If last Saturday’s win was massive, this one comes a close second. And as a week ago the players did everything we could have asked of them, which is to the credit of Lee Bowyer and his people. You felt before the game that we should be able to outcompete QPR, given the difference in importance of the result for the two sides, and that proved to be the case (which is not to say QPR did not try). When you looked around at the end and looked for the key people of the game, they were all in red shirts.
We lined up as against Hull, with a basic 4-4-2, Hemed and Bonne up front. And we came out of the traps the faster, playing some decent stuff. Nevertheless QPR caused the first moment of danger as Lockyer made his only mistake of the afternoon, willing ball to go out for a goal kick only for their guy to get around him. That he got away with no yellow card for the pull back which followed was astonishing. No matter, the free kick was excellently punched away by Phillips and before long we had a second corner of the game. The first had sailed harmlessly over everyone but this one was on the money and Pratley made it his. Their keeper seemed to go the wrong way at first and was unable to adjust in time, palming the header onto the inside of the post but not keeping it out.
With the goal in the bag we didn’t sit back but perhaps inevitably QPR came more into it, giving the ball away less in key areas and picking up free kicks. One bit of danger involved Oshilaja getting clipped by their guy as he went past and although the ball ended up in our net the free kick was given our way. At the other end some great approach play ended with Hemed in space just inside their area, although he seemed to stumble as he shot and the chance went begging. Morgan found space down the left and somehow his low cross evaded everyone. Then Bonne was played in down the left and, with nobody managing to stay with him, he opted for the shot from a tight angle (perhaps a Jensen deft chip would have worked better), which was turned aside for a corner.
QPR enjoyed more of the game in the final 15 minutes or so of the half, giving the ball away less and with our front two getting less service. But at the break we were in a good position, playing well. Aside from the couple of dodgy moments we had protected our goal well, gave up no clear opportunities with Phillips not having a shot to save despite QPR looking confident in possession. By contrast we had one and could have had another.
Felt that if we could start the second half as we did the first and grab a second we would be able to see out the match. But it was QPR who began the brighter and fashioned what was to prove their best chance of the game. Patient build-up play ended with a ball into the box that caught us for once short of numbers and their guy found the space for the shot. But Phillips pulled off an excellent save to push it away.
We had a couple of decent situations but failed to make the best of them and as the hour was up the changes began. Hemed, who had been very good in the first period of the game but seemed to fade, was replaced by Aneke and Doughty came on for McGeady, who had played his part.
We went on to create more opportunities, almost getting Bonne played in, Aneke turning in the box but not connecting properly with the shot, opportunities from corners, a ball in finally headed into the net by Bonne, who had been so far offside for so long that the linesman eventually had to flag. But not surprisingly we were playing more on the break by now. The only time we got caught out was when Oshilaja made a hash of a good position outside their box and they sprang forward quickly, the resulting panic seeing Pratley trying to hold the fort and getting a yellow while an offside flag brought the move to a conclusion. Oshilaja gave way for Purrington not long after.
As we entered the final 10 minutes the priority was keeping possession and running down the clock. Bonne and Morgan departed, replaced by Green and Field, with Aneke operating as the lone forward (which he did very well, carrying the ball to the corner flag when necessary). Understandably it looked like we were trying to tie things up. And we did indeed see out the game, including five minutes of stoppage time, without serious alarm, almost grabbing a second as Doughty created something out of nothing and got in a decent shot turned away for a corner.
A neutral might say that QPR were a little unlucky to get nothing from the game, but they didn’t have a match-winner in their side. For us, Phillips made the crucial save when we needed him to, Matthews was outstanding, Lockyer and Pearce kept out just about everything thrown their way, Oshilaja made crucial tackles. In front of them Pratley – who I would make my man of the match – worked tirelessly and made crucial contributions in both boxes, Cullen was equally effective, Morgan, McGeady and Doughty (and Green) all contributed well, while the forwards ran themselves into the ground. Again, nobody could have asked for more.
With the later games still going on we have an away win for Luton while Hull and Middlesbrough are both winning. As things stand despite consecutive wins we are still only three points above the relegation spots, which will be cut to two if Huddersfield get anything from their game tomorrow. Cardiff away is obviously going to be tough, but all we can do is focus on ourselves. Nobody can question we have the character needed to stay up.
Phillips: 9/10 – Made the save when we needed him to, dealt with everything else.
Matthews: 9/10 – Thought he was excellent from start to finish, against lively opponents down the flanks.
Lockyer: 9/10 – Can’t really dock him a point for the error which ought to have seen him pick up a yellow. Otherwise, as against Hull, outstanding.
Pearce: 9/10 – Determined, committed and effective.
Oshilaja: 8/10 – Like a week ago gave away rather too many free kicks for comfort and was fortunate to get the free kick when their guy went past him. But also made loads of tackles and interceptions.
McGeady: 8/10 – Good performance, intelligent use of the ball.
Pratley: 9/10 – Outstanding and tireless, plus he got the goal. As the commentator pointed out when the changes were being made you thought Bowyer might take him off to avoid the risk of a second yellow, but that proved not to be necessary.
Cullen: 9/10 – Truly effective work in relieving the pressure on the defence, knows how to buy a free kick when we need the breather.
Morgan: 8/10 – Another good game, both on the right and the left after Doughty came on.
Bonne: 8/10 – Ran himself into the ground. Thought he was a bit sluggish early on but put himself about and came close to getting on the scoresheet.
Hemed: 8/10 – Very effective in the first 30 mins but did fluff his shooting chance and was fading by the time he was replaced.
Aneka: 8/10 – Must scare the life out of defenders given his pace allied to physique. Held the ball better in the late stages than a week ago.
Doughty: 8/10 – Impressive contribution in the final 30 minutes, almost got a second for us.
Purrington: 8/10 – Slotted in very well for the final stages.
Green: 8/10 – Not much chance to affect the game but played his part.
Field: 8/10 – As with Green, not on for long.