Luongo, Pav and the battle of the keepers - Knee Jerks
Tuesday, 13th Nov 2018 16:10 by Antti Heinola
Antti Heinola looks back on a happy Saturday with his usual six talking points from the 3-2 win against Brentford at Loftus Road.
Said it before, but is this the same season? From a feeling of absolute and understandable apathy only a few weeks ago, suddenly this is properly exciting - good football, goals, excitement, and success. Winning from behind, holding on to leads. Big Friendly Germans. Pav!
As Clive said so superbly in his report, games like Saturday are so rare, but they remind you of being a kid again - you can forget everything except the drama in front of you. Nothing else matters - a great game, except for the fact that I feel really sorry for Real Brentford, who were certainly the best team we played this season, if not this decade, and would've won, were it not for all the goals we scored.
I think there was a bit of a feeling both at the game and on the venerable match fred that QPR did not play particularly well in the first half. There was no booing, no real murmuring, but, still, the feeling was that we hadn't done well. And, correspondingly, that we were much better in the second half.
I'm not so sure about this. As my predictions in the equally venerable as the match fred Prediction League bear out, I am not an optimistic man. I rarely predict a win. Although, this is not really about optimism or pessimism, it's more about superstition. But still, I rarely predict a win. But at half time on Saturday, I wasn't worried. Brentford's defence, to me, looked undeniably shaky. We were causing them problems and while admittedly early on we had struggled to cope with their movement, as they often seemed to find players in wide open spaces concerningly close to our box, as the half progressed we took more control of the game and probably should have gone in on level terms. I felt sure we were going to come back and win the game.
True, the first few minutes of the second half, where we contrived to give the ball away with almost every kick, played against that, but once we settled down, we tore into them and my instinct was, for once, correct. I was pretty certain we'd equalise, very confident we'd score our second from Freeman's free kick, but was, I admit, surprised about the third, especially coming that quickly.
So in some senses, the second half was better, but my jerk is that even in the first we were not bad at all. For the first time in quite some time, we matched Brentford and, ultimately, were the better side - even if our unfair tactics of shutting down their defenders high up the pitch was unscrupulously poor sportsmanship.
Having said all the above, one player who really did have the cliched game of two halves was Luke Freeman. What I love about Lukey is, usually, the fact you can give him the ball in almost any circumstances and he'll keep it. Even under great pressure he'll trick his way out or toe it to a teammate. Not in the first half on Saturday. Passes went out of play, he was continually tackled, passes went to red and white shirts, he kept it too long, he tried to get rid of it too quickly, he dribbled when he should have passed and he passed when he should have dribbled. Nothing, nothing went right.
What character, then, to come out and reverse his performance. This was the Freeman we're more used to. Ludicrous energy, tenacious yet skilful on the ball, dangerous in attack, constantly demanding the ball and moaning when others did the wrong thing (Bids, if you listen to the official podcast, seems pretty resigned to that). And some trademark deadball delivery. At the heart of our first two goals. Despite the doubters, he's proving very much that he can affect games from a wide area.
OK, I'm doing Pav every week, I know, but he's replacing my previous massive favourite as my new favourite this season as he hits what must be his best run of form in a Rangers shirt. Good in the first half, excellent in the second and another man of the match display. Finally, a manager is playing a system that suits him and giving him a run and it's paying off. His role in the third goal was excellent: winning the ball high up the pitch, then a mix of power, skill and speed to carry it forward before the ball into Wells for another assist. Poor BOS - he's the next cab on the rank for the wide positions, but when you have Freeman and Pav in this sort of form, you can understand SM having to leave him on the bench. I just can't help but love the guy.
Interesting to watch the two keepers on Saturday. Bentley would have been a QPR player had Southend not quoted too much and forced us to sign our second choice, but who really should not be second choice, Alex Smithies. Plenty said at the time Bentley was the superior keeper. Well, he's looked good before, but currently those two aren't even on the same planet. He looked awful on Saturday: hugely susceptible to the high ball (witness Rangers crowding the six-yard box for every corner), unhappy with the ball at his feet, and generally looking uncomfortable. Meanwhile, Joe Lumley wouldn't lose confidence if he let two goals in that he really should have kept out. And that is half the battle. Because despite his error early on - which was an error, not a terrible piece of keeping or anything - it never affected him. He still shouted, he still backed himself, he still came for crosses and he also dealt with some very tricky low, bouncing shots on a skiddy surface with great handling. So important to have that confidence, and that's why he may be our keeper for some time. He's young, though, and it's worth remembering that young keepers often come in, do well, then have a poor patch, before kicking on. We should be patient. And he's better than Bentley.
Gradually, slowly, he's fighting his way back to form. A second goal of the season (not the first he's got against Brentford, if memory serves), and an improved display. His role is not easy. With Cameron doing a very fine job in front of the defence and with Freeman and Pav hugging touchlines, there is a lot of ground for him to cover. It's ok to say Cameron covers his errors, but that is his job. Mass has to get up there and snap against the opposition, and win it, and start attacks and get in the box when he can. A lot is being asked of him there, and his World Cup hangover clearly took a lot of fighting, but hopefully we're starting to see the player of last season.
Mentioned it in the intro, but this is great isn't it? The fourth really, genuinely entertaining game in a row at LR. Goals flying in, games under the lights, hard work, some lovely passing, some great finishing, and a steady climb up the table. Only thing missing really is a goal or two from Eze - but that'll come.
Pictures – Action Images
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