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Queens Park Rangers 2 v 1 Rotherham United
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 24th February 2024 Kick-off 15:00
Willock completes Rangers' Rotherham revival - Report
Sunday, 25th Feb 2024 18:31 by Clive Whittingham

QPR eventually shrugged off their nerves after a nightmare start against the division's bottom side Rotherham to come back and win 2-1 at Loftus Road on Saturday.

It was André Aciman who wrote of pessimists rehearsing loss in their mind, “not just to ward off suffering by taking it in small doses beforehand; but, as all superstitious people do, to see if my willingness to accept the very worst might induce fate to soften its blow.” And he was only writing about the relative trivialities of love and lust.

Queens Park Rangers versus Rotherham United. Bottom of the league Rotherham United. No away win in 15 attempts all season long, Rotherham United. No away win in 33 tries going back to October 2022, Rotherham United. There’s not only the obligatory headless horseman without a goal in 22 appearances heading down the M1 at pace, but it’s My Chemical Hugill who has played previously for QPR. The bell tolls for thee. The fucker he comin’, he comin’ to your town.

QPR fans know the drill from here, they’ve been taught it since childhood, like stop, drop and roll, don’t swim in the quarry, and you mustn’t talk to Chelsea fans. We immediately try to outdo each other in our doom-laden predictions. Oh, we’ll lose that 1-0, 2-0, 3-0. Hugill will score first, Hugill will win it in injury time, Hugill will score a hat trick. They’ll get Keith Stroud to referee it, Jack Colback will be sent off, maybe Sam Field too. Steve Cook will break his leg, Chris Willock’s hamstring will go again, Ilias Chair will contract leprosy.

The LFW match preview writes itself. We’re going to talk about John Jensen, we’re going to talk about Lloyd Doyley, we’re going to talk about Swindon Town (93/94 Olly you daft bat), and we’re going to tell a long, drawn out story about that talented bastard Danny Coyne. I always pop my prediction on the bottom of those before opening the email from reigning Prediction League champion Aston to see what he’s said, but it was absolutely no surprise to find this week he’d gone for exactly the same as me – a 1-0 defeat with a Hugill sickener. It’s what we do – this website, this fanbase, this team, this club. Sorry, I momentarily morphed into Gary Weaver there. Ilias Chair’s been thrown in prison the day before the game has he? Sounds about right.

How much of that is real, and how much is the psychological protection and devil dealership Aciman talks about, only each individual will know. I know that even on the rare occasions I do think QPR will win I don’t tend to put that as my preview prediction, for fear of cursing it, although that technique certainly didn’t help much at Stoke last week where I secretly regarded us as an absolute shoo in for a win. QPR do have an incredible propensity to bollocks these sorts of situations up – the Jensen, Doyley, Swindon stories are fact not fiction, and Rotherham United themselves have form for going through an entire Championship season with only one away win, that being at Loftus Road. But, you surely don’t really think the much improved Marti Cifuentes version of Queens Park Rangers are actually going to lose at home to this dreadful Rotherham team do you? The Millers’ protracted failure to appoint the proven Championship name they were looking for to replace Matt Taylor and subsequent compromise on ex-Wiganer Leam Richardson, allied to their league position 14 points adrift of safety, felt very much like a club that has already given up and is preparing for next year’s League One. Quite apart from their notorious away form, the Millers haven’t won anywhere in ten games and had only won one of their last 22 in all comps at all venues prior to kick off and- oh wait, they’ve scored.

Scored and deserved to score. Scored exactly the sort of goal they’d been threatening to score, or rather QPR had been offering to let them score, from the moment the game kicked off. Rangers out of the traps like one of my horse tips. A QPR throw in, given away, Chair (not in prison, it turns out) hacks a ball into the sky, Sam Nombe beats Steve Cook to a header, Tom Eaves runs off the back of Jake Clarke-Salter and scores.

A goal so easy, even Tom Eaves could score it, and it had been coming. Clarke-Salter had approached an early free kick in the left back area, considered his options, and then hacked it inexplicably high, wild and not-so-handsome backwards across his own goal, behind all of his team mates, sending Cook scurrying off towards his own corner flag trying to retrieve the situation. Begovic’s nervous punch from a Sam Clucas speculator preceded the Bosnian goalkeeper giving the ball away sloppily early in a game again while pisballing about far too slowly and casually over a routine ball to his feet. This is, unfortunately, often how we start games, particularly pressure games against teams around us we’re expected to win and really need to do so if we’re to stay up – it was the same against Huddersfield, Millwall and Blackburn, and Rangers were extremely fortunate it didn’t result in goals against on those occasions.

Huddersfield winning at Watford, Swansea winning at Sunderland, Sheff Wed beating Bristol City, Plymouth winning at Middlesbrough (!!), fucking Millwall, Millwall, winning at Southampton. And Queens Park Rangers losing at home to Rotherham United. Oh God, is this actually, actually happening? Viktor Johansson in the Rotherham goal successfully convinces the referee he’s injured by sitting down and saying “I’m injured” – a minute and 45 burned off there. A booking for time wasting, and he was, for Cameron Humphreys after just 37 minutes. Head buried in hands, eyes tightly closed, no amount of blackness deep enough to escape, every time I dare look up there they all are, losing at home to Rotherham. Is this actually happening? For real?

No. No it’s not.

There were certainly teething problems in QPR’s response – frantic home crowd ironically cheering when Begovic finally abandoned his slipshod short game for a long punt, Paal ailing badly, bookings for out-of-sorts Isaac Hayden and Joe Hodge – but overall Rangers did well to draw breath and recover. Airborne Steve Cook was twice denied, once spectacularly, by Johansson as he headed for goal, while Michy Frey forced a fumbled save from the keeper that should have been converted on the rebound by Hodge. Hodge’s low drive at the near post off a short corner brought another eye-catching save as the shots on target mounted. Is it time for that Danny Coyne story again yet?

Cifuentes acted promptly with a pair of half time changes – Hayden and Hodge hooked, Sam Field and Paul Smyth introduced, a mixture of underperformance, carrying yellow cards, and tactical adjustments. Again, there were still issues – Eaves heading one chance wide, Colback picking up a yellow for deliberately ending a dangerous counter off a QPR free kick which will now see him banned for the next two matches - but QPR were notably growing into the game, with Chris Willock’s Bristol City uptick continuing for a second week, and Jimmy Dunne’s latest go as an unconventional right back a surprise, rampaging success. I wondered, with Sean Morrison at the back as slow as my house, whether Sinclair Armstrong’s pace might have been of some use, but with zero space behind an incredibly deep visiting defence, and Frey’s height needed to defend Rotherham’s land-of-the-giants set pieces, Cifuentes chose to stick and rely on skill and ball-playing to unpick the lock.

On the hour, a very satisfying click. Willock running into good space, dragging Clucas out of the middle then squaring him up and cutting inside. Smyth saw the gap and ran through it. Willock found the precision weight of pass. It felt like a cutback opportunity, and perhaps that’s what Johansson expected Smyth to do because the keeper looked a little suspect as the Northern Ireland international instead slipped a low finish underneath him and into the far corner for the vital equaliser.

Sold out Loftus Road, for a good while frozen in silent anxiety, was now alive. Chair’s difficult week might have ended up with a goal when he isolated his full back, stripped him, then shot low for the far corner and drew another save. Soon the Moroccan was crossing for Dunne to head wide – few would have deserved a goal more, wonderful to see one of the squad’s genuine good guys making a success of this unorthodox new role after a dire personal 18 months.

I guess we were fortunate one Rotherham attack and knock back was subsequently headed right at Begovic by Odoffin in a presentable position. At this stage, 15 from time, it felt like a further change might be necessary, possibly for the leggy Frey to spice up the attack, but Cifuentes’ faith in what he had out there was about to be spectacularly rewarded. Chair found Willock in a pocket of promising space, just as Willock had done himself for Smyth earlier. Turning smoothly onto the ball the Loft cried ‘shoot’ as one. Willock obliged with a strike cleaner than Gwyneth Paltrow’s colon after a three-week juice cleanse (RIP Anthony Bourdain). Into the net it went with power making up for any lack of precision. Rangers are still yet to lose any of the 20 games in which Willock has scored for them (W17 D3).

The mentality shift from desperately chasing to having and holding was managed well. Lyndon Dykes and Ziyad Larkeche offered useful cameos. Only when referee Matt Donohue added six minutes on and played seven were there signs of nerves – a half-hearted last-second penalty appeal, a booking for Paul Smyth for delaying a corner. The soft start, and mental baggage that seems to weigh so heavily on this team in games like this, had been successfully, and at times quite stylishly, overcome. One in the win column for the manager and his players, in more ways than one. The majority of a bumper home crowd stayed to applaud them.

There are now difficult games to come, none more so than Leicester away next up – albeit the Foxes have lost their last two and have a big cup tie midweek. Rangers are likely going to have to beat a couple of teams the league table suggests they shouldn’t – inconsistent Middlesbrough here in a fortnight, Mykonos-bound Sunderland soon after probably the more likely opportunities. But what wins the R’s have managed this year have already included Hull, Preston, Bristol City, Middlesbrough and Cardiff, who are all north of fourteenth, and all but one of those was away. This, meanwhile, was only a second victory in ten attempts against the seven other sides in the bottom eight. It’s when they’re expected to win that the pressure leads this QPR to do silly things. Few sillier than the first ten minutes here, but on this occasion their recovery was on point and deserves praise along with the manager’s - at times seemingly contrary - decisions within that.

It was more relief than celebration which washed over the regulars back at The Crown, until it was something else entirely. Stan Bowles, QPR’s north, south, east and west; noon, midnight, talk and song; leaving us with a lifetime of extraordinary stories, wonderous goals and joyous moments. The news we’d dreaded for so long, tears shed and memories shared around a bar suddenly with Queens Park Rangers v Rotherham United the farthest thing from its mind. And as we walked away into the night, the strains of “Stan-ley, Stan-ley” rang out. Football, the most important least important thing.

Links >>>Stan Bowles 1948-2024 >>> Ratings and Reports >>> Message Board Match Thread

QPR: Begovic 5; Dunne 7, Cook 6, Clarke-Salter 6, Paal 4 (Larkeche 83, -); Hayden 5 (Field 46, 6), Colback 6; Willock 7, Hodge 5 (Smyth 46, 7), Chair 6 (Andersen 90+2, -); Frey 6 (Dykes 84, -)

Subs not used: Archer, Fox, Cannon, Armstrong

Goals: Smyth 61 (assisted Willock), Willock 75 (assisted Chair)

Yellow Cards: Hayden 33 (foul), Hodge 42 (foul), Colback 54 (foul), Smyth 90+1 (time wasting)

Rotherham: Johansson 5; Odoffin 5, Morrison 5, Humphreys 5 (Appiah 84, -); Seriki 5 (Cafu 56, 6), Clucas 5, Tiehi 5, Rinomhotta 6 (Lindsay 84, -), Kioso 7; Eaves 6 (Wyke 78, -), Nombe 5 (Hugill 78, 5)

Subs not used: Ferguson, Peltier, Phillips

Goals: Eaves 4 (assisted Nombe)

Yellow Cards: Humphreys 38 (time wasting)

QPR Star Man – Chris Willock 7 I really wanted to give it to Jimmy Dunne after getting stuck into his performances so much over the past year or so, but we haven’t had many kind words for Chris Willock either and a goal with an assist to turn the game around, allied with matching last week’s much improved performance, puts him clear.

Referee – Matt Donohue (Manchester) 7 Very decent. Nice to see a referee booking early for time wasting when it can actually make a difference to the behaviour.

Attendance – 16,351 (700 Rotherham approx.) Felt the ironic cheers for a long punt from the goalkeeper after early struggles with playing out from the back were a little unfair to a manager who has brought about clear and obvious improvements across the board since he took over, but I understand the anxiety at that stage in that context and the support continues to be magnificent in quantity and quality all things considered.

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nomar added 19:52 - Feb 25
Really vital win for us.

Hopefully now we can stay out of the bottom 3, but at least we do go back in there we know we have the manager and players to get us back out of it again.

Patrick added 21:01 - Feb 25
A very good report (as ever) and a very nice final paragraph. Well done mate.

johann28 added 23:10 - Feb 25
Watching it all again in the cool light of day, broadly agree with assessments.

First few minutes - just awful, let them off twice and and let them in. Awful.

Then, steady improvement, chances (sign that keeper?), but a all a bit stop start

2nd half, 63 minutes, sublime pass, seemed unlikely to score from that angle, but hey-ho Qpr

Holy Moses, what a goal. First it's Illy - drops a shoulder, makes space, then to Willock - then wtf that strike, freeze it at 1.41 - worthy of anyone. Top 6 side.

ThGrimRanger added 23:42 - Feb 25
great report as ever … “cleaner than Gwyneth's colon” lol!!!

Myke added 23:50 - Feb 25
Cheers Clive. I have never felt so down after a win. Stan Bowles: Physically dead, emotionally immortal.

tsbains64 added 08:17 - Feb 26
Spot on with the report .Wonderful to see and hear the fans backing the players even when a goal down

francisbowles added 12:30 - Feb 26
Thanks for everything Clive. A bittersweet weekend but completed with a laugh and a nice tribute.
Re the above comment: As for there keeper, he's not the one for us, under Marti; Almost everything goes long.

RsinWales added 13:35 - Feb 26
I turned to my sons after about eight minutes and said this is the worst start to a game that I can remember. I've been going since the mid'70s! Thankfully the finish was a lot better than the start : )

Marshy added 18:18 - Feb 26
Rotherham were playing with 3 up front with a high press at the start of the game. I don’t think it’s wrong to go long on occasions. I mean no one is suggesting we revert to Gareth Ainsworth type tactics, but sometimes it just makes sense, and their goal could have been avoided. Well done though to the team for coming from behind to get the vital win.

I must say that under the circumstances Chair had a good game. Can’t imagine the pressure he must currently be under psychologically. I don’t think we should judge him until the full and complete facts come out regarding his case. From what has so far reported, it all sounds rather strange. Finally, Stan the Man may now be gone, but never forgotten!

extratimeR added 15:41 - Feb 27
Lovely touch at the end Clive.

Other+ "Gwyneth Paltrow's Colon" Ok that's one for the collection!

Great report as usual Clive, pleased for Dunne, Willock could do a lot worse than stay where he is? just a thought?

TacticalR added 21:01 - Feb 27
Thanks for your report.

Given the situation they're in, Rotherham weren't that bad. Maybe the situation allowed them to play with a bit more freedom than might otherwise have been the case.

A strange wild swing at the ball from Chair ended up in the box and led to Rotherham's first goal. It looked like it might be another one of those days.

We put on more pressure in the second half and managed to get a couple of goals by taking our chances. Well done to Smyth and Willock for keeping their nerve in front of goal. Willock looked a bit more like his old self.

The important thing was that we finally managed to get over the line against a relegation rival. The win was vital as nearly all the teams around us also won, and it also got us out of the relegation zone.

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