we have, but Brentford’s identity can be summed up in four words – attack wide, defend narrow. If he had to describe the identity he’s looking for here in less than ten minutes, could he? In his first spell we were “a laundry”, and that wasn’t easy on the eye but everybody knew what we were and did the job. What are we aiming for now?
He talks a lot about knowing “when to press and when not to press”. Ignoring for a moment the fact that no team with Matt Smith up front will be executing any kind of press out of possession, it doesn’t really mean anything does it? What does he mean? If he can’t explain it clearly and CONCISELY to us, can he to the players? Every time an away game rolls around we lose it in much the same way as the last in any case, and on Saturday you had Eze and Chair, in particular, falling into confused states between two stools.
I don’t know.
I genuinely don’t.
August 4 is it?
Enjoy your summer.
Leeds: Peacock-Farrell 6; Ayling 7, Jansson 6 (Pennington 46, 6), Cooper 6, Pearce 8; Phillips 7, Vieira 6; Forshaw 7 (O’Kane 87, -), Alioksi 6, Roofe 7 (Edmondson 74,6); Ekuban 5
Subs not used: Lonergan, Lasogga, Saiz, Sacko
Goals: Roofe 30, Phillips 47
Bookings: Alioski 54 (foul), Edmondson 81 (foul), Phillips 86 (foul)
QPR: Lumley 5; Wszolek 5 (Smyth 67, 5), Furlong 6, Bidwell 5, Manning 6; Cousins 4, Scowen 6, Chair 5 (Osayi-Samuel 60, 5); Freeman 6, Eze 5 (Oteh 73, 5), Smith 5
Subs not used: Ingram, Kakay, Hamalainen, Owens
Bookings: Furlong 63 (foul), Scowen 84 (foul), Bidwell 90+1 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Ryan Manning 6 Very difficult for all the wrong reasons. Nearly didn’t give one at all, but playing out of position at left back against a tricky opponent in a set up that clearly wasn’t working right from the off I thought Manning did well not to allow it to turn into a total catastrophe. And if that’s damning with faint praise, then that’s exactly how it’s meant.
Referee – Darren England (Barnsley) 8 A lot of bookings for a meaningless end of season game, but you couldn’t argue with any of them and actually in the case of Phillips on Osayi-Samuel he’s perhaps lucky the referee was in end of term mode.
Attendance – 30,004 (400 QPR approx) Honestly I was hoping to tell you that there were two dozen QPR fans there and we spent the afternoon singing “thirty nine quid, you’re having a laugh”. This section would simply have read “well at least we now know the answer to how much is too much?” Instead, a very creditable travelling support paid criminally extortionate ticket prices to watch a dreadfully boring match between two midtable sides at the end of a season in which our team has managed just three away wins and never once looked like bettering that here. We’re idiots. It sends a message to Leeds that charging that to sit in that filthy away end is ok, that we’ll swallow it. We get the love we think we deserve.
The Twitter @Loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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