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Dude, where’s my football team? Report
Wednesday, 6th Apr 2022 20:34 by Clive Whittingham

Four straight defeats for the first time under Mark Warburton, six defeats in the last seven, QPR continued to tank with an insipid display against Sheffield United at Bramall Lane on Tuesday night.

Six minutes of added time at the end of the game. Six minutes to pull a point from the fire, six minutes to rescue the game, six minutes to save the season, six minutes to restore some pride, six minutes to give the poor bastards behind the goal something for their troubles. Six minutes. Out of form, out of the play-offs, out of confidence, out of luck and out of goalkeepers. Six games to go to the summer, six minutes to play in this one, the absolute football dictionary definition of nothing to lose, now or never, caution to the wind, stop waving it around and start fucking.

Westwood. To Dickie. To Dunne. To Barbet. To Westwood. To Dickie. To Barbet. To Dunne. To Westwood. To Barbet. Westwood, to Dickie, to Dunne, to Barbet, to Westwood. Dickie. Dunne. Barbet. Westwood. Westwood. Dickie. Dunne. Barbet. Barbet holds it, holds it… holds it. Westwood. To Dickie. Guys, far be it from me to tell you your jobs, but if I may interrupt and raise a practical issue at this point – we are on a bit of a fucking clock here. Now, only two minutes of added time at the end of the game. Two minutes to pull a point from the fire, two minutes to rescue the game, two minutes to save the season… etc. etc. I bet Sheffield United couldn’t believe their luck.

It was, in so many ways, exactly the game we expected it to be. Here’s the bit of the report where I feel obliged to say that Sheffield United, drawing just shy of 27,000 to the outstanding stadium in this league on a Tuesday night, are fresh out of the Premier League and flush with parachute payments. Tartan McPartick up front cost them just shy of £18m. Sander Berge even more than that. Seven feet tall he was, with arms like tree trunks. His eyes were like steel, cold, hard. Had a shock of hair, red like the fires of hell. We go shopping in Wolverhampton and come back with Dion Sanderson, they go to the same supermarket and find Morgan Gibbs-White whose click and collect over and around Rob Dickie after four minutes was delicious and set the tone for the evening. Unbeaten in ten at home, with eight clean sheets, they are a formidable foe on their own patch regardless of recent stumbles on the road – Chris Wilder’s media-pleasing Middlesbrough had their spleen removed and four goals stuffed in by way of replacement here barely four weeks back. QPR are - as we keep saying, as we should always bear in mind when judging the performance of the players and manager – often bringing a toothpick to the first nuclear World War in these situations.

Certainly that felt like the mood behind the goal, as the travelling faithful huddled together at the back to keep out of the rain. The mad rush for tickets from the autumn and winter is long behind us now, the pushback against loyalty points from people suddenly interested in travelling to see a winning team has disappeared with them, and we are back down to those “same old faces” “old as fuck” 46-game-a-season “nerds” who will go on the road with this club regardless of its performance. There was little by way of vocal backing, and precious little to get excited about and back, but likewise there wasn’t the sort of exasperation, anger and frustration you might expect, even as the team senselessly frittered away that extended period of time at the end of the game. One or two shouts, but nothing more. Whether that would have been the case if Sheff Utd had cut loose as they surely could and should have done against an opponent offering nothing, rather than mindlessly retreating into hold-what-we-have mode with all the ball boys pissing about at every stoppage in play, is up for debate. Whether it will hold if the team continues to, frankly, just go through the motions like this over the next month I have serious doubts, with five of the last seven away from home and all of them long, arduous, expensive trips to mostly fucking shit places.

On the one hand, QPR fans have always been very tolerant of a team that might not be good enough but tries its best. By and large, and with some exceptions, I don’t think you can accuse this lot of not trying or caring about what they’re doing. Ilias Chair is starting to cop some accusing glances with just two victories in 16 personal appearances going all the way back to Derby in December. He is, at times, guilty of hanging onto the ball too long and trying to do too much – I know it frustrates club commentator Andy Sinton, who will reminisce about exactly what some of the strikers he played with would have said had he been twisting and turning on the ball out wide rather than whipping it for them, and I sympathise a little bit with Andre Gray who relies on that sort of early ball in behind. Perhaps some old videos of Lee Cook to highlight the value of getting a good, early, low delivery in between a retreating defence and goalkeeper as opposed to letting them all get back and set and then trying to produce something through the forest may be of value. Another presentable late free kick smacked straight into the wall didn’t help but he couldn’t have tried any harder for the team here, looked our best hope of getting a goal, and left the field in tears at the end. He’s the only one of them playing far enough up the field, with touch and ability of sufficient level, to get the ball and keep it in the opposition half for any length of time. He closed in on Lyndon Dykes’ nod down on 28 minutes and might have scored but for a late clearance, crossed fractionally too high for the Scotsralian on the stroke of half time, and dragged a low shot wide of the post in the second half – it wasn’t much by way of goal threat, but in the land of the bald the man with the Lego hair is king.

On the other, you have Sheffield United’s first goal. John Fleck had already taken an ungodly amount of time over his first set piece of the evening (Let’s go over the signals. If I tuck the bill of my cap like so it means the signal is a fake. However, I can take that off by dusting my hands thusly. If I want you to bunt, I will touch my belt buckle not once, not twice, but thrice.) when he cut a planned low corner back to the edge of the area, through a dummy by Roddie McScotsman, and into the path of Ollie Norwood whose mishit shot made it through the crowd and a shocking attempt at a save by Kieren Westwood regardless. The problem with being forced to bring a goalkeeper out of semi-retirement nearly a year since his last professional outing shown up again – QPR have conceded easily saveable goals against Blackburn, Cardiff, Luton and now Sheff Utd purely because they’ve been faced with an unprecedented goalkeeper injury list at the worst possible moment.

More annoying, however, is this is a corner Sheffield United have used before, a corner Warbs Warburton said they had picked out in video review and practised for, and then conceded after nine minutes and lost the game from anyway. That’s worrying. That’s careless and slapdash and not good enough. This manager goes so far out of his way to protect and credit his players it’s untrue. The most mundane and meagre of joke or comment against them is seized upon and called out, he demands they are respected and their efforts recognised, and then they repay him by conceding like that from something he and his coaches had specifically told them about. I found his post match interview a tough watch – a thoroughly decent and principled man, a champion of his players to the last when they'd let him down very badly there. All the focus is on his position and future at the moment and those players owe him a lot, lot better than that goal.

There were, however, another few bits for the growing ‘I don’t understand’ list. I’m not going to bother with the disclaimer this time. It’s long been established that I don’t know what I’m talking about. I don’t understand how you look at the Fulham performance and drop Luke Amos and George Thomas from it. Moses Odubajo was out for ‘personal reasons’, fair enough. Like I say, maybe they’re protecting Luke’s knees after two ACLs in as many seasons. But to go this stodgy again, well, like I say, I don’t understand. The much-maligned Jeff Hendrick did at least pass a few balls forwards in the first half (fun drinking game if you’re watching at home) but when a ball dropped loose 45 yards from goal from a headed Sheff Utd clearance in the second half and you looked up to see which QPR player would be picking it up and returning with interest the nearest one was a further 30-35 yards further back down the pitch. We are painfully, painfully deep in our positioning on the field. We cannot get out of our half in any kind of controlled possession, we cannot get the ball to our strikers and when it does get there it doesn’t stick. I saw somebody on Twitter describe Lyndon Dykes as having the touch of a trampoline which is so brilliant I’m gutted I didn’t think of it myself.

Look, I’m angry, clearly, because it’s a long way to come, I’m still fucking here, and it’s Preston on Saturday, and Huddersfield next Friday, and I’m just haemorrhaging money and in the mood for a few low blows and a bit of an argument so, sorry, but I do wish Lyndon would look as interested in playing for us as he does in playing for Scotland. I’m lashing out, perhaps unfairly, but that’s how I felt negotiating diversions and variable speed limits on empty motorways in the middle of last night listening to Colin Murray interview Rich Hall (very good, by the way, get it on Sounds).

One of several key problems manifesting all at once is the performance of the wing backs. When we were playing well at the back end of last season, Lee Wallace was the main man. Absolutely outstanding. He now, as he did when he first arrived, looks basically spent. I don’t understand no.376 in the series why Sam McCallum isn’t being used a little bit more, and his introduction here immediately brough the sort of incisive and proactive ball into the channel we’d been begging for all night – Dykes hit it on the turn and it deflected not a million miles away from the top corner. On the other side Albert Adomah was everything that was good about the team in the first part of the campaign, but has now hit a wall the size of the fucking Reichstag building. Watching him repeatedly offered two v one and three v two opportunities to go down his flank at somebody and refuse was infuriating – several team mates gesticulated in his direction in puzzlement over the course of the evening. When he did get in the final third with the ball, frequently one on one with Enda Stevens, he just couldn’t produce. What happened to him getting the final ball right Every. Single. Time? Here it was just weird, like he had a foot injury or something. Couldn’t kick the ball more than ten or 15 yards, and certainly not get it off the ground and into the air for a cross. It was like when they used to make U7s play with full size and weight footballs on adult pitches. An odd, and rather sad, spectacle. He too cannot be accused of not caring or trying, but good God he was dire here. Given the results, and the performances, and the form of the wing backs, it’s a legitimate question to wonder whether we persist with the back three in the remaining games, and if so then for what reason or gain?

The spectacular run through 2021 was driven by senior players – Charlie Austin, Stefan Johansen, Lee Wallace and later Albert Adomah – who have collectively run out of gas three months shy of the finish line. Do you blame the manager for this? That’s the budget, that’s what we decided to do with it, that’s how far we got with it. When we finally did cross the halfway line with a minute left a corner was won and Rob Dickie glanced a header wide. Could have scored, as he did at Luton, and I’d no doubt be here wanking myself to death over team spirit, going to the end, biting back at critics, rewarding the travelling faithful, still fighting for this promotion. I guess it then wouldn't have been a million miles away from the wins at Bristol City, Coventry and elsewhere - a tight game, which could have gone either way, once going for us more often than not, now going against. Fine margins, the title of Warbs’ autobiography.

But, similarly, this was a defeat far more comprehensive than the scoreline. In the first quarter hour it looked like being any scoreline the Blades fancied, with Gibbs-White absolutely tormenting Rob Dickie who was booked early and looked dead set for a red card. Berge (this enormous child will devour us all) was allowed to run a ridiculous distance unchallenged before Yoann Barbet nudged himself ahead in the star man voting with a brilliant block of a goalbound shot. The first attack of the second half brought a desperate intervention from Westwood at his near post and Wallace swept in to divert the rebound away. Prolonged pressure and an early second half corner eventually saw a presentable back post header nodded down and through the goalmouth without a touch. Gibbs-White almost chipped one in from 20 yards, which would have gone down well with a former Wednesday player in goal, and then streaked away on a late counter and somehow didn’t find the bottom corner having waltzed around the final defender. United’s decision to abandon everything from the sixtieth minute onwards and hold what they had with deep lying massed ranks and time wasting was needless Championship shithousing. This is just the default in this league, and I’d be pretty pissed with it if I was a home fan here despite the result – this was a game and an opponent here for the taking, and here they were with the ball boys playing silly buggers over throw ins and goalkicks. Just win the fucking thing three nil dicksplats so we can go back to the pub.

That football in this country has allowed itself to just sink into this being the accepted norm is depressing. Compounded by QPR’s complete passive acceptance of it. I don’t particularly rate Dom Ball, but I can see why he’s getting so many messages enquiring to his whereabouts. We had that incident at Millwall where they wouldn’t kick the ball out for our injury then we did for theirs, we had the Fulham coach juggling the ball on the touchline at the weekend, we had that bullshit with the concussion sub and the man from the side of the Mega Bus waddling round on the pitch v Peterborough, we have teams celebrating en masse at the far end of the pitch for hours on end, and we just stand there, back in formation, silently, talking neither to each other nor the referee, just fucking taking it. I don’t want to go all Mike Bassett England manager but there have got to be certain levels of respect established, and at the moment we’re passively letting teams walk all over the top of us and make us look like twats. The only person who’s objected to any of it and tried to belt somebody in the last few weeks is John fucking Eustace. Field the only one really ready to rattle somebody, and even he too guilty too often of pulling people back and conceding dangerous and needless free kicks. One of Dom’s raids on the kraft services table wouldn’t go amiss at the moment frankly. Shaun Derry wouldn’t have stood for this shit.

I’ll end where I began, in that ball aching start to the stoppage time. We all did our jokes – wish I hadn’t left my book in the car, ten more minutes of this will age me enough to qualify for an OAP ticket – but actually it was quiet profoundly sad. I can see why they’re doing it, with everything I’ve said about the wing backs and strikers, but at the end of the day it’s not getting us anywhere, it’s not working, and you’re doing it with first David Marshall and then Kieren Westwood who haven’t played for months and months and weren’t very good at this when they did. Seny Dieng’s injury should, surely, have brought a pragmatic change in tack? How have we got to this? This passive, defensive, frankly really rather boring team? Where is that swashbuckling side that just got on the front foot and played to win? That team of Middlesbrough away? This is a QPR team that started troubling club records for scoring sequences earlier in the campaign – 32 consecutive games scored in, 22 consecutive away games scoring at least once. Now we don’t look like we’ll ever score again, pisballing about with the ball in our own half, going nowhere, and seemingly thrilled to death about it. It took us to September 18 to lose nine times in 2021, now here we are going past that with nothing to indicate we won’t have reached last year’s total of 14 by the end of the month. And worse, it's boring. I'm bored watching it. I was bored at Blackburn, Barnsley, Millwall, and I was bored here. Injuries, loss of confidence, fitness issues, mental inability having got so close, individual mistakes, bad luck, yes, all of this. But more too. How do we go from that performance v Reading at home, to that performance at Peterborough, in the space of a week? Never to return to the former? You can’t help but wonder what’s gone on behind the scenes. Dom Ball Instagramming his availability. Charlie Austin’s wife Tweeting then thinking better of it. Again, I hold my hands up, I do not understand.

Where we go from here, other than another 500-mile round trip, another extortionate train ticket, another couple of tanks of petrol at eye-watering cost, another 200 notes pissed up the wall, and another defeat at Preston on Saturday, I don’t know. But I’ll be there with you. It’s what we do.

Links >>> Photo Gallery >>> Ratings and Reports >>> Message Board Match Thread

Sheff Utd: Foderingham N/A; Baldock 6, Uremovic 7 (Robinson 63, 6), Egan 6, Davies 6, Stevens 6; Berge 8 (Osborn 83, -), Norwood 7, Fleck 7; Gibbs-White 8, McBurnie 7 (Jebbison 72, 5)

Subs not used: Davies, Hourihane, Ndiaye, Norrington-Davies

Bookings: Uremovic 51 (foul), Fleck 87 (foul)

Goals: Norwood 9 (assisted Fleck)

QPR: Westwood 5; Adomah 4, Dunne 6, Dickie 5, Barbet 6, Wallace 5 (McCallum 72, 6); Field 6, Hendrick 5 (Dozzell 68, 5), Chair 6; Gray 5 (Thomas 68, 6), Dykes 5

Subs not used: Amos, Austin, Sanderson, Mahoney

Bookings: Dickie 12 (foul), Hendrick 58 (foul), Field 80 (foul)

QPR Star Man – Yoann Barbet 6 Maybe? I don’t fucking know to be honest.

Referee – Darren Bond (Lancashire) 7 Really good example of how the rules, or at least the modern interpretation of them, can hang the officials. Moment in the first half where a long ball over the top set Gibbs-White away, clearly and obviously offside, but the linesman felt duty bound to let him chase after it anyway, drawing Westwood out of the area for a clash between the two with all the injury implications that entails, before putting the flag up. Total nonsense, to the point of being a farce, that makes the linesman look like a complete idiot, but that’s the way we have to do it now apparently. Two minutes later a ball that had pretty obviously gone out for a throw in was waved play on by mistake – not a particularly big or important error, pretty obvious and not difficult to get right but nobody died – and now the home fans were up in arms, everything the officials did met with a wave of catcalls and abuse. Actually, bar the usual complaint about a total lack of policing of the clock running (did add six minutes though), I thought they were reasonably decent here, certainly be the appalling standards of recent weeks.

Attendance – 26,488 (850 QPR approx.) How many of those 850 were tickets sold for the original date who didn’t bother for this one I’m not sure, but there were a lot more Rangers there than I expected. Actually quite a sad night behind the goal, not a lot of noise, not a lot of anger, just a quiet resignation in the air. You’re all heroes to me.

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WigRanger added 21:49 - Apr 6
Great report……was sad reading it tho….to be a Rangers fan eh? COYRS…..onto next season 🙏🏼

Burnleyhoop added 21:57 - Apr 6
Towels are packed. Tickets for Mykonos purchased and my Bournemouth bet just tanked.

It’s been a bad few weeks and I don’t think I can take defeat at Preston.

My towel is well and truly thrown in. This season is done I’m afraid.

Myke added 22:15 - Apr 6
Cheers Clive - reads more like an obituary than a report. Our wonder team of '21 is dead, our outrageous dream of promotion is buried and the brand of football putrefies. And we mourn our loss. Oh and as I said on a thread - you and your fellow travellers do yourself a disservice; on Sky you could be heard loud and proud.

extratimeR added 22:23 - Apr 6
Thanks Clive, really appreciate report, first time last night i looked at game about to start and just sat their numb, (not from alcohol), I remember seeing that bloody free kick when the played Forest? on the telly, Warbs must be spitting, whoever didn't do his job should train on his own for a week, (it obviously wouldn't affect match preparation).

I agree about Chair it is coming back, he is trying stuff and its not working this week, but it will work,( I noticed against Fulham when he had the ball he was probably the only Rangers player they stood off a yard).

I watched it and thought about our old story of how many goal scorers have we lost over the last two seasons?

Start at Pugh and add them up.

Away fans amazing, the bloody cost must be horrific, well done all of you.

Amos, Thomas? I guess we will never know?

Keep it going Clive, Many thanks.

royinaus added 08:06 - Apr 7
The players tried for a forward pass
with the jester on the sidelines in a cast........

Southend_Rss added 09:50 - Apr 7
Must have been tough to write this report Clive. But a great report nonetheless. Said to my dad at the game that it was just so quiet in the away end. The realisation of how the season is over and just having to accept it.

QPROslo added 10:09 - Apr 7
Not sure Westwood could have done much with the goal. It took at least one deflection, off Dykes I think, and he was unsighted I think. A lucky goal really with ball getting through all those players, but someone should have picked up Norwood.

Rangersboy66 added 10:37 - Apr 7
I wouldnt call it an enjoyable read Clive (no direspect) but a good report. The reflections on the senior players and how they have crashed and burnt is for me up there with the goalkeeping jinx that has befallen us. These are not exclusively the issues that have precipitated our demise but I beleive the main ones. Adomah, Johansen, Wallace and Austin have simply ran out of steam and losing Willock has killed our creativity. The team is now treating the football like a hot potato that nobody wants.

nightwish added 11:46 - Apr 7
Hells Bells i agree with you i gave Barbet our best player and i gave referee the same mark as you amazing.Felt the ref gave a few decisions for the home side but was overall decent 6 mins extra time fair.McCallum in for Wallace debatable.Spent most of the time at QPR injured.I used to watch Stan Bowles being kicked from pillar to post in the 70s still be fit for the next game

thehat added 16:00 - Apr 7

As I have said before for me playing Hendrick and Sanderson and picking Chair straight back from AFCON after we had been on such a good run has definitely caused friction in the squad - You can smell it.

Warbs also being so bloody stubborn with the formation when it is clearly broken takes some understanding too - Two 34 year old wingbacks with limited fitness and pace away from home at Sheff Utd is just bonkers.

RsinWales added 16:55 - Apr 7
I don't really have much to say about the demise of the team. It's all laid out so articulately in the report. Strange that I feel sad, rather than angry about it. Perhaps I appreciate we have been over-performing and now it's reality punching us in the guts?

My main thoughts relate to all of the timewasting, faking and manipulation of the rules. It is killing Championship football. When teams start messing about when 1-0 up in the 25th minute (Preston) it really has come to something!

I had hoped that this insidious nonsense had got to a point where even the EFL or FA would have felt the need to do something about it. But, no. Instead we now get new permissions to stand in front of the ball to prevent free-kicks being taken and freedoms to boot the ball away when you feel like it. Previously bookable actions, now tolerated as 'part of the game'.

It is making matches boring and frustrating. It kills entertainment and is contrary to the 'spirit of the game' (if such a thing exists even more). It's cheating and nothing more.

The cherry on the cake for me is that we have to answer an FA charge for improper conduct for what looked like a fairly innocuous moan at a referee about a penalty decision. Whilst, in a previous match we watch a player limp off the pitch, then return to it and clutch his head so there can be a concussion substitution. A rule brought in to (rightly) protect player health is overtly abused on camera and the bloke and team get away scot-free.

A game I loved for a long time is beginning to sicken me a bit.

Northernr added 17:01 - Apr 7
RsInWales - I agree 100%. Championship ball in play is only just above 50% of the match now, the lowest anywhere in Europe.

chutneyslacks added 10:12 - Apr 19
The report is great... but all of it is really sad

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