Unlikely Baptiste-Robinson partnership driving Rangers - Knee Jerks
Wednesday, 1st Nov 2017 14:43 by Antti Heinola
Antti Heinola is back with his regular talking points from a typical week in the life of Queens Park Rangers – fail to beat either of the bottom two, then turn over the league leaders twice in four days.
It’s all work, work, work you know
I haven't read a lot of comments on here yet, but I saw one or two saying that Sheff Utd were poor, they had injuries and so forth. Two things: Sheffield certainly don't have more injuries than we do, and more importantly they didn't look great because we didn't allow them to. The work rate of this team may well be the best of any QPR side I've seen play - it is phenomenal: Scowongoman may set the tone, but the rest of the squad follow suit.
Remember, they had one night's sleep less than United since their last, gruelling game against Wolves on Saturday. And yet still, they out-worked a similarly very hard working (and much bigger) side. United themselves came fresh off a relative battering of Leeds, but struggled when it came to breaking us down. They perhaps had only one glorious chance, when a superb ball in, from Brooks, was volleyed over by Clarke.
But that was it. Every time a United player had the ball, he had a hooped shirt to deal with. 15 years ago Ollie would talk about 'bad-rashing' teams, and this one currently does it better than any of his previous ones. I'm sure we were all worried as the clock ticked on that an onslaught would appear. There was a good tactical reason why it didn't, but it was also because QPR literally ground them down. At around 75 minutes, United played two or three poor balls straight out of play, and you fancied they'd had enough. They had just been out-worked, never given a moment's piece, until they almost accepted it wasn't going to happen.
Great strength of character the team is showing. A run of draws is often not a bad thing - it provides a base, a knowledge you are hard to beat. And now we've picked up a couple of vital wins. We'll lose plenty too - starting on Saturday, inevitably - but we're a mid-table side. Let's roll with them punches.
Lots of screams to get Smith on, lots of predictions from me that Wheeler would be coming off soon, lots of calls for Pav. But actually, Ollie's smartest sub last night was Furlong for Cousins. Not that Cousins was playing poorly, but he was tired and had been caught out once or twice with balls in behind him.
I have no clue what our formation was before this sub, but afterwards we went to a rough 4-3-3 I thought, and the reason was because of David Brooks. While Clarke and Donaldson didn't cause us too many problems, Brooks was really dangerous. He played in the hole, but drifted wide a lot and Scowen was unable to get a real grip on him. He constantly found space in the first half, and for the first 15 mins or so of the second. If they were going to equalise, it would be through him one way or another - possibly a penalty, as despite his great skill and vision, he was looking for a foul every time he had the ball.
Ollie's sub did two things: we reverted to our more usual midfield shape, with Scowen at the base and Mass and Freeman ahead, rather than Freeman being a bit wider, and went to a more conventional back four, with Furlong slightly deeper. This meant, in the middle, Scowen suddenly got a better grip on Brooks. If Brooks drifted wide, the space he was exploiting was squeezed by Furlong and Bidwell. And that was that for Brooks. He ended up dropping deeper and deeper, got frustrated and for some reason wasn't sent off for lashing out at Scowen. With him out the game, United's creativity was snuffed out.
I wasn't exactly ecstatic about the signing of Alex Baptiste, although I wasn't angry either. I was just underwhelmed, and thought maybe he'd help us out as a squad player. Well, I was wrong. Now he's fully fit, Hall and Ned might just be wondering how they'll get their places back ahead of him and Robinson.
Baptiste was my man of the match. He wins headers, he plays it simple, clears his lines if he needs to, has good positioning, wins balls he shouldn't, and I'm sure is responsible for organising that defence. There's nothing flash there. He's just solid and dependable and, well, good. Brooks might have been causing problems, but Clarke, Donaldson and Sharp never had much space and the tight, straight lines of our defence made sure we caught them offside plenty of times. Great work.
Same goes for Robinson. I worried after he missed a couple of games that he might take time to settle back. Nope. Straight back into it, with improvements on almost a match-by-match basis. He's winning far more in the air than he did in his first few games and looks totally at home as a centre back. So combative, so determined - and, like Baptiste, he's fair, too. The pair of them barely gave away a free kick all night.
And it all goes back to Knee Jerk 1 - the reason we're able to, well, not keep regular clean sheets admittedly, but at least be competitive and difficult to break down at the back, goes to hard work and commitment and belief and knowing your jobs. If Robinson can stay fit, he could develop into a very decent centre half, which would be a big bonus.
Not his best night, but typical of Scowen, he never hid. He kept ratting around, winning the ball, playing his passes. We were clearly under instruction to get it forward quickly, perhaps hoping to expose a United high line, which sort of worked, but a fair few of his passes didn't come off. And yet even on his bad day, he's still twice the player of most central midfielders we've had in recent years. And that's why I like him. He played some bad balls, but still in the last 15 minutes he was making crucial challenges and shielding the defence.
For once, it was the opposition fans booing him off. To be fair to them, we did get a couple of decisions I thought were wrong (a non-foul on Cousins by the dugout for a start), but I also think Stroud was right to get tough on Brooks. He gave him a couple of free kicks, but after he rolled around holding his ankle to make sure Cousins was booked, then miraculously recovering the moment the card was out, I think Stroud changed. After that, he started to ignore his tumbles, and Brooks only has himself to blame. Having said that, you can't help feeling that he'd have been delighted to send off Scowen had the roles been reversed when Brooks lashed out near the end of the game. In the end, grateful we got through without any reds or any pens.
Pictures – Action Images
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