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Watford 1 Queens Park Rangers 2 (01/02/2021) 02/02/2021

Posted by Matt Rowson in Match reports.

1- I’m going to revisit a familiar theme.  It’s an easy one, an obvious one, repeating myself feels like cheating but screw it, it’s 10:30 in the evening and if the pattern of readership levels of this blog after a defeat vs after a win are anything to go by nobody’s going to read this anyway…

It matters more when everything’s shit.  If life is good, football is “merely” a fun thing to do.  A good way to spend an afternoon, friends, family and so on.  When everything’s shit – and let’s be clear, things are really really shit – it carries a quite unreasonable burden of responsibility, the focus of every week.  No it’s not the same when we’re not there.  But it’s something that matters.  Something to disappear into and to care about.  Something real.

So a defeat is an expensive thing.  A home defeat to local rivals having given up a lead.  Well.

2- There’s been all sorts going on on social media all week.  Nothing is quite as miserable as the last day of a transfer window when you’ve just been relegated with all that that entails and football has been hit by the pandemic like everything else.  Twitter is the worst… opinions that, were they voiced by your mate in casual conversation might provoke mild scorn incite fury when voiced by faceless individuals depersonalised by the polarising of opinions. It’s horrific, and today it’s mostly Dan Gosling’s fault.  Or Gino Pozzo’s.  Or Scott Duxbury’s.  It’s horrific, anyway.

Some actual football is welcome but the line-up and the absence of the two first-choice full-backs, both utterly reliable for as long as they’ve been available this season, is ominous.  Indeed as we start slowly, deputies Marc Navarro and Jeremy Ngakia are the most conspicuously uncomfortable.  Navarro looks horribly complacent throughout, Ngakia the opposite – anxious, wired, hyperactive.  He’s one of several players to have both very poor spells and very strong spells over the ninety minutes, later in the game he will be standing out for his gutsiness and his energy, both of which we could do with more of.

But in the first 25 minutes or so QPR dominate, and persistently funnel the ball down their right flank where the galloping Todd Kane has as much space as he wants with Hughes and Ngakia both tucking inside.  Ilias Chair puts a startling ball across the box in the second minute that Troost-Ekong – whose trajectory is inversely correlated with Ngakia’s – blocks, Macauley Bonne should have been sharper.  On 20 minutes they twice overload down the right culminating in Austin heading over from the far post.

3- It’s the things that we don’t do that are the problem, more than the things we do.  Rangers play a high line all evening, a high line comprising the wily guile of Cameron and the strength and assertiveness of Dickie but no obvious pace to speak of.  It should be food and drink to Sarr and João Pedro but QPR are far from the first side to play this way against us and get away with it.  There’s not nearly enough intelligence in the side, not enough guile.  Troy has plenty, and more than once trundles back in frustration to hurl immediate, urgent balls over the top but it’s not enough, his body isn’t obedient enough for him to drag us along any more, his force of will an abstract rather than physical problem for the visitors.  Our pace in attack should be our strength, but again proves painfully easy to play against.

Most depressing of all perhaps is quite how dominant we are when we put our minds to it.  QPR are much happier with the ball than without it throughout, but look vulnerable with the ball in defence before we put them under any kind of pressure.  As soon as we flame on after about half an hour we’re all over them, almost without trying.  Sierralta chances upon acres of space in the Rangers penalty area; he negligently puts a header plum against the bar, it rebounds against the keeper’s fingers to create the illusion of a save.  Sarr bursts free for fifteen minutes and every attack comes through him for a while, tempting left back Wallace into a yellow card, surging into space and dragging defenders towards him.  Into the second half and we’re on the front foot again, starting the second period strongly as is becoming traditional.  A burst of speed sees Sarr steal the ball on the edge of the area, Cameron treads on his foot to bring him down, Deeney arrogantly swipes home the penalty.  We are in control now, we’ve withstood what Rangers can throw at us and snatched the lead and the initiative.

And then, of course, we carelessly hand it back again.

4- Charlie Austin’s continued notoriety for his rant after the Southampton game two-and-a-bit years ago provide further evidence, as if any were necessary in 2021, that talking absolute bollocks with conviction gets you an awfully long way.  His energy and outrage captivated at the time, the essence of his argument was utter nonsense.  The more so since the same game saw Nathaniel Chalobah taken out by Ryan Bertrand whilst pulling the trigger on the penalty spot, Bertrand on a yellow card but unpunished.  Southampton hardly hard done by.  Nate doesn’t bang off in front of the cameras and nobody remembers.

Austin is back at Loftus Road after five years away and on 72 minutes turns up at the far post and heads Rangers level.  It’s a disgraceful goal, too easy for Willock to cross from the right, Troost-Ekong falls asleep and Navarro watches Austin head in without intervention.  For the second time this season Rangers look significantly better than solidly bottom half aainst us, Kane, Ball, Austin, Chair and Dickie all impress and whilst the game was ours for the taking with a goal lead and Rangers needing to push on even more this equaliser has been coming. We look… passive.  Chair and Kane had again combined to set up Bonne, asleep once more.  Kane headed wide.  Wallace set up Bonne to drive at Bachmann.

Sema makes a welcome return off the bench to scare the shit out of Rangers down their right, linking up well with Ngakia and rumbling down the flank, along the line and into the area more than once.  We’re not that far away a couple of times, the blameless Cleverley twice denied by defenders blocking near the line.  It’s not enough though;  Sarr has disappeared, Gray plays him through one but he’s tentative where bullishness is needed, even if one late run is provocative enough for a QPR voice to be heard exhorting Chris Willock to “foulhimfoulhimfoulhimfoulhim!”.  But we’re sluggish and apathetic where Rangers are urgent and aggressive.

Zinckernagel, whose continued absence from the starting lineup is much lamented, did Xisco a favour by justifying his omission, demonstrating his critical limitations in the absence of reliable cover behind him by offering no obstruction whatsoever to QPR’s progress to the winner, Troost-Ekong again further culpable as Adomah finished sharply.  I swore quite a lot.

5- Xisco’s honeymoon is over, one suspects.  An underwhelming end to the transfer window saw a surprising move for Dan Gosling, unwanted by Bournemouth, whilst sexier options had been touted, no additions to the forward line, the curtailing of two albeit disappointing loans and perhaps most oddly the dispatching of Domingos Quina to “get minutes” for a mid-table side in La Liga.

All of which merely underlines what should already have been clear.  In our circumstances we do not have a load of money to chuck around.  We’ve been relegated, the big salaries that you don’t move on are largely the ones others don’t want and that’s because they’re not doing great.

There’s a lot that’s right about the team, this evening notwithstanding.  The defence is strong, the goalkeeper is strong, the midfield is solid.  There’s stuff that isn’t right.  We’re fifth despite that, which is credible if not thrilling.

But not signing that striker, that demon midfielder, doesn’t demonstrate “lack of ambition”.  Heaven knows there are still plenty of carcasses in this division and below who have thrown good money after bad and chased it down the bathtub.  The people running the club may have made some bad calls, bit they’re owed some faith on the back of what’s gone before.  They’re the ones safeguarding the future of the club whilst supporters, some supporters, those supposedly in it for the long haul, call for them to gamble that future – sorry, show ambition – on the back of a more exciting set of signings.

Today’s been bloody miserable.  A week ago, after beating Stoke, we were looking firmly upwards.  We need to be more resilient than this, tough as it is.

And boy it’s tough at the moment.


Bachmann 3, Navarro 1, Ngakia 3, Troost-Ekong 2, Sierralta 3, Sarr 3, *Cleverley 3*, Chalobah 3, Hughes 2, Deeney 3, João Pedro 2
Subs:  Gray (for João Pedro, 67) 2, *Sema (for Hughes, 67) 3*, Zinckernagel (for Chalobah, 84) NA, Wilmot (for Ngakia, 84) NA, Cathcart, Barrett, Hungbo, Dalby, Elliot