QPR's slip continues, soundly beaten at Millwall - Report
Wednesday, 16th Feb 2022 17:46 by Clive Whittingham
Following the debacles at Peterborough and Barnsley, QPR were soundly beaten on the road for a third time in ten days at Millwall on Tuesday.
Perhaps, on reflection, we should have specified what kind of a response.
A week and a half ago Queens Park Rangers lost for a second time this season at Peterborough United, who are the second worst team in the Championship. This was largely, though not completely, written off by the majority of a fan base who acknowledge that priorities lie away from the FA Cup this campaign. They followed that up on Saturday by losing for a fifth time in six meetings to Barnsley, who are the actual worst team in the Championship. This was rather alarming, and put a dent in the team’s ‘real quiz’ promotion aims three months out from the finishing line, but such is QPR’s historic propensity to walk right up to the biggest, widest, deepest, most obvious, most well-sign posted, most notorious well they can find and fall right in, it was more eye-rolling than pitchfork wielding in South Yorkshire. As long as we saw a reaction at Millwall in a useful game in hand on Tuesday, we told ourselves, we could shake hands and move on. The team’s reaction, however, was to get even worse still. Didn’t like that one either, no?
Any lingering hope that the London Road and Oakwell debacles had been blips brought on by complacency, an attitude slip in supposedly easier games, an inevitable consequence of prioritising league over cup, just one of those things, just ‘typical QPR’, lasted all of 25 seconds at The Den on Tuesday. From the kick off the hosts calmly progressed down the field unchallenged from a routine throw in, split the defence into a thousand pieces, and put a low cut back on an absolute plate for Dan McNamara whose comically wild shot high and wide when unmarked eight yards from the goal was as bad a miss as you’ll see sans-Jordan Hugill involvement. For the weary away end travellers, not exactly fresh and certainly not yet dried out after the weekend in South Yorkshire, there were several more circles of hell to navigate yet. This would be the longest of long old nights.
This was a game of three Wallaces, with the wrong result Gromit. The wrong result. QPR’s left wing back Lee, whose form and fitness is often so key to this team playing well, lasted a bare 20 minutes before departing with another worrying muscle injury, this time a groin. Prior to the Boro home game last week Wallace’s win percentage for the year was knocking on the door of 82 per cent which, if extrapolated over a whole season, would see QPR finishing with 113 points. But, at 34, his ever lengthening injury record means it’s getting towards shaking hands time. Sam McCallum’s return to fitness cannot accelerate quickly enough, with Saturday’s worst player Moses Odubajo called upon from the bench and producing a display at least marginally less shambolically incompetent than he’d been at the weekend.
Millwall’s Murray was extremely fortunate not to be booked for screaming and pointing in the face of referee James Linington over the award of a free kick ten minutes after half time, which Ilias Chair crossed and a crowd-scene bundled into the arms of goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski. He, and Millwall, were typically in your face all night, as you expect when you come here, and Rangers wilted immediately and embarrassingly. Less than a quarter of an hour into the game Stefan Johansen collapsed in a heap demanding a free kick and a game stoppage. He got neither, and nor should he as he wasn’t fouled and he wasn’t hurt. The home team, under threat of pitch invasion from the locals, played on and pushed for a goal, and referee Linington was happy for them to do so – again, absolutely right, there should be more of this. But, here’s the but, another quarter of an hour later the home team’s Oli Burke had a sit down of his own, Millwall this time demanded the game be halted because they didn’t want to play with ten, and everybody went along with this happily. Referee stopped play, invited the physio on. QPR basically stopped it themselves, Yoann Barbet even seemed to be calling the referee’s fucking attention to it. Where’s the consistency from the officials there? Neither head injuries. More to the point, in the context of the evening, where are our bollocks there? Why aren’t we playing on? Why aren’t we in on the referee demanding fair treatment? Nobody said or did anything. We seemed glad of the fucking stoppage so we could have a breathe. The most macro of microcosms.
And then there was Jed. Frequently outstanding against us, criminally underrated and overlooked at this level, easily the best player on the pitch here and eventually the match winner. He’d have scored with a dangerous low shot in the first half but for a fine save by David Marshall. A half time briefing later, when presumably it was pointed out that Albert Adomah had posted a Gone Fishing sign in lieu of a defensive game and Scott Malone could really do whatever he pleased down that side, and Wallace was producing a sweeping Crossfield ball that exposed Rangers’ three centre backs completely and Malone rolled an unmissable chance across the goal for Mason Bennett. The move for the second, barely ten minutes later, was more of a team affair, but Wallace’s outlandish backheel for the final ball added a sexy flourish, and this time Tyler Burrey, who’d replaced Burke, took a turn at burying an unstoppable shot past Marshall. This a Millwall team, remember, the fourth lowest scorers in the league, and robbed of both top scorers Tom Bradshaw and Benick Afobe through injury. Burke, who only lasted 28 minutes, was himself a makeshift forward option. This why Warburton was so reluctant to try Albert at RWB in the first place, and the first time it's been a problem, but my God what a problem it was last night.
In truth, this should have been a lot worse than 2-0. QPR didn’t compete, didn’t win challenges, lost every individual duel on the pitch, looked physically intimidated, tired, laboured and often really rather scared. A hundred thousand million miles away from where you need to be to win this fixture They were crying out for legs and energy higher up the field. Warbs Warburton’s post match comment that if you don’t relish atmospheres and occasions like this you don’t deserve to be playing at this level really rather pertinent. Might have been nice to see a few earlier substitutions to go with it – how Luke Amos goes from his performances against Swansea and Reading to getting so little look in since is beyond me, though as ever I bow to the superior knowledge of managers, coaching staff, medics and sports scientists who know far more about these players, their form and condition than I do.
Giant centre back Jake Cooper headed one first half corner back into the traffic forcing a save from Marshall, who the had to palm the resulting second set piece out or risk conceding directly from it. Later, already two goals up, Bennett went screaming through an enormous hole in the defence, cut inside onto his favoured foot, and drew another save from Marshall down in the bottom corner. QPR’s threat in return numbered one flicked Yoann Barbet header at the near post from a corner, similar to his goal at Bristol City, which was blocked on the line and scrambled away. Bialkowski, like Brad Collins at the weekend, should really have paid for entry.
More alarming still, this is probably what many would consider to be our strongest starting eleven, playing against a fifteenth-placed opponent missing all of its strikers. There was a deal of excitement at Chris Willock’s return, his absence seemingly key to the varying Peterborough and Barnsley debacles, but he was never in the game at all.
QPR have been in promotion form for 14 months playing this system, with these players, but on Tuesday night all the best things about it over the last year or so became our worst.
The wing backs, so key to all that has been good, were abject here. Wallace off injured early, Odubajo eye-poppingly dumb, Albert Adomah lost at sea in his worst performance for the club.
The central midfield pairing, that we were so excited about back in the summer, looked horribly laboured. Where is that Stefan Johansen from the end of last season, bursting forward to join the strikers, arriving late in the penalty box as an extra body to overwhelm an already stretched defence, a frequent goalscorer? He was nearly as deep as Marshall here. Field, alongside him, absolute baggage, giving the ball away as if it was a sport in itself. When he was fairly and squarely crunched by McNamara (excellent, first minute miss apart) midway through the second half he wallowed on the floor exhausted and had to be helped and hurried up by Odubajo. We looked like we felt thoroughly sorry for ourselves, and Warburton was straight onto the field at full time geeing a few up.
Nothing really brought home the regression in the three centre backs more than the performance of Rob Dickie. Against Millwall on day one he’d strode confidently forward into space, and launched a goal of the season contender into the top corner to win us a point. We conceded a lot of goals at the start of the season, too many really, and have tightened up since, but it has come at the expense of those marauding runs forward from Dickie, Barbet and the now departed De Wijs. The Siriki Dembele goal at London Road, where Barbet was our furthest man forward, seems to have been a bit of a turning point in this, but QPR are now struggling to score, threaten to score, or even keep the ball anywhere other than on the edge of their own penalty area where the defenders and waaaaaaaaaaay too deep lying central midfielders aimlessly pass the ball around themselves. Talented, ball-playing centre backs striding out with the ball and making things happen was, like the wing backs, like Johansen, a big part of what made us good, and its absence now is a huge factor in why we’re this bad.
Dickie was booked in first half stoppage time after we’d bollocksed up our own free kick, and that crosses the ten threshold for a two game ban. Given how completely bereft he looked here, bar one excellent piece of desperate defending on a low cross in the first half, that rest and a chance for Dion Sanderson to bring some freshness and keenness to the table in two winnable home games next week might not be the worst thing in the world.
Lyndon Dykes, flying at the end of last season and the start of this, was also shambolically poor here. His decision on when to run and where, and when to hold back, broadcast on an AM frequency to a supporting cast on a blockchain. Not so much a different wavelength as a different planet. Reading already feels a long time ago for him. Ilias Chair, meanwhile, has quietly clocked up a run of five defeats and a draw in six games for Rangers and hasn’t been involved in a win since Derby at the end of November – the recent run of victories on the road and through January coming while he was injured and bench-sitting at Afcon.
There were zero positives, and it would be disingenuous to pretend otherwise. When all the things that are meant to be good about your team are this bad, you’re not going to win a game of football in a competitive division like this. How it’s fixed and where we go from here is now the pertinent question, and I’m leaving that for now at the risk of robbing myself of a match preview topic for Friday.
For it all, it’s worth bearing in mind QPR are still fourth, still with a game in hand on many, still with a five point cushion to seventh, with three of the next four at home against the teams in fifteenth, nineteenth and twentieth. It’s this manager and these players that got us to there.
Millwall: Bialkowski 6; McNamara 8, Hutchinson 7, Cooper 7, Wallace 7, Malone 8 (Pearce 82, -); Kieftenbeld 7, Mitchell 7, Wallace 9; Burke 6 (Burey 28, 7), Bennett 7 (Saville 89, -)
Subs not used: Long, Mahoney, Evans, Lovelace
Goals: Bennett 48 (assisted Malone), Burey 64 (assisted Wallace)
Bookings: Wallace 59 (foul), Burey 65 (over celebrating)
QPR: Marshall 6; Adomah 3 (Amos 76, 6), Dickie 4, Dunne 5, Barbet 4, Wallace 4 (Odubajo 21, 4); Johansen 3 (Austin 76, 4), Field 5, Chair 4; Willock 5, Dykes 3
Subs not used: Dieng, Gray, Sanderson, Hendrick
Bookings: Dickie 45+3 (foul)
QPR Star Man – N/A
Referee – James Linington (Isle of Wight) 7 Other than the rank inconsistency and hypocrisy of refusing to stop the game for an injury to Stefan Johansen but then happily doing so moments later for Oli Burke, I thought he was very sound, sensible and comfortable as usual.
Attendance – 13,063 (2,201 QPR) As per, away end policed like a demilitarized zone while the home fans are allowed to do as they please. One saving grace of taking such a convincing hammering was that so many Rangers fans had already left at full time there weren’t enough left to justify locking us in the cage for 45 minutes afterwards and we were able to escape homewards relatively quickly.
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