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  • Writer's pictureBy Dan Evans

A tale of two halves sums up the mess QPR find themselves in

Queens Park Rangers (1) 1 Dykes 9

Norwich City (0) 1 Idah 46

Nothing is ever straightforward when Queens Park Rangers are involved. One-time club captain Gareth Ainsworth was only as likely to comfortably guide them to Championship survival as former boss Mick Beale was to hang around long enough to oversee a promotion charge – even after promising he would.

Going through three managers in one season is not as not as uncommon as it used to be, getting relegated after topping the table in October would still be quite the achievement.

QPR kicked off Wednesday night’s encounter against Norwich City just a single point above the drop zone. A goalless draw between the sides at Carrow Road in early winter had strengthened the R’s place in the automatic promotion places. At half-time of this latest encounter, they were destined for victory and a sizeable gap from the drop. By the end they had extended their winless run to eight matches, kept out of the bottom three by a late Luton goal at Reading.

Since that night in Norfolk, everything that could go wrong has gone wrong. Beale left for Rangers. Neil Critchley came, won just a single game, and left without anyone truly realising he was ever here. Ainsworth, a man with enough personality to make the impossible probable and something as simple as winning a few games of football to ensure survival appear likely, has struggled to lift a team that has now won just two of 26 matches since that aforementioned stalemate.

It made sense then that the Lower Loft looked sparse and hope was at a premium before kick-off ahead of the return fixture. The new manager had lost seven of his first nine games in charge. He changed both of his centre-backs following a 3-0 defeat to Coventry at the weekend. Coldplay’s ‘Fix You’ was played five minutes before kick-off.

Ainsworth has tried to foster a culture similar to the one that brought such great success for a sustained period of time at Wycombe Wanderers, but doubts have been cast about his ability to make the step up to the Championship.

An insistence on playing a physically gifted yet technically limited front pairing of Chris Martin and Lyndon Dykes has caused concern, yet not half as much as a viral video of the team taking part in lessons to learn the Haka led by a Maori warrior in full costume.

To write off Ainsworth’s methods as gimmicks or his tactical ideas as rudimentary would be to do a disservice to what he achieved in Buckinghamshire, and this first half performance against Norwich more than proved this.

There was no great beauty about the way in which QPR set about the Canaries. They won second balls and they looked for the front men at every opportunity, but there can be no doubt that they were superior to their play-off chasing opponents.

The goal that gave them the lead was simple yet effective. Ilias Chair finding the perfect pass to pick out Dykes before the target man, who proved a mobile and influential presence throughout, controlled on his chest and poked beyond Angus Gunn in the Norwich goal.

The home side continued to be aggressive following the goal, forcing Norwich to panic and give away fouls in response to the bullying that was being handed out to them. Kenneth Paal swung a cross-shot against the far post from one such dead ball situation.

From a QPR perspective, quite what changed after the interval is hard to decipher. The disintegration of their season has been dramatic yet still slow and painful; the reality of relegation setting in just that little bit more with every shambolic goal conceded and each miserable defeat suffered. However, they managed to throw this advantage away in record time.

Adam Idah came on for the visitors at half time and scored within a minute, bundling into the net after Seny Dieng had saved from Gabriel Sara, and the intensity of Ainsworth’s side disappeared.

Norwich began to dominate possession and look ominous in a way they never had in the first half. Idah bullied both Jake Clarke-Salter and Jimmy Dunne on his own as QPR’s controlled aggression gave way to an end-to-end contest they seemed destined to lose.

The second Norwich goal never came though, and that kept QPR’s fragile confidence just about intact. Tim Iroegbunam was denied by the sprawling Gunn as the midfielder looked to capitalised on a defensive mix-up before Paal forced the goalkeeper to turn a corner over his own crossbar.

Even the Loftus Road crowd was back on side by the closing stages, belting out songs of defiance rather than belief as the visitors’ momentum slowed and the game turned to something truly turgid.

More performances like this first half will surely see QPR claw their way to safety. League One is probably where they belong based on their showing in the second period.

QPR: (4-4-2) Dieng – Drewe, Dunne, Clarke-Salter (Dickie 60), Paal – Lowe, Iroegbunam (Amos 69), Field, Chair (Richards 90) – Martin (Adomah 82), Dykes. Subs not used: Archer, Willock, Dixon-Bonner


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