|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 0 West Bromwich Albion|
Saturday, 15th January 2022 Kick-off 15:00
Imagine if we won - Report
Sunday, 16th Jan 2022 22:39 by Clive Whittingham
QPR stated their play-off intentions with another last minute goal, and a win to cap a stirring second half performance, against West Brom at Loftus Road on Saturday.
Narrative. And angles. Narrative and angles. More narrative than that David Lynch movie you pretended you’d enjoyed to impress your friends, more angles than the high cheek bones of Alejandro Faurlin. It was Queens Park Rangers against West Bromwich Albion, and it was brilliant.
QPR had ground out a couple of consecutive away wins over Christmas and New Year, though not looked particularly handsome doing it. You could probably put a team together from the regulars at the Crown and Sceptre that would give Birmingham City a game at the moment. Chuks Aneke indeed, Jesus H Christ. Their return to W12 last weekend against Rotherham had been Renault Megane v National Express Coach levels of long drawn out affair – power-sappingly mundane, like test cricket if you play test cricket the way England play test cricket. The students filed into The School of Science seeking to test this theory that Rangers’ class of 2021/22 has a natural limit – capable of knocking the Bristol Cities of this world off without even playing well, but deservedly beaten by Fulham, West Brom, Bournemouth twice and some of the people that came from Stoke.
Play-off credentials rest on the material that ceiling is made of and with West Brom registering more red cards than goals in their last dozen matches suspensions to key players (Alex Mowatt a particular perennial pest to our chances) meant there was a trepidation that if Rangers couldn’t beat them on Saturday then they’d probably have to accept they couldn’t beat them at all. In the first half, at least, Mark Warburton’s team seemed reluctant to give it a tap and find out. A little timid, a bit cautious, often careless with the ball, Rangers created an early chance for Lyndon Dykes who headed over down at the School End, and twice at the end of the half Stefan Johansen tried his luck from range – one a free kick the other in open play – but stand-in Baggies keeper David Button was more troubled by himself than anything Rangers were doing. With Ilias Chair bench warming in Africa, Chrissy Willock was asked to play the lone poet role behind the lumpy bumblings of Dykes and Andre Gray and the visitors weren’t shy of doubling and tripling up on the creator in chief. None of this necessarily mattered – only Luton (two) have lost fewer points from winning positions than West Brom (five) this season so getting into an arm wrestle was certainly a much better idea than falling behind to some old slop off a corner.
At the other end of the ground, the good people of Sandwell Metropolitan Borough Council (your call is very important to them) have been growing restless. When you’ve been subjected to the short termist deathball of Tony Pulis, Alan Pardew and Sam Allardyce in such a concentrated period of time - each problem solved by an even longer, higher ball before they fuck off back to Dubai to drone on at ‘Keysie’ and Gray about how perceptions would all be so different if they were called Alessandro – turnarounds, revolutions and alterations in style of play will take time. This is a squad assembled to simply do it harder, faster, stronger and longer if it doesn’t work the first three quarter of a million times, and the Chinese owners have grown so weary of their play-thing the team is being allowed to decay and age together rather than the required rip up and replenish. Valerian Ismael was far from first choice for the job he’s now attempting to do but, as Harry Redknapp’s QPR showed at this level in 2013/14, parachute payments, Premier League wages, and the ability to spaff £7.7m on a January Daryl Dike can cover a multitude of sins. Two wins from ten, fans in open revolt, My Chemical Hugill in protective custody after one goal in 19 outings… but fourth. That’s the Championship, or more to the point money in the Championship. Five of the current top eight clubs are in receipt of a parachute payment.
They posed some, limited, threat. Initially we got to see what a keen and interested Matt Phillips looks like, which was nice and made a change, though that soon subsided – LFW’s official joke writer (not a salaried position) Simmo’s exasperated “if I pulled out as often as Matt Phillips I wouldn’t have to sit in the family stand” rings truer every time I lay eyes on a player with the talent, physique and speed to be one of the best in the country, built around the heart of a dead toad. Rob Dickie, slightly out of sorts I thought, made a ninth minute attempt on Jayson Molumby's life and was fortunate it was a referee as jolly and lenient as Simon Hooper – yellow card, let’s get on with the quiz.
Ismael’s Barnsley team breathed fire over the wheatfields of Shepherd’s Bush last season, Rangers could not live with the energetic harum-scarum, and at times you could see what he’s trying to implement at The Hawthorns. As with Barnsley, the ball was out of play more than it was in – Matt Clarke had an egg the size of a moon of Jupiter on the side of his bonce after an early head clash – but when it was in it was all about compacting the space with deep strikers and a high defence, keeper as a sweeper, and no opponent allowed more than half a second on the ball. Tight as mouse’s waistcoat in there, last season we described it as ‘football under a grill’, and had Sam Field not covered back brilliantly to intercept a lethal low cross in his own six yard box on 19 minutes maybe it could and would have been that again. But Barnsley’s squad is almost entirely under 26 and West Brom’s, kindly put, is not. Jake Livermore should probably consider quitting and taking up refereeing full time, as this is clearly now where his passion lies. They’re not last season’s Barnsley by any stretch. They’re there for the taking. Only Blackburn have won more points in the second half of games this season than QPR. Nil nil at the break, stage set, places please.
I wondered whether David Marshall might hold the keys to our dreams. I actually think we might have had a right touch with this because 36 and woefully short of match practice he may be, but he’ll be a better goalkeeper when he’s sucking his haggis through a straw than Jordan Archer ever will be in his life and I’m much more confident with him back there than I would be our regular understudy to Seny Dieng. One bouncing Karlan Grant effort comfortably claimed in the first half was the sum total of his involvement until Dickie deflected Grant’s cross back between the keeper and his near post and the veteran Scot just about got an improvised touch to the ball enough to send it spinning like a top along the goal line and safely out on the other side for a corner.
In fact it was Yoann Barbet in front of him who started stealing headlines. Johansen’s second effort at the end of the first half inadvertently set the Baggies away on a counter attack with Phillips which the Frenchman swooped in on as it approached the penalty box and bastarded away into the Ellerslie Road stand to rapturous applause heard at the other end of the Westway. When Karlan Grant streaked away into the opposite channel in the second half Barbet marauded across on the cover and orphaned his children. I want you inside me. This storyline then collided with another, as Ismael sent on £7.7m booster donation Dike from the bench for the final half hour. He immediately looked the best player on the pitch, charging about the place like a man on a mission, built like the Discovery Space Shuttle, shaped like Johnny fucking Bravo, revving up the away fans with big whirlie arm gestures, more testosterone than Lance Armstrong’s knapsack. He set up Livermore immediately but he thrashed over. Field was booked for deliberately pulling him back into our stratosphere. Shit just got real.
This could have made for a long afternoon, had QPR’s centre backs not fancied it quite so much. Jimmy Dunne – who got his bum out at one point in the first half, bit of blue for the dads - has scant regard for his own health and safety anyway so watching him chuck his frame at brick walls for the afternoon was no surprise but to see Barbet like this was quite a thing. Absolutely rabid, to the point that Dike decided the only thing for it was to smash him into the advertising hoardings by the dugouts splitting his head open, a deliberate act that he was completely in control of and knew exactly what he was doing, somewhere between a yellow and a red card and yet not even awarded as a free kick by frequently lenient referee Simon Hooper. A cunt's trick, he knows it, we know it, everybody knows it. I thought we took that incident a little bit lightly as a team in truth, I’m sure Livermore would have been straight across with a red card if the roles were reversed, but there was no such tepidness from Yoann, who played every minute of last season, is ever present in the league this, and wasn’t about to let a hole in the head interrupt his afternoon this time. New shirt, new shorts, stitches at the side of the pitch, novelty condom stretched over his mane, he got back up, walked back out there, won every header, tackled every tackle, kicked every ball, answered every question, won every prize. When Alexander of Macedonia was 33, he cried salt tears because there were no more worlds to conquer, Yoann Barbet is 28. His missus is absolutely banging as well. Yoann’s, not Alexander the Great, although I’m sure she was very nice too. Seeing him get up like that and carry on was quite the statement piece – like the bastard love child of Kaspars Gorkss and Alan McDonald. It’s not your day when an opponent does that. How do you like the life sucked out of you West Brom? I thought he was going to go in fucking goal at one point. Step aside, I’ll deliver this baby. Take your gym selfies elsewhere Daryl. Meeting adjourned.
It couldn’t help but be settled by an ex. West Brom have lovely Darnell Furlong (take him home to your mum but remind her not to mention that his throw still nowhere near as long as he thinks it is), cowardly lion Phillips and My Chemical Hugill (exactly how many players are going to leave their happy part in this QPR project to be richer and miserable elsewhere before realising there’s more to life than money? Hi Nahki.) among their ranks. Rangers named cardigan-clad Sam Field, best performance of the season and everything their midfield was not, and later hauled on Charlie Austin from the bench. If you’re standing at the other end, you’re backing that guy to score. A minute from time Rangers recycled possession better than they had all afternoon – Albert Adomah’s improvised overhead into Stefan Johansen’s immaculate touch off and suddenly Chris Willock was freed from his shackles. There are Brazilian porn stars spending thousands on surgery for lower back curvature the shape of the cross he channelled directly into David Button’s nightmares. And there was Charlie. You’re here, there’s nothing I fear. Offside to start with, offside during, offside afterwards, offside throughout, piling in over the top of Gardner-Hickman at the back post to score the only goal of the game with ten seconds of time remaining. There, as Nick London says, is the winning goal. Bottle that noise and that feeling, pour it straight into my retina like Eyeball Paul, I need a hit off this right away. You talk about the how’s and whys, I’m going to fall down this set of concrete steps with my mates. Drums.
So there you go, take your pick. A week on from his Ellerslie Road sabbatical, Charlie bites back at critics and former employers. David Marshall, plucked from obscurity, from the brink of retirement to promotion contending, clean-sheet keeping goalkeeper. Yoann Barbet, the inaugural Wikipedia entry for Great French Military Victories. QPR’s perceived ceiling, more straw or glass after all, rather than the concrete or lead we feared. West Brom now on the wane harder and faster even than former Wigan Warriors and England RL national coach Shaun Wane.
Except no. Do you know what it was for me? Looking around that place in the second half, candlelight flickering, stands packed to the gills, everybody utterly absorbed, invested and willing. Listening, hearing, feeling the guttural sounds that old cave made on Saturday. We’ve talked about QPR struggling to match expectations and levels set in the back half of last season, we’ve lamented the three-month lack of a Saturday afternoon game at Loftus Road, we’ve been underwhelmed by crowds and atmospheres in W12 for hard-fought, important home wins against Blackburn, Huddersfield and others. We've bitched about family stands, and terracing returns, and Oldham play-off semi-finals. And then here it all was. As day turned to night, and first half turned to second, so QPR turned back into themselves, and Loftus Road hummed as only it can hum. A friend of mine from work messaged before lunch – “a lot of QPR colours around Liverpool Street this morning”. It was on. It was on all day. It was on from the moment we woke up in the morning. It reminded me of the Cardiff home game in Neil Warnock’s promotion season. I will try to fix you. It feels, once again, like a club, and a team, and a people, going places. Good places. Not Wigan.
Charlie’s offside, Townsend had an enormous appeal for a penalty just before when Johansen got caught the wrong side, on another day that deflected Grant shot squirms in and we lose 1-0 – give a shit. At the start of the second half Andre Gray fired home and it was disallowed, perhaps correctly, for a technical pull exaggerated by his marker. Come on you R’s. A minute later Dickie put in one of his trademark crosses from the right channel, and Dykes smashed over from close range. Come on you R’s. Within four minutes Johansen’s outrageous improvised chip would have had Dykes in on goal with a sounder touch. Come. On. You. R’s. Come on you R’s. That second half performance, the place reverberated to it. The team was there, biting, pressing, probing, passing, creating. They’re so good when they’re like this. We're so good when they're like this. When they scored they celebrated together as one, players, subs and staff. This is what Warburton talked about when he arrived – a full stadium, watching a team playing like this, watching a team winning like this. The fans were with them, the noise took on its own existence, when they scored the humanity seethed and the limbs flailed. Look at Johansen charging around in seven minutes of added time to close down the scraps. Look at him. These are the good old days. These are the good old days. This is what you think and feel and hope when you walk up to that place on a Saturday. This is what keeps you going through the dark, cold, wet nights of Paul Hart, Mark Hughes and Ray Harford. Imagine if it’s like that. Imagine if we do that. Imagine if it sounds like that. Imagine if we feel like that. Imagine if it’s in the last minute. Imagine if it’s Charlie.
Imagine if we win. Furlong, away from Hall...
It was all of that and more. I wish I was still there now.
QPR: Marshall 6; Adomah 7, Dickie 6, Dunne 8, Barbet 9, Wallace 7; Johansen 7, Field 7, Willock 7 (Ball 90+3, -); Dykes 6, Gray 6 (Austin 54, 7)
Subs not used: Amos, Thomas, Dozzell, Odubajo, Walsh
Goals: Austin 89 (assisted Willock)
Bookings: Dickie 9 (foul), Field 70 (foul)
West Brom: Button 6; Gardner-Hickman 6, Furlong 6, Clarke 7, Townsend 6, Reach 5; Livermore 6, Molumby 6; Robinson 6, Phillips 6 (Dike 59, 7), Grant 6
Subs not used: Diangana, De Castro, Taylor, Ashworth, Palmer, Fellows
Bookings: Molumby 90+7 (handball)
QPR Star Man – Yoann Barbet 9 I had him down as our star man on an eight anyway. Amongst all the usual stuff we’ve come to expect from the ever-present Frenchman, there was a big sliding tackle to end a worrying counter attack right at the end of the first half, and then a humongous recovery challenge on Grant when it looked like he would streak away to score in the second, which I thought pushed him over the top. To then come through the horrible Dike challenge, get stitched up on the site, have his kit replaced, and come back onto the field when everybody thought he must have been done I thought was incredible. Must have been an absolute heartbreaker for Dike and West Brom. Then spent all seven minutes of stoppage time winning absolutely everything – in the air, on the ground. Richard Dunne levels of ‘I’m not fucking having it’. A very rare LFW 9, and nobody could be more deserving. Bonne nuit Aurelia.
Referee – Simon Hooper (Wiltshire) 7 Honestly, I could write a bloody thesis on this performance. There are two, possibly three, big decisions wrong, which decided the game. I thought Johansen was wrong side of Townsend, knew it, and was very lucky to get away with his challenge in our box just before the winning goal, in which Charlie Austin is very obviously offside throughout. The only debate about Daryl Dike’s snidey cunt’s trick on Barbet is whether it’s a yellow or a sending off – to not even give a free kick, let alone a card, is madness. I’m sure Jake Livermore would have been quick on the scene with a red card if the roles had been reversed. Again, as at Bristol City, I’m sure if I was blogging for the opposition, I’d be giving a four and talking about key decisions costing my team the game. And yet… I like this referee. I like the way he referees. There doesn’t have to be a big fuss about everything, not every piece of contact is a foul, not every foul is a card, every situation doesn’t require a big palaver and performance before we get to a restart. Perhaps, in situations like Dike v Barbet the desperation to be as hands off as possible actually lets him down, because that was certainly a thick yellow for me, but I’d much rather games be refereed like this, and endure those kind of mistakes as a result, than some of the nonsense we’ve endured in recent weeks. I like James Linington, Geoff Eltringham, Andy Davies and a few others for the same reason – Mark Halsey-style refereeing. So, yeh, maybe I’m being contrary, but fuck it.
Attendance – 16,018 (3,100 West Brom approx.) Somebody will have to walk me round where there were that many empty seats.
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