The end of the beginning – Report
Sunday, 9th May 2021 21:24 by Clive Whittingham
A remarkable turnaround in QPR's fortunes in the strangest of all seasons, which began at Luton Town in January, finished in some style against the same opponent at Loftus Road on Saturday lunchtime.
The year of the asterisk is over. A period in our lives and sport that we’ll never want to recall or repeat but will not ever possibly be able to forget. Every photograph, every video clip, every moment, every memento, backlit by empty stands, soundtracked by the ghostly peals of long-lost crowds rolling down from public address systems over unoccupied seats to try and inspire exhausted footballers to ever greater levels of mediocrity. It was the year they took the thing we love the most, put it in a tank, and invited us to press our snot noses against the glass and watch from afar. Silently. Helplessly. Grandad, why were there no people at those games?
Some supporters – Derby… Sheffield Wednesday… - will return to find their club disintegrated without them. Financial and footballing catastrophes, years in the making, decades in the undoing. Like leaving your eighteenth-century country pile in the care of your teenage children for the weekend only to return and find that everybody who’s ever had a Facebook account got invited round for the mother of all hookers and blow bash, stopping only to curl a beer shit out on the antique Chinese rug as they bid a hasty retreat under instruction from the local constabulary.
For others – Norwich… Wycombe… - the altogether different trauma of seeing exactly the sort of once-in-a-generation moments we do all this to experience play out entirely in absentia. Brentford have played their final match in a century-old home, been to Wembley Stadium, moved into an entirely new ground, and may yet earn a first promotion to the Premier League, all since a Bee last got to go to a match. If Thomas Frank’s chokers hold their nerve next week I’m sure the good people of Hounslow will be delighted, albeit with a nag the size of a tennis ball eating the back of their mind that if only this could all have happened two years sooner or 18 months later. If football was only about the result we’d have never progressed beyond watching it via Ceefax.
For so long, it felt like Queens Park Rangers would be a member of the former clan. From a team that had already struggled with the nonsenses of lockdown football key extractions were made, surgically removing all that was good, effective, useful and at times beautiful about Mark Warburton’s side. When what was left played well – Bournemouth, Bristol City, Brentford – it didn’t win, and when it didn’t – Preston, Swansea, Huddersfield – the games weren’t even competitive. Four wins were dragged, often kicking and screaming, from the first 24 games of the season, and even a couple of those – Rotherham, Cardiff – felt like trying to give birth to the HMS Belfast. The heat lamp was turned up on the takes – too many projects, too many kids, too few players of requisite experience and ability. Our love, the victim of a thousand cuts, bleeding out before us, while we watched on a stream.
The turn around began at Luton Town. Never has a group of people wanted to run that gauntlet down that High Road, ascend those stairs, past that guy’s bathroom, and huddle together in that hovel as much as the QPR faithful did that night. Anticipation burning through the dark and the cold and the Thameslink delays, building to a roar of approval and thunderous applause as a team without a victory in ten games and two months emerges from the tunnel with Charlie Austin among its number once more. And then a hero comes along. Twenty minutes he took to start sorting things the fuck out, and when I use my frequent moments of extreme boredom and loneliness to close my eyes and escape I swear the parallel universe in which none of this public health horror ever occurred and we are all there together watching Albert Adomah run towards us, get the final ball right – as he does Every. Time. – and Macauley Bonne return it perfectly back towards us an into the bottom corner feels so close I reckon I could convince a lie detector I was there. I know what that looks and feels and sounds like, I know the state of my shins the following day, I can picture the strangers I’d have jumped on, I know exactly what I’d have drunk at Mabel’s Tavern that night and who’d have been there with me haggling over the closing time. The bereft sense of loss taking football out of my life has left me with was more profound that night than at any other point in the pandemic. I will never, ever complain about the away end bogs at Kenilworth Road again.
It felt somehow apt to have the Hatters as the final chapter in this remarkable turnaround. Rangers’ latest free-flowing, end-to-end victory was their fifteenth in a sequence that began 24 games ago at Kenilworth Road. Likewise, that Charlie Austin would open the scoring, smartly turning in Lyndon Dykes’ latest headed assist in the nineteenth minute – eight goals in 19 starts and two sub apps for Charlie, seven goals and four assists in the final nine games of the campaign for Lyndon. It’s a Disney+ bromance begging for a second season commission. Fox Searchlight, in association with Arte and Screen Australia, presents… Lyndon and Charlie. She’s a carefree Australian fresh off the beach, he’s a grizzled old racehorse owner who’s forgotten more than you’ll ever know, but will the Championship make or break this unlikely union? Yes please, take my subscription fee, see how I binge the living shit out of that.
There were moments of strife and anxiety thereafter, with Luton like Blackburn and others before them getting plenty of joy springing players into the gap in the left channel behind right-wing back Osman Kakay and to the side of Rob Dickie. Elijah Adebayo didn’t miss the near post by much having cut in from there and shot on the quarter hour, George Moncur - son of the long standing host of John Concurs - fired high into the side netting from a similar area soon after, and there were brilliant and brave blocks from first Jordy De Wijs straight after the Austin goal, and later Rob Dickie. Harry Cornick volleyed another chance through a crowded area and wide, and only Seny Dieng will know how he was able to get a close range effort from Sonny Bradley onto the inside of the post and out to safety. Stand up Seny, everybody look at Seny. A goal had, in truth, been coming long before Luton’s premier wedding venue Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall guided a Dieng rebound back past the keeper and into the bottom corner five before the break – Rangers, again, exposed down their right.
QPR, who you wouldn’t have backed in a one ticket raffle when these sides met in January, now win these games as a matter of routine. Chris Willock had been plaguing the visitors throughout the first half, almost getting Austin in on the end of a gorgeous move on six minutes, smacking a cross shot right through the danger zone on 11, and then taking just too long over a very presentable shooting chance while at the heart of a swift twenty seventh minute counter attack after a weak penalty appeal against De Wijs had rightly been waved away by referee Tony Harrington at the other end. His progression over the season has mirrored that of the team – both espousing the virtue of patience and time in a society and sport that too often demands instant gratification. When things inevitably get rocky again next season, let’s use this horrible lockdown period wisely, remembering how certain we were that Warburton would be sacked after Swansea at home, how Dykes wasn’t good enough, how Willock was a lightweight waif… Turns out, not so much, and all it took was time.
Willock was key in a second half overtaken and carried off into the distance by Warburton’s supremely confident, expertly assembled, brilliantly coached side. Nathan Jones, chip on both shoulders, would drop a “big spending QPR” barb at full time, but Luton spent more on their goalkeeper than anything Rangers had on the field (and there are more adept goalkeepers working the tills at Tesco). Rangers overcame the loss of Lyndon Dykes, crocked by a horrible tackle from Glen Rea that should have been a red card regardless of the context but felt particularly needless and nasty in an end of season fixture with nothing riding on it. Harrington, who could scarcely have been any more pedantic in the first quarter of an hour of the game when absolutely everything was apparently a free kick, suddenly came over all understanding and lenient with a yellow card. It’s a common failing of Championship referees that they sweat the small stuff to the point of dehydration only to then botch the obvious, and more important, bigger decisions. Rea should have walked, and the rather incredulous “what you playing at?” reaction from QPR players and belated contrition on his part as Dykes, with the Euros ahead, was carried off perhaps suggests he knows it as well. If I could grow extra fingers and toes to cross them for the lad I would – post match news and noise sounded positive, and Dykes was on the pitch with the rest of the lads at full time sans-crutches.
If Rangers are able to piece together a deal that continues the second coming of Austin into a fairy-tale second season your only problem come August will be fitting all the people who want to be there for it in the ground and then keeping the roof on the place when he walks out in our colours. But, arguably, even more important than Austin would be a deal for imperious central midfielder Stefan Johansen – or, at least, his non-union Mexican equivalent. He swept through on the Loft End goal to emphatically slam Ilias Chair’s beautiful assist into the bottom corner on the hour, capping an awesome second half to his personal season. Like Shaun Derry before him, a player you never truly appreciate until they pull on your colours, now seemingly set to join the Mark Kennedy club of What Might Have Been loan players. If this is to be goodbye, it is a crying shame we were never there to convey our awe and respect for his performance level in person. If it’s somehow not, I will cum oil.
The game rather descended into a mass of substitutions thereafter (this five subs business has to be reversed next season), and one of the QPR newcomers George Thomas really should have scored his first goal for the club when another Adomah got the final ball right again (we may have mentioned he does this a lot) but lifted the shot over the bar. It mattered little, not only in the context of the game and the league table, but because Adomah himself made it 3-1 regardless in injury time, rolling Chrissy Willock’s assist into an empty goal for his first QPR score at Loftus Road - the move started by a monstrous header from the excellent De Wijs. It was a goal we knew about well in advance, the vagaries of internet streaming meant the group at the far end of the Crown garden were so far ahead Dieng was wearing a West Ham top in their feed. Another bittersweet moment as you dreamed of the reverberating noise finishing the season with an Albert Adomah goal at the Loft End with the last kick of a victory against Luton would have created, but instead enjoyed/endured through this excruciating new normal.
There have been bits of this season that will live with me for as long as I’m on this earth. Watching the bar staff try to waft Joe Hylton down from the ceiling of the Crown with a broom after Macauley Bonne equalised in the last minute at Hillsborough. The non-socially distanced tidal wave of beer and Covid that greeted Dom Ball’s Cardiff howitzer. Sheffield Jon responding to Wednesday’s dramatic relegation by drinking the bar dry, leaving without his wallet, glasses and coat, and stacking it completely on the way out… If you know better people than the dozen who have spent this time with me, huddled together for warmth through a winter of cold dankness and Covid-fuckwittery, then treasure them, because they must be pretty damn amazing. To my lot… guys, just… you have no idea.
The class of 2021 has now joined the 1976 greatest QPR team of all time, Ian Holloway’s wonderful boys of 2003, and the Rangers teams of 1961 and 1930 in equalling the club record of 15 wins post-January 1. In the process they have bettered the league position, points total, clean sheet total, goals conceded, home wins and away wins of 2019/20 despite all the talent that went out of the side. Watching projects like Seny Dieng, Rob Dickie and Willock become mainstays of the team, seeing the turn arounds in the Lyndon Dykes and Lee Wallace stories, Yoann Barbet completing every second of every game in this of all seasons, the latter few with a painful shoulder injury… all of it makes the heart swell. I’ll always be in love with this club, now I’m in love with the team as well, and that frequently hasn’t been the case, even when it was ostensibly ‘achieving’. There is immense, justified optimism coursing through the veins of the place that six years of cleaning house might provide a foundation for something special here. But each passing win, each passing goal, Nick London emphatically proclaiming that “Adomah’s going to win it for Rangers” before he does exactly that at Watford, Charlie Austin’s return and the reception he would have got when substituted yesterday, that performance at Bristol City, that night at Kenilworth Road, the comebacks against Brentford and Millwall, also just bring it back home how we’re not there and how difficult that is for those who live for nothing else.
For us, this needs to be the beginning of the end. For our bright, brilliantly managed, young team, this is merely the end of the beginning. August please. Right now.
QPR: Dieng 7; Dickie 6, De Wijs 7, Barbet 7; Kakay 6 (Adomah 76, 7), Chair 7 (Thomas 77, 6), Johansen 8 (Cameron 86, -), Willock 8, Wallace 7; Dykes 7 (Field 46, 6), Austin 7 (Bonne 66, 6)
Subs not used: Carroll, Bettache, Walsh, Hämäläinen
Goals: Austin 20 (assisted Dykes), Johansen 60 (assisted Chair), Adomah 90 (assisted Willock)
Bookings: Austin 1 (foul)
Luton: Sluga 5; Bree 5 (Pereira 86, -), Pearson 6, Bradley 6, Naismith 6; Dewsbury-Hall 8, Rea 5 (Berry 71, 6), Mpanzu 6; Cornick 6 (LuaLua 71, 5), Adebayo 6, Moncur 6 (Collins 71, 6)
Subs not used: Shea, Cranie, Potts, Tunnicliffe, Morrell
Goals: Dewsbury-Hall 43 (assisted Moncur)
Bookings: Rea 45 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Stefan Johansen 8 Pure class.
Referee – Tony Harrington (Cleveland) 5 I thought the game was just going to be one long free kick the way he started in the first few minutes, including a yellow card for Austin after a matter of seconds (not a good tackle), but he calmed down thereafter. The Glen Rea tackle on Lyndon Dykes, for me, is a red card.
Pictures – Action Images
Please report offensive, libellous or inappropriate posts by using the links provided.
You need to login in order to post your comments
Blogs 31 bloggers
Letters from Wiltshire #48 by wessex_exile
“And now the end is near, and so we face the final curtain…regrets, we’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention”. Not quite right Paul Anka, probably more than a few, but otherwise a fair assessment of where the U’s are today. It’ll be interesting to see how we perform with the relegation monkey finally off their back – I’m not expecting miracles, particularly with Tranmere needing at least a point to guarantee making the play-offs, but they’ll certainly be more nervous than we will be, so can we make that count? This will be my last blog of the season, and not yet sure what I may or may not do for next season, but suggestions are always welcome.
Letters from Wiltshire #47 by wessex_exile
Here we are, at the penultimate game of the season, and our last game in front of the cardboard U’s faithful at the JobServe. It has been a long, difficult, and definitely strange season, which frankly I’ll be glad to see the back of. That’ll we’ll be here again in August is definitely going to be something to celebrate, but I suspect we’re facing a summer of significant rebuilding both on the pitch, and possibly off it too. I won’t be the only one, but the biggest oddity for me has been being able to watch every single game – not always easy viewing, but something I’ve never done before, and probably never will again. But it doesn’t really make up for not being there in person, the long train journey away-days, meeting fellow U’s and other supporters, and of course sharing a beer or three. Fingers-crossed we can return to the terraces in 2021/22.
Letters from Wiltshire #46 by wessex_exile
That was quite a week for us all then. In the space of four short but remarkably tense days we have gone from having to take shoes and socks off to check how many more points we need to guarantee survival, or whether we would even achieve it, to breathing a huge sigh of relief knowing we’re almost there. But close of play this afternoon, whether by our own actions or the failure of others, I am sure survival will be confirmed. Of course, Tuesday night not only all but guaranteed it, it also virtually condemned local rivals Southend United to non-league football for the foreseeable. Looking at the host of fully professional former football league sides currently battling it out for the two promotion slots out of the National league (including Hartlepool, Torquay, Stockport, Wrexham, Chesterfield and Notts County), it is not going to be a walk in the park for Southend to return any day soon.
Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
Tonight, Colchester United face Southend United in what may not necessarily be the most important game of our respective histories (though it’s certainly very close), but is almost certainly the most important Essex derby ever. However this season pans out, by the end of it there’ll either be only one team in Essex, or worst case scenario, none at all. If the U’s win, then Southend will be 9pts behind with just three games to go, and a minimum of a -12 goal difference to overturn if they want to overtake us. Certainly mathematically possible, but that would rely on a remarkable turnaround in their form, form that they’ve shown precious little sign of achieving so far this season. The stalking horse is Grimsby, with their game in hand, who have rather belatedly shown an improvement in form, so their match against automatic promotion chasing Morecambe tonight is equally important, particularly if we want to avoid the unthinkable, with both Essex clubs dropping out of the league.
Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
So here we are, as the nation mourns the passing of His Royal Highness, Duke of Edinburgh, the U’s face the first of two season-defining moments, with our late kick-off match at home to Walsall. Before then, no doubt many will have been focused on events elsewhere, not least the early kick-offs for Grimsby (at home to promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers), and particularly Essex rivals Southend United, who faced a tricky visit to Exeter City – still very much in the hunt for at least a play-off spot. As I finalise this blog, I know that Grimsby have beaten Bolton 2-1, and Southend earned a credible 0-0 draw in the West Country. More to the point, the U’s will know this too. Whilst I can’t help but feel that will ought to be to our advantage, it surely must also put additional pressure on a squad whose confidence is paper-thin. We must hope that Hayden Mullins, assisted by Paul Tisdale, get their heads right, and send the lads out this evening fired up with self-belief.
Queens Park Rangers Polls