|Queens Park Rangers 4 v 3 Millwall|
Saturday, 18th July 2020 Kick-off 15:00
Warbsball 4 Millwall 3 – Report
Sunday, 19th Jul 2020 19:21 by Clive Whittingham
Just when it felt like QPR were going back into one of their death spirals, they pulled a peak Warbsball load of nonsense out of the hat against Millwall at Loftus Road.
Six weeks ago when this sterilised shadow of the sport we used to love returned, Queens Park Rangers were wondering whether a surprise play-off push could be on.
Unbeaten in six, off the back of a super 3-1 win on a Deepdale ground they always struggle on, there was a deal of optimism around the place after so many years of grind. Seven matches, just one win, and three poor home defeats later and Rangers could be found north of 3/1 to win at home against Millwall, who themselves have worked their way into top six contention through the sort of shrewd management and player recruitment the W12 faithful crave. Bright Osayi-Samuel, one of the club’s leading lights, was omitted from the squad on Friday after a painfully low bid of £4.6m was accepted for his services from Club Brugge. The natives lurched between anger and misery. It was starting to feel like things were unravelling.
How wonderfully timely, therefore, to see the team suddenly click back into full Warbsball mode and temper the abject misery that threatened to dominate a truncated close season. Goals. Goals from all over the place. Goals from all angles. Goals at both ends of the field. Goals from 30 yards out and from three. Goals from diving headers. Goals from full backs. Goals from moments of scintillating attacking play and goals from rank defensive incompetence. It was a car of grown men, rattling through a town centre on a Friday night, firing paintball guns at unsuspecting passers by – silly, immature, nonsensical, and riotously good fun. It would have been four four but for Shaun Hutchinson moving a fraction too early before heading home what he thought was an equaliser with the last kick of the game in the ninety eighth minute and frankly that was exactly how the game deserved to end. QPR won by a linesman’s flag, and fuck me did they need it.
It was a game that blossomed from quiet beginnings. At one point I thought I’d have to wheel out the story about my dad being cornered in a pub in Grimsby town centre by a live circus lion just to pad the report out. That treat will be kept in reserve. There were, however, signs that QPR’s second half improvement at Luton during the week had carried on into this game and they were a little more ‘on it’ than they had been in other lockdown games. Speaking frankly, they could hardly have been any worse.
At Kenilworth Road it was a deliberate foul by Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu on Bright Osayi-Samuel that riled the QPR winger up and reintroduced us to the unplayable, forceful, exhilarating attacking force we’d become accustomed to prior to the world imploding. Here it was the mere sight of the club that released him as a junior that stirred similar in Ebere Eze’s loins. Good stuff after eight minutes got Osman Kakay in down the right channel but rocks and diamonds goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski sprang from his line and saved well at his feet. There was a lovely feint by Ilias Chair and shot to the near post on 13 minutes, then two brilliant Bialkowski saves in quick succession to deny first Chair and then much improved Luke Amos.
But the carnage never felt far away. Joe Lumley saved very well when Tom Bradshaw attempted a looping header just before the half hour but earlier appeared to leave an attempt by Jon-Dadi Bodvarsson, an eleventh minute sub for Mason Bennett who was needed elsewhere on designated driver duties, which actually pinged back into play off the top of the post. To be fair to Lumley, given Bodvarsson’s record of just 40 goals from 224 appearances up front for Wolves, Reading and Millwall, it was a reasonable assumption to think he’d missed. Still, a full throaty cry of ‘Greeno’ for that one.
QPR led at half time for only the second time in eight lockdown games. Conceding goals good and early, setting the tone for the afternoon, had not served them well against Barnsley, Charlton, Fulham, Wigan or Luton so a clean sheet and single goal in favour was a very welcome change here. Great news for the scorer as well, Connor Masterson’s first for the club after Bialkowski had parried Yoann Barbet’s header from Ebere Eze’s corner, just a week after he’d looked distraught as an early sacrifice to enable a tactical change in the Sheffield Wednesday debacle.
Set phasers to fun.
Rowett introduced Big Matt Smith at half time against the club that sold him last summer. QPR responded with a short corner routine and a shot from Ilias Chair well saved. But within a minute they’d butchered a throw in on halfway. Players and managers come and go, we’ve seen good, bad and awful at Loftus Road in recent years. Players as wonderful as Adel Taarabt, Ale Faurlin, Heidar Helguson, Kyle Walker and Ebere Eze; players as woeful as Bob Malcolm, Stefan Moore, John Curtis, Zesh Rehman and Big Fat Leon Clarke. A constant throughout has been the surefire bet that nine times out of ten, QPR will have handed possession back to the opposition within two touches of their own throw in. Ryan Manning and Ebere Eze did exactly that here, and Manning then compounded the mistake by allowing Millwall’s most impressive player Jed Wallace to run off his back unattended. Now with time and space to pick out a cross he selected Matt Smith for the lesser spotted goal with his foot. Smith had been on the field four minutes, and it was already 1-1. We’re not allowed nice things.
I rate Ryan Manning so highly I’ve been asked in passing whether I’m working on behalf of his agent. I love the kid. He can play a multitude of different positions, he’s never injured or unavailable, he’s got a lovely left foot, an eye for a goal when the opportunity presents itself, and he has kept his head down and worked hard for a chance at QPR when successive managers ignored him or pissed him about. When we talk about why he won’t sign a contract, don’t forget that this was a player we bombed out on loan to Rotherham not a season ago because fabled coach Schteve McClaren, brought in to coach our youngsters and improve them into sellable assets, could find no use for him (or Bright Osayi-Samuel). But it is completely fair to say that he has been pretty shocking since football resumed, like many of his team mates, and question marks have been raised about his commitment to the cause with a move elsewhere potentially pending this close-season. When you watch the replay of this goal, he’s static and focused on the ball, completely unaware of Millwall’s chief wide threat running off him in behind. For everything he brings you attacking wise at left back, he still has these defensive deficiencies which might deflate his price and mean he’d be better off staying here and developing further. I was reminded of John “you can bring your fucking dinner” Sitton’s line about Anton Ferdinand not being able to sense danger if you set his foot on fire.
However, thankfully, bar this moment, Manning was pretty brilliant in this game. Much more like it, much more what we saw from him early in the season, much more threatening, much livelier, much more creative. He redeemed himself within moments, trying his luck from 25 yards with a well-struck but nevertheless fairly routine shot towards the far bottom corner which Bialkowski somehow allowed to squeeze in after approaching the attempted save in instalments.
Strange keeper this fella, signed from relegated Ipswich Town to replace their previous accident-prone custodians David Martin and Jordan Archer. Millwall fans have him down as their player of the season, and I’ve seen him rated as high as eight out of ten for his performance in this game after a string of brilliant saves which kept QPR at bay, but I’d have backed myself to save Manning’s shot and it’s the second time this season his glaring, obvious error has put QPR back in the driving seat immediately after Millwall have equalised against us.
I wasn’t overly sure about his attempt to save Ebere Eze’s side footed finish into the far corner which made it 3-1 ten minutes later, but I’d prefer to talk about Ilias Chair’s immaculate, imaginative first time flick pass to get him in on goal in the first place. Eze, and Chair, both back to something approaching their best and while it annoys me that we’ve sat through this lockdown dirge without it only for it to magically reappear, to be honest I felt so low on Friday afternoon I was just happy to be reminded how we actually can play the game here. In between the two goals he was almost lobbed by Osman Kakay, looking for a first goal in professional football, impressing again, this time from right back in a back four. Kakay at the other end of the field later got a super block in on Ferguson’s goalbound shot.
Millwall made it three two immediately, Hutchinson heading home Wallace’s corner at the near post, because QPR see defending corners properly as a bit beneath them.
It really was main course serving at the chimp’s tea party now. Three two, half an hour left, QPR with nothing to play for and Millwall with nothing to lose. A shot from Shodipo was spilled by Bialkowski and Amos, much improved, missed a bit of a sitter. Manning marauding forward once more slipped Chair in and he beat the keeper with a curling shot but missed the top corner when he should have scored. Lumley came charging out chasing a cross and flicked it wide of his goal. Lumley saved well from Smith’s downward header after Eze had conceded possession in a bad area, and Alex Pearce was flagged offside tapping in the rebound. Masterson wasn’t far away from an own goal either when the next Millwall cross was nodded down by Smith. Dom Ball’s latest idea above his station, buoyed by his first goal since the last Ice Age against Luton, was an Ebere Eze-style headband, and he was charging around the field like a man flush with confidence but also absolutely not in control of his own body - a tremendously effective combination as it turned out. Soon he was popping up with a cross from the left wing (steady on Dom, we’ve all had a drink) and the much maligned Todd Kane, fresh from the bench, launched himself Lee Cook-style into a flying diving header at the back post which nestled beautifully in the far bottom corner. Kane’s first touch of the ball, four two now I think. Anything went at this point.
Matt Smith headed wide. Jake Cooper’s ninetieth minute shot was well saved by Joe Lumley. Bodvarsson’s ninety-fourth-minute shot flashed wide. Jayson Molumby’s ninety-fifth-minute shot deflected past Lumley and into the net for four three. Still we played on and but for his needlessly early movement and the correct offside call from the linesmen then Shaun Hutchinson’s ninety-eighth-minute header after both Kakay and Masterson were bullied by the bigger boys would have made it four all. In amongst it all Manning rattled the cross bar. Why is Mark Warburton wearing a shirt and tie?
It was very QPR to pull you back in with this sort of display just when we’d all given up hope on them again. A cynic might suggest that the sudden reappearance of Ryan Manning and Ebere Eze’s form might have had something to do with the presence of West Ham manager David Moyes in the stands – the Hammers have been linked repeatedly with both players. For now we’ll just enjoy the win, the performance, and the goals, a reminder of the good bits of this season and this manager.
It’s so difficult to write about our club at the moment. QPR have conceded a club record 42 league goals at home this season, but this was the fifth time we’ve put four or more through a team on our own patch. If you want to be negative and miserable about it there is so much wrong you can pick up on, with the defence and the recruitment and the undervaluing of star players. Seventy goals conceded for a third season in a row. If you want to be a happy clapper about it you can look at the 64 goals scored, the improvement of half a dozen players into sellable assets, the entertainment we’ve had at so many games, the high scoring wins, the seven away victories.
I feel schizophrenic, second guessing myself, trying to cover QPR from one week to the next as moods and performances fluctuate so wildly. The point I keep coming back to to rationalise it all is the feeling walking out of Boreham Wood last July, after a 2-1 defeat and dismal performance, with the manager already pulling no punches on how woeful we’d been, with a rumour Darnell Furlong was about to be the latest departure to West Brom doing the rounds on the terrace, no strikers, no money to spend, apparently no hope. If you told us then we’d be safe with games to spare; that the wage bill would have been slashed again with no dire consequences; that we’d have won more away games than any season since 2013/14; that Blackburn, Wigan, Luton, Stoke, Cardiff, Swansea and now Millwall would all fall victim to multi-goal defeats at Loftus Road; that Bright, Eze, Chair and Manning would all have the seasons they have had… people would have snapped your arm off for it. By and large it’s been enjoyable. We, I, have to keep that in mind when trying to assess all this, and when we’re hankering after another change of manager, to somebody else with a completely different style of play, and ripping the whole squad up all over again. It’s tough, but a big dose of the best of Warbsball at just the right moment was very timely indeed.
Meanwhile, I hear Peter Gilham is looking for a favour on Wednesday night.
Wellety, wellety, wellety…
QPR: Lumley 6; Kakay 7, Masterson 6, Barbet 5, Manning 8; Ball 8, Cameron 6, Amos 7 (Bettache 90+3, -); Chair 8 (Oteh 84, -), Eze 8, Shodipo 6 (Kane 72, 7)
Subs not used: Kelly, Gubbins, Clarke
Goals: Masterson 43 (assisted Eze), Manning 52 (unassisted), Eze 62 (assisted Chair), Kane 73 (assisted Ball)
Millwall: Bialkowski 6; Romeo 5 (Smith 45, 7), Hutchinson 5, Pearce 6 (Mitchell 87, -), Cooper 6; Leonard 5 (Molumby 57, 6), Woods 6, Ferguson 6, J Wallace 7; Bennett – (Bodvarsson 11, 5), Bradshaw 5 (Mahoney 57, 7)
Subs not used: M Wallace, Williams, Thompson, Steele
Goals: Smith 47 (assisted Wallace), Hutchinson 67 (assisted Wallace), Molumby 90+5 (assisted Wallace)
Bookings: Cooper 20 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Ilias Chair 8 I’m risking the wrath of the committee here, who unanimously went for Dom Ball for his storming performance that featured at least one assist – I don’t count the small pass in the lead up to Manning’s goal but I suppose technically yes. Chair also missed a great chance for a goal in the second half which really would have put the tin hat on a sensational performance, full of energy and ideas and attacking threat. I thought he was immaculate, and his touch through ball for Eze’s goal was delicious. Ryan Manning and Ebere Eze were both back to something approaching their best as well, and both scored, but also both got caught out defensively, Manning for the Matt Smith goal and Ebere for the Alex Pearce disallowed effort. Osman Kakay worthy of mention. To be honest, like so much of this game, just having people to pick from was a blessed relief after the last six weeks.
Referee – James Linington (Isle of Wight) 8 Excellent. Zero complaints. Big decisions correct. Game allowed to flow. He’s not been particularly good in our games this season but he’s a referee I like and this performance was a great example of why. My kind of people.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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