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|Prediction||Prediction Logged by at 10:19:16|
Hull City v Queens Park Rangers prediction logged
|Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 1 Rotherham 2|
at 21:37 14 Mar 2019
Well, if you weren't one of the 19,000 that crammed into Loftus Road last night, you'll be regretting it for the rest of your lives. A scintillating game, played between two cavalier sides at their absolute best, play swinging from end to end like a basketball game where all the players are on speed. Tough tackles, incredible goals - everything you could want from a game at this hallowed level. Breathless stuff from the ref's first powerful blow of the whistle, which seemed to set the tone for the excitement ahead, to his final, exhausted blast - a man as dead on his feet as the rest of us having witnessed a match for the ages, one that will be talked about for years and will surely go down as one of THE greatest 'nights under the lights' at Loftus Road. Absolutely superb - everyone was hoarse at the end as we piled out into the night sky, smiles beaming, limbs aching, eyes disbelieving. This, friends, was pure football.
1. INEVITABILITY: I was going to do all six jerks like that, but truth is, I can't. Because that was truly a pile of dreadful crap played between two God-awful sides, the only surprise being somehow, between them, they managed a shot on target at all. Rotherham were utter garbage - hard working and full of honest endeavour - but garbage. Three months ago we'd have swept them aside as we did Ipswich on Boxing Day. How happy we were back then. The fact that we contrived to lose to them - and deservedly so - tells you all you need to know about the utter poverty of this excuse for a performance.
And of course you knew we'd lose this. Lloyd Doyley, Swindon Town, Daniel Amokachi, John Jensen... any team on a bad run, any player who hasn't had a goal for 10 years, roll up, roll up, roll the fk up to Loftus Road, or invite us to your place, and get that giant monkey off your back - and without hardly trying! The ultimate soft touch once again, the ultimate team to face when things are really bad. If only we were playing QPR on Saturday.
2. MCCLAREN: I've seen people on the board ask for 'McClaren lovers' to come out and defend him and while I can't really understand the apparent glee some fans have when their opinion of a manager is eventually proved, somehow, correct (the fact is, you could say every manager we've had for the last 25 years has, in the end, been 'proven' to be wanting - even the rare good ones), there really is no defence anymore.
No one has ever 'loved' McClaren at this club. He had a couple of songs sung in late December, but otherwise, fans have never warmed to him. I and others were, rightly, pleased with his job even as late as the end of January. Sure, league form had tailed off, but we were still in the FA Cup and December in particular had been a great month, despite losing three of our four loan/free signings to injury. There was a settled side that worked, we played 4-2-3-1, we got goals, we could defend sometimes. There were plenty of positives. Players at least seemed to know their roles and while the talk of play-offs at the start of the year was always likely to be fanciful, a decent final position looked nailed on. Job done. Look to next season.
But the wheels haven't so much come off as spontaneously combusted. And the rest of the car is on fire too. It seemed unthinkable even two weeks ago after the Leeds win, but we are, somehow, genuinely in danger of being spectacularly relegated. This is an appalling run, worse than any last season. Our home form is dreadful, our away form is worse. The players looked knackered and completely devoid of confidence. And while I don't think changing manager is a good idea (when has it really worked for us?) you do have to ask how many games this one can possibly lose before he's shown the door. Because something has to change and at the moment he doesn't look as if he is the man to do it. He's tried 3-5-2 and 4-4-2, he's gone back to 4-2-3-1 but, Leeds apart, none of it is working.
Circumstances have conspired to some degree - a long run of tough games that featured some particularly cruel luck has led to some dispiriting results. The players have looked tired for a while, and you can't blame them really when they had that tricky run of 11 games in 30-odd days or whatever it was. And yet, some of that is of McClaren's own making. You can understand wanting to keep the same team, especially when it's winning, but everyone thought he didn't do enough to rest key players over Christmas and he's paid for that dearly.
Last night we looked as lost as we did in that shellacking at home to Forest last year - the game that, for me, spelled the end of Olly's reign. In fact, we looked worse. McClaren's dug out some big results when he's needed to this season, but he's starting to look as if that's beyond him this time. Nothing last night suggested he knows how to turn this around - in fact, several decisions (BOS skinning their left back, getting him booked and then immediately is told to go and play on the other side of the pitch, for example) suggest the opposite. We are in serious trouble here, and if we lose the next couple - which seems likely - I'm not sure how he can survive. And then what? Thoroughly depressing.
As I sit here now, he's on Sky talking about his career, and despite it all, I like the guy. He seems nice. I think the players like him too. But it was probably recorded a few weeks ago and he ends the show referring to our recovery from the terrible start to the season, before adding: 'Things change quickly in football.' Yep.
3. FURLONG: I love Darnell. I thought he did so well to come back from injury and take Rangel's place and for a month we never missed him. He's a great professional by all accounts. He works hard, he's a great person, he speaks well, he always wants to improve. But currently he sums up our plight more than anyone. It's just gone. Bereft of belief, scared to make a mistake, stopping doing the things he was doing so well, wanting to just get rid of the ball as soon as he gets it. It's absolutely painful to watch. The problem is, with so many players out of form, there's no hiding place.
4. HEMED: Eight touches in the second half. I didn't count first half, but I suspect it was a similar total. Offered almost nothing, hid behind his man, never attacked the ball, never moved into space, never showed for the ball, never chased adequately, never harried. Nothing. Thanks Tomer.
5. LATE GOALS: One of the many signs of a poor side is blowing it late in games. Not having the nous, or the skill or the stamina to get the result that you should get. Bristol, Albion, Birmingham and now Rotherham. Points chucked away for whatever reason so late in the game. Points that would have given us four more points and definite safety. It's not good enough and each time it happens it gets harder for the players to pick themselves up again. And now, understandably, the fans are losing sympathy.
6. THE BRIGHT SPOT: Mr Osayi-Samuel. At least he tried. At least he wasn't scared. At least he kept going. And he got a goal (which, to be fair, was a very good move). I mean, it wasn't great, he was a 6/10 MOTM, but then when everyone else is about a 3 or a 4, 6 seems pretty good. A meagre positive to take.
|Prediction||Prediction Logged by at 11:21:02|
Queens Park Rangers v Rotherham United prediction logged
at 10:06 12 Mar 2019
Couldn't sleep last night, but in the end what sent me to sleep was trying to think of the best Rangers team I could think of, but the team had to be in alphabetical order.
I know. And yet, from what I've heard (Sat games are out for me for a bit due to work, so knee jerks will be rare for the rest of the season for those that say kind things about them), it was still more fun than QPR v Stoke.
This is what I came up with:
You have to stick to that order, no RB, LB, CB, CB. Anyone bored enough to find a better side? If anyone can do it with Bowles either on a wing or up front you're a better man than I.
Post of the Year.
|Prediction||Prediction Logged by at 16:50:45|
Queens Park Rangers v Stoke City prediction logged
|Prediction||Prediction Logged by at 17:48:00|
Brentford v Queens Park Rangers prediction logged
|Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 1 Leeds 0|
at 13:50 27 Feb 2019
Finally, it's over. At last, we are no longer on 39 points. I tried everything. Varying where I ate and drank before games. Different scarves. Wearing my glasses. Not wearing my glasses. Predicting wins. Predicting losses. Half time drink. No half time drink. And none of it worked - it was all stupid superstition that makes no difference to anything. Until last night - then, finally, I got the combination right. I cracked the code. Can't tell you what it is - that would break the code, like telling someone what you wish for when blowing out the candles on your child's birthday cake. Anyway. You're welcome.
1. FREEMAN: Jesus Christ. I mean, everyone's already said how good he was last night and my only argument with any of that would be I think he's reached that level more than once already this season: in short, he's been outstanding and a clearer Player of the Season we can't have had since Adel in 2011. Ahem.
Anyway, last night he was our talisman, his skill on the ball and determination off it giving us belief and hope throughout. As against West Brom, he scored the goal that gave us a platform and reminded us that, actually, we're not a bad side at all. Sure, we can play crap. But, never forget, we can play really well too.
At times, it was like the ball was made of metal and he had magnets in his toes - Leeds players continually looked as if they'd nick the ball off him and suddenly he'd twist, turn, stick his arse out and get away from them. Outstanding. Last night, he started reminding me of Lee Cook in his golden year that mostly came under John Gregory. That may seem an odd comparison because their styles are quite different, but in some ways - beyond their excellent delivery and ability to keep the ball in tight situations - there are similarities. Back then, Cook was our out-ball, our hope, the one we relied on to produce something special when we needed it. I remember Cookie at West Brom one night - they were battering us, and somehow he produced two moments of beauty to conjure goals from Nygaard to help us draw 3-3. Without him, we'd have been nothing.
We're a better side than that QPR side, but Freeman's influence is similar. But it's not just that - it's that he has really kicked on as a player this season. The moaning is still there, but it's been toned down because McClaren has made him a leader on the pitch. You can see that maturity in him now. Less moaning, more working his arse off to win the ball back. Gone are the decorative step overs - he still uses them, but now he looks for the right ball more quickly and more often. His running is more purposeful. And he must spend hours practising dead balls at training.
He doesn't look like a footballer. He has that waddling style Clive mentions; his hair is all blown dry and floaty; he looks slow, but actually can't be, because he can get away from defenders when he needs to. But at the moment, he is fantastic. A gem. Enjoy him until the end of the season and let's hope he gets a good move to a club that'll appreciate him and use him properly - ie, not wasting him on the bench like poor Smithies.
2. MCCLAREN: Ignoring social media, which is mainly just people making themselves feel better by being horrible to people they don't know, it's heartening to see that there has been little vitriol aimed at McClaren and no real calls for him to be sacked, beyond the perfectly reasonable, 'well how many games *can* you go without winning before being fired?'
OK, so last night the fans understandably took a while to get going, and there were the usual moaners around me, complaining about Every. Single. Thing. 'Nooo!' 'Too hard!' 'Too low!' 'Don't do that!' 'Chase down absolutely everything ever, even if it means you'll be exhausted by the 55th minute!' The flip-up plastic seat tacticians that know as much about football as the Loftus Road squirrel. One behind me was desperate for us to continually press their last man, even though one of the few times we did do that, we got caught too high, they passed through us and Leeds should have scored. But in the end the place was rocking, helped by a typically noisy following from Leeds.
The reason it hasn't got poisonous (although had we lost last night and against Brentford, I've no doubt it would have done), I think, is because the majority of fans can see that while this bad run included games and periods of games (Wigan, Preston, Boro, half an hour against Birmingham) where we were pretty rank, at the same time, we haven't been that bad in a lot of other games. Irresistible for a half against Birmingham. Very good for an hour against Bristol. Matching Watford and Albion for long periods. So there's been hope and you can at least see what McClaren is trying to achieve. Even when things are going wrong, it's rare that it's appeared the players aren't trying and even when formations have changed, the players have understood their jobs.
He went tried and tested again last night and while there were some hairy moments, particularly first half (and understandably - teams don't come out brimming with confidence after seven strauight league defeats) he was rewarded. Now, it's about getting as many points as possible before the end of the season and then, well, see if we can raise a competitive eleven, minus Freeman, come August.
3. LUMLEY: Poor bloke's had some stick lately. Some deserved, some a bit harsh. There's no doubt he's had a bad patch - whether that was down to the -studs-in-face debacle at Villa or not is open to question. It could just as easily be a combination of pressure and mental tiredness after being number one choice at this level for the first time in his life.
Dips in form are common for all young players though - and he is still 'young' in terms of his position and the number of first team games he's had. You have to hope that the players are strong enough to bounce back from those runs of indifferent form. Last night, Lumley showed incredible character I thought. A good save from a header first half was couple with a couple of poor kicks (one particularly weird one to the left missed Bidwell by some distance. But, his clean sheet remained unblemished and as the game wore on you could see him growing calmer. Two or three great punches from dangerous corners; better distribution; determined in his decision-making, and rounded off with that match-saving double-save (triple save?) that really was as good as a goal.
Really impressive and so pleased for him to get a league clean sheet again for the first time in a long while.
4. LUONGO/COUSINS: While Freeman and Lumley will deservedly get the praise, the truth is there wasn't a bad performance out there. Nervous moments of course, but no bad performances. And mostly that came down to really hard work, exemplified by these two. Luongo was for the most part very good, the tone set early on with two absolute crunching (and fair) tackles that let Leeds know this wasn't going to be a walkover (well, probably not). He then worked like a dog alongside Cousins, while still finding time both to set up with winner with a wonderful run, and also almost score goal ofn the season with his volley. Cousins was his equal. Clearly relaxing a little now he's nailed a starting place down, he's playing really well, his energy, his bite in the tackle, his desire never to give up. All things we desperately need in there. Good teams are often about partnerships and one is starting to develop here.
5. HALL: It seems Hall has now moved ahead of Lynch on merit. Back in the side after a sensible rest at the weekend, Hall still doesn't look quite the player he was - shirt out, he looks more like a tired, injury-battling warrior than the elegant defender he was a couple of years ago - but there are plenty of signs he may just be the player we need after all. We have to hope so - at his best he's good in the air, not slow, strong, and he can pass a ball. Without doubt, a very decent championship defender. I can't really point out any single thing he did last night other than a lovely tackle to deny Bamford in the first half, but surely that's a good thing? Like refs, if you don't notice your centre back too much, does it mean he's doing a good job? Fingers crossed.
6. PAV/FURS: Another partnership down the right. Both had their issues last night. Furlong, uncharacteristically jittery and suffering from some not-great form as of late (not exactly surprising, I think he's played every minute of every game since he replaced Rangel, and when he started that run he hadn't played a competitive game for 6 months), looked terrified of making a mistake. Pav, pounding diligently up and down the touchline, winning the ball, beating the hapless Alioski 4 times out of 5, nevertheless went to pieces every time he crossed the ball. Five times (minimum) in the first half, he had great crossing chances and spunked them all up against the wall (or out of touch by the ellerslie somewhere).
Yet both continued to fight, continued to work themselves into some kind of form. They worked very well together and by the middle of the second half both were having storming games. But my jerk here, really, is their reaction at the end: amazing. After so many games watching our players curl up into balls after defeats, this time, Pav was on the floor, full length, arms out, exhausted, relieved elated. Furs just behind him doing something similar. Then they got to their feet and hugged it out. Brought a tear to the eye. Well done lads.
|Prediction||Prediction Logged by at 11:28:06|
Queens Park Rangers v Leeds United prediction logged
|Prediction||Prediction Logged by at 13:57:15|
Queens Park Rangers v West Bromwich Albion prediction logged
|Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 0 Watford 1|
at 18:04 17 Feb 2019
I'm not sure I can remember a week like it. Three losses in a week has been standard for us for years. But not three like this. It seems particularly cruel to narrowly lose three games in which we didn't deserve to lose any of them.
1. ROCKY: I thought this was shaping up to be a bit like a Rocky movie. Sure, we'd suffered one beating, then another. But we never say die, we're still standing, clinging to the ropes with our eyes bleeding, but our heart still pumping with determination. When Smith went down in the first half and was patched up with a Steve Foster headband (one for the teenagers), I was almost convinced: What better Cup hero is there than Mathieu Smith, scoring a winner, blinking back the blood, wonky bandage no impediment to a trademark thunder bastard header? Against all odds, this was going to be it. A great underdog story before we lose 17-0 at the Etihad in a couple of weeks time. Is it more typical or less typical of QPR that this didn't happen? I don't even know anymore. Feels like my heart was ripped out on Saturday, stamped on on Tuesday and flushed down the bog last night.
But Rocky never gave up. He got mad, and he beat up Clubber and Ivan and Tommy and had that exhibition match, and became a trainer to Apollo's son. There's a lesson there for all of us. Isn't there? No, you stop writing sh!t.
2. COUSINS: Is it finally, *finally* happening? He'll never be Luke Freeman. He'll never even be Mass Luongo. But for two and a half games now he has been brilliant. The all-action vessel of energy we've been waiting for. Maybe he realised this was it - his last chance, because as things stood, unless finances meant we had no other real option, Cousins wasn't going to be here next season. But finally, he's grabbed his chance. Last night he was great - he broke up Watford so many times in the first half. Sometimes it was just giving them a throw, but that doesn't matter: he disrupted them, forced them to play hurried balls or balls they didn't want to play.
And he demanded the ball too. He wasn't hiding; didn't look scared to receive it or to take chances. He pressed high up the pitch, confident that his outstanding fitness would mean he could get back if he wanted to - plus he had Luongo, also having a good game, backing him up at every turn. I thought we were terrific in midfield, and Cousins did everything that could be asked, even going to right midfield and eventually right back. I hope he can keep this going. He's always given the impression of a great person, willing to work, humble. If he dies find some consistent form, it would be a real boost to everyone except, maybe, ratting rats.
3. WELLS: The same romantic in me that had the complicated, barely comprehensible thoughts about a Rocky story, held the hope all week that our big hero was going to be Nahki Wells - redemption after the penalty miss a week ago. But on the day he, as the match reports used to say before I gave up reading them, 'cut a forlorn figure' (a phrase only ever uttered in the context of a football match). Not much seemed to come off for him. His first touch was often uncharacteristically dodgy, he seemed to take the wrong choice a bit too often, and he missed two of our three most presentable chances. The first, after an eyebrow-raising chipped pass from the impressive Luke Freeman, he didn't quite connect well enough with and Gomes managed to flick it wide. The second, arguably better, was a great effort - a curling high shot that beat Gomes and for a brief second I thought was going to fly into the goal, but instead dropped wide.
Still, you can't be too hard on him. He never hides, he always works hard, he'll always shoot if he can. But, like quite a few of our players, he looks a little drained, a little tired, and npt sticking away these chances won't help him with that. I'd say rest him, but realistically we have no one else; Hemed looks unfit and Smith will always struggle over 90 minutes.
4. GAZZA: Have a look back at that moment in the Euro 96 semi final. Keep your eye on Gazza. He's chases a ball back to win it. Then sets off on a run into the box. Sheringham floats a ball to Shearer, he volleys it across and then, somehow, as if he foresaw the entire move, there he is, in the box, ready to get on the end of Shearer's fierce cross. It's perfect. It's a golden goal. He stretches everything, every muscle, every bone, every sinew. But his studs are a centimetre too short and somehow he doesn't connect. You know the rest.
Toni Leistner's chance had so many similarities. The ball played across the defence, Furlong volleying fiercely across the goal, suddenly, Toni's there, no one else is. He's onside, and even though it happens in less than a second, you have time to hold your breath, imagine the net bulging, gather in a great gulp of hope, ready yourself to explode for a goal we surely deserved. And unlike Gazza, he's got there! He's got there! But it's wide. And you knew it had gone. A real Gazza moment.
5. 3-5-2: We saw the pros and cons of the 3-5-2 on Friday. On the one hand, having three centre backs meant that we were able to deal with the threat of Andre Gray and the weighty Troy Deeney, who parroted some absolute nonsense about this being QPR's cup final (mate, it'd have been packed whoever the oppo was at this stage of the competition - don't flatter yourself). It also allowed us to have two strikers on the pitch and we did cause them some issues with that. However, it also meant that we never quite got the width we needed higher up the pitch on a regular basis. At times in the first half, justifiably concerned with staying in the game as long as we could, Pav was pretty much a right back and it's a big ask to get him and Bidwell to cover the entire flanks by themselves for the whole game.
Watford were also ready for us and their method of dealing with the towering Smith I thought was excellent. They pushed up very high for crosses, constantly catching him offside, and also keeping him away from their six yard box, where he has proved in recent weeks to be so dangerous. One free kick in the second half they pushed incredibly high up, leaving a huge gap between themselves and the keeper, but it worked. They trusted Gomes to deal with anything high, and even if Smith was to connect with a header from 15 yards, most keepers will fancy saving that. But then, Watford have a great defensive record this season, it's not surprising they had a plan.
6. ONE SHOT: And yet. One shot. One shot off the semi-useless Cleverley shanking a hopeful ball into the box that happens to land at the feet of bloody Capoue, the one player in their side that probably had the class to finish like that. What a blow. We did so well to limit them to just that for the entire game - it was one of Lumley's quietest games all season. But it was enough. In the end, we didn't quite have the cutting edge - due to form, due to tiredness, due to whatever - to take those chances we did have to force extra time. It would have been deserved, too. But this week, 'deserve' has had very little to do with things.
Still, at least we only lost 1-0 to a team in our own league. it could have Bees worse.
|Cannot... concentrate... on... anything...|
at 11:11 15 Feb 2019
This little period is reminding me of that run after Christmas to the play-offs in 2003. Then, of course, it was a barnstorming run of games, full of wins and last minute winners at places like Cardiff and Brentford and only one defeat (away at champions Wigan) from the start of March until Cardiff in the final. Living game to game. Nothing else mattering except whether we'd be able to overcome Mansfield (nearly lost, even though they had 10 men for an hour, until Kev scored a fairly amazing looped volley last second equaliser).
Work? Just get it done. It's in the fcking way.
Lovelife? More important things going on than that, son.
Eating? Christ, if I have to, but only to keep myself alive until the next match.
Drinking. Yes. Sometimes it helps.
This time, it's losses. Constant losses. And at times we're awful, although not normally for whole games. And yet we're forgiving. Because there's something there, isn't there? Not sure what, and it's bound to be 0-3.
Cannot. Fcking. Concentrate.
|Antti's Six Knee Jerks: Bristol C 2 QPR1|
at 11:26 13 Feb 2019
There are so many joyous ways to win football matches. Thrashings, narrow, hard fought single goal wins, late winning goals etc. They're all great. No win, is a bad win, even if Paul Hart once tested that belief to its limit. But the converse is also true: there are so many ways to lose games. Acceptable defeats. Unlucky defeats. Thrashings. But this week, in the space of a few days, we've lost two games in two of the most gut-wrenching ways: by missing a late penalty after a comeback for the ages and then by losing to a penalty kick, wrongly awarded by the referee. We must be about to do something amazing, because the universe needs to be dramatically re-aligned.
1. THE PENALTY: I hate blaming referees for defeats, and I hate when managers do it to deflect from their team's shortcomings. Klopp's recent verbal gymnastics where he tried to claim that being given an offside goal counted against his side at West Ham is a case in point. I just think it's very rare where you can properly blame the ref. Players make mistakes all the time - more than referees - so it's rare that you can fully blame the ref (although there are exceptions - Rob Styles, Robbie Hart...).
And I don't totally blame the ref for us losing last night. But when a ref awards a penalty so late, and it's so demonstrably not a foul, it's hard not blame him for the loss of a point. It didn't look a pen from afar, and the replays showed the decision was even worse than it originally looked. Diedhiou, who had been kept very quiet all game by our back three, had a poor first touch. Furlong, as McClaren said after the game, did the right thing and got between Diedhiou and the ball to get it back to Lumley. Diedhiou then tried to muscle past him and failed. It was, clearly, not only not a penalty, but it should have been a free kick the other way. I can't fathom what the ref even thought he saw there.
You can deconstruct the performance all you like. You can say we should have cleared our lines, or kept possession better or whatever. Fine. But this was not a penalty. We were on a run of four consecutive league defeats. They were on a fabulous run of victories. To reverse both, or to halt both, you need luck - we didn't really need it last night, because we played well, especially first half, but when we did need it, the ref failed us, and it's five in a row. Heartbreaking.
2. FORMATION: Bravely, McClaren stuck with the 3-5-2 that was so effective in the second half against Birmingham at the weekend. It was obvious from the outset, of course, and naturally, that we weren't approaching the game in the same way as we did after the break on Saturday. It was about controlling Bristol, staying compact, trying to counteract their regular switching of the play as they sought to overload on one side or another. It worked. Not only did we largely nullify them, we also created the better chances and when the goal came it wasn't really a surprise. Smith, once more, was dominant and, again, we played to his strengths without resorting to launching pointless direct balls at him from defence, which doesn't suit his game.
But perhaps the second half showed its limitations when you start to, inevitably, sit deeper. When we did have the ball, options were limited in midfield as Pav and Bidwell struggled to in that difficult wing back role to offer the width that is a bit easier when your team is on top and you can play a few yards higher up the pitch. At the same time, Eliasson found more and more space as he exploited space behind Bidwell and eventually got his reward with a fine goal.
What is encouraging is that McClaren can see the problems and is trying to fix them. He said after the game that we're conceding too many goals from crosses, so having three centre backs helps. And it did last night. But he also said you can tell we haven't practised the formation enough, which was also accurate. It seems he'll stick with it for now, so I think we'll see likely the same side again on Friday. But whatever he does, whether we somehow beat a really good Watford side or not, he needs to find a win or a draw somewhere in the league and soon before panic starts to set in.
3. SUBS: One thing I would say was that while I was pleased to see S-Mac keep attackers on the pitch as he replaced our tiring front two, I do wonder whether, in the last 20 mins, we could have gone to a 4-5-1. I know that's super defensive, but maybe Bidwell dropping back a bit might've helped, and we could have packed the midfield and been able to play a bit higher up the pitch and given our midfield more options when they did get the ball. Still, essentially the plan worked, so you can't be too critical - especially in hindsight.
4. WELLS: It's been a good season from Wells, if a little strange. He made an immediate impact when he arrived, but didn't actually score for eight games. His relief when he finally did score was evident. But then he was playing well but not scoring; now he is in a bit of a rut and is missing chances he really should score. He missed a couple of good ones on Saturday even before the penalty, and last night he again was culpable in front of goal. First, he really should've opened the scoring when he hit the post - fortunately, Smith put in the rebound. And then second half he had a real chance, which he did create himself with real tenacity, but tamely lobbed it over the bar. It's a tough period for him, but I think mentally he is tough and hopefully it won't last long.
5. SH1THOUSERY: There was a bit of a debate on here about the level of timewasting last night. My view is that when you've lost four in a row, you do whatever it takes to get that result - get yourself out of that rut and just calm things down. Having said that, criticising Furlong for taking his time with a throw, or Lumley for taking time on a goal kick, seems churlish to me. Neither were unreasonable. The ref can add on time for it. When you're under pressure you absolutely should try to slow the game down - something Birmingham failed to do on Saturday, almost to enormous cost. But there are levels. I don't think we had the trainer on at all last night, for example. No one was going down feigning injury, rolling around unreasonably. You look at Preston, when they were one and two goals up against us the other week, they had the trainer on six times and still shielded the ball in the corner at 4-1. Come on, let's be realistic, here.
6. GLASS HALF FULL: The players, the management, the fans can be forgiven for feeling pretty down after the last two games: a body blow followed by an upper cut. We've lost five league games in a row (of course, it's not 5 games in a row, we've drawn and won in that run) and you could see the players were utterly gutted after the game, for the second time in a few days. But the positives are that for a game and a half we've played well. Plans have worked. We've scored goals. Smith is in the form of his career with us with 4 in 3. And this run cannot last. It can't. They don't. The longer it goes, the closer we are to it ending. Now is the time to battle, to fight and on Friday, to put all this aside and just go for it. Defeat on Friday doesn't matter. We've had a mini cup run. It's felt great and to go further would be amazing. But defeat would not be a disaster, nor would it be a disgrace. There's no pressure there. Turn up, fans and players, be loud, and just go for it. Maybe luck will change and this time next week we'll all be smiling. And, at least, even if we do lose on Friday, the season isn't over! We have to fight relegation! Woohoo!
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Bristol City v Queens Park Rangers prediction logged
|Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 3 Birmingham 4|
at 13:50 11 Feb 2019
Like Clive, I'm not over it, and it's Monday lunchtime. It should have been QPR's third comeback from four down in under 35 years - absolutely heartbreaking that we didn't quite make it.
1. WHAT NOW?: In the end: confusion. After 90 minutes of schizophrenic action, mainly focused at an increasingly punch drunk Loft End, what did we learn? And if we did learn anything, is any of it even remotely reliable? It was a game that was in some ways a microcosm of a season that is starting to move beyond the realms of comprehension. A team that can be absolutely destroyed by a decent, if hardly all-conquering West Brom can also completely uncharacteristically deal really quite easily with the cluster bomb attacks of Middlesbrough that would usually have us surrendering quicker than a chicken mistakenly entered into a Royal Rumble for lions. A team that can quite happily wave four goals through at home to Preston is the same one that can rewrite the history books by actually winning at Forest. And the team that can fail to compete at almost any level in around 25 mins of catastrophically poor football can return, inside the same game, to the point where in the end we were unlucky not to win, let alone draw.
You half expect us to run Watford off the pitch on Friday before losing to Newport in the quarters (if Newport weren’t having to play the irresistible City).
So where are we now? All season, 4-2-3-1 was working fairly well, on the whole. Pressed into a need for change, though, S-Mac goes 4-4-2 to squeeze Matt Smith into the side, giving us much-needed height at both ends. That works against Pompey’s patched up team, but comes spectacularly undone against Watford (although not Smith’s fault at all, as we’ll see below). So, we switch to 3-5-2, which works a treat. Yet the nagging feeling is 3-5-2, much like the other formations, causes more issues than it solves. As a one-off for 45 minutes, it worked well. Furlong can certainly play as part of a back 3, Hall is comfortable with that too. But Pav is not a wing back, and was exposed there last season. Bidwell is also not a wing back. It means Eze is likely to remain on the bench, and while he certainly has needed a rest, you would want him back in the side soon.
And the fact is, last season, with similar personnel at the back, 3-5-2 saw us continually attacked and destroyed by balls in behind the wing backs, and our season was only really saved when Ollie made a long overdue switch to four at the back.
So what do we do on Tuesday? Or Friday? I have no clue (at least Bristol and Watford won't either), but as exciting as the Cup run is, we could quite easily, in 9 days time, be out the Cup and be on 6 League losses in a row going up to Middlesbrough to face Pulisball. Then again, we might win three in a week once more and all will be well with the world. Impossible to predict.
2. FIRST HALF: I’ve seen some games when the anger pours down from the stands for a poor performance, but credit to the QPR fans on Saturday for not burning down the stadium after 40 minutes. Maybe we were just all in shock. Or mourning.
I’d agree with McClaren that the first 15 minutes weren’t too bad – in fact, BOS looked dangerous with two eye-catching moment. But from there until our first goal, things were diabolical. Birmingham, for sure, pressed hard, passed very well, and exploited the spaces between our rigid lines beautifully. And they had the game’s outstanding performer Che Adams in clinical form, scoring a fantastic hat trick. But we were dreadful. Dreadful in defence, where we were weak and slow to see danger. Dreadful in midfield where we failed to close down space without the ball and failed to find any space when we did have it and totally failed to back each other up. And worst of all, we were bullied into meek submission.
We are not a bad team. At times this season we’ve been incredibly strong and resourceful. None of that was in evidence on Saturday as we failed even basic tasks like challenging and battling and winning the odd second ball. That we changed that round so incredibly after the break showed tremendous spirit – but it never should have reached that point.
3. SMITH: We all love a cliché, me more than most. So let’s run through a few here. He was immense. It was a warrior-like performance. He was a man-mountain. This was an absolute bulldozing bastard of a performance. As bad as we were first half, I would except Smith from the general haranguing the rest of them deserved, because he did work, he did try, he did win balls and, crucially, he scored, giving us the tiniest glimmer of hope.
Second half he was even better and in the end it was almost like a one-on-one fight between him and the inspired Lee Camp, who denied him on at least four occasions – two of them properly excellent saves: the header he clawed out of the top corner, and the hit from the edge of the box that flicked off a defender and looked in until somehow he tipped it over the bar.
It’s a real turnaround for Smith and gives McClaren a real problem. A month ago, with Oteh playing well against Leeds, Smith was seemingly fourth choice striker. Now, with three goals in two games (and he really deserved a hat trick on Saturday), how do you drop him? Maybe, for now, we don’t: we have to stick with what’s most effective and play to those strengths, even if we know Smith certainly won’t be able to manage four 90 minute games in 11 days, which is what this team is facing at the moment. Absolutely brilliant. Tremendous heart.
4. SUBS: This was a fascinating response from McClaren. Clive and others have talked in the past about what you do when being heavily beaten at half time. Against Liverpool, with Suarez killing us every time he got the ball, Redknapp shut up shop and kept it respectable. Against Newcastle, while accepting it was 2-0 at half time and the game was theoretically still there, we had been absolutely destroyed, and the truth was the game wasn’t there. JFH bravely went for it and was duly punished. Hard. Sometimes, if he sits down for long periods, he can still feel the wounds of that pulsing on his beleaguered backside. I imagine.
Here, McClaren was very shrewd. At 4-1, there was a tiny chance, but he wasn’t about to chuck on Eze and Hemed and just go for broke. He changed formation, he brought on a central defender for a winger who had impressed going forward, but was caught out running the other way, and swapped one defensive, combative midfielder for another. The instructions were sensible, I suspect: don’t go mad, the next goal is vital. Get it to 4-2 and we have a chance, but don’t over-commit.
It worked brilliantly. Cousins who was booed in some quarters when his name was announced was (nice, lads), apart from one blindingly bad pass, a demon in midfield – a huge improvement on the sadly off-the-pace Scowen. He won loads of it, he passed well, and he topped it by finally scoring his first goal for us – and a beauty too. If there weren’t already echoes of the Port Vale 4-4, that certainly invited the comparison, similar as it was to Andy Impey’s superb finish that day. A really difficult skill to keep that under the bar.
And Leistner, after a poor game at Wigan, returned to give an imperious, captain’s performance here, barely giving Adams a kick, and heading away ball after ball. We’ll need a dollop of that against the powerful Deeney on Friday if we stand any chance.
And then once we were back in, he brought on Pav, who returned to form simply by keeping it simple: get ball, beat man, cross ball. Even that was a brave sub – removing Furlong would have been the obvious choice, but with Lynch out of sorts, he took the decision to trust his young player, and it worked well.
Really clever management from McClaren – but many would argue that the team he put out there was wrong in the beginning. Still, he showed trust in those that performed on Tuesday, and if you don’t do that, it will be hard to get fringe players to perform for you. Leistner arguably deserved to be dropped and while it’s easy to say in hindsight that we needed his strength at the back – come on, Hall and Lynch are not exactly a pair of Little Tom Carrolls. McClaren had every right to expect them not to be bullied to that degree.
5. SECOND HALF: And yet, I’d argue that we didn’t actually play brilliantly in the second half. We played well, don’t get me wrong, but what got us back in the game was guts. It was hard work, the willingness to chase, to harry, to battle, to refuse to be beaten. We didn’t play many lovely flowing moves – we made chances through sheer force of will, to playing to Smith’s strengths and absolute bloody-mindedness. All the qualities we missed in the first half. That was admirable, because even when it had been 4-2 for a long time and we started to flag, they kept going, kept fighting, kept believing they could somehow salvage a point. In the end, a point was the least we deserved – in the end, really, we should’ve won.
6. LEE CAMP: And one of the main reasons we didn’t was down to our old boy, Lee Camp. He’s not been brilliant in the games we’ve played against him over the years, and he looked mostly awful for Sunderland as he struggled with his back or his knees or both. But without being elegant, he was superb in the second half on Saturday. At the end of the game, having kept out countless shots and headers, and a penalty, it was he the Birmingham players went to: they knew he had saved them from embarrassment.
Much has already been written about the penalty, and it wasn’t great from Wells, but any penalty save is a great one and he denied us with his own incredible fortitude and skill. To top all that, though, he still turned to the Loft at the end and saluted them. He’ll always be special to us as that 20-year-old who came in and steadied our season, then returned and performed heroics in games like Leeds away, but for him, following that ludicrous second half maelstrom, to remember his connection to the club like that, was praiseworthy. Well played, Campy.
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Queens Park Rangers v Birmingham City prediction logged
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