|Stoke City 2 v 2 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 24th November 2018 Kick-off 15:00
QPR salute surprise hero Rangel in Stoke draw - Report
Sunday, 25th Nov 2018 19:35 by Clive Whittingham
From nine goals in 11 years to two in one afternoon for Spanish full back Angel Rangel as QPR escape a topsy turvy game at Stoke City with a 2-2 draw.
The UK fog knitting championships continued apace in Stoke-on-Trent on Saturday afternoon. A match Queens Park Rangers were unlucky not to win, fortunate not to lose, disappointed and elated to draw. If you can make sense of this weird and wonderful corner of world football you’re a better writer than I.
At times QPR looked like the only possible winner of a game in which they played by far the better football. At others, they looked overawed by the task and were clinging to competitiveness by their finger nails. To add to the sense of confusion, the 2-2 they did end up with was secured thanks to a double goal salvo from ageing right back Angel Rangel who’d managed ten goals in 11 years and 374 appearances for Swansea City but suddenly, inexplicably, popped up with two crucial penalty box incursions inside 80 minutes here. It was entertaining, it was fun, and it made absolutely no sense whatsoever.
Rangers had been running pretty hot prior to the latest forced stoppage in fixtures for internationals. Five wins and a draw in seven matches was promotion form and they went into the fortnight off on the back of an exhilarating 3-2 win against local rivals Brentford, achieved in fine style despite the visitors being the best side we’ve played all season. The concern was whether momentum would be interrupted by the gap in games, particularly with influential defensive midfielder Geoff Cameron forbidden from playing in this game against his parent club by the terms of his loan deal, and Mass Luongo - who’s been (surprisingly) name checked by several of his team mates as their most important and influential player in recent interviews - doing one of his Around The World In A Week And A Half-style adventures with Australia. Luongo did start, Jordan Cousins started instead of Cameron highlighting just how far Josh Scowen’s star has fallen this season, but it remained an area of concern with Stoke’s midfield anchored by Ryan Woods who’s made a living out of picking QPR sides apart in recent years.
Initially there looked to be no problem at all. Rangers started quickly and confidently, on the front foot, moving the ball intelligently and proficiently through the thirds in a succession of passing triangles. It looked like we knew what we were doing, and that’s nothing to be taken for granted as regulars on the QPR away circuit will testify to. It resulted in the first goal of the game after seven minutes as the R’s flowed from one end of the field to the other through a slick move down the right hand side. Initially it looked like Luke Freeman had held on too long – as he was rather prone to doing all afternoon – and stalled the progress but Ebere Eze retrieved his poor cross, worked space for himself with a trademark drop of the shoulder and languid sway to the left, then delivered an absolute peach to the back post which was gobbled up enthusiastically by Rangel with a header into the roof of the net harder than most people can kick a ball. Devon White styleeee.
Last time QPR won here in 2011 Heider Helguson scored two wonderful goals and this was a spooky combination of both of them – scored from the exact same spot as his second in exactly the same style as his first. A big bastard of a header that nearly ripped the net off the back of the posts, seen coming a mile away as soon as the ball left Eze’s right boot. It looked from the far end of the pitch like it was lone striker Nahki Wells with the finish, which would certainly have made more sense, but the news filtered through over the public address system and the travelling thousand were loving Angel instead. Steve McClaren caught on camera echoing what we all thought: “What’s he fucking doing up there?”
QPR have already won three away games this season, as many as they managed in the whole of last. They’ve also already matched their clean sheet total of seven from 2017/18 and, honestly, despite the vast majority of the game remaining, this felt strongly like it was going to be another notch in both columns. On the ball, Rangers were very good, certainly far better than their hosts. Off it, the pride in defending the penalty box reduced Gary Rowett’s team to feeding on scraps. A shot from public enemy number one James McClean deflected wide but Wells quickly went up the other end and unloaded his own attempt across the face of Jack Butland’s goal. Referee Andy Davies, very kind to Rangers in a recent win at Reading, turned down two fairly obvious looking fouls on Eze only to then award a free kick for a pretty clear dive by Stoke’s lone front man Saido Berahino but Joel Lynch cleared the resulting free kick no dramas.
Stoke were highly fancied to make an immediate return to the Premier League after relegation last year. They spent big money in the summer on the likes of McClean (£5m), Tom Ince (£10m) and loans for the likes of Ashley Williams, Benik Afobe and Woods. They poached manager Gary Rowett, rated highly at this level, from Derby County and of the three sides coming down looked the best set to bounce straight back.
And yet they languished in fourteenth place at the start of the day and it wasn’t that hard to see why in the early stages. Too slow (a persistent criticism of Rowett’s Derby team), too deep, too staid, too rigid. Be it a hangover from the relegation, a lack of confidence, overly negative tactics, the weight of expectation or a combination of those things or something else entirely they looked like a group of players with things on their mind, like a decent car trying to get up to speed with the handbrake on. Not a bloody Lamborghini or anything, let’s not go over the top here, but a team with Ince on one wing, McClean on the other and Sam Clucas and Joe Allen in front of Woods should be able to do some damage in this league. In the second half they brought on Peter Crouch, Afobe and former Barcelona starlet Bojan from the bench, which really did feel like a tale of the haves and have nots as Steve McClaren reached for Matt Smith to counter Crouch as an auxiliary centre half. But they haven’t clicked, and Rowett interviews like a man with a chip on both shoulders.
Which made what QPR did next all the more ball aching. There’s rightly been a lot of praise for the improvements made by Joel Lynch this season but by his own admission he’d had a ropey afternoon against Brentford a fortnight ago, bailed out of one particular mess on the edge of his own area by a goal saving tackle from Jake Bidwell early in the second half, and having been booked after three minutes here for a wild hack at Ince he remains a player prone to a brain fart. Not a small brain fart either, one with some follow through to it. His pass out from the back to Bidwell on 21 minutes was so easy to read it made the Sunday Sport look like the worlks of Chaucer. You could tell he was going to do it from about lunchtime on Friday and Tom Ince had telegraphed it like everybody else, seizing possession and returning it straight into the danger zone where a goal mouth scramble ensued and Saido Berahino stuck in an equaliser from close range. The former West Brom man had at least broken his 913-day goal drought against Huddersfield in the cup earlier this year so it was only the manner of the goal, rather than the context of it, that was bloody typical Queens Park Rangers.
More dismaying still was the reaction. Rangers stopped playing. They’ve responded better to adversity of late than they did during a nightmare start to the season – coming from one down to draw with Frank Lampard’s Derby County and 0-1 at half time to win 3-2 against Brentford despite them being the best team we’ve played all season – but here the whole thing went to shit and by half time we were singularly fortunate not to be behind.
Toni Leistner had to block a shot from Ince after another careless piece of possession concession in a bad area. Then the German got caught too high and square and had to haul down Berahino for an obvious yellow. Stoke were repeatedly able to load the back posts with bodies and outnumber the QPR full backs for crosses. A corner on 25 minutes afforded McClean a free header which bounced straight back into Joe Lumley’s hands off the inside of the post. Clucas shot over from range. From a position of power, QPR had wilted alarmingly, grateful to scrape through to the break on terms, with only a blocked volley from Wells and a follow up over the top from Luongo to show for 25 minutes of toil.
The visitors did improve for a talking to. Although Eze gave the ball away sparking an early Stoke counter and corner, Rangers hit back with a break of their own and Freeman won a free kick and booking from Martins Indi. A better move on 54 minutes saw Wells shoot at Butland and then just before the hour the Bermudian swung and missed at a loose ball in the six yard box but had probably been flagged offside anyway. But Stoke would take the lead on 60 minutes with that recurring theme of an overload at the back post catching QPR cold, appealing for an offside that never came and giving McClean a chance to plant a free header into the path of Allen for a simple second. Looked well off to me.
Tomer Hemed came on for Pawel Wszolek soon after, but it felt in all honesty like that might be that.
Not so. Rangers started to play again. Now with two up front and Eze behind them there was little width, but they’d only previously been using the wings previously for Luke Freeman to run up blind alleys and give the ball away so it wasn’t an issue. Again, we looked good. Like we knew what we were doing. Like we could threaten. And when Eze learned from a previous moment of indecision that cost him a shooting chance and did get a clean pass away on 77 minutes it sliced the home defence in two and allowed Rangel, again foraging in unfamiliar territory, to burst into the penalty area and slam an equaliser past Butland into the far corner. Dad at wedding dance ensued in front of the away end, albeit a Spanish dad. Seveeeeen.
Stoke didn’t like it. They didn’t like it one bit. They’d already had a potential third goal from Berahino ruled out for offside (reassuring to know the lino on that side was actually still alive, we were beginning to have our doubts) and they treated the equaliser as a chance to roll back the years to that vintage period when they used to beat Arsenal up and steal their lunch money. On came Afobe and Crouch, the two biggest humans in Staffordshire, and the tactic changed to the sort of packed penalty box, chuck it, boot it, flog it, kill it, burn it-style that Tony Pulis used to employ here to extract confessions from prisoners of war.
QPR really, really struggled with this. A heartbreaking late winner from Crouch, who’d been given an outstanding reception from the away end before the game and at the point of his introduction, was mercifully ruled out for offside. One corner after another sparked one penalty box scramble after another. Rangers without Cameron had looked exposed at the back all day, Cousins just not able to do the job in the same way, and the lack of the veteran American dropping in as a third centre half as he’s been prone to doing during other tough times of late really shone through. McClaren put Matt Smith on, which wasn’t a bad idea as an alternative for five minutes of stoppage time, but Bidwell got caught running in treacle against Afobe and had to commit a professional foul and take a booking to prevent the hosts running clear late on.
By the end a draw felt very welcome against a side that had scored two, hit the post with another, had two disallowed and come home with a wet sail. But when QPR had actually played properly, they’d been the superior team. A point well won or an opportunity missed will probably only be properly assessed at the end of the week. Take four or six points from Rotherham (who looked handy against Sheff Utd) and Hull (who haven’t looked handy against anybody for months) and it’s a good week. Take three or fewer and we’ll lament how we let early control of a game against an opponent low on confidence slip away.
Stoke: Butland 6; Edwards 6, Shawcross 6, Williams 6, Martins Indi 6; Woods 6; Ince 7 (Crouch 84, -), Clucas 6 (Bojan 72, 5), Allen 7, McClean 7 (Afobe 81, -); Berahino 6
Subs not used; Diouf, Martina, Fletcher, Federici
Goals: Berahino 21 (assisted Allen), Allen 60 (assisted McClean)
Bookings: Martins Indi 47 (foul)
QPR: Lumley 6; Rangel 7, Leistner 6, Lynch 5, Bidwell 6; Cousins 6, Luongo 6; Wszolek 6 (Hemed 62, 6), Eze 7 (Hall 90+1, -), Freeman 5; Wells 6 (Smith 89, -)
Subs not used: Ingram, Scowen, Furlong, Osayi-Samuel
Goals: Rangel 7 (assisted Eze), 78 (assisted Eze)
Bookings: Lynch 3 (foul), Leistner 36 (foul), Bidwell 90+1 (foul), Cousins 90+7 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Angel Rangel 7 A full back with two goals to get a you a point away from home is always likely to be a Man of the Match candidate, despite the way Stoke were able to overload him at the back post for deep crosses that caused us problems all afternoon and led to the second goal. In a weird way, it was Geoff Cameron’s stock that rose the most on Saturday without him playing – we really missed him in front of the defence, and if he had played I think we’d have won.
Referee – Andy Davies (Hampshire) 6 Few bits and pieces of rubbish but nothing major wrong, assuming the second goal was onside though it certainly didn’t look it to me either at the time or on the replay.
Attendance – 24,291 (978 away) Small, personal complaint if I may.
Stoke are following the ludicrous example set by Wembley of clamping down on outrageously brazen fools who they think they can enter the ground with a bag. In order to be allowed to get into the poxy Championship match I’d paid £25 to see, I was forced to surrender a bag containing £800-worth of lap top, iPad and other equipment at the turnstile or be refused entry. This was then given to a steward with no identification to keep in an unlocked room under the away end, with no receipt issued, and I was expected to just trust that all my stuff would still be there at full time. Had that guy worked out my bag was probably worth more to him than whatever pocket money Stoke bung his way for sitting in that cupboard on a Saturday afternoon he could have been away with it and I’d have had no proof I’d ever given it to them in the first place. My only other choice, apparently, was not to come in.
When asked for an explanation I was told it was “the rules” and this was later upgraded to “club protocol”. When pushed further they said I could potentially use the lap top as a weapon. If they mean as something to throw on the pitch, I think we can all see the flaw in that argument. If they mean to blow the stadium up, then what good does taking it off me and storing it under the away end do? Now it can blow up without even taking me with it because they never checked I actually went into the ground after leaving it with them.
Yes, yes, don’t take a lap top to football you weirdo, I know, but for people coming to or from work on matchday (like me) sometimes it’s unavoidable. If you are going to remove them from people, publicise it in advance so we can make other arrangements. Or provide a proper, secured room with a proper receipt system to store it in.
The police presence and stewarding operation around the away end was so far over the top all afternoon I wondered if they’d got their wires crossed and expected Lazio’s ultras to turn up instead. It is not a criminal offence to attend football matches. Police forces, and particularly jumped-up, jobsworth wankers drunk on what pitifully little power their orange steward jacket affords them for three hours on a Saturday afternoon, should stop treating anybody that wants to as guilty until proven innocent.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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