Amos brace brightens picture - Column
Sunday, 21st Jul 2019 19:14 by Clive Whittingham
From the troubles of Boreham Wood on Tuesday, to an improved showing and result at Oxford on Saturday, QPR's pre-season preps continued this weekend.
Oxford is many things to many people. An historic and world class centre of higher education. A picturesque riverside tourist destination that had enough about it on Saturday’s opening day of the summer holidays to pull in half the population of South East Asia. A bastion of white male privilege, where the Bullingdon club taught little rich pricks exactly how much they’d be able to get away with once they were old, and fat, and powerful by default. Matthew Arnold’s sweet city with dreaming spires that needs not June for beauty’s heightening. That’s right, we’re doing poetry this year along with Office quotes and graphic sexual imagery.
For Queens Park Rangers, Oxford is a dark place of deeply repressed, mentally scarring footballing nightmares. A location of Friday night televised maulings by Joey Beauchamp – a man who moved from Swindon to West Ham but almost immediately returned to Oxford because he was homesick. A site of last minute screamers from Tony Scully which nobody saw, because Oxford had already scored four increasingly farcical goals of their own and the travelling faithful had left early, some to suggest to manager Ray Harford that he might like to consider his future through the medium of smashing his car up. And, of course, the city that provided the opponent for QPR’s last appearance in a major cup final – an experience so traumatic that nobody connected to it of a hooped persuasion can bring themselves to speak about it more than 30 years later, apart from Jim Smith who was the manager that day and more delighted about the outcome than most of the Oxford players.
Those horrors all occurred when Oxford United resided at The Manor Ground, a unique sporting arena in the Headington part of the city apparently assembled through many years’ enthusiastic attendance at car boot sales. It had nine(ish) stands, one of them plonked so close to the corner flag that set pieces from that side had to be taken off a half step run up, and a pitch with a slope so severe that one end of the field counted as training at altitude. It was an old fashioned shithole, as opposed to where they play now which is a new-fashioned shithole. One of those modern stadiums designed and built by spreadsheet, by people who’ve never been to a football game in their lives, or even met anybody that has. It has three stands, each set further back from the pitch than the last, and the fourth is a bowling alley, which as QPRNet rather superbly pointed out means they’ve gone from having a ground with enough stands for three clubs to one which doesn’t even have enough for one. It is on the edge of buttfuck nowhere, accessible only by car, and I never want to see or hear from it again.
The team that has to call it home are one of those odd Bradford, Tranmere, Grimsby, Stockport County-types that rarely stay in one division for any length of time and at any point point picked at random across the last 35 years could be found anywhere from the top division of English football (1985-1988) to the first tier of the non-league pyramid (2006-2010), becoming the first former winner of a major trophy to descend to that level in the modern history of the sport. Although, as I say, we don’t talk about how they happened upon that trophy in the first place. They were an early promotion on Chris Wilder’s CV, the place where Ramon Diaz ended up when that bright Gianni Paladini idea to bring him to Loftus Road instead of Ian Holloway was rudely torpedoed by a seven-match winning streak, and have been bossed by characters ranging from Graham Rix to Pep Clotet, Gary Waddock to Michael Appleton, and many, many, many times by Smiths Jim and Denis.
They’re currently approaching a League One campaign under the guidance of Karl Robinson, a man who went to the Steve Cotterill school of self-deprecation but whose career has rather stalled from a period at MK Dons where he was management’s hot young thing (and regularly short odds for the QPR job on the three or four times a year it came up) through an unsuccessful stint in ridiculously trying circumstances at Charlton to now at Oxford. Last season they finished twelfth, with a lovely jumble of 11 home wins, four home draws, eight home defeats, four away wins, 11 away draws and eight away defeats. Our Lord and Saviour Shaun Derry has departed as assistant manager, but One Jamie Mackie remains among their number – though rather disappointingly not involved on Saturday to make pushing through the crowds of people who consider Frankie and Benny’s an acceptable standard of food to get to the turnstile more worth our while.
Quite why QPR would be in a rush to rake over old graves in this part of the world through choice I’m not sure, and what use sending a Mark Warburton team out to practice against a Karl Robinson side by way of preparation for the first league game at Stoke in just a fortnight’s time is rather lost on me. Robinson is from the same footballing school as Warburton, where split centre backs, short goal kicks, shorter corners and long “diags” are the one true faith and anybody who says different is a philistine who should piss off and sit on the sofa with Richard ‘Did You Smash It?’ Keys, Andy ‘Andy’ Gray and Peter ‘Reidy’ Reid to talk about how things were better during the war and stop ruining the sport for the purists. QPR’s big problem this season, as it was at the start of 2018/19, is going to be whether they have the players to execute the style at Championship level. When under duress in a physical league, are QPR going to be able to switch and spring streetwise opponents, or shit the bed and reduce the life expectancy of their congregation?
In that regard, this game told us next to nothing. QPR played out from the back very nicely, and Oxford stood back and watched it happen. Oxford played out from the back slightly less nicely, and QPR did likewise. Only in the final 20 minutes, when a raft of substitutions and declining fitness levels had rather killed off some welcome momentum Rangers had succeeded in building up in the half hour prior and Oxford did decide to engage their visitors a bit higher up the field was there any real test. As in Vienna, and at Boreham Wood on Tuesday, QPR regularly found themselves mired in problems of their own making when this happened. One goal kick in particular, late in the game, was quickly turned around into an Oxford free kick on the precipice of the penalty area which Trevor Hebberd curled over the wall, over Joe Lumley, and flush onto the crossbar.
If we think Stoke are going to stand around and let us do this sort of thing on August 3 it could be akin to laying a buffet out for them. We did, however, move the ball much quicker here, reducing the terror of the whole thing by a liquid 13%.
Another recurring problem is the balls opponents are able to knock in behind our well-advanced full backs, exposing the two centre halves, when we lose possession in midfield during our attacks. Nigel Jemson stuck the latest example of this weakness high over the bar when well placed to do better midway through the second half.
Ryan Manning looks extremely comfortable as a pushed-up left back, although one would expect he’ll be dropped regardless when Lee Wallace is fit. Angel Rangel looks less happy doing it down the right, and is probably a shoo-in to start, such is the weird and wonderful world of Queens Park Rangers. Yoann Barbet and Grant Hall seem to be the go-to pairing in the middle, and looked less panicked and exposed than they had been against the non-league side on Tuesday although, in truth, Oxford looked a poor side on this evidence, and carried nowhere near the attacking power, pace, strength and threat that Boreham Wood had done with Kabongo Tshimanga who signed for them this summer after a 37-goal season in Conference South with the U’s cross-city rivals Oxford City last season. The goal the home team did score was whipped into the top bins at the Hollywood Bowl end from 25 yards by Ray Houghton in spectacular fashion five or so minutes before half time and couldn’t really be pinned on any one defender or systematic failure. It was just a bloody good goal.
I shovel those negatives out first mainly because I’m a miserable bastard but also because there were, mercifully, some positives to finish on in this one. Chief among them was Luke Amos, looking altogether sharper and more on-it than he had done in the first two friendlies. The Spurs loanee, who is returning from a knee injury that blew his 2018/19 apart, really did look the part here, covering vast distances to contribute in both attack and defence. An all-action performance was crowned with two headed goals in quick succession to spark the game into life after a lifeless first 30 minutes. The first was a header from a proper Ebere Eze corner – value there in not insisting that every wide set piece be taken short – and the second was scored in similar fashion from almost the same spot on the end of a sweeping cross from Manning. The style of play, the 4-2-3-1 set up, the departures of senior players, and the bizarre ongoing situation with Massimo Luongo, means Amos and whoever plays with Amos at the base of the midfield are going to have to be seriously shit hot for Rangers this season. Here was a clear indication that he may well be up to the job, albeit in an outing cut short by him limping out with a knee knock in the second half. Breath held on that one – we still haven’t seen hide nor hair of our other loaned Premier League starlet Matt Smith.
Good stuff in the wide areas as well. Mide Shodipo impressed, with lovely shape on a couple of second half crosses in front of a crowded away end begging to be headed home at the near post. The lack of a striker to do that remains the big concern of most fans, but I reiterate that we’re not going to try and go through a season with just Aramide Oteh (dropped here after a disappointing first two summer outings) and so I remain (reasonably) relaxed about it. When Shodipo did find a team mate to seize on his service it was Bright Osayi-Samuel on the end of a beautiful swift counter attack that saw Lumley release Shodipo, Shodipo take four defenders out of the game with a first-time cross-field ball, and Osayi-Samuel thump the bar one on one with the keeper. His finishing remains somewhere between suspect and shambolic. Leaving two up from opposition corners is quite a thing though eh? A stark departure from Steve McClaren’s tactic of placing every single one of his outfield players on the goalline with Joe Lumley, Matt Ingram, Jude the Cat, John Eustace, Davis Love III, Joe Hylton and the cast of Casualty every time the opponents had a wide set piece.
Josh Scowen, again, looked good further up the field, though spent the last third of the game in an experiment with Dominic Ball to see if either of them might be an option for us at right back. On this evidence, neither are. Ball, to be fair, as he has done in all three games so far, looked ok in midfield next to Amos’ perpetual motion.
Ebere Eze took a turn in leading the line and did bits and pieces of nothing much, volleying just wide with slick technique after a Scowen chest down in the second half.
The sun shone, the ‘stand manager’ was just about the friendliest steward I’ve ever met at a football match, the post-match curry did unspeakably wicked things on re-entry Sunday morning, and Stoke City await in less than two weeks’ time.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images, Neil Dejyothin
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