Queen’s Park Rangers 1, Barnsley 0
It was ironic that on a day when Barnsley yet again so frustratingly failed to produce any end product to a long period of domination that one of their former players should come up with a stunning goal to send them sliding to a third successive defeat – and one place nearer the relegation places.
The name of Josh Scowen (pictured) does not appear all that often on the scoresheet – the last time was for Barnsley against Cardiff City in December 2016 – but this one will live long in the memory.
To his credit, despite the brilliance of the strike – described by his ex-boss as ‘a worldie’ – his celebrations were respectfully muted.
Meanwhile the Reds were left to reflect sadly on more missed opportunities, particularly during a first half which they dominated.
It was a point pounced upon by head coach Paul Heckingbottom when he spoke to the media after the game.
“We needed to score when we were on top in the first half,” he said. “We had some really good opportunities and should have capitalised on that. You’ve got to take them. That’s been our season, not scoring whilst you’re on top is a big thing.
“Because of how competitive this league is you know the opposition will have a moment in the game as well, and today they [QPR] have taken theirs.”
He went on: “Probably the only spell when we were second best was the 10 or 15 minutes after half-time, when QPR built up momentum, but even then we were still looking comfortable. It’s taken a worldie from Josh Scowen to win the game.”
As Heckingbottom conceded, this has been the problem since the start of the campaign and the January window recruits – notably Keiffer Moore, Oliver McBurnie and Christoph Knasmuillner – will have to hit the road running if they are to deliver the goalscoring goods which are vital if the Reds are to maintain their Championship status.
Heckingbottom has brought in six new players – the others are defenders Matt Mills and Daniel Piinillos and winger Connor Mahoney – and with only three months of the season remaining there is so little time for them to settle into new surroundings, new formations, new tactics and new team-mates.
Heckingbottom, however, remained upbeat when this became the topic of conversation.
“With the players we brought in,” he said, “we now have some competition in every place. We’ve also got players coming back to add to the group again, so we’re going to have options.”
He did concede, though, that if they wanted to make the most of the signings they would have to be bedded in quickly.
“Then,” he continued, “it’s down to the players performing, fighting and getting into the side, then keeping themselves in the team.”
There was some fighting talk of his own when he concluded: “We’re not going to hide away. I’ve said openly to the players, the press, everyone, that these two months are going to define our season and we have to embrace that. It’s going to be tough, but we’ve got to enjoy the challenge of it.”
Most of all, of course, there has to be a solution of the goalscoring problem which has dogged their progress so far this season.
It was the same old story at Loftus Road – where the Reds have not won since 1950. It was virtually one-way traffic in the first half, so much so that the home team failed to trouble goalkeeper Nick Townsend, who had surprisingly been called up for his first game since 2015 to replace Adam Davies, who had made more than 120 consecutive appearances.
But the finishing by a dominant Barnsley left a great deal to be desired and chances came and went with monotonous regularity.
Twice George Moncur did well to engineer a good shooting position, the second time after a thrilling solo run, but both times his attempt was straight at goalkeeper Alex Smithies.
When an Adam Hammill free-kick was helped on by Moore debutant Mills sent his header over the bar and so it went on – plenty of possession, but nothing to show for it.
The nearest QPR came was when James Perch also headed over from a Luke Freeman corner.
But then, two minutes after the interval, came the goal which was worthy to win any match. Scowen fastened on to the ball from a clearance, cut in from the left and curled his shot gloriously beyond the desperately groping fingers of the helpless Townsend and into the far top corner of the net.
It took the Reds quite a while to recover from that bitter blow and when they did they struggled to create chances, even when the home team were reduced to ten men following the sending off of substitute Ryan Manning, who had been on the field for less than two minutes, for a late challenge on Mills.
Not even the introduction of debutant McBurnie and Ryan Hedges for Hammill and Moore in the 68th minute could change the pattern of the game and the best the Reds could offer was a tame shot from Tom Bradshaw which yet again went straight into the grateful arms of the goalkeeper.
Indeed, ten-man Rangers twice almost doubled their lead in the dying minutes when Townsend was forced into saves from Washington and Osayi-Samuel following speedy counter-attacks.
It left the Reds with only one win in the last 16 matches, just one place and one point above the relegation places, and desperately needing to pick up precious points from successive matches against fellow relegation candidates Hull City (away) Burton Albion (home) and Birmingham City (away) later this month.
But first there is the little matter of a South Yorkshire derby against old rivals Sheffield Wednesday at Oakwell next Saturday!
Queen’s Park Rangers: Smithies; Perch, Onuoha, Lynch, Wszolek, Coousins (Manniing, 67 mins), Scowen, Freeman, Robinson, Smith (Osayi-Samuel, 79 mins), Washington (Bidwell, 90 mins).
Barnsley (4-4-2): Townsend; Yiadom, Milla, Lindsay, Pinillos (Mahoney, 80 mins); Moncur, Gardner, Williams, Hammill (Hedges, 68 mins); Bradshaw, Moore (McBurnie, 68 mins).
Sending off: Manning (QPR).
Bookings: Cousins, Robinson (QPR); Gardner (Barnsley).
Referee: Tony Harrington.