|Blackburn Rovers 1 v 0 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 30th July 2022 Kick-off 15:00
QPR's annual Ewood Park defeat spoils Beale's big day - Report
Sunday, 31st Jul 2022 17:47 by Clive Whittingham
The wind's of change may have blown through Loftus Road this summer, but they weren't enough to shift QPR's chronic inability to perform and get results in away games against Blackburn Rovers.
Blackburn Rovers 1 Queens Park Rangers 0, as was, is, and seemingly ever more shall be.
New manager, new system, new players; fresh start, fresh opportunities, fresh optimism; and after a bright start unfortunately the same old stale slop we’ve become used to making do with by way of sustenance throughout 2022.
Now 23 years since QPR last won at Ewood Park, 12 visits since then with 10 defeats, including all of the last six. Rangers teams good and bad, young and old, talented and feckless, have failed to score on eight of those treks here and have scored just two goals in their last 540 minutes of football in this corner of Lancashire. You could have played 540 minutes over again here without that changing. In an unpleasant and uncertain world, where truth is a construct and lies are taken as fact, I guess it’s reassuring to have something you can rely on. This is a football fixture you can set your watch by.
Battling a collapsing rail franchise now actively pursuing a mission of rinsing the most amount of money from you for journeys it has not adequately staffed itself to supply, the 1,300 odd (very odd) QPR fans who made it this far north on Saturday came to see what was new under wundercoach Michael Beale’s management. Every answer to that, and every positive to take, came in the first half hour of the game when Rangers were much the better of the two sides.
Gone, as we expected, is the back three. Jimmy Dunne an obvious victim of this, forlornly left on the bench as the only unused outfield sub. Gone, too, that wide-open, laissez-faire approach to defending our own goal which so often resulted in opponents being able to get in on our centre backs and goalkeeper with men up in support. QPR were tight, narrow and compact in their 4-3-3. Between the width of the penalty boxes was a solid mass of shape, space at such a premium even a London council would balk at planning permission for a new build. Good luck picking your way through that. Whenever Rovers attempted to do so, the reading of the game and front-foot defending by debutant Jake Clarke-Salter and Rob Dickie Season Three, was impressive and forceful.
This fixture was one of last season’s nadirs, with QPR hopelessly trapped, completing pointless backwards and sideways passes between defensive players in ever-decreasing circles deep in their own half – here, in the first third of the game at least, the palpable difference was Rangers were able to get out. Dickie was, finally, stepping forward into the space ahead of him again, à la last August, and making things happen. With three left-footers across the midfield, and yet the team’s attack lopsided to the right, it looked at times like a Rubik’s Cube in need of another couple of twists, but as one of those midfield three branched out to join forces with a full back at the same time as one of the forwards peeling deep into that channel, so the Londoners were able to cleverly and attractively build progressive overlaps that troubled Blackburn a great deal. It was good to watch, we looked well coached and set up, roles and individual jobs clearly defined. Osman Kakay, for all the brickbats that come his way, excelled early down the right, combining nicely with surprise starter Mide Shodipo, and he came as close to scoring as any R all afternoon with a fierce 25 yarder that struck the angle of post and bar and flew into the stand behind the goal. God I’d have loved it, for him and for us, if that had nestled in the top corner.
It’s worth remembering, with 45 league games, and four weeks of transfer window left, what’s still to come into this team. Its best player, Chris Willock, had recovered from last season’s hamstring injury, but not this week’s illness, sufficiently to be involved here. He’ll make a world of difference. Beale’s system and team clearly like, and constantly look for, a forced, forward pass out of midfield or defence into a point man in the ‘ten’ position. That was picked off too often in this game, either because it wasn’t played well enough, or the person receiving it wasn’t capable of doing so, but Tyler Roberts has been brought in specifically to play there so you would hope things will improve when he does. The midfield did look lopsided, and Andre Dozzell was poor and ineffective again, but Luke Amos and Taylor Richards are both still to come in those roles. There will be more signings, QPR love making signings, up front and down the right side of the defence – though even Kakay’s harshest critics would have to admit he was absolutely fine here, bar one second half moment when he allowed a good crossing opportunity to bobble over his foot and out for a throw. It’s the first game of the season, it’s a work in progress, etc etc, yadda yadda.
Nevertheless, problems old and new surfaced and multiplied like a virus from the 30-minute mark onwards.
Blackburn had posed precisely zero threat to this point but, inevitably as the home team, finally did so by playing Sam Gallagher in behind a busted offside trap in their right channel and Dozzell tracked back well to concede their first corner. The routine was sound, but poorly executed, then, when recycled, Dozzell and Kakay ended up challenging each other for a cross to the back post and were fortunate to be able to mass enough bodies together to deflect Ben Brereton-Diaz’s shot into the side netting.
QPR have a trendy new set piece coach now, the first action of whom is an insistence we need to bring all 11 players back to our own penalty box to defend opposition corners. Given Rangers shipped 11 goals from these things in the final 20 matches of last season, easily the worst record in the league, I guess it’s understandable the new coaching staff would take a safety-first approach. But having nine QPR shirts massed in the goal mouth to mark four Blackburn players, with a plethora of unmarked options all around the box, and no need for them to leave anybody back to mark a counter attacker left up on the halfway line, felt and looked excessive, and played out exactly that way. Rangers simply could not clear their lines, and Seny Dieng was so pre-occupied with a big exaggerated piece of performance theatre trying to get everybody up the pitch, that he was unsighted by the crowd, badly positioned off his line, and not set or fully concentrated when Lewis Travis pinged a shapely 30 yarder straight back at him, over his head, and into the net for the opening goal. It’s a nice strike, arcing beautifully which makes it difficult for the keeper, but it’s not moved, it’s not top corner, it’s down the middle… You’ve got to ask questions.
Rangers took 20 points from losing positions last season, the Championship’s fourth best total. However, 15 of those came prior to New Year’s Eve – the last of them at Bristol City on December 30 when an early 1-0 home lead was turned round 2-1 in stoppage time. After that QPR fell behind in matches on 15 occasions and lost 12 times (Hull H, Luton A, Huddersfield A the outliers). That spirit and grit and confidence and determination we saw in turning around a 1-0 and 2-2 situation at Middlesbrough to win with ten men in August evaporated. This is not a team that now copes will with adversity. Here, having played well for half an hour, and dominated the game, they conceded a wonder goal off a set piece – ah bloody hell lads, that’s shit for you, but it happens, let’s keep going. QPR no longer keep going. One setback, and they crumple. Heads down, woe is me, life’s so unfair. The ‘hangover’ from the way last season ended is one of my chief concerns about this team, for all the media-trained, fan-pleasing platitudes/bollocks about “learning lessons”. You saw exactly why here. We were poles apart, as a team, pre- and post-Travis worldie. We have to build back that resilience we once had.
The good stuff we’d done in the first half an hour, to a large extent, vanished. The passing once again became slow and laboured – not aided by the braindead decision to sprinkler a lush new-season surface to the brink of waterlogged on a day when it pissed with rain all afternoon, but still… I bet Blackburn were delighted with us letting them all get back behind the ball into their shape before we went forwards, and spent so much time pisballing about in front of them. That wasn’t us in the first half an hour here, but it only took going 1-0 down for faith in that system and style to desert us. We once again became ‘safe’, frequently copping out with an easily completable pass backwards or sideways, rather than trying to force the issue by going forwards. Andre Dozzell was the worst offender in this - as per usual leading the team with 87.5% passing accuracy, but then you’re not going to give the ball away much if all you’re looking to do with it every time is turn around and set it back ten yards to one of your centre halves. I want to see him not only pass forwards more, but then follow that pass and receive the return, or go beyond the recipient to provide a runner, have the odd shot, score the occasional goal. Most of the time he doesn’t even do the first bit. Shodipo had caught the eye early, I was impressed, and then after the goal you’d have had a better chance of seeing an Avanti service running to time.
We have got to have more about us, and recover better than this, when we suffer a setback in a game.
There were two chances to salvage things. Blackburn, a bit slack and complacent at the start of the second half, booted their kick off straight out of play and then bollocksed up a silly goal kick routine giving Ilias Chair a chance to run into the area and shoot from an angle – he went near post and missed when he surely had to go across the keeper to the far corner. Easy for me to say, of course. At the other end of the half, Kakay’s deep cross to the back stick actually missed everybody and found debutant substitute Sinclair Armstrong as was intended, but he hadn’t anticipated that and wasn’t set right for a first time shot. Fairy-tale script written, first take sadly botched. Unlucky kid, remember that for next time.
That, sadly, for all the talk of supplying Lyndon Dykes with better crosses, was about the only bit of quality service we delivered from wide all afternoon. For all their first half enterprise, Shodipo and Kakay too often snatched at crossing opportunities and found home shirts. Ilias Chair, as usual letting frustration get the better of him at times, often held onto the ball too long trying to work a shooting opportunity for himself when a quicker offload or earlier cross would have been a nicer idea. The full backs in general were weirdly reticent to get forward. Kenneth Paal, on a chastening debut, treating the halfway line like some weird forcefield – I’m worried the ‘flying down the wing’ bit of his catchy new chant is going to need a re-write. None of this really improved despite a glut of five second half substitutions (I’m sorry, this is still a manifestly excessive and completely unnecessary attempt to placate whinging managers who have every advantage in their favour and will simply move onto moaning about something else now they’ve got their way). Speaking of excessive – that two-year deal for Albert Adomah looks like really quite something watching him here. Richards looked the best of the new arrivals, but again struggled to impact the final third. Armstrong looked keen, and frustrated when ball wasn’t played his way early enough; Macauley Bonne did at least stay onside; George Thomas’ 30-yard speculator when Kakay was free for a ball wide right was Rebekah Vardy-levels of thick.
Rangers finished the game without a shot on target. In a skinny three minutes of injury time Kaminski actually flapped at a ball under the cross bar, dropped and lost it in the six yard box, and still had the time to regather himself, find it, and pick the ball up unchallenged. Blackburn didn’t look very good at all to me, but after scoring they stung Dieng’s hands with a powerful Brereton-Diaz shot from the edge of the area. After half time the Stoke-born Chilean hit another daisy cutter at the keeper, drew a smart leg save at his near post after bursting in behind Paal onto Pickering’s assist, curled one fractionally wide of the post with Dieng beaten, and had a late second disallowed for offside. That was more threat than QPR posed all day by a power of five. We make the excuse that we're a work in progress but Rovers' mirrored our collapse in 2021/22, our new manager search and appointment, and our departure to signing ratio this summer and have much work still to do themselves - they won the game.
That lack of service, lack of early ball, players hanging on too long, players taking safe backwards options, speaks to the defence of Lyndon Dykes. He did, indeed, on several occasions, make a good run off the shoulder of the last man and point where he wanted it, only to not receive the pass he was looking for. But I want more from him too. I want him roughing defenders up, I don’t want to see their centre halves winning free headers. I want to see him getting across the front of men at the near post, demanding the ball. I want to see him angry, and charging about - not making silly tackles and picking up needless cards of course, but more involved and interested than this. We spent years making excuses for Conor Washington – can’t play as a lone striker, needs better service, has to play in a two, needs more experience at this level – and in the end it turned out he's just not good enough. Lyndon is ambling towards a similar fate. He’s immensely frustrating to watch. Like being stuck behind a car in the outside lane of the motorway that’s trying to accelerate with the handbrake on. Shortly before his withdrawal, with substitutes lined up ready to come on, he suddenly started sprinting after the ball, knowing this was his last action of the game, closed down a couple of defenders, rushed a few Blackburn passes, and they were so startled by it they panicked and ended up knocking it out for our throw. I want that. I want that all the time. It’s like he’s conserving his energy, but for what? This is it, this is the season now, it’s not a best of seven series, we’re not playing Blackburn again tomorrow, move your arse like that all the time. This is it for his career too: 27, third season at Championship level, it’s go time. This isn’t a dry run, let’s go. Let’s go. Especially with the five subs now, go fucking apeshit, unleash hell, run yourself into the ground, come off after 50 minutes if you have to, but let’s not die wondering like this eh? Fuck me.
Let’s blow the dust of this old chestnut as well, while we’re here. How nice are QPR? What a lovely, lovely group of young men we are. Beaten all ends up by Ilias Chair after ten minutes, John Buckley chopped him down and took his yellow medicine from referee Thomas Bramall. Quarter of an hour later, Rangers well on top at this point, Buckley was done again, this time by Mide Shodipo, and to stop him accelerating away into space he deliberately pulled him back by the shirt. Now, come on, what are we doing here? I’ve sat here and tapped away that QPR players getting booked for shit like that in the middle of the park could consider themselves unfortunate, the decision harsh, and been told categorically ‘no – if you’re beaten, and you deliberately pull that player back, you can expect a yellow no complaints at all’. Here, a warning on the run. And nobody is saying anything. Not one of our players, captain or otherwise, doing a damn thing about it. We should be screaming for this stuff. On the hour, Sam Gallagher, last seen booting our goalkeeper out of the second half of last season, put a horrible tackle in on Sam Field – clear yellow. Again, word on the run. Again, we just accept that. Later at QPR free kicks Gallagher started with the picking-the-ball-up-and-running-off-with-it shit again, and sitting down pretending to be injured delaying the restart – did somebody mention a clamp down on clock running? I see no clamp down here. But more to the point, I see and hear no QPR complaints about it either. I’m not asking for the Matt Mills Bank Holiday Parade of Cuntery, people surrounding officials and screaming in their face about every little thing, but we just let this shit happen to us. Footballers are never going to care about this as much as we do in the stand, they come and go and play for many clubs, we are the constant and are way too emotionally invested in the outcome. Marc Bircham, Kevin Gallen, Lee Cook, when you get these people at your club it’s a rare and beautiful thing. I don’t expect Stefan Johansen to be as cross about it as I am, but I do expect him to be a little bit cross all the same. Get mad for fuck’s sake, get mad. He's screwing your wife and you’re standing there waiting to hand him a towel.
It was, as you can probably tell at this point, a long way to go, a lot of money to spend, and a lot of hassle to endure, to see a team promise so much and then fold under such minimal adversity as conceding one goal with an hour left to play. At this point it is obviously a work in progress, and there was enough in that first half an hour to be really pleased and optimistic about, when you consider there are good players due to come back into key positions as soon as next week, and more signings still to be made. But I thought this looked a tough assignment for Michael Beale’s first managerial job, I thought our squad lacked goals, and I thought our team lacked pace, and there wasn’t a lot here to dissuade me on any of that.
As much as things change, they stay the same.
Blackburn: Kaminski 6; Brittain 6, Ayala 6, S Wharton 6, Pickering 6; Travis 7, Buckley 6; Gallagher 5, Hedges 6, Brereton-Diaz 7; Vale 5 (Dolan 64, 7)
Subs not used: Edun, Pears, Markanday, Dack, Barnes, A Wharton
Goals: Travis 34 (unassisted)
Bookings: Buckley 11 (foul)
QPR: Dieng 5; Kakay 6, Dickie 6, Clarke-Salter 6, Paal 5; Dozzell 5 (Thomas 64, 5), Johansen 5 (Armstrong 77, 5), Field 6; Chair 5 (Richards 77, 6), Dykes 5 (Bonne 77, 5), Shodipo 6 (Adomah 65, 5)
Subs not used: Walsh, Dunne
Bookings: Dykes 12 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Sam Field 6 Couldn’t fault his effort, ground covered, what he did with or without the ball really. Hamstrung by who he was playing in midfield with – 72 touches to Dozzell’s 48 tells you everything you need to know about their respective involvement and influence. Not convinced he’s going to be the box-to-box midfielder with goals that Beale seems to think him capable but we’ll see. Best of a mediocre bunch here I thought. Always a point of fascination for me how people who watched on TV come away with such vastly different views from people who watched it live at the ground – I actually thought Jake Clarke-Salter was just about our best player yesterday but that is certainly not a view shared by those who watched on the stream judging by the message board comments and interactive ratings, so I’ve gone with Field who did play well and tops the averages you guys have voted on.
Referee - Thomas Bramall (Sheffield) 5 Interesting one. QPR strike me as a very easy team to referee at the moment, particularly once we’re behind in a game. The heads go down, the team goes quiet, nobody’s smashing anybody, nobody’s complaining about things – a referee can pretty much cruise through our matches, and I think that’s what this new Premier League referee attempted to do here, settling for a word on the run when many would have produced yellow cards. Usually I much prefer that approach, but I personally don’t see how Buckley was allowed to commit the deliberate pull back on Shodipo on 27 minutes, after being booked, without being sent off – nor why QPR are so happy to just meekly accept that this is going on. A really bad tackle by Sam Gallagher was also let off without a card just before the hour mark. Gallagher then started engaging in all the running off with the ball at QPR free kicks, and sitting down pretending he’s injured when he’s not, clock running stuff that we’re told there’s a clampdown on this season – again, no cards, and no complaints. QPR should be, nee need to be, screaming for this stuff. Why does an early yellow card give Buckley immunity for the rest of the game? Why are you letting Gallagher do that? I think I’m as pissed off with us as I am with the referee to be honest. Waaaaaaaaay too nice.
Attendance 14,315 (1,300 QPR approx.) Just over 1,100 sold in advance and a healthy queue at the away ticket office when we arrived at quarter to three. A pig of a journey at the best of times and with Avanti’s West Coast franchise now collapsing around them to the point where it’ll get taken off them the journey was more military operation than ‘let the train take the strain’. It was a long way to go to watch Rangers fold after a single first half setback. Kenneth Paal song substantially better than Kenneth Paal debut.
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