|Queens Park Rangers 2 v 2 Barnsley|
Saturday, 21st August 2021 Kick-off 12:30
Adomah and Ball reach into the fire to grasp unlikely point - Report
Sunday, 22nd Aug 2021 15:47 by Clive Whittingham
It's certainly not going to be dull at Queens Park Rangers this season, who launched an unlikely comeback from a first half annihilation against Barnsley on Saturday thanks to the pro-active thinking of their manager and the performances of two substitutes.
There are some teams in the Championship for whom Queens Park Rangers’ style of play under Mark Warburton is something approaching kryptonite.
If you’re a proud dinosaur, with a basic bitch of a team, playing four-four-fucking-two, whose attacking plan a, b and c is to turn the opposition full backs around and feast on the corners and long throws that follow, then you’ll likely get picked apart by this Rangers side. QPR are unbeaten in their last five against Millwall, winning three, scoring 11 goals in the process. They have won their last three against Cardiff, including a 6-1 at Loftus Road. We have won three and drawn one of four games with Stoke, scoring eight in the process. There have been victories in each of the last three visits to Middlesbrough, including in excess of an hour played with ten men across two of them. Neil Harris has twice lost his job on the back of poor results against Rangers in as many seasons. When Warbs says "with respect, they're good at what they do", the respect is very much like the respect I have for the ongoing success and popularity of Mrs Brown's Boys.
With the more innovative teams, however, problems often arise. Formations, systems, recruitment and/or managerial appointments outside the Championship norm, a high and energetic midfield press, can derail the Super Hoops, even when the team isn’t actually that good – through Huddersfield’s struggles of the last two seasons they’ve won three and drawn one of their games with QPR, conceding only once. Barnsley used to be the biggest banker home win on QPR’s fixture list, 26 unbeaten games here going back to the 1950s, but since they came crashing back into this division on a tidal wave of budget-busting analytics and algorithms they’ve swept Rangers four for four, scoring 12 times in the process.
Their arrival at Loftus Road on Saturday coincided with another concerning trend. In 2020/21 QPR won four, drew three and lost none of the games they played after a break of eight days or more, but won only four, drew three and lost eight of the 15 games they were forced to play straight after a midweek outing. With the Boro game, for no good reason whatsoever, played on Wednesday instead of Tuesday, and Sky then bumping this one forwards to Saturday lunchtime, the turnaround was as short as it gets and Warbs Warburton, who values time spent with his players on the training ground more than anything else in the world, had his angry face on about the situation.
The collision between the two was, initially at least, fairly catastrophic for the home side. Barnsley were faster out of the blocks, stronger all over the park, tactically perfect and executing at close to 100%. They were better than QPR from back to front, left to right, in attack and defence. Cauley Woodrow – quick, smart, lithe, constantly fiddling around with his shorts – captained his side and led from the front, bobbing and weaving between Rangers’ back three, finding pockets of space and bringing team mates into play. A constant menace. All four of their midfielders were excellent in the first 45, totally dominating and overawing their opposite numbers, but Josh Benson, a new recruit from Burnley, especially so. Alex who? When QPR had the ball they found it almost impossible to beat the three and two press that Barnsley sent forwards, constantly having to turn backwards and inside until the ball was back with Seny Dieng and then, more often than not, given away. When they tried to go long, without the poorly Lyndon Dykes, Liam Kitching and Michael Helik bastarded it straight back from whence it came. Kitching is 21, and signed from Forest Green; Helik is 25, and now a full Polish international and reigning club Player of the Year at Oakwell having come in from Cracovia in 2020. The recruitment here is everything any club on a budget at this level should aspire to.
Barnsley should have scored on seven minutes, ten, 13, 16, 18, 26, 30 and 32. Two of these chances were taken, the third one by Austrian Dominik Friser who was played onside by Osman Kakay and then beat Dieng rather too easily for my taste on his near side, and the twenty sixth minute one from close range by Woodrow after a cleared corner was recycled with some intricate interchange on the edge of the area and then cut back to an unmissable spot in the six-yard box by Callum Styles. Jordy De Wijs’ enormous covering tackle sending the ball out for a corner saw off the seventh minute threat; Clarke Odour’s tenth minute shot off Woodrow’s approach work was deflected wide; Kitching headed wide when he should have scored on the quarter hour after coming up for a corner; Woodrow’s 20 yarder two minutes later was fairly obviously tipped wide by Dieng but referee Gavin Ward erroneously awarded a goal kick (not a difficult decision to get right, even on player reaction alone); Woodrow’s powerful shot on the half hour was well saved by Dieng to his left; Dozzell’s weak possession concession gave Odour the chance to tiptoe through the tulips of QPR’s defence and almost score what would have been an outstanding third, albeit of Rangers’ own making.
At this point it really could have been any score of Barnsley’s choosing. You won’t see one team dominating another in the same league quite as comprehensively as this very often. The more troubling aspect was what exactly QPR were going to do about it. Without Dykes, with only six subs on the bench, they were deprived of the Championship's recognised AZ-5 option where you just surrender all your values, admit your plan is fucked and bring Matt Smith on. In any case whenever they had gone long to beat the press Barnsley’s three centre backs had commanded the situation with comfort and ease. Injuries, illness and suspension had robbed Warbs of captain of Glasgow Rangers Lee Wallace, his cover Sam McCallum, and Moses Odubajo from the right wing back role, and although his decision to go with George Thomas wide right and Osman Kakay wide left had been an outright failure, quite how to go about correcting it wasn’t altogether clear. They’d already tried switching Yoann Barbet to the left, and Osman Kakay into the of the back three, to at least get the youngster on his favoured right side, but two further Barnsley near misses had followed.
It’s to Warburton’s immense credit that he not only came up with a solution to this, but did so well before half time. In amongst football’s medieval thinking is the tendency to leave things like this until the break and try to correct them then, or even then come back out and try the same thing that patently isn’t working at the start of the second half just to “give it ten minutes” and see if the world has miraculously changed without you doing anything to bring that about. Had Warbs done so here, it would have been three or even four nil. George Thomas at wing back, square boy in round hole, had not worked, though I’m not convinced that was particularly his fault – still, an obvious hook. Likewise Andre Dozzell, whose complete overpowering in the midfield was more of concern. On came Dom Ball, who’d mixed all the bad of his Millwall display with all the good of his Hull showing into one curate’s egg of a performance at Middlesbrough, and Albert Adomah who Warburton hasn’t trusted with big minutes in 2021 and showed why that was with an eyebrow raising outing against League Two Leyton Orient in the cup. Initially Rangers remained in the back three and wing backs, but that quick switched to a four when Jordy De Wijs was forced off injured and replaced by Jimmy Dunne, with Adomah pushed further up the field as a result. It transformed the game, and QPR’s role within it.
The second half began with some lovely skill from Adomah, drawing a foul and a yellow card for Benson. He nearly got Austin in behind moments later, and then when the veteran striker did get good ball behind a fractured backline he snatched at a chance into the Loft when Adomah was up in support and gagging to be played in on goal. Dunne, impressive, went up for a corner and headed something approaching a sitter wide of the post having been picked out perfectly by Stef Johansen. A second Austin effort, wildly off target, was again frustrating for several players who’d joined him in support. When Adomah kept a ball in play that Kitching thought was destined to be a throw in, and then skinned the Barnsley man on the touchline, he was hauled down for a very thick yellow card. Austin’s flicked header from that free kick, again beautifully delivered by Johansen, looked destined for the roof of the net before a fine reaction save from Collins diverted it over. It could scarcely have been worse than the first half, but this was significantly better all the same. The home crowd had stuck with its team when in many previous years it wouldn’t have done, and were at least being rewarded with a fair crack at a comeback.
Quite what the Barnsley fans made of their side’s approach to the second half I’d be fascinated to hear. What I’m about to say is caveated by the fact that only a great Yoann Barbet header prevented a third goal during a succession of corners around the hour mark, and Woodrow should really have sealed the game when a long goal kick caught the defence napping and he rounded Dieng one on one before skying over from a narrowing angle. But having come up with a plan so effective, and executed that to the point where much-fancied QPR barely had a kick of the ball and were forced into blowing their whole team selection apart after just half an hour, quite why they were so keen to retreat so far from it so early in the second half, falling back on cynical fouls and some absolutely outrageously flagrant time wasting, is beyond me. The pace of their play, and the game overall, had been a key asset in the first half, and yet here they were now actively seeking to slow the whole thing down.
Well, you know, we’ve beaten this lot the last four times we played them, we’re absolutely dominating here, we’re two nil up, it should be four at least, we’ve obviously got their number, we look like we’re going to score every time we attack, we’re attractive and making a big statement live on television, but it’s the Championship so what I think we should do now as we’re winning in the final half an hour is just shut up shop, stop playing entirely, kick anybody that moves, try and run a couple of minutes off the clock every time the ball goes out of play, slow the game right down even though pace of play was our biggest asset in the first half, and just try and shithouse our way through.
What was it I was saying about football’s medieval thinking?
Styles, in my opinion, could easily have been sent off for his horrible hack to Stefan Johansen which went over the line from tactical foul into dangerous and reckless foul play. Referee Gavin Ward, showing all the strength of a warm bottle of Foster’s all afternoon, showed him a yellow, and also booked Yoann Barbet for his reaction. Because in football, trying to snap somebody’s leg to stop an attack, and getting a bit cross about it, are the same thing.
What I was saying about… Shut up Clive, boring myself now.
Barnsley set the pattern to their advantage in the first half, and to their disadvantage in the second. Collins’ behaviour, and Ward’s frankly rather pathetic attempts at dealing with it, sent the message loud and clear that the Tykes were done for the day and would very much like it to be over. The only question now was could Rangers get the ball back into play often enough, and create the amount of chances they needed, to score the two goals required. Yoann Barbet’s insistence that he can take free kicks, and now long throws too apparently (Fitz Hall rides again), neither of which is remotely true, did not assist the cause. Should he ever successful accomplish either, a public holiday shall be declared for the following Monday.
Ilias Chair was a good deal more effective marauding down the left after some excellent defensive work by Chris Willock and then the perfect ball to spring him forward. Having jinked, turned and twisted two Barnsley players out of the game he wound up on the corner of the six yard box and then found the roof of the net with a spectacular finish. Bloody needed to as well, the outstanding Dom Ball was plum centre of goal for a tap in had he pulled it back. Chair, though, lucky to stay on the field himself moments later when, adrenalin pumping, he launched into an absolute horror show on Barnsley sub Jasper Moon. A clear red, not the first, or the last, obviously wrong decision on an afternoon of refereeing that veered unhappily between inept and insipid.
Austin headed wide when it seemed easier to score – he’d been flagged offside though, which would have put quite the dampener on celebrations. A second shot then hit him on the head, in a clearly offside position, and went behind for a goal kick that Ward somehow decided was a corner. Rangers took that quickly to try and catch Barnsley out, but only succeeded in surprising themselves, and Osman Kakay’s low 20 yarder at the keeper was a poor outcome from what felt like a last chance of salvation. The Championship’s outright refusal to punish the chronic timewasting that infests its competition with even so much as a yellow card manifested itself again here with just five minutes of added time. Words fail me. Collins had wasted that by himself. So easy to stop as well, within the existing rules of the game. It’s like they’ve been told to not only ignore it, but go out of their way to actively encourage and take part themselves.
No matter. Five was plenty. The crossfield ball from Adomah to Chair was pure sex, and not many Championship footballers would have pulled it out of the air as adeptly as the little Moroccan. I thought he was going to search for that cut in and 20 yard right footer that he loves so much, but instead he found Barbet flying forward on the overlap and his cut back was plum for Charlie Austin. He hadn’t played well, doesn’t look that fit to me, and had spurned three very decent chances already. No mistake here, albeit rather too close to the goalkeeper for comfort, over Collins’ shoulder and into the top corner to raise the roof and tie the game. Even then, in the time that remained, Barnsley broke from a QPR corner and would have won the game but for Kakay's redeeming covering tackle that overrode a number of previous personal errors in this game. QPR grateful for their point, Barnsley left to reflect that rather more of that and rather fewer dark arts could have yielded an enormous away victory.
Praise for the magic of Chair, the game-changing contributions from men of the match Adomah and Ball, and this team’s willingness to keep banging away until the bitter end even when the cause feels lost – an attitude typified by Austin still being their to finish it after enduring a pretty patchy personal afternoon, and Barbet still on the charge in the second minute of injury time after an exhaustive performance at both ends, dodgy free kicks not withstanding. Credit too for Warburton, who was proactive and early in his changes, wasn’t too big to admit his error, and found a solution where there seemed to be none. Now 39 points recovered from losing positions under this manager. But, make no mistake, from this team selection, this performance, this first half, this half time scoreline… a point is a magnificent result, and probably still would have been beyond us had Barnsley continued to play as they had in the first half.
We’re now a win from Coventry away from an 11 point month. Do that nine times, you play Premier League football next season.
QPR: Dieng 6; Thomas 4 (Ball 36, 8), Dickie 6, De Wijs 6 (Dunne 46, 7), Barbet 7, Kakay 5; Johansen 7, Dozzell 4 (Adomah 36, 8), Chair 7; Willock 7, Austin 5
Subs not used: Archer, Kelman, Duke-McKenna
Goals: Chair 76 (unassisted), Austin 90+1 (assisted Barbet)
Bookings: Barbet 56 (retaliation) Chair 78 (foul)
Barnsley: Collins 7; Sibbick 6, Helik 7, Kitching 7; Brittain 7, Palmer 7 (Moon 60, 5), Benson 8 (Halme 81, -), Styles 7; Frieser 7, Woodrow 7, Odour 7 (Cole 69, 5)
Subs not used: Walton, Williams, Adeboyejo, Thompson
Goals: Frieser 14 (assisted Kitching), Woodrow 27 (assisted Styles)
Bookings: Benson 49 (foul), Styles 56 (foul), Kitching 70 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Albert Adomah/Dom Ball 8 Adomah was absolutely night and day from his really rather concerning performance against Leyton Orient in the cup where he looked leggy and miles off the pace, and Ball shrugged off his inconsistent start to the season with a dominant midfield display. Between them they transformed the QPR performance after a disastrous first half hour. They set the tempo of the game, changed the mood of the crowd, regained control of the midfield and helped us start holding possession and posing a threat beyond the Barnsley press. Very impressive from both players, and well done to the manager for recognising his mistake and correcting it early when more often than not you see bosses “give it until half time” and then “give it ten minutes to see how the second half starts” by which time you’ve pissed away another 20 minutes on something that isn’t working, and in this case would almost certainly have gone three or four goals behind.
Referee – Gavin Ward (Surrey) 3 Gavin Ward used to be a bit of a terror in his youth, promoted way too high above his level way too soon in his career and lacking the experience, self confidence and man management ability to control Championship matches. They’d regularly turn into a farce, as our 2010/11 game at Portsmouth did so memorably. As he’s got older and gained experience he’s actually become one of the better referees at this level, but he shouldn’t reflect on his involvement in this game with any kind of pride at all. Some of it is open to debate and interpretation. Styles should have been sent off for the tackle of Johansen. That’s my opinion, you may not share it. For me it was more than a cynical foul like the one Kitching was subsequently booked for against Adomah, it was a nasty and dangerous tackle. To book Yoann Barbet for his reaction to it only made things worse – how on earth can those two crimes merit the same punishment? Some of it though, was just very obviously wrong, and quite often not very difficult to get right. Goal kicks awarded when the goalkeeper had obviously saved it, corners given when it had clearly gone off an attacker. Ilias Chair’s tackle is a red card. Absolute horror show, bottled by the referee who’d already largely lost control of the game by that stage, largely through his outright refusal to police Collins’ timewasting. That could have been killed stone dead with the yellow card it deserved around 60 minutes. To persist throughout the second half with a lot of pointing, yelling, and waving his arm around in the air, while the goalkeeper did exactly as he pleased, completely destroyed any remaining authority Ward had in this game. On more than one occasion the keeper stood with the ball in his hands in excess of 20 seconds, often with the crowd loudly counting them out for the officials. To still do nothing about it meant the game ended up refereeing him, rather than the other way around, because why are you going to pay attention to anybody this weak? Control of the game non-existent, big decisions wrong, dangerous play unpunished. A total pig’s ear of a performance. A real shambles.
Attendance - TBC (596 Barnsley) I was impressed with the crowd reaction at half time. Many a Rangers crowd would have angrily turned on their team. Not doing so showed real intelligence and understanding, sometimes you just have to hand it to the opponent, and hopefully played some part in the team sticking with it and rallying in the second half.
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