Insipid QPR, out with barely a whimper – Report
Sunday, 24th Apr 2022 16:50 by Lee McAlpine
Out-of-form QPR crushed any lingering hopes they had of making the play-offs with a pathetically listless performance and defeat against a Stoke side with nothing to play for on Saturday. Lee McAlpine makes his LFW return with this week’s report.
I know it’s been a while since I’ve had the pleasure of writing one of these reports. It was actually the pre-lockdown, Eze-led triumph at Preston back in 2020. The way this season has panned out for me, it actually feels like that was the last time I saw Rangers win. If we’ve been utterly crap, you can be pretty sure I have been present; If we’ve taken the points with a dramatic late winner, you can be 100% sure I’d been nowhere near the fun. I should have been at the Huddersfield game, but the kick-off was rudely changed by Sky and I had to choose between a Paul Weller gig in Manchester or a likely humiliating going over from the Terriers. No choice really, so it meant I again missed an encouraging Rangers’ effort. Unfortunately, I could come up with no alternative plans this week and was very much in the stadium for this very predictable, timid toothless surrender.
Much has been written already about our horrible collapse from the play-off positions, but from what I’ve witnessed this season, I couldn’t actually believe we should have ever been in those lofty positions in the first place. Fulham apart, the Championship has been severely lacking in quality this season and it is unlikely to be this poor, ever again. To find teams like Luton, Huddersfield, Millwall, Blackburn and us ranked so highly, while surviving on such tiny budgets, really does emphasize this point. Whichever two teams do join the Ruperts in the top flight are going to be in for torrid ride and maybe we should feel slightly fortunate that Rangers won’t suffer that fate.
I have actually been up north for 25 years and have seen us play in most grounds beyond Watford. Stoke, while never feeling a welcoming place for the fans, does seem to have been a good location for the team. Winners from Peacock and Gallen, the most powerful header in the history of football from the Iceman and that glorious power glide from Eze, all made the Stoke fans even grumpier than usual and generally vacating the stadium in huge numbers. With their budget and playing staff, Stoke should be higher in the table than us, but until recently we have been in a different league. Of course that didn’t stop them beating us at home when all the form pointers said the game would be a Rangers banker. The Bet365 stadium was certainly far less intimidating than in the past, with huge banks of empty red seats and those that were occupied produced very little noise.
Following the results or performances in the last two games, the numbers in the away end were swelled, with just a tiny glimmer of hope that a play-off position could stay within our grasp, and the mood was generally light-hearted before kick off. I’m not sure that players actually realised the season wasn’t over already as they produced another dismal, non-threatening performance. Yet another away game when any of the ball boys could’ve played in goal for Stoke, without the result being affected. How can any professional team, in our position, conjure up such slow, negative display? What was the game plan? It felt like we just wanted to grind out the game until the last ten minutes and then somehow fluke a late winner. Of course that plan fell to pieces once we conceded, because once we did, the season’s efforts disappeared down the plughole, as we could still be playing now and the score line would read QPR 0, just like at Barnsley, Blackburn or Sheffield United. That’s four recent away days where we have failed to have a meaningful effort on target. That’s not relegation form, that’s some kind of footballing impossibility.
We lined up with in a kind of 4-5-1 (or 4-4-2). Barbet and Dunne in the centre of the back four, with Sanderson and McCallum as full backs. Dozzell, Field, Amos, Chair and Thomas in the midfield, Thomas and Chair being the ones trying to get into the same postcode as the very isolated Dykes. Westwood somehow has kept the QPR goalkeeper’s curse at bay for another week, although there were worries that he had succumbed, when he remained motionless on the floor after Stoke scored. Our ancient stopper ended up being part of a very small group coming out of this game with any credit.
The game began with the home side very much on the front foot, but without really troubling our goal. Mistakes and slow ponderous play were in huge supply, especially from us. Most of the half was spent with our defence passing the ball between themselves with increasing panic, before it was launched up field. The ball simply didn’t stick anywhere for us and any slight openings we created, were quickly surrendered by a bad touch or terrible pass. Stoke had far more positive possession without creating any great chances. Westwood saved one deflective effort, smartly with his legs, while the nearest we came to anything positive had absolutely nothing to do with us. A routine pass across the home box from a Stoke player nearly resulted in a ridiculous own goal, when the left sided defender miss controlled the ball and it bobbled passed the wrong side of the post, as far as we were concerned. One good forward pass (the only one) nearly set Dykes up for an opening, but his control was awful and the chance was gone. Dunne was booked, quite early on, for a late foul and did well later in the game to avoid a second one, when he pulled out of what looked likely to be another clumsy challenge.
Only one team looked likely to score and the inevitable happened just before half time. A dangerous inswinging corner was flicked goalwards. Westwood saved smartly but the ball fell to Wilmot, whose shot was blocked, before the ball landed invitingly to Brown who crashed it into the roof of the net from close range. The goal was very much deserved. The home side had not been great, but they didn’t need to be, to be far superior to us. It had been a terrible opening half for us and part of a familiar pattern that has occurred far too often this season. Why do we start game like we have just woken up? What’s the point of all those orchestrated pre match warm up routines when they clearly don’t work? Maybe we should just wait on the bus until ten to the 3 because I’ve never seen a team look as poor as this lot in the opening period of games. The manager’s comments about us starting games slowly are also getting boring and predictable. Stop bleating about it and sort it out. Anyway we couldn’t be as bad in the second half could we? Yes we bloody well could. We may have improved slightly, a D- to a D maybe. But still a D and so far below what was required and absolutely infuriating and humiliating to watch.
Stoke should have scored a second when Harewood-Bellis had a free header from a corner well saved by Westwood and the highly-rated (or over-rated) Maja also was thwarted by our keeper. Amos was replaced by Adomah and Dykes by Austin, in a double substitution on 57 mins. Adomah certainly gave the team a better shape and an outlet on the right and Austin set up Thomas with a great flicked header. The diminutive midfielder raced onto this ball into a great position on the right side of the box but smashed his shot very high and very wide. A few minutes later, Thomas also nearly equalised with a header which hit the woodwork. Not sure if the keeper had it covered but at least we were having some possession more than 20 yards from our own goal. Anyway Thomas was immediately rewarded for his efforts by being replaced by Gray.
From this point nothing really happened. We huffed and puffed but never laid a glove on Stoke. The home side’s back three, including the aged Jagielka, won’t have had an easier afternoon than today. It was another frustrating game for Chair, who is another whose confidence took a battering today. Our deliveries from both sides were generally rubbish, which was hugely disappointing when McCallum and Adomah both got in advanced positions. We are brilliant at hitting the first defender or giving gentle catching practise for the goalkeeper. It was obvious a long time before the end that we were a shadow of our earlier season team. Just like at those earlier mentioned away games, we never looked like we were going to score. But to not make the keeper actually touch the ball in any meaningful way is unbelievable. The referee added four minutes onto the 90, which seemed a little mean. But I think he was just putting us out of misery because it wouldn’t have mattered if he’d added 40.
At the final whistle the team were greeted by a few boos but mostly by empty spaces as many headed quickly for the exits. We knew the chances of keeping the season going for another week were pretty slim but you really couldn’t have expected such a terrifyingly dire and depressing display. (Well I could with my record this season) This campaign apart, 2022/23 now becomes a huge worry. If we carry on in this way next year, well you can finish this sentence yourself. The confidence has gone and so has the bravery and any kind of self-belief. No matter what platitudes the manager comes out with, you can only believe what your own eyes see and we have become a horrible spectacle.
Stoke: Bursik N/A; Wilmot 7, Jagielka 7, Harewood-Bellis 7; Allen 6, Smith 6,
Subs not used: Philogence-Bidace, Chester, Vrancic, Bonham
Goals: Brown 45+1 (unassisted)
QPR: Westwood 7; Sanderson 4, Dunne 6, Barbet 6, McCallum 5; Field 5, Amos 5 (Adomah 57, 5), Dozzell 4, Thomas 5 (Gray 70, 5); Chair 5, Dykes 4 (Austin 57, 5)
Subs not used: Mahoney, Kakay, Hendricks, Ball,
Bookings: Dunne (foul)
QPR Star Man – Keiren Westwood 7 Made three good saves to stop the score line from reflecting the game more accurately. His distribution is too slow, but did all that was asked of him.
Attendance 19,251 (860 QPR approx.
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