|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 0 Reading|
Saturday, 29th December 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Lumley rescues Reading point for tired Rangers - Report
Sunday, 30th Dec 2018 18:16 by Clive Whittingham
Young goalkeeper Joe Lumley produced his best performance so far in a QPR shirt to preserve a point in a surprisingly difficult game against lowly Reading at Loftus Road on Saturday.
So not quite the perfect end to 2018 for Queens Park Rangers. A three-match winning run halted, a surprise play-off push stalled, by a 0-0 draw at home to the second bottom club Reading.
Rangers, once again turning out basically the same starting 11 despite the glut of seasonal fixtures, looked tired throughout, particularly in the first half where they afforded Reading far too much time and possession and then seemed surprised by how much the visitors were willing to do with it. There was a rally after half time, Luke Freeman came close to a goal of the season, Toni Leistner hit the bar in both halves, but ultimately Rangers were grateful to goalkeeper Joe Lumley for preventing a disappointing defeat.
There’s so much to like about Lumley, who commands a defence far more senior than him with a constant barrage of Tourette’s-like outbursts that can be heard all over the park even as the crowds start to return to Loftus Road. All the fundamentals are there, his kicking is a real asset and he’s clearly a very confident boy. He has a similar limbtastic, spider-trapped-under-a-glass style to Huerelho Gomes without any of the mentalness and his numbers speak for themselves – ten clean sheets in 21 league appearances this year to go with nine in 17 on loan at Blackpool last season and eight in 19 for Bristol Rovers the year before. Statistical porn.
He’s young for a keeper, but he’s not a baby at 23, and for all of these positives there is still someway for him to go if he’s to get beyond ‘good Championship keeper’, which is where I’d put him now, to being excellent and outstanding at this level or having the capability to play a division higher. Even getting this far, given QPR’s record with kids over the last two decades, is a fine achievement and to have effectively replaced Alex Smithies for free is fantastic for the club, but there are still odd moments – the first Brentford goal, for instance, or the parry back into a dangerous area against Ipswich earlier this week – where you just think he’s going to need to do a little bit better to progress.
He hadn’t, up until Christmas, produced the sort of outstanding, match-winning, point-saving performance we’d come to take for granted (and at times relied upon way too much) when Smithies was between the sticks. Partly that’s because he hasn’t needed to, the defence is much improved this season so we’re facing fewer shots on target, but even the great QPR sides have needed a Paddy Kenny-type to make improbable saves other keepers wouldn’t make at crucial times. Over Christmas Lumley has started to show that he can be that man for our team. In the historic win at Nottingham Forest before Christmas he got across to a curling, swirling 30 yarder in stoppage time that looked destined for the top corner and tipped it onto the underside of the bar. Three points won, clean sheet kept, history made, take any prize from the middle shelf. And then on Saturday against Reading he really came into his own.
Seven minutes before half time, with Rangers a distant second best to a surprisingly good looking Reading side, he scrambled across the line to save with his legs as Meite headed what looked a certain goal at the back post from a corner. Ten after the break a good move from the visitors had left back Omar Richards steaming in on the overlap but Lumley stood strong and made a super one on one save. Then in stoppage time, just as QPR thought they were going to go for a late winner of their own by sending Matt Smith on as a sub for the final corner of the game, the Royals broke in big numbers with Mo Barrow accelerating into open field and when Loader went searching for the far corner from the edge of the area a winner seemed certain until Lumley sprawled to his left and made the save of the game one handed.
Relying on the goalkeeper to rescue a point from, on paper, one of the worst teams in the league – four wins all season and only one of those away from home – was certainly not in the script. In front of a bumper festive crowd, QPR were going for a fourth win on the spin in December for the first time since 1974 with the play-offs now in sight after victories over Middlesbrough (2-1), Forest (1-0) and Ipswich (3-0) over Christmas. They would have to do it without Massimo Luongo, outstanding against Ipswich but now away with Australia at the Asia Cup, but that needn’t have been a complete disaster with Jordan Cousins impressive against Boro and Trees. McClaren picked the same team apart from that and asked for the same again against a Reading team that’s been declining for years and lost 2-0 at Millwall on Boxing Day with two red cards into the bargain to add to an already lengthy injury list.
But there was considerable new manager bounce about the visitors who absolutely dominated the first half. With Barrow and Garath McCleary (who’s done well against us several times before) to the fore and Jonathan Swift the best player on the pitch, they overran Scowen and Cousins in midfield and frequently got in at the QPR back four and Lumley. Pawel Wszolek apologised to his team mates for napping in the third minute allowing Barrow to get into the box down the left and Leistner came across to just about rescue the situation. A minute later the German tried to put a reducer on Meite but the ball broke to Swift who nutmegged Lynch and Josh Scowen the Goblin Boy had to come and rat the situation away. A nice move down the left after a quarter of an hour saw Barrow cut the ball back and cause a massive penalty box scramble during which Meite swung and missed for strike one and eventually Leistner scrambled away.
It took 28 minutes for QPR to put their first proper move together which finished with Jake Bidwell crossing for Scowen to head at Jaakkola in the Reading goal but he quickly set a counter attack away which was only interrupted by some ridiculous histrionics from Meite on halfway line who, despite being the weight of a fully laden bin lorry and built like somebody who’d eaten Reading’s previous centre forward and assumed his identity, collapsed in a whinging heap under nothing very much at all and demanded all manner of attention from referee Rob Jones who rightly laughed straight in his face. Angered, Meite then had a shot blocked with the rebound falling to Swift who was also denied and then punted the third rebound over. A big let off. Had Reading fielded a better centre forward on Saturday they’d probably have won the game.
There was time for Leistner to hit the bar from a corner with what would have been an almost identical goal to the one that won the first meeting between the sides this season at the Madejski Stadium in October. But Lumley had to deny Meite straight after and, overall, QPR were lucky and grateful to get to half time 0-0. I haven’t seen a lot of Reading this season – twice I think, including our game there, to be fair even most Reading fans try and avoid watching this rabble where they can hence a half empty away end – but I doubt they’ve played better than this in 2018/19. A big statement to new manager Jose Gomes.
As we said in the match preview, some of these QPR players have done big minutes this Christmas, and this season. Jake Bidwell, Luke Freeman and Ebere Eze have started all 25 league games, Leistner has started 24 (along with Luongo) and Lynch has played 23. We looked weary, particular Eze - although whether a slightly tired showing from an up and coming young player deserved the reaction it got from the crowd I’m not so sure. Actually, I am. It didn’t. It’s fucking ridiculous, and entirely counter productive.
McClaren has been reluctant to change his team, or even to use his substitutes bench, and despite Ilias Chair, Bright Osayi-Samuel and Aremide Oteh all having a positive impact against Ipswich on Boxing Day, and several players occupying their positions on the field hanging out of their arses in the second half, the next 45 minutes was allowed to drift by in a strange sort of cat and mouse fashion whereby every time McClaren decided to bite the bullet and make a change the team suddenly got a second wind so he decided to give it another five minutes until suddenly there was 90 on the clock, nobody had come on and we were staring down the barrel of two dropped points.
Rangers started the second as they’d finished the first, on the back foot with first Cousins booked for a deliberate foul retrieving an error from Lynch, then Scowen also seeing yellow for a late hit on Rinomhota. Both central mids on cards, and Reading going close first through Swift who struck one free kick onto the roof of the net with the keeper beaten, and then through Richards who was denied by Lumley, seemed like as good a time as any to freshen things up but still we ground on with the same team and to be fair they got a lot better in the final half hour.
Nahki Wells came to life with a big penalty appeal on 58 which Jones deemed had been a good tackle and awarded a corner. When Ilori then attempted a nonsense header back to his keeper Wells snuck in but volleyed over from a tight angle. A fantastic pass from Eze on 67 had Wszolek screaming through on goal but Jaakkola shot off his line expertly and saved well. Another nicely worked corner routine on 69 created space for Wells but he shot over. Jake Bidwell had a first time volley deflected wide and when Luke Freeman then drew his foot back for a first time effort from the edge of the area we were preparing to close the book on the Goal of the Season prize only for Jaakkola to chuck himself right and make a magnificent save.
Now it was Reading hanging on slightly, with first Swift and then O’Shea carded for late tackles, which McClaren would say backed his decision to keep faith with the 11 on the field. But when Furlong and Scowen came together to cynically stop Barrow countering down the left Rangers looked extremely fortunate from my angle that the foul, and card, were attributed to the full back and not the central midfielder – who would have had to walk of course.
Chair did finally get a run for the four minutes of stoppage time, which seemed rather pointless, and in the end it was Reading pushing for a winner which they would have got but for Lumley’s heroics.
We finish 2018 on a slightly disappointing note then, but ten points from 12 and three straight clean sheets over Christmas is formidable form and if you were to swap the Forest and Reading results around we’d be describing the same haul as a near perfect return. Tough fixtures lie ahead in January but the team looks in a far better state than it did this time a year ago and for all the criticism of McClaren’s use of the bench in this report he really has done a super job in the first half of the season.
Quite what team will turn out at Villa on New Year’s Day, and what state it will be in, who knows but it is a very Happy New Year at Loftus Road all the same.
QPR: Lumley 8; Furlong 6, Leistner 7, Lynch 6, Bidwell 6; Scowen 6 (Smith 90+3, -), Cousins 5; Wszolek 7, Eze 5 (Chair 90, -), Freeman 6; Wells 6
Subs not used: Ingram, Hall, Oteh, Osayi-Samuel, Kakay
Bookings: Cousins 48 (foul), Scowen 52 (foul), Furlong 70 (foul)
Reading: Jaakkola 8; Yiadom 7, Ilori 6, O’Shea 6, Richards 7; Rinomhota 6, Swift 8; McCleary 7 (Sims 90, -), Aluko 6 (Loader 82, -), Barrow 7; Meite 5 (Bodvarsson 82, -)
Subs not used: Mannone, Meyler, Kelly, Osho
Bookings: Swift 62 (foul), O’Shea 68 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Joe Lumely 8 By a street. Preserved a point for his team with three outstanding saves.
Referee – Robert Jones (Merseyside) 8 Pretty decent. No arguments about any of the bookings although, without seeing it back again, I thought the one given to Furlong was as much a foul by Scowen which would have seen him sent off having already been booked.
Attendance – 15,721 (1,800 Reading approx..) Nice to see three sides of the ground full again. Less so to hear the moans and groans directed towards Eze, who is still just a kid learning the game and needs support through difficult periods not barracking.
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