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Today at Wimbledon – Column
Sunday, 15th Jul 2018 14:34 by Clive Whittingham

What better way to forget the inevitable, crushing disappointment of England’s World Cup exit by embarking on the inevitable, crushing disappointment of QPR’s 2018/19 campaign? LFW climbed back on the horse at Wimbledon on Saturday…

There can be few more hateful concepts in sport than a play-off for third place. Necessary, surely, only in an Olympic Games – and even then just hand bronze medals out to both losing semi-finalists and let them go home to be alone with their grief – it exists in a World Cup for reasons nobody can comprehend but are almost certainly to do with somebody making some money somewhere.

Even before Wednesday’s agonising England defeat to Croatia in extra time of the semi-finals, the chances of me sitting down to watch yesterday’s match were slim at best. As it turned out, with our unexpected success in the tournament and the demon hope of a first final since 1966 being dangled and then snatched away, I’d rather have spent the afternoon giving a rim job to John Prescott after he’d spent a long, hot day in his garden than tune in to England Reserves v Belgium.

Luckily, QPR had my back in the form of a handily scheduled pre-season friendly, and so as one horribly inevitable crushing disappointment ends in Russia, so another began almost immediately in a quiet corner of town between Kingston and New Malden.

A game with AFC Wimbledon came with the added incentive of a new ground to visit. Love a new ground. Despite being just nine miles south of Loftus Road on the other side of Richmond Park, and regularly being in the quarter of the draw from which our early round League Cup ties are picked, a trip to Kingsmeadow had so far eluded us since Wimbledon set up camp here. Of course, a nice midweek tie at Wimbledon would get in the way of all the thrilling opportunities to play Swindon, Northampton or Swindon – or, in the case of this season, Peterborough, which is as close to Northampton as you can get without actually being Northampton. Fiendishly fucking clever that League Cup draw, never missing an opportunity to bore the living shit out of us.

Wimbledon have been here since 2002 and this coming season will be their last, with Wimbledon Dog Track razed to the ground and a new home for the Dons back on Plough Lane ready to spring up in time for 2019/20. Kingstonian, who originally called it home and opened the place with a friendly against QPR in 1989, were forced out by mismanagement and financial woes and so this quaint, rather likeable little lower league ground will soon revert to a permanent place for Chelsea to park all the millionaire teenagers they’ve hoarded with no intention of ever using in their first team. Everybody’s favourite Russian-backed racists have bought the leasehold for £2m and there are already signs everywhere for their women’s team.

So an escape from the horrors of England Belgium, a new ground to tick off, and a first chance to get a look at Steve McClaren’s Queens Park Rangers. What’s not to like? Well, being perfectly honest, I’m not ready for this yet.

Perhaps it’s the weather. London has been oppressively hot for weeks, apparently rendering it socially acceptable to go topless on the Northern Line. It’s always the ones who really shouldn’t who go first with that isn’t it? One of the many positives of England’s resurgence is it has distracted attention for a few weeks. Last time it was this hot for this long the city responded by burning down family furniture shops and pillaging Footlocker – although it is a source of some civic pride that the Toby Carvery Barnet remained open and serving throughout that horrible week. Attention hungry looters… Despite the country’s desperate political situation, the visit of Trump and the Saharan weather conditions, people have been too busy trying to get on UniLad by spontaneously throwing their pints in the air to celebrate a fifth goal against Panama to cause many problems. Nevertheless, it certainly doesn’t feel like it’s time for club football again just yet.

Perhaps it’s the World Cup itself and once today’s final is out of the way and I’m stuck watching golf next week I’ll get the craving back. Or maybe it’s the change of manager that’s sapped a bit more of the love out of me.

I’ve spent the last month overseas and had a lot of time sitting in the sun to reflect on the departure of Ian Holloway (that’s the sort of thing I do when plonked in an idyllic paradise). The more I think about it the more uneasy I am with the whole thing. Whether you liked him or not, whether you rated him or not, whether you thought he would take us forward or hold us back, I think you’d be hard pushed to argue that he didn’t fulfil the remit he was given when he was appointed which makes the sacking, and the manner of it, harsh. He cut the wage bill, reduced the size of the squad, blooded a whole load of youngsters very effectively and maintained Championship status while doing it. There were problems, particularly away from home, and he infuriated me at times, but if you’re from the school of thought that actually this team is a lot better than its recent league finishes and was being hampered by Holloway’s management, I fear you may be in for quite the awakening once we get underway on August 4.

Anyway, I liked him, and Marc Bircham, they’re QPR people and I think they deserved a bit better than that week before and after the Leeds match on the final day of last season where the club starting leaking like 8,000 colanders and basically everybody knew they were getting the push long before they actually did. We need to be better than that as a club, particularly when dealing with our own, and it actually adds pressure to an already very difficult task facing Steve McClaren. Last year I desperately wanted QPR to do well not only because I’ve spent my whole life desperately wanting QPR to do well, but also because I wanted Holloway and Bircham to succeed. Now I’m back to just desperately wanting QPR to do well because I’ve spent my whole life desperately wanting QPR to do well, and I’ve long since come round to the idea that we’re a bit shit. It’s just taken the edge off it a bit for me. I’m weirdly uncomfortable with it, and I bet I’m not the only one.

So what can I tell you about Wimbledon 0 QPR 1? For that is how it finished, an away win secured with a last minute goal from Luke Freeman thanks largely to a dreadful bit of goalkeeping from Wimbledon’s second choice stopper Tom King in injury time.

Well, not much. Madness lies in drawing conclusions from pre-season friendlies, particularly the early ones like this, particularly ones played in a sweatbox. It will surprise nobody who’s ever watched a McClaren team that QPR did indeed line up in his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, with Ryan Manning and Josh Scowen the two in front of the defence, Ebere Eze, Luke Freeman and Conor Washington rotating as the three behind Matt Smith. I’d be gobsmacked if we didn’t start in that shape for the opening day defeat at Preston, if perhaps not quite with this personnel.

Washington went through on goal and saw his shot saved, naturally. Matt Ingram, fighting it out with Joe Lumley to be the permanent successor to lovely/traitorous Alex Smithies, managed to make two outstanding saves from Mitchell Pinnock’s troublesome corners in the second half to preserve a clean sheet, although was frequently wayward with his distribution which will be a concern for a manager who likes to play out from the back. Probably a good job that Wimbledon's new signing James Hanson - like a Matt Smith for the lower leagues - wasn't on show here given the quality of Pinnock's delivery and QPR's varying struggles with them.

Darnell Furlong looked good at right back but went off injured. The new German looked big, and physical, and powerful, and dominant, and slow as rust. The pattern of play was obvious and unyielding: going wide, left or right, from the back; then being set back to the deeper lying midfielders; and then turned into the channels – over and over again to no great effect. McClaren did a lot of headshaking.

The game was, it must be said, a dreadful bore, as they often are, enlivened only very briefly by the sprinklers coming on mid-match. I’d have had a nap but the glare from the new pink kit kept me awake – we look like the clean-up team sent in after an explosion at the Pepto-Bismol factory.

It improved from a QPR perspective quite considerably when Little Smyth emerged from the bench, injecting pace and peskiness into the attack, winning a series of dangerous set pieces, and helping to set up what turned out to be the winning goal in injury time with a well-controlled, first time, volleyed cross into the danger area after being picked out with a raking crossfield pass. Kid looks sharp. Kid looks keen. Kid looks effective.

Interesting (it’s all relative) to see Idrissa Sylla, David Wheeler and Bright Osayi Samuel in the second string at Staines on Friday, though Samuel did get a brief cameo here as a substitute. McClaren’s only worked with Sylla for a fortnight so is still probably at the “what the fuck is this guy doing?” stage of enlightenment with him but Bright was looking good at the end of last season and one would hope can kick on this. Wheeler missed most of last season injured so could be like a new signing if he can hit the ground running come August – and as we’re not allowed actual new signings having a few pretend ones might be nice. Massimo Luongo returns to training this week after his World Cup – the lads have two matches against Champions League qualifiers Hoffenheim in Germany next weekend.

McClaren was surrounded on the touchline by a cast of thousands, all carrying iPads. That mint green training gear makes the staff very easy to spot and we counted at least one of them for every player, spread between the bench and the gantry above. It did look slightly excessive – aren’t we meant to be skint? Flitting around under their feet, unused sub Joe Felix, signed from Fulham’s academy after a successful trial – possibly the smallest human being I’ve ever seen.

The man himself watched the first hour from the television gantry, hunched forward and frequently resting his forehead on the barrier in front of him like the hungover custodian of a bottom set GCSE maths class. When the sun, and/or the tedium, became too much he decamped downstairs, to the back of the empty side terrace, and paced around an empty bin for a bit. From England manager to this, babysitting a creche at skinted Queens Park Rangers while Gareth Southgate is hailed as a national hero. Penny for his thoughts. Somewhere out there in a parallel universe it’s Steve McClaren MBE, and football fans are staging a run on Marks and Spencer umbrellas rather than waistcoats. It’s a sign of how low his stock has fallen that he’s here at all and he will have all on this season trying to raise it with the tools at his disposal at Loftus Road.

I’m slightly concerned. And very hot.

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beanofire1 added 15:02 - Jul 15
I'm with you Clive. I don't think I've ever been so disconnected from my club since IH got the tin tack.
It seems he did what was asked and yes, he wasn't perfect by a long chalk, then got the bullet for reasons even after watching TF's apparent explanations, that I can't work out.
Ipswich made the type of managerial appointment that I thought we should have followed. A lower league manager with hunger and drive and with some success at that level. Who do we get? A guy in the last chance saloon, who, managing at this level, hasn't set Championship clubs alight and all with bigger transfer budgets.
It could be a long season.

carlosthebulb added 16:25 - Jul 15
Wow. What a thoroughly depressing read 😐

baz_qpr added 17:42 - Jul 15
From what I hear the decision to twist was taken months before it happened at the end of the season, and it was the consistent inconsistency on and off the pitch that did it for him, so the view was he would be unlikely to improve us further.

Whether Schteeve can is another question but you can see the logic behind the choice

Northernr added 18:14 - Jul 15
Yeh I'm not disputing that Baz, analysed the decision to death and you can make a case either way. I'm talking specifically about the way it was done.

Myke added 22:13 - Jul 15
Umm beano we tried the lower league successful model with JFH and it didn't work. To repeat that would be insane. I'm happy with McClaren if not, like Clive, with the way Ian was removed. I think when you add in factors like the loss of his mother and Wilkins, just prior to his dismissal, then you have to conclude it could have been handled with more respect and dignity. As Clive rightly points out, this does not just affect Holloway, but also McClaren, who is by no means a universally popular choice. In a perverse way England's success in the WC is another stick to beat him with if we get off to a bad start (and we have a very tough set of opening fixtures).
I think it is critical that he is given time and support even if things begin poorly, as I genuinely think he can do a good job for us (remember his stint under Rednapp?) but it will be gradual rather than dramatic. Like I have said previously, I will gladly settle for 10-14 and looking up rather than over our shoulder, with MORE clean sheets and away wins and LESS post-match histrionics and selection (and fashion) faux pas

isawqpratwcity added 05:30 - Jul 16
"He cut the wage bill, reduced the size of the squad, blooded a whole load of youngsters very effectively and maintained Championship status while doing it." And most of that was being done, and done more successfully, by the previous two managers. Holloway and Bircham may have been QPR people, and Holloway was a real Mensch, a genuinely decent bloke, but his time was wildly erratic and, overall, one step forward, two steps back. He was brought in by Fernandes to buy time and shut up the anti-Ramsay/Hasselbaink brigade, but for all the things he got right, we didn't end up being any better.

I think we have got a much better manager now, and I'm hoping he will drag out the potential that was hidden between our best performances over the last eighteen months and the numbing atrophy of our overall positions. Here's to us holding most of our better players before the window closes and McClaren getting us working as a decent team.

barbicanranger added 06:40 - Jul 16
Enjoyed reading that, Clive. You summed up the way I have been feeling about the IH departure and the forthcoming season perfectly. In fact, the England exit was worse for me as it hastened the the process of turning my attention to QPR, where things stand and the season ahead. I have to say I think we will get a rude awakening come 4 Aug too. I’m not normally a pessimist, I thought IH would get us to where we needed to be before last season began but I have a strange, uneasy feeling about this season. Obviously, I would love to be proved wrong.

snanker added 09:21 - Jul 16
Ta Clive but with an away strip like that I think we are gonna get what we deserve and it wont be as pretty ! Back to sq. one I fear

RonisRs added 09:25 - Jul 16
while Clive's read is good, i am also of the view that McCl, is a step up, and we will be more steadier and move onwards and upwards. I think IH was good for his time, but I got the felling he was also ready to move on and take some time out.
I am feeling optimistic right now for the season ahead, but time will tell.

snanker added 09:27 - Jul 16
P.S. Mensch, ah my boy, my life & what are doing to my favorite ol' SW dog track ! I miss that crazy gang thuggery ! Those were the days....

olderR added 11:03 - Jul 16
Perhaps irrationally, seeing the teams for the Staines/Dons games I couldn’t help thinking that Mc C
Has already chosen his starting eleven.
Wheeler took his goals well and I would like to see him have a chance with “The first team”.
I hope he not suffering because he doesn’t defend as well as other less productive front men.
I’d rather win 4-3.

DavieQPR added 11:46 - Jul 16
The only things I learnt on Saturday were :
1) MacLaren fidgets an awful lot
2) He doesn't close gates after himself
and 3) Our set pieces, defending or attacking, are pathetic.

Northernr added 13:36 - Jul 16
I'd hope he hasn't chosen his starting 11 olderR because with this squad we'll be in big trouble. There'll be additions to come, another centre back a priority and hopefully a loan or something to bolster the attack.

LambournR added 15:10 - Jul 16
However bad the game was on Saturday, it must have been better than watching England try to play tika-taka against Belgium.
Two thoughts from your usual excellent insight:
1 I've also been thinking about Olly's demise - like most people here I am sorry to see him go, but the more I think about the last season the more I come back to the thought of "are we only thinking like this because it is Olly and all he has gone for QPR?". I'm sure that if it were anyone other than Olly in charge last season we wouldn't be having this conversation.
Also watching the very short video, the new kit looks even worse in real life than in pictures. Was Schteeve shaking his head to avoid looking at the kit? For the first time as in as long as I can remember we don't have a third kit, when now is the first time as in as long as I can remember that we need one!

timcocking added 06:25 - Jul 17
McClaren was surrounded on the touchline by a cast of thousands, all carrying iPads. That mint green training gear makes the staff very easy to spot and we counted at least one of them for every player, spread between the bench and the gantry above. It did look slightly excessive – aren’t we meant to be skint?

This. I'm still highly suspicious the FFP malarkey basically gets trotted out whenever it suits anybody. No way we've made/saved money practically giving away all our best defenders and keeper for nothing. Even more no way if it results in relegation.

NoelBrosnan added 19:48 - Jul 17
Great article not that impressed with the new Head Master, loved the passion of Olly despite the his failings . McClaren bans telephones at the dining table, Gareth stated he left it to the players to come to the same decision , treated them like adults. What next detention and lines. It is time to bring back a Steve Black or similar, speak to the play off team about the difference he brought. If we can’t afford players we need to look at alternative approaches.

francisbowles added 10:20 - Jul 18
Mmmm! I am backing McClaren 100% but all those staff? Brings back memories of Hughes at Wycombe, when we had more staff than available chairs. That went well!

rosabellagm added 08:57 - Aug 1
Thank you for your sharing. Thanks to this article I can learn more things. Expand your knowledge and abilities.


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