|Queens Park Rangers 3 v 0 Ipswich Town|
Wednesday, 26th December 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Slick, composed, professional QPR sweep past Ipswich – Report
Thursday, 27th Dec 2018 18:23 by Clive Whittingham
After the highs of a first ever win at the City Ground, QPR avoided their typical ‘after the Lord Mayor’s show’ routine with a comfortable win over lowly Ipswich at Loftus Road on Boxing Day.
For a Queens Park Rangers player it’s difficult to defy expectations any more than winning away at Nottingham Forest.
The current crop succeeded at The City Ground on Saturday where 34 groups of their predecessors had failed over the previous 84 years. They did so with an eighth clean sheet of the season and a fourth away win so far – both totals now surpassing what Rangers managed in the whole of 2017/18. It’s a QPR team that can defend, a QPR team that can compete away, a QPR team that can win at Nottingham Forest and that makes it a minor footballing miracle relative to what has gone before it. But is it, one wondered across the Christmas dinner table, a QPR team that doesn’t then go and fall flat on its face on a supposedly easier bit of the track?
Neil Warnock’s all-conquering side of 2010/11 randomly lost 4-1 at Scunthorpe United for reasons nobody has ever quite been able to explain. Gerry Francis’ fantastic side of the mid-1990s missed a chance to go second in the Premier League by losing 1-0 away at Swindon Town, who hadn’t won any of their first 15 league games and played 75 minutes of that one with ten men. It’s just what we do, and there plenty of wry smiles across beer-laden tables on East Midlands Trains on Saturday night as we contemplated following two superb performances and victories against promotion-chasers Forest and Middlesbrough with a visit to Loftus Road from Ipswich Town – dead last, with only two wins to their name all season. A recent misstep in a similar situation, albeit against a Hull City side finding form and vastly superior to the rabble Town are turning out these days, didn’t inspire much faith. QPR are never more dangerous to themselves than when they’re expected to win.
And there were, initially, in very brief flashes, signs that we might well be muttering ‘typical Rangers’ into our pints back at The Crown on Boxing Day evening. A scrappy passage of play in midfield on 22 minutes saw Jon Nolan inadvertently played clear into the left channel by a QPR tackle – Joe Lumley saved well at the near post from a narrow angle but will be punished for parrying the ball back into a dangerous area rather than holding it by a better team.
Parts of the Nativity story are more plausible than the idea of Joel Lynch ever turning out for QPR at Christmas time and yet, remarkably, here he was after missing the Forest game at the weekend. His restoration to the backline and Darnell Furlong’s move back to right back sadly also brought a return of the creaking offside trap that plagued us through November and the early part of this month. Ipswich got the benefit of several borderline decisions, including one which saw Ellis Harrison get in behind and lift a shot over from a difficult angle down the right.
With the crowd quiet, the first goal was always going to be crucial. Had Ipswich got it, and taken confidence from that, who knows where Rangers would have gone amidst the inevitable ‘here we go again’ feeling that would have rolled down from the stands.
But, do you know what, that’s me being terribly kind to a club I have a soft spot for. We’ve followed our team through several seasons when they were the whipping boys of a division, and seen shambolic teams come to Loftus Road from Rotherham, Sunderland and elsewhere in recent times. We recognise the signs, and that lethal combination of not very good, not very lucky, and at times just plain weird.
In the ‘not very good’ pile, Town somehow contrived to concoct a catastrophic loss of possession in their own penalty box after 50 seconds of play which allowed Ebere Eze to get the first shot of the game away at goalkeeper Dean Gerken. In the ‘not very lucky’ category, Paul Lambert’s side packed the six-yard-box for their first corner of the game after 19 minutes and won a dangerous flicked header at the near post through defender Matthew Pennington only to find that they’d put too many of their own men on the goalline and the ball bounced back into relative safety off one of them. And as for ‘just plain weird’, an excellent ball from Eze to the onrushing Furlong after four minutes saw the young defender inexplicably taken out at the face by Luke Chambers. Face mask, defence, automatic first down, first yellow card of the game from referee Keith Stroud. Luke Freeman tried to catch out Gerken with a direct free kick instead of a cross but it was saved.
There was a shot from the all-action Freeman that Gerken got wide, a long range volley from Josh Scowen the Goblin Boy off a cleared corner that Town managed to block, and some lovely approach work from first Eze and then Freeman that set Nahki Wells up for what seemed certain to be the first goal only for him to miss his kick entirely at the near post. That was all in the first quarter of an hour. Ipswich looked like a bin on fire – rubbish, flame orange, and a danger to themselves and others.
The visitors inflicted a first goal on themselves in a manner I’m still struggling to really explain now a day later having seen it back several times. Jon Nolan was a superb lower league prospect at Grimsby and Shrewsbury where I saw him play regularly, and I’d have loved QPR to sign him in the summer, but he’s struggled more than most in this desperate season for the Tractor Boys and quite what on earth he had in his mind on the half hour when he took the ball into his possession on half way, shifted it out of his feet, looked up, thought about it, and then launched a pin-point 30-yard pass back towards his own goal straight to a completely unmarked, and understandably startled, Nahki Wells I still can’t quite fathom. Invited to have a free shot at goal, Wells thought he may as well try his luck from range, which turned out to be a very good idea because Gerken made a total mess of a routine save and Pawel Wszolek’s perpetual motion was always likely to see him onto the rebound before anybody else. Three goals in five games and six for the season now for the Pole who was QPR’s best player on Saturday.
Fine, you’ve conceded a goal, doesn’t have to be a disaster, muscle up, start again, regroup, calm down. All that cliched bullshit. Nah, Ipswich didn’t fancy that. Within three minutes they’d conceded a dangerous free kick wide on the left which Luke Freeman swung over and Joel Lynch headed in unmarked past more suspect goalkeeping for 2-0. From weathering an early storm, looking reasonably bright and getting a foothold in a difficult game to an all out collapse in about 180 seconds.
Gerken scored an own goal for QPR in the win at Portman Road in October meaning he’s now had a hand in more Rangers’ goals this season than half of Steve McClaren’s squad. Confidence shot, he was flapping around at all sorts in the second half to the point where you wondered whether they wouldn’t have been better served playing without a goalkeeper at all and having an extra outfield player. A bag of sand could scarcely have done worse. Ipswich, a team very enthusiastically jumping up and down on a self-destruct button half a mile wide.
There was subsequently a chance for Chambers to head home from another corner after a hopeless long ball had surprised Rangers by bouncing off the corner flag and staying in play necessitating the concession of a set piece. But the R’s were already basically home and hosed and when Luke Freeman charged 20 yards across the field to munch into a thunderous tackle and help see out three minutes of injury time at the end of the half it only reaffirmed that view.
You’d probably like to see QPR cut loose and go for the throat a little bit more in these circumstances. There was a four or a five nil home win making come to bed eyes at us here, but the preferred style of McClaren’s side seems to be to sit deep, tight and narrow and invite teams on enabling swift counter attacks into the space behind them. This was yet another win achieved despite having less possession than an opponent.
But you can’t argue with the results, or the entertainment value, at the moment and the first flowing move down the pitch from a broken Town attack in the second half saw Wszolek streaking clear and feeding Freeman for a weak shot which belied the attractive approach work. Joel Lynch appeared on the left wing with a double drag back and step over routine more suited to the Strictly Christmas Special just to give you a flavour of how easy this was proving to be for QPR - somewhere between training session and pre-season friendly. Come on now Joel, we’ve all had a drink.
As in Suffolk in the first game, the only player in the Ipswich side that sort of looked like they knew what they were supposed to be trying to do was Trevoh Chalobah – like rats, you’re never more than 20 feet away from a Chelsea loanee. Sporting the sort of two-tone haircut you end up with after falling asleep at your mate’s house party, he drew the only meaningful save of the game from Joe Lumley with a measured 20 yarder after 51 minutes. This would be a second clean sheet in a row, and across the three festive games so far Rangers have only allowed three proper, serious shots on target.
The game bumbled along thereafter. Lynch hung a lazy leg out on Harrison on the edge of the area but Ipswich wasted the free kick. Scowen made an attempt on Grant Ward’s life and he had to be replaced by young Jack Lankester. Ward now out for nine months with an exploded ACL we hear - all the best to him in his recovery. Goblin Boy and the excellent Mass Luongo completely dominated the midfield – the Australian in his best form of the season just as he prepares to miss at least four games on Asia Cup duty. Big chance for Jordan Cousins, who was unlucky to be dropped here after a couple of good showings, but also big responsibility.
As with Middlesbrough here last week, none of the opposition substitutions made a blind bit of difference to a game only heading in one direction, but one of the few faults that remains with McClaren’s methods at the moment is a lack of proactive changes from our own bench. Ebere Eze had, once again, looked fatigued and kept tying himself in knots trying complicated things in crowded spaces rather than just getting a pass, or better still the occasional shot, away. It wasn’t until the sixty-eighth minute that he was given a breather and the team looked immediately better for the introduction of miniature bull Ilias Chair in the ten role. Soon, Rangers were sticking together a 20-pass move that ended with the Moroccan cutting a brilliant pass back from the byline which Nahki Wells allowed to run across his body while he was dropping a shoulder to remove the hapless Chambers from the picture. Wells hadn’t actually touched it at this point but with ball, boot and opponents now exactly where he wanted them he dispatched a supreme finish into the far bottom corner. Beautiful. So, so good. Taarabt-like.
But Rangers play again on Saturday, and again on Monday, and with Tomer Hemed ruled out for another six weeks with a hernia op leaving Wells out there until 84 and Luke Freeman, who’d run his blood to water, to 88 didn’t really make a lot of sense to me. As with the Chair change, the introduction of Aremide Oteh and Bright Osayi-Samuel in their place immediately stepped the tempo and pace of the game up and caught an Ipswich side - which by now looked like it just wanted to curl up in a dark room and cry itself to sleep – cold. Oteh crossed low for Osayi-Samuel to almost score with his first touch of the ball seconds after coming on. McClaren, for me, still makes the right substitutions ten-15 minutes later than they should be made. Small criticism though.
There was what looked a very reasonable shout for a penalty from Ellis Harrison in the far corner of the School End penalty box in three minutes of stoppage time. As we know though, Keith Stroud doesn’t exist to get big decisions right, he exists to make sure that every single one of the little decisions is taken from exactly the blade of grass the infringement occurred on or the ball left the field across. No, there. Not there, there. Over there. No, there. There. There. No, not there, not there either, take it back, take it back, take it back over there, no there. There. There. Right, stop, take it again. Take it over there. On that blade there. There. There. There.
Match Gallery: 5 photos
I swear that pedantic little arsehole is only still refereeing at all because his wife can’t stand him being around the house, straightening the pictures and moving the fucking ornaments half an inch to the left all the live long day.
But there could be no disputing the manner and margin of QPR’s victory, achieved in a calm and professional manner playing in third gear. It’s the first time Rangers have won on Boxing Day since 2010, the first time they’ve won three times in December since 2007, and a victory against second bottom Reading on Saturday would be the first time they’ve won four times in the festive month since 1974. It’s a group of players and manager that continue to impress, continue to defy expectations and continue to do things that QPR teams before them haven’t been able to. It’s also a team that is now just two places and two points shy of the play-off places.
QPR: Lumley 7; Furlong 7, Leistner 7, Lynch 7, Bidwell 7; Luongo 8, Scowen 7; Wszolek 8, Eze 6 (Chair 70, 7), Freeman 7 (Osayi-Samuel 88. -); Wells 8 (Oteh 84, -)
Subs not used: Ingram, Hall, Cousins, Smith
Goals: Wszolek 30 (assisted Wells), Lynch 32 (assisted Freeman), Wells 74 (assisted Chair)
Bookings: Wszolek 43 (foul)
Ipswich: Gerken 3; Spence 5, Chambers 4, Pennington 5, Knudsen 5; Nolan 4 (Roberts 70, 5), Chalobah 6, Downes 5; Ward 5 (Lankester 62, 5), Harrison 5, Sears 5
Subs not used: Edwards, Jackson, Dozzell, Kenlock, Bialkowksi
Bookings: Chambers 4 (foul). Spence 49 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Pawel Wszolek 8 His form seemed to be drifting away in tandem with the team when we lost at Leeds at the start of the month but they’ve both come roaring back. Tireless without the ball, covering an unbelievable amount of ground, easily first to the rebound for the first and flying up and down the wing all day. Mass Luongo and Nahki Wells were the other outstanding performances in a great team showing.
Referee – Keith Stroud (Hampshire) 6 Nothing major wrong, but ends up taking long pauses followed by a complete guess at a decision far, far too often for somebody trusted to referee at this level and his pedantry over the placement of every single free kick and throw in and exactly the right place could drain the life from a hyper-active eight-year-old.
Attendance – 14,584 (1,800 Ipswich approx.) Crowd’s steadily climbing, but much like the Hull game the atmosphere was lacking here as everybody seemed happy to sit back and wait for the easy win they assumed would come. It did, but we need to help the team more than we did yesterday when Reading are in town on Saturday. Loftus Road has been jumping at times this year and it needs to be like that regardless of the opponent or our level of expectation – the team deserved louder backing on Saturday.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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