Smith, Goss, Mackie and a day of nostalgia - Knee Jerks
Sunday, 5th Mar 2017 20:14 by Antti Heinola
Antti Heinola's regular look back on the talking points of the Saturday action this week focuses on Sean Goss, Jamie Mackie and Matt Smith on a day of nostalgia at Loftus Road.
Go to any football game and you'll hear comments like this: 'Hit 'im 'arder!' 'If in doubt, whack it out!' 'Don't fanny about with it!' 'Get up!' 'Let him die!' 'Gotta be STRONGER!' And that's before we get to the 606-style phone-ins where fans and Proper Football Men bemoan the impact of foreigns on the English game, and complain about how you can give away fouls for breathing on people these days. So it's a little strange that, underneath all that, football fans are incorrigibly nostalgic, almost comically sensitive and, most of all, sweetly sentimental beings.
That's not a criticism of anyone. As my years advance, I'm just as capable of getting teary-eyed about a bit of old footage as the next fan. Who didn't feel moved by the kind, humble and emotional words of Mark Lazarus at half time yesterday? A genuine Rs hero, on a day when we're honouring him, turns it all back on the fans (and Andy Sinton) instead. What a gent. And who knows what sort of an effect that had on the crowd? On social media, Mass Luongo claimed the reaction of the fans in the second half really drove the team on - and it can't be denied that when Cardiff were all over us at the start of the second half, the fans could easily have turned, as they have done so readily over the last few years. But they didn't. Like the players, the fans re-doubled their efforts and slowly the tide was turned - with added help from a sub or two.
As Clive suggested it would be, yesterday was jam-packed with nostalgia. You'd have to be about 50 to even have been alive when 1967 happened, and more like 60 to actually remember it. I wonder how many people were there yesterday who were also at Wembley? But it doesn't matter, because we all know those names, we all love that team, we all know how important that team was in making QPR the club it was in the 70s, 80s and early 90s. They helped build this club. And that's before we add in the emotional return of Neil Warnock, the happy return of Matt Connolly, the meh return of Junior Hoilett and, of course, the meaningful return of club legend Brian Murphy.
The whole day I wondered if we might win by coming from behind. We didn't deserve to be a goal down at half time, yet it felt right. We should be. I wanted a win like that. Deliberately going 2-0 down might have been a bit much, but just that comeback from one down (the first time we've managed that in about 18 months, apparently) was enough of a tribute. The perfect story for a great day of nostalgia and lovely sentimentality.
But while I fancied we might partially repeat the trick of 1967, I didn't think Yeni would be the man to do it. It was, I thought, a baffling substitution when Pawel and Manning were still kicking their heels. But it worked fantastically and justified Ollie's faith in his winger/striker/forward/whatever he is.
I just have not seen Yeni make a real impact on any game he's had for us, and I doubted he would do so yesterday. Indeed, my feeling is that had Lua Lua have been fit, he wouldn't have even been brought on at that stage. We were crying out for width and surely Kaz would have been Ollie's first choice for that. But you could see the difference in Yeni immediately. He does look fitter, faster, lighter. He looked more alert, more eager, more confident, and that only continued after his lovely goal following nice work from Mackie and Luongo, both of whom had not been having their best games. Yeni followed that up with a stunning free kick tat swerved all over the place, and then the corner that brought the winning goal. Proving I have no idea what I'm talking about.
The other week I said on here that we're starting to have real options going forward, and included Yeni in the list of forward players Ollie has to choose from. Someone asked me if I was having a laugh and I sagely replied that it's dangerous to write players off too early. Yeni clearly has something - he was sought after when we got him. He had a good record in France. Ollie has bombed others out but resolutely stuck with Yeni and the rest of the team walk away when we get a free kick. We don't see training. They see him every day and clearly have respect for his ability. Not all players are like Matt Smith and are a hit immediately. Some take time. One lovely cameo doesn't make a season, of course, but I'll be interested to see how we feel about Yeni in a year's time.
I don't disagree with the general thinking that he should get a new contract at the end of the season, but at the same time the experiment of playing him in a tucked midfield role is one that I hope we won't repeat in a hurry. The poor guy looked a little lost, unable to decide whether he should be staying deep or marauding forward and doing neither. Compared to that barn-storming display at Reading, he looked lost and that old burst of pace seemed not to be there. He never hid, of course, and did set up the equaliser, but he never looked comfortable and that incredible engine is starting to look a little rusty. I think he either needs to be part of a front three or wide of a midfield four.
There were a few boos when Goss went off yesterday, presumably because people would have taken off Luongo or Mackie before him. And it was a very decent debut. As expected, he's technically good, looks strong, his passing was superb, and he always showed for the ball, dropping deep to pick it up and looking to start our attacks.
However, for the team as a whole, it wasn't working for a few reasons already well-explained by others on here. But briefly: he occupied the area that Hall normally steps into. This meant Hall didn't step up, meaning we left too much space in central midfield, we didn't have enough options for Goss when he did get on the ball, particularly with Mackie unsure of his role, and perhaps worst of all, the three centre backs often getting in each other's way.
We immediately improved after Goss went off because we had width, Mackie looked happier, Luongo looked more sure of himself, Hall stepped into midfield, and the defence looked more settled. I felt for Goss because none of that was his fault, but worryingly for him, I don't think he can play in midfield if we're using Hall in that joint defence/midfield role. Maybe long term Ollie is hoping Goss will play that position at the base of a midfield diamond and I could see that potentially working. But, I'm not sure it can work in yesterday's formation. Still, early days.
Nothing much new to say about Smith, but just to reiterate again what a very decent signing he looks to be. While other teams in this league are lashing out upwards of £10m on players that turn out to be failures, Les and Ollie have snapped up a Fulham reserve for half a mill who has given us a vital focal point, helped bring the best out of Washington and is scoring goals. Three in his last five now. Not only that, but he is absolutely superb in our own box too, heading it away from corners and long throws with far more regularity than out centre backs. We've needed a presence like that for years, and now we have it, in both boxes. They really liked him at Leeds and perhaps he is just looking for the right home. Let's hope he's found it.
The only thing is, we need to make sure he's not our one and only weapon. In the first half yesterday, we were ok, but too one dimensional and Cardiff quickly cottoned on that he was our only real outlet because we had no wide players. Once we went to 4-4-2 (which could also be a 4-2-3-1 with him as the spearhead and, say, Freeman, Ravel and Wszolek behind him) suddenly Cardiff had more to contend with and the chances began to flow. So he's an asset, a good one, but we must learn not to overuse him in our play.
It was good to see him back - he is obviously not a model pro, but without him I genuinely doubt we'd have made the play-offs under Redknapp. Without the injured Austin, he stepped up and dragged us through a few games in a similar way to how Adel had done a couple of years earlier. So, potentially, it's very exciting. But yesterday he barely looked like he'd played football before - certainly that he'd never learned how to head it. He seemed to jump for his headers arse-first. Impressive, in a way, but not effective. Still, kudos to Ollie for sticking him on in central midfield and really going for it. Was great to see.
Pictures – Action Images
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