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Queens Park Rangers 1 v 2 Watford
SkyBet Championship
Sunday, 14th January 2024 Kick-off 12:00
Ever more new and creative ways to lose football matches – Report
Tuesday, 16th Jan 2024 11:47 by Clive Whittingham

QPR have now stopped conceding from set pieces but started conceding from open play again, started creating chances but stopped taking them – Watford the latest grateful beneficiaries of Rangers’ ineptitude in this ball ache of a season.

One thing Queens Park Rangers are very good at is losing football matches. Six of the last seven and 18 of the 29 they’ve played this season, 41 of the last 77 going back to the start of 22/23, 53 of 96 going back two years to when this horrendous period of dramatic decline first set in.

When you lose more than every other game you play, you start to come up with ever more creative ways to fail.

Early in the season Rangers were just absolutely wide-open right through the middle of the field, and seemed to almost enjoy waving Sunderland and Coventry through for a pair of three goal hauls to go with the three goal hauls they’d been treated them to at the end of last season, and Blackburn for a four to go with their own three from a few months prior. Marti Cifuentes has done well to tighten that up – there had been only four goals conceded in open play in 12 league games prior to Sunday, and five clean sheets kept in 12 games after five in the previous 39.

Instead, Rangers have returned to defending opposition set plays so abysmally they may as well be opposition penalties. Only Blackburn (eight) have allowed more goals from corners than QPR (seven), seven of the last nine goals Rangers have shipped have been from dead balls, and nine of the 14 conceded under Cifuentes have been from set pieces.

Whack that mole, and with the new found defensive solidity in open play victories will surely follow, right? Right? Wrong.

Against Watford at Loftus Road each set piece from the visitors was dealt with in turn. Partly through safety in numbers with Cifuentes now ordering everybody back into the box to crowd space and mark opponents, partly because Jimmy Dunne had a welcome uptick after a horrific personal period of form, and mainly because Watford’s delivery from dead balls was almost every bit as abject as our own. There is an epidemic of professional footballers unable to clear the first man in this division, and it spread through this game like a particularly virulent outbreak of super gonorrhoea.

Did that mean QPR won the game? Did it fuck. They just picked another one of their methods off the shelf and went with that instead. They can’t find a goalscoring central midfielder of their own for love nor money but certainly like making them of opponents. Jake Livermore, three goals in his previous 109 appearances, scored twice in a match for the first time since May 2016 (for Hull against Rotherham). First feathering a beautiful curled shot around Asmir Begovic, whose footwork I would question, from the edge of the area, then drilling hard and low through a crowded box right in front of this week’s collection of jubilant visiting fans in the School End. This time last year we were doing the same to Jeff Hendrick.

At the other end, QPR have been struggling to score goals for a long time. The four they got against Stoke in December was a real outlier. It’s the only time Rangers have scored more than two in any of the 29 matches they’ve played this season, or any of the 61 games dating back to a 3-0 home success over Cardiff in October 2022. They’ve failed to score so often in that time there’s been a run on QPR NIL numberplates – 27 of those 61 games and 13 of the 29 played this term. They’ve scored twice in games on just eight occasions in that sequence.

A particularly poor collection of strikers have largely been cited for that, with Lyndon Dykes taking the brunt of the criticism as the only senior centre forward in the squad, but there’s also been an ongoing debate about the quantity and quality of good service these players get from their supporting cast. Dykes’ defenders say Ilias Chair is prone to ball hogging and always looking for his own shot, Paul Smyth can beat a man with pace but cannot deliver a final ball, Chris Willock is a shadow of his former self, Andre Dozell is a shadow full stop. Even Les Ferdinand wouldn’t score goals in this team the way it supplies balls into the box. Sort that out and he, and we, might stand a chance.

Against Watford they did just that. A steady stream of chances ranging from gilt edged to sitter, flowing throughout the game, and each one missed in turn.

Sinclair Armstrong, starting through the middle as a lone striker with Dykes behind him in a more withdrawn ten role, was particularly culpable. A free header was planted over the bar early doors when hitting the target was minimum requirement. The Irish youth international had good cause to ask why neither Chair nor Dykes reacted quickly enough to a rebound provided by a powerful shot and good Ben Hamer save two before half time, but the two misses at the start of the second half were all on him. First he capitlised on defensive hesitancy right from the kick off to run clean through on goal but finish at a nice height for Hamer to save. Then he went one-on-one with the visiting stopper a second time after Begovic’s brilliant early throw had just about been toed into his path by Chris Willock for what would have been a re-run of a recent goal scored at this end of the ground against Hull by Ilias Chair, but for Armstrong’s dire control of the ball which allowed Hamer to charge out and save bravely at his feet.

Armstrong’s a tricky one to mark in this game. He was almost in tears by the end, so twisted with regret and frustration, but the reality is he should never be in this situation. He and Rayan Kolli should be concluding loans in the division below ready to start stepping in as cover and impact subs at QPR next season – Armstrong should have been out and about already far more than a couple of quick spells with Torquay and Aldershot - and instead they’re stuck here with us relying on them. Just a couple of raw kids really, who we’re closer to ruining than developing at this stage. Armstrong was crippled by cramps late on but had to stay out there, because you look along the bench and all you see there is Buster Merryfield and that fucking ridiculous contract we gave him. His effort and commitment was total, his roughing and worrying of the Watford defence unrivalled, the effectiveness caused by his speed and strength undoubted – certainly when compared to the insipid contribution of the far more experienced and talented Willock – but QPR lost this game because they missed big chances and, with more shots on the goal himself than Watford managed collectively as a team, he was more guilty than most.

Most, but not all. Kenneth Paal found himself in the penalty area, in 15 yards of space, albeit on a tight angle but still with the goal right there to shoot at across the keeper, on the half hour. He seemed completely confused and muddled by the situation, and whacked a fairly hopeless cross into a Watford defender. Given how sparsely populated the penalty box was at that point he did well to find one. That had to, surely, be a shot on target at least. Likewise, the recalled Jack Colback in the second half – nice to see a central midfielder of ours actually breaking into the box to pose a goal threat for a change, but his finish from the edge of the six-yard box unmarked was skewed horribly wide when it had to be scored.

So, tightened up at set pieces, but conceding in open play again; finally creating some chances, but coming up with ever more creative ways to miss. That was all new and exciting. Elsewhere, the failings were more familiar.

QPR’s delivery from dead balls was appalling. Like an U8s team forced to play on an adult pitch with a full sized ball in cold weather – each pathetic stab at the ball unable to lift it from the ground or propel it any great distance, each cleared easily in turn by the nearest opponent. Eventually Elijah Dixon-Bonner pulled rank on Kenneth Paal and insisted on taking a few himself.

A collection of daft yellow cards, almost entirely of our own making. Sam Field, yet-a-bloody-gain, within the first few minutes of the game for pulling a shirt. Kenneth Paal forced to deliberately interrupt a Watford counter after we’d botched another of our own corner kicks. And the returning Jack Colback, with two suspensions under his belt already this season, really crunching Yaser Asprilla and risking a red with a different, less lenient referee when he really only needed to trip him up. In Colback’s defence, he was only forced into that course of action by our supposed ball playing centre back passing the football straight to a man in a bright yellow shirt standing ten yards away from him.

And frankly risible levels of fitness. Jake Clarke-Salter limping off again before the end. Sinclair Armstrong repeatedly down with cramp. Colback done after an hour. Reggie Cannon limping about. Why are we this fragile? Why is our team so unfit? We’re more than halfway through the season now, we’ve apparently invested all this money in Ben Williams and a revamp of the sport science department, why is our team such baggage compared to the opposition? There’s really no excuse for this.

For it all, Rangers came within a whisker of taking a point. Valerien Ismael’s triple substitution in the second half weakened the visitors considerably and Dykes’ close range effort from Smyth's deflected cross gave QPR hope.

Smyth put in several other good balls besides and found no takers – one first time low cut back in behind the Watford defence was absolutely dying for somebody to walk onto it and finish, but the nearest attacker to it was a good ten yards back down the field. Again, fairly unforgiveable. They nearly scored regardless in seven minute sof stoppage time when the much improved Dunne caught a bouncing ball sweetly on his left foot, curled it through a slim passage between defenders and team mates, and surely into the back of the net… but for an extraordinary save by Hamer who could only have seen the ball at the very last second as it arrived at him. The Hornets’ goalkeeper was outstanding all afternoon. Bastard.

As ever, QPR came in a level below the opposition they were playing. Watford kicking up around a six, QPR a five. Millwall will come here next week at a five, and we’ll play them at a four. Possibly it’s the other way around, and the opponent is doing only what they have to and just enough to knock over one of the worst teams in the league. Either way the result is much the same: a defeat at Loftus Road for the fourth game in a row, the tenth time in 15 games this season and the 21st time in the last 30 games here.

We’re treating every game now as a cup final, says Marti Cifuentes. Jesus Christ, don’t tell them it’s a cup tie.

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

QPR: Begovic 5; Cannon 5, Dunne 7, Clarke-Salter 6 (Larkeche 85, -), Paal 5; Field 5 (Dozzell 85, -), Colback 5 (Dixon-Bonner 70, 5); Chair 6 (Smyth 70, 7), Dykes 6, Willock 4; Armstrong 6

Subs not used: Cook, Fox, Drewe, Adomah, Salamon

Goals: Dykes 77 (assisted Smyth)

Bookings: Field 5 (foul) Paal 29 (foul), Colback 49 (foul)

Watford: Hamer 8; Andrews 6, Hoedt 6, Sierralta 6, Morris 6; Livermore 8 (Pollock 69, 5); Asprilla 7 (Rajovic 69, 5), Dele-Bashiru 6, Chakvetadze 7, Martins 6 (Porteus 69, 5); Healey 5 (Ince 85, -)

Subs not used: Bachmann, Kone, Cabezas, Coyne, Grieves

Goals: Livermore 60 (Assisted Martins), 65 (assisted Asprilla)

Yellow Cards: Livermore 20 (foul), Hoedt 45 (foul), Dele-Bashiru 49 (foul)

QPR Star Man – Jimmy Dunne 7 Had a lot of grief, not least from me, across a shocking personal season, but this was more like it in our own box and he was desperately unlucky not to score at the end in the other.

Referee – Simon Hooper (Wiltshire) 8 Very decent. Not a particularly challenging game to referee admittedly, played in the first half at barely half pace of the Premier League matches he’s used to, but he got the cards right, he stayed out of things as much as he could, no histrionics, and a referee I like.

Attendance – 17,409 (2,800 Watford approx.) Atmosphere horribly flat with the time, day and lack of alcohol contributing along with a horribly sluggish first half with little to get excited about Overall though the support continues to hold up remarkably, both in number and the complete lack of dissent against the players or board, despite the performances, results, and in this case a kick off time tantamount to a war crime.

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gazza1 added 12:50 - Jan 16
We’re treating every game now as a cup final, says Marti Cifuentes. Jesus Christ, don’t tell them it’s a cup tie......that was funny!!!!

baz_qpr added 13:28 - Jan 16
Still think it's a bit harsh on Armstrong there, the pass from Willock was a horror, slow bouncing giving the defender time to make an intervention leading to the heavy touch, the header so clear cut that Sky did not bother to include it in the highlights... (I thought it was a bit high myself) The one on one from an angle, good goalkeeping from the keeper could have done better really. We were only really in that game because Armstrong give their defence a torrid time. Andy Cole used to need 4 or 5 chances a game to score 1 - Thought he was worthy of at least a 7 and if he had taken one of those probably a 9

Northernr added 14:48 - Jan 16
Baz I appreciate what you're saying, but the striker is there to score goals and we've lost the game because he's had three chances to do so and missed.

I like my strikers to score goals. I like my midfielders to win tackles and play the ball forwards, contributing the occasional goal themselves. I like my centre backs to win first contacts and balls in the air. I like my goalkeeper to save shots that he's seen all the way from 25 yards out. I tend to mark accordingly with that.

After two years of losing this team has run my patience very thin. If anything those marks are too high, and I only upped one or two of them to where they are after reading the message board and looking at the interactive ratings. Watford were fairly poor, and we've lost, at home, again.

R_in_Sweden added 15:04 - Jan 16
Thanks for another good read about a bad result Clive.

Field's ball to the far post when Chair stood unmarked on the penalty spot begging for the ball in the second half at 0-0 was disappointing.

Jack Colback – The Ginger Diakité

Marshy added 19:20 - Jan 16
Often in games it’s down to fine margins. If we could have taken all those chances we would have won the game comfortably. When you’re down on your luck as we are, you don’t get your fair share. I really like Sinclair Armstrong, and apart from a lack of composure it was a strong performance. I think he has great potential, but is obviously still very raw. Continue to play as he has, the goals will start coming. I don’t think Marti is far off from knowing his best team / formation, but it’s a question of who can remain fit. I’ve not given up hope just yet.

Loft1979 added 04:20 - Jan 17
Given the high praise you have dished, I want to add a discourse on Ilias and Lyndon. What ARE the chances that bids are made for the two? In my view BOTH are replaceable with current options. Marti has experimented openly. I think Sinclair/Smyth rotating on the right and Willock/ Smythe on the left are just as good. With funds being critical and options around in the lower leagues I will be looking to see if that materializes. regularly losing our best players is part of the QPR identity.

ABITB added 11:32 - Jan 18
At least we aint Reading

ridethewave added 12:18 - Jan 18
Thanks for this, Clive. I was not in a good mood leaving the stadium after this game and I'm sure upset a few people with my emotional post-match comment! It's just so upsetting. We play poor, we lose. We play well, we lose. Opposition plays well, we lose. Opposition plays poorly, we lose. My patience has gone now, and I cannot see a way out of it for us.

TacticalR added 21:37 - Jan 19
Thanks for your report.

Armstrong's miss (after Willock's pass) might have been a turning point if we were a competitive team, but in reality it's just another chapter in the endless saga of our inability to win games. Goals, even when they do come, like Dyke's, just don't feel like turning points, more like curiosities.

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