With the inevitability that in most years QPR will not be topping the table, or making that trip to Wembley thanks to a succession of victories in the cup, it is natural to look to other areas where the club has had some success. For example, recently we have seen the youth system finally produce players who look comfortable playing in the first team, and will hopefully continue do so in the future. One other area that Rangers have tended to excel at in most years is the ability to score a handful of spectacular goals each season.
With that in mind, the 2016/17 campaign has been a hugely disappointing one for Queens Park Rangers on that front. Now, before I go any further, I should add that I am putting this article together in the aftermath of the 2-1 defeat to Bristol City - so if we get a glut of fantastic goals in the final couple of matches, I apologise for jumping the gun. But if there is no change this will probably go down as the poorest year in the modern era for truly great R’s goals.
Prior to the late 1980s, only a certain number of Rangers games would be televised, so there would be many great moments that live on only in the memories of those who were in attendance. I have heard many a tale of a spectacular QPR goal that cannot be found on film. But that excuse hasn’t carried any weight for a number of decades, thanks to every goal getting caught on camera. If I had to pick my Goal of the Season thus far, I would go for Tjaronn Chery, with his free-kick from 30 yards, in the home league fixture against Blackburn Rovers. Although I am not in favour of set-pieces winning such contests, I am happy to say it was outstanding - and if I had to draw up a list of the best-ever Queens Park Rangers free-kicks, I would probably put it on the shortlist.
Yet looking at the rest of the goals that have been scored this season, it is disappointing to see that set-piece from the Dutchman is far and away the best effort of the season. This isn’t to say that there have not been some good goals this season. Idrissa Sylla scored with a couple of fine diving headers, Seb Polter’s strike against Leeds on the opening day, was delightful. Even Sandro limped off the physio’s table, to score excellent goals in the League Cup, before his customary disappearing act. It does make you wonder if there is an award for the best goal this year, will Chery be flying in from China to collect a trophy for that effort? Will he be thanking everyone for winning the award for best goal, via the big screen? Or in typical R’s style, will any such award be given to an inferior goal because the Dutch midfielder is no longer at the club?
Perhaps the dearth of great goals this season was perfectly summed-up by the visit of strugglers Rotherham a few weeks ago. It was one of those fixtures pundits and supporters felt we should easily win. Sure enough, it went to form, with Rangers running out 5-1 winners. Yet by a country mile, the best goal of the game came from Rotherham’s Joe Newell, with that outstanding volley from almost 30 yards. Yet even as a connoisseur of great Rangers goals, it should be said that the quality and quantity of such efforts rarely reflects how the club have progressed over the course of a given season. With that in mind, let us take a look at how QPR have performed each year in this decade, in relation to the great goals that have accompanied those campaigns.
The Championship-winning year, in which Moroccan playmaker Adel Taarabt excelled. Among his 19 goals that year, he could have easily produced his own personal Goal of the Season shortlist of the very highest quality. Among the pick of Taarabt’s goals, were the nutmeg/curling shot against Swansea, his brace against Preston, and his glorious chip over the goalkeeper at Cardiff City. Backing up Adel that year, Ale Faurlin produced his own candidate for Goal of the Season, with a perfectly hit drive from outside the penalty-area, against Sheffield United. Excellent effort on both fronts.
Our first year back in the Premier League in 15 years was, not surprisingly, a much tougher affair. Not for the only time in the 2010s, there would be a pattern of the best goals of the season being very similar. Tommy Smith against Wigan, and Akos Buzsaky versus Swansea City, were both outstanding long-range efforts. You would have trouble claiming one was better than the other, because they were near identical shots. Among the best of the rest were Jamie Mackie’s solo goal at Blackburn Rovers, and another pair of magical moments from Adel Taarabt - this time with the visit of the North London pair of Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur, with a solo strike and free-kick respectively.
With just 30 league goals all season, it was the WORST league tally in the club’s history. Both on and off the pitch, QPR were a laughing stock, so it would have been no surprise had there not being a single outstanding goal during this miserable period. Yet, exactly the opposite thing happened, and the quality of great strikes was most impressive. Once again, Adel Taarabt lead the way, with memorable strikes in London derbies. On this occasion, there was his powerfully hit curling shot from well outside the penalty-area against West Ham. Then, against Fulham, there was his dribble forward, followed by a sweet strike with the outside of his right foot, which found the bottom left-hand corner of the net. The new boys got in the act as well. The high point of Andros Townsend’s excellent loan spell was a left-footed volley from well outside the area, which beat the Sunderland goalkeeper. Superb control and accuracy. And probably the best goal of the bunch was from Loic Remy. Against Wigan, a counter-attack saw Rangers go from one end of the pitch to the other in well under 10 seconds, and the French striker’s shot from outside the penalty-area flew across the penalty-area into the opposite corner of the net.
After all the difficulties of the relegation season, the 2013/14 Championship season was a much different affair, with QPR spending the entire season in the top six. So with a much more preferable league position and a plentiful supply of wins, logically, great goals should have been easier to come by. But once again a totally inconsistent pattern came into play. Among truly spectacular goals, we could only really boast Charlie Austin’s drive from 30 yards against Charlton Athletic in that category. Even a mere three years later, although the season would culminate in that memorable last-gasp promotion at Wembley, few supporters look back on the style of football played this season with any great fondness. Perhaps the shortage of great goals from that campaign was akin to holding up a mirror to the type of football that was being played that year.
History does have a habit of repeating itself where QPR are concerned. Once again a terrible league campaign was accompanied by a glut of brilliant Rangers goals. This time the shortlist consisted of Austin’s brilliant turn and volley at Southampton (which may well have tempted the Saints to go out and buy him a while later). Again in a losing cause, Matt Phillips scored with an outrageous 45-yard shot at Crystal Palace. Bobby Zamora’s second most famous goal for the club was that ridiculous chip over the West Brom goalkeeper, from an even more ridiculous angle. And Leroy Fer did show what he was capable of, at his best, with a 30-yard strike against Newcastle United. With such a heavy burden on the shoulders of Charlie Austin, like in 2012/13, the problem this season was once again not a lack of great goals, but the shortage of the bread-and-butter efforts from the forward line, in between.
A most peculiar season, when it came to spectacular strikes. Although not of the same quality of the previous year, there were some very fine efforts. Yet strangely enough, most of them seemed to be carbon-copies of each other. In the exciting 4-3 win over Bolton Wanderers, Chery and Jay Emmanuel-Thomas both hit curling shots from outside the area. By a curious coincidence, they were both right-footed efforts from players who actually prefer the use of the left peg. Junior Hoilett produced an almost identical finish to the one from Tjaronn Chery, this time in the London derby against Brentford. Getting in on the act, Karl Henry surprised many supporters by showing a moment of similar quality, also with a 25-yard curler, in the final home game of the season, against Bristol City. And among other contenders for Goal of the Season last year, in the 3-2 home loss to Middlesbrough, Chery was at it again - with a left-footed curling shot this time. And from the same match, Jamie Mackie’s left-footed volley through a crowd of players was just about the only shortlisted effort that did not resemble all the others. So with the notable exception of the 2010/11 season, there does appear to be little in common when in comes to the fortunes of Queens Park Rangers and the number of truly memorable goals that get scored each year. With that in mind, the law of averages would ensure that sooner or later there would be a season with little in the way of spectacular goals - and so far, 2016/17 has fitted the bill.
Yet even as a great fan of memorable QPR goals, I believe it is important not to read too much into the dearth of them this season The 2016/17 campaign has not been a great one. But equally, despite the disappointing league position, Rangers have got their act together in other areas, like moving on from signing has-beens on excessive wages - and as I pointed out at the beginning, the transformation with the youth system. If I was asked which was the best-ever season for great Rangers strikes, then I have no hesitation in going back exactly 20 years. The 1996/97 season isn’t usually remembered with any great fondness. It started with the shock departure of Ray Wilkins - and Stewart Houston never won over the QPR support. After 13 years in the top flight, the anticipated promotion charge never happened. And as with this season, there was a disappointingly high number of home defeats.
But this was also the year Trevor Sinclair scored with THAT overhead kick against Barnsley, and Danny Dichio struck a 35-yard volley at Wolverhampton Wanderers. Both would undoubtedly be worth a place in any fan’s list of the 10 best-ever Rangers goals caught on film. And in addition to those memorable efforts, there were numerous other outstanding efforts. For example, John Spencer’s brilliant turn and driving run, followed by a shot in the top corner of the net from 25 yards against Grimsby. Or Trevor Sinclair’s 40-yard lob over the Manchester City goalkeeper. And they were just the tip of the iceberg.
Yet in their own way those great goals do have their own important place in the bigger scheme of things. Any such effort will often be the one thing supporters talk about more than anything else as they make their way home. It is always a source of great pride when one of our players wins a TV Goal of the Month competition, or makes the shortlist for Goal of the Season. Like Bobby Zamora did with his West Bromwich goal two years ago. And, of course, numerous former players, like Mark Falco, Andy Sinton and Martin Rowlands, are fondly remembered for their own numerous strikes. With each new campaign bringing its own challenges and opportunites, hopefully the 2017/18 season will be a lot more productive on the golden goals front. Because as far as I’m concerned that has been a missing ingredient from QPR’s football this season.
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