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Ainsworth's homecoming barely moves the needle - Report
Sunday, 26th Feb 2023 18:16 by Clive Whittingham

There was to be no fairy tale homecoming for Gareth Ainsworth in his first game in charge of QPR on Saturday, as the R's shipped three goals again and extended their abysmal run of form to one win from 19 with a comfortable home loss to Blackburn Rovers.

On the evening of August 24, 2001, several hundred people gathered at a departure gate at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport to board their overnight Air Transat flight to Lisbon in Portugal. Several of them had flown with the airline before and had poor experiences, economic pressures of running a budget carrier over long haul distances mean you often end up with a sketchier aircraft and ropier food than with a more moneyed rival, but they’d come back for another go regardless. This time they would be under the guidance of captain Robert Piché, a confident man with the gift of the gab, trained in some of the best and most challenging environments in the world.

Into the sky they went together and initially all seemed well: a new and updated aircraft, big improvements on the previous experience, some of the passengers even started to enjoy it in as much as anybody enjoys these long slogs. But the plane was flawed, and fragile. Vital components, maintained on the cheap, had been grating together to a point, mid-flight, just when all seemed to be going well, that they burst. The fuel they’d taken on earlier, more than enough to see them through, they believed, started draining away out of a big hole in the wing. When the pilots noticed the discrepancy in the fuel levels they did what the manual says you’re supposed to in this situation and made a change, opening a cross feed valve to feed petrol in from other tanks and balance it out. This, of course, made things worse, and the entirety of the plane’s fuel supply started to slip away into the Atlantic Ocean. Piché, faced with a state-of-the-art Airbus computer telling him he was in trouble, did not believe it. Because planes cruising along at 36,000ft don’t just suddenly drop out of the sky and crash into the sea do they? Probably just a computer problem, they resolved, as the level dropped from top to bottom. It’ll resolve itself soon enough, these things always do.

They talked themselves into that for more than an hour, until it was too late - 150 nautical miles away from the nearest land, the aircraft ran dry, the engines began to flame out, the lights in the cabin went out and the electrics in the cockpit switched off. The stricken plane went to sleep, and left them to it. There they all were, in the dead of night, in a pitch black, broken, silent aircraft no longer able to function, with no way to fix the problem, in an irreversible free-fall.

I don’t know what you thought, felt or expected when Mick Beale’s QPR soared to the top of the Championship in October, playing some of the best football seen in the people’s republic of Shepherd’s Bush for many a long year. It would have been a bold better to lay any sort of wedge on them maintaining an automatic promotion push, with so many parachute-payment clubs on their immediate tail, and the collapse of 2021/22 would have made anybody wary of having too much confidence in them even making the six, but they were at least on the radar. Worst case scenario, a run like last season, when Rangers went from pushing Bournemouth for second place to four wins from 19 fixtures and a crash and burn into eleventh place in the table. But, to get relegated from that position? Surely not. You’d effectively have to lose every match you played for the rest of the campaign. You’d have to stop scoring goals almost entirely, and concede them at such a rate that you’d spend more time conceding goals each week than you do eating, sleeping or on hold to the sodding box office. While it has technically been done before, by Millwall in 1996 after they too lost their manager to a better gig midway through the year, it required them to win just four of their final 30 fixtures, losing 18 of them, and even then they still only dropped on goal difference — one score in a 0-0 draw on the final day at Ipswich would have kept them up regardless of everything that had gone on prior. Teams don’t simply go from cruising along at 36,000ft to crashing into the sea.

QPR have now won one of 19 games, four off half a season. They have now lost four games in a row for the second time in that sequence, taking the total of defeats to a dozen from those 19 fixtures. They haven’t beaten anybody at all in 12 games. Since the run began, with a 2-0 loss at Birmingham on October 28, they have had more managers (three) than they have wins (one). They have conceded three goals in each of their last three matches, the first time they’ve done so in consecutive games since 1994 (hat tip Jack Supple). They have conceded three goals in a game on seven occasions this season, six times in this dire run of results, and have suffered three different 3-0 home defeats at Loftus Road in a single season for the first time in the history of the club. Only relegation haunted Wigan (ten) have lost more home games than QPR’s eight so far, and it’s now nine matches in W12 since they last tasted a home victory. The R’s have scored a paltry five goals in their last seven matches, haven’t scored more than one in a game in eight attempts, and have scored one goal or fewer in 18 of their last 19 games. Neil Critchley departed this week with a win percentage just north of 8%, the worst ever at this club, and the shots on target totals for his final 11 games reads like a sound check: 1, 2, 2, 2, 4, 4, 2, 2, 2, 2, 2.

In the manual, the checklist for such emergencies at Loftus Road includes pulling the big red lever marked ‘Nostalgia’. As restlessness among the villagers turns to the raping and pillaging of board members’ Twitter accounts, and the LSA put down their pints in The Springbok and emerge blinking into the light for a good old fashioned pitchfork waving on South Africa Road, the distress beacon is launched and over the brow of the hill comes Gerry Francis, Ian Holloway or Kevin Gallen; Richard Langley, Lee Cook or Jamie Mackie; Ian Holloway (again), Charlie Austin or, now, Gareth Ainsworth.

This is a job Ainsworth has actively coveted for a decade. QPR could have had him at any point they liked over the last ten years, during which time they’ve changed manager nine times, and never once seriously considered him because the style of play at his Wycombe Wanderers side was considered abrasive and unpalatable. They could have had Ainsworth 12 games ago, when they went for his polar opposite Neil Critchley, but the idea at that stage was, literally, laughable to the people who run QPR day to day. You have to wonder about a process and plan that says Neil Critchley is your guy on December 11, but Gareth Ainsworth’s your man by February 23. The ‘umms’ and ‘errrs’ have been replaced with a loud and incessant tubthumping; the club-issued gilet and white Reebok Classics by an open-neck shirt, jeans that leave little to the imagination, and a set of cowboy boots; The Paul Daniels Show has been cancelled, and Gene Simmons is here for his encore. What a fucking club this is.

This is, undeniably now, a rescue mission. QPR perhaps need as many as three wins from a dozen games, having managed only one from the prior 19. All concerns about styles of play and development coaches are to be set aside while that is prioritised, otherwise Gareth’s going to find himself returning to Wycombe all too soon. At a normal football club you might be able to count on some so-called ‘new manager bounce’ to get you there, but it’s not something (m)any of Ainsworth’s immediate predecessors have enjoyed: Critchley won one of this first 11 games; Mick Beale won one of his first six; Mark Warburton two of seven; McClaren lost his first four games conceding 13 goals; Holloway won one then lost six in a row; JFH didn’t win at all until his ninth game; Chris Ramsey two from 12; Redknapp one from seven; Hughes two from ten. The manager, it might be fair to conclude, is not your problem here.

The immediate signs in Ainsworth’s first game, at home to Blackburn, were not promising. I guess you wouldn’t necessarily expect them to be against a team sitting fourth in the table, unbeaten in eight with two wins and two clean sheets in the games immediately leading up to this fixture, but Rovers have been strange this year, posting the same number of league defeats as struggling Rotherham, and are eminently gettable. QPR’s attempts to do so lasted all of 13 minutes in which they won, and largely wasted, a dangerous free kick on the corner of the box, and a couple of corners one of which Chris Martin headed over when he might have done better. Changed out of the nonsense 4-4-2 Critchley had lined Rangers up in for heavy defeats to Sunderland Boro, Ainsworth’s preferred 4-3-3 formation was in evidence early, but it left stand-in right back Osman Kakay — Kyle Walker in attack, Karl Ready in defence — horribly exposed on multiple occasions. A big switch of play from right to left on 13 minutes busted the whole thing wide open allowing Tyrhys Dolan to torch Kakay and deflect a cross up for Sam Gallagher to head home unchallenged and unmarked from six yards out. No goals in 16 games for Gallagher prior to this, because of course.

Going forwards, Kakay was a good deal more effective and probably the pick of the QPR players. He skinned his man on 22 minutes and crossed for Martin to touch off to Stefan Johansen for a shot deflected wide, and then repeated the dose two minutes later. This time the cross confused Hayden Carter in the six yard box and he inadvertently skewed it straight to Tim Iroegbunam who could hardly miss his first goal for the club from eight yards out. Just a fifth goal at the Loft End of the ground all season long, Rangers back on terms.

Ainsworth’s popularity in these parts dates from a highly successful, whole-hearted stint at the club as a player during Ian Holloway’s rejuvenation of a financially broken and destitute club. Ainsworth, along with Martin Rowlands, a crucial extra ingredient added to the 2002/03 losing play-off finalists, getting Rangers up and over the line automatically the season after. Holloway, though, had to go down to come back up. He inherited a team struggling, no doubt, recently beaten 5-0 at both Wimbledon and Preston, but one that was outside the relegation zone and had recently strung together two wins against Barnsley and Gillingham. Rangers won only one of their remaining 13 games, and slipped into the third tier for the first time since the 1960s, before the recovery began. Among many, many contributing factors to that meltdown was an extensive injury list that sidelined the likes of Paul Furlong, Rob Steiner and Chris Kiwomya for the majority/all of the campaign and left us relying on a disparate collection of half-arsed loans and short terms signings like Michel Ngonge, Paul Peschisoldio, Kevin Lisbie and Leon Knight. This became terminal when the two best players in the team, Clarke Carlisle and Richard Langley, both suffered season ending injuries in January. I mention this here at this point only because an extensive injury list that has sidelined the likes of Lyndon Dykes, Tyler Roberts and Jake Clarke-Salter for the majority/all of the campaign and left us relying on a disparate collection of half-arsed loans and short term signings like Jamal Lowe (painfully disinterested here), Chris Martin, Ethan Laird and Tim Iroegbunam, added Ilias Chair to Chris Willock just before half time with what looked like the sort of hamstring explosion you don’t recover from in a hurry. The comparisons between then and now are worrying, and mounting.

Chair has had criticism of late — often accused of trying to do too much himself, holding the ball too long when an early release would bring greater reward, taking hopeful and hopeless shots on from range that rarely if ever bring about a goal — and indeed as soon as he’d gone off QPR did string an attractive and incisive counter attack together with Johansen freed by a pass from Chair’s replacement Andre Dozzell and Kakay flying down the wing again to win a set piece after referee Leigh Doughty rightly waved play on through a horrible dive from Callum Brittain. But, much like when the much maligned Lyndon Dykes disappeared, the realities of QPR with and without Chair were soon laid bare to the Football Manager and Fifa 23 children on social media. Without him, Willock or Dykes, this team looks to have a very bleak immediate future indeed.

They trailed at the break thanks to a goal that just sums up this group of players to a tee. Two minutes of time added onto the end of the half, most of that played, Blackburn throw in wide on the left. Get to half time. Get to half time. Just get there. Do what you need to do to get there. Kick it out again if you need to, go down and stop the game if you have to, trip somebody up if it’s required, concentrate like fuck, mark tighter than you’ve ever marked before, track runners, take no risks. Do your job. Do your fucking job. Do it for one more minute, then we’ll get a brew on and have a chat about what we might like to do with the second half. Game smarts. Game smarts, game smarts, game smarts. Couldn’t do it. Never looked like being able to do it. Unmarked players, unchallenged opponents, untracked runners. A defensive shape the likes of which I’ve never seen. Three Blackburn players involved in the throw, three QPR players for company, and yet two of them unmarked. Rob Dickie, marking nobody, drawn out of position U8s style, everybody running around the football in a big cloud of dust — what the fuck is wrong with that guy at the moment? Jimmy Dunne, ostensibly his centre half partner, all the way across the other side of the penalty box, and just enough yards deeper than everybody else to play every opponent onside. I mean, you talk about gaps between defenders, you could solve the South East’s housing crisis in one fell swoop with a new garden city in the gap those two left between themselves here. Sammie Szmodics walked through it and scored, as anybody with half a brain would have been able to. A minute to go until half time. A goal of such staggering ineptitude I’m genuinely speechless. I can’t think of the words. Well, I can, but they’re not repeatable. Stupid fucking cunts.

Feel-good factor over, Chair injury killing the mood, the second half was shambolic. Ainsworth’s arrival able to move the needle only as far as Iroegbunam’s first half goal. Rangers would, once again, concede three in the game. Andre Dozzell and Kenneth Paal turned a situation where they had Joe Rankin-Costello backed up to the corner flag, outnumbered, with no support, into one where he was running freely towards the goal with the ball at his feet having left them both behind. Honestly, I’d fancy Dame Thora Hird in a fight against Andre Dozzell, and she’s been dead since 2003. The task of rolling the ball across goal for Gallagher to score his second of the game was relatively simple after that. No goals in 16 games for Gallagher prior to this, because of course.

Osman Kakay was booked for jumping up in the air and swatting a Blackburn throw in away basketball style. Pillock. Rob Dickie, who may as well have pulled a red shirt on and played for Blackburn all the good he was doing us, played a pass to Sam Field that was frankly irresponsible in these days of crisis in the ambulance service, and he had to crunch his way through a yellow card challenge to get us out of that hole. We would, once again, finish with just two shots on target, and I’m struggling to recall the other one. Those little paper signs they hang on your Travelodge shower urging you to save the planet by only putting your towels in the laundry if they really need cleaning can be applied to Aynsley Pears’ kit.

Jamal Lowe, whose input I was bitterly disappointed with throughout, committed a lazy foul on the corner of the box on 67 minutes. Seny Dieng sprang from his line to catch the cross. Trailing 3-1, with time running down, runners right and left, Jimmy Dunne free for a pass, he held the ball, bounced the ball, held the ball, bounced the ball, waited for Blackburn to get back in shape, then punted a long, hopeful bucket of sloppy nothingness straight onto the head of the opposing centre back at the far end of the ground. One header back the other way later and Dolan was running at us with the ball at feet again, threatening and hitting a shot which gave Dieng a chance for a nice camera save. That’ll look good on the Gram, at least.

There was one point, ten minutes from time, where Dunne found himself deep in Blackburn territory, wide on the left wing, with the ball at feet, and only one man in front of him. He’s obviously not the soldier you’d ideally choose for that mission but, you know, get your foot round the ball, get it in the mixer, let’s see? So desperate is this team to play back to its goalkeeper, so hard-wired are they to roll everything back to Seny Dieng and start again, so often have they pissed away so much of our time with this incessant, ineffective, infuriating backwards and sideways crap, that Dunne, instinctively, turned on the ball, showed his back to the Blackburn goal, and decided the best course of action was to attempt a back-pass of the best part of 90 yards, all the way from nearly the far left corner flag, back to Seny Dieng in the Loft End penalty box. I’d estimate it made it about a third of the distance, landing instead straight at the feet of Gallagher who one can only assume botched a free run at the goal out of sympathy or shock. This QPR team is genuinely now doing things I’ve only ever read about in books. We are seeing stuff, week to week, things the likes of which I cannot recall clapping eyes on previously. You can file this moment, and Rovers’ laughable second goal, in that section today.

We had, once again, been very comfortably beaten by a far better side — streets and streets ahead of us in every regard, position, action, attitude and tactic. They had the best player on the pitch in every individual position, and won in something around third gear. Albert Adomah’s 15 minute cameo from the bench was an embarrassment. There was a full blown sighting of Taylor Richards — please contact reception to claim your prize — for the final two minutes of normal time and a nominal period of stoppage time. Two tackles to make, both of them bottled, and that was his input. Thanks Taylor, see you in three months.

Ainsworth defiantly clapped all four sides of the ground at full time — if he didn’t appreciate the full extent of the horror he’s inherited here before, he certainly does now, and Chair’s injury is quite the snooker to get out of.

Captain Robert Piché and his passengers survived by completing the longest ever recorded glide without engine power in a passenger aircraft — 75 miles to Lages in the Azores where they crash landed, blew out six tyres, and thanked their lucky stars they had lived to tell the tale. A diversion 50 miles south of course, and a 2-0 win at Millwall, earlier in the flight to avoid weather proved the difference between life and death. QPR must hope a run of eight wins from 11 games in the autumn, combined with a poor collection of sides below them in the table (eight of the bottom ten lost yesterday with Rotherham to play tomorrow) and a limited number of remaining fixtures, is enough to keep them out of the drink. Sadly, it feels at this point like they’re not going to be able to get there under their own power.

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

QPR: Dieng 4; Kakay 5, Dickie 2, Dunne 3, Paal 4; Iroegbunam 5 (Richards (!!) 88, -), Johansen 5, Field 5; Lowe 3, Martin 5 (Adomah 75, 2), Chair 5 (Dozzell 35, 3)

Subs not used: Amos, Archer, Dickson-Bonner, Gubbins

Goals: Iroegbunam 24 (unassisted)

Bookings: Johansen 37 (foul), Kakay 57 (deliberate handball), Field 59 (foul), Lowe 66 (foul)

Blackburn: Pears N/A; Rankin-Costello 8, Carter 6, Hyam 7, Brittain 6; Travis 7, Buckley 7 (Phillips 90+5, -); Thomas 7, Szmodics 7 (Hedges 69, 6), Dolan 7 (Morton 80, -); Gallagher 8

Subs not used: Pickering, Brereton, Garrett, Hilton

Goals: Gallagher 14 (assisted Dolan), 60 (assisted Rankin-Costello), Szmodics 45+2 (assisted Travis)

QPR Star Man — Osman Kakay 5 I sense that even with my mass muting exercise this could set my Twitter mentions off because he’s not popular on there and I fully hold my hands up to his defensive positioning being, kindly put, suspect. But he drove forwards with the ball, committed and beat opponents, delivered service into the box (eventually leading to a rare goal), and looked our most energetic, interested and effective player when we had possession. All a bit like being named the most intelligent person in the room at a meeting of the ERG, but I felt worthy of note all the same.

Referee — Leigh Doughty (Blackpool) 7 An afternoon spent judging whether QPR’s desperate attempts to literally hang onto the coat tails of their opponent were worthy of yellow cards or not.

Attendance 15,715 (1,139 Blackburn) Cuddle?

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probbo added 20:18 - Feb 26
Air Transat was one of my favourite episodes of Air Crash Investigation. This is more like Mission Impossible. Kakay had loads of space down the right but was not given enough ball. There was no pressing of the defence when they played the ball out from the back, forwards stood there like statues and the number of backward, sideways passes and throw-ins was unbelievable, even at 1-3 down. Very poor all round.

Marshy67 added 21:12 - Feb 26
So 1 win in 19 and say 3,minimum, required from our final 11 games (forget Burnley away).
Being of a vintage age I can remember season 68-69. 1 win from our last 23!
Following the Hull away caper I mentioned it was not too early to have a look in the rear-view mirror and pop pickers Meat Loaf seems too have been proved correct.
Objects in the Rear View May Appear Closer Than They Are!!!
If Wild Thing can prevent this lot getting relegated he deserves the freedom of Shepherd's Bush! Or at least free life membership to the Magic Circle.

davman added 21:38 - Feb 26
Go on, Clive - why the bandwagon caning of Dozzell for their third. Yep, can't disagree that he is not a fighter by any stretch, but how can you criticise him without a word for our left back, who is meant to be a DEFENDER. He remains a darling of many on our beloved board, but he has been pretty dire bar three or four games under Beale and should not be beyond criticism.
I can't defend Dozzell too much as he was poor, but playing him at left wing was as nuts as playing Field on the right and Critchley got caned for that.

..and Ainsworth got plenty wrong yesterday. We lose our creativity and he sticks Dozzell on instead of Richards and then only uses three subs. Surely, he saw we were beat at 3-1 and surely he needs to see as many of this squad in action as fast as he can, so why wait until 75 to make a change and why did he not hook JoJo for Dixon-Bonner and get rid of Beale's project for his employer previous to us to put our very own Luke Amos on?

Northernr added 21:45 - Feb 26
I literally mentioned Paal in the same sentence describing the goal, and gave him a 4 in the ratings.

Northolt_Rs added 22:41 - Feb 26
Brilliantly write up and a thoroughly miserable read….as was watching that steaming pile of sh1t on Saturday. Great to see our DOF on telly as a Newcastle pundit at the cup final today though - cheered me up no end! I really hate this fkn club sometimes.

CLAREMAN1995 added 01:11 - Feb 27
Thank Christ there was a happy ending with the aeroplane story.
We need one ourselves and not the Chinese Massage one , well ok maybe

snanker added 03:36 - Feb 27
Thanks Clive for the latest horror show report. No more straws left to clutch. From bad to worse to give up now stage ! What chance WW go past us the other way !? The irony..........

DeanoMD added 08:21 - Feb 27

thehat added 08:36 - Feb 27

Thanks Clive a brilliant report perfectly summing up another horror show.

I know I keep going on about it but my thoughts are we must go 5 at the back in a 5,4,1 formation and try desperately to get a draw or narrow win from somewhere. That might mean playing Gubbins he has been at the club long enough now and if he isn't good enough then why have we kept him?

We are far to open and easy to get at.

I feel for Garath - I know he is putting on a brave face but I would love to know what he really thinks about some of our players.

kingfisher6404 added 13:46 - Feb 27
I am not a huge fan of Kakay but (like everyone around me and on the long train home) I found myself nominating him for MotM. It comes to something when you do that for someone who was at fault for their first goal [stay in empty space, forget about the ball-player about to cross...]! The consensus was that we have such a low confidence level that every setback becomes a disaster, and we should not just focus upon the dire defending - the attempts on goal are ridiculously low. Time for 3-5-2 perhaps...?

TacticalR added 18:01 - Feb 27
Thanks for your report, which can't have been easy to write.

At the moment we're just not good enough in footballing terms. On top of that confidence is crumbling, and as we saw with the first goal, when the ball looped up for Gallagher to hit, luck is going against us too. The second goal was a real horror and an embarrassment.

The question is, can Ainsworth get us limping across the line? I think that can only be done by soldiering on without most of Beale's signings and focusing on a core of players who want to play, but with so many injured players it feels like Ainsworth has very few levers to pull.

tsbains64 added 08:37 - Feb 28
Agree with the MOTM Kakay had one of his best games but he always plays well when a new manager starts
Sadly writing is on the wall ..its a relegation battle
I Dont blame the board but cant believe that a manger leaving us has had this sort of impact...Ahh the balmy days of October seem eons away now

qprninja added 09:49 - Feb 28
Definite early-mid 2000'S vibe about the current situation. Looks like we'll be renewing acquaintances with Plymouth Argyle next season too, unless we pass them on the way down.....

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