|Sheffield Wednesday 1 v 2 Queens Park Rangers|
Sunday, 5th May 2019 Kick-off 12:30
Smith's late winner finishes QPR's season on a high - Report
Monday, 6th May 2019 14:12 by Clive Whittingham
QPR rounded off a disappointing 2018/19 season with a rare away win thanks to a thunderous Matt Smith volley in stoppage time at Sheff Wed on Sunday.
For the Queens Park Rangers completist, there was a little something of everything that’s made 2018/19 the season it has been in this final match of the campaign at Sheffield Wednesday.
There were moments of great promise, when it did click and it did flow and we did look like we knew what we were doing. Never more so than Josh Scowen’s beautifully crafted second goal of the season after 28 minutes which got the scoring under way. The Rat, playing in a central midfield two with Mass Luongo, shuffled the ball out of a tight spot to the Australian and then turned and headed towards goal as Luongo sprayed it wide to the right for Darnell Furlong to accelerate onto from right back and cross low into the area just in time for Scowen’s arrival and after a first touch to set himself was perfectly executed he could hardly miss from eight yards out clean through on Kieren Westwood.
When Rangers play like that - passing the ball down the pitch with purpose, committing men to the attack, getting the final ball right and looking so slick and swish with it - you can’t help but cock your head to one side and wonder how and why they make it look so bloody difficult the rest of the time. Rocket science it is not, a simple and effective move from a simple and effective set up picked by caretaker manager John Eustace for this game. Ebere Eze played on one wing, Mide Shodipo given a first start of the season on the other after 18 months of injury hell, with Matt Smith and Bright Osayi-Samuel a traditional big-man-little-man strike force. At the back, two big bastards at centre half (Toni Leistner and Geoff Cameron) and two little bastards at full back (Darnell Furlong and Ryan Manning). Four-four-fucking-two in its purest Mike Bassett form, and QPR looked very comfortable in this skin.
Smith’s battle with Sheff Wed’s player of the season Michael Hector raged all afternoon. When the QPR man got the better of things on 19 minutes it looked for a moment like Osayi-Samuel may be able to poke the second ball beyond the onrushing Westwood and walk it into an empty net but the home keeper just about came out on top. He did so again just before half time when Eze, looking far more confident and dangerous than he has for months, slid the former Blackpool man through on goal and Westwood rushed from his line to deny him again. When Eze looked like he’d beaten Westwood himself with a curled shot from an Osayi-Samuel cut back, Morgan Fox showed scant regard for his personal safety and chucked himself into the air to stop the ball finding the far corner with his face.
But there were, as there have been so often this season, also moments of great wastefulness. You can perhaps count Osayi-Samuel unlucky with the first instance, and a little bit slow to finish in the second, but these really presentable chances kept coming and going in the second half. Eze – imposing himself on the game again, gliding through the midfield with the ball at feet – sprung Osayi-Samuel through on goal once more on the hour but Westwood saved brilliantly at his near post with Smith crying out for a cut back. When Sheff Wed substitute Shaun Hutchinson resorted to stopping Eze by trying to kill him to death, the ball spurted loose to Matt Smith in the six yard box who sat Westwood down brilliantly and then didn’t get enough height on the chipped attempt.
Ridiculous that a goalkeeper of this quality was ostracised and left in the reserves by the previous manager here, Jos The Child Catcher. Westwood is still just about the best there is at this level but brilliant keeper or not, you have to score when you’re on top, when you’re playing like this, when the combinations are clicking. Finish him for God’s sake, he wants you to punch him. Sadly, QPR have been missing chances all season long, not least when presented to them in the form of a kick from the penalty mark. When Osayi-Samuel was felled by Lees in the area ten minutes from time, referee Andy Davies pointed straight to the spot and, in front of the travelling 500 from West London, Rangers would have a chance to seal a deserved 2-0 win from 12 yards. Thankfully no Nahki Wells on the field to go for a sixth consecutive personal miss, and second this week, but also no Tomer Hemed, whose successful spot kicks against Ipswich and West Brom are about all he’s contributed across a season long loan. Ryan Manning, as discussed a week ago, had scored three penalties for Rotherham earlier in the season and had the ball in his hands straight away, but there ensued an ugly and needless row among several players about who would take the kick. Bright Osayi-Samuel seemed to want it, which is terrifying really because God bless the kid but he can’t finish his dinner at the moment. And then Eze, seemingly on the say so of captain Leistner took the ball.
He had scored a penalty in fine style in the summer friendly win against Union Berlin, calmly into the top bins, but has endured a difficult season since then. All things considered, with Westwood in flying form, this needed five big steps and one almighty smack. What it got was some weird Trevor Francis-style walk and shimmy, presumably attempting to deceive Westwood but having no such effect – the keeper palmed a weak kick onto the post. Memories of that harrowing 1995/96 Premier League relegation season, punctuated by penalty misses from Simon Barker (Boro H), Kevin Gallen (Leeds H) and Bradley Allen (Chelsea H), flooding back. Annoyingly, this will be what Eze’s critics remember of him from this game, which is a shame because he was great across the 90 minutes as a whole.
Moments of brilliance, check. Profligacy in front of goal, check. A penalty miss, check. Then there was the really bad stuff. If you’re going to pass up opportunities with such frequency, you’ve got to be as tight as a mouse’s waistcoat at the end, and QPR simply aren’t. You couldn’t help but stand and applaud Darnell Furlong’s fabulous recovery tackle on Steven Fletcher after the Scottish international forward had been played into a must score situation by Lucas Joao. Turning our own throw on halfway into a clear run on Joe Lumley for Marcos Matias within two touches was somewhat less impressive – thankfully his cut back missed Fletcher and Joao and was scrambled away. Later Lumley improvised a punched clearance after Fox had got in too easily down the left and crossed from the byline – the rebound hit Matias, rather than him heading it deliberately, and it drifted wide of the unguarded net.
And then, of course, there’s the astonishing moments of refereeing that have peppered our season, particularly in our own area where Rangers were about to concede their league leading tenth and eleventh penalties of the campaign. The second brought the equaliser, calmly rolled in by Hector, and we’ll start with that because although if you slow the replay right down it does look like Matias is rather playing for the foul, at first glance it looked a stick on foul from Manning in the exact spot on the pitch where we’ve committed identical fouls on two Blackburn players this season to lose both games against them and away at Derby over Easter as well. Manning slips, I think, and Freeman won the ball at Pride Park, but still we’re giving referees decisions to make there.
Where we didn’t give the referee a decision to make was with the first penalty on 57 minutes. Forestieri picked the ball up on the edge of the box, tried to trick his way through the defence with a one two off Fletcher, couldn’t quite reach the return ball as he’d have liked and toed it straight at Lumley from close range. No contact, at any point in the move, from any QPR player. No appeals, from the several thousand Sheff Wed supporters massed on The Kop behind the goal not ten yards away from the incident. No appeals, even, from Forestieri, who’s just about as big a cheat as you’ll find at this level and can’t get round fucking Meadowhall without throwing himself down the escalator and accusing some passing pensioner of pushing him. Nevertheless, as happened against Sheff Utd in August, Bristol City in February and Derby in April, a ridiculous penalty was awarded all the same. Forestieri very sportingly skied it over the bar Kerry Dixon style, but I’m not sure that’s the point.
Four penalties awarded against you in a season that were clearly, obviously, blatantly, palpably complete bullshit is really out of the ordinary. Quite something. The stand out line from Luke Freeman’s farewell interview in the Indie last week was the revelation that QPR have received eight letters from the PGMOL, who oversee the match officials, this season apologising for decisions that have cost us points and presumably we’ll be getting another in the post this week. Should it arrive, I think we should return it back to them having taken the trouble first of all to roll it up very tightly to make it easier for them to shove up their arse. Because it’s all very well apologising for this rubbish - we get it, refereeing is tough, mistakes happen, we’ve had much more than our fair share of incorrect calls against us this season but it won’t carry on like that and that’s football – but it rings rather hollow when nothing is actually done about it. One of those letters is surely about the two goals Sheff Utd scored at Loftus Road in August, one which was offside the other from a bad penalty call. Another one of those letters, almost certainly, will refer to the deliberate handball in the penalty area which stopped Ryan Manning equalising at Wigan in January. And I dare say another of them could be for Jack Robinson’s two-handed save in his own box for Forest at Loftus Road last week. But those incidents were all with the same referee, Scott Duncan, who was also seen recently screwing Bristol City out of a nonsense penalty decision at Villa Park. What’s the fucking point in apologising, if you’re just going to send the same referee out to do the same damage again the following week? Stuart Attwell’s “punishment” for allowing that Leeds Villa game to descend into a complete farce, complete with a red card that was subsequently scrubbed off, was a Premier League appointment at West Ham this week. So they’ve apologised to Villa, rescinded the red card, banned another player retrospectively, and promoted the referee that cocked it all up. It’s mental. It’s like Boris Johnson, apologising for shagging your wife, while still shagging her. Never mind apologising, do something about it, get off her you fat shit.
Anyway, that’s the final rant for the season. And the final outcome, it seemed. Hector’s equalising penalty looked like being the last word because along with the moments of brilliance, the missed chances, the missed penalties, the refereeing calamities and the comical defending the other thing QPR have been good for this season is prolonged, blatant, tedious clock running to protect a scoreline that isn’t really that great and doesn’t really do a lot for them. And so it was again here, with Joe Lumley and Darnell Furlong as usual the chief protagonists of it – though quite why Hector was allowed to interrupt Furlong’s shithousing by booting him straight in the shins off the ball while the play was dead without receiving even a yellow card I’m not sure. Davies capping a curious performance in the middle by awarding Forestieri another dangerous set piece, this time right on the corner of the box, for a blatant dive (he skied it over again, stop laughing at the back), only to then wave Josh Scowen’s similar appeal away at the other end and then yellow card him for sarcastically applauding the linesman on that side. It was the only time all afternoon that assistant referee had actually been up with play and stood where he was supposed to be.
All we needed now to really put the tin hat on it was an injury time goal against. Rangers have conceded nine of those this season – like the penalties, that’s more than any other team in the league – and invariably when we’ve tried to slow things down and drag the game out for a point we’ve ended up getting nothing at all. But Sheff Wed weren’t very good, clearly on the beach after an excellent second half to the season of just three defeats in 23 games, and having replaced one injury prone midfielder, Kieran Lee, with another, Shaun Hutchinson, they then found themselves down to ten men for the last few minutes when the latter had to leave the field after Steve Bruce had used all his subs. That meant space, and tired legs. That meant Mass Luongo moving into a dangerous place down the QPR left unchallenged. That meant an understaffed penalty box and that meant one final chance for the R’s. Luongo got the cross spot on. Matt Smith has probably never hit a ball better in his entire life. First time, full toss, left foot, ninety-third minute, and absolute thunderbastard ripped right into the roof of the net. Big Posh Matt’s Big Posh Volley. Wallop. Even Westwood wasn’t saving that.
You couldn’t read too much into any of it. A meaningless end of season game, meandering along quite nicely until the referee decided to enliven it by having a public breakdown. Rangers much better than they have been, and good value for the win; Wednesday much worse than they have been, and not really in any position to complain about defeat. But I couldn’t help but look at this team with a wry smile and wonder what might have been. Youth teamers in both full back spots, and on both wings; Scowen and Luongo in midfield going box to box; Smith up front with one of the littlies running off him; Geoff Cameron at centre half alongside Toni Leistner which was meant to be the plan in the first place last summer. No Hemed, no Wells, no Rangel, no complicated system, younger players getting minutes, underused players that we actually own coming to the fore… Sigh. He’s wound me up with some of the things he’s said, but Eustace’s team selections since taking over on a caretaker basis have often been thoughtful and logical, certainly a lot more so than what went on before.
Typical QPR I suppose. A tiny chink of light, a little dangle of hope and optimism, the faintest suggestion that it might be alright next season after all. A good performance, a deserved victory, a super last minute goal, away from home, on the final day of what’s turned into a dire season. Like getting a Lindt with your bill from a restaurant that served you actual shit.
But, let’s be honest, who doesn’t like a Lindt?
Sheff Wed: Westwood 8; Palmer 6, Hector 7, Lees 6, Fox 6; Matias 6, Pelupessy 5, Lee 7 (Hutchinson 64, 5); Forestieri 5, Joao 6 (Nuhiu 64, 5), Fletcher 6 (Hooper 78, 6)
Subs not used: Winnall, Thorniley, Dawson, Penney
Goals: Hector 84 (penalty, won Matias)
Bookings: Matias 90+3 (foul), Hector 90+4 (foul)
QPR: Lumley 6; Furlong 7, Leistner 6, Cameron 6, Manning 7; Eze 7, Scowen 7, Luongo 6, Shodipo 5 (Walker 61, 5); Osayi-Samuel 6 (Hall 89, -), Smith 7
Subs not used: Ingram, Bidwell, Freeman, Wells, Bansal-McNulty
Goals: Scowen 28 (assisted Furlong), Smith 90+3 (assisted Luongo)
Bookings: Scowen 74 (dissent), Cameron 88 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Josh Scowen 7 Impressive showings from Furlong who saved a goal with a great first half tackle and then assisted the first at the other end, Manning going well again at left back, Eze apart from the penalty miss and Matt Smith crowed with a winning goal. But for another box to box effort full of character and effectiveness, topped off with a well taken opening goal, we’ve gone for Josh Scowen again.
Referee – Andy Davies (Hampshire) 3 Making his own fun.
Attendance 26,111 (500 QPR approx.)
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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