Never a moment’s doubt – Report
Thursday, 18th Mar 2021 18:04 by Clive Whittingham
QPR turned around a dire performance and 2-0 deficit into a pulsating comeback and 3-2 victory against Millwall at Loftus Road on Wednesday night.
The ‘on the whistle’ match report. A relic of a bygone era where you could go to the newsagent at the train station and buy a brightly coloured paper with the day’s football scores and reports and hour after the full time whistle. A form of torture for budding sports reporters, like death knocks for their news equivalents. Writing the story of a match, before said match has finished. A skill for them to build and hone over time, sure, and there have been some masterful protagonists of the art down the years, but something that will make fools out of even the best in the business should Manchester United decide to win the Champions League with goals after 89 and 90. Clive Tyldesley ejaculating “that night in Barcelona” superlatives back down the line to the UK while a few feet away several dozen hacks tear up three hours of work and try to re-write it in a minute and 30 seconds.
An old mentor of mine used to dine out on a, no doubt greatly exaggerated, story of a midweek game at Bradford City, for which he’d been assigned a 600-word gap on an inner sports page of the following day’s northern edition of The Independent. The match chugged along very happily at nil nil, with the square route of fuck all happening for an hour, at which point his first 300 words (the final 300 words in the report) went in, talking mostly quite wistfully about the late spring sunshine setting behind the terraced houses atop the hill that faces the infamous main stand at Valley Parade. Little other than substitutes to discuss in the next 15 minutes at which point a further 150 words for the middle of the report were filed. And then? Well then all hell broke loose, and amidst riotous scenes of defensive collapse, goalmouth carnage, multiple red cards the game finished 4-3. As challenging a final 150 words as has ever been written, and the source of much anger and confusion in the subsequent letters pages from readers unfortunate enough to pick up the first edition the following day before the re-write. Sir, what sort of complete imbecilic moron did you send to cover the Bradford game on Tuesday night? Yours, Everybody.
An ‘on the whistle’ report of last night’s game between Queens Park Rangers and Millwall would have made fools of far more adept reporters than me. It did, nevertheless, swallow me whole.
The narrative began to form the second the team sheets went in, and was rock solid before half time. QPR fielded a starting eleven based more on who’s tall enough to ride the Vampire at Chessington World of Adventures, rather than who’s better than who at football. Lyndon Dykes, Sam Mayday Malone and Jaap Stan all recalled; Ilias Chair, Osman Kakay and Sam Field left in the play area while the adults did adult things. Warbs Warburton has the cheat sheet on Millwall and Millwall football, unbeaten against them since taking over at Loftus Road, with three wins from three games and ten goals scored against Neil Harris’ Cardiff thrown in for good measure – twice Rangers have got Harris the sack in two seasons. In the past we’ve seen Toni Leistner given a surprise recall at The Den, and Geoff Cameron rolling back the years at right back against the Bluebirds, and it’s all worked. When Jake Cooper, Shaun Hutchison and Alex Pearce are coming up for set pieces taken by a player as gifted as Jed Wallace, allowances have to be made, problems have to be solved, parties have to be catered for. TALL?! THAT’S OUR SECRET WORD FOR THE DAY.
Except, no. Any team would struggle to ever be quite as blunt force trauma as a Neil Harris side and, while certainly a long way from watchable, Gary Rowett’s version is somewhat more refined than its predecessor. There are half decent ball players in midfield – Wallace as good as there is at this level, Ben Thompson underappreciated in his own home, Ryan Woods a perennial scourge of QPR – and they’re not, always, bypassed by a long ball any more. With giants Kenneth Zohore and Big Posh Matt Smith out injured, a smaller and more mobile forward line led by Mason Bennett was fielded. This is no longer a team that counts spitting on it as foreplay, and there was a chance that in preparing a team to face a Harris-style football-out-of-a-wheeled-cannon routine, Rangers were once again talking up and second guessing a problem out of proportion at the expense of their own style of play. This week’s dodgy St Andrew’s pitch was an assumption that Millwall would be coming at us solely from the air.
And for 45 fairly horrifying minutes, that’s exactly how it played out. Geoff Cameron’s return to midfield, like a Rolf Harris return to kids broadcasting, not a conspicuous success. Rangers gave the ball away six times in the first five minutes, with the American particularly culpable, and having already had one sniff at goal Wallace was never going to spurn a second when Todd Kane took a turn to handover possession cheaply in a lethal area – a pretty simple and easy finish into the far corner for 1-0. Wallace fired a later chance over, Mason Bennett busted a horrible looking offside trap but seemed to take the task of finishing a little lightly – perhaps expecting a flag – and Dieng saved brilliantly with his legs one on one. From the resulting long throw Cooper flicked on and Bennett made the most of a fairly pathetic Kane marking job at the far post to scissor kick in a second. Might wanna pop those fingers in your ears for real this time Todd, more rocks than diamonds in this one for the inconsistent former Chelsea man.
In a weird role reversal, QPR’s threats were posed almost exclusively from set pieces and long throws. Rob Dickie had one Lyndon Dykes Exocet in the net off a Jordy De Wijs nod down but was rightly flagged offside, then the Dutchman tried his own luck from a Dykes hurl and Bialkowski produced a needlessly elaborate camera save. Other than that, and a tireless workrate in the channels from Dykes, QPR offered little, and frequently had to go backwards and inside with the ball as the back three and wing backs looked up into a deserted midfield searching in vain for options other than a long ball. The football, the movement, the ball players, the skill, was all coming from Millwall. I wondered whether they might like to go the whole hog and swap kits at half time – added bonus, Geoff might have started passing to our players.
So that’s it isn’t it, let the carve up begin. Take all our many years of experience on Football Manager and Fifa, all the coaching badges we’ve accumulated, all the decades of experience training players and picking teams and managing match situations, and roll it all up into angry, spiteful balls of content for the interweb. Because when the world has gone to shit, and you’ve been locked in your own home for a year, and you’re working monotonous 12-hour days, and your shower has decided today’s the day it’s going to empty out through the kitchen ceiling rather than the plughole, and you feel like crap and your anxiety is through the same fucking ceiling that’s tipping bathwater the other way, and all you want is for QPR to give you something to smile about before you go to bed and do it all over again, and they play like this, like fucking this, it’s not the one. Not the one at all. And Warburton has obviously fucked this up, over thinking things, planning for a Millwall that no longer exists, surrendering a midfield area we weren’t expecting them to use only to now be completely overrun by Ben chuffing Thompson. The only thing for it now is multiple, multiple half time substitutions, and a complete, frank, mea culpa in the post-match interview that sometimes you get it right, sometimes you get it wrong, and sometimes you get it so wrong that it ceases to merely be wrong and becomes something else entirely, something so far past wrong that you miss wrong deeply and would love to take wrong out on a very romantic date with food, and candles, and Michael fucking Buble music, and heavy petting. You want to meet wrong’s parents, so wrong is this new wrong.
Zero half time subs. Long, loud, exasperated sigh. It’s not even like Sam Field is that small is it? He was winning plenty of headers in his own box last week. Me, me, me. I know the answer, I know better than this, me with my blog and my Twitter account and my oh so important learned opinions. What the hell is he playing at?
Then Geoff Cameron crossed for Charlie Austin to nip in front of his man and guide an expertly taken header into the far corner. A brilliant cross, and even better finish. The man is pure goals.
QPR still, to be fair, all over the place. Hutchinson volleyed a sitter over the bar from six yards, prompting our bi-annual discussion about why we never see or hear the assister Jed Wallace linked with big money moves. Seny Dieng got a strong right hand down to the bottom corner to keep out a shot from Malone that looked in all the way. Cooper nodded another set piece down for Hutchinson to seize on and, again, somehow miss the target when it seemed easier to score. Jordy De Wijs had to take a yellow card for a meaty tackle interrupting another dangerous attack. Take what you want Jordy, just don’t hurt my face.
But at two one, now there’s hope. Now Rangers are in the game. And now they’re actually starting to play a bit. Passes are finding men in the same shirts, space is opening up, Millwall are sinking a bit deeper, another much maligned figure having a good night, Lee Wallace, is rampaging up and down the left. The midfield…. exists! A startling improvement, led by Stefan Johansen. Austin got in on goal with Dykes in support but butchered a shot when he should have passed. Don’t worry about it, here’s Chris Willock finding the right ball at the right time to get Dykes in down the left and with Millwall split all asunder a low cross from Wallace couldn’t fail to be turned in from four yards by Johansen – though he gave it a real good go. Two, and indeed, two. What, the fuck, is going on?
A comeback I’d have offered you any price you liked on at half time now not only on, but most of the way completed. QPR looked good. Heavy defeat, dreadful performance, managerial disaster? Not me mate, never believed it. Millwall looked ambushed. Those belated substitutions arrived, with Ilias Chair and Field introduced, and immediately Chair got going down the right and whipped a low cross right through the goal mouth, narrowly out of Dykes’ reach, and struck goalwards for a save at the far post by Austin. A mistake by Alex Pearce let Chair in for another chance, but he wasted it caught in two minds. Another newbie, Albert Adomah, slung one over for Wallace steaming in at the far post, but the goal he richly deserved was denied by a weak finish. Brace positions guys, this lot are coming in low and hot.
Rowett, wondering where on earth his wife, car and possessions had gone, made all the substitutions all at once: goalscoring threat Tom Bradshaw and threat to himself Jon Dadi Bodvarsson; Billy Mitchell and Shaun Williamson from Eastenders; somebody called Tyler Burey. Something inside so strong. But this was now a game, inexplicably, heading in completely the other direction, and Chair’s corner after Mac Bonne’s shot deflected wide was angled beautifully into the far corner by Jordy De Wijs for three two. Wawll, third best defence in the division, only nine defeats all season, ship three in half an hour and now trail, and it could have been more. QPR, about as bad as they’ve been all season for the first 60, two nil down and should have been more, now into the lead. Lynn, these are sex people.
From not being that fussed, to properly pissed off, and now utterly elated. All that half time anger, all those hot takes, all that certainty about how much of a mess our manager had made of things, all absolute bollocks. If ever you (I) needed it hammered home how little we (I) understand of the sport we’ve (I’ve) watched all our (my) lives (life), then this truly was it.
Jarred Gillett advertised four, played five, and Rob Dickie ran straight into the post. It was about the most normal thing that happened all night, under the lights, at Loftus Road.
QPR: Dieng 7; Dickie 6, De Wijs 6, Barbet 6; Kane 4 (Adomah 76, 6), Cameron 4 (Field 70, 6), Johansen 7, Willock 6 (Chair 70, 7), Wallace 7; Austin 6 (Bonne 79, 6), Dykes 7 (Ball 90+1, -)
Subs not used: Lumley, Kakay, Hämäläinen, Thomas
Goals: Austin 51 (assisted Cameron), Johansen 67 (assisted Wallace), De Wijs 86 (assisted Chair)
Bookings: De Wijs 56 (foul), Johansen 88 (foul)
Millwall: Bialkowski 6; Hutchinson 5, Pearce 5 (Burey 89, -), Cooper 6; Romeo 7, Woods 6 (Mitchell 77, 6), Evans 6 (Bradshaw 89, -), Thompson 6 (Williams 77, 6), Malone 6; Wallace 7, Bennett 6 (Bovarsson 77, 5)
Subs not used: Fielding, M Wallace, Ferguson, McNamara
Goals: Wallace 6 (assisted Woods), Bennett 39 (assisted Cooper)
QPR Star Man – Lyndon Dykes 7 Toiled hard against a tough and physical defence, with no support in the first half, and the cavalry joining him in the second. Between him and another much maligned squad member Lee Wallace for me.
Referee – Jarred Gillett (Queensland) 7 A lot to like about this referee, though I thought he was incredibly generous not to book Bennett for a horrible tackle eight minutes into the game – basically seemed to let him off because it was a bit early in the game but it wasn’t a good one at all.
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