|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 1 Norwich City|
Saturday, 22nd September 2018 Kick-off 17:30
QPR recovery grinds to a halt with Norwich defeat - Report
Sunday, 23rd Sep 2018 19:53 by Clive Whittingham
A run of four unbeaten, three wins and three clean sheets for QPR ended in a looooooooooong drawn out affair against Norwich City on Saturday night. Not my words Carol...
Well what a veritable treat for the discerning Saturday night television viewer this was.
Queens Park Rangers made the worst start to a season in the history of the football club this year with four defeats in the first four matches and 13 conceded, but they had been threatening to build a bit of momentum in their recovery from that with an impressive performance and comfortable 2-0 win against hapless Millwall during the week. From the bottom of the form table to the top, three wins and a draw in four matches with three clean sheets into the bargain.
That all ground to a halt at a sodden Loftus Road on Saturday night, Rangers stopped in their tracks by a deliberate and purposeful Norwich City side which has now won two and drawn two of its five away matches in the Championship so far this term. There was a real method to Daniel Farke’s team, which boasted nearly 70% of the possession and was anchored at the base of midfield by the game’s outstanding player Alex Tettey, but they’re not a quick side or particularly easy on the eye and had actually started wasting time at 0-0 before scoring the only goal of the game midway through the second half. With QPR offering absolutely nothing in attack themselves until the very final stages the whole thing quickly descended into a gruelling spectacle that seemed to go on for hours. If you thought our 0-0 draw at Birmingham City was dull, that was a night at Cirque du Soleil compared to this.
A big part of the success on Wednesday was the way QPR flew out of the traps, getting straight onto the front foot, involving their game changing players in the match immediately, winning a free kick on the edge of the Millwall box within 60 seconds to set the tone, pace and tempo of the game. They dictated things from there on, scoring twice before half time and coming close to several more. Here, against Norwich, they barely got out of the traps at all. In fact I think they’re still in there. Curled up, asleep.
That best performance of the season had come in a 4-2-3-1 system which saw Ebere Eze star at ten and Nahki Wells run the channels with smooth, attractive effectiveness as a lone striker. Tomer Hemed’s religious fast had seen him drop to the bench during the week allowing Steve McClaren to return to his favoured formation but with Hemed available to start again in this match he was faced with a straight choice of whether to stick to what had worked against the Lions or revert back to the 4-4-2 shape and team that had, in fairness to him, played well for an hour at Bolton the previous week and secured a first away win of 2018/19. He decided to twist, and it became clear pretty quickly that this had been a mistake.
Eze’s threat was reduced from perpetual to almost non-existent by moving him back to the wing. He’d been able to come inside and roam around behind Hemed and Wells at Bolton a week ago but there was none of that here, nor any of the brilliance we’d seen against Neil Harris’ side. Hemed did nowhere near enough to justify the immediate recall and Wells was starved of possession and chances.
Some of the problems were out of McClaren’s control. Angel Rangel has been quietly impressing on the right side of defence but had a groin strain so couldn’t play, Alex Baptiste was nowhere close to the Spaniard’s standards as an out of position replacement. I’m starting to wonder if Osman Kakay has been having it away with Mrs McClaren. Geoff Cameron, too, had been a big part of what went well during the week but didn’t have the match fitness to go again so soon – would Tettey have been able to dominate as he did had the Stoke loanee been in the team? And some of his players needed to do a lot more. Several of them – Luongo, Scowen and Hemed in particular – were so anonymous here I only know they played because they’re on the team sheet on the BBC website. Three games in a week, fair enough, but Scowen, Hemed and Baptiste should all have looked a lot fresher than this having not played the previous ones, and Norwich had a lot more energy and desire to affect the game about them having also played Saturday-Wednesday-Saturday.
But McClaren got this wrong, and then waited way, way too long to change it. Only after Rangers had fallen behind was Bright Osayi-Samuel introduced to add pace and purpose to the attack and get Eze playing more centrally. The decision to suddenly start with Baptiste who isn’t a right back and is clearly well short of match fitness necessitated a wasted straight swap substitution with Cousins when ideally we’d have been bolstering the attack. And it wasn’t until three minutes from time that Matt Smith was finally summoned and Rangers were able to create enough attacking threat to be denied an obvious penalty for a push on Luongo, and come close to a scrambled equaliser in stoppage time if only Luke Freeman had realised his proximity to a loose ball in the six yard box. The manager’s comments afterwards about this having 0-0 written all over it were true – the game was a tumour – but not for the first time this season a lot of the other things he said about QPR being the better side, creating more chances, being the only side likely to win, being harshly done to by the score and so on, bore very little relation to the game I suffered through on Saturday night. Norwich were the better side, and deserved to win.
I’ve written six things down about the first half, only one of which was a QPR shot on target – Wells dribbling a tame shot straight at Tim Krul five before half time. He had earlier pushed a loose ball past the Dutch keeper in the area but the angle was tight, the ball wouldn’t sit down for a shot, and he ended up conceding a foul. At the other end Stiepermann shot straight at Lumley off a nice move from a throw in after seven minutes, a low cross flashed right through the QPR box on 21 minutes, and Stiepermann again could only find Lumley’s gloves on the half hour when Teemu Pukki got in behind to the byline and cut a ball back for him. City quickly realised they could get joy by loading their left flank and trying to swamp Baptiste and Todd Cantwell, looking like he’d come straight from the set of Home and Away, had particular joy down there. But that was about it and referee Darren Bond could be done for cruel and unnecessary punishment for adding two minutes to an utterly turgid affair.
City started much the better of the second half, whatever the forecast on Steve McClaren’s hair island reckoned. Cantwell shot over, Baptiste produced a goal-saving block on Tettey, and although Aarons was shown a deserved yellow card for a deliberate foul on Luke Freeman it was actually Norwich who countered well off the resulting free kick and Joe Lumley did really well to emerge from his area and avert the danger with an improvised header. The Norwich penalty area was barely a rumour to QPR, and Jake Bidwell’s improvised deflection forcing Krul to catch the ball under his crossbar on the hour brought ironic cheers from the inmates. How you make a Championship team with Ebere Eze, Luke Freeman, Tomer Hemed and Nahki Wells as its front four look this devoid of ideas and toothless is beyond me, and so crushingly disappointing after the highs of four days ago.
It seemed very odd that Norwich would start time wasting with half an hour to go and the score at 0-0, the game looked there for the taking to me, but so they did and I resigned myself to the whole sordid little horror show petering out to a desperate 0-0. That actually proved to be rather optimistic as Stiepermann got in behind Baptiste and sent a cross via Toni Leistner’s outstretched boot into the path of the impressive Pukki who chested it home from close range. Four in four and seven in 11 now for the summer signing from Bronby – odd given he struggled to make an impact in the great fish-in-a-barrel shooting competition that is playing St Mirren 17 times a season for Celtic three years ago.
If you thought Norwich were clock running before, well then the remaining time in this game really wasn’t for you. It seems to be just generally accepted in the Championship this season that once a team is leading in the final third of the game they are allowed to take absolute liberties with what time remains. We’ve had it done to us by Sheffield United, Preston and Norwich now, while we’ve done it ourselves to Wigan, Bolton and Millwall. It is appalling to watch, reducing sporting fixtures people have forked over serious amounts of their hard earned cash to see into drawn out, boring farces. Players who are substituted deliberately going to the far side of the field and then walking off like a veteran member of the Cleethorpes and District Arthritis Care Association. Goalkeepers allowed to fuck about with the ball - cleaning it, placing it, replacing it, taking it to the other side of the six yard box, having a couple of false start run ups – for days and days at a time at every single goal kick. Play disrupted with one deliberate free kick after another, and every free kick immediately followed by the same niggly stuff where the ball gets poked away, and players refuse to retreat, and we have a big mother’s union with the referee about whether it was actually a free kick or not a free kick and whether it’s been placed in quite the correct position or not. Play repeatedly stopped to tend to one prostrate player after another when it is blatantly obvious to everybody in the ground that there is absolutely nothing wrong with them. And two physios now for every team - since when did that become necessary? One to make sure they are indeed pretending to be hurt and one to check for any signs of intelligent life? Then the whole palaver where said cheating footballer limps off to the side of the pitch the long way before immediately sprinting back on fit as a fiddle as soon as the game restarts.
And all the while all any of the referees at this level do is repeatedly point at their watch, book absolutely nobody, and then add four minutes at the end of the game regardless of anything that’s gone before. One or two minutes in the first half, four minutes in the second, thanks very much I’m off home now. What’s the point in them having a fucking watch at all really? I already know how much stoppage time there’s going to be at Swansea next week and the game’s six days away.
Now let’s be clear here. This is not the embittered, sour grapes ranting of the beaten football fan, though I appreciate it may come across as that in this context. As I say, we were doing exactly this to Bolton and Millwall earlier in the week. Joe Lumley is bloody awful for it. And let’s not forget that after Preston and Sheff Utd dark arted us to death in the opening week of the season, I said that QPR needed to learn from them and get some street smarts of their own, which in the last few games it seems we have. We were wasting time at 0-0 at Birmingham a fortnight ago.
This is a general point about how referees in the Championship are complicit in, and in the case of Darren Bond on Saturday actively encouraging through total indifference and inaction, this descent of second tier football in this country to the very worst tropes of the leagues in Spain, Italy and particularly Portugal – where the aim of the game is to make sure you’re not losing after an hour, and then piss the final 30 minutes up the wall in front of 12,000 people who’d paid north of £30 to get in. This will fester if there isn't a serious clampdown and make what is already a basic, attritional, mediocre and borderline unwatchable league less palatable still. There have been episodes of Celebrity Big Brother that had more about them than this latest dirge. Loftus Road, like many Championship grounds, littered with empty seats, and I doubt those that did bother will be keen to rush back for more.
McClaren slung on Samuel and Cousins, then later Smith. Since his barnstorming man of the match display against Bristol Rovers, Samuel has been rewarded with 13 minutes of playing time across four matches. Freeman could have scored in one scramble, and brought a good save from Krul by powering through two tackles and unleashing a powerful shot that burned with personal frustration. Luongo should have had a penalty, but even if the referee did have the balls to add on the amount of time he should have done I’m not sure a goal was ever really likely. Norwich rarely looked unduly troubled, and they saw out the win far more comfortably than the 1-0 scoreline suggested.
The whole thing was excruciatingly boring.
Match Gallery: 15 photos
And it pissed with rain all afternoon.
QPR: Lumley 6; Baptiste 5 (Cousins 77, 5), Leistner 6 (Smith 87, -), Lynch 6, Bidwell 5; Eze 5, Luongo 5, Scowen 5 (Osayi-Samuel 77, 6), Freeman 6; Hemed 5, Wells 6
Subs not used: Ingram, Cameron, Wszolek, Kakay
Norwich: Krul 6; Aarons 6, Zimmerman 6, Klose 6, Lewis 7; Leitner 6 (Trybull 90, -), Tettey 8; Buendia 6 (Vrancic 68, 6), Stiepermann 7, Cartwell 7; Pukki 7 (Rhodes 90+2, -)
Subs not used: Godfrey, Srbeny, McGovern, Thompson
Goals: Pukki 71 (assisted Stiepermann)
Yellows: Aarons 61 (foul), Lewis 67 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Luke Freeman 6 Best of a very mediocre bunch for my money. Kept going right to the end, desperately trying to make things happen for his team, came as close as anybody to scoring.
Referee – Darren Bond (Lancashire) 5 Missed a fairly blatant QPR penalty at the end of the game when Luongo was shoved to the ground as he was about to shoot. Was complicit in, and actively encouraged, the time wasting that went on in the second half.
Souls on Board 12,843 (1,800 Norwich approx) Ground looking pretty sad and empty so far this season. Those that braved this one won’t be in a rush to come back.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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