Bielsa's rotation policy helps QPR dream the unthinkable dream - a fourth-round place
QPR 2 Leeds United 1
Marcelo Bielsa is performing a miracle at Leeds United but yesterday afternoon he managed something that only three other coaches have done this century, lose an FA Cup game to Queens Park Rangers.
No one can blame Bielsa for putting promotion first, with his thin Leeds squad increasingly stretched and Derby County coming to Elland Road on Friday night.
Yesterday he rested his top players and put out a defence so inexperienced that even a half-full Loftus Road must have been daunting for them.
It should have been no real surprise that this muscular QPR side eventually had too much, taking the lead from a penalty and then winning the game in the second half from a corner. They deserved it on the balance of play.
It truly is an event for QPR to win a cup game under any circumstances. They must be the most underachieving FA Cup team of this century.
Before yesterday they had gone out at the first hurdle in 15 of their last 17 attempts, a record of unbelievably predictable disappointment.
Only four times in the last 20 years had they progressed through a round, against MK Dons, West Brom, Luton Town and Torquay, and on all four occasions they needed a replay.
The last time QPR won an FA Cup tie at the first time of trying it was 25 January, 1997.
That day Stewart Houston's Rangers, including Danny Dichio, Andy Impey and Gavin Peacock, beat Barnsley 3-2 at Loftus Road in the fourth round.
That game will be remembered forever for Trevor Sinclair's immortal bicycle-kick goal from outside the box.
Was there anything of that quality here? No. Not even close. But there was a hard-working Rangers team, a good mix of youth and experience, many of the players who have helped to drag them quite surprisingly into the top half of the Championship.
They fully deserved their victory and that very unfamiliar feeling of being in the draw for the fourth round of the cup.
There were times when QPR did not look like they believed they could do it, but from the start they should have fancied their chance.
Three of Leeds' back four, Jamie Shackleton, Leif Davis and Aapo Halme, had just five Championship starts between them all season.
With such an inexperienced Leeds defence it was never difficult for QPR to work their way through.
It only required the slightest push. Bailey Peacock-Farrell was busy right from the start, saving from Ebere Eze, Jake Bidwell and Bright Osayi-Samuel in the opening minutes.
So it was little surprise when QPR eventually forced an error from a defence that was not used to being put under this much pressure.
Leeds failed to clear Eze's free-kick and when Bidwell broke into the box, Davis was blindsided and turned straight into a clumsy tackle. Simple inexperience. Aramide Oteh gleefully smacked in the penalty.
It was a deserved lead for QPR, but they were not immaculate at the back themselves.
Matt Ingram never looked comfortable in the Rangers goal and when Lewis Baker tried to catch him out with a long-range free-kick, Ingram spilled it straight into the path of Halme to tuck the ball in.
This Leeds team are ferocious when they spot a weakness in the opposition, and Tyler Roberts nearly put them ahead when he charged down a kick from Ingram soon after.
But Leeds were level at the break and Bielsa knew he needed to strengthen the defence. So Tom Pearce, another youngster, came on for Halme and Davis moved inside to centre-back.
But the further Leeds pushed forward, the more space they left in behind.
Even on their occasional counter-attacks, QPR looked dangerous - Eze running forward at speed, always sensing the gaps.
QPR's aerial advantage from set-pieces, the experienced team against the novice defence, eventually told.
Bidwell had been a threat all day and he had a header tipped around the post by Peacock-Farrell.
And with the next corner-kick he was unmarked again, and this time put his header into the net. QPR could finally dream the unthinkable dream. (© Independent News Service)