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What have QPR fans learnt this week?
What have QPR fans learnt this week?
Thursday, 13th Mar 2008 19:09

A week where we blew a one goal lead and ended up hanging on grimly to a three goal one, but a week where we banished the midweek hoodoo as well.

You wouldn’t trust QPR with your dog…
…because they can’t hang on to a lead. Boom boom. What do Colchester United, Coventry City, Crystal Palace twice, Scunthorpe United, Plymouth Argyle, Sheffield United twice, Burnley and Sheffield Wednesday all have in common? They’ve all come from behind to take points from Queens Park Rangers this season. Ten times we’ve been in front this season without going on to win, on seven of those occasions we’ve actually gone on to lose – that’s half of all the games we’ve lost in total. If we’d hung on in every game we’d be two points clear at the top of the table. Christ if we’d hung on in half of them we’d be in the top three.

I can’t ever recall seeing a team quite like us. It’s like a switch is flicked – at any given moment we just seem to be able to collapse for no apparent reason. There can, for me, be only a couple of explanations - this is either a mental problem or a tactical one.

Reading Gareth Ainsworth’s column in the Kilburn Times this week he talks about a panic setting in when we come under pressure, this would appear to hint at the problems being in the players’ heads. That’s understandable - look at the first few examples of us blowing leads this season and it’s easy to see why it’s playing on the minds.

- Palace away; Absolutely dominated from start to finish, missed three one on one chances to seal the victory and then conceded a soft goal two minutes from time in what was Palace’s first serious attack of the game.
- Coventry home; Winning 1-0 but lost the whole spine of the team to injury with Cranie, Leigertwood and Nygaard going off injured, ended up losing to a Kevin Kyle header in stoppage time.
- Scunthorpe away; Defensive calamities in high winds.
-Plymouth away; Dodgy penalty given against us then a last minute winner from a corner when it should have been a free kick to Rangers at the other end.

All of these are the kind of incidents that stick in the memory of players and can play on the mind in similar situations in future games. Especially as a couple of them were completely out of our hands - the refereeing at Plymouth and the injuries against Coventry for instance. You can maybe forgive the players when Sheff Utd, Sheff Wed and others got their equalisers for thinking “here we go again” and not having a lot of faith in their own ability to hang on when the going gets tough.

You can actually see the player’s visibly wilt when the opposition pull a goal back against us. Have you ever seen a team look so panicked at 3-1 up in a home game?

If it is purely a mental thing then maybe the lack of natural leaders in the team is having an effect. Certainly I thought we did the right thing getting Gavin Mahon on the other night at 3-1 and although they did score again he played a big part in us hanging on. He steadied the sinking ship at Sheff Wed on Saturday as well. Once fully fit I’d like to see him at the heart of the midfield as often as possible.

A couple of times just lately I’ve wondered if we’re missing a trick not using Gareth Ainsworth a little more on the pitch. Certainly Gareth isn’t somebody we need to be relying on, or using automatically from the start of every match, but in the last three away games at Barnsley, Coventry and Sheffield Wednesday I think he was just what we needed for the last 15 minutes of matches. It’s great to see Gareth involved on the touchline, but I do think he could still do a job on the pitch in certain circumstances - especially when the team performance is as insipid as it was at Coventry for instance.

Of course it could be a tactical choice that we’re not good enough to carry through. Maybe De Canio is ordering men behind the ball and the team to sit back once we’re in front. It would certainly be the Italian way of doing things and before Christmas whenever we were winning at half time we clearly spent the second half sitting three or four times as deep in our own half as we had be. On results in the first half this season QPR are top of the league, on results in the second half we are bottom.

We certainly don’t look very Serie A when we do try and soak up any pressure - more Sussex Saturday Morning League A. It could be that De Canio wants us to sit and protect leads and we’re not good enough, or confident enough, to do it just yet. The only way round that is practice, or the return of Martin Cranie with whom we produced our best defensive displays of the season so far. Or of course De Canio could just pack it in.

I don’t believe he is telling us to sit back though. He was there for all to see on the touchline on Tuesday encouraging the players to push out and engage Blackpool higher up the pitch as we had done in the first half. The key to beating Stoke was facing them up in their own half and we’re at our best when we play like that, and at our worst when we invite pressure onto us. Judging by De Canio’s fevered gesturing on Tuesday, and his post match comments about going for more goals to kill games, I think it’s far more likely to be a mental problem with the players rather than a conscious tactical decision by De Canio. Besides De Canio strikes me as the kind of manager that would prefer we kill a game off with prolonged spells of controlled possession rather than giving the ball back to them and surrounding our own penalty area.

If it is mental then all De Canio can do is hope people like Mahon can lead the team, work on defending under pressure in training and hope that sooner or later we have to defend a narrow lead for our lives for 20 minutes or so and we manage it thus restoring confidence in our ability. Until then I’d expect a few more terrifying comebacks or near misses.

Fitz Hall – crucial to the team, but struggling for fitness?
I’ve done pretty well this season to keep a check on my expletives at football matches. Rather than achieving a doughnut effect around my seat my lively matchday behaviour has increasingly been played out in front of small children taking advantage of the cheap season tickets. Obviously some will argue that if you take your child to football you should expect them to hear some bad language but I don’t subscribe to that theory – everybody should be able to enjoy the game without some loud mouthed northern idiot giving off with the gob every five minutes so I’ve made an effort and while I’m not exactly a picture of calmness down at the front of the F Block – I’m a little less Bazil Fawlty like than I used to be.

I did let myself down with a four letter outburst on Tuesday though, as Ben Burgess theatrically hit the deck under minimal, or no, contact from Matt Connolly and was awarded a free kick for his troubles. Ben Burgess is built like a yeti, Matt Connolly is built like a chicken drum stick, and it was embarrassing to see a big hairy lad like that collapse to win a free kick in that way.

Even when they’re not cheating as Burgess was there’s something that doesn’t look quite right about massive strong lads rolling round on the deck. Sadly it’s a sight we’re becoming all too accustomed to with our own Fitz Hall. Now whether Fitz has a touch of the Nygaard’s about him - i.e. thinks he might be about to get injured and therefore hits the deck/misses the match - or whether he’s got an actual problem it’s a concern.

It was no surprise to me that after three straight clean sheets with Hall and Connolly at the back the day Hall dropped out we ship two goals at Hillsborough. The Blackpool goals on Tuesday came as he struggled for fitness after two prolonged spells laid out with some knock or other. Generally though when he and Connolly play together we look excellent at the back and the pair of them have the makings of a terrific centre half partnership for next season. It’s crucial they play together as often as possible to build an understanding, and to get us results because there’s no doubt our defence looks better with those two at the heart of it than at any other time.

Hall looks like a quality signing when he plays - big, strong, powerful, quick, good in the air, everything you want from a centre half. His distribution leaves a bit to be desired but with the increasingly impressive Matt Connolly next to him that’s not a major issue because he can pass enough decent balls out of the back four for both of them.

Hall’s fitness is a worry though. He missed Sheff Wed with an injury, was laid out on the deck twice on Tuesday night and regularly spends time while the ball is out of play stretching his calves and looking uncomfortable. He’s already been stretchered off once since arriving, at Cardiff, and missed games after that. Against Scunthorpe on Saturday keep your eye on him - count how many times you think “he’ll be going off in a minute” during the match. On three or four occasions on Tuesday those at the front of the F Block were preparing themselves for the 109th coming of Zesh as Hall struggled to continue.

At the moment I’m happy to put it down to a lack of football - between April 2006 and January 2007 Hall played just two senior games. As we know from Furlong, Rowlands and many others at QPR down the years if you don’t get a good pre-season and up to speed early your season can be dogged by injuries. Hall is a fantastic signing at this level but with his struggles for fitness there for all to see I fear we may not see the absolute best of him until August. Baring in mind that despite these various knocks and problems he’s still one of our best players on a consistent basis the thought of him fully fit and raring to go next season is a frightening one for the rest of the division.

How to drum
Now ever since the Hillsborough band inflicted themselves upon my ear drums at Sheffield Wednesday and England matches I can’t say I’ve been too much of a fan of musical instruments at football matches. Apart from that time when the massive American marching band filled the Lower Loft and struck up throughout the second half as we fought out a ridiculous 4-3 victory against Wycombe I’m struggling to recall a time when I thought “ooh I’m glad that bloke’s playing that trumpet” – more often than not you just want the inconsiderate tossers to shut the hell up.

We have of course recently acquired our own drummer up in the Q Block, or rather one of the Q Block regulars as recently acquired a drum and I think that’s been received pretty positively on the whole. He doesn’t bang it all the time like the bloody Sheff Wed mob, who incidentally still play at the England games even though a vote of season ticket holders at their own club found them to be hugely unpopular, and it’s not so loud and intrusive as to interfere with anybody’s enjoyment of the game. Indeed with the atmosphere at Loftus Road seemingly getting worse with each passing game, anything that helps lead the singing and get the crowd going has to be a good thing. Besides we always had a drum in the good old days so we should all be used to it by now.

But then on Tuesday night Blackpool arrived with their own version – and by God he can bang that drum. The support that made the long journey down from the north was a credit to Blackpool Football Club. Noisy and colourful throughout, they actually produced their loudest backing for the team after it had gone 3-0 down and that included the drumming which was actually superb. I’ve no doubt it annoyed some people, but for me it was amazing to see him and hear him going at it for the whole second half, and all of the Blackpool fans joined in. They were almost rewarded with a memorable come back and although we’d all have been gutted, it would have been hard to begrudge those in the School End their moment of glory. They’re easily the best travelling support we’ve had this season for noise, and hopefully they’ll be back next season in greater numbers on a Saturday.

If there’s a lesson for the QPR fans from Tuesday it’s that the Blackpool following stuck with their team regardless. It was a shame to see such fantastic travelling support from QPR at the weekend, both in noise and number, decline so rapidly in the second half at Hillsborough as the singers sat silently and many R’s headed for the exits early. There was no sign of that from Blackpool the other night and that’s to their credit because I dare say a good number of QPR fans would have been away on their heals at 3-0 down.

Not only were the QPR fans out sung by the 500 or so from Blackpool, but while the mad drummer was drumming and the fans were singing and the team was playing its way back into the game, sections of the home support were jeering Dexter Blackstock, and booing Zesh Rehman onto the pitch again. Now I hope never to see Zesh Rehman play for this club again because I don’t think he’s good enough, but I don’t see what booing him onto the pitch is really going to achieve other than to demoralise the lad.

Sometimes our team deserves a bollocking from the fans – especially those who’ve travelled hundreds of miles to Coventry, Barnsley and Sheff Wed in the past fortnight for one goal, no wins and apparently minimal effort from some of the players – but mainly they deserve our backing. We’re now in the top half of the Championship for the first time in three seasons and everything seems to be heading in the right direction apart from the atmosphere at home games. Maybe it’s time for us the fans to step up to the plate as well as the players.



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