|Queens Park Rangers 3 v 0 Sheffield Wednesday|
Tuesday, 23rd October 2018 Kick-off 19:45
Wells off the mark as QPR move into early contention – Report
Wednesday, 24th Oct 2018 20:21 by Clive Whittingham
Queens Park Rangers are just a point from the Championship play-offs after a second consecutive win to nil at home to Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday night. Women and children into the lifeboats first.
Another win, another clean sheet, another professional, clinical and controlled performance. And with that Queens Park Rangers left behind the warm, enveloping security of the sixteenth place they’ve sat in for almost all of the last two and a half years and climbed to the dizzying heights of eleventh. Steve McClaren’s resurgent side is now just a point away from the play-off places. It’s ok to be scared, I’m afraid as well.
Rangers have stuck 20 points on the board in ten matches after starting the season with four straight defeats. Two points a game is promotion form, but there was a lingering fear that they’d been bullying a flat track. Birmingham, Bolton, Millwall, Reading and a horrific beer shit of a team masquerading as Ipswich Town – these are the scrapings from a particularly stinky barrel, and they’d come along in a clutch of kindly timed fixtures to aid a recovery from that record-setting start.
Things would be different - or at least more taxing than Saturday’s Portman Road cakewalk - against Sheffield Wednesday and Aston Villa this week, we told ourselves. We’re not allowed nice things. The Owls arrived in Shepherd’s Bush with three away wins from their last four road trips, at Villa, Reading and Bristol City. Now we’d see.
They left, de-feathered and stuffed, beaten 3-0. A victory crowned by a thumping tackle from Jake Bidwell, a cute through ball from Ebere Eze, and a powerful, accurate finish into the far corner from substitute Nahki Wells for his first goal for the club. That brought the house down. QPR looked good. Hold me.
Wednesday sprung surprises with their team, a clutch of changes and a switch from manager Jos Luhukay’s trademark wingback system to a back four, with left back Daniel Pudil moved into the centre and Tom Lees dropped after a back pass aberration against Middlesbrough on Friday. It freed Adam Reach to continue his one-man Goal of the Season competition further forward, with Barry Bannan pulling the strings in midfield. QPR won’t have expected that shape, but went for an unchanged line up and stood in front of them with an increasingly confident, physically dominant back four of Angel Rangel, Toni Leistner, Joel Lynch and Jake Bidwell ahead of statistical pornographer Joe Lumley and behind Massimo Luongo and Geoff Cameron who were both excellent again. It’s a considerable barrier, however deep it’s prone to sinking given its lack of pace, and five clean sheets in the league already this season quickly became six - only Boro have kept more.
The pattern of play was set early: Wednesday would have the ball, and QPR would have the chances. The visitors would finish with 14 shots and four on target from 63% of the possession; QPR used their 37% to reign in 22 shots and eight on target on visiting keeper Cameron Dawson, still bizarrely being selected ahead of the division’s best stopper Kieren Westwood. Wednesday played through Bannan, QPR played through nobody, with the front four and back six operating almost as two separate NFL-style offense and defence units with only Luongo to fetch and carry between them. Rangers were able to get better, more clinical ball to their danger players who did more with it, while Bannan and co found themselves stunted by the ineffectiveness of Joao and Nuhiu up front against Lynch and Leistner.
The first goal was always going to be crucial in what was initially a tightly contested match between contrasting styles and formations. Bannan hit a shot wide via a deflection off his own man, Lynch blocked bravely and brilliantly when Reach drew his boot back from range for the first time on the evening, Bannan shot wide in a rare moment of lapse in the QPR structure when the visitors doubled up on Jake Bidwell down the Rangers’ left. At the School End, Eze’s smooth through ball for Tomer Hemed – starting as long striker – saw the Israeli draw a leg save from Dawson. A concerted spell of pressure from the hosts around the half hour, including a Wszolek shot deflected over, was briefly interrupted by Lynch’s wild back pass - his only brain fart of the evening - which allowed Joao to free Nuhiu for a low shot which Lumley spooned wide.
Jabs and feelers. Ducks and dives. A footballing cold war. And then, a moment of game-changing incision. Luongo bundled through one tackle and sprung the excellent Wszolek in behind, Dawson saved at full stretch as the Pole looked for the far corner, Hemed reacted first with a diving header into the empty net. Second goal of the week, third for the club, Rangers were on their way. And they looked all the better for it, quickly sticking together a good move which culminated in Bidwell crossing, Eze conjuring a lay off that was pure sex, and Wszolek drawing another save. Goodness we look a better side with him on that flank playing like this.
QPR have seen through the last 29 leads they’ve held at half time, with 22 wins and seven draws since they last went in front and lost. Wednesday initially looked like they were going to give that a stiff examination, with a bold start to the second half and a couple of nervy moments for Lumley coming off his line into a crowd scene. The young stopper, whose booming voice can be heard all over the park and serves as a soundtrack to QPR games these days, scrambled a bobbly one wide, another moment of danger passed with Lynch seemingly quite fortunate to get away with manhandling Nuhiu to the ground, and one deep cross seemed to strike the post after flicking off Joao on its way through.
A second goal killed that momentum dead. Again, Eze and Wszolek were at the heart of the build up, the former setting up the latter to cross perfectly for Luke Freeman to angle a well-executed header into the far corner. Luke Freeman headers now – what a time to be alive.
Hemed had already toed an improvised effort at Dawson and Rangers were comfortable thereafter, bar one pretty blatant penalty appeal survived when referee John Brooks failed to spot Rangel’s high boot challenge which smashed Pudil’s head into a thousand pieces. Any cynicism about the way the Czech played dead, then immediately jumped up to chase the official when he realised he wasn’t getting the decision, was tempered at first sight of the huge hole in his head. Don’t shine that light in my eyes mate, I’ve lost a pint of blood.
Leistner was a towering presence in the second half, with a goal saving header at the far post making up for a less commanding clearance which went straight to Reach who fired wide from the edge of the area.
I wondered whether it might be prudent to stand Josh Scowen the Goblin Boy with Barry Bannan earlier and take the visitors out of the game completely with some classic ratting, but Wszolek had a powerful drive tipped over regardless and the introduction of Nahki Wells for a tiring Hemed added a fresh dynamic to the attack and proved too much for Wednesday to bear. His finish for the third was executed without second thought, with real precision, belying any lack of confidence caused by a long wait for his first goal in our colours. Happy little Lego man at last, though his team mates looked even more delighted than he.
At 3-0, wasting time in the corner seemed a bit much. Sling it in there lads, go on, dare you. That the confidence has returned to the extent it has after the way we started the season is quite something, so maybe one step at a time.
The thing about this “they were poor, they were poor” rhetoric is it ignores things QPR might be doing to make opponents look bad. We’re starting to look comfortable in our own skin, there’s a nice shape to the side and balance to both the defence and attack with several unsung heroes like Rangel and Cameron getting better each week and the team looking much slicker with Wszolek wide right. The defence is confident and uncompromising, though it’ll have all on with Tammy Abraham and co on Friday.
Match Gallery: 19 photos
Fact is, if you’re waiting for a genuinely good team to come along at Championship level then you’ll be waiting a long time. That Birmingham shambles has risen to ninth since we ground our way into a boredom induced coma up there. Bar Middlesbrough’s impregnable defence and West Brom’s fearsome front line, the gap between the league’s best and worst is pretty narrow and unless they look as bad as Reading, Millwall and Ipswich did you can’t keep saying “well the opposition were poor”, because that’s just the standard of the division.
Well, you can, and you’d have some justification, but you could also let a bit of joy seep into your life as well. God knows we’ve waited long enough, and it will almost certainly disappear as quickly as it’s arrived. Whether Wednesday were poor or not, this was joyous.
QPR: Lumley 7; Rangel 7, Leistner 7, Lynch 8, Bidwell 6; Cameron 8, Luongo 7; Wszolek 8, Eze 8 (Scowen 84, -), Freeman 8 (Cousins 88, -), Hemed 7 (Wells 65, 7)
Subs not used: Ingram, Hall, Smith, Osayi-Samuel
Goals: Hemed 35 (assisted Wszolek), Freeman 65 (assisted Wszolek), Wells 83 (assisted Eze)
Sheff Wed: Dawson 5; Baker 6, Hector 6, Pudil 6 (Thorniley 62, 6), Fox 5; Pelupessy 5 (Penney 75, 6), Bannan 7, Reach 7, Onomah 6; Joao 5 (Fletcher 75, 6), Nuhiu 5
Subs not used: Palmer, Lees, Wildsmith, Kirby
QPR Star Man – Joel Lynch 8 Nuhiu’s an odd creature, but he’s a player who has caused QPR problems frequently during his time in this country, starting ten minutes into his Wednesday debut when he smacked one in at the Loft End from 20 yards out. Here, he and Joao were anonymous in the face of a dominant display from the QPR defence, led by a near-mistake free Lynch who is growing in confidence, stature and performance level as we move closer and closer to the end of his contract.
Referee – Robert Brooks (Leicestershire) 6 Well I liked his unfussy style, and keenness to keep cards in his pockets. But Freeman was one of a couple who committed cynical fouls after being caught out of position that really should have been yellows, and although Pudil was stooping for the incident where Rangel split his head open it’s a pretty obvious penalty.
Attendance – 12,534 (2,000 Sheff Wed approx) Bigger crowd than we’ve had for the other midweek games this season, and a better atmosphere in keeping with the improved performance. Hopefully the move to Friday night and the Sky coverage doesn’t eat into the crowd for the Villa game too much because the team deserves and needs a big, noisy backing for their efforts in the past few games.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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