“The Case For The Defence” – Reaction to dispiriting defeats for QPR and Wasps

It is never good when your football team lose at home to one of their bitter local rivals. It is even worse when your rugby team then lose at home too to one of their oldest rivals. A weekend that started with much optimism ends in such pessimism and feelings of deflation. Sunday night blues.

We have all been there but it’s never nice. It’s painful in fact. You can barely bring yourself to reading a match report, you certainly don’t want to watch the highlights and as for social media and phone ins, no thank you. It’s all going to be so negative, full of moans and groans and that’s certainly no good for anyone’s wellbeing. You feel like you want to close your eyes and try and forget it, or simply pretend it never happened. Bring on Monday and a new week, and how often does anyone say or think that ? A very rare feeling indeed. And all such a contrast to a victorious weekend when you ‘just can’t get enough’ of reports, reaction, interviews and social media, when you dine out on the sweet taste of success.

But back to the present. In the cold light of day, or even in the midnight hour, sat in the quiet with just a ticking clock for company, there can be a time for reflection, a pause for thought. It is never much fun trying to analyse a defeat, we would all much rather move on and forget, but sometimes it can be quite therapeutic to review what your eyes have witnessed at first hand, to try and put everything in context. To draw a line under proceedings. A sort of healing process.

On Friday night, QPR hosted Fulham in an important West London derby under the Loftus Road lights. There was a real buzz about the place, with noise, passion and tension in equal measure. Local bragging rights were at stake after all.

Both teams were ‘full on’ from the off, no quarter asked or given. A proper, full hearted and committed London derby. Players giving everything and putting their bodies on the line, throwing themselves into tackles and blocking shots, defending their goal as if their lives depended upon on it. Fans love that level of energy, commitment and desire from their charges. It should be taken as read but in this day and age of big money and player power, some fall short. That certainly was not the case at Loftus Road on Friday night. All the players from both clubs could look at themselves in the mirror after the match knowing that they had given their all, they had left nothing out there, as the pundits might say. That’s all a manager and all the fans can ask for.

Defence is key. Do not let the opposition through. Do not let them breach the line. Give them nothing.

In what was a very entertaining match to the neutral, if there is such a person, both Rangers and Fulham contributed in equal measure to the drama, often end to end excitement. Attack and counter attack in the blink of an eye. A  contrast of styles, the often slick inter passing of the skilful Fulham side against the rather more direct Rangers approach.

Yet ultimately the match was decided by the superior defensive qualities of the men from Craven Cottage. Post match statistics revealed that QPR had 25 efforts on goal of which only four were on target and of which only one found the back of the net. A poor return it could be argued but huge credit must be given to the Fulham rearguard. They literally threw themselves into blocks and challenges, Rangers simply could not find any space to create clear cut shooting opportunities. Indeed their only goal, scored by Conor Washington in the second minute of nine minutes of injury time, took a deflection off an unfortunate flying Fulham body and flew into the net. In the remaining seven minutes after that, as Rangers desperately sought an equaliser, there were further blocks, a clearance off the line, goal attempts falling just wide and goalkeeping heroics. It was that sort of night, yet a Fulham defensive effort of the highest quality.

Rangers defended equally well for the most part too. Fulham’s opening goal was also a result of wicked deflection, off the sliding foot of Rangers central defender Jack Robinson as he attempted to block a shot which then completely wrong footed the Rangers goalkeeper Alex Smithies. Desperately unlucky for the Rangers men.

Yet the deciding moment was provided by a smart low left footed finish by Fulham’s Stefan Johansen. For one moment in the match, Rangers defence was lax, Johansen had too much time on the edge of the penalty area , one touch to control, a second touch to look up and pick his spot and a third to shoot. Precision. Goal. Two shots on target all match and two goals. Game over.

Then again, QPR have lost the last ten times that they have played on a Friday so perhaps this was really no surprise at all!

Fast forward to Sunday afternoon. To the Ricoh Arena. Wasps v Bath.  An occasion to celebrate 150 years of the Wasps. Yet two teams stuttering and coming into the match after indifferent starts to the season. Both teams had conceded many tries in defeats the previous week so no doubt much of the preparation in the lead up to the match would have been about shoring up susceptible defences.

So it proved. Whilst Wasps clearly missed the attacking prowess of Robson, Cipriani, Lovobalavu and Le Roux, plus Hughes for the second half, they still had a decent back line yet all their attacking ideas were completely blunted. Wasps could find no space at all and hardly broke the gain line all afternoon such was the ferocity, vigour, commitment and organisation of the Bath defence. As the game went on Wasps became more disjointed and desperate and it seemed that all sense of teamwork eroded into individual sorties, which were destined for failure. Indeed, it seemed that there were never going to score a try even in a month of Sunday’s, which was really something of a surprise as it has been nearly 18 months since Wasps went tryless in a single match. Huge credit to Bath after their mauling by Newcastle the previous week.

To be fair, Wasps’ defence was equally solid and was only breached once, with less than three minutes to go, as Semesa Rokoduguni raced onto a clever chip through by Jonathan Joseph, which proved to be the final nail in the coffin for Wasps. However, the match was already won by then as Bath had eeked out a nine point lead at that stage, which was not undeserved as they had looked the more dangerous team throughout and had stifled Wasps completely.

So in days when we all go to football and rugby matches be entertained and to see goals and tries, and hopefully our teams win, it is often the less glamorous parts of the games that prove decisive. Coaches earn their corn for devising defensive strategies and the players for putting their bodies on the line and successfully implementing them.

As for us supporters, well, it can all be just so disappointing. Sunday nights can be wretched after such experiences. Yet reflection can bring a dose of realism and perspective and arguably an appreciation of some of the more dogged elements of sport. Defence is never considered glamorous yet it is critical and it always provides a basis for the more exciting,  thrilling and attacking aspects of all sport. Sometimes, as hard as it may seem, us supporters just have to accept defeat. After all, a true supporter has to experience the defeats to really appreciate the victories and successes.

In the meantime, on this dispiriting Sunday night, QPR and Wasps supporters must begrudgingly show their appreciation for the defensive qualities of their weekend opponents, Fulham and Bath. Time is a great healer so roll on Monday, it can’t come soon enough.

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