Better but still beaten, QPR continue to unravel - Report
Sunday, 10th Apr 2022 17:31 by Clive Whittingham
QPR did at least pose a bit of threat in attack, only to come up against an inspired opposition goalkeeper at Preston on Saturday, as the end of season that keeps on giving did exactly that for the R's faithful up in Lancashire.
Well, for what it’s worth, and shoot me down, but I thought for a while that was a little bit better. Not good, by any stretch of the imagination, or anywhere close to the levels this team is capable of, but a bit of a port in the performance storm this team is currently enduring and putting us through. If a man punches you in the face 60 times in a minute, but then he gets tired and slows down, is that bad news or good news?
To begin with, injuries, because of course injuries. This squad that stayed so remarkably healthy through 2020/21 continues to bend, bow and in all likelihood now break in 2021/22. From two of the usually ever-present stalwarts, Rob Dickie’s hamstring and Yoann Barbet’s knee thrown onto the pile with the others. Dickie’s serious enough to rule him out for the remaining games. And another new goalkeeper, because of course another new goalkeeper. Kieren Westwood, himself our fifth senior stopper of the season, pulled out sick in the warm up, as our Sheff Wed correspondent warned is a worryingly common occurrence for him when the signing was announced. Murphy Mahoney, who sounds like a mix of a Football Manager regen and an Irish character JK Rowling might create, stepped up as the fifth person to start a game in goal for Queens Park Rangers this season – a senior debut, at barely a few minutes’ notice, for the 20-year-old, you couldn’t help feel and fear for the boy playing behind a team that had lost four in a row and six out of seven prior to kick off.
The sheer number of absentees – Jeff Hendrick and Lee Wallace also rested aching bones at home – brought a back four to the QPR starting line up for the first time in a good 16 months by my reckoning. Moses Odubajo and Sam McCallum played either side of Jimmy Dunne and Dion Sanderson. A midfield diamond of Sam Field deep and Stefan Johansen advanced sandwiching Big Bad Luke Amos and Andre Dozzell backed a proper big-man-little-man front two of Lyndon Dykes and Ickle Ilias who’d brought a bobble hat to keep out the cold on advice from his elderly white haired mother. Bowing to public pressure, QPR withdrew their non-Dom status by adding Ball back to their bench.
And, initially, this didn’t work tooooooo badly. This back four and shape would have appeared nowhere among Preston’s opposition scouting notes – I’ve seen every match under Mark Warburton’s reign and can’t really recall us using it once. PNE, with a back three and wing back system of their own, seemed understandably surprised by it and with QPR suddenly able to get two or three players into wide areas as opposed to just Adomah or Wallace there were plenty of overlaps and numerical advantages to be had behind McCann (a midfielder out of position down their right) and Cunningham. Two good early crosses, the second of which Chair might have done better with, set an early positive tone. Andre Dozzell burst through some fairly shambolic defending on the quarter hour and we can debate whether what followed was a crap finish or a good save for the rest of the week if you like – I think he had to score, but home keeper Daniel Iversen would go on to produce a man of the match performance so perhaps I’m harsh. His later stop, one handed and off to his right to prevent Chair finding the far bottom corner after PNE had given him the ball on the edge of the box and he’d rounded the last man was top drawer. Dozzell did beat the keeper ten minutes before half time, but wasn’t bar-wide with a curling 20-yarder on his unfavoured foot.
Look, no letters please. I’m not labouring under any misapprehension that this was particularly good. Preston are the absolute dictionary definition of midtable – thirteenth at the start of play with a 13-15-12 record, more draws than any other side in the league, including Millwall (including Millwall). Having won the first league derby with bitter local rivals Blackpool during the week, and with a big summer rebuild ahead under promising young manager Ryan Lowe that will probably see what remains of this Simon Grayson/Alex Neil-era side broken apart, it’s probably time to start laying some towels out on Mykonos sunbeds from here. They spent much of a laboured first half, that stank of meaningless end-of-season match, passing the ball straight out of play. Spring sunshine and total silence from a crowd only just over 10,000 not exactly doing much for the intensity of a poor quality game. For it all, QPR would end up conceding two more goals, and losing another match.
But… but… All I’m saying is Jimmy Dunne had a sidefooted effort from a deep free kick in first half stoppage time that Iversen saved well up in his top corner, one substitute George Thomas struck a firm shot from the edge of the box after he’d come on which gave the Dane a chance to launch himself into a big camera save, and another second half replacement Andre Gray ran clear through on goal after a brilliant bit of quick thinking from a free kick by Sam Field and drew the save of the match from the Leicester loanee with a firm strike that he blocked away with his shins. Because he’s not playing for the sort of West Brom, Fulham, Bournemouth or indeed QPR outfit that Sky Sports have fisted to death over the last eight months Iversen probably goes under the radar a little bit as arguably one of the best goalkeepers in this division, perhaps let down only slightly by some of his distribution. With most other Championship keepers in goal, QPR get at least a point if not three here. Just to really confirm it wasn’t our day, a second half corner dropped the way first of Dykes, then Sanderson, who both struck shots that probably would have finally beaten the keeper, only for them to strike falling and stricken defenders heaving themselves desperately in front of the ball in a six-yard box scramble. A third rebound, hit by Dykes, was then brilliant repelled by Iversen once more. Bastard. Given Rangers had managed a pathetic total of five shots on target over the course of the previous four matches combined this does count as some form of improvement.
I don’t know whether that makes the defeat any easier to bear for the 640-odd (very odd) behind the goal, or more frustrating still. Preston, in the first half at least, were there for the taking. The travellers went early with a round of Captain Jack that lasted longer than the reigns of our last two goalkeepers, and then spent the rest of the first half given terrific vocal backing to young Mahoney, who after one understandably nervous early kick grew into his senior debut and can be very proud of his personal efforts.
He was badly let down, in two killer moments immediately before and after half time, by the defenders in front of him. There was just a sense, after 35 minutes, playing reasonably ok against a lacklustre opponent and already with at least two chances that should have brought the opening goal spurned, that QPR were just slacking off a little bit. As if the job was reasonably well done, as if they thought they’d just see this through to half time and go in satisfied with the improvement. People were just starting to stand off a little bit. Challenges and blocks were just going unmade in a way they weren’t to begin with. They’d had a warning this would cost them a goal when Cameron Archer burst through, chipped Mahoney, and only Moses Odubajo’s late heroics on the goal line maintained the deadlock. He, at least, is playing quite well at the moment. From that corner, Dykes and Sanderson had to launch a joint operation to block a fierce shot as the ball dropped loose on the edge of the six yard box. Kind of Preston to give advance notice of intention, dim of QPR to ignore it – a cross from Hughes down their left minutes before half time allowed to come in too readily, target man Riis running across the front of Dunne too easily, nothing the goalkeeper could do about the finish which has gone down as an own goal but looked and looks like a Riis goal to me.
He had to leave the field injured immediately afterwards, but they maintained the threat of Cameron Archer who won that Blackpool derby game in the week, has six goals in 12 since joining on loan from Aston Villa, and was obviously a cut above the rest of the outfield players in this game. Again, I’m sorry, I like him, but you have to ask questions of Dunne’s approach to the 20-year-old straight after the break – way too far off his man, backing off alarmingly, allowing him to trundle infield unchecked, and a slight deflection on an already goalbound shot gave poor Mahoney even less chance than he had already. Two nil, game done, QPR really rather masters of their own downfall again.
For all my scrabbling around for positives and QPR’s supposed improvements on the sludge of the last few weeks, Preston got to grips with the second half more than the first and in the final half hour it was only the debutant goalkeeper who stood between the Londoners and a sound thrashing. One fumbled save and gather on the rebound came at the end of a counter attack that resulted directly from Stefan Johansen killing a forward move of our own by dangling a frankly pathetic leg in on a loose ball on the corner of their penalty box when there was a tackle there to be made and won. Fuck me love, make the effort will you, I’m dressed as a fireman here. Another error by Dunne – possibly his worst performance of the season here – sent Archer through on the goal but Mahoney saved brilliantly and bravely down at his feet one on one. His best save followed soon after as Archer tried again from the edge of the box, and when PNE then loaded the six yard box and swung a corner in right under the cross bar he got a strong fist to the ball through a crowd and deserved the slice of luck that came his way as the rebound was turned goalwards but struck a Preston player on the line. There was still a leg save to come denying Alan Browne, and Mahoney at least can leave this latest car crash with his head held high having been placed in a horrendously difficult position by the circumstances.
An enforced switch to a back four, and the goalkeeper clearly (wisely) largely not bothering with too much elaborate play out from the back, had at least broken the monotonous cycle of QPR spending all afternoon fucking about in their own half. More shots, more chances, more entertainment here than the previous three games combined. It had also, along with Dunne’s drop off, left them vastly more open at the back. Even Preston, very much in sunglasses and second gear, managed 21 shots on goal and seven on target, a significant and unwelcome increase. They were able to carve through with relative and frightening ease in the final third of this match.
QPR did score, a first goal in the thick end of four games since Luke Amos gave us the lead right at the start of the Peterborough debacle. Daniel Johnson’s back post shirt pull on Sam Field under a stoppage time corner was blatant, lazy and needless. Tony Harrington the referee rightly pointed to the spot and Andre Gray calmly stuck the goal away with what turned out to be almost the very last kick of the game. I’d call it consolation, except it wasn’t really. It probably mattered only to Iversen, robbed of the clean sheet and bonus that comes with it that he surely deserved by a poor piece of play from his midfielder. The goalkeeper within me is furious on his behalf – I’d have been delivering a mild bollocking.
Whether you think QPR deserve the same, or more, probably depends on your outlook, and on this occasion whether you were there or not – the reaction post-match from those at the game, in general, more reserved than the bitter Twitter meltdown from those that weren’t. Perhaps those still travelling are just weary and resigned to it now, while those that don’t still have the energy to be angry. Another long, expensive, and almost certainly fruitless slog up to Huddersfield is just five days away. Wherever you land, it now feels like only Derby (eight defeats in a row away from home) coming to Loftus Road on Easter Monday stands between Rangers and finishing the season with ten straight defeats and 12 losses from their final 13 games. I certainly didn’t expect to be scrabbling around for nice things to say about a limp defeat in a largely meaningless game at Deepdale six out from the finish line, and even the most pessimistic QPR fan would have struggled to predict an unravelling quite like this.
For the fans, the season can’t end soon enough. Sadly, it looks and feels like it’s the same for the players.
PNE: Iversen 8; McCann 6, van den Berg 7, Bauer 6, Hughes 6, Cunningham 6 (Murphy 70, 6); Whiteman 7, Browne 6, Johnson 6; Archer 7 (O’Neill 90, -), Riis 6 (Maguire 45+1, 6)
Subs not used: Rafferty, Ripley, Sinclair, Diaby
Goals: Riis 42 (assisted Hughes), Archer 50 (assisted Johnson)
QPR: Mahoney 7; Odubajo 6, Dunne 5, Sanderson 6, McCallum 5; Field 6, Dozzell 5, Amos 5 (Thomas 57, 5), Johansen 5; Chair 6 (Gray 69, 5), Dykes 5 (Austin 68, 5)
Subs not used: Kakay, Ball, Adomah
Goals: Gray 90+3 (penalty, won Field)
Bookings: Field 85 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Murphy Mahoney 7 Bit of a cheat pick really but to come in for your first ever professional appearance, in goal, for a team in this sort of form, away from home, at that short notice, the pressure and nerves must have been immense. I actually got quite emotional seeing him come trotting out before the rest of the team for a quick and rudimentary warm up having presumably found out he was playing just a few minutes before. A young boy, just a kid really. With all of that going on to perform as well as he did was to his enormous credit. The switch to the back four left QPR way more open than they have been, probably a fair indication of why Warbs has been so reluctant to go back to it, and his saves kept his team in touch in the second half. A performance for him and his family to be really proud of.
Referee – Tony Harrington (Cleveland) 6 Not bad, but nothing at all to referee here really. This fixture has often become fractious and niggly in recent years but QPR are so limp at the moment that both referees in our away games this week have been able to just breeze through the 90 minutes. Penalty was blatant, and with seconds left on the watch he knew it didn’t matter anyway. Some soft stuff awarded at times, some daft errors over small stuff like throw ins, and a second half incident where Sanderson was fouled poking Dykes through on goal and he chose to give the offside against the striker rather than coming back for the foul a split second earlier was piss poor. Not much of an advantage if the ball rolls through to an offside player is there?
Attendance 10,873 (640 advance QPR sales) Not to be a total dick about this (he said before being a total dick about this) but if you were one of those people Tweeting me September/October time about how terribly unfair the loyalty point system is and that it should be scrapped well FYI this is where you accumulate them and this is why.
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