QPR’s calamitous cave-in gives Millers hope - Report
Wednesday, 14th Apr 2021 16:16 by Clive Whittingham
QPR went from a spectacular goal to nil up to a shambolic three one defeat in the blink of an eye on Tuesday night, boosting Rotherham United's flagging survival prospects in the process.
Naturally, you’ll have come here expecting the old profile of Charity Park Rangers, the most benevolent football team in the world, arriving in the nick of time to chuck a wadge of notes into the begging bowl of whichever team has played itself onto the porch at death’s door this time.
Rotherham with fewer home wins and fewer home points than any other team in the division. Rotherham without a goal in three games, on a run of five successive home defeats, beaten here by bottom placed Wycombe 3-0 last time out. Rotherham trying to cram an unprecedented five Championship matches into 11 days at the end of an already hectic and exhausting season. Rotherham with budget issues, Rotherham with Covid-19 problems, Rotherham staring down the barrel of a third relegation in as many seasons at this level. Of course, of course, Queens Park Rangers were going to turn up and lose, it’s what we do. Maybe I could do one of those huge drop intros that fill the word count out so nicely about the time one of the greatest QPR sides there has ever been somehow lost twice in a season to Swindon Town, who finished last, winning only five games, and only one of them away from home.
Rangers have taken more points from the top nine in the Championship (23) with Swansea and Norwich still to play than they have from the bottom nine (22) with all fixtures completed. Apart from the bottom two, Sheff Wed and Wycombe, they have lost at least once to every team from fourteenth down, and twice to Huddersfield. Eight of the teams from thirteenth upwards have failed to beat QPR so far this season, including three of the top six (admittedly with several games to come). Away at Rotherham, Coventry, Birmingham and Forest, at home to Derby, and twice against Huddersfield, Rangers have been little short of abject. Away at Norwich, Watford, Bournemouth, and Reading, at home to Brentford and Bournemouth, and twice against Cardiff, you’d struggle to fault them.
QPR better against the better sides, fall in a hole against the worse ones, tale as old as time, song as old as rhyme, and anybody anticipating them doing anything other than rock up at the kennels on Tuesday night and toss a nice juicy bone the way of one of its more forlorn hounds was kidding themselves the whole time, and needs to watch this club a bit longer to understand it more.
Except, no. I think it’s a bit of a lazy narrative this time. QPR have beaten every team in the bottom five this season, and there was certainly no eye-rolling and ‘here we go again’ sentiment kicking around when we comprehensively ran the rounds of the kitchen through first Coventry and then Sheff Wed in the last fortnight, scoring seven goals and taking a maximum possible six points. If you read the league down from top to bottom the points we’ve taken from teams this season, with six to play, are ridiculously evenly split across the board – 1, 4, 0, 3, 4, 0, 1, 6, 4, 1, 1, 3, 3, 3, 1, 3, 1, 0, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4. We have taken 28 points from the top 12 sides (minus ourselves naturally) and 28 from the bottom 11. We have done only one double, against Cardiff. We have won one and lost one against seven of the teams we’ve played twice, often combining one of our better performances of the season with one of our worst against the same opponent (Derby, Coventry, Forest, Bristol City and now Rotherham).
I find it impossible to call QPR at the best of times, as my match previews stand testament to, but just at the moment it is absolutely impossible to tell what you’re going to get from this Rangers team from one week to the next. The last four results have been a 3-0 win, 3-1 defeat, 4-1 win, and another 3-1 defeat. Hell, as the games with Millwall and Brentford since Christmas, Brentford, Bristol City, Cardiff and Rotherham in the autumn, and now Rotherham once again, it’s quite difficult to call what you’re going to get from Mark Warburton’s men from one half to the next. The gap between our best and worst is yawning, and they sometimes occur within 15 minutes of each other.
Christ, I can’t even call the team selection, from one of the most consistent, focused, single-minded managers in the business. “If you think Warburton is going to start looking towards next season, experimenting, throwing kids in, then you haven’t been paying attention,” I confidently proclaimed in the preview, and then suddenly here we were with the Royal Crown Prince of Umlauts Niko Hämäläinen back in from the start for the first time since February 27 – man in the Lee Wallace costume finally recaptured by the authorities and nowhere to be seen. Not only that but George Thomas, a first start since September 26, and Charlie Kelman in for a first ever start in our colours full stop. He will be my Basildon boy, my Basildon boy. Albert Adomah, overlooked once again, even with the stars of Saturday’s win Chris Willock and Ilias Chair rested out of the positions you would think he’d be best suited to.
That did set a couple of alarm bells ringing. A little bit young and pretty, against a big hairy Rotherham side singularly unfortunate not to take at least a point from Loftus Road in November having crawled all over the top of us for the whole second half in the first meeting.
Still, if you’d told me 15, 30, 45, 55 minutes into last night’s match at The New York Stadium that Rangers were going to end up losing 3-1 I’d have believed you, because anything is possible when you support a club that has its No Brain Explosions Since... sign updated in chalk, but I’d have been very intrigued as to how. There was only one team in it for the first 25 minutes at least as Thomas hooked a difficult volley from a Stef Johansen free kick over the bar, Lyndon Dykes’ prodigious long through dropped the way of Yoann Barbet for a blocked volley, Kelman had a shot beaten back and Thomas scooped the rebound too high, and Thomas also shot wide on his right foot after a glorious touch and pass exchange with Johansen.
Although Barlaser had a bit of a sighter at Dieng from 20 yards, it took the home side half an hour to pose any threat at all – makeshift forward Matt Crooks in a bit too easily down the left and sliding a cross shot right through the goal mouth and a foot or so wide of the far post. Their main contributions to the half apart from this were several tactical fouls on both George Thomas as he looked to turn into space past halfway, and Seny Dieng as he went for a quick release to set counter attacks a way – obviously a deliberate ploy they’d spoken about, and enough to draw yellow cards for the MacDonald with the ginger hair and the MacDonald without. That, and a series of unfortunate blows to the testicles for the luckless Matthew Olosunde. His substitution at half time, replaced by Richard Wood who looks like an Undr the Cosh guest waiting to happen and was quickly booked for booting Seny Dieng in the gob, more a mercy killing than a tactical switch. God speed buddy.
There was some aerial threat – Crooks flying in over the top of Dieng to head over a cross from the home team’s best player Ryan Giles, a big defensive header from Dykes at the far post to prevent one of a number of cleverly set up and executed corners bearing fruit. But at the other end Osman Kakay came closer than anyone to breaking the deadlock with an unlikely 25-yarder on his left foot that required a tip over from Swedish goalkeeper Johansson and I’m sure Sheff Utd would be very interested in indeed.
Jordy De Wijs’ broken nose sustained right on the bell was less than ideal, and required a second half reshuffle with Todd Kane allowed off the naughty step to play right wing back and Kakay moving inside. This would form part of the accident investigator’s report into the disaster to come, but initially the news was all good for Rangers as Kakay rampaged off down the right wing unchallenged and was eventually invited to cross for Lyndon Dykes who controlled with one foot and blooted in the opening goal with the other. A brilliant goal, the likes of which he wouldn’t have even tried a month ago, and he now has five in five and ten for the season.
Several things then happened, pretty much all at once. The first is that Paul Warne made three substitutions, and the three players who came on – Michael Smith, Liam Lindsay, and particularly Lewis Wing – were all substantially better than the players they replaced. It gave the home team a renewed life, threat and impetus. It also added another powerful presence to the attack, alongside Freddie Ladapo, which with De Wijs already off, proved too much for QPR’s now rather lightweight defence to cope with.
The second is that QPR got rather cocksure and full of themselves, starting to do all sorts of little flicks and tricks and turns around corners that weren’t on. They stopped passing the ball, stopped keeping the ball, stopped doing the basics, and invited a refreshed Rotherham team to pile onto them with ball and big numbers hunting an equaliser, which duly arrived when Ladapo chested down and finished brilliantly having been left unattended at the back post – the marking by Barbet and Hämäläinen whenever Rotherham went left to right was abysmal all night.
The third is that Rangers then seemed to give up on the game entirely. For all the obvious improvements there have been since the turn of the year, we can still go a little bit sad sigh when things go against us, and that was certainly the case here. Several players who were absolutely full of beans when the going was good in the first half – and I unfortunately include Johansen and Sam Field in this, two players who’ve been brilliant since they arrived at the club – vanished from the game entirely. They weren’t alone: Thomas, Kelman and Kane may as well not have been there; Rob Dickie and Yoann Barbet – the only Championship outfield player to play every second of league football this season - suddenly looked absolutely shot to bits and knackered; Niko Hämäläinen did nothing to dissuade the idea that he’s simply not good enough for this level of football. It’s all very well popping it around and swaggering about the place when the going is good, but nobody was willing or able to stick their hand up and muck in for the final half an hour when it wasn’t. It was no surprise that Rotherham went 2-1 up, or that the lively Ladapo got it, and no shock at all that it came from QPR taking a lazy, half-arsed short cut – trying to play a man offside who never was, because it’s a lot easier to stand with you hand in the air, abdicate responsibility, then bitch and moan about it, than defend the situation properly.
Now the visitors had a face on, like a sulky eight-year-old. Mac Bonne was introduced, and belatedly Ilias Chair and Chris Willock as well, but you could count the touches they had between them on the fingers of one hand. We suffer anyway without the physical presence of either Cameron or De Wijs in the middle of the back three – Rangers have lost six of the eight games Cameron has missed and are unbeaten in the five and a half games De Wijs has played – and the gap in ability between Hämäläinen and Wallace is so vast that swapping one for the other can’t help but have a huge effect on the team – we have lost the last three in which the Fin has started instead of the Scot. That, combined with the midfield dissolving, made the latter stages of this game a grim watch. Rangers never once looked like they were going to even threaten to score, despite Lyndon Dykes’ ongoing frustrated best efforts, and they should have conceded again on 75 when Ladapo fluffed a hat trick chance and Wood stuck the rebound wide. Dickie summed up his pretty dire night with a botched clearance from a cross so hapless, under no pressure, he was fortunate referee Dean Whitestone didn’t give a penalty for him inadvertently punching his lousy first touch out for a corner.
Any slim hope Rangers might rally for a grandstand finish was extinguished in the final minute when Michael Smith was allowed to run half the length of the pitch unchallenged and calmly chip a third in past Dieng to renew Rotherham’s hopes of survival, and scare the living shit out of Coventry and Wayne Rooney’s Derby County now within touching distance just above them. It was no more than either the Millers or the Rangers deserved and frankly, with Mr Potato Head carrying the can at Pride Park, and the Ricoh Arena up there with John Prescott’s lower colon in a list of places I’d like to spend a Saturday afternoon next season, you couldn’t help but applaud them and wish them well in their quest. Ladapo, excellent in both matches against us this season and now on nine goals for the campaign, leaving the field with a groin injury late on doesn’t bode well for Thursday’s crunch six pointer here against the Sky Blues. I hope they smash it regardless.
Like the Forest defeat a week ago, it was a dispiriting show from Rangers that rather tempered the optimism that has been coursing through the place since January. Even if Johansen and Charlie Austin, or their equivalents, are secured, there is still plenty of work to do on this team. A big, nasty, head-it-and-kick-it centre half for the middle of the back three is going to be required if we keep to this system. You would think Geoff is probably done now, and while De Wijs has played well when selected and was unlucky to catch a headbutt full in the face right on half time here, we need to be sure that he is durable enough for 35+ appearances next season if we’re to take up the option of making his move permanent.
The loss of control and dominance through the centre of midfield, which happened here even with what most would consider our best two on the pitch, is a recurring theme. As are the struggles when our wing backs are Kakay and Hämäläinen instead of Kane and Wallace. I’m not going to sit here and hammer a couple of kids, and Kakay is a very useful cover player to have around at the lower end of your budget given the number of different positions he can fill in, but he’s not a starter and I’m afraid I don’t see Hämäläinen as being anywhere good enough for this level at this point in time. At best, he’s in need of another year out on loan somewhere in 2021/22 if possible. He doesn’t pose the attacking threat we need from that position with the ball, and he’s far too timid defensively without it. With him, Kakay and Kane all still with plenty of contract to run – and unless Wallace’s absence here is another big injury set back I’d expect him to get another year as well given Warburton’s fondness for him, his form since Christmas, and his seniority and influence in a dressing room about to lose its captain – I’m not sure whether investment in what would be a third LWB and third RWB is something that’s going to work budget wise. But, whatever we think of Kane, and however dodgy Wallace has been prior to his recent uptick, we suffer in this formation when their understudies play instead of them, and that’s not going to have changed by August without some fresh faces.
A number of issues there then, and I’m sure Warburton will cop it from some quarters for changing a winning team, ignoring Adomah, and making the substitutions he did when he did, though as I said a few weeks back I think the vast majority of team selection choices and subs being made at this point are data and fitness related rather than who he actually wants out there so I’m not as bothered as some about that.
Biggest problem here though was old fashioned stuff. Bollocks, basics, ball possession… dare I say desire? We needed to stand up and face a bit of pressure after taking the lead and we crumpled. Everybody wanted the ball when they thought this game was going well for us, and none of them wanted to know when it wasn’t. Little wonder Warbs Warburton was obviously fuming in his post match. He knows you don’t get far with that attitude.
Rotherham: Johansson 6; Harding 6, MacDonald 6, Robertson 6; Olusunde 6 (Wood 45, 6), Barlaser 6, MacDonald 5 (Wing 59, 7), Wiles 6 (Lindsay 59, 7), Giles 7; Crooks 6 (Smith 59, 7), Ladapo 8 (Sadlier 81, -)
Subs not used: Hirst, Ogbene, Blackman, Jozefzoon
Goals: Ladapo 64 (assisted Wing), 66 (assisted Harding), Smith 90 (assisted Lindsay)
Bookings: S MacDonald 38 (repetitive fouling), A MacDonald 41 (foul), Smith 70 (foul), Wood 75 (foul)
QPR: Dieng 5; Dickie 5, De Wijs 6 (Kane 45, 5), Barbet 4; Kakay 5, Johansen 5, Field 5 (Chair 80, -), Thomas 5 (Willock 80, -) Hämäläinen 4; Kelman 6 (Bonne 67, 5), Dykes 7
Subs not used: Lumley, Ball, Bettache, Adomah, Duke-McKenna
Goals: Dykes 52 (assisted Kakay)
QPR Star Man – Lyndon Dykes 7 Scored a fantastic goal, the likes of which I’m not even sur ehe would have attempted a few weeks ago. Just as important though, he led the line strongly and effectively in the first half in a physical battle, and was the only QPR player still charging around putting a shift in over the last half hour when everybody else rather seemed to have given up. He looked as annoyed with that as any of us sitting at home, which is a good thing. When he was atv his lowest at QPR this season I said it would be nice if we could have the happy, confident, energetic Lyndon Dykes who played so effectively for Scotland at the start of the campaign – charging around, flying into defenders, being a pain. We finally seem to have got that.
Referee – Dean Whitestone (Northants) 6 Nothing better to do with his time than make sure every throw in and offside was taken from exactly the right position, which is exactly the sort of needless pedantry that slows games down and winds people up, but the big decisions were correct, including all three cards despite Rotherham’s protests. Actually quite generous to let the Ginger MacDonald off at the start of the second half when, already booked, he cracked right through the back of George Thomas for a third time.
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Letters from Wiltshire #48 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #47 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #46 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
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