|Queens Park Rangers 2 v 0 Oxford United|
Tuesday, 24th August 2021 Kick-off 19:45
We need to talk about Rob – Report
Wednesday, 25th Aug 2021 19:02 by Clive Whittingham
QPR advanced to the Third Round (do your own joke) of the League Cup with a 2-0 win against League One Oxford at Loftus Road on Tuesday night – out of control centre back Rob Dickie scoring another long range goal, this time against his former employer.
League Cup second round - the tree behind which hope sat quietly to neck bleach and pills. Queens Park Rangers actually get beyond the first round of this competition surprisingly often for a team with their reputation in knock outs. It’s this second game, harshly and needlessly schedule for the third week of August, right in the pulsating rectum of the league campaign’s hectic beginning, when wheels tend to come off. Tiny crowds, scratchy teams, exits in five of the last eight seasons, conquerors from Portsmouth, Brentford, fucking Carlisle, Burton, Swindon… Winnersh. Taplow.
QPR shit the bed in this fixture even when there’s nothing else for them to concentrate on. Neil Warnock, who built a title winning team on the creaking bodies of Clint Hill, Shaun Derry and Heidar Helguson, who absolutely did not need any more fixtures than was strictly necessary, proudly dipped out of both cups to Port Vale and Blackburn at the first possibly opportunity. Nobody was talking about either when he lifted a shiny pot for us come May. Fine. But many of his predecessors and successors stuck weakened teams and insipid performances out in the cups merely to get back to the irrelevant business of finishing sixteenth in a league they never had any chance of winning anyway, congested fixture list or otherwise.
The League Cup, and increasingly the FA Cup, are being ruined not by Man City, Liverpool, Chelsea, Man Utd etc, who still tend to contest the majority of the finals, but by Burnley, West Ham, Palace, QPR, Birmingham, Blackburn etc, playing weakened teams in them because of some perceived threat to their precious league form, even though they've no chance of winning the league. Burnley ditching out of the only thing they're ever likely to win for the rest of time, because they think it might stop them finishing seventeenth in the Premier League, which is now the sum total of their ambition. Football should be about medals, and trophies, and winning things, and Wembley, and getting into Europe. Not starting every year with the sole purpose of finishing fourth bottom, banking the money, getting out of the cups in the first round, and getting off to Mykonos as soon as possible. Schteve McCllaren’s disgraceful chucking of a third round tie at League One Blackpool so his players were rested up for the weekend thrashing at Swansea as Rangers pursued that crucial sixteenth place again, one of the less forgivable examples among many.
Warbs Warburton would certainly like to think he’s more Warnock 2010 than Hair Island Club 2018. Rangers finished last season strongly, have recruited impressively, and are happy to publicly state their ambition to qualify for the Championship’s top six come May. The cost of that recruitment, particularly the boat-pushing buys of Charlie Austin and Stefan Johansen, allied with the manager’s taste for a tightknit squad in which every member has a chance of starting the next game, puts strain upon strain when the Championship gets into one of its cliched Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday runs. Already, five games into the season, Ilias Chair has had Covid, Sam McCallum and Lyndon Dykes have been ill, Jordy De Wijs and Sam Field have been injured. Rangers are arguably one more injury, to Austin at the same time as Dykes, or Johansen and Rob Dickie at any point, away from having a very serious problem. We saw, rather unfortunately, with George Thomas and Andre Dozzell against Barnsley, what happens when you start to scratch the surface looking for squad depth. At best, another cup match, against a decent Oxford team, was not terribly well timed. The U23s existing in a different Covid bubble, preventing them being called into the first team changing room en masse, compounded the problem. Just four subs were named out of a possible seven, one of them a keeper, all of them children. What Crown and Sceptre regulars hadn’t been scared off by the R’s reprehensible approach to these games previously, or the club’s post-pandemic ticketing fiasco which makes giving it your money and clicking through the turnstile akin to a round of the Krypton Factor, took a long, hard suck on their Peroni and prepared for another one of those nights, under the lights, at Loftus Road.
And actually, nothing of the sort. Nothing like that at all. By luck or by judgement, the balance between team changes and team strength was weighted perfectly. Thomas and Dozzell recovered from their weekend nadir creditably, Charlie Kelman led the line enthusiastically if slightly naively at times, Jordan Archer terrified with his distribution but enraptured with big saves at crucial times, and on top of that the impressive foursome of Jimmy Dunne and Rob Dickie at the back, Ilias Chair and Chris Willock in attack, was more than enough quality and ability to see Rangers through. Oxford’s Karl Robinson, who’d once walked down the touchline here as MK Dons manager to pat Chris Ramsey’s shoulder in solidarity as the home crowd went for his throat in another one of Rangers’ modern day low points, had spoken warmly of Loftus Road and Rangers prior to kick off. He brought a U’s team with just a single defeat to its name, a run to the quarter final of this competition in the not too distant past (also combined with a play-off season, just to nod back to the earlier comments), an attractive style of play and an ambition to win the game.
It made for a really quite lively, bouncy, entertaining cup tie, and a crowd north of 8,000 responded with an appreciative atmosphere. The place where hope came to die? Actually, this second round tie wasn’t a million miles off being very enjoyable. It's bringing love, don't let it get away, break its legs.
The play zipped from one end to the other throughout the first quarter of an hour. Dunne excelled, recovering well from an initial breakdown in communication between he and debutant left back McCallum, then putting in a terrific tackle on Sam Winnall as he threatened to strike from close range. It was his block that sent another Winnall shot up, over Archer, and onto the top of the cross bar, and Rob Dickie also denied the former Sheff Wed man with a tremendous tackle. Probably fair to say, if Oxford had a better striker up front, they’d have led by this point. Sam Winnall is a career .260 hitter, the best part of his career is over. QPR’s slow starts this season are a concern but Kelman wasn’t a million miles away from combining with Thomas for an opener. Perhaps though, from Chair in particular, a few too many show off tricks early doors, not enough pragmatism. Let’s get the game killed off, the Soccer Am shit can wait for later.
Things kicked up a gear for the Hoops after 20 minutes. Willock sprang clear after Kakay and Archer just about got away with one but his cross was for Dykes nobody had provided a box for Kelman. Soon the former Southend man was in behind the defence on a tight angle and Eastwood made a terrific save. When your cheat code is a centre back with four goals in eight appearances, two of them from 25 yards, none of this matters really. Dickie’s initial commanding interception of a clearance on his chest on halfway was impressive enough, drawing applause, but to then execute a perfect one two with Chair and go striding off into flavour country before unleashing a fierce barnburner into the top corner was really quite something. Against the club QPR bought him from for a pittance relative to what we’re going to sell him for, the ongoing sinking realisation that we’ve got another potential superstar on our hands here. Get that window shut.
Back we went immediately to the end to end stuff. Chair, in on an angle, saved by Eastwood. Archer, relaxed in the knowledge that a harsh free kick has gone behind for a goal kick, almost caught out by Winnall retrieving it onto the bar again. Maybe we could get that ball with a bell in it we used when Rob Green was here terrorising the general public? A lovely move right through the middle of the field ended with Moses Odubajo trying to reverse a shot into the keeper’s blind corner (with Trevor Eve), but he was perhaps being a bit too clever with it. It almost felt a shame that the second goal, when it did come for Rangers, was scored via a monumental deflection on a Chair cross-shot which probably renders it an own goal. Oxford, QPR, the standard of play, the quality of the game, deserved better really. Still, 2-0, Wembley bound and all that. Should have been three on half time as well as QPR finished strongly, Thomas just overhit his pass to get Chair in, then he in turn overhit a similar assist for Kelman. Something something ruthless something something take our chances something something get our rewards.
Full credit to the players.
Oxford’s decision to hook the rather ineffective Marcus McGuane, who I’d always thought was the noise Mrs Doyle made when she was trying to force tea onto people but apparently played for Arsenal and Barcelona once upon a time, was rather undermined by West Ham loanee Nathan Holland emerging from the dressing room, going a shade of green, having a wobble, and then being led straight back off again to blow chunks in the tunnel. Clean up in aisle three. Syllable enthusiast Cameron Brannagan and 2019 World Street Masturbating Champion Gavin Whyte were summoned in their stead.
They added some purpose and drive that had perhaps lacked at the end of attractive first half approach work. A big counter attack and huge overload ddown McCallum’s side – slow to get back and perhaps blowing a little bit after his illness – was bailed out by a strong save by Archer with his legs from Winnall off a cross from the visitors’ best player Steve Seddon. In playing out from the back after this, Dunne wasn’t a million miles away from a catastrophic own goal when he passed the ball blind towards the far corner only to find Archer had popped to the shops and wasn’t there any more. Just boys having fun.
But Oxford’s big ten minutes subsided after exactly that. Stephen Duke McKenna replaced McCallum and Rangers reverted to more of a four at the back, as they had done against Barnsley, and although the youngster was perhaps on occasion a little too keen and try hard and not everything he attempted came off, the influx of extra energy helped turn the tide back Rangers way. Kelman would have been in for a tap in off Thomas but for a vital last ditch flick off a defender on the final pass, Dickie went marauding forwards once more but couldn’t replicate the first half thunderbastard, Chris Willock flashed one an inch wide of the top bins. The crowd responded in kind, with a prolonged Warburton’s Blue Army chant. Dickie’s late withdrawal brought a standing ovation from all four sides of the ground. Reading bombed this guy out remember, which I often do, to cheer myself up, when I’m feeling blue. Fucking dipsticks.
Oxford’s hopes were finally extinguished by three incidents with 15 minutes left to play. Archer got one enormous tackle right on the apex of the penalty area absolutely spot on, clearing a certain goal cleanly without the concession of a penalty. A spot kick would almost certainly have been the result of an obvious tug back two minutes later, but the fouled player was offside. And although Archer brilliantly, and bravely, saved a point blank effort down by the base of his post immediately after that, the flag had been raised again. The U’s were done now, brave but beaten, we wish them the best for the rest.
Whether QPR would get a third, with young Ody Alfa on for a senior debut down the wing now, was the only question left. Kelman, bless him, might have done, had he been a bit braver attacking an Alfa cross in the final minute with his head. I don’t suppose you end up looking like Charlie Kelman through too many punches to the face, but nor do you score many goals like this at the higher levels without placing less value on self preservation. Weirdly, he then suddenly came over all confident, putting his boot through a screaming effort from the far side of the penalty box which Eastwood saved rather brilliantly as it searched out the far top corner. I still think there’s something there, and in Thomas, regardless of the snap judgements social media warriors have reached on both.
Get the dust blown off those ‘there’s a third round?’ jokes, Rangers are into the hat for Wednesday’s draw. They haven’t been in round four since 2008, and have done so only twice since 1994. Play like this and there’s every chance of rectifying that.
An excerpt from Warbs’ programme notes last night if I may: “When I first took the job at the club I was asked what my targets would be for the season and longer term. The only target in my mind, then and now, is to fill the stadium with as many Rangers fans as possible. Why? The more fans we have coming to watch the team, the more we know that our supporters are enjoying watching the side play. The more they’re enjoying the football, the more successful we know we will be with the results, which in turn means we’ll be pushing at the right end of the table. There’s no better indicator of a team doing well than a packed home support producing the type of noise that can so inspire the players. Our main goal will always be to fill the stadium. I hope very much that we can produce a performance this evening that you do indeed enjoy.”
Enjoy we did indeed. If you elected to stay at home, or gave up on the ticket purchasing process, then you missed out.
This was, what’s the word… fun.
QPR: Archer 7; Odubajo 6, Kakay 6, Dickie 8 (Gubbins 88, -), Dunne 7, McCallum 6 (Duke-McKenna 64, 6); Thomas 6, Dozzell 6, Chair 7 (Alfa 75, 6); Willock 7, Kelman 6
Subs not used: Walsh
Goals: Dickie 26 (unassisted), Chambers-Parillon og 40 (assisted Chair)
Bookings: Chair 66 (kicking ball away)
Oxford: Eastwood 7; Chambers-Parillon 5, McNally 6, Moore 6, Seddon 7; Sykes 6, Rodriguez 6, McGuane 5 (Brannagan 46, 7); Agyei 6, Winnall 5 (Johnson 69, 6), Holland 6 (Whyte 46, 6)
Subs not used: Taylor, Stevens, Mousinho, Cooper
Bookings: Sykes 59 (foul), Johnson 76 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Rob Dickie 8 One of four stand outs in the QPR team, along with Chair, Willock and Dunne, but another 25 yarder to nudge him ahead in the star man reckoning.
Referee – Tom Nield (West Yorkshire) 8 Liked him. Quite a feisty, keenly contested cup tie at times and he kept right on top of that, getting some big penalty calls from Oxford right in the second half.
Attendance – 8,154 (2,000 Oxford approx.) An entertaining and enjoyable evening with a decent atmosphere, contrary to just about every game we’ve played at this stage of this competition in the modern era. To Warburton’s point about filling the stadium, the club needs to start doing its part here. Even before you get to the lottery of whether the turnstile lets you in or not (this does seem to be improving) the message board and socials are full of stories of people who were stuck in long telephone queues trying to make arrangements with the box office only to be cut off when they reach number one, confusion reigned over automatic cup tie qualification and reserved season ticket seats, reserved season ticket seats that hadn’t been bought still showed as taken on the online seat map until Tuesday lunchtime. When you do get to speak to a human in the box office, they are efficient and brilliant, but getting to that point could be a legitimate round on the Crystal Maze. For the second time this season - and with the greatest of respect for staffing issues, isolations, ‘pingdemics’, the difficulties of hiring casual staff, and whatever else the club is facing – we’re trying to give you our money here, take it from us please.
Pictures – Action Images
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