A great midfield three with issues in front and behind - Knee Jerks
Sunday, 1st Oct 2017 11:55 by Antti Heinola
Another genuinely pulsating match at Loftus Road in a game that had pretty much everything except the late equaliser QPR, in the end, probably deserved.
The midfield trio
I won't spend too long on this because I think we're all in agreement and so far these three are undoubtedly the success story of Ollie's reign so far. Luongo has moved up a notch, and hasn't been overawed at all by the captaincy. Scowen has been a revelation, the kind of midfielder we've been crying out for for years. Freeman is our true creative spark. They all bring something different to the table, and so complement each other beautifully. And yet they have much in common too - tireless running, tremendous spirit, a never-say-die attitude, great stamina and the ability to both pass and win the ball too.
On Friday night, as usual, they worked their socks off for the whole game and while Fulham were marginally the better side, the difference between our fortunate win at their place last season, where they cut through our centre at will, and our more solid appearance last night was stark - thanks to these three.
I think Luke Freeman just edged the battle between them (and possibly Robsinon) for Man of the Match this time around, just because if we were going to find a way to come back from the dead, it looked like it would be sparked by him. I love the way he can wriggle from tight situations, his delivery from corners is excellent (even almost scoring from one in the first half, but for a genuinely great save by Button), and he always looks a danger when he has the ball on the edge of the box. A crying shame that he couldn't quite grab that equaliser just after Washington scored, when he was denied again by Button. And I'm pretty sure everyone in the SA Road stand thought his free kick was in all the way. I don't think I've ever had my head in my hands so often in the last 20 minutes of a game, having been sure we'd forced a goal only for it to go just wide, be cleared off the line, or saved.
But what we need, I think, is a shorthand name for these three. My three suggestions are:
But I'm open to other thoughts.
I don't think it's going to be very controversial to say I think the subs, or at least the first one, were not quite right in this game. I thought in the first half we played some really nice football - some great triangles, some lovely quick passing of the sort we rarely saw at the back end of last season in particular. FreeMasSco and Pav combined really well and we had several moves that either ended with a chance, a half chance or had Fulham in some difficulty.
But after the break, Ollie reacted quickly to try and get us a goal, but ended up blunting the sharpest part of our game. Pav certainly wasn't having his best game, but in the first half in particular, they were really struggling with him, and he worked tirelessly down that right. I was actually expecting him to be brought off as to me he looked like he'd been struggling a bit, possibly with a knock. But Smith was the wrong replacement. Actually, having Smith on was not the bad call, it was just who he came on for. At that stage, I think we'd have been better off bringing on Wheeler too, and taking off Mackie, meaning the shape would remain essentially unchanged. As it was we suddenly went ridiculously narrow and the onus on Freeman in particular to create something grew much bigger. In the event, it was only when Sylla limped off that we regained some sort of width, and once again we looked far more dangerous. Smith in the middle, by Fulham's own admission causing havoc, with Washington and Wheeler either side as genuine threats. I feel we lost time and momentum where Ollie didn't quite get that one right.
It's unfair to be too harsh on Lynch as I'm sure he was not fully fit. However, if you were to look at our centre backs it was he, rather than Robinson, who looked like he was playing out of position. Sometimes I think Lynch is a little too confident. He has belief in his strength and his ability to get the ball away and so becomes ponderous and too many times on Friday was caught out when he could have cleared his lines or played an earlier ball.
Robinson, in contrast, seems as if he knows he's out of position, so he's just going to play it safe. If he's in trouble, he'll kick it out. Fulham fans cheered that a few times on Friday, but I have no problem with it. Clint Hill and Warnock were big advocates of it. Why take the risk? It's nice to play out prettily from the back when you can, but better to concede a throw than a goal. It's dull, and it's safety first, but for a team that is as porous at the back as we are and with so many injuries, it's far from the worst policy.
Robinson, I think, has been really impressive. Not to the extent that I think he's the answer at the back, but to come in after all his injuries in an unfamiliar position and play how he's played is worthy of praise. And I love his attitude. He doesn't shirk, he battles, he loves a tackle. The last 20 or 30 minutes on Friday saw him win pretty much everything, just when we needed him to. Towering headers, 40-60 balls. Several times our attacks broke down but he determinedly won the ball back to start another assault. He was certainly troubled by the pace of Ojo and looked much more comfortable after he went off, but Ojo will do that to most defenders in this league I think. At the same time, two or three times in the first half he got back to stop Ojo when it looked like he'd run clear of Robinson. It's a huge bonus for us how well he's doing, because if he hadn't filled in there, you wonder what on earth we'd be doing instead.
I've been begging for Idrissa to get a start. Smith can't last. Washington, after his great first game of the season is simply not potent enough despite all his endeavour and Mackie, despite his three goals, is not an out and out striker. To me, he has to have a run in the side and I'm only more convinced of that after Friday. First half I thought he was very good. It would be very hard for anyone to claim that he didn't work and chase and harry, but more than that he held the ball up well, took it on that magnificent chest, laid it off, made himself available and bundled past challenges. His best display for us I think, in that first half, up there with his great performance away at Reading last season. The only thing missing was a decent chance - he had one, but he was offside and comically blazed over anyway.
But give him a run now. Let him play up there with Mackie or Washington. Let them do the running and inspire him to do the same. If he can just get some goals and some confidence I'm convinced he's out best option up there. Even if we have to bring him off after 70 and then throw on Smith, that's not going to be a bad thing. He does have negatives - his touch can let him down, he was perhaps not quite direct enough on Friday, but I just think he could get us some valuable goals given the proper chance.
So, we're 11 games in and we're at a decent place to judge our level. Lower mid table feels about right. If we can stay there this season, maybe push a few places higher which, with a bit of luck, we might have been, then I honestly think we could be at the start of having a half-decent side. At least at the moment it is exciting, they work hard, they want to play for the club and we're playing some undeniably decent, if frantic, football.
The key really is to somehow get Onuoha and Hall back. Put those two in as two of the back three and suddenly we really start to look promising. The midfield looks at its healthiest for years - FreeMasSco in possession, but with genuine potential quality backing them up - Manning, Cousins and Ariel.
And then it's just the forward line. That's where we're really lacking. Stick Charlie Austin in that team and you've basically got a play-off side in my opinion. We're not going to get another gem like him for a while, though, so someone needs to step up this season or next. I'm far more positive than i was a few months ago, yet at the same time this little rut we're in, with no win in five despite some good performances, worries me. This kind of run can quickly turn toxic. We need some wins again, and quickly, because as happy as I am with this season so far, I still think we could get sucked in to a relegation battle as we did last season.
It must be a record, surely. They've now been given four penalties against us in their last three games, and missed the lot. When that one was given on Friday, I was convinced it was a goal. Law of averages, surely. But no. And Fonte's was the worst of the lot. Ballooned it over. At Craven Cottage we might as well start the game by giving them a pen, watch them miss it, and then get on with the bloody game.
I haven't seen it again, so not sure whether Ollie was correct that it shouldn't have been awarded (certainly looked a pen from where I was sat, and caused because of some woeful dallying by Lynch), but I'm a bit baffled about why he was so bothered. He can't control whether someone dives or not - he can try to control whether his defenders don't amble along the front of the area until they get caught in possession. Wrong target there, Oll.
Be nice if we could have a penalty against them next time though. Them getting a penalty was about the only predictable thing of that whole game last night.
Pictures – Action Images
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