A tight ground and a tight first half
I had forgotten how tight Loftus Road was, but when even Sky TV cannot get a shot of the winger on the near side touchline under the camera, you can rapidly gather that the pitch size and quality may not be ideal for the lads’ flowing football.
The first half was fiery and fast, with both sides taking turns in struggling to retain possession, and then not really make anything from it when they did. QPR had some good spells in the first ten minutes, helped by our lads sitting a bit deeper/not closing space as much as needed from time to time in my view. I was on a couple of occasions a little worried that a very capable-looking Ilias Chair was getting too much space a few yards outside our box, but thankfully his chances and crosses came to nothing.
Shortly after Chair put a decent chance wide of the post in the 21st minute, a half decent chance fell to Joe Gelhardt, which looked a great opportunity for him to open his account. A long ball managed to get all the way to him but the narrow angle on offer resulted in him only hitting the ball against the outside of the post. O’Nien then put a strong shot in a couple of minutes later which the keeper parried, but one which no red and white player got close enough to for a tap in.
When Roberts fired a stinger of a shot low and hard and angled just inside the near post but the keeper still managed to get a hand to it, I started to wonder if this was going to be one of those days. Our Luke proved me wrong a few minutes later though. Operating in midfield today as part of Tony’s rotation and resting, he pounced on a poorly cleared header into the box from Ballard, nudging the ball over the line for 1-0 just over ten minutes from half time.
Between that goal and half time we seemed to overcomplicate things at times, with Jack Clarke being guilty of taking one man or one touch too many, and often when a pass was on. Other than another blocked shot from “edge of the box expert” O’Nien, the half ended with the lads 1-0 up, and worthy of the slight lead in my view.
Pressure in the second half had to be rode out, but we did that
QPR were clearly given a bit of a rocket at half time, as they came out firing and pushed the lads really hard for the period after the break. The first ten minutes went in a flash, with little goalmouth action other than a good run by Chair, sadly for him finished with a tame shot which Patterson collected easily. The commentator at one point mentioned “Chair executing a good swivel”, which was as good a pun as it was an observation of one of QPRs better players. Jamal Lowe started to grow into the game in the second half too, which looked concerning for the lads.
That concern peaked at maximum 5 minutes past the hour, when a handball in the box by Alese was blown up for a penalty. The lads then did something I really wish they would do more often… they rolled out a bit of premium gamesmanship, through our primary shithouse, Luke O’Nien.
Luke stayed down inside the 6 yard box for injury treatment after the award of the pen, massively elongating the time for the kick to be taken. Whether that helped or not we will never know, but Patterson managed to save the spot kick with a trailing leg, sending the away fans into raptures.
For me this proved to be a massive turning point in the game, as if QPR has scored then, the ascendancy they were trying to press on us for the first 20 mins of the second period may well have been hard to quash. Awesome work Patto.
Mowbray’s substitutes changed the game yet again
The period post the QPR missed penalty was a mixture of subs and yellow cards, as a frustrated QPR side tried to get a foothold in the game after missing their best chance, but they kept allowing the intensity of the situation boil over into poorly timed tackles.
Amad came on for Ba just before the spot kick, and Dan Neil came on for Pritchard just after it, and those two players ended up being the assist makers who converted a narrow lead into a comfortable victory.
Before that, the unlucky Gelhardt hit the crossbar to add to his woodwork collection for the evening. On being subbed off with ten minutes to go, he must have been gutted to not have a goal to his name. Thankfully, the rest of the lads complemented by the very promising-looking Ekwah closed the game out well. Clearly if he is hitting the frame twice in a match, he is doing the right things, and goals will come soon.
Another sub in Dennis Cirkin started the move for the second goal, after coming on around 81 mins to replace Alese, a player who had once again done very well. A typical aggressive Cirkin run forward, this time started with chesting the ball down on the hoof, ended up with the ball finding its way to Clarke via Diallo. Cirkin was hacked down in the build up, but the ref played a good advantage (for once) which our Jack took great advantage of. With a typical and increasingly trademark cut inside his defender, he passed it beyond the keeper into the right hand corner of the net. Sweet as honey, we were 2-0 up 82 minutes in.
Diallo was then very unlucky not to add to the tally, but a slightly heavy touch when put through one on one with the keeper resulted in the QPR goalie managing to block his attempt. His fellow subs more than made up for that a few minutes later though. Dan Neil refused to stop attacking despite the clear two goal lead, got to the byline and cut the ball back for Jack to score his second and our third. Jack smashed the ball emphatically into the roof of the net with the keeper having no chance, once again sending the travelling faithful into scenes of euphoria and limbs.
- This side does not give up, and does not settle when ahead neither. It would have been very easy for the lads to dribble it into the corner when 2-0 up with less than ten minutes to go, but the energy of Diallo, Ekwah and Neil inspired us to push and get a third in stoppage time. I bloody love that.
- Patterson once again had a cracking game. He bravely collected high balls time and again (even when under pressure from the lead singer of Cold Play). His clean sheet including a penalty save more than underline the fact he deserves his recent recognition from the England set up. A great evening for another one of our own.
- Our signings from last summer and the winter window really are starting to come good. Ekwah is getting stronger and stronger, Ba is getting slicker with every minute he plays, and even when we rotate the team to rest some of the good-performing starters from the last game, we are still strong enough to outplay and outscore teams who have been established in this league way longer than we are. We are looking very very tasty.
- This result left us 5th in the league, only 3 points from 3rd place and with a game in hand on Luton who are one point ahead of us. We are genuine playoff place contenders, and we have recently quashed the hoodoo we had for so many years at that big gaff in London.
- I think we need to start accepting that we may be able to have a go at that double promotion you know. I’m not booking a hotel in London yet, but I may soon.