|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 1 Derby County|
Saturday, 23rd January 2021 Kick-off 15:00
Ongoing home woes stall Rangers' recent progress - Report
Sunday, 24th Jan 2021 16:28 by Clive Whittingham
QPR couldn't follow up on successive away wins with a first home success in six attempts on Saturday, losing 1-0 to fellow strugglers Wayne Rooney's Derby County in a poor game at Loftus Road.
Joy has been thin on the ground for regular followers of Queens Park Rangers and Wayne Rooney's Derby County this season.
The pair of them had managed just 11 wins combined from 48 league games played prior to Saturday’s meeting at Loftus Road, which went ahead as scheduled on FA Cup fourth round day because Fulham and Chorley joined Plymouth and Preston in dumping these two sorry states out of this year’s cup competitions early doors. The Rams had scored just 15 goals all season, the lowest in the division, prior to kick off, and nearly a third of those came in one 4-0 away win at hapless Birmingham. Rangers, meanwhile hadn’t won at Loftus Road in five attempts prior to this game, and hadn’t scored a goal on their own patch for the thick end of eight hours.
University theses will be written on QPR’s shambolic January transfer window. They discovered their star player, Bright Osayi-Samuel, had signed for Turkish giants Fenerbahce via Twitter, leaving them to try and scrape together some pennies to bring about an early release an already poor side can ill afford. The due diligence on top transfer target Ben Whiteman was so thorough it took until the second week of the window to discover he was a Manchester lad who wanted to stay close to home rather than move south - QPR were “dissuaded from continuing with their interest” in the face of a rival bid from Preston North End. Dutch centre back Jordy De Wijs has been borrowed from League One Hull - where he was part of one of only two defences to concede even more than ours in the Championship last year (87 to our 76) and has been out of favour in the division below since November - but is apparently in such poor condition QPR would rather name eight of the permitted nine substitutes than even have him on the bench at the moment. Expect a round of hype and back slapping as 30-year-old Fulham outcast Stefan Johansen is belatedly dragged over the line on loan this week – five starts in as many months for the Norwegian international.
Wayne Rooney's Derby County, meanwhile, are teetering on the brink of a financial meltdown. Wages went unpaid for December, and the club are reportedly standing in the way of veteran goalkeeper Scott Carson making a long-term loan deal with Premier League leaders Manchester City permanent because they need the loan fee for the second half of the season to make sure the same doesn’t happen in January. A drawn-out takeover attempt by Sheikh Khaled Bin Zayed Al Nehayan (get that on the back of your shirt and it would solve their cash crisis in one fell swoop) “agreed in principal” in November and “definitely concluded by Christmas” remains suspiciously unsigned. Fans of Wayne Rooney's Derby County who spoke of “Mel-nomics” and “having the Championship on strings” as current owner Mel Morris performed ever increasingly elaborate financial workarounds, including making Pride Park the most expensive bit of single-purpose brownfield retail park land in the world when he sold it to himself for north of £80m, are belatedly realising that, actually, not so much. Well, derrrrr. Wayne ‘Wazza’ Rooney’s first transfer window as a manager, with the likeable and intelligent Liam Rosenior on one shoulder, and the seventy fifth Pride Park coming of Steve ‘Schteve’ McClaren’s hair island on high, is being conducted under an embargo.
A hard watch then, for both sets of fans. Like watching Mrs Brown’s Boys, on a loop, on a crap television, in a hospice, while a close relative rolls slowly downhill towards death, is a hard watch.
Lately though, some stirrings. QPR have done their favourite thing in a crisis and brought a former hero back in a blaze of hype and PR. Charlie Austin’s return on loan has inspired two away wins and two clean sheets in a week, lifting Rangers seven points clear of the relegation zone, restoring some confidence and optimism, and putting a notoriously travelsick side in the unusual position of having more points from their away games than their homes this season. Wayne Rooney's Derby County, meanwhile, have tightened considerably. Defeats to fellow strugglers Rotherham and Sheff Wed were damaging, but they battered the Owls for long periods of that game and beat promotion chasers Swansea and Bournemouth, along with the thrashing of Birmingham, all to nil. They are at least functioning, which is more than could be said of them a couple of months back.
The pattern of the pair’s second meeting of the season was set good and early. Wayne Rooney's Derby County would sit calmly in their shape and watch QPR slowly and aimlessly pissball around in front of them. When Rangers passed them the ball, which they did frequently, they would break quickly, almost exclusively down their right where Polish winger Kamil Jozwiak and former Wigan full back Nathan Byrne were able to double team the sadly exposed and out of his depth Niko Hämäläinen. This happened on four minutes, when a period of prolonged pressure after Geoff Cameron had passed the ball straight to an unmarked opponent ended first with Hämäläinen heading a deep cross clear at the far post and then the defence eventually muscling up to clear after he’d been torched by Byrne and Jozwiak completing a one two on his side. It happened again on nine minutes when the whole left side of QPR’s defence decided to head out on a day trip to the wing to close down Byrne only for him to unexpectedly meet a long ball into the channel first time on the volley and set up 42-year-old and 18 and a half stone pub footballer Colin Kazim Richards, but he was so busy prepping his acceptance speech for The Most Unmarked Player In The History of Professional Football award that he neglected to even make contact with the ball and open the scoring. And it happened on 12 minutes when Byrne sent another dangerous delivery across but the in form Seny Dieng stormed through a crowd of players to make an immaculate catch.
Rangers were, kindly put, not really at the races. They’d endured a long trip to Cardiff and played in difficult conditions on Wednesday night, whereas Wayne Rooney's Derby County had played Tuesday, so perhaps you could put it down to that, though Covid postponements mean this was only a fourth game in 25 days – light work by Championship standards. They were too slow in possession, lacking aggression and energy and tempo. Ilias Chair guilty of too many touches, Chris Willock struggling in a central midfield role, Little Tom Carroll badly missed, Wayne Rooney's Derby County happy to let Rangers amble around knocking the ball sideways in front of them and wait for mistakes to come. For all of that, it could easily have been 1-0 to the hosts when Austin’s sharp shot on the turn flew through bodies and was well saved by Kelle Roos, in for David Marshall in goal.
That was it really as far as first half action went. Rangers mithered about refereeing inconsistencies: Willock fouled and play on waved, then Willock immediately punished himself for a similar offence; Geoff Cameron rightly booked for treading clumsily on Bielik’s ankle but both Bielik and Kazim Richards then let off with warnings for similar fouls around the penalty box. But the set pieces came to nought, despite a creative corner routine working Austin into space for a chipped cross that Dykes might have shown interest in but for a late clearance, and really it was a bit of a relief when half time brought a break from the pedestrian-paced bilge. If you’d come expecting a classic, you’re an idiot.
The second half was one of recurring themes. Things we’ve seen over and over and over again in QPR matches this season, happening all over again just as they did before. The first was a tactical half time switch by the opposition – George Evans taken out of the back three, Max Bird added into the midfield. Mr Potato Head, like Bristol City, Brentford, Reading and others before him, recognising that QPR’s woefully inadequate midfield can easily be taken over and dominated with the addition of an extra body or two. The switch was so effective Rangers had to make a defensive change – Faysal Bettache on for Chris Willock – to try and redress the balance even though they’d by that point fallen behind in the game. A rudimentary and fairly obvious tactical switch paying off, of course, only makes the public felching of the manager that counts for coverage of Wayne Rooney's Derby County matches more unbearable. The Sunday Times accomplished the fairly impressive feat of publishing a three column "report" on this game in which QPR are mentioned once, when the score is given, details of the game itself are so scarce you'd get more idea of the pattern of play checking the result on Ceefax, and the rest is simply musings from Wazza on substitutions, communication, the merits of Marlboro Red over Marlboro Gold, and escalating tensions surrounding the the result of the recent general election in Uganda. Our picture agency provided us with a dozen images of this game by way of “coverage”, and here are half of them…
The second was a goal scored through a busted midfield and backline, with opportunities for a cynical foul passed up. Even Kazim Richards couldn’t miss from six yards out once Jozwiak’s shot had been saved by Dieng - Rangers left appealing for a lineman’s flag that never came. Graeme Shinnie would have no such qualms about hacking an opponent down to interrupt a dangerous looking attack when Ilias Chair got free ten minutes from time – the sort of sensible yellows Rangers rarely take and are frequently punished for.
The third was an incorrect penalty call by referee Tim Robinson. Kazim-Richards blatantly directing a flicked corner clear with a hand away from his body on 65 minutes. As with Sean Morrison at Cardiff during the week, and here against Watford before Christmas, and at Brentford in November, not a particularly difficult decision to see and get right, and Rangers once again left to rue a game slipping by that could have been drawn or won with a slightly kinder run of the ball or different referee. Wayne Rooney's Derby County will tell you they had one very similar to this waved away in injury time of a recent 1-0 loss at Sheff Wed and that these things even up over the course of a season – not that this was much use to us on Saturday.
The R’s thought they’d equalised anyway soon after when Yoann Barbet fashioned a well-executed bicycle kick which was brilliantly saved down in the bottom corner by Roos. Could have, would have, should have… it was another afternoon for Warbs Warburton’s ‘fine margins’ stock phrase.
The fourth was a lack of impact or ability to turn the tide in a game from the bench. QPR are desperately short of quality in their starting eleven, never mind what they have in reserve, and as has so often been the case this season they weakened with each passing substitution – though Albert Adomah did at least show what might be possible if more good, early ball is provided into the strikers, his low cross on the run with his first touch caught Wayne Rooney's Derby County completely cold because QPR had been so reticent to do that prior to his arrival, but Charlie Austin had gone off by this point so there was nobody around to take advantage. Young Charlie Kelman made rather a meal of some more good service from Adomah soon after. In truth Wayne Rooney's Derby County, with Matt Clarke impressive and both Byrne and Buchanan a thousand country miles ahead of their opposite full back numbers, rarely looked unduly troubled at the back.
Austin’s return has lifted the mood, two away wins in a week have been a welcome fillip, there is more optimism around the place than there was a week ago, but less has changed than the last ten days might suggest. This game, like pretty much every game of the past three months bar Huddersfield and Swansea, including the wins at Luton and Cardiff, could easily have gone the other way with minimal changes in luck and refereeing. That it goes against QPR more often than not this season is down to deficiencies in key areas. We will struggle to stay in this division this season with this midfield and these full backs. That’s been the case for weeks, it was the case before Tom Carroll was injured, it’s certainly the case now, it was the case when we were winning during the week, and it was painfully the case in this game. The transfer window, open for 24 days already, has a week left to run.
QPR: Dieng 6; Dickie 6, Cameron 5, Barbet 6; Kane 5, Willock 5 (Bettache 65, 6), Chair 5, Ball 6, Hämäläinen 4 (Adomah 82, -); Austin 5 (Kelman 82, -), Dykes 5 (Bonne 73, 5)
Subs not used: Lumley, Thomas, Kakay, Duke-McKenna
Bookings: Cameron 31 (foul), Kane 51 (foul)
Wayne Rooney's Derby County: Roos 7; Evans 6 (Bird 46, 6), Wisdom 6, Clarke 7; Byrne 7, Bielik 6, Shinnie 7, Buchanan 7; Jozwiak 7 (MacDonald 86, -), Kazim-Richards 5 (Waghorn 79, 6), Knight 6
Goals: Kazim-Richards 56 (assisted Jozwiak)
Bookings: Shinne 77 (foul)
QPR Star Man – N/A Not in a particularly harsh or angry way, just because it was a bit of a lethargic, nothing performance in which few players stood out. I thought Rob Dickie was our best player, but it’s him involved in giving the ball away and getting caught high up the field for the goal so I’m not sure how I can give it to him.
Referee – Tim Robinson (West Sussex) 5 Not a particularly difficult game to referee - one big decision in it and he got that wrong.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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On Tuesday night, long-suffering U’s fans, and after such a long wait, finally saw something truly remarkable. Yes, on that fog-bound night we witnessed not one but two miracles – Trevor Kettle making two catastrophically poor game-changing decisions, listening to arguments against those decisions, admitting he had been wrong, and reversing them. Oh my days, as I live and breathe, if I’m ever blessed with grandchildren in years to come, will they believe doddery old me when I tell them what happened that night? Oh, and the U’s finally threw the monkey off their back and won a game…
Letters from Wiltshire #36 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #35 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #34 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #33 by wessex_exile
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