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Queens Park Rangers 2 v 3 AFC Bournemouth
FA Cup
Saturday, 6th January 2024 Kick-off 15:00
This is us – Report
Sunday, 7th Jan 2024 22:01 by Clive Whittingham

QPR swapped their weekly humiliation in the Championship for their annual humiliation in the FA Cup on Saturday, getting everybody’s hopes up with a 2-0 half time lead against Premier League Bournemouth only to predictably lose 3-2.

A microcosm of Marti Cifuentes’ brief reign as Queens Park Rangers manager, dressed up as the club’s annual self-destruction in the FA Cup.

To begin with, apparently no hope at all. QPR’s first team has only managed to cobble together five wins in the Championship all season long so the chances of them even being able to land a glove on Bournemouth’s U21s felt pretty slim. Slim left town a little after two when the team sheets landed – this was neither QPR’s first team, nor Bournemouth’s U21s.

Rangers missed Reggie Cannon, Steve Cook against the club he served with distinction for more than a decade, and Jake Clarke-Salter – three of the four constituent parts of an already pretty ropey defence. The less than adequate replacements: Aaron Drewe, I’m sorry, sweetheart, but no; Jimmy Dunne, utterly terrifying; and Mogan Fox, complete crap. Ilias Chair and Chris Willock were shorn from the attack, along with Rayan Kolli who was one of the few bright sparks of the last disaster here five days prior. Jack Colback did at least do us the courtesy of making it back as far as the director’s box, which is more than can be said for Taylor Richards who is “not part of the squad currently”. This is a thing that’s tolerated at QPR.

Bournemouth made plenty of changes – 13-goal top scorer Dominic Solanke mercifully left at home, Mark Travers making a first start in goal after spending the first half of the season on loan at Stoke – but there was about £100m-worth of transfer fee between their starting 11 and bench, every single one of their players would be the outstanding talent in Rangers’ squad, and Kieffer Moore is a better striker than QPR have had to pick from in ten years. Hold me.

Then, to everybody’s surprise, a fast, positive and successful start. Moore, admittedly, could and perhaps should have scored early doors, with a free header at the back post, while Phillip Billing had a low shot wide, but there was a decent cross through a frustratingly empty box from Andre Dozzell at the other end and a half reasonable header towards goal from Lyndon Dykes saved by Travers in the opening quarter hour.

Rangers then, startlingly, took the lead, with the recalled Sinclair Armstrong getting Senesi exactly where he wanted him – isolated, one on one, in some deep water wide on the left – completely torched him on the outside for pace and showed wholly untypical calmness and composure to slip the ball under Travers and into the corner of the net from the edge of the six-yard box. Only the Irish youth international’s second goal for the club in 16 starts and 32 sub appearances, he didn’t so much milk the celebration as open a whole dairy. QPR 4 Stoke 2.

Amazingly, the R’s doubled down. Rather than sit back, sink deep, panic, and desperately hold onto what they had, they did as the manager has asked and went for the throat. Clearly seeing something they liked in the gap behind advanced right back Max Aarons, Rangers played exactly the same ball to exactly the same spot again and this time Lyndon Dykes was able to arc his run into the space, advance into the area, and score himself – albeit via a hefty deflection from Aaron’s desperate attempt to get back and recover the situation. My word, what have we got ourselves into here? First time QPR have scored more than one in seven attempts, and only the sixth time in 28 this season we’ve scored two or more in a game. Maybe everything isn’t so desperately broken after all, perhaps there’s life in this dog of a team yet. Preston 0 QPR 2.

They even made it to half time without shitting the bed and letting Bournemouth back into the game. There was another big Billing miss off a cut back from the byline, and a terrific defensive diving header in the six yard box from Dunne. Rangers looked halfway competent and a crowd, reduced by apathy and ticket pricing strategies, were, for once, able to applaud their team from the pitch at the break. Clouds threatening to part, a hint of blue sky beyond. QPR 2 Hull 0.

Nevertheless, half time took me back more than a decade, to that strange fortnight where Jim Magilton’s QPR turned into the best team in world football. After pasting Barnsley 5-2, Preston 4-0, Reading 4-1 with ten men, they travelled to Derby for a live BBC fixture on the Saturday night. Promptly, and rather surprisingly, they went 2-0 down at Pride Park amidst so many free t-shirt giveaways, but with an attacking midfield of Adel Taarabt, Wayne Routledge, Akos Buzsaky and Ale Faurlin (just imagine…) I’ve never been so serenely calm and confident that a team would still win the game despite trailing by two. Taarabt scored before half time, Gavin Mahon equalised within two minutes of the restart, Jay Simpson had Rangers in front before the hour, Buzsaky made it four. No shit, look at the fucking talent in that team. As if they were going to lose to Robbie Savage’s Derby. Fast forward to Saturday and here’s Bournemouth removing QPR fan Chris Mepham, who always seems to have a poor game against his boyhood club, and bringing on… Justin Kluivert. They’re bringing on £24m Illia Zabarnyi and Patrick Kluivert’s son, we’re bringing on Sally Gunnell and Mick from the Rose and Crown’s lad.

It took three minutes for the Cherries to get back in the game. A corner, because of course, worked in low by the terminally excellent Alex Scott to Philip Billing for him to touch back into the path of James Tavernier and the leaden-footed Dunne diverted the shot past Begovic and into the net. Sheff Wed 2 QPR 1.

It took them ten minutes to equalise. A corner, because of course, conceded initially thanks to a splendid double save from Begovic to keep out a combination of Kluivert and Sinisterra, whipped in brilliantly by Scott and headed in by Billing at the front stick with Begovic undoing all the previous good work with his latest hopeless flap under a high ball. Millwall 2 QPR 0.

It is now getting to the stage where I’d rather us concede a penalty than a corner kick. Cifuentes, exasperated, says they are working on an issue that has now cost Rangers seven of their last ten goals, but the problem with this team trying to work on issues on the training ground is it’s only this dopey bollocks team it has to practice against. If Kenneth Paal takes the corners at Heston in the same way he does at Loftus Road no wonder we can’t defend them when somebody like Alex Scott shows up. Perhaps we could get Joe Jacobsen to come down a couple of mornings a week on a consultancy basis.

Naturally, inevitably, the turnaround was complete when Dunne was caught trying and failing to play out from the back for the millionth time on the day (Bournemouth had watched the Millwall videos - let the right side of QPR's defence have it, they'll literally do the work for you), and that allowed Billing to wander into the area with the ball, stop, stand, wait, in acres of space, with no challenge at all, until the run of Kluivert presented itself and he put the third goal on a plate from a yard out. Go and meet him any time you like lads. QPR 1 Cardiff 2.

To be fair, by the time the third went in it rather felt like the despairing figure of Marti Cifuentes down on the touchline was deliberately trying to lose the game to avoid an unwanted replay at Dean Court a week on Wednesday. Bringing on Osman Kakay to mark Sinisterra down the right, and adding Albert Adomah, fresh from the Ball-O Shine-O, for a full 29 minutes, one for each recession he’s lived through, was tantamount to raising a surrender flag and asking Andoni Iraoli to call the dogs off. The Cherries have won six and drawn one of their last eight in the top flight prior to the game and after a modern day reworking of Alex Ferguson’s “lads, it’s Tottenham” half time team talk had gone up through the gears after a slack first half to calmly pull off at a speed QPR simply couldn’t live with.

The first time Rangers put a move together all half was on 72 minutes when Dozzell threaded through for Adomah to cut back and Dykes to bundle wide at the near post – looked like he should have scored to me, no news there then. Armstrong soon picked up this week’s braindead yellow card for abusing a match official, but probably had greater cause for complaint later on when Lewis Cook deliberately hacked him down from behind to stop him repeating the run that led to the first goal – an orange card that one probably, new Premier League referee Rebecca Welch went for a lighter shade.

That’s us. In general, where we’ve exited this competition at the third round stage on 52 occasions, including 15 of the last 20 seasons, more than any other club in the country. And specifically now, where Cifuentes has, in my opinion, done as much as you possibly can with this group of players and now either needs further help or we’re going to be in League One. From “not because I’m a genius but because they’re good players, that’s the truth” after Preston and “we’ve got to work with what we’ve got” before Christmas, his post-match interviews are becoming ever darker and angrier. He’s pissed off - with the players, with the club, with the situation he’s inherited here, and with the standards around the place.

His decision to name Sinclair Armstrong, more than once, as being responsible for losing his man at one of the latest set piece disasters may just have been in frustration that one of the solutions they’d tried to come up with after the Cardiff debacle was bringing the striker back and giving him a specific role only for Armstrong to bollocks it up. But, given Armstrong had been just about our most effective player in this game, certainly the only attacking threat we carried, and scored an all-too-rare QPR goal at Loftus Road, he felt an odd target to me. You’ve got far more senior players – Asmir Begovic, Jimmy Dunne, Morgan Fox – playing like absolute twats, you've got our big summer signing once again AWOL with nobody saying anything about it, but it’s the youth team striker you go for. I couldn’t help wondering if one of his “I’ve told the club what we need” list is A Striker, he’s been told he’ll just have to make better use of Armstrong, Kolli etc so he's desperately trying to get the finger puppets out and explain to a largely absent and fairly clueless ownership what he thinks will happen if we do that.

No shame in losing to a team to a team with this resource and ability, particularly with the side we had out, and actually for the first half at least it went a good deal better than any of us could ever imagine. This one won’t figure too prominently in any end of season autopsy, but the manner of the goals was all too familiar (Bournemouth even hit the bar direct from a late free kick out by the opposite corner flag) and the mood of the manager seems to be darkening. All just unutterably bleak.

Links >>> Photo Gallery >>> Message Board Match Thread

QPR: Begovic 5; Drewe 5 (Kakay 61, 4), Dunne 3, Fox 4, Larkeche 6; Dixon-Bonner 5 (Pedder 89,-), Field 5 (Talla 80, -), Dozzell 5; Smyth 6 (Adomah 61, 3), Armstrong 6, Dykes 5 (Paal 80, -)

Subs not used: Clarke-Salter, Cannon, Duke-McKenna, Salamon

Goals: Armstrong 40 (assisted Larkeche), Dykes 42 (assisted Field)

Yellow Cards: Armstrong 72 (dissent)

Bournemouth: Travers 6; Aarons 5, Mepham 5 (Christie 45, 7), Sensi 5, Tavernier 7; Scott 7, Cook 7; Brooks 5 (Kluivert 45, 8), Billing 7 (Adu-Adjei 89, -), Sinisterra 7; Moore 6 (Zabarnyi 84, -)

Subs Not Used: Rothwell, Marcondes, Radu, Kilkenny, Greenwood

Goals: Tavernier 48 (assisted Billing), Moore 58 (assisted Scott), Kluivert 69 (assisted Billing)

Yellow Cards: Billing (dissent/foul in back play), Aarons 59 (foul), Cook 87 (foul)

QPR Star Man – Sinclair Armstrong 6 Well, I came away thinking at least he posed Bournemouth a threat, scored a good goal, frightened them a bit with his pace and physicality. But then the manager has gone out of his way to call him out for losing a man at a corner – while much more senior, high earning, experienced pros like Asmir Begovic are making mistakes every week with nobody saying anything, and in fact Begovic was defended by the manager in the written press conference. So, who knows? Probably I’m an idiot. But I know what I hate, and I didn’t hate Sinclair here anywhere near as much as Flappy McGrew in goal.

Referee – Rebecca Welch (Washington) 7 Some debate about whether the late hack on Sinclair Armstrong was a yellow or a red – I wasn’t too outraged with the decision at the time but it doesn’t look great on replay. Apart from that, and bizarrely allowing play to continue with two balls on the pitch both at the feet of the same player, didn’t get a lot wrong and was not standing for any of the usual dissent which is tolerated and shouldn’t be. Certainly a better performance than Joey Barton ever produced on this pitch.

Attendance 10,725 (3,000 Bournemouth approx.) A huge amount of criticism about the decision to charge £20 to season ticket holders and £25 for non to this, which I fully endorse and agree with. The fans have stuck with the club remarkably over a dreadful two years, with the ground packed most weeks despite recently winning one home game in 12 months. There has barely been a word of dissent towards the team or the board at matches, which is nuts really. To reward that by charging prices like this, straight after Christmas, when we’ve got six home games in seven weeks, inflation continues and everybody’s skint, just felt like a final ‘fuck you’ from a club increasingly out of touch and detached from a fan base it has ceased communications with. At one stage earlier in the week the seat map on the ticketing website suggested they’d be rewarded for this hubris with a pathetic crowd, outnumbered in our own ground by the Bournemouth fans. That more than 10,000 turned up in the end is, once again, barmy given what the team is producing for us, but also probably, sadly, justifies the pricing (which Bournemouth do have a say in as well remember). If it had been £10 and £5, would the crowd have been a lot bigger? They’ve probably made more desperately needed income doing it this way. Still a horribly shoddy way to treat fans who are being insanely good with you, but simple economics justified by the final gate.

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Marshy added 23:55 - Jan 7
It does seem a bit harsh Mari specifically calling out Sinclair Armstrong for some defensive frailties. After all he is a striker. If you look at our defence in this game it was arguably the worst line up I can recall for a very long time, so when we conceded 3 goals in rapid succession, it really was no surprise. Offensively Sinclair was by far the best player on the pitch.

A couple of observations, Begovic needs to distribute the ball much more quickly. The were many occasions when he could have thrown the ball out to a free player, but just faffed about until he kicks it short to a defender who then struggles to clear his lines. Also Dozzell (don’t get me started), in added time at the end of the match was in a good forward position very high up the pitch and was about to receive a pass, when instead he pointed for the ball to be played backwards instead. That really boiled my pi$$. One of the main problems with this squad is that it has a very negative mindset. Moving to a more positive one is never an easy thing to do. Maybe a lot of the players have doubts about their ability, and find it difficult to improve in certain areas (defending set pieces comes to mind). Or is the reality that a lot of our players are just not good enough, and never will be? I think we know that answer!
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ABITB added 09:50 - Jan 8
Easyjet have cheap flights to many Spanish destinations . . . .

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TheCommonHours added 16:05 - Jan 8
At half time, knowing our beloved so well, I placed a £10 bet at 8-1 for a 3-2 win. Bingo.

No skill or insight on my part - just so damned predicable...
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Myke added 21:52 - Jan 8
'he didn’t so much milk the celebration as open a whole dairy'- I actually thought he had injured himself when he tried to do that sliding on his knees celebration and promptly got stuck in the ground.Cheers Clive - enjoy your break in Yankee land.
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tsbains64 added 16:53 - Jan 9
Great way to spend £20 on a Saturday afternoon
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TacticalR added 22:55 - Jan 13
Thanks for your report.

I have only seen the highlights. At least we scored a couple of goals. Corners are turning into a huge problem, but I am sure Cifuentes knows that better than anyone.
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