|Aston Villa 2 v 2 Queens Park Rangers|
Tuesday, 1st January 2019 Kick-off 15:00
QPR make their point amidst Villa Park controversy - Report
Wednesday, 2nd Jan 2019 18:46 by Clive Whittingham
QPR saw 2019 in with a creditable point, and two fantastic goals, in a controversial 2-2 draw with Aston Villa on New Year's Day.
This was Queens Park Rangers’ third and final visit to Birmingham this season and if you needed a microcosm of just how far they’ve progressed under Steve McClaren in 2018/19 then those three games are surely it.
The first was in August, up the road in West Bromwich, and was how I imagine a fight between me and Anthony Joshua might go. A fight in which Joshua is allowed to arm himself with an iron bar. And a sawed-off shotgun. It was 5-1 when we decided to leave, 6-1 before we’d got to the bottom of the steps and 7-1 before we’d made it out of the ground. Alright, alright, we’re going. Jeez. QPR’s worst defeat since 1986. Things, it would be fair to say, did not look promising. They looked the farthest thing from promising.
The second was in September, when a nervous, tentative recovery from the horrors of the opening month was underway and Rangers were playing Birmingham City at St Andrews. Birmingham’s remarkable form since has made this look a better point with every passing week but at the time they looked a poor side and it was a shame to see QPR, by now furnished with a shiny new Nahki Wels and a part-used Tomer Hemed up front, settling for a 0-0 draw long before the end. It was, in truth, one of the most boring things I’ve ever seen. Like an informal working lunch with Phillip Hammond. You’d have had more fun watching leaf mulch decay for an afternoon. Things were, however, certainly heading in a better direction than they had been at The Hawthorns – no longer melting down towards the Earth’s core at least.
And then there was this New Year’s Day trip to Aston Villa, a team that spent north of £10m on Ross McCormack before realising he was a bit fat and past it so spent north of £10m on Scott Hogan before realising he was a bit fat an injury prone so spent north of £10m on Jonathan Kodija to play out of position on the wing. When none of that worked they forked out loan fees for first Lewis Grabban (please see previous discussion about committing money to somebody who can’t even control his own facial hair) and then Kevin Abraham. And that’s just the strikers. A daunting task for a club whose own days of vile overspend are long since past, now severely handicapped by trying to compete under FFP regulations in an outdated stadium in front of crowds around 13,000. Villa brought 37,760 through the gates for this one and started with Yannick Bolasie, a £25m buy for Everton 18 months ago, on the bench. In the opposite dugout, three youth team graduates to go with the three in the starting 11.
None of it mattered. This QPR team is not only very different from many of its predecessors, it’s very different from the one we brought to this part of the world as recently as September. Good in possession, horrible without it, Villa struggled to land a clean punch, or deal with the counters that came their way.
With the ball, some lovely stuff, with the threesome of Luke Freeman, Ebere Eze and Pawel Wszolek behind Nahki Wells switching positions fluidly and moving the ball around smoothly. With Alan Hutton out of position at left back and frantically searching infield for friends and wreckage to cling to, Rangers were able to make good ground through Wszolek down the right. Eze should have scored after 31 when he volleyed over one cross from the Pole, Freeman thought he had when he kept a similar shot down from an identical move but it struck James Chester. Just when it seemed QPR had committed the cardinal sin for an away team by not scoring during their period of pressure, Freeman sent an absolute scorcher (and do use those words) into the top corner from 25 yards. If that’s not our goal of the season I can’t wait to see the one that is.
Villa had recalled keeper Jed Steer from a loan at Charlton and centre back Tommy Elphick from a similar spell at Hull to bolster an injury-hit defence but it looked like a group that hadn’t played together. Lop-sided thanks to Hutton lining up on the left, lacking protection from its midfield, and gettable. They did, however, have the game’s outstanding player in Abraham at the other end of the field. John McGinn, not at his best but still clearly a lovely little player, had already tonked one flush against the bar when he crossed for Abraham to nip in behind Leistner and head home from point blank range to give Villa the lead. Lumley had earlier denied Abraham with a leg save as Leistner struggled to hold onto the big striker.
Freeman’s goal had been to equalise but if there’s one thing we learned from Dean Smith at Brentford (other than how terribly unfair it is when teams try to stop him from showing everybody how football is “supposed to be played”) it’s that his sides give up points from winning positions by the absolute barrel load. From 2-0 up to 3-2 down here against Leeds over Christmas, they were behind in this one before the hour mark as well. Freeman, having his best game of the season, freed Wszolek into that wide open space down Hutton’s side again with a delicious pass and the Pole, as he does so often, picked out a man in the box rather than just slinging a hopeful cross over. That man was Eze who belied his recent indifferent form and tired appearance with a better showing all round here and a glorious swept finish into the roof of the net for 2-1. One in the eye for those among the QPR support base who’ve gone over the top with their criticism of the youngster of late, and for Smith who afterwards rather begrudgingly described the perfect counter attack goal as being “bundled” in. Like Concorde used to bundle its way to New York. Top bins from 18 yards out mate. Get out of my fucking pub.
Villa improved considerably for their substitutions. Kodija, woefully ineffective and seemingly completely disinterested as a winger, was removed for El Ghazi who had a storming last half hour that Jake Bidwell struggled to live with. On the opposite flank, Albert Adomah escaped the clutches of Darnell Furlong for the first time all afternoon to head for an early shower and was replaced by Bolasie who turned the tables on QPR’s young full back and gave him an absolute going over for the final third of the match. Hard to possibly understand why those two didn’t start the game. Soon El Ghazi was crossing brilliantly for Abraham to get across Leistner for the second time in the match and thump in a near post equaliser.
Afterwards Smith said: “Tammy has shown no inclination to go back to Chelsea. We are very happy with the way He is developing as a player and as a person. He is very happy and you can see the connection he has the supporters, the players and staff. Chelsea seem very happy as he developing as a player and scoring goals in the Championship. For all three parties it is a win, win, win." Which I throw in just for shits and giggles really.
Games between these two on this ground have produced some absolute goal fests of late. There was a 2-2 in 2011/12 (“whoiy didn’t we soign Ceesaaay?”), a 3-2 in 2012/13 where QPR snatched defeat from the jaws of victory, a 3-3 in 2014/15 where QPR snatched a draw from the jaws of victory and a 3-1 win here last season where the majority of the home crowd were happy to head home early and leave the tiny band of travelling supporters to ram the result right up Big Racist John’s Big Racist Poop Shoot. It’s been fun, and this was again. End to end stuff to the end – Joe Lumley made an unorthodox save from Chester off one Hourihane free kick, and the Irish midfielder stuck another direct set piece attempt onto the roof of the net. Steer, meanwhile, got a big, strong left hand to a low drill from Eze that looked for a glorious moment like the winner.
None of that is what anybody was talking about afterwards though. The tone and tempo of the game swung on 49th minute incident in which Joe Lumley comfortably collected a through ball ahead of Kodija but the Villa man decided to proceed anyway and boot the stricken goalkeeper right in the head, splitting his nose in the process. There followed a prolonged (seven or so minutes) period of treatment for the keeper during which Matt Ingram seemed likely to come on – but this didn’t strike me, nor Steve McClaren, as the ideal time to reintroduce him to public life so they patched Lumley up to play on.
This took quite a lot of time, as tends to happen when you get your face split, and Villa got very aggy about this indeed. Big Kev came across at one point to add his medical opinion, which Lumley received with good grace and then ran 50 yards down the field to discuss further with him after Eze had made it 2-1. Future tip, if you don’t want the visiting goalkeeper to be down on the floor for seven or eight minutes then don’t kick him square in the bloody face. Kodija was lucky to escape with only a yellow from referee James Linington – and you get the feeling he only got that because of Furlong’s outraged reaction and Lumley’s streaming wound. It was a red card. It was also the only thing the former Bristol City striker hit the target with all afternoon.
That’s not to say there weren’t some Preston North End levels of shithousery from QPR in this game. There absolutely were. Pawel Wszolek’s stand up, sit down, stand up, sit down, am I injured, am I not injured, am I going off, am I staying on routine wore very, very thin even as an away fan so it must have been purgatory for those of a Villa persuasion. Bright Osayi Samuel eventually got a rare chance to impress as his replacement but, sadly for him, McClaren also removed Nahki Wells at roughly the same time and introduced Matt Smith who did the square root of fuck all in his spell on the pitch and basically ended QPR as an attacking threat in the match. Darnell Furlong, suddenly out of his depth against Bolasie, deliberately trying to get the game stopped when he realised he was out of position at a quick throw in by collapsing to the floor, then springing up and sprinting back when he realised Linington was playing on, was really poor too.
But when Preston pulled all these stunts on us last season we said at the time, don’t bitch and moan about it, learn from it. It’s a tough division in a tough sport, not an episode of Watercolour Challenge. Villa were particularly irate after the Freeman goal - with QPR all celebrating down by the away end and therefore all in their own half the home team wanted to take a quick kick off and pile through on goal to return fire but Wszolek clocked this was going on and sensibly remained on the Villa side of the halfway line on the far side of the field, waving his arms around at the linesman and fourth official to make sure they knew he was there and the game couldn’t restart. That’s just sensible stuff lads, what we meant to do wave you through for a goal because it would be good for the neutral spectators?
Time wasting and gamesmanship, as we’ve discussed here previously, is a festering disease in the Championship this season. Teams who have what they want from a game are engaging in clock running and shithousery from ridiculously early in matches – sometimes from halfway through the first half depending on scores and circumstances. It is in urgent need of a clamp down, and even the 11 minutes Linington did add on here (which ended up being nearly 14) felt slim given everything that had occurred. Sheff Utd, Preston, Hull and others have done it to us, and we’ve done it to a few teams as well, including Villa.
But QPR are not a soft touch any more. That team that couldn’t win away, that team that had its tummy tickled, that team that lost 7-1 at West Brom, has evolved into an awkward bunch to play against, but still one that can play and attack and threaten. Josh Scowen and Jordan Cousins won tackles, won second balls, won the physical battle… but they also passed it nicely as well.
Dean Smith can (and did) bleat on afterwards about how his team were trying to play properly but “anti-football” got in the way but that’s exactly the sort of victim mentality he mithered in at Brentford. Rather than wondering why his team were dropping 20 points or more from winning positions every season he perpetuated this idea that it was somehow unjust, somehow unfair, somehow not cricket that another team might want to put a tackle in or waste a bit of time or stop his excellent young boys playing their excellent purist football. At Griffin Park he even had a ‘Justice League’ up on the noticeboard, which showed where Brentford really should have been in the league table, if only the EFL would agree to his idea of two points for a moral victory.
Match Gallery: 20 photos
The problems here were as much his, and Villa’s, as they were QPR’s. They couldn’t defend, they couldn’t score a third goal despite all the striking talent at their disposal, and it was them who kicked the keeper in the face in the first place.
“Rangers are hard this season” a rival club’s player told a mutual friend recently. Good. About bloody time. Long may it continue.
Villa: Steer 6; Bree 6, Elphick 6, Chester 6, Hutton 4; Hourihane 6 (Whelan 90+1, -), McGinn 7; Bjarnason 5, Adomah 5 (Bolasie 61, 8), Kodija 5 (El Ghazi 61, 8); Abraham 8
Subs not used: Hogan, Davis, El Mohamady, Bunn
Goals: Abraham 21 (assisted McGinn), 75 (assisted El Ghazi)
Bookings: Hourihane 45 (foul), Kodija 49 (foul)
QPR: Lumley 6; Furlong 5, Leistner 5, Lynch 6, Bidwell 6; Cousins 7, Scowen 7; Wszolek 7 (Osayi-Samuel 77, 6), Eze 7 (Hall 90+7, -), Freeman 8; Wells 7 (Smith 71, 4)
Subs not used: Ingram, Manning, Oteh, Chair
Goals: Freeman 41 (unassisted), Eze 57 (assisted Wszolek)
Bookings: Wszolek 30 (repetitive fouling), Leistner 69 (foul), Osayi-Samuel 90 (foul), Lumley 90+4 (time wasting), Bidwell 90+10 (time wasting)
QPR Star Man – Luke Freeman 8 What a superb display. Creative with the ball, diligent without it, played all across the three man attacking line up behind Wells at various points and crowned a big personal effort across nearly 115 minutes of football with what will probably be our goal of the season.
Referee – James Linington (Isle of Wight) 5 Kodija should have been sent off, that wasn’t a difficult decision to get right. From then on his game management was poor – he let Wszolek take the piss with the clock running and several times stopped quick free kicks being taken because they were in slightly the wrong place when the game (though not QPR) really needed him to just let a bit of that go for 10 minutes to try and get a flow going again.
Attendance 37,760 (1,000 QPR approx.)
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