|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 0 Huddersfield Town|
Wednesday, 24th November 2021 Kick-off 19:45
Amos power play brings QPR home - Report
Thursday, 25th Nov 2021 19:09 by Clive Whittingham
The emotion for Luke Amos was clear for all to see as he continued his comeback from a year out injured with a late headed goal at the Loft End to settle a brilliantly entertaining midweeker against Huddersfield Town in QPR's favour.
It’s cold but there’s no ice. There are cards but no sin bins. Close your eyes though, and this Queens Park Rangers team can take you to the NHL. They set up camp in front of your goal, they flood the final third with attackers, and they move the pill. They can come at you from the left, where Lee Wallace and Stefan Johansen have forgotten more than most of their opponents will ever know, or down the right where Albert Adomah is enjoying a late career reinvention as a right wing back. They can pick you apart through the middle, go long and beat you to second balls, and threaten from set pieces. Whether it’s right, left, or centre, Chris Willock and Ilias Chair are there, alive with skill and imagination. It’s metronomic and incessant, backwards and forwards, side to side, pulsating, recycling, heads up, clear eyes, full hearts. There isn’t a player here who isn’t comfortable on the ball, each pass is perfectly weighted and directed, each touch immaculate. When it doesn’t work left they remain patient and turn it back inside for a go down the right instead – some of the crossfield switches they produce are worthy of a greater stage and bigger crowd. They are brilliant to watch. They pass and they probe and they trick and they torment and they press and they press and they press. And they score. You might survive this powerplay, and the next one, and the one after that. You might get lucky with a missed sitter, or an offside call, or a brilliant save. You can watch those seconds drain away and start to think you might hold out, but nobody’s managed it for 30 league games in a row now, and chances are you won’t either. Invite them to your end of the rink for the night, they’ll stay for a week, and there’s a goal coming, if not from a striker then from a midfielder, and if not now then soon. This time it was right side, it was Chris Willock, it was Luke Amos’ first ever goal at Loftus Road, and amidst the personal redemption story for a player just back from a year out injured was rather lost just how long it had been coming for and just how much QPR deserved it. They’re now fourth, and they’re there because they’re good.
In the strange world of professional football, managers no matter how long serving and successful are only ever a run of four straight defeats away from potentially getting the sack – and in the Championship you can knock a run like that off in less than a fortnight. It’s why, at most, they should only be one part of your recruitment strategy, because their priority is always going to be somebody that can help them this week, and that doesn’t make for sound long term planning – it’s how you end up bringing in Kevin Doyle, Will Keane, Mobido Maiga and Yossi Benayoun because Charlie Austin is out for four weeks with a shoulder injury. It’s also why so much of their public-facing output is either trying to explain the difficulties of injuries and fixture congestion, trying to deflect from their own mistakes or their team’s failings by picking a fight with a referee or other third party, or trying to keep expectations extremely low so their performance can be judged more favourably.
It’s rare to hear a manager speak as Warbs Warburton did this summer about raising expectations. QPR, through years of cleaning house and reducing an astronomical wage bill, have only been drawn so far as to say their aim was to “be competitive” in the Championship, and it felt like we were sixteenth in this dog league for the best part of half a decade. But after 15 wins through the final 23 games of last season (Watford, Norwich, yadda yadda) and an impressive summer in the transfer market, QPR’s manager was happy to say it would be “stupid”, and insulting to people’s intelligence, to pretend this season was about anything other than a push for the top six to continue three years of on field and league table progress. That’s a risky thing to do as a manager, and we’ve already seen it manifest in over the top criticism of perceived under performance from a team that, for all the general consensus about it not hitting its potential heights thus far, is now fourth in the table, behind just three clubs who are all in receipt of parachute money.
What he also said was he wanted QPR to be feared opponents. He quietly (very quietly) admired how Brentford had played this league for fools, first of all hamming up the “little old Brentford/teams like Brentford” narrative and catching bigger, better resourced, lazy, worse run clubs napping, then putting together a promotion winning team brimming with self belief that at times stepped over the line into brash arrogance and hubris, but was seen by future opponents as a bit of a nightmare game to have coming up on your fixture list. A trip to QPR, in Warbs’ ideal world, should have teams rolling their eyes and hunkering down for a long night. While not there yet, the signs are certainly positive.
Rangers have lost only one of ten matches at Loftus Road this season, and even that was less a smash and grab, more a hit and run from a Bristol City side the R’s threatened to completely overawe for almost the whole afternoon before succumbing to a sucker punch with the last kick. Several times though – Millwall, Barnsley, Preston, Blackburn and now Huddersfield too – teams have come to W12, started well, been on top in early stages, sometimes even taken the lead, only to, with eons still left on the clock, abandon all that worked for them, sink back into their own penalty area, and try to hold what they have. A penny, certainly, for Markus Schopp’s thoughts on Barnsley’s visit – the Tykes so dominant in surging into a two goal lead before half time that QPR had to make two substitutions after 30 minutes, and yet also resorting to clock running, time wasting, shithousing, and cheating to try and see off the second half, rather than just continuing in the style that could have easily had them 4-0 up earlier in the game. Rangers salvaged a 2-2, Schopp is now out of work. This is the fear factor. In the Championship’s medieval thinking, a point on the road is always a good result. At Loftus Road, it’s cherished like some sort of nectar. Teams surrender the field position, abandon their ambition, fix both eyes on the clock, and try to Geoffrey Boycott two and half days of test match away.
Huddersfield could, perhaps should, have scored after 40 seconds. Matching us up in a wing back formation they created huge overloads down both flanks and a cross from left to right found Ollie Turton steaming in at the back post for a gift chance, brilliantly saved next to the post by Seny Dieng. The Senegalese keeper sprawled to deny Josh Koroma on ten minutes. Lee Wallace’s sliding tackle to bring a dangerous thirteenth minute attack to a close will be taught to future theology majors.
QPR responded in kind. Early corners from both sides of the field. A deliberate attempt to hack Albert Adomah out of an attack succeeded only in bringing a yellow card Koroma’s way next time the play stopped. Stefan Johansen, back to his best and involved in everything, set a slick move in motion on 17 minutes and Yoann Barbet glanced the resulting corner off the top of the bar with his head. Mangetout. A lovely ball from the Norwegian’s protégé Andre Dozzell worked space at the byline and unfortunately Charlie Austin mishit the first chance, then missed the top corner with a rather forced second attempt. Every other word in my notes is ‘good’, ‘excellent’, ‘lovely’ and all there really is in between is constant mention of Johansen. On a rare occasion it wasn’t good, excellent, lovely, or Johansen, Rob Dickie’s deliberate attempt to foul a counter attack to a halt failed (just as well, he’d have missed Derby on Monday) but Yoann Barbet orphaned Danny Ward’s children and the crisis was averted. Jimmy Dunne was also not in the mood to be pissed about.
Huddersfield were, initially, the Championship team that took the plunge with overachieving Lincoln sisters Danni and Nikki Cowley. Their record at Sincil Bank is there for all to see, and having arrived in West Yorkshire eight games into 2019/20 and only one point on the board, they performed an impressive relegation escape. But I’m not sure you’d have been rushing out for a Lincoln season ticket, as they pumped balls in vague direction of Matt Rhead, who they got from the JCB digger factory and looks like a court artist has been asked to draw somebody who works at the JCB digger factory. The Terriers abandoned this plan despite the survival and went balls deep on Bielsa-bud Carlos Corberan, who turned up to your cousin’s funeral wearing white jeans. Although they went on a McClaren-like run of three wins from their final 25 games of last season, and then cemented their tag as 2021/22 relegation favourites with a summer recruitment drive apparently conducted by somebody with whom the Spanish manager had never even conversed, they’re now motoring along in seventh. This was a potential play-off clash in waiting, and played like it. The ball was on the floor, zipping about, with chances at both ends coming off deliberate, composed, often planned and rehearsed moves and patterns of play. No Neil Harris wheeled cannon-ball here. It was richly entertaining, a brilliant watch at times, and worthy of a far bigger crowd and better atmosphere than a cold, midweek, November game against a distant away team inevitably brought to W12.
QPR’s start to the second half was every bit as sluggish as the first, and Seny Dieng had to make an awkward save off the otherwise ineffective Daniel Sinani in the first five minutes. Lewis O’Brien, when he wasn’t trying to referee the game for Graham Scott, was an impressively ceaseless pest in midfield but with Sinani and Koroma pretty poor ahead of him, and the size of his arse the only thing preventing Danny Ward getting any deeper into Jimmy Dunne’s pocket, there was a lack of genuine threat ahead of him. Frazier Campbell’s impact on this game from the bench was similar to my own from the F Block. The relative attacking ability of the two teams, probably, is where the game was won and lost.
That, and what happened next. How much of it was a deliberate ploy by Huddersfield, relative to QPR just being too good in what was probably as close to a full 90-minute performance as we’ve produced all season, is up for discussion. Maybe we were just too much for them, maybe we forced them back, maybe they couldn’t do anything about it. Or maybe a team that had shown itself every bit as capable of scoring in this game, and going on to win it, as we had for the first 50 minutes, decided instead to regress into that prehistoric Championship vice – a point away from home is always a good result, a point away at QPR is a great result. Either way, Huddersfield sank deeper, isolated their striker, put up two defensive banks ahead of the penalty area, squeezed the space between their lines like a child tightly clutching a shiny penny, and began the standard shithousing.
To be fair to them, their record against Rangers is very good. They beat Warburton’s team twice last season without conceding a goal – the last team to keep a clean sheet against Rangers in the league. So I guess, if anybody is going to do this successfully, it’s going to be them even allowing for their constant ability to pick the wrong option from several multiple choice counter attacks. And yet… What you’re doing when you start this pathetic rigmarole with the goal kicks, when you send two physios on for a non-existent injury and then have them leave the field at the speed of the Cleethorpes And District Arthritis Care day trip to Meadowhall (smiling and winking at the Paddocks as they went, though presumably neither smiling nor winking their long way back up the M1 afterwards given what transpired), when you start pissing about over every throw in, is you're inviting QPR to come at you safe in the knowledge that your ambition in this game no longer exists. You've turned it from downtown Chicago where QPR need to keep a bat by the door just in case, to one of those sleepy Norfolk villages where we don't even need to lock up when we pop to the shops. The best case scenario for you, the absolute most you’re going to get here, is a 0-0 draw. To do that, you have to be the first team in 30 football matches to stop QPR from scoring. And if you do that, across 40 long minutes spent camped in your penalty area, your reward is one single point. It is, when you think of it like this, fucking batshit.
Off we go again then. Forty minutes of ice hockey powerplay. Dozzell, a gorgeous ball to Austin, a low shot to the keeper’s left, Nicholls saves well. That corner dropped in a lethal area, bodies and brickbats were heaved into a pair of despairing blocks. Johansen (again), brilliant (again), gets Chair on that angled cut infield he loves so dearly, but the shot flew straight at the keeper. Johansen must have thought he’d scored himself when a low ball rolled plum for him 15 yards out but a fierce drive brought a magnificent save from Nicholls. Rob Dickie drilled an inch wide with the keeper beaten. Still half an hour left at this point. You think you’re going to do this for another half an hour do you? Well, ok, I guess. Johansen (again), brilliant (again), Chair (again), must score, but wide of the top corner when you’d have put all the Nazi gold in Switzerland on him bagging. They pass and they probe and they trick and they torment and they press and they press and they press. And they score. Chris Willock fronted Toffolo, worked space where there seemed to be none, stood up a perfect cross and there was Amos unmarked, dead centre of the goal, to head into the roof of the net. So paranoid were Lees, Pearson and Colwill with where Charlie Austin might be, that Amos had been allowed to stand completely unmarked on the edge of the six-yard box for a ludicrous amount of time. O’Brien had seen him, pointed, but done nothing about it. His evening of carrying a Jonathan Hogg-less midfield perhaps finally catching up with him. Rangers gave not a single shit about any of that.
And of course, what happens then, is Huddersfield start to play again. There was urgency and emergency about them now. Nicholls, it turns out, is like a fucking frog up a pump when he wants to be. Wonderful to see the return of 20/21 Dieng, much more confident and assured than he has been, rushing out to the corner of the area to diffuse a dangerous situation in these circumstances. QPR, fixtures easing rather this side of the break, benefitted hugely from being able to make the substitutions they wanted to, rather than the ones fitness and injury forced upon them. Amos, Sam Field and Dom Ball were all added to the midfield - progress, momentum, violence. Perhaps no surprise to see Stefan playing like this again when, for once, we were manning up in midfield and outnumbering the overworked O’Brien, rather than the other way round as it’s been too frequently this season.
It would all have been for nought had a ninety-sixth minute heave up the field brought either the Huddersfield penalty Rob Dickie’s ridiculous forearm smash through Campbell surely merited, or Odubeko’s header looped over Seny Dieng rather than drawing a final brilliant save of the evening. Referee Graham Scott was unmoved. Huddersfield wished to meet and greet this individual. I’d have wanted some fucking answers as well. QPR, after a series of crucial last minute goals against, and that dire Sunderland scandal still rankling, can chalk this one (and Blackpool’s disallowed effort) up in the ‘for’ column.
Fourth in the league, unbeaten in six, six clean sheets in eleven. How, may I ask, do you like them apples?
And then we lost 1-0 to Derby.
QPR: Dieng 8; Adomah 6, Dickie 7, Dunne 8, Barbet 7, Wallace 8; Johansen 8 (Ball 90+3, -), Dozzell 7 (Amos 71, 7), Chair 7; Willock 7, Austin 6 (Field 83, -)
Subs not used: Kakay, Archer, Thomas, Duke-McKenna
Goals: Amos 83 (assisted Willock)
Bookings: Chair 27 (foul), Dozzell 56 (foul)
Huddersfield: Nicholls 7; Turton 6 (Odubeko 82, -), Pearson 6, Lees 6, Colwill 6, Toffolo 6; High 6, O’Brien 7, Sinani 5; Koroma 5 (Thomas 71, 5), Ward 5 (Campbell 63, 5)
Subs not used: Ruffels, Sarr, Schofield, Russell
Bookings: Koroma 10 (foul), O’Brien 63 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Stefan Johansen 8 Several candidates here, with Jimmy Donne monstrous at the back, Lee Wallace making an enormous difference down the left, and Seny Dieng back in the sort of commanding form that made him a star last season, but Stef was right back to his best and only a great save by Nicholls prevented him crowning that with a goal. As said at the time, much of his perceived struggles earlier in the season were when being asked to write the theme tune and sing the theme tune while massively outnumbered in midfield, so Huddersfield dropping off second half and affording him space along with the presence of Dozzell alongside him and then three midfielders joining in from the bench gave him that platform – but he certainly grasped that opportunity with both hands and turned in his best performance of the season so far.
Referee – Graham Scott (Oxfordshire) 5 I thought he was disappointingly ropey for a Premier League official. He’s missed a fairly blatant penalty for Rob Dickie’s foul in the last second which is a huge decision to get wrong and means it’s never going to be a high mark, but I thought he was a bit odd, and weirdly slow, with decisions at other times. There was one in the first half he clearly waved play on through, and then very belatedly came back and changed his mind after O’Brien got in his ear (which he did a lot). Chair got absolutely smashed in the first half in that ridiculous situation the game has created for itself where the player is offside, knows he’s offside, the officials know he’s offside, the opponents know he’s offside, but we play on for a ridiculous period of time before stopping the play, basically giving so-minded individuals a free chance to crack into a horrible tackle safe in the knowledge that no free kick is coming – the reason for this farcical shit is so VAR can come back and review the original offside call if a goal transpires from it but at Championship level there is no VAR, so to have a Premier League team of officials subjecting us to this shit, and risking injury to one of our best players, for no reason at all was very frustrating. A very, very Championship interpretation of the time wasting rule mind you – i.e. do whatever the fuck you like, I’ll just stand here and wave my hands in the air a bit every now and again.
Attendance 11,591 (600 Huddersfield approx.) Kindly put, certainly one of those nights where the team had to get the crowd going rather than the other way around. Another midweek night, cold, a northern team bringing a small (though, credit to them, not as small as it might have been) away following, run up to Christmas, all the usual perfectly valid reasons, but it really was like a morgue in the first half when the team’s performance and league position really warrants greater backing.
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