End of Term Report 16/17 – Defenders
Tuesday, 23rd May 2017 11:19 by Clive Whittingham
Part two of our annual analysis on the season just gone examines a defence which shipped 73 league and cup goals and kept just seven clean sheets in 50 matches.
3 – Jake Bidwell C
Very QPR story this one. Rangers go to nearby well-run club and believe they’re cleverly taking advantage of a contract situation by signing one of their consistent performers for a decent price to fill a position in need of attention after suffering a year of the comedy stylings of Paul Konchesky. Sadly, away from the stability and sound management of Brentford and with Joel Lynch’s weekly catastrophes to his right instead of Harlee Dean, said player quickly falls into a form trough. Brentford, meanwhile, pop downstairs and buy the outstanding left back in League One, Rico Henry, for less money than we paid for Bidwell and a smaller wage, and low and behold their team improves for the transfer as ours gets worse. Getting a bit sick of this sort of shit to be honest.
I don’t think Bidwell has been as bad as many have made out – possibly a victim of QPR’s ongoing insistence on hyping every new signing up way beyond what they’re ever going to be capable of achieving. I think the formations used by Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and Ian Holloway do little to help the full backs, playing entirely without width in midfield therefore allowing opponents to double up against them and force them into impossible situations. It looks like QPR are going to be the last team in the world to cotton onto just how important full backs are in modern football, particularly as an attacking weapon – Bidwell got three assists this season which is nowhere near enough for the left full back the way the game is most successfully played these days, and all of them were from dead balls.
He’s struggled to fit into the team and find form, his confidence has visibly drained as the season has gone on – not helped by the persistent verbal harassment he takes from Lynch throughout every match they play together – but he’s been steady enough by and large. Obviously, the exception to that is the away game at Brentford where the poor bastard lived out that nightmare I’m sure we’ve all had where you have to stand up in front of all your ex-girlfriends and school friends wearing only a pair of nipple tassels and a sign round your neck saying LOOK AT MY TINY PENIS.
Despite that diabolical afternoon I think we’ve got bigger problems to solve than Jake Bidwell, though that certainly doesn’t mean I’ve been that impressed with him.
4 – Grant Hall B
Grant Hall was QPR’s Player of the Year in 2015/16 though his form did tail off rather towards the end of that campaign and he’d developed a worrying habit of letting the ball bounce in bad areas by the time May came around. He’d previously had difficult loan spells at this level, particularly at Birmingham where he was part of the team that conceded eight at home to Bournemouth in one match, and there was a school of thought the award was more to do with people’s surprise at how good he’d looked having come in late in the summer, unheralded and with low expectations.
If there was an element of that, then this was always going to be that difficult second album for Hall with people expecting him to kick on further and be our main centre back – expectation that simply wasn’t there for him 12 months prior. Much like the team he started well in the first two games, came unstuck at Barnsley where he was sent off, tailed off still further through September and collapsed altogether through the autumn.
He is, however, one of the few players (Ryan Manning being the other big one) who really benefitted from the change of manager. Ian Holloway’s decision to move him into a midfield role which drops in to become a third centre back when defending looked like the sort of pure madness we’d seen during his previous stint when Georges Santos played everywhere but in goal. But the switch has proved to be the making of Hall (that hair and eyebrow combination always made me a bit suspicious that he wasn’t really a centre back) and by the end of the season it was his absence through injury (which sadly happens rather too often) being given as the chief reason for the nosedive in form. With him, QPR won 13 and drew seven of 34, without him they lost nine of 12. He was particularly excellent in vital winter wins against Wolves and Ipswich.
Keeping him fit and hopefully improving him further in a full season as a defensive midfielder is one of the potential big areas for improvement in the team next season. Finding a way to adequately cover for him during his all too frequent spells on the sidelines is one of the top priorities for the summer.
5 – Nedum Onuoha C
Part one of ‘we’re a pretty reasonable, level-headed, long-suffering bunch of supporters in general but…’ focuses on our weird need for a scapegoat. Once Ben Gladwin and Karl Henry had been seen off the pack went hunting for another of our own and it’s pretty clear that Nedum Onuoha, closely followed by Jake Bidwell, are next in line.
Am I going to pretend that Nedum Onuoha has had a good season? No, he hasn’t. Am I going to pretend that he’s a player without flaws? No, because he’s not, particularly with the ball which is why the opposition deliberately let him have it under no pressure and choose to mark tightly elsewhere instead, because they know he’s pretty likely to give it straight back to them or punt it long to Matt Smith.
But I am going to say he hasn’t been nearly as bad as many have made out and is the best of the sober and available defenders we have in our squad. I found the Sheffield Wednesday home game, one of the few he’s missed since arriving at the club, an even more terrifying experience than watching QPR usually is. And, as I’ve said a few times this season, much better centre backs than Onuoha would struggle with Perch one side of them and Lynch and Bidwell the other – he is trying his best to hold together a ropier back four than we’ve had down here for years.
You can tell the criticism that goes his way isn’t based on very much when people start to talk about his abilities as a captain and a “leadah”. How do you know what kind of captain he is, from halfway up Ellerslie Road, or the back of the away end at Norwich where somebody was screaming on and on about “lead this team Nedum” at the final game of the season? Are you among the squad, do you travel with them, are you out there on the pitch with them? If not, how can you possibly know what kind of a captain he is? He looked pretty captain-like in a wonderful display in that crucial match against Nottingham Forest at the end of the season I think. And that’s without getting into the debate about how the English completely overplay the role and value of the single captain as opposed to a team of leaders and strong personalities.
The team does seem a fairly quiet, nice, intelligent, tepid bunch – not a lot of nastiness, not a lot of leadership. But I don’t think you can pin that solely on Onuoha, nor really tell what sort of a captain he is from afar. It does make me laugh/smash my head through a plate glass window when these things that get spouted off in the White Horse after eight pints just become fact after a while, and “Onuoha is a shit captain” is one of those. It rankles with me that as a support base we often give a free pass to absolute dickheads like Joey Barton and Ravel Morrison who do nothing but treat us and our club with complete contempt, and yet we’re quite happy to go after people like Onuoha who, whatever you think of his abilities as a player, is clearly a committed, diligent professional, conscientious person, steady family man and intelligent lad who is not a bad defender at all, almost always available for selection and clearly tries his best for us every week.
An up and down season personally, nothing better or worse than that.
6 – Joel Lynch C/D
Big disappointment. Spent the first half of the season mostly unavailable through one trivial knock or another, and the second getting too tight to strikers and allowing himself to be rolled over and over again.
We said last summer that it’s all very well calling time on Clint Hill given his age, wage, legs etc but by the end of 2015/16 Hill was still the only centre back we had at the club who would consistently win headers in his own penalty box. If you can’t replace that you may as well give Hill another year because you take it away at your peril, as we have subsequently found in a season of just seven clean sheets.
Lynch hasn’t been available to play any more than Hill would have been – 31 starts to Hill’s 28 at Glasgow Rangers. He missed the Boxing Day game at Brighton with “a knock” which the Huddersfield fans had told us to expect – he missed Christmas games (December 20-30) injured or suspended in 2014/15, 2013/14, 2012/13, 2011/12, 2010/11 and 2009/10 as well. A player who believes so passionately in the need for a winter break in English football he’s apparently decided to implement one by himself.
On the pitch there have been some good games – Man of the Match in Ian Holloway’s first game at home to Norwich when he started well in the middle then had to fill in at left back and did brilliantly, very strong when we needed him most against Forest at the end of the season. But there have been some train wrecks as well, most notably at Brentford where we’d probably have been better off with one of Gus Caesar’s beer shits in the centre half position than him.
Time after time after time we’ve seen him do that thing where he goes too tight to a centre forward with their back to goal and/or tries to run round the wrong side of them and pinch the ball before it arrives rather than staying goal side and inside his man resulting in him getting rolled and the striker having a clear run in on goal – Jonathan Kodija did this to him four times in the second half of the Villa game at Loftus Road alone and only Alex Smithies prevented that being a cake walk as a result.
Might like to concentrate on his own game a bit more rather than constantly screaming at Jake Bidwell.
22 – Steven Caulker E
Here’s a delicate one. Top line, QPR have issues at centre back and are trying to cut their wage bill, meanwhile the club’s top earner and best centre back is indefinitely unavailable because of his own behaviour and fitness. It’s tempting to really tee off on somebody who has turned themselves from one of the best up and coming British centre backs in the country into, football wise, a waste of space.
We, of course, don’t know exactly what’s going on with Steven Caulker. We know he went to Sierra Leone last summer for a big “remind me of how lucky I am” voyage of discovery/good PR; we know a reasonably decent start to the season was interrupted by a hip injury; we know Ian Holloway believes that “his problems start” when he’s not able to play football; we know his behaviour since that injury is the subject of a club disciplinary procedure because Lee Hoos told us that at the Fans Forum; and we know that behaviour during his time with the club has included, but probably not been limited to, drunken incidents at the club’s Christmas party, the VIP area at the O2 arena, and Clapham Junction railway station – the latter saw him arrested and end up in court. We know he gets a bit handy with his mobile phone’s address book because we’ve seen the messages/pictures, and we know the very attractive girl he was going out with the last time this happened wasn’t overly impressed when she saw them as well.
We don’t know if it’s depression, alcoholism, gambling addiction, a combination of these, something else entirely or if he’s just a bit of a knob but we do know the guy has issues that are ruining a career that had won him full England honours before he moved to QPR.
It’s very easy to make the mistake of thinking depression is just feeling a bit sorry for yourself because the word is misleading - it’s a chemical thing and an illness like the flu or cancer or liver disease or any number of other things you wouldn’t dream of telling somebody they’d brought on themselves or should just snap out of. Like an illness, it can strike anybody young, old, rich, poor, successful or otherwise. Nor is alcoholism simply liking a drink a bit more than the average person- to believe so is to misunderstand addiction entirely. Football, sport, people are getting better with mental health, but you still only have to look at the Daily Mail coverage of Aaron Lennon’s recent incident, mentioning his wage in the headline in a clear “what’s he got to be miserable about?” show of complete ignorance to see that - particularly when it comes to rich, good looking, athletic, successful footballers on millions of pounds a year – some people still have a problem getting their heads around it.
But… speaking as somebody with some personal and family experience of all of the above, and after some long conversations this week with people well versed in this sort of thing themselves about how to tackle this bit, sooner or later some personal responsibility has to be taken. You can wallow, you can be the victim, you can point to the addiction or the depression or whatever it is and say ‘well what chance have I got, it’s not my fault, woe is me’. Or you can function. And, without going all Daily Mail and talking about the money, there are people out there who will have the same depression, the same problems with drink or drugs, the same problem with gambling, or whatever it is that Caulker is struggling with, but will be working in an office on £25k a year, or working on the checkouts at Waitrose, or driving a bus for a living, and they’ll have a mortgage or rent and bills coming out of their ears or kids at home to support and it simply won’t be an option for them to just wallow and not work for months at a time.
Nor will the sort of help that is readily available to footballers through their clubs, or privately because they’re independently wealthy, be an option for them. Nor will they be unsackable, which footballers seemingly are in this weird world we live in where a manager can be dismissed from a fix term contract for losing four football matches but a footballer who’s unavailable for months at a time because he’s pissed up never is. That moment when they open their eyes in the morning and can’t face the world, can’t get up, can’t stand the sight of themselves, sooner or later that’s tough and they have to battle through it to work, to earn, to exist.
Sooner or later, be it through meds, be it through counselling, be it through therapy, be it through bloody electric shock therapy, you have to find a way to go on. Steven Caulker is clearly letting a lot of people down (QPR very high amongst them), none more so than himself as a career that could have taken him to the very top drains away in front of him. Sooner or later he’s got to take responsibility for turning that around.
24 – James Perch D
Well this has been bloody infuriating, not least because the recent flashback videos to the Wigan play-off semi-final at Loftus Road (where Perch scored the visitors’ goal) reminds you of just what a good player he was for his previous club, arriving at Loftus Road two years ago with the Latics’ Player of the Year Award in his sports bag. Perch has played well for QPR at left back, at centre back and in midfield, but for some reason has been consistently awful at right back. Nevertheless, that’s where he’s picked more often than not, which makes little sense as it is but when you factor in the injury to Grant Hall, the effect that had on the team and results, and the form of Darnell Furlong over the closing weeks of the season it’s impossible to come up with a single good reason why he wasn’t moved into Hall’s spot and Furlong (a much better full back) picked on the right side of the defence. His one Man of the Match Award this season came at Preston when he played at the base of midfield.
Of course the thing we’ll remember most about James Perch 2016/17 is the cards – 14 of them in all in 35 appearances, not far off one every other outing. Remarkably, only one of them was red and that one, against Wolves at home, could be considered slightly unfortunate as the first booking that led to it was for dissent in the first five minutes and was a nonsense decision. But to then go on and commit the challenge he did, while on a booking, which brought the dismissal and cost us the game against a poor side was one of the most stupid things I’ve ever seen.
This rank stupidity, which at times has made Joey Essex look like Professor Stephen Hawking, has been a running theme. On at least two other occasions – Brighton H and Brentford A – Perch should have been sent straight off for hideous, dangerous, reckless, out of control attempts to snap an opponent’s leg clean off at the hip. Samba Diakite has looked like a Nobel Peace Prize contender in comparison as time after time after time Perch has left the ground with studs showing and embarked on one potentially career ending horror after another.
Perch is a player who holds a Premier League record for picking up five yellow cards in his first five matches at the level so he’s always been a bit rash but these tackles happen so frequently, and in such braindead circumstances, that you do start to play around with conspiracy theories. Thinking back to his sending off at Derby last season, that was a bad tackle, from behind, in the last minute of a game that had already been lost, on a player in a neutral area of the pitch, with his back to goal, going nowhere. Why would you make that tackle, on a booking, other than to deliberately try and hurt somebody or to deliberately get yourself sent off and suspended? The red card against Wolves, coming in a Thursday night game, very conveniently suspended Perch for the trip up to Rotherham, giving him a whole fortnight with no game just before Christmas. The red card he should have been given at Brentford would have ruled him out of the last two games of the season and started his summer early, coincidentally just as Mrs Perch had dropped another sprog. LFW’s official counsel (not a salaried position) is getting twitchy now so I’ll stop, but the point is these tackles he makes happen so often, and are so bad, and are so bloody stupid, you can’t possibly believe that a professional footballer is doing it by accident.
One more year left on what is probably a very decent contract, any notion that he’s our first choice right back next season needs to be quickly dismissed in favour of Furlong (far better player) starting there or a new signing being made. Even with the allowances for how exposed our full backs are, as mentioned in the Jake Bidwell write up, Perch has been rank in that position for us and should be viewed as a useful (but expensive) utility player for the bench and nothing more.
29 – Darnell Furlong B
A very satisfactory season for a promising young player who, in my opinion, should be considered the first choice right back for next season. Having impressed at Cambridge in League Two last season he began this one on loan at Swindon in League One where he made 25 starts, three sub appearances and scored twice against Chesterfield and Rochdale. Back at Rangers he did a far better job on the right side of the defence in the second half of the season than James Perch and should have been used there a lot more. His win percentage, albeit from only 15 appearances, is by far and away the best of any of the defenders and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that we win more often when he plays. He’s also got the highest average rating from LFW and the interactive vote of any of our defenders bar Hall.
QPR have a number of problems in the full back area, which they seem to still be treating as the dumping ground for their shittest defenders like every Sunday league side you ever played for in the 1990s. In the modern game it’s a vital position, particularly going forwards, and yet Rangers, under several managers now, have exposed our left and right backs with a wingless midfield defensively, and shown no desire to have them bombing forward to support the attack when we do have possession. I’m not expecting Walker and Rose, but between them Perch, Bidwell and Furlong have just five assists this season and four of those came from set plays – Furlong’s one, at Preston, his more than useful long throw.
Furlong does look capable of being that athletic, attacking right back we need, though he needs to work on the final ball and decision making in key areas – twice in an otherwise excellent personal display at Leeds he thrashed at presentable chances to shoot on the edge of the area.
Very good overall though, intelligent boy, well behaved, level headed, good player with plenty of improvement in him. I’m a big fan and believe he should be first choice in 2017/18.
That Jack Robinson (seven starts, W1 D1 L5) is still counted among the ‘others’ as he approaches his 24th birthday tells you how desperate his situation is becoming. One year left on a contract signed when the times were good, the money was plentiful and Harry Redknapp had a company credit card, he’s got it all to do next season to justify even a short-term renewal on vastly reduced terms. A good footballer, clearly, and a far better attacking left-sided defender than Jake Bidwell, with the prodigious long throw to boot. But however promising he was, however good he is when he plays, however unfortunate the hideous injury he suffered while on loan at Huddersfield was, we’re not in a financial position to be entertaining a high-earning full back who’s started eight games for us since arriving in 2014. I like him, I want it to work, I want us to find a way and him to find a training regime that works, I rate him… but it’s looking pretty bleak at this point.
Cole Kpekawa got a substitute appearance in a cup game against Swindon before being sold to Barnsley for a reasonable six-figure sum. That was met with the usual OTT reactions on both sides of the argument but QPR selling players, particularly ones they’ve grown themselves, for actual money is a good thing. He may yet come good – Barnsley have a track record of buying low and selling high – but four starts and three sub appearances wasn’t a conspicuous success and with QPR concerned about his weight and attitude last summer this so far represents very good business.
Osman Kakay was one who went out on loan after impressing in a brief League Cup appearance against Sunderland, but he’s struggled at Chesterfield who were eventually relegated from League One. Nico Hamalainen got some first team action under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and looked excellent as a substitute at Fulham. But a pathetically weak block tackle at Sheff Wed sticks in the mind and there’s some serious strength and conditioning work required before he can be considered at our current level. Certainly lives the footballer’s lifestyle, if not the actual football bit yet.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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