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Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 0 Norwich 1
at 12:48 24 Sep 2018

It's lucky Clive pays me for this (he doesn't) because trying to pick six talking points out of that boggiest of bog standard games (and that's being kind) is like finding six talking points about a winter tree, bereft of colour and leaves. Sure, there's metaphor to be had there, but beyond that, what?

1. THE UNDROPPABLES: So, here we are with a similar situation to last season. Back then, it was Scowongoman - three midfielders all playing well, but for the benefit of the team, the shape needed to be changed, so we could go to a back four and get more width into our play and be better at the back. It was difficult, but eventually it worked out.

This season the problem already seems more acute. We have four good players in attacking positions: Eze, Freeman, Wells, Hemed. Two of them fare best in the number 10 position, so both have to be played out of position. All four are playing well, and all four are important to the team. And yet, the feeling is one is going to have to make way for the benefit of the side.

The trouble is, who is it? Eze is the only one scoring on even a semi-regular basis, and he's also our best player and someone we will likely have to sell next summer, so he has to play. Freeman creates most of our chances and is a valuable player - someone who can hold on to the ball. Wells has been excellent since he arrived. Hemed was not incredible on Saturday, but still wins more in the air than any of our other strikers.

Yet, the situation does not suit Eze nor Freeman. They can play well together and the system can work, as it did at Bolton. But these four are in a position where if you do play them all, and it seems like we almost have to, then there's almost no flexibility for the side as a whole. Not only is there not much flexibility, you end up having a game-changer like BOS sat on the bench, because you have to take off an important player to get him on the pitch.

On Saturday, first half especially, the impressive Max Aarons was able to constantly get forward down our right, exploiting the lack of sharpness and lack of pace in the game Alex Baptiste, while also pushing Eze further and further back. He wasn't worried about Eze, because he knew he had the pace to catch him and, anyway, Eze felt (probably rightly) that Baptiste needed the help. This did get a bit better, but only really changed when BOS belatedly came on. Suddenly, Aarons had genuine, electric pace to worry about and as a result, he was pushed back into his own half and his threat was nullified to some extent. It was a change that needed to come earlier, not least for BOS, who has looked good every time I've seen him this season, but currently can't see a route into the first XI. We have a whole host of central midfielders who are rotating about and people are getting game time, but for now, the attacking slots are sacrosanct - which wouldn't be a problem if that quartet was scoring more goals, but it isn't.

This is the point where I outline my incredible vision of how to fix this, but I genuinely don't know. It's a toughie.

2. LYNCH: A word for Lynch, I think, becaus ehe is much-maligned (not without reason) but every now and again, when he can avoid injury, he puts together three or four appearances that remind us why JFH bought him in the first place. He's on that roll at the moment - I thought he was very decent against Millwall, particularly in the air, and was good again on Saturday, with he and Leistner starting to build a partnership at the heart of the defence. Sure, our efforts to play out from the back are not great, but in terms of defending, he's playing well. Hopefully he can make it last.

3. BUILDING FROM THE BACK: I'm not sure what's happening now. We started with the build from the back. We reverted after shellackings to a safety first approach. And now we're at a sort of halfway house, where L & L are going wide to get the ball from Lumley. But they usually get marked. So we get one of the following:
a. Lumley decides to launch it.
b. Lumley passes, defender, under pressure, launches it.
c. Lumley passes, defender, under pressure, passes back, so Lumley is under pressure, so he launches it.
d. Lumley passes, defender, under pressure, passes back, so Lumley is under pressure, so he tries to play a suicide ball to Luongo, who almost gets caught out, but usually manages to get it to Lynch. Who launches it.

I don't buy the idea that our defenders aren't good enough to play from the back. Of course they are. But no defender can play from the back if they don't have options. Leistner would get the ball on Sat and look for a pass. Scowen wasn't there. Lynch wasn't there. Baptiste didn't give him an angle. Eze was too far away. So he can't do anything else. It's just so disjointed. I understand that it takes time, but if we're going to do it the rest of the team need to show for the bloody thing.

4. KAKAY: Blimey. From back up to Furlong to apparent third choice behind Rangel is bad enough, but he ended this game as arguably our fifth choice right back. While Norwich did look dangerous down the left, surely his pace would have been useful? A bit of a slap in the face for him to be behind an aged centre back in the pecking order. And then when SM did take Baptiste off, he put Cousins there. Double ouch. I assume he'll play v Blackpool and good luck to him - felt for him on Saturday.

5. SCOWEN: Luongo returned to some form against Millwall and did ok-ish on Saturday, but it felt like a bad day at the office for Scowen. A bit off the pace, too many niggly fouls and not as neat as usual in his passing. Hopefully that's due to a bit of rustiness after a minor injury, but he's a better player than that. Almost like he was trying too hard at times to prove he should be first pick, and in the end he just looked frustrated with himself.

6. FARKE & CO: I don't really care (well, clearly I do a bit), but the celebrations from the Norwich backroom staff at the end seemed a trifle OTT for such a mind-numbing game of football. There were so many of them in tracksuits who weren't actually footballers back slapping and so forth. What do they all do? I bet Farke goes on and on about his 'staff' and his 'support team'. It was like they were all congratulating each other on some kind of amazing tactical achievement in out-witting the mighty QPR. Farke off, mate. Yes, I did just do all that just to write Farke off. If you don't like it, you can Farke off too, with Farke and his platoon of farkeing physios and scientists and geo-astro-ball-genome experts.
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Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 2 Millwall 0
at 12:13 20 Sep 2018

From laughing stock of the country to the division’s form team in a few short weeks. And to think, all we had to do was give Amit the reins again. The man has a touch of gold (we won on live television and it was a London derby, FFS). And a lovely smile.

1. CONFIDENCE: This team who played last night, particularly first half, would wipe the floor with the team of a few weeks ago. And yet the players are almost the same. The biggest change is confidence. You could see it last night in the fluidity of the passing; the sense that players were not, as they were against Wigan, looking to offload the thing almost before they took control, for fear of making a catastrophic error; the belief going forward; the snapping into tackles. Yes, Millwall, like Birmingham, Bolton and Wigan before them were not great. But you can’t keep saying that after every win or draw. A month ago I’d have laughed if someone had suggested we’d take 10 points from those games, or at least assumed such a set of results would have meant McClaren had been binned in favour of some Portuguese genius or other.

So credit must go to McClaren and his team. He may have decided that he was trying to run before he could walk. A complete style change, with split centre backs and a ball-playing goalie, was perhaps too much in one go – particularly when we do not have a ball-playing goalie, because our ball-playing goalie is sitting behind Neil Warnock on a sort of airline chair wearing gloves for no reason, sadly recalling the days when those that loved him would sing about him being England’s number one.

So Stevie Boy changed things up. He shut up shop. He went, in the main, with experience. Risks were not encouraged. Just get a win and we’ll worry about the rest later. It worked – just. On another day, Wigan may have won 2 or 3-1, and had they done so, McClaren would’ve been sacked and we’d be sitting here with Mick McCarthy, with his wonderful press conferences but dire football, saying ‘well, at least he’ll keep us up’ while all the while secretly plotting that once he did keep us up we could get rid of him and get someone else in. Someone sexier, who would split the centre backs and play with a ball-playing goalie. Luckily, we won, and from there, in little increments, things have got better, culminating in a good performance on Saturday, and another good one last night, with the first half in particular being very pleasing indeed.

Tougher tests undoubtedly await, but for now, we’ll take the points, hope the improvement continues, and now really can start to dream of coming 15th. 15th!

2. LUMLEY: Ooh Lummy it’s Lumley. The man is a stats machine. He works only in binary this season: 0, 0, 0, 1, 0. Delighted he was at the end, so delighted he decided to clap the Millwall fans who hadn’t left early to buy cans of Foster’s for the journey home. They responded to his good sportsmanship by showering him with thoughtful gifts, like a nice programme and other things I couldn’t make out from my vantage point.

At the moment, he’s certainly a better option than Ingram, but concerns remain, as they do, to be fair, for any young keeper. His kicking was a bit erratic, particularly when Millwall forced him to kick from his hands, which resulted in him volleying balls at sort of waist height really hard to the halfway line. And, woop woop woop! Cliché alert! Woop woop woop! He… LOOKED A BIT DODGY ON CROSSES! Woop woop woop! Well, he did. Sort of patted one corner away in the first half that he should’ve caught and wafted almost catastrophically at a deep cross in the second half.

But, he got away with all of it and when Millwall did have the odd shot, he either saved it, or calmly watched it rattle off the bar, hit a defender on the back of the head and rebound straight into his arms, as he always knew it would. Shouts a lot. Doing well. Seems to have luck on his side.

3. CAMERON: Geoff Cameron (is his name Geoff? I’m not actually sure) is one of those players who plays for years in the Prem and I genuinely never notice them. I didn’t, until we signed him, even know he existed, truth be told, let alone if he was any good or not. Sorry Geoff (Jeff?). But here he finally was, taking his place in the system. I’ll be honest, I don’t know what the system was – you can all argue about it if you want, but I’m a bit over systems now. Was it a 4-4-1-1? A 4-5-1? A 4-1-3-1-1? All I know for sure is that we had four defenders.

Anyway, Joel Cameron. Had a quite incredible first five minutes where he won the ball in one way or another about 6 times and then did a good pass. After that, Jimmy C won it less often, and some of his passing was a little wayward. But still, he was big and strong and he shouted a lot, and he was a pragmatic pick considering Millwall have giants that don’t look like giants because one of their defenders seems legit taller than mid 90s WWF superstar giant, Giant Gonzalez (previously known as El Gigante in WCW, fact fans, and a worse wrestler you’d be hard-pressed to find). So, in short, I only know slightly more about Joffrey Cameron than I did 24 hours ago. Hope that helps.

4. WELLS: Oh my lord, Nahki, you are a very fine player indeed. First half in particular he was excellent. Movement: great. Work rate: Great. Touch: Great. Passing: Great. I don’t want to dig poor Wash out, especially as he’s gone now, but here was an exhibition of how to play the lone role up front even if you are not a big lump. So strong, so clever, so smart, so bright. A real joy to watch and when his goal does finally come it will be richly deserved. And you can see how much Freeman and Eze enjoy playing with him too – he’s someone they can give the ball to and expect to get it back.

5. COUSINS: Starting to get a run in the side now and hopefully we might see the player we thought we’d signed. Seemed to be shunted out to wide right last night when really, if he’s going to play, I want to see him play 5 consecutive games in the middle so we can properly see what we have here. Still, this was one of his best games for the club. Worked really hard down the right, both going forwards and backwards, and in the end should have had two goals – one a tricky chance in the first half (but a great run to get into the position), the second an easier one with the goalie stranded after Luongo (greatly improved) had seen his shot parried. Did his job, essentially, although you do think given the changes that had to be made because of Hemed’s enforced absence, Pav might have been the more natural pick for that position. Still, a really hard-working, effective display.

6. THE BENCH: It was during the Bristol game that the squad suddenly felt so, so thin. It’s like that in losing runs. The ones on the pitch aren’t doing it and you look at the bench and think ‘well, they’re not going to do it either. Oh dear.’ But suddenly we had a bench full of options last night. Scowen, excellent for most of last season, and usually a first pick. Pav, always a dangerous outlet and a great engine. BOS, tricky, fast, great to bring on in situations last night when spaces were opening up on the counter (why not bring him on then?). Smith – in case all else fails. Hemed – genuine goal threat. And Alex Baptiste, who’s useful, isn’t he? And that’s not even counting Little Smyth, who S-Mac may not rate, which is a shame. A few wins and suddenly everything’s coming up Millhouse. Until Norwich get their annual win on Saturday of course.
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Birmingham - average age
at 12:45 31 Aug 2018

So, took me a while. But, you know. This is a bit depressing. Ages and average age from a few short months ago when we beat Brum at home:

Lumley: 23
Furlong: 22
Bidwell: 25
Kakay: 20
Freeman: 26
Scowen: 25
Manning: 21
Chair: 20
BOS: 20
Eze: 19
Sylla: 27

Result: 3-1 to the Rs.
Oldest player: Sylla, 27.
Average age: 22.5

And ages of tomorrow's possible team:

Lumley: 23
Rangel: 35
Leistner: 28
Lynch: 30
Bidwell: 25
Eze: 20
Cameron: 33
Scowen: 25
Freeman: 26
Wells: 28
Hemed: 31

Oldest player: Rangel, 35
Average age: 27.6

Still not a terrible average age, but still. Quite sad to see the way this is going. McClaren fighting for his job and tearing up his remit in the process.
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McCarthy in England squad
at 17:12 30 Aug 2018

So frustrating. Think he's done ok for them, but ask literally any Rs fan who's the better keeper, him or Smithies, and 100% would say the latter I suspect. And he's stuck on the bench at Cardiff because Etheridge is playing really well.
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Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 1 Wigan 0
at 18:50 26 Aug 2018

Things we all said as we walked out:
'Well, it wasn't pretty.'
'A win's a win.'
'I'd have taken that at the start of the game.'
'Good to get a clean sheet, too.'
'Phew.'
'Never in doubt! Ha ha!'
'We'll probably win the league now! Ha ha!'

1. McCLAREN: Well, he'll have enjoyed a small glass of sherry when he got home. (He'd prefer a big Hawaiian cocktail, one of those ostentatious ones with fruit jammed onto the rim of the glass, but they usually come with those little umbrellas, so he hasn't had one of those in years). But whether the result was really the start of something better or merely a fairly lucky win that clearly would not have happened had the two loans not been brought in that will be followed by more misery is something we'll have to wait to find out.

He deserves credit of course - if we heap criticism upon him for losing 7-1 and 3-0, then we must put praise his way when we finally dig out a 1-0 win. But the truth is there didn't seem to be a huge amount of difference compared with our other home games this season. We moved to a 4-4-2 to accommodate the new players, which meant both out number 10s were stuck out on the wing, where they worked hard, but felt wasted. Luongo was slightly improved, Scowen probably went the ther way, Freeman was better than he has been, Lynch and Leistner did all right. McClaren's biggest call was to bring back Lumley, and it was probably his most important one. He got it right.

But the pressure was clear for all to see as he stood on the touchline, next to a screaming Paul Cook. Head often in hands. Sometimes crestfallen. Sometimes hopeful. Gesticulating wildly. Holding three fingers up urgently like Matt Le Tiss ordering three sausage and egg McMuffins. Football can be cruel, but it can also be kind, and Saturday was one of those days. After a dubious penalty against Sheff U, and two simple chances wasted v Bristol City, we scored once here; a goal that plainly should've been disallowed for a blatant push by Joel Lynch. That, and Wigan inexplicably missing two glorious headed chances, led to a win.

Winless runs are rarely snapped with something beautiful and bountiful. This is how they usually end. A flukey goal and clinging on for dear life (QPR 1 Villa 0 with Jurgen Sommer in goal is one that springs to mind). McClaren will want them to dig in again next week, get something at Birmingham, and hope that confidence returns (it was in short supply yesterday) so that he can start implementing his bloody philosophy - albeit without at least two of the young players we all expected to see play substantial roles this season. Job kept. For now.

2. LUMLEY: It's always tough to drop your keeper. But sometimes it does more harm than good to keep them in the team. Ingram probably should've been out the side for the Bristol game such was his obviously tender state of mind. He wasn't, and it cost us dear. Lumley came in, didn't look nervous, was yelling at his more experienced backline (it's the youngsters that need the help, says SM, yet Lumley wasn't ever afraid to coach, bully and bollock the experienced lot in front of him all afternoon). As with any keeper, particularly young ones, he did look 'dodgy on crosses' - indeed, Wigan's three best chances came from deep balls that he was nowhere near and we failed to defend with any competence at all. Fortunately, they failed with all three chances. Having said that, his confidence helped the defence. He made a superb save that looked a goal all the way in the first half, and dealt with any other shots competently and without taking risks. His kicking wasn't great, but was better than Ingram and he was keen to start attacks quickly if he could. All round, a good display. The jersey has to be his for now - which will mean mistakes, like at Leeds last year, but the signs are he could be a very good keeper.

3. CENTRE BACKS: The two Ls. Still inspired little confidence. Leistner, dominant in the air v Bristol, was beaten more often than not to headers by the Wigan giants. Lynch, of course, prone to the silly tackle, the needless free kick. That Wigan's best chances came from high balls into the box is a concern, as is the lack of pace. Surely this week a central defender will be coming in if they can possibly find one, but he'll need to be tall and relatively quick. Still, they did keep a clean sheet and barring the very end of the game, there was little panic. Nor should there be. That's four vastly experienced players now at the back. Defence is all about organisation, having a settled team of players. Another clean sheet next week will do the world of good.

4. NAHKI WELLS: Hemed will get the headlines for his acrobatic finish, but for me Wells was the obvious man of the match. I've always liked him when I've seen him against us. He's small, but tough, and not pushed around easily by defenders much bigger than he is. On Saturday, the difference between him and our other strikers was marked. Quick. Incisive. Skilful. Able to dodge his way out of tight situations. Got a number of blocks in, and pinched the ball a fair few times too. All in all, a right pain to play against. Only thing missing really was a goal, but the couple of times he did get a decent chance, his shots flew well wide or over. Still, even though he's a striker, that's nitpicking, because he really played very well. It does mean that we'll need to play two up top, so McClaren's early season plan of one up front with three behind has now totally gone. He has work to do to get Eze and Freeman into the places where they can do real damage. One may have to make way after all, unless we can switch to a 4-3-3, or possibly a 3-4-1-2 or something.

5. SMYTH: Not playing, not on the bench, McClaren saying he may go. Utter madness. When Wells tired at the end of that game, it was made for Smyth. I'd have loved to have see him come on against a tiring defence to use his grit and pace ad determination. Would've been ideal. And that's the point: he doesn't need to be a regular for us to need him in the squad. Manning going was an obvious error - Smyth, in my opinion, will be an even worse one.

6. CONFIDENCE: The difference between the lively Wells and the bustling Hemed compared with the rest of the side was particularly stark in the first half. Two players up front willing to hold the ball, to take risks, and to attack. Of the nine players behind them, only Freeman, Eze and Lumley showed anything like the same kind of belief. The rest did what players lacking in confidence do: get rid of the ball quickly. Don't think, just get rid of the hot potato. First half was a case in point: the team flocks forward for a classic free kick hump from the halfway line. Except Lynch knocked it square to Rangel so he could do the humping. Passing the responsibility, passing the buck. It may not feel like it to the players at times, but that's what it is. If you're not in possession, you can;t make a bad mistake. It's easier to play a 5-yard pass than to risk a longer, more dangerous ball. That's all natural, and why once you get on a bad run it's so hard to get out of. What we have to hope is that one win might knock some of that timidity out of some of the players. Our best period probably came just after half time, when Wells' clever run and pass saw Freeman shoot just wide and, for once, we weren't asleep until the 55th minute. That was encouraging, as was the desire to get bodies in front of the ball, even if it was a bit frenetic at the end. That grit will need to be retained, but also quality needs to improve. We arguably played better against Sheff U and lost (we certainly had more genuine attempts on goal) - so a similar performance next week could easily see us lose again. But they have a week to 'meticulously prepare'. I think I'd take a draw now.
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Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 0 Bristol City 3
at 18:03 23 Aug 2018

Very belated, because I've been away, and also haven't had the heart. So they're not knee jerks at all, really.

1. McCLAREN: When Washington controlled the ball six yards out, took out the defender and then blasted it straight at the keeper, for some reason my eye leapt to McClaren. Normally I can't see him from my vantage point, but what I saw spoke volumes: head in his hands, ducking towards the bench. A goal then would've been huge. We hadn't been great, but neither had they, and until then they had caused us very few problems. One up, something to defend, a bit of belief surging back. Instead, another miss, another chance gone, confidence drains further.

Despite his utterly dreadful start and my limited confidence in him draining away like water through a fat funnel, as a human, I felt for him. He's made errors. Tried to make the team run before it can walk properly. Assumed the loss of Smithies would be coverable with Ingram. But still, he can't kick the ball in the net for us. It was the first classic sign of the night that we are a team destined for at best a relegation scrap; at worst a devastating (and early) relegation.

I'm not sure I believe, and more importantly, I'm not sure the players believe, he has what it takes to dig us out this hole, and the season is just five games old. He started the season, I'm sure, certain of probably 8 or 9 of his starters, and his shape. I imagine he'd want Furs back at RB, a new CB, and a striker who can hold the ball, and ideally Hall in the side too. But within four games it's all gone out the window. The apparently discarded Pav back, the youngsters ditched except for Eze, Washington, in desperation, in from the cold. he's now throwing what he can at the wall and praying it sticks. None of it is. I suspect he has one game, albeit with two big reinforcements announced today, to save his job. A fifth defeat, and with performances this abject, I don't think there's much other choice.

2. INGRAM: There was much talk, particularly from Dave Mc, in the early days, about how Ingram was likely to be the better keeper between him and Smithies, given time. Not a view you hear that often anymore. He's clearly decent, or has been, but he's not close to Smithies' class, and Smithies is the single biggest blow we had over the summer. I'd even go so far as to say we might have got a point on Tuesday if Smithies had played, because in at 0-0 half time might (always assuming we didn't then concede our classic goal just after half time) have meant more confidence, some belief returning and a renewed desire to dig the fk in.

But he's gone, and we're left with Ingram, who, poor bastard, looked utterly bereft for the whole game on Tuesday. Sometimes you have to judge: will dropping a player do more harm than keeping him in the firing line? In Ingram's case, he has to be taken out the firing line now. Lumley is not perfect, had a poor game up at Leeds last season, but other than that he had a fine season on loan. If not now, when? Because Ingram is currently shot.

That first goal on Tuesday just killed any fragile belief the team had. I saw Scowen - Josh Scowen, tireless, rat-like, indefatigable, Scowen - trudging off, shoulders rounded and hunched over. You could read his thoughts a mile off. Striker scores, goalie saves a weak shot, we're one-up, we're on our way. Instead, it's all happening again.

3. LUONGO: I don't buy into the idea that he's 'checked out' because he was expecting a transfer after the World Cup. He signed a new contract less than 18 months ago and spent the summer trying to get his mate Sainsbury to join us. But whatever the reason is, and this comes from someone who loves him as a player, he's a shadow of himself. I don't know if that's because he doesn't like SM, or he doesn't understand his role, or he's not properly fit, or he wanted the captaincy and it went to a new guy or what. No one knows except him. But other than a couple of trademark tackles, the Mass of last season was gone. Passes astray, he looks heavy, his willingness to get in the box has disappeared (possibly hindered by two attacking midfielders ahead of him). But it's not him. He needs to find form, and fast.

4. EZE/FREEMAN: I also don't buy that these two can't play in the same side. They absolutely can, but that needs to be worked on, and for it to stand any chance the whole team needs to actually play a bit better. I don't think I've ever seen a player dip as much in 10 days as Eze from Sheff U, where he was effervescent, pinging in accurate shots, dribbling well, at the heart of most of our good stuff, to this guy, unsure if he was a second striker or winger or number 10 or what. Completely wasted. And Freeman had an absolute mare, with, as Clive said in his report, even his normally reliable dead ball kicks being pretty poor.

The future of the pair of them is crucial now. If Hemed and Wells start in the same side, surely Eze and Freeman can't both pay? But we then find ourselves in the weird situation of either leaving out arguably our biggest hope, or the player who got more assists than almost anyone in the division last year. I have no idea what the answer is, so don't look at me.

5. RANGEL: Did all right, didn't he? I know people are annoyed we've signed him, but we needed some cover for right back. I'm sure Kakay will still get plenty of games. But to me at least it made sense to leave him out after Saturday, give him a breather and a break from the hell of it all. Rangel was fine, probably will be fine as the short term measure he is. Had we not signed him and Kakay had picked up a two-month injury, and we didn't get a loan in, we'd all be justifiably angry. So no problem with this. He's not great, he's too old, but he's a stop gap.

6. ATMOSPHERE: Last few mins apart, I thought it was ok. People supportive and not overly negative. But thinking about it, I think a lot of us were just resigned to the inevitable - as, sadly, were the players. It's a nicer atmosphere than on here, that's for sure. I'm guilty of it myself of course - when things go badly, we all get fractious and angry with anyone who has a different view: angry if you're feeling negative and someone tries to be positive or vice versa. But overall, it was remarkably restrained on Tuesday. You can't hate these players, they're not bad people, they didn't fight like they did last season, and that's the really worrying thing. But fight is in them, somewhere, we've seen it. McClaren will be hoping the new blood can inject some belief and three points, because if not, it'll be someone else trying to find the fight in them. Maybe Marc Bircham. He did say he thought he'd be back one day.
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Asou-Ekotto
at 15:14 16 Aug 2018

Just saw a think about old Benoit in an article.
Had absolutely totally forgotten he played for us. But he did, didn't he? And was mostly awful.
Any other players you're slightly surprised about when you remember them playing for us? I think most of them probably came during that season, actually.
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Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 1 Sheff Utd 2
at 11:23 13 Aug 2018

A defeat that somehow seemed or felt inevitable, and that's been reflected in the largely negative response to the game since. And yet, there were some positives, and a little bit of hope, plus we lost because of an absolute joke of a decision. At the same time, a defeat at West Brom is fairly nailed on, and once you start a season with a series of defeats, it's very hard to recover, as Hughes found out a few years back.

1. GOOD LADS: There's been much spoken about what a nice bunch this lot are, and how we are not nasty enough to win games in this division. There's certainly something in that - are we too honest? Too fair? Do we lack hard men? I'm not totally convinced by that. Leistner, Lynch, Bidwell and Scowen (who was absolutely superb on Saturday) are all pretty physical, and Mathieu is 6'10. But at the same time, we just looked weaker than a big, solid, technically decent Sheffield side. After a tough first 15 minutes, we more than matched them; this was a game that we could just as easily have won 2-1 than lost 2-1 - but it never properly felt like we might.

It's hard to put your finger on it. There was some kind of difference there. Clive complained last week that we were sucked in too easily by Preston, but sometimes it is very difficult to combat those tactics. In the last 20 minutes on Saturday Sheffield players went down under a series of innocuous challenges, and stayed down. Then when the ref halted play they refused treatment so that they wouldn't have to leave the field. I'm not really sure what you can do about that. You can avoid silly challenges like obvious little pushes on keepers, but you have to challenge robustly for the ball, and any tackle leaves leeway for a player to decide he's injured. It was comical on Saturday, but also sad: if we do ever get to lead a game with 20 minutes left this season, will we do this? Stop the game at every opportunity to kill it? Do we want to? Is this where this league, which used to be blood and thunder, has ended up? Full of timewasting tricks that ruin the spectacle?

I don't now and I'm not totally sure what my point is here. For all the talk of our squad lacking experience, we had only four relatively inexperienced players at this level in the starting line up, and one of those was the best player on the pitch by a mile. Would the introduction of a Derry-type and a Hill-type make that much difference? I think we have more obvious problems, which I'll come to.

2. EZE: But before I do, let's look at a couple of real positives. Firstly, Ebere Eze. I'm not really bothered about not getting carried away. Get carried away. For fox sake enjoy this bloke before he's gone, because regardless of what contract he has signed, barring a horrible injury, he will not be here next August, and we might be lucky if he's still here at the end of January. I haven't seen a game yet where I'm not anything other than convinced that he is a star; if anything, I think he may be even better than I thought. On Saturday, after a quiet start, he sparked the whole team, bringing two great saves out of Henderson before burying a fine strike into the corner for a richly-deserved goal. Overall, we apparently had 14 shots, 6 on target. Eze had six shots, five on target, and one goal. Outstanding. His movement was great, he is superb in possession, so calm, has great vision. It is all there.

I've seen some people worrying about whether he and Freeman step on each other's toes. I'm not worried. On Saturday we saw what will hopefully only grow this season - two very good creative players interchanging positions, passing to each other and working together to create openings. It's odd to me that people are already saying it won't work or it can't work. Why not? They've barely played together. Give them some time. Potentially, they could be very, very dangerous playing behind a striker. People worry about Freeman not being able to play wide - yet he often drifted wide last season, and it was his crosses that brought us a lot of goals. I'm not worried by these two in the same team, I'm excited by it.

3. LEISTNER: I've only seen him this once, but he matched up to the descriptions I've read. And he seems to be the centre back we've been crying out for for about 5 years. He may look like a hunched-shouldered version of Steve Palmer, but he's still at a very good age and he brings to this side leadership, strength and an unwillingness to be bullied. Plus, he's good in the air, he can pass. Lacks some pace, but that's it. The frustrating thing is, he feels like the absolute perfect foil for Nedum Onuoha, but he's come a season too late.

What impressed me was how he sorted out Leon Clarke. Early on, Clarke got an elbow in. Leistner was not impressed, and as he ran back into position after speaking to the ref, he pointed at Clarke and issued a warning. Clarke barely had a kick after that, other than one clever flick and shot that brought a decent save from Ingram, and was reduced to continually complaining to the ref for the rest of the game as Leistner dominated him in the air. A real positive. We only signed one player, but at least he's decent.

4. INGRAM: So, to the problems. In terms of handling, crosses and shot stopping, all ticks on Saturday. And, 20 or 30 years ago, that was all a keeper needed. Now they need to be so much more. We didn't miss Smithies for his saves on Saturday; we missed his distribution. And that is, or seems to be at the moment, the huge difference between the two keepers. Smithies was excellent with the ball at his feet. Calm, reassuring, accurate. Ingram does not summon the same sense of calm when it's passed back to him. Kicks went out of play, kicks went to space with no one within 20 yards, kicks went direct to the opposition. What we're trying to do is laudable - however much the Facebook idiots will complain about long ball, we tried for most of the game to give the ball to Leistner, get it to Scowen, and move through the thirds. And once Scowen had it, that worked ok, although we rarely looked really dangerous. But getting it to Scowen in the first place was the problem. United closed us down quickly, almost every time we played it out things felt risky, and on the one or two occasions we could have got a move going quickly, Ingram was down hugging the ball to his chest, giving everyone a breather. It was disjointed and ugly back there. It can, possibly will improve, but we don't have a lot of time. With Leistner looking like a solid centre back, at the moment losing Smithies is looking far more damaging than losing either Onuoha or Robinson.

5. UP FRONT: To some extent, Sylla did ok. He put himself about, he did a couple of good flicks that almost brought chances and he set up Eze for a searing volley with some typically effective chest work. But overall, he was kept very quiet by the United defence. Smith fared no better when he came on. Neither are bad players. Over the course of the season, they'll probably get you 12-15 goals between them. But if McClaren does want to bring Chris Martin in, you can see exactly why. In effect, we have a similar set up now to what we had in our Championship year. Couple of good midfielders, and a rich mix of attackers all suited to playing behind a hold-up striker. Then it was Routledge, Ephraim, Mackie, Smith and Adel vying for places behind Helguson. Now it's BOS, Smyth, Freeman, Eze and possibly Pav behind... well, one of two players who, and this is not really a criticism, just a fact, simply do not have the game Helguson had. You could see it on Saturday. First half especially our build up play was at times very good - Luongo, Freeman and Eze all had great runs with the ball, we passed it quite well, we made a few openings. But it rarely featured Sylla, and after he went off Smith was not part of it either. When we talk about needing experience and hard b'stards in the side, I think this is where we need it most. A battering ram. He doesn't need to be quick, he just needs to be strong, to be able to head the ball, and to be able to hold and lay. If he does that, we could be very dangerous with the talent behind him. He doesn't even need to score a lot of goals, because if we have three chipping in behind him as Routledge, Smith etc did a few years ago.

6. KAKAY: It's obvious already this season that teams are targeting Kakay. On Saturday, Sheffield spent the first half overloading down their left - Jake Bidwell might as well have played left wing for all the defending he had to do for most of the half. He was frequently out-numbered, and while his storming runs forward and his impressive first touch were huge plus points, to me he looked a little out of his depth back there. Smyth certainly was. He dropped deeper and deeper to help his mate out, but all that did was encourage Sheffield further to exploit a perceived weakness, and while Smyth was standing almost on top of Kakay, Sheffield didn't have to worry about his pace going forwards. Second half, BOS was instructed to stay further up the pitch, to keep their left back pinned back, and the danger down that side dissipated a little - Kakay also looked better as a result. And that's where experience comes in and why we might be looking at Routledge if reports are to be believed (although surely Pav, finally, would have a natural place ahead of Kakay at the moment, with his defensive abilities, incredible stamina etc? Strange one). Routledge would be able to coach Kakay through a bit, and not get drawn into becoming a second right back as Smyth did. Overall, I thought Kakay did well, not as well as some think, but he played ok and worked his arse off. Unfortunately, Sheffield recognised we might struggle there and played accordingly. Fair play, at least on that, to McClaren for righting things at the break.

A long way to go, a lot of work to do. The season is long and hard.
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