|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 0 Aston Villa|
Friday, 26th October 2018 Kick-off 19:45
QPR go three for three at expense of Villa and Terry - Report
Sunday, 28th Oct 2018 13:16 by Clive Whittingham
QPR crowned a fantastic week by making it three wins and three clean sheets from three matches with a 1-0 televised win against Aston Villa at Loftus Road on Friday.
There’s something stirring down Shepherd’s Bush way. Queens Park Rangers, three wins and three clean sheets in a week, two points shy of the play-offs and looking pretty bloody splendid doing it.
The third in that sequence was by far the toughest, at home to Aston Villa on Friday night. The Birmingham-based side may have started the season poorly and already worked their way through one manager (sending Steve Bruce on his way with nothing but a cabbage to the back of the head by way of thanks), they may have marooned themselves with a top heavy squad lacking centre backs after three seasons of Supermarket Sweep-style transfer activity, and they may have been on run of one win from five coming into the game... but this is a team with plenty to call upon. On Friday their bench contained a winger Everton paid £25m for and one of three strikers they have splashed £12m on in the last couple of years. Another eight-figure buy, Jonathan Kodija, led the line with the obligatory Chelsea loanee Tammy Abraham. Even pushing the boat out as far as Tomer Hemed and Nahki Wells, these are nice shiny things to which our access has long since been cut off.
After the cakewalk against a diabolical Ipswich Town side, and the professional dismantling of midtable Sheff Wed, this was to be a backs to the wall effort and no mistake. QPR had 35-year-old Angel Rangel and 33-year-old Geoff Cameron running on fumes in this third game in six days. Within a minute Alan Hutton had one-time QPR transfer target John McGinn in off the shoulder of Mass Luongo for a shot wide with Joe Lumley struggling. But Loftus Road was full and crackling with anticipation again for the first time in ages and the team responded in kind. It was indeed to be one of those nights under the lights in W12.
Despite the rush of fixtures, Steve McClaren stuck with the same team to do the different job. A nice early move from Rangers ended with a low Freeman shot and comfortable save for Orjan Nyland in the Villa goal.
Jack Grealish, saving on the VAT with a pair of child’s shorts and socks, shot wide after referee Daren England played a good advantage through a foul on Abraham. Then McGinn stayed on his feet when clipped by Lynch in the penalty area – hit the deck and it’s almost certainly a spot kick. Later Pawel Wszolek would go to ground in the other box having apparently been hauled back by Neil Taylor – England said no to both appeals. When Joe Lumley confidently smashed through a crowd scene to claim a twenty sixth minute Villa corner he bowled the ball out quickly to centre half Toni Leistner who set off on a marauding rampage through the middle of the pitch. More escaped zoo animal than effective counter attack, a man with a giant butterfly net and a blow dart brought the nonsense to a swift close.
The ongoing mini research series into whether Joe Lumley is a good goalkeeper or a lucky one entered another piece of evidence into the case file on the half hour. Grealish was chopped by Lynch for the game’s first yellow card, and took the free kick himself, curling a shot around the wall which Lumley seemed happy to leave until it skimmed off the surface and struck the base of the post. Not since Robert Green waved that one at Reading away for a goal kick only to see it crash back into play off the bar have I seen anything quite like it. We’ve probably still got that ball with the bell in it we used for him lying about somewhere if Joe needs help.
That scare survived, QPR took the lead eight minutes before half time. Initially, good refereeing, as England allowed play to continue after a foul on Hemed on halfway with the ball breaking to Cameron. Whether James Chester had mistakenly decided a free kick had been or was going to be awarded I’m not sure, but he suddenly found himself too high up the field and square to his team mate as Cameron sought out the wide open spaces beyond with an exquisite through ball. Pawel Wszolek had read the situation altogether more adeptly and raced onto the ball before finishing powerfully over Nyland and in off the underside of the bar. Goal line technology? Balls to that, get that bloody music on. Eventually England’s watch confirmed what we all knew – it was in by several feet.
There was still time for Lumley to palm away at the near post after Kodija had caught Cameron a little too wrapped up in appealing for a free kick on his own byline, and Luongo improvised a first time volley wide in injury time. But Rangers were into another half time lead, and the frustration was starting to tell for the visitors – Kodija leathering the ball at Leistner after the whistle had blown sparking a brief touchline melee as the players left the field. I can certainly think of plenty of players I’d kick the ball at before I got to Leistner. ARE WE HAVING A PROBLEM PUNY BOY?
We all know the stat by now but this would be one of the tougher half time advantages to see through to conclusion. Villa peppered the penalty area with free kicks and corners early on, requiring Leistner, Lynch and Cameron to stand tall and firm. When they didn’t, off a devilish McGinn free kick, Abraham sidefooted an absolute sitter wide of the post from four yards out.
During a period of concerted QPR pressure, Eze had a shot destined for the bottom corner deflected over but as Rangers tired around the hour mark Tuanzebe had a header from a corner saved by Lumley who subsequently made better saves to deny Bolasie twice in quick succession, the first when unsighted at his near post. By Championship standards it was gripping, thrilling stuff, with the atmosphere building all the time.
Cameron was absolute baggage by this point, with Grealish and the excellent McGinn growing in influence. Barely able to kick the ball or run, he conceded possession and then laboured to get back to retrieve the situation on 70 minutes. Josh Scowen was summoned for 20 minutes of ratting to see the job through. A running theme of this season – McClaren making the right substitutions, but ten minutes later than he really should have done. We await news of Cameron’s hamstring ahead of Blackburn next week.
If there’s ever been a more Sunday league moment in the professional game than Scowen climbing out of the dugout with his kit all over the place, necking a can of Red Bull, to go on and man mark a young lad with an outlandish haircut, fake tan and spray on shorts then I haven’t seen it. Short of turning up in an old Vauxhall Cavalier with a bag of balls in the boot and stubbing a fag out on the side of the dugout before jogging on I’m not sure how much more complete the look could have been. Maybe add in a Sondico tracksuit and a skinfull the night before. In the end, not only did Scowen’s fresh legs solidify an ailing midfield, he came closer than anybody to adding a second with a fierce shot from long range that Nyland tipped over from just under the bar.
Afterwards Dean Smith accused QPR of systematically kicking Grealish out of the game. Grealish and Ebere Eze are the two most fouled players in the Championship this season, though Grealish has clocked up in excess of 60 free kicks in 14 games to Eze’s 30+ which is quite remarkable really. We know through previous experience with Darren England that he’s not the most adept referee at clamping down on those sort of dark arts but I didn’t notice anything unusual in the treatment of the Villa man – bar one gratuitous attempt on his life by Lynch in the first half which he followed up with a big gobfull for the man on the floor for some reason - and in fact Eze seemed to get fouled just as often to me.
It’s impossible not to admire the work Smith has done at Walsall and Brentford, and the style in which those teams went about their work against opposition with greater resources. Well done Aston Villa for finally, belatedly going down this route rather than chucking big money at big names again. But there’s often a smugness to him and his teams that doesn’t reflect well on him or them, nor help them on the pitch. I’d compare it to the way Dario Gradi used to talk in disparaging terms about Ian Holloway’s QPR back in our Second Division days, before it turned out that Gradi’s club was harbouring a massive paedophile ring of course. A sort of self-righteous aloofness that football should only really be played one way and that they’re the only true exponents of it, and anybody else doing it another way is a philistine only ever destined to wins games through luck or poor refereeing.
Our oft-joked about regularly repeated line from Brentford that “everybody says we’re the best team they’ve played” while losing 1-0 at home to Bristol City and 4-3 away at Preston the perfect embodiment of it. Fact is, with two strikers the standard of which QPR could only dream about, Smith’s team banged away for 90 minutes and didn’t score once. At Loftus Road last season, Smith’s Bees team was showboating and he was throwing on more attackers at 2-0 up only to concede twice in injury time to draw – afterwards lots of talk about QPR’s good fortune and how many of our fans had left early, but no recognition that they’d perhaps been a bit too full of themselves in those closing stages.
Rather than moaning about how often Grealish gets fouled, perhaps ask why you’re playing him so deep on the field giving teams the opportunity to trip him and concede free kicks in non-threatening positions. When Eze is fouled, which he is a lot, it’s almost always in a position where the resulting free kick can hurt the opposition. If Grealish is going to ponce about on the halfway line him and his manager shouldn’t be surprised when opponents use that as a chance for a quick trip and back into defensive shape. That’s Villa’s, and Smith’s, problem, not QPR’s, or the referee’s.
There was a degree of hanging on as 75 became 80 became 85 became stoppage time. Villa have scored in every league game they’ve played this season. But QPR kept turning up for each other and getting bodies in the way and bringing on Nahki Wells, re-energised by a first goal for the club during the week, kept a nervous looking Villa defence occupied and actually it felt a lot more comfortable than the scoreline or situation should really have allowed. The outstanding Luke Freeman, chasing around like a man possessed, teed up Wells for a shot at the keeper as time ticked down and then the loaned Burnley front man did some assisting of his own by chasing back and winning the ball from McGinn before feeding Scowen for a low shot wide of the post.
Match Gallery: 21 photos
A certain racist beat a hasty retreat from the touchline at full time – maybe he was parked in a disabled bay again? He left behind a scene of noisy celebration and happy players in Hoops. Season successfully rescued, we now wait and see just how far this team can go.
QPR: Lumley 7; Rangel 8, Leistner 8, Lynch 8, Bidwell 7; Luongo 7, Cameron 7 (Scowen 70, 7); Wszolek 8, Eze 8 (Smith 90+1, -), Freeman 8; Hemed 7 (Wells 62, 7)
Subs not used: Ingram, Hall, Cousins, Osayi-Samuel
Goals: Wszolek 38 (assisted Cameron)
Bookings: Lynch 29 (foul), Wszolek 80 (foul), Luongo 82 (foul)
Villa: Nyland 6; Hutton 6, Tuanzebe 6, Chester 5, Taylor 6; El Mohamady 5 (Bolasie 62, 7), Bjarnason 6 (Whelen 41, 6), McGinn 8; Grealish 7; Kodija 6, Abraham 5
Subs not used: Lansbury, Hogan Hourihane, Jedinak, Bunn
QPR Star Man – Luke Freeman 8 Third time in a week that most of the team could arguably have been a candidate, but I thought Freeman was the best player on the pitch, playing with real purpose and menace and with none of the selfishness and ball hogging which can occasionally blight his game when he’s frustrated or trying to do too much by himself. Brilliant stuff, too much for Villa to cope with.
Referee – Darren England (South Yorkshire) 7 Two penalty appeals that both maybe would have been given had the players gone down – Lynch on McGinn and the pull on Wszolek. Interesting debate to have about whether players have to go down to get these decisions, whether contact is sufficient for it to be a foul and a penalty – both players were able to continue on and get their shot/cross away. Best you can say is it evened itself out and England was fair and consistent with all his other decision making as well. We know, from the Preston away game when Ben Pearson ran through his full repertoire of gamesmanship, that he can be weak in the face of such behaviour but I didn’t think QPR were anywhere near as bad for that on Friday as Dean Smith rather sourly suggested afterwards. Overall pretty decent.
Attendance – 16,036 (3,000 Villa approx.) The old girl’s still got it. When it’s full, and under lights, and people are into it, and the game is as gripping as this one, there’s no better place in the world to watch football. Loftus Road crackled like old times and the players deserved that support for their performances this week. Wonderful to see and be part of. It’s criminal how much I let the results of this bloody football club affect my mood.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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