QPR Away 2016/17 – On the Verge

I wasn’t going to write this up. You can blame the encouragement of Tim Jones, the cancellation of morning football practice and a general urge to be living in the Brighton and Hove Albion bubble 24/7 for that.

Despite the blog title this was my third away this season. I wrote up Fulham, an amazing day when I was still marathon training and devoted to Dry January. I didn’t bother with Cardiff which was very much an alcohol fuelled “what goes on tour, stays on tour” sort of day when almost nothing of note happened on the pitch. Last night was a sort of mix of the two.

It’s a good job that regular readers know not to expect some slight deviations from 100% accuracy in the attempt to write this up as an account of the day out, from memory, rather than just another football report. I do often make little notes in my phone, though I rarely take photos. Last night was all photos and no notes.

But the main reason for not expecting much on the pitch narrative is that we couldn’t see it. £32 for a restricted view seat at the back of the upper tier, where the bit that was restricted was the far corner flag and the goal line. That’s modern football pricing for you. Another reason is the price is the only thing modern about QPR. Everything else screams 1980s, from the horseshit and tacky club façade along South Africa Road, to the death trap of a concourse, a ground that is smaller in reality than it looks on the telly, hemmed in by terraced housing on all sides, the fact you seem to be almost standing on top of the action, and a set of home fans who are quick with the wanker signs and slow with the songs. QPR is old school.

view

For all that it’s what I call a “good day out”. That death trap away end with the terrible view is also conducive to a brilliant atmosphere, roof and corrugated back of stand amplifying chants straight back to you. Having recently got a new job in an office in West London is was also dead easy to get to after work. So it was I left an hour earlier than normal and met Steve in a pub by Hammersmith tube. The sun was shining so we didn’t stay indoors long, heading to a riverside boozer for the first proper outdoor drinking session of the year.

river

From there a tube a couple of stops to Shepherd’s Bush Market, in search of a good looking dirty burger and kebab joint. We found the ideal place, packed with families of every creed and colour chowing down on fast food. The Peri Peri Burger was superb, though I am currently feeling the after effects.

So a decent pre match, just enough beer to oil the voice and arrival at our “seat” just before the game kicked off. No train queues. Perfect.

And then, well, then we started singing and straining every muscle to view, and before you knew it it was half time. We had a fair bit of the play, had two goals ruled out for offside (TV viewers tweeted me to say correctly), while Rangers tested Stockdale with a long range shot and pumped some dangerous looking set pieces in towards Joel Lynch. Remember him?

At half time Dunk went off, clearly not 100% recovered from his bug yet, to be replaced by Tomori who was again excellent. But the away end really got going on 58 minutes and, for once, the action was close to us. Hemed broke the offside trap for once with a great return through ball to Murray who strode clear. He was never, ever going to miss. The away end went fully radio rental.

Six minutes later and we won a free kick for Murray tripping over the ball. While Knocky and Pocognoli had a Gallic-off over who was taking it I focussed on Murray in the centre of the box, convinced we’d need to cross it. The next thing I knew Steve was on top of me and the ball had disappeared. One of the best free kicks ever – by Pocognoli – and I’d missed it. 2-0. Very loud singing.

And then we went in to our shells. QPR scored a good goal from a headed set piece and threatened us non-stop. We wasted time, driving Holloway insane. Hughton took Knockaert off, driving him insane, and my heart rate went up to an astonishing 171. I hit 165 on an intense 5K Park Run. Wow.

watch

Finally the final whistle and Bruno hit the ground theatrically before all the players and the manager came over. It took a good 20 minutes to get out, joyfully singing all the way.

We’re going to do this.

 

 

 

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QPR at Home 2016/17 – Incident Packed

In this most joyous of seasons (I mean the Albion’s in the Championship, not Christmas) there has been only one thing that has been inconsistent, and that’s our method of arrival at the ground. Look back at the blog from last season and you will see conversations on the train and on station platforms between our group, the boys and, at times, away fans or fellow Brighton fans unfortunate enough to be sitting near the boys. But this season we have used train, bus, park and ride and now car and we’re only halfway through. But then if we didn’t have the rail mess and some woefully inconsistent catering we’d have nothing to moan about at all. Frankly that would finish some Brighton fans off.

Just because Southern Railways advertise a full match day service It doesn’t mean that’s what you’ll get. It’s about as trustworthy as Donald Trump in a room full of supermodels. So we booked The Bridge car park and Steve drove. Typically the trains looked fine but we’d booked it by then. It meant that our pre-game predictions were carried out within the confines of a car but they were no less telling, The boys thought we might go behind early before equalising and winning with a late goal. Frankly, that was less “prediction” and more “replaying the last game”. As fun as The Miracle of St Andrews was I had no desire to repeat it. Instead, the adults agreed it would be far better if we scored early on and had the sort of easy win that would have our resting heartrate at vaguely normal levels. No point exciting yourself with several days’ worth of rich food and exotic booze in the system.

In the end it was both easy win and not and, had I had the time to check my heart rate, it would have resembled a man in the gym in the first half before slowly heading towards a good night’s sleep. But I didn’t have the time to check it. The phrase “incident packed” was more or less invented for game like this.

I’ve said before I try not to watch the highlights and base this, instead, on memory, gut feel and minimal notes and tweets. That’s not the case here. I’ve watched them twice and, like anything reduced from over an hour and half to just about two minutes they convey everything and nothing. They certainly show the brilliance of our opening goal, on just eleven minutes, but I’d been replaying that in my head all day anyway. For the record Bruno won a tough challenge on the right from a QPR throw and Murray flicked it quickly to Stephens in midfield despite a very solid tackle coming in. Stephens shifted it to Baldock. His first touch was sublime, switching the ball between his feet and clear of the stationary Onouha, while still fully in control of it, before hitting an unstoppable shot in to the top corner with his supposedly weaker foot. I made that “Wooooaaaaah” noise you only make when someone scores a really, really good goal, then the high fives started. “Top bins” I said to The Boy to prove I’d mastered ten year old vernacular. He looked at me the way one would a granddad that’s just gate crashed a teenage birthday.

But what the highlights don’t show so well is that we then fell apart, collectively, players and fans. It was almost like everyone had come to the same conclusion Steve and I had in the car, that an early goal for us would seal it, and it was already job done. Off the field our noise level went down while QPR carried on singing. On it we just couldn’t get out of our own half. We had no time on the ball, dropped too deep, were careless with both passing and tackling and had no one around for the second ball. If QPR had had anyone decent up front they’d have equalised. Stockdale twice made brilliant saves at his near post, firstly with a strong hand to a rising shot and then, brilliantly, with a foot to a low one. Then a cross from the Rangers left and Sylla controlled the ball deftly with his chest before volleying wastefully wide.

Rangers weren’t the only wasteful ones though. Murray should have made it two-nil with a free header from a corner after Duffy had knocked it back across for him and Baldock contrived to square a pass to no one when shooting would have been easier. But overall, had you arrived at the game on twelve minutes not knowing the teams or score, you’d have said it was Rangers who were the league leaders and one up.

We scratched for positives at half time and they were as follows; we were still one up (and top of the league), QPR had done a lot of chasing and might not have the fitness for a pressing game and Hughton would be quietly pointing out where we’d gone wrong. Indeed he must have.

A different team emerged for the second half and we began to impose ourselves. March was released more often on the left. Knockaert began tormenting on the right. Baldock ran the channels with growing success and Norwood began to ping passes like a master quarterback.  The two wingers nearly combined for a second goal, Knockaert quickly switching play to March who twisted and turned before unleashing a shot that Smithies somehow saved one-handed.

The second seemed to be coming though and it finally arrived through another penalty. We’ve had a few this season and I’ve seen tweets from opposition fans complaining that we get all the decisions. However, the simple fact is that if you spend a lot of time in your opponent’s penalty area you’re going to create chances and, sooner or later, fouls. That’s what happened here, Bruno and Knockaert combining to get the ball in to the box where it was laid back to Stephens who was scythed through. A stone wall penalty and Murray buried it.

That nearly served to kill the game off but the next major incident was to finish it as a contest. Another high quality through ball down the channel saw Baldock get the wrong side of Onuoha again and go down. And here’s where I hate myself for ploughing through the highlights. At full speed we were off our feet, part disgusted that another goal scoring chance had been ruined, partly hoping for a red card as Onuoha had looked the last man. No doubt in any of our minds. “YOU DIRTY ……….OFF, OFF, OFF!”. All around the WSU the same chant.

Watching it back it’s a little harsh. The initial coming together is shoulder to shoulder and then there’s a tug, nothing more. But referees don’t get endless replays and angles and neither should fans. I should have just revelled in the glorious moment of the red card going up.

QPR were shattered and Knockaert punished them before producing one of the most emotional and iconic moments yet seen at The Amex. Stephens and Murray (again) combined to set him up in acres of space on the right and he cut back in before drilling home a left footed shot that Smithies should have done better with. The players went to celebrate with him but he waved them off and, instead, celebrated with a photo of his late father on the touchline. A touching moment for sure but also a reaffirmation of why we love him as a player, because he’s emotional, instinctive, righteous and dedicated. If he wasn’t all those things then the skills his father gave him wouldn’t mean nearly as much.

So that was it for the highlights but we had highlights of our own that never made it near a Sky show reel. Knockaert chasing back in the first half to win a crucial tackle in defence and using his skill to evade their attackers and win us a free kick to clear it. Bruno in yards of space in their penalty area controlling a cross but seeming to have no idea what to do with the ball in that situation. Bong winning a masterly tackle the one time Dunk and Duffy ended up the wrong side, one that would have seen him have an early bath too had he miss timed it. Stockdale making another great save from a header towards the end. Brighton stringing God knows how many passes together to shouts of “Ole”, like watching a youngster playing FIFA17 at Beginner level with they’re competent at World Class. A ridiculous training ground free kick routine that Dunk nearly walked in. QPR fans celebrating an imaginary goal and the North Stand responding with “3-1 to the Albion”. These were the things we went home talking about as much as the goals and sending off. As I said, incident packed.

And then it went weird. Holloway had a bizarre rant about Brighton fans not showing him respect (hello, Ian, you’re losing EVERY GAME) before a couple of QPR fans showed no respect at all for the dead on Twitter. God knows why they’re trying to stir up a rivalry. Many more of these results and there’ll be two divisions between us next season. And we didn’t even play that well.

The Boy’s Ref Watch

Keith Stroud got 0/10. This is, admittedly, much better than the usual huge negative score, but a little inexplicable given we got a penalty and sending off our way and no cards at all for Brighton players. I can only assume he was so consumed with events on the pitch he forgot about the ref.

 

QPR At Home – Robbery

“And that, folks, was Grand Larceny”

This is likely to be short and poorly researched. Like the unattributed quote up there. *points*

It’s likely to be both because I’m writing it on the train on my way to work and I’m not important or clever enough to have a wireless dongle (not that I’m quite sure I’d want a wireless dongle anyway, it sounds painful). Thanks to the Amex travel system I got in at 11pm last night. Thanks to my job I have a 9am meeting in London today. I should be sleeping but I need to tell the tale of how we robbed Harry Redknapp. Because it’s funny.

Pre game a friend rushed in to Dick’s Bar and regaled us with a tale of something he’d said to Britain’s second greatest bulldog impersonator (the greatest, of course, being the famous Peter Canning). He’d bumped in to their coach unloading and a group of fans were taking pictures of ‘Arry. Our friend jumped in to get one. “Why didn’t you wait?” the affronted QPR boss asked him. “Why didn’t you pay your tax?” came the retort. Now, of course we ALL know that he did really, oh yes, but still it was an indication of how the evening was going to go for Rosie’s owner.

At Championship level QPR have a star studded squad. We may have looked at Reading on Saturday, easing the famous Royston Drenthe back in, without our beloved Wayne Bridge, and envied their resources but the truth is the money is running out at the Madjeski. It never runs out at Loftus Road. It flows like water in the Somerset Levels and it’s just as obtrusive and ugly. Thus they could play famous names like Joey Barton, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Ravel Morrison and Richard Dunne (48k a week someone told me after though of course I can’t check. No dongle you see). They could afford to have Benayoun and Kranjcar on the bench – not even bring them on – and yet they still lost. Oh how they shouldn’t have.

We started compactly. We always start compactly under Oscar. He may sing of his love of attacking football but you get the impression that he fines the whole team if they concede in the first twenty minutes. Bruno was digging in defensively but didn’t seem to be allowed forward at all. Not only did we barely trouble QPR but we didn’t have a shot. Green was another spectator, though unlike over half the away support he had to watch the whole match. Not only did QPR dominate territory but also possession. And yet they did nothing that was utterly terrifying with either. It was like watching us in reverse.

Rangers looked just as dominant in the second half, PIG forced in to a couple of sharp saves, one a brilliant tip over after Ravel Morrison had found himself in space, Upson and the revitalised Lewis Dunk defended stoutly, backs to the wall. We seemed determined to give QPR’s experienced centre half pairing heading practice. PIG may have been absolutely commanding in his area and with his shot stopping but his distribution was appalling. Following one particular sequence of events I finally lost it with the team. One of our rare attacks broke down. Green rolled it straight in to sixty yards of space that the overcommitted (and again shocking)Keith Andrews had left and QPR sprinted in to the attack. Though it came to nothing we had a similar break on a few minutes later. By now KLL had been belatedly brought on as an impact sub and this looked to be his moment. Instead he and Lingard lingered (yay! I got to use that!) and got in each others’ way. I could take it no longer and berated the side to put some bleeping effort in on the break. A minute later we scored. Don’t thank me. Just send me money.

As the game opened up so Bruno was released and he played a lovely interchange on the right wing before freeing himself to unleash the perfect cross. Ulloa, for once unmarked, couldn’t miss from a few yards. The Amex went mental.

At this point we had had two shots, one on target, and scored one. IT WAS THE ANTI-WIGAN! Naturally I turned to my chum and said how great it would be if we scored a second with our only other shot on target. On 85 minutes we did, KLL’s wicked corner kick brilliantly converted by Stephen Ward’s left foot. The Amex went mental again. The away end emptied. Don’t thank me. Just send me lots of money. Did I mention I was wearing my lucky hat?

Did we deserve it? Not really. Have we played better and not won? Undoubtedly. But for anyone who moans about Oscar and tedious football we have now played 180 minutes against a side of Premier League players on Premier League money with a manager who the tabloids were screaming for to manage England not so long ago and we haven’t conceded a goal to them. Four points is a more than acceptable haul against such a side.

One final mention has to go to Joey Barton. If the pantomime villain that is Adkins played his part on Saturday then Joey, to his credit, played his down. Getting merciless stick for just being Joey Barton he got on with his job professionally, never playing up to the taunts or committing a bad tackle. At the end he shook hands with everyone and trudged off to acknowledge the 25 or so QPR fans who’d stayed to clap off their team. Meanwhile Mr Redknapp was exchanging pleasantries with the West Stand. Two years is an awfully long time in football.