After a dissapointing return to compettitive football, Micah takes a look at today’s result from his perspective…
Football is back! Since Ebere Eze scored QPR’s third against Preston in their final game before life as we know it was suspended, the world seems an entirely different place. As life continues to throw us curveballs and new stories that divide us all into two camps, the distraction of football is very much a welcome one. As the sun beat down on a Loftus Road, the only thing missing was the tribe of supports filling all four sides of their home away from home.
There’s something about Loftus Road (or the KPF) in the glare of the summertime sun that is really special. There’s a kind of familiarity that comes with it, more akin to the start of a new season, rather than the resumption of what had been a relatively productive one until it was curtailed by a global pandemic. QPR were back – and ready to pick up where they’d left off against Preston 105 days earlier.
But the first-half was by no mean an example of ‘picking up where you left off’; Rangers were extremely sluggish and lethargic, struggling to get their creative outlets going. It really did begin to feel like the start of a new season, because this Rangers team was unrecognisable from that one that had gone six games unbeaten pre-Coronavirus.
Perhaps the only thing that did seem familiar was the way Rangers have struggled when being pressed with the same intensity that they press with. Rangers like their time on the ball, something a team scrapping for survival neither respect nor care about. On 7 minutes, Bright found himself triple-teamed and ultimately dispossessed in midfield, allowing Ben Williams to slide in Elliott Simoes to give Barnsley the lead.
That wouldn’t be the only time one of Bright, Chair or Eze found themselves with more than one man on them; Barnsley nullified Rangers most creative players by giving them no space to operate. Rangers struggled with how quickly Barnsley committed men forward and, in turn, how organised they were in getting back and forming a low block.
Although Barnsley threatened occasionally, Rangers didn’t really trouble Walton in the Barnsley goal until and overhit free-kick from Eze nearly caught him off his line. Down the other end, captain Yoann Barbet threw himself in front of a Cauley Woodrow shot after two diagonal balls caught the R’s back four slacking. Rangers’ best chance of the game fell to Masterson, but the Irishman couldn’t get his shot under control from 5 yards following an excellent ball from Eze.
Barnsley played like a team that were scrapping for every point; the type of performance that you’d want to see as an away fan when your team is ‘down there’. Fighting for every 50/50, chasing back after every Rangers counter attack, Barnsley looked like a team that had been counting down the 105 days until the season could restart, whereas Rangers looked like they needed a few more.
The second-half brought the welcome return of Shodipo back in the first team, coming on for Luke Amos. Although the Irish U21 international had featured sporadically here and there, ‘Mide’ looked as though he was finally ready to contribute on a larger scale again. Nothing particularly special in his performance but his sharpness and willingness to run in behind, get on the ball and be direct is a welcome swiss army knife in a team that recently lost another wide player in Marc Pugh.
The second half was better, but the only way was up after a lethargic and sloppy first half. A Eze free-kick early in the half was the perfect height for an unmarked Hugill to head home from just outside the six-yard, but the West Ham loanee couldn’t angle his header and the result was much closer to a Barnsley throw in than a Rangers equaliser. Chair then drilled a threatening ball across the box after a clever pass from Bright, but his cross deflected off Dougall before finding its way into the hands of Walton.
QPR’s tempo increased in the second-half, but Rangers just couldn’t get the ball forward fast enough to deal with the sheer numbers Barnsley were getting behind the ball. On the rare occasion Rangers were able to, they couldn’t quite find a way through. Following a Barnsley corner, Manning’s clearance found Hugill who played in Eze. The R’s number 10 was at a slightly wide angle, but his trademark cut-inside-and-shoot was just over the bar on this occasion. Later in the game, the two combined again, with Eze playing in Hugill this time, but the R’s striker’s effort was weak and should’ve at least threatened the goalkeeper. An effort that really summed up the afternoon for the boys in blue and white.
As the game petered out to a close, Barnsley slowed the game put and hung on for three important points in a fight for survival, whereas QPR’s faint play-off seemed to disappear into the June sunshine. All credit has to be given to the Championship’s bottom side, who executed their game plan to perfection. Rangers meanwhile, were so far off the boil that they were freezing.
Not to be too sentimental or overly-romanticise the importance of fans, but this was one of the games where the Rangers faithful would typically carry them back into the game. As much as the simulated crowd sounds made it seems as though they were there in their numbers, that feeling the fans bring to QPR that intensifies as the game goes on was clearly missing here. Rangers will now need to dust themselves down, shake off the evident rust of the time off and go again with an improved performance against Charlton next Saturday.