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Holloway’s report card – Column
Wednesday, 10th May 2017 17:21 by Ram Chandra

With supporters divided on the future of Ian Holloway after a dire end to the season, Ram Chandra returns to LFW with an in depth analysis of the Bristolian’s second spell in charge so far.


Managing a new club in England ain’t easy in your first season, as Jose Mourinho and Pep Guardiola have proven this year. For Mourinho, the manager of the little engine that could known as Manchester United, he needs at least another transfer window and £200 million to fortify his thin squad. As for Pep, it appears it took him a year to realise that in England, goalkeepers are allowed to use both their legs AND hands. The media has given these two self-professed geniuses a free pass in year one. So why then are certain Rangers fans holding Ian Holloway, who came in with a jumbled squad and no pre-season, to a different standard?

Before we evaluate Holloway’s brief second stint as Rangers’ manager, we should put it in its appropriate context. Ollie entered the frame with QPR in seventeenth place, with Rangers having played dire football under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink. To accommodate Tjarron Chery, Hasselbaink frequently played multiple players out of their favored positions, including Jordan Cousins and Conor Washington.

Within a few months of his tenure, Ollie had bombed out the focal point of our attack, Tjarron Chery, for the smoggy pastures of China; Sebastian Polter, one of our top scorers, was sold to Union Berlin; Sandro and his little remaining knee cartilage were shipped off to Turkey; Luke Freeman, Matt Smith, Sean Goss, Ravel Morrison and Kazenga LuaLua were all brought in January without a preseason; Michael Doughty and Darnell Furlong were recalled from Swindon, leaving Ollie and Bircham with the daunting task of unteaching everything they learned under Tim Sherwood; Ben SadLoss, Nasser El Khayati, Mide Shodipo and Ariel Borysiuk were all sent out on loan; Karl Henry, who featured heavily under Hasselbaink and whose mindless red card against Forest arguably put the nail in the Dutchman’s coffin, has been seemingly locked away like the Gimp in Pulp Fiction; Grant Hall was shifted from a centre back to a hybrid deep-lying midfielder role; Jame Mackie, Jack Robinson and Yeni Ngbakoto returned from long-term injuries; and Ryan Manning, who was moments away from the executioner, managed to become a vital squad player.

In our opening match versus Leeds, our starting XI featured Smithies, Onohua, Caulker, Hall, Bidwell, Henry, Luongo, Ben SadLoss, Chery, Shodipo and Polter- only four of those players featured in our vital win against Forest last week (Smithies, Onohua, Bidwell and Luongo).

We’ve had so much turnover in one year that Rangers fans wouldn’t even be upset if Les Ferdinand pulled a Dianne Abbot trying to remember our squad this season. The only constant through it all was that Jay Emmanuel-Thomas, aka Swazzy, continued to Swazz.

With all that said, I did an autopsy on the Holloway era, and observed a few troubling trends which Holloway will need to address if he’s kept on, including our puzzlingly low number of draws and our peculiar substitution patterns. To me, these anomalies tell a story about Ollie and his managerial philosophy.

Campaign

I truly hate sports and military analogies, but with that said, the best word to understand a grueling season in the Championship is a “CAMPAIGN”—46 matches (48, if you count QPR’s annual early cup exits), featuring multiple mid-week ties over a condensed nine month period. You can punch a ticket to the Championship playoffs with about 70 to 75 points, or about 1.6 points per match. Basically, if you win most of your home matches, draw a healthy number of your away matches and nick the occasional three points away from home, you’re probably in the playoffs.

Which brings me to the most puzzling statistical anomaly of the Holloway era: our lack of draws.

Under Ian Holloway, Rangers somehow managed to only draw three matches out of 30, or one in ten. By contrast, approximately one out of every four Championship matches ended in a draw this year (excluding matches in which Ollie was involved).

I concede the sample size is limited, but that does not stop me from drawing (pun intended) certain conclusions from our lack of draws. These conclusions are highlighted by the contrast to the negative Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who managed 13 draws in his 27 league matches in charge last season (about one draw out of every two matches).

In short, I would like to see Holloway adopt an element of cynicism and a more organised, strategic approach to accumulating points over the campaign. Ian Holloway’s managerial philosophy reminds me of Ned Stark from Game of Thrones. Both are stubborn and principled with an undeniable track record of success. In the case of Ned Stark, however, his stubbornness belied a naiveté and lack of cynicism that ultimately ended with his head on a spike.


Losing six matches in a row is embarrassing, and Holloway managed to do it twice in a 30 match run. In baseball, there is a concept known as the “stopper”, a wily starting pitcher who may not be the most talented, but relies on guile and wherewithal to stop a losing streak (for the three of you who get the reference, think Andy Pettitte).

Losing is contagious and begets a vicious cycle of losing, loss of form and confidence and fan unrest. I wish Holloway would have opted for “stopper” tactics during our losing runs, doing whatever was necessary to churn out a result (like Mourinho against City a few weeks ago) and get our season back on track.

For starters, three clean sheets in 30 matches under Holloway is frankly unacceptable, particularly when we have one of the best shot-stoppers in the division. I don't care what the Rangers twitter mob says: we also have too much defensive talent for this to be the case. Holloway needs to figure out how to turn some of our losses into draws, either through greater defensive organization or the occasional negative tactics. Certain draws can feel like wins, and most Rangers fans would point to our draws away at Newcastle and Leeds as among our best performances under Holloway.

Just ask Garry Monk- one prolonged negative run can torpedo an otherwise successful campaign. This can’t happen again next year.

I didn’t like Hasselbaink and I am genuinely delighted he’s gone- it is interesting to note, however, that his longest losing streak was 2 matches as Rangers boss.

Defensive organization

“I see no changes/Wake up in the morning and I ask myself/Is life worth living/Shall I blast myself?”

The above lyrics are from Tupac’s classic “Changes”, a brilliant piece of social commentary in which Tupac highlights the plight of the American inner city. I do sometimes wonder though if Ian Holloway listened to these lyrics before picking our starting XI.

Enough ink has been spilled, and Twitter characters feverishly typed, discussing Ollie’s starting lineups from match to match, so I’ll spare the reader. However, I don’t think we’ve spent enough time thinking about what I call “meta-tinkering”, in which Ian Holloway tinkered with the lineups and formations within a match after tinkering with the starting XI between matches.

Come to think of it, tinkering probably isn’t even the appropriate word to describe what Ollie did to our backline within certain matches. Perhaps “reconstructive surgery” is the more fitting label.

Against Huddersfield at home, we started with a back five of Wszolek-Onohua-Hall-Perch-Bidwell (with Wszolek and Bidwell as wingbacks). After surrendering two goals in the first half, we shifted to a back four of Perch-Onohua-Hall-Bidwell. In the fifty third minute, we took off Bidwell and shifted Manning to left back (Perch-Onohua-Hall-Manning).

Against Sheffield Wednesday at home, we started with a back 5 of Petrasso-Perch-Lynch-Bidwell-Robinson (with Petrasso and Robinson as wingbacks). After about 35 minutes, we went to a back four of Perch-Lynch-Bidwell-Robinson. In the sixty second minute, we took off Robinson and Manning moved to left back (Perch-Lynch-Bidwell-Manning). Then, in the seventy fifth minute, Manning came off and we either played a back three or a back four with Mackie in a quasi-right back/wingback position (Mackie(?)-Perch-Lynch-Bidwell).

You get the idea.

While I do believe tactical flexibility may be appropriate in certain circumstances, I generally do not find such wholesale changes to a backline to be productive. At one point after the nth change against Sheffield Wednesday, Luke Freeman came to the bench quizzically raising his arms like a man who was unsure if he was a professional footballer or trapped in a dream sequence from Inception. These changes were genuinely confusing for me, and I watch most matches sober. I can’t imagine what it’s like to be a player asked to execute at the highest level in the midst of all these mid-match changes.

For a second, though, let’s put aside the question of whether we ever need to tinker with our backline so significantly. Instead, lets focus on the efficacy of such changes. Unless you have a squad full of versatile, total footballing geniuses, it is not reasonable to expect players to remember how to play so many styles and still synchronize with one another. Most players lack the bandwidth, and our coaches don’t have enough training time, to instill organization when playing that many different formations with that many different combinations of players.

And lest we forget that QPR is a championship team with a squad full of Championship players. In FIFA terms, we’re lucky if one of our players has an 80 rating in one attribute, let alone three or four. We don’t have a James Milner who can shift from leftback to a false nine without batting an eye. Our players are limited- if they weren’t, they’d be in the Premier League. Let’s get them organized and playing within their comfort zones.

Ultimately, Ollie has tried to run before we even could crawl, let alone walk. Let’s first figure out a system and our best backline, and get that all right before we move on to third and fourth systems and makeshift backlines. Let’s make sure each player can do their primary job first before they’re asked to do another. Take Mike Petrasso for example. The young Canadian has yet to prove he can even play his natural position of winger at the Championship level, yet in his only start of the season against Wednesday, he was tasked with being a right wingback for 35 minutes.

Crawl. Walk. Run. In that order, please.

Substitution patterns, part two

Ian Holloway has frequently stated that one of the reasons Blackpool went down in 2011 was due to their predictability. Other explanations include their meager budget and comparative lack of talent. There is an alternative hypothesis, though: Blackpool had a terrible habit of dropping points at the end of matches.

Look at Blackpool’s 2010-2011 season- it’s truly stunning. Blackpool somehow managed to drop an incredible 15 points (!) by conceding goals after the seventy ninth minute of matches. Blackpool finished one point from safety that year. In QPR’s last Premier League campaign, we had a similar affliction. Even then, QPR only dropped 11 points due to conceding after the seventy ninth minute. Perhaps the moral of the Blackpool Premier League campaign is not one about the dangers of predictability, but rather the virtue of tactical cynicism and defensive organisation.

This all brings me to the next anomaly of the Holloway era: our lack of defensive substitutions from winning positions or drawing positions where a draw would be a good outcome. I’m generally a mellow person, but when we were 2-nil ahead against Forest, needing just to hold on to ensure our safety, I nearly had an aneurysm when I saw our first substitution was Jamie Mackie for Conor Washington- despite the fact that we already had multiple forwards on the pitch, and defensive-minded players were sitting on the bench. This is not the first time Ian Holloway has made attacker-for-attacker substitutions, or has opted to keep two strikers on the pitch when we were in front.

I went through every substitution that Ian Holloway has made when we were winning to determine how frequently his substitutions were of a defensive nature- surprisingly, he very rarely made defensive substitutions when we were ahead. Arguably, swapping any player with tired legs for a player with fresh legs is a defensive move, but I have opted to not categorize any “attacker-for-attacker” substitutions as being “defensive”. Excluding substitutions where players were subbed off due to injury, of the 18 substitutions Ian Holloway made while we were winning, only 3(!) were what I’ve labelled defensive. The most common substitution type from leading positions appears to be a direct striker-for-striker swap (despite the fact that Holloway already deploys two strikers).

My methodology is crude and admittedly a bit subjective, which is why I have provided my findings below. A reasonable reader can surely disagree with some of my categorizations, but its undeniable how infrequently Holloway opted for the “negative” change.

Part of the explanation for this anomaly is that quite a number of our defensive minded players at the start of the season were unavailable to Holloway (i.e., Henry, Borysiuk, Cousins and Sandro), and we had injuries to our backline (i.e., Furlong and Hall). And I do note that, notwithstanding Holloway’s non-defensive substitution patterns, we very rarely dropped points from leading positions. Having said all that, I would like to see a bit more cynicism from Holloway when we’re nursing a lead- taking off a second striker for an extra man in midfield will not kill you!

Final Grade

I will give Ollie a 5.5 out of 10 his season- a 5/10 for tactics and a 6/10 for everything else. Bang average.

I don’t think we truly appreciated how much crap Holloway had to deal with when he got here, including managing our bloated squad and improving our boring playing style. When Ollie arrived, we were in seventeenth place. The best he could have realistically done is keep us up, and he (barely) did. He resuscitated Manning’ career, restored Washington’s confidence, developed Furlong, found a steal in Luke Freeman and brought back some life to Loftus Road. At times, Rangers played exciting, swashbuckling football, and we had a few impressive runs of form.

Ultimately, though, we were too inconsistent. And in trying to tinker with our lineups and formations, Ollie managed to squander a lot of the goodwill and credibility he had built up with our fan base.


Should Ollie stay, he will not be judged on this campaign, but ultimately on the campaign to come. However, our fans will have little patience with prolonged losing spells, defensive disorganization, persistent Route 1 long balls to Matt Smith and excessive tinkering, both between and within matches.

Do I think Ollie should come back? I’m still undecided. Tactically, “he is what he is”, but he does have a track record of getting teams promoted. If I had to choose today, I am very slightly leaning towards the “Remain” camp.

Echoing Clive’s sentiment, though, I do believe that any decision that Tony and Ruben make must be made now and not in October or November.

Links >>> Ram’s analysis of Luke Freeman

The Twitter @loftforwords

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londonscottish added 22:05 - May 10
"Crawl. Walk. Run. In that order, please." Love that but more to the point a really interesting analysis.

That baffling series of formations after the international break really hacked me off. And also the subs....the subs. Even more baffling.

So it's interesting to get a proper technical breakdown.

Not that it makes any of it feel one iota better.

In fact it makes it feel a whole lot worse TBH.





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Nov77 added 02:42 - May 11
"he does have a track record of getting teams promoted"

He has an even greater record of getting teams relegated
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jonno added 06:19 - May 11
Interesting article. The one thing I would say regarding the few defensive substitutions to close out a game would be that maybe Ollie believes that just allows the opposition to push more players forward as they realise that our attacking intent has been diminished. Maybe he feels that to continue with some form of attack in the last part of the game is actually a better way of defending?
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DesertBoot added 08:56 - May 11
Superb article and analysis Ram, thankyou. Most teams in the division have a style of play - watching Brighton, Preston and down to Wigan, you know how they play.
Watching us most of the season was baffling and Ollie trying to be clever. He constant changing and tweaking confused us and often played into the hands of the opposition.
I'm still just about in the "Remain" area.
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snanker added 10:04 - May 11
Great read thanks Ram. Yes re draws scenario we lost 14 of Ollie's games by the single goal & our inability to keep a clean sheet constantly undermining any good work further up the pitch. Need an old fashioned physical centre back like Wicks, Macca or Peacock commanding and a good reader of the game with right place at the right time professional nouse and know how on the pitch and that's just a start. .Interesting times are imminent down W12
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francisbowles added 10:46 - May 11
Nice article and food for discussion.

Correct me if I am wrong but weren't all the defensive changes made when we were behind and therefore they were our plan b, c or d? Haven't we criticised other managers for not having a plan b?

With the lack of defensive substitutions weren't we moaning about the boring football under JFH? Isn't it the case that we had a habit of sitting back and inviting teams on to us, which contributed to lots of late goals during the early spell of JFH and in our top division days?

As for Ollie, I am undecided but if he does stay he desperately needs an experienced calmer person with him. Ollie and BIrch two peas in a pod?

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Myke added 23:31 - May 11
I know any reference to Chelsea in a positive light is 'frowned upon' here, but the key to their success this season is having not one but two defensive midefielders in front of their back 3. This cuts most danger off at source and even makes Luiz look good! If the back 3 are adequately protected then they can afford to play higher up the pitch without fear of being caught out. The wing backs can then push up while the likes of Hazard can play close to Costa without having any defensive responsibilities at all. Even one really quality defensive midfielder can make all the difference. Remember how Derry shielded the defence allowing not just Tarrabt a free reign but also contributing to Kenny keeping a record number of clean sheets. Look how few clean sheets we had this season despite having one of the top keepers in the division. The value of ball-winning midfelders cannot be overstated. Are Luongo/Manning/ Cousins good enough? Will we even get the chance to find out? - Great article Ram
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konpego added 18:44 - May 14
I missed one vital Component in your analysis...
Our failure to turn games around!
When we scored first we rarely lost BUT when we conceded
first I am not sure we ever won a game this season, and we
only got the odd draw from a losing position...
(I haven't studied our results in depth, though)
What do you make of that?
Heads hanging when we concede?
Where is the leader on the pitch? A Derry, a Hill etc?
In my opinion, we need characters! We need some steel!
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