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A familiar Christmas tale of woe for QPR at Brighton - Report
Wednesday, 28th Dec 2016 12:43 by Clive Whittingham

A sixth-straight defeat for QPR at league leaders Brighton wasn’t the biggest surprise this Christmas, but Rangers’ failure to learn from their own mistakes doesn’t bode well for more winnable games to come.

That Queens Park Rangers lost comfortably, and keep losing comfortably, to Brighton and Hove Albion at their shiny new home on the South Coast should come as little surprise.

Brighton is a club built steadily, on solid foundations, over time. Well managed on the pitch by Chris Hughton, well managed off it by chairman Tony Bloom, this is a club that was playing at the local municipal athletics stadium a decade ago, and Gillingham before that, but now has an enviable new stadium, a top-notch, purpose-built training facility and a team that has been carefully cultivated over several years, done its time and had its heartbreaks, and is now ready to step up a division. It will certainly do that this year, possibly even as champions ahead of ridiculously well-furnished Newcastle – the Magpies have lost six games this season, Brighton just two.

QPR? Well, QPR is none of that. Yes, it’s cost Bloom £260m to create a Premier League club in waiting for Brighton and Hove. Sadly, QPR have spent much more than that, in half the time Bloom has been at Albion, and all they have to show for it is what you see before you today.

That this latest 3-0 loss was so easy for the home side – long passing moves with every touch being cheered by the home crowd were taking place long before the final whistle/mercy killing – isn’t as much of an embarrassment or a disgrace as some of hooped persuasion will make out either.

Brighton are simply a much better side, with Anthony Knockaert and Glenn Murray an impressive pair of decorations atop what was an already very appealing cake. Across 2016 they’ve won more games, lost fewer, conceded fewer goals and kept more clean sheets than any of the other 92 teams in the Football League. They arrived at this fixture on a 16 match unbeaten run (12 wins, four draws), with a league-leading 13 clean sheets already this season, averaging two goals a game and less than 0.5 conceded in their home matches. QPR had lost five in a row prior to this, scoring just a single goal. Their overall total of 20 goals this season is the lowest in the division and in stark contrast to Albion they’d won only three of 16 prior to arriving in Falmer.

The Sky commentators could blither on about “you never know, strange things happen” as much as they like, but they don’t this side of Roswell, and they were never going to here. A 3-0 home win so entirely predictable, we did in fact predict it in the match preview.

The home side started early, with Sam Baldock running with purpose towards an isolated and leaden footed defence in the tenth minute before beating Alex Smithies with an unsaveable effort from 25 yards, curling away from the goalkeeper and into the far top corner. Brighton have won all 12 matches when scoring the first goal this season so it wasn’t unreasonable to assume that that was that already, with 80 minutes left for play.

In fact it took until the fifty second minute to put the seal on it. Seven minutes of constant pressure from Hughton’s side after half time drew a rash tackle from Massimo Luongo on Dale Stephens in the area – Murray, unperturbed by Alex Smithies’ five penalty saves during 2016, coolly and crisply smacking the ball into the bottom corner from the penalty spot.

Smithies will be much more disappointed with Albion’s third. Knockaert cutting in from the right onto his left foot as he so loves to do, finishing low but straight at the keeper, somehow the ball squeezed under the Rangers man and into the net for 3-0.

QPR had good reason to feel aggrieved with a sending off just before the hour. A ball through the wide open spaces between QPR centre halves Nedum Onuoha and Grant Hall gave Baldock a sniff but Onuoha recovered his initial lousy positioning and simply had more strength than the Brighton man who crashed to earth as the pair came together shoulder to shoulder. Barely a foul at all, and yet somehow deemed worthy of a red card by Keith Stroud, an absolute cum rag of a referee who wouldn’t be able to keep control of a meeting of the Cleethorpes and District Knitting Circle without yellow carding at least six of the members and gently patronising three of the others.

So far so predictable, from Brighton, from Stroud, and from our beleaguered Queens Park Rangers. Every defeat is treated like the outbreak of Ebola in the borough of Hammersmith and Fulham in this age of social media and the babies were getting nervous in their bathwater long before the full time whistle.

QPR’s form is always dreadful over Christmas, including in the Neil Warnock promotion season, which often leads to a lot of naval gazing at this time of year, particularly from this website. There’s a piece to be written about Tony Fernandes and the medium and long term for sure but short term QPR have a game on New Year’s Eve at Wolves and another on January 2 against Ipswich. Two poor sides which, as the bottom three moves out of the rear view mirror and starts to fill the whole fucking windscreen, Rangers really need to find a way to get a win from. And they’re not going to do that like this.

Yes, Brighton are good. Far better than QPR by every measure. A three goal deficit is a fair reflection on the two clubs. But to borrow a phrase from new Coventry manager Russell Slade (not a boss I rate particularly highly, nor one I would welcome at Loftus Road, but still…) “we don’t value the basics highly enough”.

The QPR fans revere Ian Holloway for the work he did in his first spell in charge of the club, but Ollie is keener to talk about his spell at Blackpool where a disastrous spell at Leicester and period of time out of the game saw him change his philosophy and adopt a much more attacking, attractive style of play for his teams. Pool were subsequently promoted against all the odds, and made a decent fist of the top flight, despite operating on a tiny budget, scoring a sack load of goals along the way.

It’s that which Holloway craves at Rangers, where he was much more direct in his previous spell. He’s spoken about splitting across the field at goal kicks, playing with two number tens, being bold and adventurous in possession of the ball, playing out from the back. As against Derby, as against Villa (also defeats to nil) there was evidence of that here. Home boss Chris Hughton said afterwards that QPR had “moved through the thirds” well during the first half and caused them problems.

He was right. Unlike previous matches, Rangers responded well to going behind. Ten minutes of solid possession followed the Baldock strike, Jake Bidwell tested Albion with a twentieth minute free kick after a foul on Jordan Cousins, home keeper David Stockdale was sharp to his left to palm away an effort from Luongo after the ball fell to him in the area a minute later, then to his right with his feet when lone striker Idrissa Sylla followed good wide work by Pawel Wzsolek with a low shot to the near post. Sylla later brought down a Bidwell cross on his chest and volleyed wide when a goal seemed likely. It wasn’t all bad. Far from it. QPR could actually go off at half time reflecting on a half decent performance.

But this is all A-Level maths for students who can’t even tell time yet. Holloway took over a Blackpool side in May, with a full summer ahead of him, after they’d been on a steady rise for three previous seasons under the management of Simon Grayson who’d only left after being made an offer he couldn’t turn down by Leeds. There were foundations there, and a whole pre-season to work on things. The players who excelled in Tangerine in the top flight – Charlie Adam, DJ Campbell, Brett Ormerod, Gary Taylor-Fletcher, Ian Evatt – were all there already. It’s an entirely different scenario now and one can’t help but think he’s trying to run before he can walk executing these grand, well-meaning, plans on a team with no spine and a poor defence.

What use, for instance, is “moving through the thirds well” if your team can’t defend corners? Brighton are known for their wide set pieces with Murray, Shane Duffy and everybody’s favourite hatchet merchant Lewis Dunk up from the back and yet QPR consistently, from the first minute to the last, failed to mark properly at corners. Brighton didn’t even have to vary them – they just hung them up to the back post every time where a queue of unmarked players awaited its arrival.

Ten minutes before half time, after a three on two counter which should have yielded more foundered on Baldock’s poor final ball, Dunk was left alone at the corner and Onuoha had to block a goal bound header. Smithies saved the same header from the same player in the same position from a corner on the same side six minutes later after Rangers had, incredibly, failed to mark him again. James Perch’s efforts to keep tabs on Murray from these set pieces were particularly shambolic and only the former Palace striker will know how he nodded wide when Duffy, unmarked at the back post wouldn’t you know it, sent a header back across the face of goal towards him.

This wasn’t corrected at half time either. Several chances to clear a corner a minute after the break eventually resulted in Onuoha clumsily fouling Knockaert on the edge of the area and the Frenchman’s free kick flew over the bar. He’d gone closer with a shot from the same place in first half injury time too.

There were some lamentable individual performances. Onuoha began the game by crashing into Smithies as they both hesitated over a through ball and they were lucky the ball didn’t fall nicely for Murray. Onuoha’s attempted tackle on Baldock for his goal was an embarrassment to him and while the sending off was a joke, what were Onuoha and Hall doing so far apart? Why was Onuoha the wrong side of his man?

And then there was James Perch. My word. Absolutely destroyed by Solly March, Perch was indebted to Hall for a desperate clearance in the forty sixth minute, and Smithies for a save on 50 after he’d been made to look like a Sunday league footballer. The Onuoha sending off thankfully saw him moved away from right back, where he was a complete liability, and young Osman Kakay was sent on for a league debut. He should share this position with Darnell Furlong from now on, Perch has had enough opportunities.

But every individual can have a bad day, it was the repetitive mistakes that grated the most – not only the abject marking at corners. Yeni Ngbakoto, once again selected in this weird and wonderful non-midfield, non-winger, non-striker position and wholly confused by it, allowed Brighton’s marauding right back Bruno to run in behind him on three occasions in the first half. Bruno does that a lot, so we should have known about it in advance and to let it happen once was extremely careless. To let it happen once and then keep letting it happen was unforgiveable. Hall’s lunging tackle on 25 minutes the only thing that stopped it resulting in a goal.

We’ve discussed in previous weeks just how mindless it was of Perch to escape a red card at Ipswich for a nasty tackle on a winger going nowhere tight to the touchline after he’d already been yellow carded, only to then put in a nasty tackle on a winger going nowhere tight to the touchline against Wolves after he’d already been yellow carded and subsequently see red. Here he did it again. Again. I actually can’t believe it. Solly March, tight to the touchline in the thirty ninth minute, back to goal, going absolutely nowhere, so Perch cracks into the back of him and gives Brighton a chance to deliver a free kick into the area.

I’m starting to think it’s me. Is it just me? Does Perch actually want to be suspended? Or is he, to borrow a phrase from the message board, as thick as Pavarotti’s Boxing Day morning turn out? Stop doing that. Just stop it. Fucking cretin.

Baldock’s goal was a fine strike, sure, but 11 seconds prior to it QPR had a throw in on halfway. QPR do this all the time from throw ins – pass the time in the Wolves game by counting the touches we have after our own throw ins, it’s never more than two. Perhaps we might like to consider hanging onto possession from our own throw ins? And even if we don’t, a throw in on the halfway line isn’t usually a lethal situation for a football team to face and yet it was turned into a goal inside ten seconds here, and it didn’t even take that long at Rotherham.

We keep bringing Jordan Cousins back a fortnight after his hamstring injuries, and he keeps getting hamstring injuries. He was done by the hour here.

Yes Murray’s penalty was cool, but Luongo throwing himself to ground in his own area to try and make a tackle like that was mindblowing. Yes, Smithies should have saved Knockaert’s goal, but what on earth are we showing him inside there for? Like laying out a fucking doormat at the entrance to your hen house for the fox to wipe his feet on. Yes, Onuoha’s red card was a joke, but why is he that side of Baldock when we’d seen several times in the Lynch v Kodija contest last week that marking outside and wrong side as opposed to inside and goal side is a recipe for disaster.

The same mistakes. Over and over. It’s like we enjoy making them. Chimps in labs learn far faster than this.

In the end it’s a surprise it wasn’t a lot more. Smithies saved from Stephens, and substitute Hemed, and then finally from Baldock after he’d had a whirl around the James Perch turnstile. When Hall laid a back pass short and Smithies cleared it into Baldock the faint strains of circus music filled the air – luckily Murray’s handball prevented what would have been a comedic fourth.

The basics need to be right. Defend properly, mark at set pieces, get a spine of the side in place, get the shape of the team in place. QPR have none of that, and yet they’re talking about two number tens and splits across the field and moving through the thirds and all this gubbins that “football people” talk about and “people who haven’t played the game wouldn’t understand”. We’re all trinkets and no tree.

There’s no shame in losing to Brighton, even 3-0, but there needs to be some evidence that Rangers stand a chance in the forthcoming games which are more winnable. They don’t playing, defending, like this. Nice between the two boxes but a danger to themselves in their own area and no threat to anybody at all in the other one. They wouldn’t have beaten the Brighton and Hove District Cubs Second XI with this performance, never mind the town’s Albion, and they won’t do much with Wolves and Ipswich either unless the most basic lessons of the game are learnt. Fast.

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Brighton: Stockdale 6; Bruno 7, Dunk 6, Duffy 6, Bong 6; Knockaert 7, Stephens 7, Norwood 8, March 8 (Murphy 68, 6); Murray 8 (Hamed 71, 6), Baldock 7 (Skalak 77, 6)

Subs not used: Mäenpää, Sidwell, Goldson, Hunt

Goals: Baldock 11 (assisted Stephens), Murray 53 (penalty won Stephens), Knockaert 69 (assisted Murray)

QPR: Smithies 5; Perch 2, Onuoha 3, Hall 5, Bidwell 5; Borysiuk 5 (Mackie 59, 5) Cousins 5 (Sandro 80, -), Luongo 4; Ngbakoto 4 (Kakay 81, -), Wzsolek 5, Sylla 5

Subs not used: Washington, Ingram, Shodipo, El Khayati

Red Cards: Onuoha 56 (professional foul)

Bookings: Sylla 80 (dissent)

QPR Star Man – N/A Nearly gave it to Hall who was having to defend for Perch and Onuoha as well as himself at times, but yeh we’ll leave it on the shelf today I think.

Referee – Keith Stroud (Hampshire) 5 Penalty decision obviously correct, and thankfully no repeat of the card frenzy from his last QPR appointment, or his last Brighton one for that matter, but the Onuoha red card is an absolute crock of shit. Bad defending certainly, but barely a foul at all let alone a sending off. Whoever is in charge of the newly professionalised Championship referees need to be asking why one of them feels the need to book and dismiss so many more players than any of his colleagues – now 117 yellows and nine reds from this official in just 25 matches this season.

Attendance – 30,176 (1,538 QPR) Somewhat odd that QPR advertised their 2,100 allocation as ‘sold out’ several days before the match, catching out several fans who’d (rightly) assumed that demand for a morning kick off, over Christmas, during this current run of form would mean tickets were pretty easily available, only for there to then be the thick end of 600 empty seats in the away end. What’s going on there?

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daveB added 13:14 - Dec 28
On the Blackpool thing DJ Campbell was signed on loan by Holloway when they went up and he bought him the following summer, he also bought Charlie Adam. Both had loan spells at the club before but he didn't take over a club with those players
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daveB added 13:15 - Dec 28
also Blackpool finished 16th previous year and were favorites to go down when he took over
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Northernr added 13:21 - Dec 28
Yeh I'm not saying it wasn't a phenomenal job, I'm just saying it was a very different circumstance to the one he's got here.
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ngbqpr added 13:35 - Dec 28
Got to agree re Perch. It's amazing he's carved out such a long career pretty much all in the top two divisions. I know someone who works at Forest who says people there who knew him as a youngster are also amazed how far he's gone compared to far more talented individuals from the same academy crop. It's put down to application, being a model pro etc etc - well he's fooled a helluva lot of people in the last decade or so. Agree, let's try the young 'uns, both right backs by trade rather than 'utility players', from now on.

Also agree re the playing through the thirds analysis. I've done a lot of FA coaching courses, this is a big part of them - I've done them as I coach kids for a living, and it is a great tool to help teach them positional awareness and an understanding of the game as a whole beyond "what are my options when I get the ball"...however, I hear loads of pro managers & pundits who've "done their badges" using all the buzz words from the much updated FA courses but, having been brought up with different methods themselves, I do wonder if they really understand them. Even with the u7s, I explain that the "thirds" thing is but one small part of the game...as you say, if you can't mark at a set piece, it's pretty pointless in terms of the outcome of a game. I'm worried Olly is trying too hard to be a 'modern', 'progressive' coach, and is experimenting with a team that isn't best served by that approach short-medium term. It's a predictable problem for clubs like us that constantly fire managers mid-season...and why fire-fighters / quick fixers like Warnock, Allardyce and Pulis are so in demand in the modern trigger happy game.

As for Ned, 4 years on I still can't quite make up my mind...but I guess a three game ban gives us a chance to see if Lynch (who to date hasn't overly impressed me) is the man to partner Hall.

I'd have given MOTM to Bidwell, I think he's a very limited player, I prefer Robinson if the bloke could stay fit for 5 minutes, but I thought he gave a very committed performance, got forward with more purpose than before, and defended solidly given he had no protection from those ahead of him.
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18StoneOfHoop added 13:39 - Dec 28
If we can't get 3 points off mediocre Ipswich at home I'm gonna wait till we're back in the third tier again to watch live games again at a level that we might actually win at occasionally..too much piss anger and misery this seasonis horriblis. Best to sack it off and hibernate.

Beautifully written and accurately described as ever,CW.
My fave topical Xmas metaphore: "all trinket and no tree"
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dixiedean added 14:11 - Dec 28
Bang on as usual Clive . Couldn't believe how we kept leaving their tallest player free for far post corners time after time. And don't start me on throw-ins . I've gone on about this for years. Ours always become a 50-50 option. Never to a player in space of a simple one touch layoff back to the thrower to keep
Possession. By contrast they had players in 5 yds of space around and sometimes in our box at thei throws. Schoolboy stuff . I don't know if that's the manager/coaches' fault or don't our players have brain ? It's one thing having little goal threat but if you can't defend either it doesn't bode well.
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parker64 added 15:08 - Dec 28
Brighton were more clued up in movement and thinking. In the first half Perch went up the wing on a bit of a goose chase, I think it was Baldock who just walked 5 yards to his right into the space left behind and stood here. He just knew that the ball was coming to him and it duly did and off he went with anyone anywhere near him.
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timcocking added 15:16 - Dec 28
!st goal was an easy enough save if Smithies had used his other hand...
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westolian added 15:29 - Dec 28
Teaching U7's "thirds" ???

The world has gone mad !!!

The Spanish just teach being comfortable on the ball and keeping it - makes more sense imho
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ngbqpr added 15:40 - Dec 28
westolian...it's all about how you teach it, and the techniques and vocabulary used...as in all aspects of coaching kids that age. I have really seen it pay off, kids at that age can soak up an awful lot if coached appropriately

as I say it's a very small part of what I do, and if it puts your mind at rest, being comfortable on the ball and having hundreds of touches of it at every session is top of my list with that age group. the 'thirds' thing I do is usually about 5-10 minutes of a 60 minute session max, drip fed over the course of a season or two with longer term goals in mind.
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YorkRanger added 16:04 - Dec 28
Great write up Clive.

The ticket position does need explaining by the club.

It is hard to understand the preparation. It couldn't have been that bad so perhaps the players just completely ignored instructions, Bruno's runs, the threat of their centre halves at corners, Knockaert's left peg etc. It's just mind-blowing...
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parker64 added 16:27 - Dec 28
Was there 600 empty away seats? Couldn't see as was at the game. I think they announced at the last home game on the tannoy they'd sold 1600 tickets so assumed they'd sent the others back for home resale. It was Brighton's biggest attendance of the season.
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Northernr added 16:39 - Dec 28
Parker - official site initially said we'd got 2,100 seats, then that we'd sold out, and then the gate for the away end was 1,500.
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parker64 added 17:21 - Dec 28
Oh right, so instead of saying they're sending tickets back to save wasting money they just said it was sold out?
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Northernr added 17:29 - Dec 28
I don't know mate, genuine question, I'm intrigued.
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WestonsuperR added 18:10 - Dec 28
Agree we are generally poor around Christmas but our form in Warnock's promotion season wasn't too bad, the two nearest matches to Christmas saw us beat Swansea 4v0 and an away win at Cov.
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Northernr added 19:17 - Dec 28
Relatively speaking though - we lost 5 in the league and 2 in the cup all season that year and four of those seven were in the fortnight over Christmas.
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dixiedean added 19:33 - Dec 28
Tim assuming your comment wasn't with tongue in cheek, that's very harsh on Smithies for first goal . From the away end it was a goal as soon as he hit it. I can think of many others to blame before Smithies e.g. All the outfield players but most notably the skipper who turned as fast as HMS (Chris) Barker used to.
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Northernr added 19:38 - Dec 28
Inspector Gadget wouldn't have got to that.
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snanker added 00:01 - Dec 29
Yep 114kg topical Xmas metaphor: "all trinket and no tree" is excellent as per entire read and all tinker & no tree works well there to on both meanings !. So what you are saying CW is that it will get worse and quite possibly not better in 2017 ! Happy new year then all..............

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TacticalR added 01:32 - Dec 29
Thanks for your report.

Although you are right that we couldn't have expected much out of this game, the thing I am having a problem with is that it feels like none of our attacks are going to lead to a goal, and this gives the impression that we are just going through the motions (or is it moving through the thirds?) even when we are playing well. There is just no one who can put the ball away.

Although Perch seems to be in some sort of end-of-career death spiral it felt like everyone had a bad game. Brighton had obviously decided to target Luongo and Cousins, and both were getting robbed in midfield. Borysiuk was anonymous. Onuoha has had many bad games but got well and truly exposed in this one.

In Cruyff's recent autobiography he lays a lot of emphasis on the mental side of the game and players using their intelligence - this is something that is completely missing at the moment.
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WilloW4 added 02:40 - Dec 29
Leaden defence in the tenth minute ... You're allowed to say Onoaha isn't a good player... In fact he's shite.!
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extratimeR added 19:53 - Dec 29
Thanks Clive

Great report as usual, thank god for your sense of humour, we are going to need it over next two games!

I seem to remember a similiar crisis brewing before an Ipswich home game a few years back, it turned out to be one of the grimmest evenings at Loftus road for a few years, (admirably covered by Clive in the post-match report).

The problem this time,is that Ipswitch (at the moment ) are probably the worst team in the division, and that McCarthy may well be sacked prior to our home game with them,and re-placed with Gary Rowet , as mentioned bizarely let go by Birmingham.

Yes, the defending at set pieces is appalling, the far post Brighton corners had everyone tearing their hair out, surely we said they will sort it out at half-time????

Everyone, I mean everyone ,had worked out Brighton were taking long from one side and short from the other, after 10 bloody minutes!!!! come on lads, this is getting worrying!

Cheers Clive!

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romfordranger added 09:51 - Dec 30
It was painful to watch at Brighton and seemed inevitable we would lose and also fail to score. The team are totally bereft of confidence, in themselves, and probably the manager also. We are in a downward spiral with poor management and a weak team with no spine, no leaders and fighters, but thankfully a top notch goalkeeper that can usually keep the scoreline a little bit more respectable. Perhaps a spell in the first division will do us good, have a good clear out of a number of the consistent poor performers, and give more of the youngsters a chance. Holloway seemed the safe option, but sentiment alone is never a good reason to appoint someone. You need more than just passion to manage, and what we desperately need is a coach that can get us better organised and is more tactically astute, not too much to ask for, surely.
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