|Cardiff City 3 v 0 Queens Park Rangers|
Wednesday, 2nd October 2019 Kick-off 19:45
Naïve QPR caught in Cardiff trap – Report
Friday, 4th Oct 2019 01:15 by Clive Whittingham
QPR dominated the ball, the chances and the shots on goal at Cardiff on Wednesday night but still lost 3-0 – as you will do when you defend like they did.
Holding 72% of the possession and losing 3-0 to three of the four shots on target the opposition mustered is really quite something. Typical QPR, shows why they shouldn’t be allowed out of the house unsupervised.
You could regard it as some sort of freak, as highly unusual, as somehow unjust. I’ve seen and heard QPR described as unlucky to lose, by far the better team, and winners on any other day. The club’s own official Twitter feed described the R’s as “dominant” in its full time announcement that we had in fact been beaten by three clear goals. And to all of this I say no. No, no, no.
This is exactly the sort of ‘Justice League’ bullshit we’ve been laughing at Dean Smith and/or Brentford about for years. This idea that there’s one true way to play football that must never be deviated from, even for ten pragmatic minutes at the end of a game to stop you consistently topping the ‘points lost from winning positions’ table. The idea that somehow a 3-0 win counts for less if it was achieved with only four shots, only 28% possession, and in an aesthetically bracing manner. That somehow there are moral victories, points awarded for artistic merit, and alternate league tables that reflect all of this. Sneering over more physical, direct, cynical teams that have beaten you for their method, rather than addressing your weaknesses that let them do it, is a slippery slope to get on and we must resist it at all costs.
If you keep playing the ball from the goalkeeper to Josh Scowen, back to Toni Leistner, out to Angel Rangel, back to Leistner, up to Scowen, out to Rangel, up to Ilias Chair, back inside to Dom Ball, back to Rangel, back to Leistner, back to Scowen, back to Ball, back to Chair, into Ebere Eze, back out to Scowen, across to Ball, back to Leistner, across to Cameron, out to Manning, back in to Ball, out to Chair, into Eze, up to Hugill, off to Eze, back out to Chair, back to Rangel, across to Leistner, back to Kelly, out to Manning and so on and on and on and on then yes… yes… you’re going to have 72% of the possession. It’ll be 72% of round and round and round and round, twirling and rotating around the centre circle, but it’ll be 72% all the same. You’ll figure very highly in all the fancy new ‘xG’ and ‘pass completion’ and ‘key passes made’ stats that people like to put in spider graphs they can wank themselves to death over. But if you’re playing Cardiff City, who stand Aden Flint, Marlon Pack and Sean Morrison across the edge of their on area and watch you do it, it’ll make very little impact on the only stat that matters which is the one in the top left corner of the screen and printed in the morning papers the day after. If you also, during the 28% of the possession you don’t have, defend like a bunch of fucking clowns, you’ll lose the game. You’ll lose the game comfortably. And you’ll deserve it. Which is exactly what QPR did on Wednesday, whatever the stats say.
Now these may well be the bitter and angry rantings of a beaten football fan at the end of an intensely frustrating night spent mostly watching Morrison search for a towel to dry the ball with. It may be incredibly harsh on a brand new, pretty young, team that has started the season brilliantly, is performing above expectations, has looked very good at times and has come a very long way in a very short space of time. Particularly as they were playing a well-financed team, with an excellent manager, fresh out of the Premier League, away from home. I accept all of this, and will provide further mitigation for Rangers in a moment. But the arrogance and lack of pragmatism of the modern day football purist boils my piss almost as much as the unwatchable opposite end of the scale from Neil Harris, Tony Pulis, Sam Allardyce and others. I found QPR breathtakingly naïve on Wednesday and it needs calling out because we cannot become that team that thinks it’s ok to lose 3-0 away from home as long as we played ‘properly’ and they didn’t.
That further mitigation came in the form of three very clear moments in the game which could easily have landed another way and made it a different match entirely. All could very well have been goals and had they been so we’d have been frothing at the mouth in excitement this morning at just how brilliant QPR had been. If you want to point to those and say that actually we were very unlucky, that it would have been a completely different story if even one of them had gone an inch the other way, and that it was simply one of those nights you sometimes have in football, then go right ahead. You’d be well within your rights, and you’d probably be closer to the truth than I am, bitter and frustrated at this game and weighed down by the baggage of finding it absolutely fucking hilarious when Dean Smith, whose team have won once all season and are in the relegation zone, says they’ve been better than every opponent they’ve faced bar Spurs.
The first moment was literally the first action in the game. Mark Warburton had recalled Bright Osayi-Samuel to the team on the right of an attacking trio behind lone striker Jordan Hugill, and with Joe Bennett struggling in the early rounds of the season for Cardiff it was clearly a tactic to get the two of them isolated together one on one as often as possible. Ilias Chair, one of the other three, gave the game away in the second minute with a glorious, instinctive first-time swivel and diagonal crossfield pass played so instantaneously and with so little forethought that it simply must have been a pre-match instruction. Left alone with Bennett, Osayi-Samuel monstered him, cut into the penalty area and fired a shot that looked a goal for all money until a brilliant save from Alex Smithies intervened. We know all about what a heartbreaker Smithies can be, and many other Championship goalkeepers wouldn’t have got close, but Osayi-Samuel’s finishing is a persistent concern and if I’m, again, being ultra-harsh the height on the shot gave him a chance that wouldn’t have existed had it been low to the corners. Easy to say from up here.
This was compounded on ten minutes when a stupid, needless foul on Lee Tomlin – I thought by Rangel, but the BBC site has it down as Dom Ball – allowed Cardiff exactly the sort of set piece we’d have specifically been trying to keep them away from. If you’re going to give them things like that cheaply, win the first header when it comes in. In fact, Aden Flint met it at the back post. If you’re going to give them things like that cheaply, and lose the first header, then make sure to Christ you win the second one. In fact, Sean Morrison did that and opened the scoring with a looped effort over the top of Liam Kelly who’d been brought into the side to try and stem the tide of goals conceded through errors by his predecessor Joe Lumley.
Rangers responded well and did indeed dominate for long periods thereafter. One lovely passing move ended with a delicious cross from Ryan Manning that looked for all money like having recalled right back Angel Rangel in for a headed equaliser but he overran the cross at the far post. A helped-on ball over the last Cardiff man by Jordan Hugill would have had Osayi-Samuel clean through for another Smithies save had his control not let him down.
Then came big moment number two. Ebere Eze, controlling the pace of the game and the pattern of the play superbly, conducting his team like a fine rugby league half back, thought for all the world he’d got the equaliser he and his team deserved with a perfectly struck shot from 20 yards that whipped around a stationary Alex Smithies and then agonisingly bounced back into play after striking the top of the goal post.
This was massive. In Cardiff’s last home game they beat Middlesbrough 1-0 here with a goal scored just two minutes into the game. Neil Warnock isn’t the hang ‘em, flog ‘em, long ball merchant he’s often made out to be. When QPR manager the team he assembled, with Ale Faurlin in midfield and Adel Taarabt ahead of him flanked by the likes of Tommy Smith and Wayne Routledge, played some of the best football we’ve seen at Rangers in the modern era. He’s a pragmatic, horse for a course manager who works with what he’s got. What he’s got at Cardiff is great big, massive centre backs and a lump up front. They play for set pieces and in the meantime are quite capable of strong-arming their way through hours upon hours of football just killing a game.
The time wasting in this one started after little more than a quarter of an hour. Every time the ball went out for a throw in, a farcical routine would kick into gear whereby a Cardiff player would set off at walking pace looking for the ball, then having located it set off at walking pace in the other direction to find a towel to dry it with on the first day for three fucking weeks where there’d been no rain, then walk back to roughly where the throw in should be taken, then walk very, very slowly away from that spot down the line, and finally chuck the ball. Every free kick awarded was followed immediately by the ball being nudged ten or 15 yards away from where it needed to be by a player who would then stand on the spot and refuse to move back without a prolonged argument about whether the offence had actually been committed very slightly further back. Goal kicks were taken in the sort of time a half decent artist might be able to complete an oil on canvas of Smithies lining the thing up.
All of this was passively overseen by referee Matt Donohue, in his first season on the Championship list and completely and utterly out of his depth here in dealing with experienced, professional, cynical footballers. He refereed like he was scared to say anything to the players under his charge, twice in the first half playing advantages through bad fouls and failing to return to the offender later for even so much as a word. He happily let Morrison pull that towel trick all night, only very occasionally blowing his whistle for a second time and making a hand gesture that I think was supposed to signal that perhaps a minute and a half is long enough to prepare for a throw in and the ball should probably be back in play by now. He did go and speak to Smithies at one point, delaying the game further, to make it clear that he absolutely wouldn’t stand for very much more of this stuff for very much longer. And then did. Dust the sand out of your vagina and do something about it for goodness sake. Despite it all, the standard two minutes was added to the first half and four to the second. It didn’t matter, QPR would have lost regardless, but two minutes was a bold call given what had gone in that half and four at the end of the second was, frankly, a total fucking shambolic embarrassment that should see him spending some time back down the divisions for a few weeks.
I’ve said this a fair bit, usually after losing to Preston, but QPR are horribly naïve in this sort of situation. Do I want us to go full Ben Pearson on the situation? No. But when the referee is standing there scratching his pubics while Sean Morrison ambles off down the touchline looking for a towel to wipe the ball for a routine throw in on a dry night, it’s not beneath us or unbecoming to get in the referee’s ear and ask what in the name of fuck is going on. On Saturday Jake Livermore spoke to the referee so much in the first half I thought it might be his dealer - asking why every QPR offence wasn’t a yellow card, and downplaying everything West Brom did. We just sort of kick around and let it happen, timid lads in the playground, bullied by the bigger boys.
The easiest way to stop it all would have been that Eze equaliser, which he deserved more than anybody. Instead, QPR contrived to go in at half time 2-0 down thanks to a goal even softer defensively than the first. A corner in the last minute of the first time was worked low to Gavin Whyte, who’d been allowed to stand unmarked in the penalty area for an age before actually receiving the ball, and his low cross shot was tapped into an empty net from no range at all by a similarly unattended Marlon Pack. That one was pathetic. Zonal or man? How about no marking at all?
There was a free header at the near post for Glatzel at the start of the second half which was the first shot Cardiff had attempted that didn’t find the net but QPR soon set off as they had in the first. Manning tried to catch Smithies out with a low free kick and missed the target on the blind side, then later stormed onto a fantastic ball from Eze and did beat the keeper at the near post only to see the ball rebound back into play off the woodwork again. Oh for the days when our only goalkeeping concern was Smithies’ slight tendency to let the odd one in on his near side that he shouldn’t.
That was big moment number three. Had that gone in it would have buoyed QPR, sent Cardiff even further into a defensive mode, got the crowd nervous, and potentially set up a comeback. To try and force the issue, Warburton removed Dom Ball from a two-man midfield with the recalled Josh Scowen and sent on Nahki Wells. Ball had been poor, but the lack of protection of a makeshift back four missing both Yoann Barbet and Grant Hall was soon exploited by a swift counter attack from Leandro Bakuna whose low cross was swept spectacularly into the net first time by Callum Patterson who himself had just stepped off the bench. At least you could say it was a proper goal, rather than one we’d basically thrown in ourselves.
Todd Kane came on for Rangel, whose recall at right back had seen a return to conceding goals that looked, and really should have been, offside. Kane immediately drew a great leg save from Smithies, and a further block at the near post. Marc Pugh came on for Ilias Chair, and he too spurned a presentable chance when it all opened up in front of him in the area but he delayed his shot. A scuffle between Ryan Manning, play acting, and Callum Patterson, objecting, was allowed to rumble on for a couple of minutes with Leistner, Flint, Morrison and several others all jogging across for a bit of a spat. Donohue did nothing to intervene, eventually booked Manning and Patterson, and still deemed four minutes adequate for the end of the game.
Like I say, that had no bearing on the final result, much like QPR’s possession stats.
I’m not advocating a switch in style, and nor will we get one from this manager with this squad of player. I’ve been thrilled and exhilarated by much of what has gone on this season, and we’ve seen against Wigan, Luton and Sheff Wed just how brilliant this can be when it clicks. The theory is if you keep doing the right things, and stick to the process, it will come good in the end, and that has been the case more often than not so far. Hell, with a worse opposition goalkeeper and a thinner post it might even have come good for us here.
But football is won in the penalty boxes, and QPR are too soft in both. There’s nothing to stop this style of play being combined with defending that’s even moderately competent. If you, kindly, exclude the third goal here as a good counter attack just after QPR had removed a defensive midfielder to push on, then I think the seven goals we’ve conceded in the league before it have all been off horrendous defensive mistakes. Poor marking at corners, goalkeeping ricks, split walls, stupid challenges for penalties.
You get nowhere defending like this. However pretty you look with the other stuff.
Cardiff: Smithies 7; Peltier 6, Morrison 7, Flint 7, Bennett 5; Bacuna 5, Pack 6; Whyte 5 (Hoilett 87, -), Tomlin 6 (Paterson 65, 6), Murphy 5; Glatzel 5 (Ward 81, -)
Subs not used: Etheridge, Nelson, Mendez-Laing, Coxe
Goals: Morrison 11 (assisted Flint), Pack 45+1 (assisted Whyte), Paterson 72 (assisted Bacuna)
Bookings: Whyte 87 (foul), Paterson 80 (unsporting)
QPR: Kelly 5; Rangel 5 (Kane 66, 6), Cameron 4, Leistner 5, Manning 6; Ball 5 (Wells 63, 5), Scowen 6; Osayi-Samuel 6, Chair 6 (Pugh 80, -), Eze 7; Hugill 5
Subs not used: Lumley, Wallace, Mlakar, Masterson
Bookings: Manning 80 (unsporting)
QPR Star Man – Ebere Eze 7 Cut above most others on the pitch for both teams, cruelly denied a deserved goal by the inside of the post.
Referee – Matt Donohue (Manchester) 4 Out of his depth. Taken for a fool by more experienced players who knew what they were doing. Allowed the game to descend to a pace so slow it was literally stationary for long periods. You could drink eight pints of Carling and produce a piss stronger than this bloke.
Attendance – 21,387 (500 QPR approx..)
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