Smith and Smyth. They sound like a comedy duo. Like Little and Large, feeding off each other, to bring the house down. Yet for The Palladium, London W1, read Loftus Road, London W12, where QPR’s very own little and large, Smith and Smyth, did just that by scoring Rangers’ goals to send their supporters home with a smile on their faces.
Matt Smith, all 6 ft 6 inches of him and a comparative veteran of over 240 career appearances was paired alongside Paul Smyth, all 5 ft 8 inches in height, and making his professional debut for QPR. “The biggest risk’ of his managerial career, Rangers’ manager Ian Holloway said after the match, in selecting the young Northern Irishman, just 20, who had only signed for the club in August 2017 from the Irish club, Linfield.
After this performance, the Rangers fans will hope that their ebullient manager takes a few more risks, for Smyth was excellent throughout. Small in stature maybe, but big in heart, confidence, skill and speed. The way he sprinted away from the covering Cardiff defenders in the 72nd minute and fired in at the near post to score the winning goal was a moment of real skill and worthy of winning the match. The double somersault which followed was quite something too and reminiscent of the goal celebrations of another Irishman, the legendary Robbie Keane. Rangers’ fans will be hoping that they see a few more of those in the coming weeks and months.
The young Smyth proved the perfect foil for Rangers’ other Smith, who yet again illustrated his value to his team by scoring their equalising goal, a precise header directly from an enormous Jack Robinson throw in and then flicking the ball on to send the young Smyth clear for his winning goal.
This was arguably no more than the home side deserved for their spirited and attacking second half performance, which also saw Luke Freeman hit the bar and young substitute Aramide Oteh foiled late on by visiting keeper, Brian Murphy, following a swift counter.
For Cardiff, this was a fourth defeat on the run, and their charismatic manager, the former Rangers’ ‘gaffer’, Neil Warnock, was not happy. They did take the lead after 54 minutes courtesy of a Joe Ralls penalty, which Rangers will feel was very debatable, but they looked a team short on confidence following their recent defeats.
Another former Ranger, Junior Hoilett, thought that he had equalised late on but was pulled back for offside, a very debatable decision in Warnock’s eyes, yet sometimes football can be cruel.
It was not Hoilett’s day. He was arguably Cardiff’s best attacking option but nothing quite fell for him in front of goal and, to add insult to injury, he was relentlessly booed by the Rangers fans. Hoilett had spent a largely undistinguished 4 year spell at Loftus Road where he never quite fulfilled his undoubted potential and was often criticised for lacking heart and passion for the cause. Yet no Rangers’ fans will ever forget that moment back in May 2014 when Hoilett provided the pass for Bobby Zamora’s match-winning goal in the Championship Play Off Final at Wembley against Derby, arguably one of the greatest moments in the club’s history and for which Zamora will be lauded for ever more. Hoilett will, perhaps harshly, remain a mere footnote.
Football proved once again that it is a game which can provide the full gamut of emotions in a single afternoon. For Hoilett and Warnock, it was a frustrating return to their former club, where they had both experienced career defining highs yet, on the other hand, it can be a joyous game for others. For Paul Smyth, it was a dream debut and a winning goal in front of ‘the Loft’. It does not get better than that. A very happy new year to the young man, for he thoroughly deserved it.