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Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 1 Villa 2
at 11:02 20 Nov 2017

It's hard to say this was disappointing, as it was all so predictable. Thought the boys battled well, but Villa were just better everywhere, except maybe in goal. Overheard a Villa fan on the tube after syaing it was the best they'd played away all season, particularly second half, so that's annoying - particularly as, although they were decent and should challenge for promotion, I didn't think they were amazing.

1. BACK THREE: I won't spend ages on this as I'm sure Clive has covered it expertly in his report already. But Ollie now has a definite problem with the three at the back system. For a while it was working. And working very well, especially at home. Maybe it was adrenaline - Robinson playing his socks off, Baptiste providing experience and knowhow, Lynch good at shouting at Bidwell etc.

But the game that turned it was Sheffield United - a little strangely as that was one of our very few clean sheets - when they found space behind our wing backs and with a roving number 10. Ollie fixed it by putting Furlong at full back and making sure Scowen got a grip by sitting deeper, and we won well in the end. Since then, Forest hammered us by spotting the same weakness and then Villa did it again, with the irritating Snodgrass and the excellent Adomah running riot on both flanks all afternoon. Of course, we won't come up against this quality every week. But we need a different plan. Maybe it could work with Onuoha as the right-sided centre half because of his lightning pace, but at the moment, he might need to consider switching at a 4-3-3 because it's becoming too easy for teams to attack us at the moment.

2. LYNCH: On paper, Lynch should be exactly what we require. Tall, strong, decent in the air, loud, a bit of a LEED-AH. And at times he is just that. But at others he is not and I'm starting to get exasperated with his individual mistakes that are costing us. He did it against Fulham and it happened twice again on Saturday - indecision. The worst one was when he made a decent interception in his own box in the second half. He had two clear choices - a quick pass back or a safety first clearance. He did neither, and instead dribbled towards his own goal, coming perilously close to causing us to concede as he was hunted down.

He needs to be better than this. I don't understand why he does this in most games. It's almost like having won the ball he has no awareness that he might be tackled or might lose it. It's where you want the Clint Hill mentality to kick in - just get the thing out the danger zone. No one's asking him to be Clive Wilson and be perfect on the ball in those situations and execute a nice one-two to get out of trouble. But this hesitancy is no good for anyone. I've kind of lost patience a bit, I think, and he still has 18 months to run on his contract.

3. MACKIE: A few weeks ago, near the start of the season, I wrote a jerk saying that Mackie was in the team on merit and how much his all round game has improved as his pace has slowed. There was little sign on that on Saturday. I love him and always will, but too many times his first touch let him down and in truth, although he scored, Villa always looked confident dealing with him. We're into late November now, and while we know what our defence would be if everyone was fit and the midfield three pick themselves, we're still no closer on the front two or three. One thing I do know is that it should probably never be Mackie and Smith. As always, Mackie did his best for the team,. played in two or three positions, never stopped working, but the guile wasn't there, and it just wasn't enough on the day.

4. CARRYING PLAYERS: Which leads us onto this point. On Saturday, we simply had too many players not at their best or not fit enough and there weren't enough subs allowed to fix it all. I thought Luongo was no worse than anyone else before the break, and we certainly looked worse without him afterwards. But we couldn't afford to 'waste' a sub on him like that. Cousins can't last 90. Smith did last 90, but can't really. Mackie was ineffectual. There were too many areas that needed surgery - it was like a Redknapp team. Had we been able to make four or five changes, we might have been able to put some proper pressure on at 2-1 down with 10 minutes left. But we couldn't, and in the end Ollie was just throwing on forwards and hoping.

What was the answer? Maybe not starting Luongo? Putting Cousins in the centre and Pav as the wing back? ~Then bringing Luongo on with about 25 left as they did with his fellow Aussie, Jedinak? That might have been smarter, but if Luongo thought he could play, and he did train on Friday, I can't blame Ollie too much. Should Furlong have come on at half time for Luongo? Then Cousins goes infield? Switch to four at the back and play Bidwell left midfield for a bit? You wouldn't want to make two changes at half time. Too much needed doing, and in the end the changes that were made had almost no effect.

5. SMITH: One thing I felt Ollie did get right was playing Smith. He tied Samba up all game in both boxes, actually dominating him in the second half until Bruce brought Jedinak on to stand in front of Smith and stop him winning about 90% of headers. And what a sad shadow of a player Samba is now compared to that absolute beast that one looked like he might score about 6 when we played Blackburn at LR a few years ago. Smith, I felt, did his job. Defended well, won his flick-ons, had a good first tiem shot go just wide, a header he should have done better with and an unexpected volley go straight at the keeper. But he needs someone better around him. Ollie played Mackie to make up for Smith's lack of mobility, but maybe Sylla would have been a better choice. OK, he doesn't chase and harry, but if Smith could keep Samba busy, maybe Sylla would have found some space.

6. ADOMAH: Albert, if you're not going to celebrate, because we all know that clearly you didn't want to score against your own team, why not try harder to miss the penalty? I know you were hoping to hit the post on your second, but if you're going to do that, do it right, and make sure in future. Also, fancy a pay cut?
Great interview with David Wheeler...
at 13:12 16 Nov 2017

Really like this lad. Hope he can break into the side and get some goals. If Ollie goes to a 4-3-3 could definitely see him thriving.
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Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 1 Sheff Utd 0
at 11:35 1 Nov 2017

After missing Saturday's game, I was convinced Rangers would punish me by losing this one. But they didn't. Typical Rangers - draw with the bottom two sides, beat the top two.

1. IT IS ALL WORK, WORK, WORK, YOU KNOW: I haven't read a lot of comments on here yet, but I saw one or two saying that Sheff U were poor, they had injuries and so forth. Two things: Sheffield certainly don't have more injuries than we do, and more importantly they didn't look great because we didn't allow them to. The work rate of this team may well be the best of any QPR side I've seen play - it is phenomenal: Scowongoman may set the tone, but the rest of the squad follow suit.

Remember, they had one night's sleep less than United since their last, gruelling game against Wolves on Saturday. And yet still, they out-worked a similarly very hard working (and much bigger) side. United themselves came fresh off a relative battering of Leeds, but struggled when it came to breaking us down. They perhaps had only one glorious chance, when a superb ball in, likely from Brooks, was volleyed over by Clarke.

But that was it. Every time a United player had the ball, he had a hooped shirt to deal with. 15 years ago Ollie would talk about 'bad-rashing' teams, and this one currently does it better than any of his previous ones. I'm sure we were all worried as the clock ticked on that an onslaught would appear. There was a good tactical reason why it didn't, but it was also because QPR literally ground them down. At around 75 minutes, United played two or three poor balls straight out of play, and you fancied they'd had enough. They had just been out-worked, never given a moment's piece, until they almost accepted it wasn't going to happen. Great strength of character the team is showing. A run of draws is often not a bad thing - it provides a base, a knowledge you are hard to beat. And now we've picked up a couple of vital wins. We'll lose plenty too - starting on Saturday, inevitably - but we're a mid-table side. Let's roll with them punches.

2. OLLIE'S SUBS: Lots of screams to get Smith on, lots of predictions from me that Wheeler would be coming off soon, lots of calls for Pav. But actually, Ollie's smartest sub last night was Furlong for Cousins. Not that Cousins was playing poorly, but he was tired and had been caught out once or twice with balls in behind him.

I have no clue what our formation was before this sub, but afterwards we went to a rough 4-3-3 I thought, and the reason was because of David Brooks. While Clarke and Donaldson didn't cause us too many problems, Brooks was really dangerous. He played in the hole, but drifted wide a lot and Scowen was unable to get a real grip on him. He constantly found space in the first half, and for the first 15 mins or so of the second. If they were going to equalise, it would be through him one way or another - possibly a penalty, as despite his great skill and vision, he was looking for a foul every time he had the ball.

Ollie's sub did two things: we reverted to our more usual midfield shape, with Scowen at the base and Mass and Freeman ahead, rather than Freeman being a bit wider, and went to a more conventional back four, with Furlong slightly deeper. This meant, int he middle, Scowen suddenly got a better grip on Brooks. If Brooks drifted wide, the space he was exploiting was squeezed by Furlong and Bidwell. And that was that for Brooks. He ended up dropping deeper and deeper, got frustrated and for some reason wasn't sent off for lashing out at Scowen. With him out the game, United's creativity was snuffed out.

3. BAPTISTE: I wasn't exactly ecstatic about the signing of Alex Baptiste, although I wasn't angry either. I was just underwhelmed, and thought maybe he'd help us out as a squad player. Well, I was wrong. Now he's fully fit, Hall and Ned might just be wondering how they'll get their places back ahead of him and Robinson.

Baptiste was my man of the match. He wins headers, he plays it simple, clears his lines if he needs to, has good positioning, wins balls he shouldn't, and I'm sure is responsible for organising that defence. There's nothing flash there. He's just solid and dependable and, well, good. Brooks might have been causing problems, but Clarke, Donaldson and Sharp never had much space and the tight, straight lines of our defence made sure we caught them offside plenty of times. Great work.

4. ROBINSON: Same goes for Robinson. I worried after he missed a couple of games that he might take time to settle back. Nope. Straight back into it, with improvements on almost a match-by-match basis. He's winning far more in the air than he did in his first few games and looks totally at home as a centre back. So combative, so determined - and, like Baptiste, he's fair, too. The pair of them barely gave away a free kick all night.

And it all goes back to Knee Jerk 1 - the reason we're able to, well, not keep regular clean sheets admittedly, but at least be competitive and difficult to break down at the back, goes to hard work and commitment and belief and knowing your jobs. If Robinson can stay fit, he could develop into a very decent centre half, which would be a big bonus.

5. SCOWEN: Not his best night, but typical of Scowen, he never hid. He kept ratting around, winning the ball, playing his passes. We were clearly under instruction to get it forward quickly, perhaps hoping to expose a United high line, which sort of worked, but a fair few of his passes didn't come off. And yet even on his bad day, he's still twice the player of most central midfielders we've had in recent years. And that's why I like him. He played some bad balls, but still in the last 15 minutes he was making crucial challenges and shielding the defence.

6. STROUD: For once, it was the opposition fans booing him off. To be fair to them, we did get a couple of decisions I thought were wrong (a non-foul on Cousins by the dugout for a start), but I also think Stroud was right to get tough on Brooks. He gave him a couple of free kicks, but after he rolled around holding his ankle to make sure Cousins was booked, then miraculously recovering the moment the card was out, I think Stroud changed. After that, he started to ignore his tumbles, and Brooks only has himself to blame. Having said that, you can't help feeling that he'd have been delighted to send off Scowen had the roles been reversed when Brooks lashed out near the end of the game. In the end, grateful we got through without any reds or any pens.
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Transfer Window and Managers
at 23:14 16 Oct 2017

The argument below about JFH and IH and all our other millions of managers got me thinking.
If we're going to have a transfer window system, and we know we are, shouldn't this apply to managers too? The whole point of a transfer windows is to make things fairer, not have transfers all season, so why not extend to managers? I appreciate this would royally fk some clubs, but then if you can change in January, you must be doing badly then if you're going to get relegated.
I think it'd be a good thing and might actually mean some managers stay in jobs for a lot longer, because they won't be obsessed with the next result and may be allowed to play a slightly longer game.
I always felt we should have committed to Warnock until the end of his Prem season, come what may, and I wouldn't be adverse to a cast iron guarantee that IH had to stay until next summer at the earliest.
Also would've meant Birmingham had to keep Redknapp until January, which would've been funny.
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Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 1 Fulham 2
at 20:32 30 Sep 2017

Another genuinely pulsating match at Loftus Road in a game that had pretty much everything except the late equaliser QPR, in the end, probably deserved.

1. THE MIDFIELD TRIO: I won't spend too long on this because I think we're all in agreement and so far these three are undoubtedly the success story of Ollie's reign so far. Luongo has moved up a notch, and hasn't been overawed at all by the captaincy. Scowen has been a revelation, the kind of midfielder we've been crying out for for years. Freeman is our true creative spark. They all bring something different to the table, and so complement each other beautifully. And yet they have much in common too - tireless running, tremendous spirit, a never-say-die attitude, great stamina and the ability to both pass and win the ball too.

On Friday night, as usual, they worked their socks off for the whole game and while Fulham were marginally the better side, the difference between our fortunate win at their place last season, where they cut through our centre at will, and our more solid appearance last night was stark - thanks to these three.

I think Luke Freeman just edged the battle between them (and possibly Robsinon) for Man of the Match this time around, just because if we were going to find a way to come back from the dead, it looked like it would be sparked by him. I love the way he can wriggle from tight situations, his delivery from corners is excellent (even almost scoring from one in the first half, but for a genuinely great save by Button), and he always looks a danger when he has the ball on the edge of the box. A crying shame that he couldn't quite grab that equaliser just after Washington scored, when he was denied again by Button. And I'm pretty sure everyone in the SA Road stand thought his free kick was in all the way. I don't think I've ever had my head in my hands so often in the last 20 minutes of a game, having been sure we'd forced a goal only for it to go just wide, be cleared off the line, or saved.

But what we need, I think, is a shorthand name for these three. My three suggestions are:
- The Tricky Trio - in homage to the great Princes Park front three - Kevin 'Mighty' Mouse, Hot Shot Hamish and Wee Willie Campbell.
- LuScowgo.
- FreeMasSco.

But I'm open to other thoughts.

2. SUBS: I don't think it's going to be very controversial to say I think the subs, or at least the first one, were not quite right in this game. I thought in the first half we played some really nice football - some great triangles, some lovely quick passing of the sort we rarely saw at the back end of last season in particular. FreeMasSco and Pav combined really well and we had several moves that either ended with a chance, a half chance or had Fulham in some difficulty.

But after the break, Ollie reacted quickly to try and get us a goal, but ended up blunting the sharpest part of our game. Pav certainly wasn't having his best game, but in the first half in particular, they were really struggling with him, and he worked tirelessly down that right. I was actually expecting him to be brought off as to me he looked like he'd been struggling a bit, possibly with a knock. But Smith was the wrong replacement. Actually, having Smith on was not the bad call, it was just who he came on for. At that stage, I think we'd have been better off bringing on Wheeler too, and taking off Mackie, meaning the shape would remain essentially unchanged. As it was we suddenly went ridiculously narrow and the onus on Freeman in particular to create something grew much bigger. In the event, it was only when Sylla limped off that we regained some sort of width, and once again we looked far more dangerous. Smith in the middle, by Fulham's own admission causing havoc, with Washington and Wheeler either side as genuine threats. I feel we lost time and momentum where Ollie didn't quite get that one right.

3. CENTRE BACKS: It's unfair to be too harsh on Lynch as I'm sure he was not fully fit. However, if you were to look at our centre backs it was he, rather than Robinson, who looked like he was playing out of position. Sometimes I think Lynch is a little too confident. He has belief in his strength and his ability to get the ball away and so becomes ponderous and too many times on Friday was caught out when he could have cleared his lines or played an earlier ball.

Robinson, in contrast, seems as if he knows he's out of position, so he's just going to play it safe. If he's in trouble, he'll kick it out. Fulham fans cheered that a few times on Friday, but I have no problem with it. Clint Hill and Warnock were big advocates of it. Why take the risk? It's nice to play out prettily from the back when you can, but better to concede a throw than a goal. It's dull, and it's safety first, but for a team that is as porous at the back as we are and with so many injuries, it's far from the worst policy.

Robinson, I think, has been really impressive. Not to the extent that I think he's the answer at the back, but to come in after all his injuries in an unfamiliar position and play how he's played is worthy of praise. And I love his attitude. He doesn't shirk, he battles, he loves a tackle. The last 20 or 30 minutes on Friday saw him win pretty much everything, just when we needed him to. Towering headers, 40-60 balls. Several times our attacks broke down but he determinedly won the ball back to start another assault. He was certainly troubled by the pace of Ojo and looked much more comfortable after he went off, but Ojo will do that to most defenders in this league I think. At the same time, two or three times in the first half he got back to stop Ojo when it looked like he'd run clear of Robinson. It's a huge bonus for us how well he's doing, because if he hadn't filled in there, you wonder what on earth we'd be doing instead.

4. SYLLA: I've been begging for Idrissa to get a start. Smith can't last. Washington, after his great first game of the season is simply not potent enough despite all his endeavour and Mackie, despite his three goals, is not an out and out striker. To me, he has to have a run in the side and I'm only more convinced of that after Friday. First half I thought he was very good. It would be very hard for anyone to claim that he didn't work and chase and harry, but more than that he held the ball up well, took it on that magnificent chest, laid it off, made himself available and bundled past challenges. His best display for us I think, in that first half, up there with his great performance away at Reading last season. The only thing missing was a decent chance - he had one, but he was offside and comically blazed over anyway.

But give him a run now. Let him play up there with Mackie or Washington. Let them do the running and inspire him to do the same. If he can just get some goals and some confidence I'm convinced he's out best option up there. Even if we have to bring him off after 70 and then throw on Smith, that's not going to be a bad thing. He does have negatives - his touch can let him down, he was perhaps not quite direct enough on Friday, but I just think he could get us some valuable goals given the proper chance.

5. THE FUTURE: So, we're 11 games in and we're at a decent place to judge our level. Lower mid table feels about right. If we can stay there this season, maybe push a few places higher which, with a bit of luck, we might have been, then I honestly think we could be at the start of having a half-decent side. At least at the moment it is exciting, they work hard, they want to play for the club and we're playing some undeniably decent, if frantic, football.

The key really is to somehow get Onuoha and Hall back. Put those two in as two of the back three and suddenly we really start to look promising. The midfield looks at its healthiest for years - FreeMasSco in possession, but with genuine potential quality backing them up - Manning, Cousins and Ariel.

And then it's just the forward line. That's where we're really lacking. Stick Charlie Austin in that team and you've basically got a play-off side in my opinion. We're not going to get another gem like him for a while, though, so someone needs to step up this season or next. I'm far more positive than i was a few months ago, yet at the same time this little rut we're in, with no win in five despite some good performances, worries me. This kind of run can quickly turn toxic. We need some wins again, and quickly, because as happy as I am with this season so far, I still think we could get sucked in to a relegation battle as we did last season.

6. PENALTIES: It must be a record, surely. They've now been given four penalties against us in their last three games, and missed the lot. When that one was given on Friday, I was convinced it was a goal. Law of averages, surely. But no. And Fonte's was the worst of the lot. Ballooned it over. At Craven Cottage we might as well start the game by giving them a pen, watch them miss it, and then get on with the bloody game.

I haven't seen it again, so not sure whether Ollie was correct that it shouldn't have been awarded (certainly looked a pen from where I was sat, and caused because of some woful dallying by Lynch), but I'm a bit baffled about why he was so bothered. He can't control whether someone dives or not - he can try to control whether his defenders don't amble along the front of the area until they get caught in possession. Wrong target there, Oll.

Be nice if we could have a penalty against them next time though. Them getting a penalty was about the only predictable thing of that whole game last night.
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