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  • Writer's pictureBy Dan Evans

Rangers brushed aside in Critchley's home debut

Queens Park Rangers (0) 0

Luton Town (1) 3 Morris 10, 47 Doughty 81

If Neil Critchley’s first two games in charge of QPR offered hope that he could provide the solidity required to bring Premier League football back to Loftus Road, his third was evidence it may not be so straightforward,

Four points collected and no goals conceded across trips to Preston and Cardiff meant the R’s went into their festive fixture with Luton on the periphery of the Championship playoff places, finally enjoying clear skies after an end to 2022 that has been clouded by managerial uncertainty.

Under Critchley’s predecessor Mick Beale, QPR had been occasionally brilliant; enjoying brief stays in the top two as they scored freely until the Autumn, sweeping aside promotion hopefuls and top six contenders in the process.

But they could also be underwhelming; conceding 24 goals in Beale’s 21 games at the helm and going five without a win before his drawn out yet inevitable departure for Glasgow Rangers.

The new head coach’s start to life in W12 showed signs that the change was right for all parties; Critchley would provide a sturdy defensive backbone to complement the intricate attacking patterns Beale had designed and installed over the summer.

However, QPR were anything but sturdy, and certainly lacked any form of intricacy, in a 3-0 defeat to Luton in what was Critchley’s first experience of the home dugout at Loftus Road.

The evening started badly and only got worse as Carlton Morris gave the visitors a 10th minute lead when he arrowed a shot beyond Seny Dieng following determined approach play by former Charlton man Alfie Doughty.

By that point, striker Morris had already volleyed an acrobatic effort into the arms of Dieng, and he also tested the Senegalese stopper midway through the half on one of a number of occasions when Critchley’s men coughed up possession under little pressure.

Even the return of Ilias Chair, making a first start since contributing 45 minutes towards Morocco’s World Cup heroics in Qatar, failed to inspire a side that has now not won at home since the end of October.

When the diminutive wide man left Luton’s James Bree for dead in the early exchanges, no team-mate was in a position to prosper from his delivery from the flank. When Chair opted to go it alone as QPR chased an instant equaliser, Ethan Horvath was equal to the shot that followed a delightful dribble.

The sense of uncertainty surrounding the R’s new identity under their new boss increased early in the second half as Ethan Laird headed a Luton free kick into the path of Morris to double the lead.

QPR almost found a glimmer of hope on a gloomy evening, only for Tyler Roberts’ 54th minute looping header to bounce clear off the crossbar, and Lyndon Dykes to then somehow poke wide from close range not long after.

With Chair nullified after the break, and his partner in crime Chris Willock brought on in his place rather than alongside him midway through the half, there was little of the attacking verve on show that saw sold out crowds begin to dream under Beale.

A late moment of inspiration instead arrived for the visitors, as Doughty brilliantly slammed home a bouncing ball from range to wrap up the win in the final ten minutes.

The openness of the Championship table means that a very ordinary team or two is likely to make the top six come season’s end. On the evidence of this defeat, Critchley has a fair deal of work on his hands before he gets his new side to such a level on a regular basis.

Rangers: (4-2-3-1) Dieng – Laird, Dickie, Dunne, Paal – Iroegbunam, Field – Shodipo (Adomah 78), Roberts (Richards 78), Chair (Willock 66) – Dykes. Subs not used: Archer, Kakay, Amos, Masterson

Hatters: (3-5-2) Horvath – Bree, Lockyer, Potts (Freeman 75) – Doughty, Clark, Campbell (Berry 84), Mpanzu, Bell – Cornick (Woodrow 58), Morris (Jerome). Subs not used: Isted, Adebayo, Watson


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