|Reading 3 v 3 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 11th September 2021 Kick-off 15:00
QPR's comeback kids leave it late at Reading - Report
Sunday, 12th Sep 2021 17:14 by Clive Whittingham
A strong start and end made for another thrilling match on the road with Queens Park Rangers as they snatch a draw from the jaws of defeat against John Swift FC.
Three goals for John Swift, because of course. Three goals for Queens Park Rangers, likewise. And three ways in which I’m torn trying to knit narrative out of chaos.
It would be easy to pick fault, for there were plenty of faults to choose from. A defence that improved to the tune of eight extra clean sheets and 21 fewer goals conceded last season is now leaking again. Two at Middlesbrough and could have been more, two against Barnsley and should have been more, then three eminently preventable goals here.
The team is missing Sam Field, whose quietly diligent work in front of the back three, not to mention his ability in the air, makes him a superior option to Dom Ball. Lee Wallace, too, is a big miss for this team front and back – a guy of more than 400 senior appearances as opposed to Sam McCallum who only stepped out of non-league three years and 77 starts ago. But there was still plenty of blame to apportion around as the mere sight of a QPR shirt once again morphed Swift, back from one of his injury sabbaticals, into some bastard hybrid of Romario and Stoichkov.
Ball, too passive, too slow to close down Halilovic, allowing the one-time Croatian wunderkind to pick any pass of his choosing. Moses Odubajo, fast asleep on the far side, way too late with the cover around the back as Swift got in down the side of Dickie as he attended to Puscas’ distracting run. That was one one. The second, just after the hour and admittedly nicely finished, again a product of poor pressure on the ball through midfield, and defenders not concentrating on Swift’s movement into space –Dickie, this time, not covering himself in glory for my money and given this ground saw one of his few off days and rare mistakes last season as well I wonder whether the desire to impress against the club that bombed him out to Oxford for a nominal fee perhaps plays on his mind in this fixture. Recurring themes for the third, which really should have sealed a Reading win ten from time, as Odubajo stood off Ejaria, Moore came venturing forward on an overlap untracked, and Swift’s intelligent movement was again far too much for Ball, and possibly Albert Adomah, who respectively reacted late and not at all as the Reading man ghosted between the pair of them for a first senior hat trick and sixth goal in as many appearances this season.
Swift, as he often is, was superb - movement and finishing a cut above this level. Ovie Ejaria flitted in and out of the game as is his wont, spooky and mesmeric one moment, completely anonymous for the ten minutes that follow. Reading, overall, though, are a poor team. Michael Olise and Omar Richards have left here for a fraction of their true worth, Lucas Joao and Yakou Meite who led the line well last season are injured long term (George Puscas was little more than ballast in their place, blazing one presentable first half chance over the bar and heading a late sitter wide that would have sealed the win at 4-2), and no team in the EFL has shipped as many goals so far. They had lost five of six to start the campaign, having won only one of the final dozen to finish the previous one, and manager Veljko Paunovic is under mounting pressure even allowing for the transfer embargo restrictions he works under – what will happen when you have 204% wages to turnover and pigheadedly prioritise a “singing section” over the lucrative sale of more away tickets while three sides of the ground sit half empty. The supposed home advantage that’s been prioritised isn’t immediately apparent in the results.
For QPR to go 1-0 up against this set up, and then crash to a 3-1 deficit, is rather alarming with Bournemouth, West Brom and Fulham the next three away games. There were problems out wide, where Moses Odubajo was ropey defensively and kept stunting the attacks by cutting in field into traffic too often. The difference Albert Adomah made when introduced out there for final third of the game, maintaining the width of the team and getting the final ball right on multiple occasions, was stark. McCallum struggled rather on the other side and for the second game in a row Charlie Austin laboured rather as a lone striker – though only a superb tackle from Moore denied him a goal in the first half, and a mixture of the big centre back and his goalkeeper kept out a goalbound shot in the second. Different day he has two goals to his name, for all the perceived struggles. That said, there were at least three crosses, one from Adomah and two from Yoann Barbet, that you wouldn’t have minded seeing Lyndon Dykes, injured playing for Scotland during the week, on the end of. Andre Gray scored within ten minutes of his introduction for a debut, converting more immaculate service from Adomah.
If you want to pick through the bones of all of this, that’s your prerogative. The team is unbeaten in eight games this season, 16 points from 18 on the road, top scorers in the league, fourth in the table, more wins in 2021 than anybody in the country bar Manchester City. Worth bearing in mind before you drink some of the batshit Cool Aid that’s available on the message board today. There were also a whole clutch of positives.
Unlike the prior league games, QPR started very strongly. There was a confident swagger to the play as they switched it left and right, pulling Reading out into awkward shapes. Odubajo had an early shot blocked before a Johansen free kick was nodded back by De Wijs for Ball to force home, though it has gone on the record as a Morrison own goal. What it needed then was a second and third goal. Ruthless. Get our rewards. Not in a disrespectful way. Far from it. The general consensus seems to be that QPR rather played the ball around, controlling the proceedings, without sticking the knife in when they could and should, leaving themselves open to the Swift equaliser caused by a ball over the top that had troubled the back three previously. I’m not sure how fair that is. Barbet bent in a lovely cross at the end of a flowing move with Chair and Willock at its heart on 27, one of those ‘where art thou Lyndon?’ moments. Willock cut in from the right for a shot of his own, bravely blocked at the last possible moment by Morrison just as he seemed certain to score. Some brilliance from Johansen, spinning and dodging through two, freed Willock for a stand up cross to the back post and when that was cleared the Norwegian followed in from the edge of the area with a firm volley well blocked. Chair freed Willock, he stuck it on a plate for Austin, a goal all ends up but for Yiadom’s brilliant tackle covering in round the back.
Reading started the second half stronger, no doubt. Dickie's monstrous challenge denied Puskas a similar goal to Swift’s first. Swift scored, had a free kick right on the apex of the penalty box well saved by Dieng, then scored again. A poor goal kick from Cabral actually flashed right through the middle of the pitch and could easily have set a chain in motion for a goal at the other end. Willock and Chair’s combination threatened to spark, Austin on his heels for one, unlucky with another blocked by a combination of Moore and Cabral. Two one perhaps fair, three one certainly harsh. But, as we know Warbs Warburton’s QPR are rarely more dangerous than when they trail in games. No team has recovered as many points from losing positions in this league since he took over as manager, six already this season, and another comeback was in the offing here – the fourth occasion they’ve come from two goals down to take something during Warburton’s reign.
Andre Gray came on for a debut from the bench, and made a difference in attack immediately. Adomah’s introduction to the right side, along with a change in formation, cured the problems Odubajo had been creating for the attack instantly. His pesky insistence on fetching the ball and handing it to opponents, coupled with referee Geoff Eltringham breaking the Championship norm and finally issuing a yellow card for time wasting at a point where it made some difference, kept the tempo higher than Reading would have liked. With the ball he started to torture home debutant Baba Rahman. Every time Adomah got the ball, it was a problem for the hosts. Sometimes he tricked his man and went right to the byline, sometimes he took him infield, sometimes he crossed early, and sometimes he delayed. The uncertainty this created, rather than the safe knowledge that Odubajo will cut inside each time, was not coped with well, and whether the ball came promptly or later in the move, it was right every time. One flashed through the box without a touch, another was converted by Gray to halve the deficit with plenty of time remaining and you felt the confidence and energy drain from the home team and crowd as soon as it hit the net. You’d question why Reading only made one sub of their own given this obvious switch in momentum, though overworked match reporters are grateful Kelvin Ehibhationham was left in the stand.
Narrative number three. Do we really care that much at the moment? About the formation? About the defence? About who’s up front or how the wide players are playing or who should be starting from the bench? Do we care about the league table, and whether we’re starting strongly enough, whether we’re conceding too many, whether we’re low in the xG? This stuff will come out in the wash. As we work out our place in this year’s Championship world, we’ll look back at comebacks and goals scored and points snatched out of the fire as moments we knew we were going to be good, or goals conceded and slow starts and games not put to bed as things that should have told us we’re not quite as good as we perhaps think. For now… it’s just enjoyable isn’t it?
This is a QPR team that plays an attractive brand of attacking football. It goes to win, and it keeps going. It never gives up, and it responds well to adversity. It scores goals, and produces moments that get you out of your seat. It’s well coached, cleverly managed, the direction of games is being repeatedly swung by substitutions and tactical switches – let’s just abandon the whole thing and stick Matt Smith on up top for the last half hour, no more. Standing in that away end, being part of that noise, watching them flow towards us searching for the equaliser. A foul on Odubajo, a Johansen free kick, a block, a scramble. Not this time. Pressure grows further. Louder. Louder still. George Thomas now, late from the bench, driving through midfield, and getting the ball to the clutch player Albert Adomah. The variation is there again, buying time and space. The ball is perfect once more – what was that weird night at Orient all about? Willock is alive to it and reaches it at the last possible millisecond before it crosses the deadball line. Gray’s at the near post but can’t convert. Yoann Barbet is at the far, because of course he is, but Cabral is able to save. As Reading start chucking bodies and bits of old boat at the ball and the goalline it falls to Johansen, exactly the calm and composed man for the job, and he picks a spot in the bottom corner for the equaliser. A third attempt in as many seconds – hope, disappointment; hope, disappointment; hope, elation. If you were part of that pandemonium behind the goal, I don’t think formations are top of mind this morning. Two points dropped? Sure. If you like.
Adomah wanted more, fetching the ball back for the kick off, attacking down the flank again, getting the ball right again. If Chris Willock’s powerful, first time, shot on the turn, which beat the goalkeeper all ends up, had been three inches lower, and nestled in the top corner, in the final minute of time added on, he would now be carrying my child. That would have solved the problem of how you get out of this shithole and back to the station – we could have surfed there on a river of semen.
Another three goals on the road, for the third time already this season. Another game unbeaten. Another 90 minutes that dragged you through a gamut of emotion. But more than that, another moment you just had to be there for. After 18 months away, that’s all that matters for now. See you at Bournemouth on Tuesday.
Reading: Cabral 5; Yiadom 7, Morrison 5, Moore 6, Baba 5; Bashiru 7, Laurent 6; Halilovic 7, Swift 9, Ejaria 7; Puscas 4 (Holmes 83, -)
Subs not used: Tetek, Southwood, Hoilett, Clarke, Bristow, Ehibhationham
Goals: Swift 35 (assisted Halilovic), 64 (assisted Bashiru), 77 (assisted Moore)
Yellow cards: Cabral 82 (time wasting), Morrison 87 (foul)
QPR: Dieng 6; Odubajo 5, Dickie 6, De Wijs 6, Barbet 6, McCallum 5 (Adomah 72, 8); Ball 5 (Thomas 87, -), Johansen 7, Chair 6; Willock 7, Austin 5 (Gray 66, 7)
Subs not used: Kakay, Archer, Dozzell, Dunne
Goals: Morrison own goal 11 (unassisted), Gray 79 (assisted Adomah), Johansen 90+1 (unassisted)
Bookings; Dickie 89 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Albert Adomah 8 The greater his impact from the bench, the louder the calls for his inclusion from the start. At the moment the bigger question for me is what on earth that performance at Leyton Orient was all about.
Referee – Geoff Eltringham (Durham) 7 Very tricky one to mark here, and he’s been upped a mark for being the first Championship referee in literally months to take the quick, simple and easy route to nipping time wasting in the bud early – a yellow card for the goalkeeper while it still matters. He let a lot go, and mostly I thought he was right to do so, though a pull back on Willock in the first half certainly should have yielded a yellow card. Ilias Chair was fuming with one tackle on him, and the QPR players were pointing at the mark it left on his shin, but I have to say at the time, at normal speed, I thought it looked ok, particularly this year when referees are being encouraged to play on through as much as possible. The leniency did seem to weirdly dry up when it came to Ejaria mind, who was able to buy a job lot of cheap free kicks at a discounted price. Overall, ok.
Attendance 14,928 (QPR fans – here, there, every-fucking-where) Reading have W1 D1 and L2 of their home games this season, conceding ten as part of the EFL’s worst defensive record. That 1871 Club home advantage really is working a treat.
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