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Queens Park Rangers 1 v 3 Sunderland
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 16th September 2023 Kick-off 15:00
Colback bears gift to former club - Report
Sunday, 17th Sep 2023 22:48 by Clive Whittingham

Attempting to snap a dire home record of one win in 17, QPR took an early lead against a talented Sunderland team and settled to the task well before Jack Colback's brain explosion handed his former club the game on a plate.

Following this week’s latest round of crucial international qualifiers for a tournament to which everybody qualifies, Queens Park Rangers were looking forward to getting their season started for real with three games in six days.

It has been a complicated summer for the club. In all, 15 players who got minutes here last term have departed, and at least that many youth, reserve and hangers on besides. What business was done in the other direction was mostly completed late in the transfer window, and in several cases involved players who’d player precious little first team football over the last year and had no pre-season to speak of. Preparations for players that were here have, to some extent, been rendered irrelevant since the debacle at Watford on day one: the style, shape and system is now completely different to anything worked on over the summer; several players who did big minutes in the friendlies are now nowhere to be seen; and a number of others who barely featured at all are now key players. It’s meant August, a month of four away games and only one in W12, has almost turned into a de-facto pre-season of its own, with the team bedding into its new shape and approach while also building fitness levels. September, we surmised, would be the real quiz.

First up, Moany Towbray’s team of toddlers and towers. Angelic shithouse Luke O’Nien by far and away their oldest starter at 28, the rest all 23 and under. Big, physical boys, charging around, trampling the grown-ups, passing the ball to teammates and other such sorcery. It’ll never catch on. This was a losing play-off semi-final side in 22/23 and delivering the 5-0 gob bumming Russell Martin’s muscle-fit shirt cult (or should that be…) so sorely deserved last time out suggests they’re going for at least that again.

One-time Rangers loanee Jack Clarke, curtained fringe flopping about like it’s 1996, was squished out of possession in the penalty box and had a good whinge about it – not the last time he’d try to cheat the officials on the day – as they set about their business with ominous purpose and poise. Clarke fairly well tormented Rangers on and off, in exactly the same position and manner Southampton’s Fandab Edozie had a couple of weeks prior. The benefit of Paul Smyth the wing back, seen so clearly against Cardiff and Boro, countered with asking somebody to not only step up from League Two to the Championship, but also switching him from left wing at Leyton Orient to right wing back for a QPR team with its back to the wall. A tough gig, but once Clarke has cut inside on you half a dozen times it’s not unreasonable to think you might get a little wise to it. Our two red and white striped foes of the last fortnight will not be the last to get targeting the space between Smyth and Kakay in the coming weeks.

QPR have got a bit about them at the moment as well though. Certainly more than they showed in the unprofessional, despicable surrender to this opponent on this ground in February – you’d have had a better Valentine’s Day round Russell Brand’s gaff than the one we endured that night. Sinclair Armstrong, size and stubbornness of something that might disrupt your Christmas shopping by getting stuck in the Suez Canal, found Huggins foolishly willing to allow a ball to bounce after nine minutes and catapulted him most of the way back to the North East. Soon Paul Smyth was planting Hume into the advertising hoardings – I’d have wanted a yellow in reversed circumstances, referee Dean Whitestone for the moment in lenient mood. Still, no bloody rolling over and having our tummy tickled this season. Towbray, dressed for an insurance seminar, was very, very moany indeed.

Very, very moany, and losing. A long throw, bibbling about, mastered by Chair, struck by Kenneth Paal from 20-odd yards, into the bottom corner of the School End net for one nil early doors. Kiss my face. A second goal of the season for the Surinam international following his winner at Cardiff, and a continuation of this weird monopoly left footers hold over all seven goals Rangers have scored to this point.

It is, as at Middlesbrough and Southampton, another goal from range, which the analytics crowd will tell you does not sustain, and certainly proved to be a problem for Mick Beale’s QPR when they started to dry up last October. When you’ve failed to score in six of your last seven home games it is difficult to give too much of a toss where goals come from as long as they exist in some form.

Now, this is interesting. In Gareth Ainsworth’s 19 matches in charge of QPR they have won five, drawn one and never lost having taken the lead. Conversely, they have recovered just one solitary point, at West Brom, on the 12 occasions they’ve fallen behind. First goal vital, first goal secured, sun in the sky, shiny happy people holding hands, shiny happy people laughing. Better still, though I obviously wish the enormous man-child no ill, Sunderland’s two goal hero from the prior week’s headline grabbing victory, Pierre Ekwah, was done for the day after a quarter of an hour. Weighing as much as the Winged Victory of Samothrace and at least twice as tall, it took a local plant hire firm to remove him so Alex Pritchard could join proceedings. Everything, it seems, coming up Milhouse.

And then… deep, deep sigh. The latest Bellingham sprog Jobe – other letters of the alphabet are available – began a surge through midfield after a slack pass from Osman Kakay. Not ideal, but ten yards inside his own half with nothing ahead of him but grass, and several covering defenders, so not exactly a terminal situation. Or, at least, it wasn’t, until Jack Colback honed into view against his former club and turned a touch of cold and flu into a plea to the hospice to just make the patient as comfortable as possible. I thought it was a 50/50 call at first viewing, but I was wrong. It was a horrible tackle, right in at the ankle of Bellingham, and one of the more obvious red cards of Whitestone’s career. Other way around we'd have been screaming. QPR’s first red in 68 games going back to February 2022 and a similarly braindead moment of rank idiocy by Dion Sanderson against Blackpool. Pissflaps.

Now, what we’re going to do here is include the obligatory paragraph from the website covering the team on the wrong end of this incident where we say perhaps if Whitestone hadn’t spent the first 15 minutes setting an extremely lenient standard on what was and wasn’t a free kick and/or a booking (Smyth should certainly have been carded), then perhaps Colback thinks twice about such a tackle – though, on this evidence, the jury’s out on exactly how much rational thought Colback is actually capable of. It’s also clear the apparent clampdown we were told to expect on dissent, crowding the referee, and haranguing match officials from the technical area, is over, such was the way Towbray and O’Nien were allowed to basically try and referee the game between them. Armstrong’s foul, and yellow card, saw the visitors converge on the linesman en masse. Clarke’s obvious dive in the penalty box and prolonged bitch and moan moments later brought no further action. Caught between refereeing the game and not wanting to be seen to even things up, Whitestone became tangled in a web of his own inconsistencies. Free kicks were awarded – frequently against Armstrong – for precious little contact, while moments later play was waved on through identical incidents – notably when Chris Willock was brushed aside on the corner of the Sunderland box. Armstrong booked for his petulance, and eventually removed before he was sent off; an apparent stamp on Andre Dozzell in stoppage time laughed off without a card at all after a motion was moved for Boys Will Be Boys.

What happens with paragraphs like that is they get clipped up for social media clout and opposition message boards by a mixture of virginal chicken children and middle-aged wastes who’d join a Fathers For Justice protest if only somebody would start making a spiderman costume in a triple XL. “Cry more”, they’ll say, if they’re feeling particularly sharp and witty of their Sunday eve. Nuance, context, stuff that is and isn’t mutually exclusive, match reports stretching out longer than three Tweets, all of these things can be a bit much for that demographic, so let’s be really clear on where we, a QPR website, are on this. That game was poorly refereed yesterday. The red card was correct and it is QPR’s, and Colback’s, fault we lost. Both of those things can be true. Similarly, Towbray is a good manager, who plays a style I really like; but he’s also a persistent whinge bag on the touchline, and we were told this season that wouldn’t be tolerated. I like and hate O’Nien at the same time. It’s not all black and white this stuff.

We need to have a no excuses culture. As a club and a team we’ve been living off excuses for too long. QPR have placed a huge amount of faith, budget, stock and PR in a clutch of experienced signings designed to add street-smarts, brains and durability to the gormless bunch of naïve waifs we had here before. For one of those players to then do that, at that stage of that game, is deeply irritating. It’s on him, and us. We’ll now miss a vital player for either one or three games, depending on whether it’s gone down as a professional foul or violent conduct. And it cost us this one in the meantime.

It wasn’t just the context of the game and the score that made this such a desperately poor choice of action from the man who once swapped Sunderland for Newcastle to much local furore. QPR are going to find points hard to come by this season playing 11 v 11, and if you could list Championship teams you’d like to face for an hour a man light Sunderland would be pretty close to the bottom of that list. Ekwah was replaced by Pritchard, who was absolutely immaculate. At half time a full back was removed for Patrick Roberts, who’d be the best player at our club if he was here but only made their bench after some minor hamstring wobbles. They’re a good team, playing a fast, attractive and attacking brand of football, with big numbers committed to forward areas, plenty of width on both sides, and all that relentless yardage that comes with the youth of their team. It was also, having pissed with rain all summer, a really rather inconvenient billion degrees at pitchside in the middle of September. There have been testicular cancer diagnosis less of a ballache than chasing this lot around a sauna for an hour. Cheers Jack.

Bellingham soon had the ball in the net but was denied by a linesman’s flag. Pritchard cut in to shoot, but saw his effort blocked. Kakay and Begovic played After You Claude with a loose ball at the back post from a mounting total of visiting corners. Time was passing at the speed of fourth period double maths, and eight minutes added to the first half didn’t help. Rangers desperately needed half time and came within 30 seconds of getting there. Then Clarke, so full of Red Bull you could fly him to the edge of space and jump out with a parachute for YouTube subs, struck a shot off both Smyth and Cook, past Begovic for an equaliser in the 53rd minute of the first half. If you were wandering whether it was QPR’s day or not, at least this could put your mind at rest.

The plan, such as it was, didn’t really seem to exist after that, and in fact a parade of second half substitutions from Ainsworth seemed more about writing this game off and resting key men for a big Tuesday night down here against early season strugglers Swansea. What few opportunities we did have to try and counter back at the Mackems were undermined before half time by Dozzell hanging on too long when he needed to spring either Smyth or Armstrong, and then after the break by Armstrong allowing himself to descend into angry frustration and head loss at the way he was being refereed, the wind ups from O’Nien, and, I’m afraid to say, a fairly comprehensive marking of him by Dan Ballard. There’s a justified level of love and hype around Sinclair at the moment, but he’s very young, very raw, and - while I agree with Ainsworth that he’s not being refereed equally - he does perhaps needs to learn to ration that passion a little bit at times. Field at one point had hold of him physically for a strong lecture about not reducing us to nine men, and in the end his substitution (followed by a walk around the pitch with Armstrong muttering the whole way) was forced on Ainsworth to prevent exactly that. Rayan Kolli, on in his stead, glanced a header straight at Patterson from Kakay’s cross, basically our only attempt on a Loft End goal still absolutely parched of action/excitement/life.

The second 45 was more a siege than a half of football. Begovic saved with his legs from Bellingham, who then attacked a cross at the near post and bundled wide. When a cleared corner was returned with interest Begovic parried with his hands, but Ballard was on hand to cap a fine personal performance with an empty net second. Abdoullah Ba struck the outside of the post from a tight angle. Begovic rushed from his line to successfully tackle an onrushing attacker after the latest lousy back pass sent his way. The veteran keeper certainly a good deal better with the shots than he was with his distribution – purposefully and steadfastly belting every kick into the South Africa Road stand, like he’s outsourced that bit of his soccer school to Robert Green. You wanna watch out going on podcasts about the latest situation at Chelsea and then doing things like this, the locals can get kind of aggy about it. And, eventually, Aouchiche crossed low for Ba to sweep home a third to seal the game. Dear Lord, what a sad little life Jane. It was a bleak, spirit-sapping watch.

Kakay got going quite effectively down the right in the final quarter hour, crossing once for Kolli and then trying a speculator of his own from long range that was taken splendidly cleanly by a gentleman in a cap in the Lower Loft. Can he kick? Does he have representation? One of Osman’s late crosses was missed by Patterson, and Dykes (almost totally anonymous in his cameo) and then drilled back at the keeper’s legs by Willock. Don’t get too upbeat, at the other end it was all stepovers and dick swinging: Roberts shooting wide; Begovic adding a camera save to his curate’s egg performance to leave Semedo still searching for a first Sunderland goal.

Steve Cook went out to bat for the team on social media amidst criticism that there was basically no plan beyond clinging on for grim death once Colback had been dismissed, and the Clarke goal before half time came from us once again giving the ball away needlessly – in this case when 60 seconds more was all that was required to get to the break. It was easy to sympathise with Ainsworth, Cook and the team – let down by a senior player, they had to slog through more than an hour against a superior opponent in blazing heat. Nevertheless, a plan for getting something out of the game once Clarke had equalised didn’t seem to exist. For all the big talk and calling journalists out, another full house turned out to see a team that has now won one of its last 18 games on this ground and cost itself this one entirely through its own actions. Struggling Swansea in town on Tuesday looms large.

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QPR: Begovic 5; Kakay 6, Cook 6 (Clarke-Salter 76, 6), Fox 6; Smyth 4 (Dykes 60, 5), Field 6, Dozzell 6, Colback 3, Paal 6 (Larkeche 68, 6); Armstrong 5 (Kolli 69, 6), Chair 5 (Willock 68, 5)

Subs Not Used: Dixon-Bonner, Walsh, Duke-McKenna, Adomah

Goals: Paal 12 (assisted Chair)

Red Cards: Colback 21 (serious foul play)

Yellow Cards: Armstrong 33 (foul), Kakay 79 (foul)

Sunderland: Patterson 6; Hume 7, O’Nien 7, Ballard 8, Huggins 5 (Roberts 45, 7); Neil 6, Ekwah 5 (Pritchard 14, 8); Ba 7, Bellingham 7 (Semedo 83, -), Clarke 8; Burstow 6 (Aouchiche 61, 7)

Subs not used: Bennette, Seelt, Triantis, Bishop, Rigg

Goals: Clarke 45+8 (assisted Huggins 45+8), Ballard 57 (unassisted), Ba 81 (assisted Aouchiche)

QPR Star Man – Morgan Fox 6 I don’t know, maybe? I found the ratings tough this week so no letters please.

Referee – Dean Whitestone (Northants) 4 A very poorly refereed game of football in which the red card issued to Jack Colback was not only the big, pivotal moment, but also just about the officials got right all afternoon. The referee, his assistants and the fourth official all allowed themselves to be pursued, harangued and influenced by groups of Sunderland players and coaching staff without recourse in direct contravention of the supposed clampdown on All Of That we were told to expect this year. Pieces of extreme, generous leniency (like not booking Smyth for his early challenge) were followed by decisions of pedantic harshness. What was a free kick one minute, was not a free kick the next. At times you’d have been better off writing decisions on slips of paper and drawing them out of a bag at random. Watching Luke O’Nien boot the ball out for a corner from 30 yards off his byline, hit the deck and be treated to a free kick for a supposed foul by Sinclair Armstrong that simply did not take place on 62 minutes, and then not ten minutes later on the same patch of grass see Chris Willock told to get to his feet for making the most of similarly minimum contact on him and no free kick awarded really summed the whole thing up. A referee who lacked confidence and authority, allowed himself to be brow-beaten and influenced, and who ended up drowning in a rising tide of his own inadequacy, incompetence and inconsistency. Disastrous game management. Not a good afternoon at the office.

Attendance: 16,383 (2,983 Sunderland) And still they come.

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DannyPaddox added 01:54 - Sep 18
Great report Clive as ever. Nailed it. Love the left-foot stats. Regarding keeper distribution I made the same Begovic Green comparison during the game which reminded of a random encounter I had in the blue and white bar a long long time ago. 2014/15, it’s half-time or possibly well into the 2nd half of some Redknapp-nonsense I had no motivation to return to. I’m chatting with this fella, not a regular but that’s what’s happens when you find your team playing in the promised land. I could tell from his general demeanour and livery (wearing one of those below the knee fawn trench coats that wannabe cowboys and political lobbyists deem suitable) that he wasn’t primarily a football fan. “I work high up in international rugby coaching” He informs me. Part of my brain reflexes “whatever” but what he said next was interesting. In a nutshell he seemed genuinely exasperated that despite the obscene amounts of money involved with QPR (at the time) and Premier League football i general, here was a goalkeeper (Rob Green) who couldn’t kick a football properly. He went on to say it would take one, maybe two, training sessions on technique to sort it out. “He’s kicking with (just) his leg and not his whole body” thus slicing the ball into touch and losing possession. Made sense to me.

Beggsy you wanna remember those words of wisdom when you open up the ‘The Asmir Begovic Center for Kids Who Can't Catch Good but Wanna Learn to Do Good Goalkeeping Stuff - Chiswick Branch’


062259 added 03:27 - Sep 18
Premature in the extreme, but nevertheless true: if they can miraculously conjure up a win against lowly Swansea on Tuesday, while Sheffield Wednesday and Middlesbrough draw their game the same evening, Rangers will be 7 points clear of the drop zone after only 7 games.

CLAREMAN1995 added 03:54 - Sep 18
Great work as usual .If only we could have held out until half time it might have been different .
Its impossible to count how many times we have given up goals in the last few minutes of injury time before half time in the last few years .
If GA threw in the towel once they went ahead then 3 points Tuesday is a must IMO

Kensal_Ranger added 05:41 - Sep 18
Woke up early this morning and the first bloody thing to come into my head was this match - was it us, was it them or the ref, or them plus the ref?

So, when your brain is in a confused mess after a match and a result like that the only thing, the only thing you can do is turn to this site and take two readings of your report.

Thank you, a soothing remedy for the fevered fan.


Marshy added 12:49 - Sep 18
As soon as that red card was shown I new it was game over for us despite leading 1-0. We've rarely been control of a game in recent times with 11 men, let alone 10. It may have been the correct decision to send off Colback, but this was yet another match of poor officiating.

Begovic. Was that the worst display of distribution ever by one of our goalkeepers. I think it possibly eclipsed anything by Robert Green. Ossie got skinned alive defending in the second half, but as we know he's always much better getting forward, and was fairly effective on the right wing. Jack Clarke another one that got away. Inevitable he'd score against us.

WestonsuperR added 13:05 - Sep 18
Nice thought that maybe if we had held on to HT it would have been different but not convinced, Sunderland were the better team throughout and looked likely to score at any time, the first 10mins was extremely worrying considering we were the home side.

Northernr added 13:08 - Sep 18
Yeh I don't disagree mate TBH.

sinceApril66 added 14:06 - Sep 18
Left feeling more encouraged than disappointed… Of course I wish Colback hadn’t leapt in so recklessly… and find it hard to be too critical in light of this season’s much needed increased feistiness. Very impressed by the radical development of Dozzell, Armstrong’s skill-level and Kakay.
Strategically, I thought we adapted well to going down to 10 and, understandably, persevered with that at 1-1. Then happily surprised how we shifted the balance to at least create some threat after going behind, even though Sunderland were too good with the extra man. Interested to see O’Nien came from Wycombe!? Thought he and Clarke were outstanding. Also very impressed by Dobson’s podcast interview.

Spiritof67 added 16:52 - Sep 18
Recent comments after each game have been, “I’m proud of the lads, they really emptied the tank for me” which is fine when you have 11 players on the pitch and they are not playing in a near Sahara temperature.

Sometimes it’s all about game management; speaking as a mere season ticket holder and not as a professional coach, Following the sending off, and at 1-0 up,I would have taken one player off, possibly Smyth, and replaced him with Salter-Clarke at the back and moved Fox into midfield.

Would we have held on - possibly, would we have drawn - possibly, but it’s now water under the bridge. My other comment is the new rules for adding time for substitutions, time wasting, players not leaving the nearest part pitch. Why doesn’t the 4th official just stop the clock via the big screen, at least everyone in the ground would be aware of what’s going on. Do refs add time on for for over celebrating once a goal is scored when all the team run to a corner and jump on the scorer. At this rate a 7.45 evening kick off will finish at 10.15!

Moan over!

jimf added 17:48 - Sep 18
Lovely report one thing to add on the red card.

Very much a modern red. It is, by the laws of the game and the interpretation of them now, but you've often seen them not given.

The one thing you've missed with it Clive is that it wasn't a Bellingham surge. Kakay plays a slightly loose ball to Colback, which became looser as he let it run across his body to open up the game. Had he taken a touch he'd have been close down and had a quick call to make.

As soon as he lets it run, he's in trouble as Bellingham had this angle covered. Colback lunged as he was about to lose possession. Players often do. There's something instinctive about fighting to maintain possession of the ball when you're about to lose it, that leads to players lunging in when they never would if already out of possession. It's primal and it's instinct and otherwise brilliantly cynical players like Colback are just as likely to fall victim to it as others even with bags of experience.

An old yellow - it wasn't vindictive, more careless. A modern red. Still ruined the game. The deflected OG was the nail in the coffin.

4-3-2 was probably the right plan with ten men but it wasn't going to work against an excellent Sunderland team. The key to playing against ten is to counter-press quickly as you have a man advantage so have any break covered. They're drilled to do this anyway, but carried on doing it brilliantly in the heat. The benefit of youth perhaps? Anyway it worked brilliantly. I like Sinclair being p1ssed off when he came off. He had no service and the thick end of decisions. Now channel it against Swansea. He's going to get sent off and have to learn at some point.

And good point re Smyth too. Clarke only went to the byline twice. He cut in ten times as many times. Smyth's shape was wrong and his positioning. He's smart though and our coaches will point it out. Hopefully won't make the same mistake again. Clarke is a one trick pony and we kept letting him do his trick. Beyond frustrating.

MungoJezza added 18:35 - Sep 18
Great report, as ever, Clive. However, Ken Paal would have been my MOM. I also feel that Ballard initially struggled to deal with Armstrong and had to resort to shirt tugging on several occasions to stop Armstrong from breaking away.The yellow card for Armstrong made things easier for Ballard as Armstrong had to reign in his physical approach.

MungoJezza added 18:35 - Sep 18
Great report, as ever, Clive. However, Ken Paal would have been my MOM. I also feel that Ballard initially struggled to deal with Armstrong and had to resort to shirt tugging on several occasions to stop Armstrong from breaking away.The yellow card for Armstrong made things easier for Ballard as Armstrong had to reign in his physical approach.

TacticalR added 22:30 - Sep 18
Thanks for your report.

The game was over as soon as Colback made that tackle, and could have an even bigger impact depending on the length of his ban.

That's an interesting point about whether the referee's leniency created the conditions in which we thought we could get away with more than we actually could. I also wondered if Ainsworth had told the players to get stuck in.

Unfortunately Smyth looks vulnerable to players who cut inside. It feels like he is being asked to do too much.

The second half was tedious because the game was over as a competitive spectacle, and we just waited for Sunderland to grind us down, which they duly did.

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