|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 1 Watford|
Saturday, 21st November 2020 Kick-off 15:00
Chair presses QPR's point amidst penalty controversies - Report
Sunday, 22nd Nov 2020 19:52 by Clive Whittingham
QPR recovered from their latest shambolic early concession off a corner to dominate the second half and take a thoroughly deserved point against Watford at Loftus Road on Saturday.
I don’t know if you’ve heard, but it’s ‘ard this Championship lark. Saturday Tuesday Saturday Tuesday Saturday Tuesday.
Queens Park Rangers’ latest running jump into a 12-game, six-week assault on the senses and ankle ligaments could scarcely have been more difficult on paper, with Watford’s lavishly furnished, high-quality squad of 37 Udinese players in town knowing a win would take them back to the top of the Mercantile Credit Trophy table. In Rangers midfield, 76-year-old Geoff Cameron, struggling a bit now the nights have drawn in and the cold has got into his joints. In Watford’s, Etienne Capoue, seven full caps for actual French France.
That pre-match apprehension won’t have been helped greatly by the team news when it broke. Rob Dickie, superb in the recent win at Derby, went over on an ankle in training on Friday and missed out completely – scans Monday, one of you religious types ask the big man for a favour. Lyndon Dykes once again only fit enough for the bench after a week toiling at the Scottish coalface. Chris Willock, so impactful off the bench at Blackburn, still not deemed ready for a start. Cameron and Ball, not Cameron or Ball. Lee Wallace, captain of Glasgow Rangers, back in situ just in time for the arrival of Ismaila Sarr in W12. It was, indeed, the wrong week to quit sniffing glue.
Chillingly, there was more. Every Watford away game so far this season has finished 1-0 either way or scoreless, with the latest Football Manager regen parachuted into the sport’s hottest seat – Vladimir Ivic, or so it says here anyway – choosing the pragmatic, grinding approach to an immediate Premier League return. Must be nearly time for Quique Sanchez Flores to get another month at it soon surely? What mustn’t happen, what couldn’t happen for QPR to have any chance at all, was an early Watford goal. Preventing it, starting strong, getting a foothold in the game, had to be plan A, B and C for Warbs Warburton’s waifs and strays. Three minutes in, Conor Masterson, in for Dickie, swing and a miss. Ben Wilmot scores from a yard. A corner. Naturally. F me in the A.
So, there we were, staring down the barrel of 87 minutes being held at arm’s length by a superior team. One more defensive slip from a 2-0 repeat of the Preston ball ache from earlier in the season. Like watching a two-hour episode of Mrs Brown’s Boys. On your own. In a damp bedsit. On Christmas Day. While suffering with leukaemia.
Watford had several chances to make that so. Sarr, in 24 acres of space down the right, crossed to the near post for Gray to head wide. Pedro, top Watford scorer this season with four, planted a free header wide from a free kick conceded by Wallace at the corner flag – unmarked, because of course. Possession conceded in a bad area, more space down the Watford right, Gray attacking the near post, Seny Dieng improvising a one-handed save just strong enough to stroke the ball an inch wide of the far corner. Later Dieng read Sarr’s near post intentions and saved powerfully at his near post after the winger had once more been allowed to rampage into far too much green grass down the left channel of QPR’s defence. Nice to have a goalkeeper that doesn’t scare the life out of me, if nothing else. Split down the left once more, Pedro had so much time at the end of an enormous overload after 33 minutes he almost didn’t know what to do with himself, and ended up overcomplicating the shot allowing Masterson time to block.
So it could, nae perhaps should, have been two or three nil by half time and all done and out of sight. I’m saying that quite clearly now, because I’m going to spend most of the rest of this talking about how well QPR played, how they kept their heads up and kept going, how they fought back to win a point, and with better finishing and refereeing would have taken all three. And I don’t want it to come across as biased ramblings through blue and white glasses. I’m well aware the first half belonged to Watford, but even within that Macauley Bonne had one back post header cleared from the line, and another missing the target when he should have scored, Dom Ball felt sure he’d scrambled an equaliser from close range but for a super save from Ben Foster, and a Yoann Barbet free kick was barely an inch away from finding the top corner with the keeper beaten. Yes, really.
Rangers were better for Hämäläinen replacing the apparently poorly Lee Wallace at half time. The Scot had not played well, but he’d been brutally exposed with huge swathes of space in front of him. Niko played better, and Rangers adjusted to stop that happening to him, which wrought immediate improvement. Each substitution thereafter turned the tide further in our favour, with Willock impressing again, and Dykes troubling the Hornets’ back three more than Bonne had.
Watford were a bit strange in the second half. Troy Deeney came on and did bits and pieces, with Gray and Pedro paying for their first half profligacy with their places at half time, and all the way through it felt like they were rather playing in second gear and would simply turn on the taps as and when required, but then never did. Sarr went out of the game, Capoue was anonymous, Chalobah mooching around with a face like a smacked arse. Amateur psychiatrists everywhere could write a thick paper on some of the body language on show.
It quickly became a question of whether QPR would be able to make weight of pressure and possession pay with an equaliser, and there were unfortunately plenty of signs that it just wasn’t to be their day, not least through the refereeing of Michael Salisbury. Macauley Bonne was clearly caught in the box after reaching a loose ball first for a stick on penalty – Salisbury gave a goal kick. Twice Craig Cathcart cracked through the back of opponents on halfway to deliberately disrupt attacks – not so much as a word on the run as he jogged back into team shape, job done – meaning that when he later came in over the ball on Todd Kane’s ankle it was only his first yellow of the game when it really should have been a second. Chalobah not only had similar carte blanche with the repetitive fouling, but was also allowed a spray in the referee’s face without action. Dom Ball flicked one over his head on the edge of the box, stretched with a Watford player to reach it on the other side – Watford free kick. Yoann Barbet got a run on his man from a corner, was clearly and obviously pulled to ground to stop him meeting the cross for the most blatant penalty you’ll ever see – Watford free kick. Sadly out of his depth in only an eighth career Championship game, when Salisbury did finally produce a yellow for Ken Sema’s desperate pull back on the always impressive Bright Osayi-Samuel, Conor Masterson headed onto the top of the cross bar from the free kick. Not our day.
Hold that narrative. With a quarter of an hour left, Hämäläinen stepped forward from left back and combined sweetly with Dykes to get Chair in behind and he finished perfectly past Foster and into the far side net right by the base of the post. One one, and no more than Rangers deserved. The problems we saw with heads dropping and shoulders slumping after early set backs against PNE and Barnsley thankfully no longer in evidence – no Championship team has gained as many points from losing positions as Warburton’s team since he took over. Playing Dom Ball as a ‘ten’ wouldn’t have been in many armchair coach’s playbook on Saturday morning, a step too far for the manager’s obsession with having a presser there rather than a creator, but it had worked well, allowing Tom Carroll to play deeper in midfield and dictate play, while Chair cut in from the left well to provide threat. The substitutions were positive and proactive, with Willock in particular surely in line for a go from the start in the midweek game.
Could Rangers actually go on and win? Well, nearly. Willock, slick again, fouled on the corner of the box for a free kick that almost went straight in but for a flappy intervention by Foster, and then Masterson just couldn’t force home at the far post. Caroll chipped a glorious ball in behind for Barbet, of all people, but his elaborate flick up and headed attempt wasn’t what was required. It felt like a home crowd might have been able to suck a winner in had we been there, but even without us the Hoops should have won in the first minute of stoppage time when the game’s outstanding player Carroll manufactured a cross with the outside of his foot that was pure sex and seemingly put the deciding goal on a plate for Lyndon Dykes only for him to butcher the headed attempt from two yards horribly and end up punching the ball over the line for an obvious booking. Maybe it would help if we ran out to Flower of Scotland?
A result we’d all have taken at daybreak, from a performance that should bring great encouragement and optimism for the games ahead, but I’ll reserve judgement until Tuesday night. Build on this with another good performance, and win, against Rotherham, then that’s a great start to the winter period. Give it the full on ‘typical bloody QPR’ routine against the Millers the day after tomorrow then this is two points dropped given how the second half played out. The boys played similarly well at another newly relegated team, Bournemouth, in October, missing two great chances to win the game and settling for a point, only to then throw in a dire showing against Preston at home that midweek. We must dodge a repeat of that in 48 hours’ time.
QPR: Dieng 7; Kane 7, Masterson 5, Barbet 6, Wallace 5 (Hämäläinen 46, 7); Carroll 7, Cameron 6; Osayi-Samuel 7 (Adomah 69, 6), Ball 6 (Willock 56, 7), Chair 7; Bonne 5 (Dykes 56, 6)
Subs not used: Kakay, Bettache, Kelman, Kelly, Alfa
Goals: Chair 77 (assisted Dykes)
Bookings: Dykes 90+1 (deliberate handball)
Watford: Foster 7; Wilmot 6, Troost-Ekong 6, Cathcart 6; Femenia 6, Sarr 6, Capoue 5, Chalobah 6, Sema 5; Pedro 5 (Quina 46, 6), Gray 5 (Deeney 46, 7)
Subs not used: Ngakia, Garner, Murray, Bachmann, Sierralta, Navarro, Crichlow
Goals: Wilmot 3 (assisted Sema)
Bookings: Sema 59 (foul), Cathcart 85 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Little Tom Carroll 7 Gave the ball away twice in the first ten minutes which had me rolling my eyes, but thereafter he really made QPR tick against a very talented and physically imposing five-man Watford midfield. Statistical porn -more passes, more successful passes, more key passes and more touches than any other player on the pitch - and the cross for Dykes’ chance at the end, putting what should have been a winning goal on a plate, was delicious. Swapping him and Ball around from the Blackburn set up didn’t sound like it should work, but it really did.
Referee – Michael Salisbury (Lancashire) 4 Only an eighth career Championship match and, frankly, felt out of his depth. The trip on Macauley Bonne is a penalty – gets to the ball first, defender treads on his foot, penalty. The hauling back of Yoann Barbet is even more blatant. To not only wave it away but award the free kick the other way is incredible. Allowed Craig Cathcart to commit several cynical, tactical fouls to disrupt attacks without so much as a word, which meant he wasn’t on a yellow card when he should have been for his late over the ball ankle snapper on Todd Kane. Allowed Chalobah a similar free reign of fouls, including one which he followed up by screaming in the referee’s face, to no sanction. Very, very poor. Big decisions wrong. Several very obvious, basic, not difficult to get right moments botched.
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