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|Prediction||Prediction Logged by at 14:16:41|
Brentford v Queens Park Rangers prediction logged
|Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 1 Preston 2|
at 14:13 16 Apr 2018
Like a tethered hot air balloon. Flying high one minute, back on the ground deflating quickly the next.
1. CHANGES: I'm not too bothered about changes at this time of the season. I know it angers some, and I can see why, but with our place secure, I don't really have any problem with changes being made. But, I'm very much on Clive's side with this one: not too many.
We're already down to the bare bones at the back, so we are by definition weak at centre half. So, to remove not only two of our most consistent players in midfield, but also the two forwards who impressed the most AND scored three between them a few days earlier is just asking for trouble. I have no issues with giving Ingram a run - no issues at all with any of the *players* he picked. But for me, there were just a couple too many changes. That might not have saved the game and equally playing the same side might also have resulted in a loss. We don't know. Picking the same team does not guarantee results. But Sylla, surely, deserved to keep his place having scored two and been taken off early in the week? Same with Smyth? Sylla in particular must be wishing for the sort of prolonged run Washington has been granted (more than once). He's on form, he's scored two, Smith has played tons of football this year: let the man play!
I do have sympathy for Ollie. We want to see what Cousins can do when he finally gets a run in his preferred position. We all want to watch Eze. But there are a few games left, there's time to tinker and experiment without ripping everything up from game to game. to play devil's advocate, it is worth pointing out that the first 15 mins aside, we were not great against Wednesday (nor did we need to be after going 3-up) - in fact, on another day they might even have come back for a draw. So it wasn't as if changes were ludicrous, but any team will find it difficult having to adjust that much from game to game.
2. INGRAM: A couple of years back a few chin-strokers were keen to tell us that of our two new keepers, Ingram would end up usurping the more experienced Smithies. Seems unlikely now, although it's worth remembering that some people wrote off Smithies after he came on for 20 minutes when Green had been sent off. It's very harsh to judge any player, but particularly keepers, on just one or two games. But Saturday did show the value of a settled, confident goalie. In the week, we'd seen Smithies outshine the Wednesday keeper; here the Preston keeper had almost nothing to do and Ingram was very much a mixed bag: some confident punching, some nice takes, a couple of well-saved shots. But also some poor distribution, a moment of madness in the first half when he was forced to hack down a Wednesday player, and some unconvincing handling. So not great then, but we should have a better idea of his skills assuming he completes the rest of this season.
3. CENTRE HALF: This is beginning to become a problem position - in fact, amazingly, considering our inability until recently to take chances, it's the position that most needs looking at this summer. I didn't think either Baptiste or Robinson were that bad on Saturday, but neither were great either. Baptiste seemed at times unable to communicate effectively with any players around him as he challenged three or four times for the same ball with a different colleague each time. Robinson is decent but in truth was never quite the great player he has been credited as being at times - we were more just relieved he was competent at CB when we had so few other options. Lynch is both inconsistent and injury prone, Onuoha's may well to leave and Hall may have to look for new line of work. Even if Onuoha and Robbo stayed, Baptiste should be moved on so we need a new one. If one leaves we really need two, and if both go we may need three centre halves come August - because Robbo/Baptiste at the back next season is a recipe for even less clean sheets than this season, if that were even possible.
4. EZE: Certainly not his best game for us, PNE made sure of that through the subtle use of clever bodychecks that the referee couldn't hope to catch, yet his play was still the most enjoyable thing on show in blue and white hoops. His clever movement, his total calmness on the ball in any situation, his bursts of speed, his vision and most importantly his ability to make the difficult passes when he does see them did shine through - just not very often. Played the pass of the game when releasing a ravenous Smyth down the right wing in the second half - absolutely wonderful play.
5. REFEREE: Never blame refs for results - chances are, he's made less mistakes than any player or manager. and the narrative of a game where Ollie has changed half the team and we went a goal up cannot be that the ref is to blame. But he was poor. You know he was poor because first half he was getting sarcastic cheers from PNE fans when they got a decision, but at the end of the game he was booed off by home fans. I see Clive reckons the Sylla penalty decision was not much of a shout, but that looked as clear-a pen as I've seen all season. He shielded, held off tight marking and only when he was ready to strike did he fall after being clearly yanked back. I know Sylla is eccentric, but even for him that would've been an odd time to take a dive. But it was the bodycheck on Eze that really took the biscuit - as people called for a yellow card, they were left gobsmacked that it wasn't even a foul. Sadly, for a man of his size, he seemed to be bullied by PNE players, who took advantage of him at every turn, particularly in the final, trying 15 minutes, when they acted as if it was a tennis match - you know, when you get to stop and have a drink every 3 minutes, because it's such hard work under all that hot (15 degrees) sun. The issue really is that until you book someone, players will keep doing it because what have they got to lose? A ref who resembles the Terminator could hardly have been more timid. The only thing more timid was our attack in the second half, in fact. So it wasn't his fault we lost. But any game when you come away discussing the ref is a sign he's had a mare. And he had one.
6. CHAMPIONSHIP: It is bloody annoying to be bouncing around like this: brilliant at Villa; disappointing at Reading. Quiet first half v Fulham, superb second half v Fulham. Take Norwich apart, get taken apart by Hull, demolish Sheff Wed in 12 minutes. But it's not all down to Ollie's eccentricities. Our 4-1 win v Norwich was followed by our loss to Hull and Norwich smashing promotion-chasing Villa 3-1. After beating us 4-0, Hull did also smash Burton 5-0, but then lost 1-0 at home to Sheff Wed, who had just lost 4-2 to the side they (Hull) had just beaten 4-0 (us). This league is a stupid, enjoyable, unpredictable bunfight. For all we know, keeping the same side barring Luongo for Scowen might only have resulted in a heavier defeat. Still, that's why I like it. I'm yet to even feel a tiny pang of longing for the terrible Premier League.
|Prediction||Prediction Logged by at 11:37:28|
Queens Park Rangers v Preston North End prediction logged
|Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 4 Sheff Wed 2|
at 11:24 11 Apr 2018
4-1, 0-4, 4-2. You would say classic Rangers, but it's not that classic, is it? A set of results as bizarre and surreal as the whole bizarre, surreal game last night, topped off, incredibly, by a piledriving long-range scorcher (by his standards) from Sylla for his second goal. Enjoyable game in which I only felt truly comfortable for the 6 minutes before they scored and the last minute of injury time.
1. SMYTH: In a season that was fairly dull for large portions, bright spots have emerged. Two in particular in the last three months or so - Eze, of course, but also Paul Smyth, who with each passing game looks more and more like a proper player and not, as can happen, an adrenaline-fuelled youngster impacting games through energy alone.
I thought he was very good in this game, the only disappointment was that we failed to get the ball to his feet more often, particularly in the second half. To describe his goal in a match report, it would sound pretty ordinary: goalie flaps cross out to him, he scores. But it was so much better than that. It was a beautiful first touch and then his second was an accurate strike into the corner - nicely placed, and he didn't try to hit it too hard. Really skilful.
Obviously his work rate is fantastic, he has good pace, and he does what you want him to do: if he can go for goal, he will. If he can shoot, he doesn't hesitate. If he gets it wide, he wants to beat his man and cross the bloody thing from the byeline. None of it is complex, but that very simplicity is what makes him so dangerous. As with Eze, I don't want to get too excited, but from nowhere it looks like we've found two players who could cause some serious damage next season.
2. SMITHIES: Nothing he could do about the two goals, and you have to feel for the blighter, having shipped four including that unfortunate own goal on Sat, plus having some fans ludicrously claiming he was at fault for Aluko's goal the other week, plus his little aberration against Norwich in the first half when he did his best Rob Green impression. All of that added together doesn't make a hugely pretty picture, but last night he was, in the end, one of the main differences between the sides. While at one end Wildsmith flapped at one cross, fumbled a tame shot from Bidwell, didn't command his box for Sylla's first and playfully rolled over so he could tickle the ball past him for the fourth, Smithies pulled off a breath-taking save just before the break to keep it at 3-0, and another very good one near the end to keep it at 4-2 to head-off what could have been an immensely embarrassing collapse reminiscent of England's first innings in New Zealand the other week. Lucky to have him.
3. OSAYI-SAMUEL: Another one I'm becoming more optimistic about. Was involved in two goals, looked ready to receive the ball, showed strength and pace and a willingness to try and beat his man. It was probably his best game for the club and you do wonder just why he hasn't had a few more opportunities in the team -particularly as we're light on players who can play left wing. There's lots to like here and he clearly bothered the Wednesday defence for the whole night - I felt he was unlucky to get hooked, although Pav did give us that extra bit of experience as we ran the game down. We shouldn't get too down by 0-4 reverses at rampant Hull, and neither should we get too excited by 4-2 wins against Sheff Wed, but this is what we wanted, wasn't it? Young, hungry players with pace and desire? Eze, Smyth, Bos, possibly Oteh and Chair in the wings too. Really encouraging.
4. COUSINS: Feels unfair to have a moan after a good win and final confirmation we won't be shitting it at our last home game like we were last season (although, as Clive has been saying for ages, relegation has never looked like a genuine possibility except to the most pessimistic or jaded of fans) but I'm starting to tilt the other way with Cousins, as I have with Washington.
Just the other week, I thought he was excellent when he came on at Fulham, but you have to take your chances when they come, and I don't think Cousins is doing it when he gets starts. I feel for him because it's been a wretched two years - he's had injuries, he's been shoved in at right back and right wing, he's been stuck behind three immovable objects in the centre of our midfield... it's such a shame, because still the bes game I've seen him play was for Charlton against us. I was convinced he was a great signing :young, yet experienced, full of energy and drive and skill and power. and it hasn't happened and last night, despite one or two good moments, particularly a lovely passing triangle in the second half, he was one of our weaker players. The thing is he needs games and I wonder whether it would benefit us long term if he went on loan for 6 months next season just to play every week and find himself again.
5. MENTAL STRENGTH: Now, yes, we did come a little too close to somehow chucking away a four-goal lead. And even when we were 4-up it felt weird. We've played better in some games and been 1-0 down thank to our propensity to miss four million chances. But, stop for a moment nd look at the team. Two youngsters and Sylla, who's been out injured for ages, up front. No Luongo, no Onuoha, no Lynch. Three leaders all gone from the side. A converted left back and a clearly struggling Baptiste at centre half. And we won. And we didn't collapse. Now, Wednesday were awful at times, admittedly, but it was greatly encouraging to me that even with an under-strength side we put them to the sword. Onuoha and Luongo are vital to us - captain, and the captain's understudy, and yet we still went out and won. Amazing, really, after Saturday's debacle. I also liked that Ollie took off Scowen, even if I thought it was too early. His message to his players was: I trust you. You can do this without four or five of the players we've relied on this season. And that's important. Chris Ramsey talks about challenging his U23s - putting them in unfamiliar positions or putting them against players he knows could tear them a new one, because that helps you learn. There was similar thinking from Ollie last night when Manning went on, where he was asking him to make sure we don't miss Scowen, one of our most important players. That'll help the squad grow, and also help if and when we do have to sell our better players.
6. SINTON: It was easy to think, when Les brought in Andy Sinton as Ambassador, that it was jobs for the boys, it was a ceremonial role, we'd probably never see him, he'd just shake hands in executive boxes each week. But it hasn't turned out that way and with each passing month the wisdom of having someone like Sinton at the club in this role looks more and more, er, wise. Your reaction is to think 'we don't need this sort of role', but actually we really do. He provides a face for the club, someone people relate to, someone people like and respect, someone who can perform numerous roles. Last night was truly moving. His speech, delivered eloquently from the heart and bravely without notes, about Ray Wilkins I'm sure brought tears to the eyes of many and was clearly appreciated by Ray's family. The stadium went silent as he spoke and although you couldn't see him, it was clear he was choked up - it was a wonderful eulogy. And you wonder who would do that at other clubs? It was perfect that we had Sinton there - fitting. Les deserves credit for spotting that the role was needed - and Sinton has been key to the club finally being welcoming of ex-players when it wasn't in the past (Forever Rs is easily the best half time entertainment since round the pole's turn of the century heyday) too. If Les is now the club's patriarch, a sort of Don, then Sinton is his approachable brother, like a smarter Fredo, and Hoos is the consiglieri, and Birch is Michael, Ollie is Sonny... sorry. Lost the thread there. You know what I mean. Well done Sints.
[Post edited 11 Apr 11:49]
|Prediction||Prediction Logged by at 14:49:40|
Queens Park Rangers v Sheffield Wednesday prediction logged
|Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 4 Norwich 1|
at 13:19 3 Apr 2018
An entertaining match and a great win marred only by the miserable bloke near me mansplaining the game to his female companion thinking he sounded like Guardiola, and then, after moaning about long balls, conceding the goal and the lack of atmosphere, failing to celebrate our goals because he was busy checking his acca. We all go for different reasons, don't we?
1. ONUOHA: I think he's been in fine form recently - as has Lynch, to be fair - and he had a particularly good game yesterday. We often struggle against Oliveira for some reason, but while he was certainly a threat first half, Ned stuck to his task well and wore him down quite effectively. I know he's had his detractors at Rangers, but now he's finally settled as a centre back I think he's become a really important player. His pace and strength are vital, and he's also really silenced the critics who believed he wasn't a proper captain. He leads by example, is rarely booked, and while he does make mistakes, all players do. First half in particular he made some crucial challenges, and there was one lovely moment where he strained every muscle in his body to catch up with Oliveira and execute a perfect tackle before glaring at Darnell Furlong for being caught upfield. That's all it took. No bollocking, no histrionics, no playing to the gallery JT-style. Just a hard look. Perfect person for Furs to learn from.
Second half things were a little easier for us at the back, and Ned decided to cut loose with a couple of rare marauding runs, one of which saw him winding up for a long range effort which would have brought the house down had it flown in. But he got tackled before foot met ball. Never mind. Persuading him to sign again migth be our most important signing this summer. It's no coincidence that our worst run of form this season came when he was injured.
2. SECOND HALF: This felt very much like the Fulham game to me. We didn't exactly play poorly in the first half, but we weren't quite at it either. Both times a goal from our prolific midfield goal-getter Massimo Luongo proved an important stepping stone to us dominating after the break.
And here you have to give credit to Ollie - he shifted things around and our renewed vigour nullified Norwich's main threats while simultaneously making us much more dangerous going forward. Clearly, the second half display was one of the best of the season, with the floodgates finally opening as we finally scored the goals our creativity merited. I thought just about every player improved second half, so whatever was said at half time worked a treat. but what is the reasoning? Is the team just a bit unsure of itself? Was it too scared of Norwich's counter attacks, in the same way they were timid against Fulham? If so, hopefully recent results will give them a bit more belief.
3. SMITH: I think there's a pretty good case for the argument that this was his best game in a QPR shirt. I don't think he's ever won so much in the air and for once we were regularly getting on the end of his flick-ons. He gave the Norwich defenders a torrid time, and while their manager may pathetically make jibes about our long balls, the fact is we have to play to our strengths, as any team does. And if your big man is winning that much of the ball, you'd be foolish not to use him. Having said that, none of our goals came from actual long balls, so not really sure what he was going on about.
But back to Smith. I really admire players who obviously work at their game, and Mathieu is one of them. He's shown definite improvement in his year at the club, he now has 9 goals for the season which is none too shabby, as well as a similar number of assists. He was desperately unlucky in the first half when he hit the post, but his goal he really made out of nothing. It's a rea skill to challenge for that ball and not impede the keeper in any way - great opportunistic striking. His knock down for Eze for number three was also excellent, and it showed the value of having someone as bright as Eze getting in and around him for precisely those kind of balls. And then there was the stunning trick he did in the centre of the park. Moments like those are just so great - the whole crowd cheered in the way they do when a centre back unexpectedly tricks his way past a full back out on the wing after a corner's been played to deep. In a way, you feel for Smith, because the reaction is one of surprise as much as delight that he could pull that trick off when, as wooden as he looks, he's 1000 times better than any of us will ever be at playing football. But I'm sure he knows the spirit in which it's offered. Brilliant - a goal, an assist an all-round display and some Taarabt-like skill. A perfect day for him.
4. EZE/MADDISON: First half, Maddison looked terrific, particularly in tandem with the dangerous and very quick Murphy down the left (another tough test for Furlong there). We really struggled with the little triangles those two were a part of with various third wheels down the left in the first half, and Scowen couldn't quite seem to get hold of Maddison. Meanwhile, despite swapping positions behind Smith, Eze couldn't get into the game effectively, and often had to drop too deep looking for the ball. not that he played badly, but he was just not as involved as you'd want him to be.
Second half was almost the opposite. Eze took up a Taarabt-like position on the left and we finally started getting him the ball regularly. And he stated causing trouble. He is so difficult to disarm and so good at just bursting away from defenders with a little puff of speed. More than once, Norwich were reduced to just kicking him, and in the end he scored a nice goal that his performance deserved. Meanwhile, Maddison was not the force he was before the break, with Scowen in particular ratting around him and snuffing out his threat. So while Maddison couldn't quite capitalise on his freedom first half, Eze did in the second.
5. SCOWONGOMAN: Yes, we could even call them Scowongomanning now, if we want to. Anyway, point here is that I thought of the three, in the first half only Luongo really shone. I think he made about 5 tackles just in the first 15 minutes, and he made several telling interceptions as well as being dogged in possession. Indeed, while his goal was a nice one, with some good passing, it really came from his utter determination not to give up even as three or four Norwich players converged on him. He's really matured this season. Scowen improved markedly after the break to shut down Maddison as he began to hunt the ball like the wild dog that he is - he won it more frequently and higher up the pitch too, cowing Norwich with his ability to close down incredibly quickly. Freeman was perhaps not so great, but he was still dangerous as usual and is having to adapt to a slightly different role now Eze is in the side. The trio's ability to adapt to the changing side will be key next season (assuming they all stay).
6. MANNING: I'm not as high on Manning as a lot of fans, although I still feel that he should've played more games this season than he has done. On Monday I felt he really struggled first half. When on the right he didn't give enough or effective support to Furs against Murphy (although Freeman didn't offer much more when he switched) and he also didn't offer much going forward. However, as the game wore on he got better and better. His great running and his sharp closing down matched Scowen's work and in the end he scored (another) fantastic header, even better than the one against Villa. Coming in from the right, beating his man, and adding power and direction as he met Bidwell's superb cross. And that's what Manning really does well - attacking the box. We have lots of players decent outside it, along the 18 yard box, but he's not afraid to get in there and give support to the strikers. Now firmly back in the fold, Ollie has real headaches when choosing his midfield, especially when you consider he had Smyth and Wszolek, both with MOTM displays in the last few weeks, sat on the bench. The future feels bright.
at 12:47 28 Mar 2018
So, not so much actual players, but positions.
Assumptions: Ned stays, Robinson goes. Smithies stays. Luongo and Freeman stay.
For me, much depends on how well Smyth, Furs, Manning and Eze do between now and the end of the season, but if their for continues, do we need a lot?
For me, I'd like a target man who can actually hold the ball up so that any three of freeman, Eze, BOS, Pav, Smyth, Wash, Wheeler etc can play off him. A Helguson, basically.
And a centre half. I worry about Hall, Lynch lacks consistency, and Robbo gone. We need someone new in there.
If Perch goes, maybe a right back, as furs wold be our only one? Do we need a left back to give competition to Bidwell?
|Antti's Six Knee Jerks: Fulham 2 QPR 2|
at 12:20 19 Mar 2018
Full disclosure, couldn't attend for a variety of reasons, so watched on laptop while child was watching Ninjago. He was slightly startled when I leapt up, thanks to Pav. A result I did not see coming, even after the Miracle of Villa Park.
1. WZSOLEK: It's been a difficult time for Pav. This time a year ago, there were people on here calling him 'premier league class' and worrying that we'd lose him to a richer side sooner rather than later. But this season then he was a victim of Ollie's incessant tinkering towards the end of last season, and has had a stop-start season this term. He's probably best suited as wide right in a midfield four, or wide of a three playing further up, but while he has had runs in the side this season, it's been mainly as a wing back, or even as a full back.
He deserves credit for working at his game in those positions (his first time at RWB was genuinely terrifying, with Fleming basically coaching him through it) but it's deprived us of his danger further forward, and it's always seemed a bit of a waste. I've never subscribed to the 'premier quality' line, but at the same time, I like Pav a lot - because there is a lot to like: determination, strength, ability to keep the ball, energy levels, and the nice cut back he does (if only we had forwards who could take advantage of it). But, he hasn't had the impact this season that we all were hoping for around Jan/Feb last year.
Until Saturday. On TV, Hinchcliffe was heavily critical of him (of course he was, Hinchcliffe's continuing hatred of us continues to baffle) for first not taking on a volley from a Bidwell cross (the problem with too many pundits these days is that tjhey judge everything the prism of Messi or Aguero or Kane - zero allowances made for players that haven't got absolutely perfect technique) and then for not tracking Fredricks for the second goal (although he kind of did, and was blocked by a Fulham player, and he was probably entitled to expect Bidwell to have been a little wider). And yet, in a really poor first half, he was by far our best player. Not only did he work hard at the back, he was also a genuine threat going forward, despite playing in an unfamiliar role on the left. He was the player smart enough (and quick enough) to exploit Fulham's high line and expose a weakness that we attacked better after the break - and particularly once we had the added mobility of Smyth and Washington on the pitch.
After the break, if anything, Pav's effectiveness increased. The rest of the team took their cue from him and we started to win so much of the ball. He put in some great balls, he was a constant menace, he linked up well with Bidwell, he kept the ball well and then, finally, he got the goal his performance deserved. Nicking the ball was good, but the way he flicked it in front of him, leaving Odoi flat-footed. He still had much to do and bravely took it on early with a finish so calm you have to wonder how on earth that was only his second of the season. For me, man of the match, and I'm delighted by that. The change of formation has benefited so many players - and he's one of them, and just a week or so after whether you wondered he may struggle to get back in the side.
2. MISSING SCOWEN: Steve McClaren managed to be more insightful in about 10 seconds than Hinchcliffe manages in an entire game (Hinch, along with Savage, comes from the school of 'Should've' - ie: when a corner hits the first man: 'should've beaten the first man'; when a shot goes wide: 'should've got it on target' etc. The laziest sort, which tells the viewer absolutely sod all they haven't already seen) when he pointed out that both Fulham's goals would have been prevented had we had the sitting midfielder in front of the centre backs that this formation requires. Spot on. Scowen may not have been in top form over the last couple of months, but I mentioned after the Sunderland game how vital his presence is, how much unsung work he does, how many crucial challenges or interceptions he makes. On Saturday, I'm not sure whose job that was first half - presumably Luongo - but not only was he not doing that job well, neither was anyone else. The space at the back of our midfield was huge and Cairney fully exploited it. The encouraging thing was that Ollie did the necessary at half time and things were miles better after the break, when the lack of a rat was much less pronounced.
3. LUONGO'S GOAL: It was a really disappointing first half from Luongo - the way he played was a microcosm of the team as a whole. Too slow, too weak, no belief. Giving the ball away cheaply. No zip in the passing. No crunch in the tackles. Indeed, it was his poor ball that led to the first goal. However, one of the chief, and fair, criticisms of Mass has been his lack of goals. Now, though, he has five for the season, which is par for a player in his position. If he could get 8-10 a season, then that is superb. It's what midfielders probably aim for, but few actually get. And this was a class goal. Good free kick, good knock down, but he had loads to to score - to control with his head and still slam in the volley showed superb technique, and really that goal changed the game. I'm not sure, had we gone in two-down, that the second half would have been the same. It lifted us, gave us belief despite being totally out-played for 45 minutes, and in the end, it should have helped us to three points.
Second half, Luongo again epitomised the team as a whole. Winning more of the ball, using it better, pressing higher, and he as well as Manning, who seemed to come in field to great effect, suddenly took control of the midfield that had been all Fulham before the break.
4. FURLONG: I worried for him in this game. He has definitely looked so much happier at right back, but this was a huge test against the frequently brilliant Sessegnon. His early touches maybe betrayed his knowledge of this. I think his first three or four contributions were to kick it out, give away possession, or clear the ball to safety. But from there he settled in and Sessegnon never quite had the impact we would have expected. This was a really good sign, and maybe we're even seeing the distant echo of his tough experiences years ago against Sanchez and Bolassie. It won't ever get tougher than that, and so really he has nothing to be scared of. He has all the tools and I've said before I still think he'll in three or four years move into central defence. And, as against Sunderland, he once again here made an absolutely vital clearance with his head and his ability in the air is a real bonus for the back four.
There was a really interesting discussion about Furlong on the board on Saturday about his improvement. I think the fact is that he is one of the big beneficiaries, along with Bidwell, Pav and Eze, of the move to a back four. All season he's been asked to play as a wing back, and when he has we've questioned his positioning. But perhaps that just shows what a bastard of a position that is. I don't blame Ollie for using it early in the season when it was getting results, I just blame him for not changing it sooner when too many teams had spotted how to exploit it. The truth is, we don't even have one proper wing back, because Bidwell, Robinson, Pav, Perch and Furs have all tried, and none have convinced except in odd games. Now back at right back, his positioning has improved. Is it his game has improved, or is it that, as McClaren suggested on the telly, things have been simplified and the back four now know what their jobs are. It's been noticable in recent games how much less players have been looking to the bench doing the arms out 'whatg am I supposed to be doing, where should I be' gesture.
He's not the finished article, but hopefully now that spot is his, and hopefully even when he has the inevitable bad game, he won't be immediately dropped and made to wait weeks for another chance.
5. SMYTH: After a difficult game against Sunderland, and being out the team with an injury while they put in their best performance of the season, he must've been desperate to do well when he came on. It showed. I thought it was a brilliant substitution by Ollie. Pav had shown in the first half they were vulnerable to straight low balls between full backs and central defence, but the problem was neither Eze nor Smith were able to exploit that. The signs were there: once Freeman was played through with a defence-splitting ball, but he didn't have the pace to capitalise, and a second time when he did get one-on-one, he could only blast his shot straight at the keeper.
Smyth and Washington came on and suddenly not only were the midfield harrying a flustered Fulham, but they had to contend with two nippy forwards doing it as well. Undoubtedly the work of Smyth and Washington contributed to Pav's goal indirectly, because Fulham were starting to live on the edge by then. But of the two, once again, Smyth shone, having a similar impact to Shodipo's cameo at the Cottage last season. His directness, willingness to run, and quality of delivery caused them new problems, and he was so unlucky that his smart cut ball back to Freeman didn't yield an equaliser.
6. COUSINS: Poor old Cousins. Two seasons of injury and misery. And thrown in to a tough game for the excellent Manning. He had a big job on - not only to stop Fulham from extending their lead but also to help us get an equaliser. And here's where momentum and confidence make a difference. With the team playing well, Cousins didn't need to turn the game - he was just needed for added energy. And while Smyth will take the plaudits, I thought this was Cousins' best showing for a while. He looked comfortable, he was effective, he won the ball, his passing was crisp. It would be a huge boon if he can start stepping up.
So, a poor first half, a very good second and things looking up. But is this now the danger? There is a theory being tossed about that Ollie is dangerous when things are going well. Tactical things worked v Villa and second half v Fulham. We're unbeaten in four and few would have predicted 8 points out of 12 from those fixtures. We're all but safe, we can begin to look forwards. But, this theory goes, when all is rosy, Ollie starts to thing he's Guardiola and he can't leave well enough alone. He over-complicates it, we begin to lose, and he has to find the formula again. I don't know if that's true. I'm not sure how anyone can, but it does have a ring of truth. In his two spells as manager he's had these runs:
Winless runs: 9, 12, 8, 6, 6, 6, 7, 6
Undefeated runs: 10, 13, 9, 7 (wins)
Is that normal? I don't know. There are lots of four-game losing streaks I haven't listed there too. That streakiness is more pronounced over the last year than it was before, but it's always been there. 9 without a win at promotion-chasing Palace in his short spell there. 9 wins, a draw and a loss in 11 at Blackpool. Runs of 6 and 9 with no wins in the Prem with Blackpool. 7 without a win at Leicester. 9, 8, 6, and 7 winless runs in just over a year at Millwall. I don't know what the answer to this is, maybe it's typical of all middling managers, but if he can find a way to stop the bust in his boom and bust... that would be handy.
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Fulham v Queens Park Rangers prediction logged
|Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 1 Sunderland 0|
at 11:32 12 Mar 2018
When your next two results could easily look something like: Played 2, Won 0, Drawn 0, Lost 2, Scored 0, Conceded 9, it's quite important to win the winnable game in front of you. Phew.
1. WINNING THE WINNABLES: And that has really been the key to our season. While we have a reputation among our fans that we do well against the top sides, but falter against the poorer ones, that's not been the case this season. Our record against the (few) teams below us in the league stands at: P12; W7; D5; L0. 26 of our 43 points taken against those poorer sides. Hopefully, that'll be enough (should be, surely, now) to keep us up. Very few of those wins have been particularly convincing, with five being by the odd goal and only once did we score more than two (the only time we've managed that all season - an incredible stat), but points are points and the team and the management deserve praise for winning when we needed to win.
Saturday was far from the 5-1 joyride we had against bottom club Rotherham a year or so ago - but then, Sunderland are better than Rotherham - and they're at least still fighting. It wasn't a great win, it wasn't stylish (apart from one or two moments, which we'll come to), it could even have gone the other way on another day. But we won. Three more points. And, buried in the midst of what was often some awful, boggy football, was a small green shoot of hope.
(Brain: Don't say he's the messiah, don't say he's the messiah, don't say he's the messiah)
HE'S THE MESSIAH!
(Brain: Bravo. (slow hand clap)).
OK, he's not the messiah. But in a dull, if hard-working, season, if I want to get excited about something, I'll get excited about it. I pay my money just like the rest of you. And I haven't felt this excited about a player since Adel. There are, of course, caveats. Caveats everywhere. This is the start of his career. Anything could happen. Plenty of young players come in, shine brightly, then slowly drop down the leagues. At this stage, if you have the talent it's as much about hard work and desire as anything else, because without that you'll be playing National League football in five years time and telling everyone about that time you scored a goal in front of 10,000 people and it'll be your career highlight. I remember watching Leon Jeanne come on as a sub and perform an outrageous trick on the touchline to skip past a bewildered defender. I remember watching Ledesma score one of the most beautiful hat tricks I've ever seen against Carlisle. I've seen it all before, and so far, what Eze has done means nothing.
But. I am excited, I really am. Because he has star quality, there is no doubt about it. When I look back to our title winning side, one of the things that stands out for me is how comfortable we were in possession. And specifically what I mean is this - when any of Walker, Faurlin, Derry, Buzsaky, Faurlin, Smith, Helguson, Taarabt or Routledge (our best front six plus Buz, plus the right back) had the ball, the expectation was they would keep it. Even in a tight situation, you would back all of them to find a way out of it. Back in our League One days there were times when only Gallen was in that sort of class. The player you can relax about because when they get it they know how to look after it.
With the best will in the world, we don't have a surfeit of those at the moment. Not that we have bad players - with the exception of Smith, most are comfortable with the ball at their feet, but Eze is a bit different. I'm not sure he was caught in possession on Saturday. Any passes he made were crisp and quick. Her is strong. He has pace. Crucially, unlike a lot of our team, he moves the ball quickly, which was the key to his wonderful goal. He works hard tracking back and yet at times he does that thing that the very best often do - they stroll about, almost uninterested, but then suddenly they get it and they explode. Because they found space. He has great control. He can shoot. He's direct.
And look at that goal. A Sky report said that he was lucky because Smith mis-controlled it. Well, I agree, it wasn't great control, but the intention was certainly there. And it really misses the point. I think Eze tried the same thing twice on Tuesday - a swift arrow-like ball hard into the forward and then, crucially, *he continues his run*. Oh my God. He continues his run. He doesn't stand still. He moves, wanting the return ball, he actually runs past his striker. Halle-fkn-lujah. And then the finish. Calm, cool, precise. He made it look so easy. And the players looked delighted for him too. I shouldn't get excited, I know. So much can go wrong. But I think we've found one.
3. RED CARD: There's been a little suggestion that we have been a bit lucky with red cards against Bolton and Sunderland. my feeling is: that's not luck. I remember our season where we stayed in the Prem - 11/12. Nine. Nine red cards. Know why? Because when you're fighting and scrapping for every point, you take silly risks, you panic, you get too up for it, desperation sets in. It's f all to do with luck. Any team that goes down will likely have a worse disciplinary record than a successful side (although of course there are exceptions - Arsenal under Wenger years back, for example). Bolton's looked harsh at the time, but was entirely justified when watched back. And Sunderland's was both a terrible misjudgement and, crucially, caused in part by the running and presence of the willing (even if things didn't quite come off for him this week) Smyth. It's not luck that the keeper made such a terrible choice - Sunderland fans told us he was dodgy, and he is. Games are won by good players. If you have players who are not so good, you'll probably lose. Praise to Smyth, who was denied a simple tap in, but poor old Chris Coleman must be tearing his hair out.
4. SMITHIES and the BACK FOUR: And you can't blame Coleman for that. While Sunderland's keeper made a mistake that was extremely unhelpful for his team, Smithies made one and got away with it. In a game where he barely had to make a save, it was odd that he should make any kind of error, but, uncharacteristically, he did. Usually when I see him coming out for a cross, I think 'Keepers!' and relax. But this time he misjudged and we were almost punished - first by a header, and then by Lynch seemingly doing his best to nod it in rather than over or wide. Still, he doesn't make may ricks, so we can't complain.
Nice for him to collect another clean sheet too - particularly as we operated with four at the back. We've barely been able to keep a clean sheet all season with 3/5 at the back, so trying a 4 has been well worth it. Furlong looks happy. Bidwell looks delighted. Onuoha looks comfortable. And while it was a tough struggle for Robbo and Lynch against Fletcher, Sunderland only rarely looked like breaking us down. However, I fully expect a reversion to 3/5 (closer to a 5) for the next two games, against two rampant sides who must fancy upping their GD a bit against us. Not sure if that's the right decision or not.
5. SCOWEN: Still with the defence, really, but interesting to see some people on here saying he was out of sorts on Saturday. I wouldn't argue that perhaps his distribution wasn't great (although too often he received the ball between the two centre backs and had no realistic ball forward to play), but overall I actually thought he did well. Maybe it goes unnoticed now, but his covering is superb. He makes so many interceptions and key challenges - most notably a vital one on the dangerous Honeyman when he was threatening to score in the second half. And I thought he did that really well on Saturday. With four at the back, he is so important in his position, protecting the centre backs, but he gets over and covers the full backs too, as well as occasionally trying to get forward. Not saying he was brilliant or anything, but I think we'd be a much poorer side without him.
6. SUNDERLAND FANS: I thought it was a great turnout from the poor Sunderland fans at the back end of yet another god awful season. I know we have plenty to moan about, and it's a bit of a cliche, but sometimes it is worth reminding ourselves of the size of our club, and then look at Sunderland, Blackburn, Bolton, Birmingham and many others. Portsmouth! Financial mismanagement and profligacy with money is far from exclusive to us. That we're hanging in there, dull as it may be, while dialling back those costs, is remarkable in itself (while acknowledging that this mess was easily preventable in the first place). But it's interesting to look from the outside. I agreed with their fans that taking off Asoro seemed an odd decision, particularly after one mazy first half run that could've brought a goal. But was still surprised by the vociferous nature of their anger. And then I personally thought Ashley Fletcher, while clearly worth a fraction of the ludicrous £6.5m Boro paid for a player with just 13 senior starts to his name last summer, was a bit of a handful all game - certainly more effective, mobile and dangerous than Smith. But the Sunderland fans cheered his substitution to the rafters. It's often hard to get a grip on the experience of fans at other clubs. Some fans might have been baffled at our cheering off of Washington last week. Anyone who saw our game with Derby can only have been absolutely flabbergasted that Rowett would leave Kasey Palmer on the bench v Forest yesterday. Am I wrong? Was Fletcher that poor? I thought Lynch was barely keeping control of him. But then I haven't watched Fletcher every week.
Still, the point was: a great turn out and good support. They'll need that if they do go down. There's still hope, but the way in which Eze absolutely glided past the previously fierce Cattermole, a man now apparently settled into middle age, shorts hitched up to his armpits, slowly following the ball around without doing much, was not a good sign. If even your attack dogs lack bite, you're in trouble. Bradley Johnson may be a sad, niggly, parody of the footballer he was a few years ago, reduced now to endless fouling and constant kicking the ball away to stop free kicks rather than actually playing football, but at least he's still a horrible bastard. Cattermole didn't even look like he had that anymore.
|Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 1 Derby 1|
at 11:48 7 Mar 2018
A welcome point following the our deforestation (does that work?) the other week. Another point close to safety. And, in the end, a well-earned one, too.
1. FORMATION: And, finally, a reversion to four at the back. It didn't give us the real width many have been calling for, but it helped. And we weren't overrun in midfield. Now, that may be because Derby's plodding midfield of Huddlestone (who may genuinely now not be able to actually run at more than a light jog) and the pleasingly over-the-hill (but obviously still a pr1ck) Bradley Johnson would be left for dead by Joel Lynch in a turning circle contest, but it was also a lesson that we don't need to play three at the back in every single game. The new approach worked early on when Derby struggled to deal with Smyth, faded a bit, and then worked better when we played more of a 4-2-3-1 once Eze came on. Against a Sunderland side devoid of confidence and in desperate need of a win, any win (you know how this ends), surely Holloway must start with the team he finished with, barring Smith fir Lynch on Saturday. While some might be blaming (ludicrously) our recent defensive travails on Ramsey, you might also say now that perhaps the more attacking Ramsey has got in Ollie's ear and convinced him to make this change.
2. SMYTH: As many others have said, a clear man of the match. This is why youth is so dangerous. This is why hesitating before throwing youngsters in is a bad idea. He summed up everything that is desirable in having a young player on the pitch. He's not jaded by years of struggle. He's fearless. He'll try stuff. He has belief and confidence in his ability. He doesn't care about reputations. He knows what he's there to do and he's so desperate to stay in the side, that he won't be cowed into playing any other way. Run with the ball. Scare the full back. Win free kicks. Chase back. There were so many great moments to enjoy from him in that game, from tricky runs at pace, to clearing out the moaning, fairly pathetic Lawrence with a thundering covering challenge, to winning free kicks and corners when out-numbered and, possibly best of all, robbing Keogh, giving it quickly to Freeman to play in Lynch when we went so close to a late winner. He is only small, but it doesn't feel like it. He's wiry and strong and despite Derby's best efforts, absolutely refused to be bullied. In fact, he did the bullying and Wisdom walked a tightrope for most of the game after a deserved early booking. Really good. Still early days, still in that first flush of first team excitement, but he feels like a genuine prospect. I don't want to dig out Washington, and I thought the cheering of his substitution (as welcome as it was) was unfair and lacked class, especially as I'd never question Wash's cause, but the contrast between the pair of them was so stark last night. One player full of confidence and running. The other absolutely devoid of belief.
3. EZE: Which brings us to Eze. Welcomed onto the pitch by a crowd desperate for a hero, it has to be said he did more in his first five minutes than others had managed in the hour that preceded it. What he gives us is someone else in a forward position who you can give the ball to and expect that he will keep it. He has a great touch, he absolutely glides past players - it's beautiful to watch. He spots passes - one he fired into Smith and ran for the return, but Smith didn't quite have the ability to knock it back to him first time (as effective as he is, the fact that we can't play balls into Smith's feet is a huge problem for us) showed incredible vision. And quick thinking. We may well have been relegated without Freeman this season, such is his importance in terms of assists and goals, but he can dally on the ball when a quick pass is needed. Eze just seems to move a bit quicker, to see things and act on them a little faster. He gave us something the excellent Palmer gave them - menace, skill, the ability to beat a man. His first goal for us is not far off, I'm sure and he simply must start on Saturday. There is no convincing argument against it. It means shifting Freeman wide, but that's not a terrible thing in itself and the simple fact is we do not score enough goals. We have to try something new. He's worth accommodating. He's not the messiah, and I am convinced he'll infuriate the same group of fans that were always infuriated with Taarabt, but he can't be held back any longer. And he needs a run. Not a moral-sapping 60 minutes, then replaced, then on the bench. An actual run.
4. FURLONG: And we complete our run of praising youngsters with Darnell Furlong. OK, he's not exactly a 'youngster' any more, but this has been a difficult season for him. In and out the side, schooled in a couple of games, injuries etc. But he looked much happier last night as a full back rather than a wing back. He's always been good in the air, he's fairly quick, strong, with a great attitude, and I think everyone would agree that positionally he has been caught out more than once this season. But the wing back position is hard. In truth, no one has had a great game as a wing back all season that I can remember. He looked confident and determined here and I'm sure it helped playing nice and close to someone as experienced as Onuoha. Two highlights for me: one run and excellent cross from a tricky angle in the first half, and then a superb diving, twisting defensive header away from a free kick in the second. Would love to see him have a run as a right back, but I feel like Perch will soon be replacing him yet again.
5. LUONGO: After a great start to the season, Luongo seemed to have lost his way over the winter a little, maybe due to fatigue, the grind of the season, or whatever. But at the same time he;s now scored three goals in seven games and has four for the season. One or two more before the end of the season and the 'Luongo doesn't get enough goals' argument will be, if not buried, then covered over lightly with some quality soil. I've felt for Scowongoman a little in recent games. The crowd get on their backs for going backwards or holding onto the ball for too long. But so many times - so. many. times. - I've looked at them and looked at what's in front of them and there just isn't a forward pass on. There just isn't. You can't play low balls into Smith. You can't always hit high balls into him. Washington does not show for it enough. We have no width. Frequently, Scowongman can only pass to, er, itself. It is hard. But it was a bit better last night and Luongo arguably had his best game for a while (not a great game, but better) because of that. He won loads of the ball as usual, he got himself out of tight spots well as he does when he's feeling it, and of course he scored a lovely header - great jump and a powerful neck movement to nail it into the corner. I'd still like to see him move a bit better off the ball - to give and go a bit more, to run up and get in and around the forwards as he did in the first few games of the season. But overall, a solid 7/10 from Mass - a welcome good game.
6. CONFIDENCE: What a difference it makes. It was noticeable, particularly in the first half, how many long, high balls we played. How many times Bidwell, Onuoha or Robinson adopted the 'if in doubt, kick it high and far' method of defending. No one wanted to get caught, or to make a mistake. The good passing football we saw early season has slowly been evaporating and we only see little glimpses of it now. Just look at Palmer - a player full of confidence, willing to try tricks and flicks, and to risk losing the ball to help produce a goal. His run for that goal was superb, as much as we all may think someone should have got a foot in somewhere before his sublime final ball. It makes such a difference. We finally had this in the last half hour or so, thanks to the fearlessness of Eze and Smyth. Belief returned, the crowd came to life, anything less than a draw would have been a travesty. Confidence - so hard to get, so easy to lose.
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Queens Park Rangers v Derby County prediction logged
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