|Bolton Wanderers 1 v 2 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 15th September 2018 Kick-off 15:00
QPR recovery continues with rare away win - Report
Sunday, 16th Sep 2018 14:29 by Clive Whittingham
Just over six months to the day since their last, Queens Park Rangers have an away win to their name.
A 2-1 victory at Bolton Wanderers, which for the first hour at least was more comfortable than the scoreline suggests, makes it four points from two road trips either side of the international break. More than anybody dared hope for after the 7-1 demolition at The Hawthorns in August and part of a very creditable turnaround since that debacle and subsequent heavy loss to Bristol City which has seen Rangers go unbeaten for four matches, winning three of them and conceding just two goals.
It’s a fragile recovery: Wigan could easily have scored two or three goals at Loftus Road, Birmingham were absolutely atrocious but Rangers were still running the clock down and settling for a point at 0-0, Bolton were poor on Saturday but still had the R’s clinging on desperately at the end. But it’s a recovery all the same, and there were one or two hints of momentum gathering at whatever the hell they’re calling this stadium that’s sort of in the vague vicinity of the town the team is supposed to represent these days.
Steve McClaren has, like any good Fantasy League manager, torn it all up and started again already this season. Wildcard played, gone is his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation and the idealistic play out from the goalkeeper of the pre-season, replaced by a more conventional 4-4-2 and pragmatic approach to possession. That’s been done largely to accommodate the addition of Tomer Hemed and Nahki Wells up front, and the benefit of having two players of that standard up front was there for all to see on Saturday. Wells, in particular, was excellent. But it hadn’t, until this game, seemed to suit many of the players behind them, with Luke Freeman and Ebere Eze in particular both struggling to adapt to old fashioned winger roles when their natural inclination is to come infield and try to make the play behind the central strikers. There was a growing consensus that they wouldn’t be able to play together in this system.
Thankfully, with two weeks of extra training ground work afforded them by an international break, they both really came into their own against Wanderers. Alternating sides and taking it in turns to drift into freer, more central positions, they were both far too good for Bolton and scored a goal apiece. The first, from Freeman after 26 minutes, was a proper footballing goal with Rangers constructing a swift counter attack down the right flank first with Eze, then Freeman and then Wells who delivered an accurate cross to the near post for Freeman to sweep into the net first time. Mass Luongo had got Wells in behind stand in left back Jonathan Grounds a moment before that in similar fashion and it was an area of the field QPR kept revisiting with good results.
The second, lashed into the net from 15 yards by Eze just before the hour mark, was as intricate as the first had been incisive. Freeman was at the heart of the move again, combining first with Jake Bidwell and then with Hemed to tiptoe his way through a crowd scene wide on the left before showing great strength to shrug off a challenge and cross for Eze who took a touch to create space in the area and then gave Alnwick no chance with an emphatic finish. Genuinely lovely stuff. Freeman and Eze at their brilliant best.
QPR looked good. They could have taken the lead after two minutes when Hemed flicked on for Wells who will perhaps regret not taking a shot on first time but rounded the keeper all the same and squared it back for Hemed who was denied by a desperate Mark Beevers block on the goal line. Two minutes after that Wells looked to have his heels clipped chasing a ball into the left channel but referee Oliver Langford showed no interest in awarding a penalty. Looked a spot kick to me at first glance.
Bolton’s struggles to keep hold of Eze were highlighted by Noone’s brutal hack at the youngster after a quarter of an hour which brought the game’s only yellow card – Langford so keen to brandish it that he belted Jordan Cousins in the face in the process. Championship.
Bar a couple of moments of miscommunication between first Angel Rangel and Joe Lumley, and then Toni Leistner and his youthful goalkeeper, Wanderers had barely threatened until the stroke of half time when Noone worked space for himself in the area but lifted a great chance over the bar on his weaker left foot under pressure from Jake Bidwell’s desperate dive. Yanic Wildschut, on loan to Bolton from Norwich and on off the bench after half an hour for the injured Sammy Ameobi, had supplied the cross. Christian Doidge scored 56 goals in 99 games for Forest Green Rovers but found the going tough as lone striker here, played out of the game by Leistner who was very good.
A poor pass from Rangel and weak tackle from Luongo gave Bolton an early sight of goal in the second half but the shot deflected wide and Wheater headed the resulting corner over. At the other end Freeman hit the top of the wall with a presentable free kick. Rangers had visibly grown in confidence after taking the lead and they were full of themselves once Eze had made it two nil, intelligently keeping possession for long periods of time, controlling the tempo and direction of the game well. Hell, a couple of them even engaged in that Preston fuckwittery of bending down to tie your shoelaces in front of the ball whenever the opponent has a free kick. Are our ‘thick boys’ actually learning how to play Championship football?
Sadly, annoyingly, that fragility that’s an inevitable bi-product of being so awful away from home for so long, and losing your first four games of the season, and getting beaten 7-1 in the recent past, shone through in the last half an hour. Phil Parkinson sent on Josh Magennis to bolster his attack. Commentators love to mention that Magennis was actually a goalkeeper until very late in his youth team development and to be honest whenever I see him try and play up front I can’t help but think he probably should have stayed where he was, but he’d scored three goals already this season prior to kick off and made it four here with a low free kick down the side of the wall which Joe Lumley really should have saved but allowed to squirm in for 2-1. I like Lumley, he should definitely be our first choice, but he’s got too many mistakes in him at the moment when you add this to the goal he conceded on the final day of last season at Leeds, and the penalty he really should have had awarded against him after a fumble in the Birmingham home game.
That needn’t have been a cause for too much concern. Rangers had been well in control and looking good for a third prior to the very, very generous award of the free kick for the goal, which came against the run of play. I thought McClaren might have found use for Josh Scowen The Goblin Boy from the bench at this point, with Jordan Cousins and Massimo Luongo again struggling somewhat in the centre of midfield, but he brought on Geoff Cameron to do that job and try to maintain QPR’s hold on the game. Interesting that Cousins seems to have jumped ahead of Ryan Manning and maybe Scowen now as well in McClaren’s thinking.
It didn’t stop QPR from sinking too deep, giving the ball away too much, fretting too much and inviting Bolton into a game they’d been played well out of. The creche was quickly back in a full panic mode - scared of Bolton, and the ball, and themselves.
Lumley tipped over a powerful long ranger from Olkowski, then saved well in his bottom right hand corner when a mishit shot took at least two deflections on its way through and required watching all the way. Bolton added Oztumer to their attack, a pocket-sized Turkish ten who specialised in spectacular goals for Walsall in League One, and Scowen was immediately introduced to rat him out of the closing stages. Joel Lynch, who’d spent the first 60 minutes playing poorly while all his team mates were excelling, came into his own in the final third of the game when everything around him had gone to shit, winning a number of crucial headers and blocks in an increasingly frantic penalty box.
Four minutes of stoppage time ached past before the result was confirmed - a first away win since the 3-1 at Aston Villa on March 13, nine attempts ago. Finding a way to win away consistently/at all was the biggest failing of Ian Holloway’s second spell in charge so we’ll see whether this was a one off or the start of a genuine change for the better in a clutch of fairly kind looking matches at Blackpool, Swansea, Reading and Ipswich in a couple of weeks’ time. But even to have come this far, this quickly, considering the state we were in post Bristol City, is no mean feat, and credit is due to Steve McClaren, his staff and his players for that.
Bolton: Alnwick 6; Olkowski 6, Wheater 5, Beevers 6, Grounds 5 (Oztumer 83, -); Lowe 6 (Magennis 60, 7), O’Neil 6; Ameobi 5 (Wildschut 35, 6), Williams 6, Noone 6; Doidge 5
Subs not used: Vela, Hobbs, Wilson, Matthews
Goals: Magennis 69 (free kick, won Doidge)
Bookings: Noone 14 (foul)
QPR: Lumley 6; Rangel 6, Leistner 7, Lynch 6, Bidwell 6; Eze 7, Cousins 5, Luongo 5, Freeman 7 (Scowen 83, -); Wells 7 (Smith 87, -), Hemed 6 (Cameron 73, 6)
Subs not used: Ingram, Baptiste, Wszolek, Osayi-Samuel
Goals: Freeman 26 (assisted Wells), Eze 56 (assisted Freeman)
QPR Star Man – Luke Freeman 7 One of those happy afternoons when there were several candidates for this – Wells, Leistner and Eze leading the field behind Freeman who shades it with a great goal and very fine assist for the second.
Referee – Oliver Langford (West Midlands) 5 A referee I like, but one who missed what looked a clear penalty to me on Wells early on, and then awarded some incredibly soft stuff in the second half including the free kick for the goal which looked like Doidge just fell over under no contact at all to me.
Attendance – 13,581 (500 QPR approx) QPR’s prolonged struggles away from home have bred a black, gallows humour among the faithful few who still bother to follow them. The chants are more abusive father than doting mother these days but the stuff like “how shit must you be, we’re drawing away” is only funny once or twice and can start to grate after a while. It seems a few others feel the same because when it started up for the umpteenth time in the second half there was some booing and an exchange of views at the back of the stand. Important to realise when the joke has stopped being funny and work on some new material.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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