Stranger things - Knee Jerks
Monday, 7th Jan 2019 16:09 by Antti Heinola
Antti Heinola reflects on QPR's rare FA Cup win against Leeds on Sunday with his usual six talking points.
One of the reasons, I've heard, that Stranger Things season three is taking such a long time to complete, is because the writers of Stranger Things season three are finding it really hard to come up with things stranger than what has been going on at Loftus Road this season.
From 7-1 maulings through to three-wins-in-a-week runs, to being able to keep clean sheets to winning away games - and not the usual away games at Birmingham, but proper away games at Nottingham Forest. It has the writers believing that The Upside Down, a telekinetic girl and zombie dogs just won't cut it this time. It all seems so... bland, so everyday. And after Sunday's victory, many on the production threw their hands in the air in absolute desperation. 'And now they've won an FA Cup game!' yelled one.
Clive put it best in his preview. For weeks, even at the time I bought my ticket, I had been thinking: 'ok, this year, let's properly go for it in the Cup. We're not going up, we're not going down and with the amount of clubs not giving a chinchilla's anus about the competition about we could, if we were really lucky, have a proper cup run to Round 4. But then I think most of us read Clive's preview and reluctantly agreed: resting a few might not be the worst idea in the world.
In my head, though, I thought we'd go with keeping the defence together on the whole, and make more changes up front. Something like: Ingram, Kakay, BFG, Lynch, Bidwell; two out of three of Cousins, Scowen and Manning; BOS, Chair, then probably either Freeman or Pav; Oteh.
In the end, Stevie Mac surprised me by resting both centre backs and keeping two players I felt for sure would be rested (Furs, Eze) and another who I thought probably would be (Freeman). It felt, if the defence would hold and Grant Hall could walk, like quite a good compromise before the game, and looked masterful by the end. Furlong continued his good form, we still had the steel and ball-winning ability in midfield and, most importantly, we carried both established threat in the in-form Freeman and Eze and the fresh legs of BOS and Oteh.
He made changes, but good ones, necessary ones. And it didn't feel like he was treating it as a practise game. And he, and we, were rewarded. It wasn't a great game, but it was a good one, and easily the best Third Round game we've had for a couple of decades. Well done to Steve, well done to the club for the sensible pricing, well done to the fans that came, well done to the players for winning. Lovely day all round.
Interesting decision to make Freeman captain too, a reflection of how important he is to the side, and also, I think, just a nudge to show him how valued he is. Furlong, Hall, Bidwell and Scowen have all captained the side over the last couple of years, but Freeman leap-frogged the lot: a testament to his form, perhaps, but also his growing maturity as a player and as a team player. He's not only our main creator, he also works his balls off too - a great example.
Smegma has been singing the praises of Oteh all season, even claiming he's 'better than Eze' the other day, which is high praise indeed, and finally he got a proper chance to play a full first team game again after the odd appearance last year. The signs are really good. I remember his game at home to Boro last season, where he was just monstered by Boro's enormous defence. It wasn't his fault, they were bigger, stronger, more experienced and just bullied him out of it - he was subbed at half time.
With the caveat that Leeds had far from their first choice defence, and began the second half without a single recognised centre back even on the pitch, he looks to have come a long way in a year. He looks more confident, stronger and just more sure of himself and more able to properly cause a team problems. He has good pace, he likes to run with the ball, he made some really intelligent runs and possibly the reason Halme was taken off at half time was because he was already on a yellow and with the way we were getting behind him he looked a prime candidate for a red card in the second half.
But obviously the biggest thing was the penalty, won by the wily Bidwell. I assumed Eze would probably take it (clearly Freeman doesn't fancy them for some unknown reason), but surprise at Oteh taking the ball was tempered when I remembered Smegma noting how cool Oteh has been on pens for the U23s this season. And there it was - nice and calm, sent the keeper the wrong way, goal.
Really good performance, really encouraging. Poor Matt Smith.
At last we also got to see a proper (almost) 90 minutes from Bright. And again it was impressive. What I particularly like about BOS is his single-mindedness. He gets the ball and his first thought, even if challenged, isn't 'let me just play this safe and lay it off' - it's 'right, I'll get past this one, then it's a shot or a cross.' Almost every time. That directness - a clever directness, mind, not a head-down-and-run kind - is invaluable to any team looking to create chances, and with his speed it's a real weapon. I don't now the stats, but he got several crosses in on Saturday, was never afraid to run at his man, defended enthusiastically, and was generally a real danger all game.
He's really showing that he is ready to step into this side when he's needed - and with Freeman's form going through the roof at the moment that might, sadly, be sooner rather than later.
He might've expected to be rested yesterday, but maybe he insisted on playing, because he looked like he really enjoyed it. Leeds like to stay wide and overload the wings, but that didn't deter him from getting forward a lot to help Freeman/BOS down that left hand side. He was having real fun in the air against a small Leeds side, and really could easily have scored before he finally netted the winner with a superb header from yet another dangerous Freeman corner. He is now our leading FA Cup scorer at the club, with two. Well done Bids. Also, a lovely turn on the edge of the box drawing the silly lunge from the Leeds defender for the penalty. Really good game from him: his experience was needed, and like the other more senior players (in which I'd weirdly count Eze, who played really well and felt like such an established player) in the side, he really stepped up.
We should say before praising the defence that Leeds had no recognised striker and an extremely young side out. Still, we had young players too, and I thought the defence played well. Kakay had his problems with Alioski, mainly because Leeds stay so wide and we like our full backs to be nice and compact. But still, the last game he played against opponents from this league was at West Brom. He must've been nervous, but didn't show it. Played well. Darnell Furlong proved again that he will at some stage become a centre back and will also one day be Captain of QPR. That man's dad may be Paul Furlong, but it's another Rangers great, Paul Parker, who his leap most reminds me of. Grant Hall, I am contractually obliged to say, looked rusty, especially early on, yet his comfort on the ball, his ability to get himself out of tough situations with a bit of skill, served him well and it was great to see him back. With no proper striker to mark, it was a perfect game for him. Christ, if he could get properly fit again he would be (checks contract, nods) Like a New Signing. And Bidwell did well, as said above.
Which leaves us with Matt Ingram. It all started well, with one particularly good punch from a corner, but then came the goal, which he knows, I know and we all know he should have dealt with comfortably, and then came the slight delay on kicking which resulted in a block and a slightly fortuitous goal kick. Out came our goalie coach, whose name I shamefully do not know, to helpfully make the 'fingers to temples' sign to Matt, which felt a little obvious, and yet seemed to do the trick. Ingram settled down, made some routine saves and then some very decent ones in a blemish-free second half. That took real character.
You have to feel for him. Well, I say that. But how many of us do. I absolutely *guarantee* someone will reply to this saying they did not hear this happening, but if you didn't, you just weren't paying attention or were perhaps concentrating hard on the game: the next, straight forward, save he made, our fans *our fans* cheered sarcastically. Not all of them. But quite a lot. After *one* mistake. I actually brought a Leeds friend along (he was very well behaved, don't worry) and even he turned to me with wide eyes and open mouth. I mean seriously, are we not over this? We have a decent squad all working hard for the club, a manager doing a fine job, a CEO doing a fine job, a Director of Football who loves the club and is doing a fine job, we're near the play-offs, we're in good form, young players are getting chances. And still this sort of shit? What do those people think? 'Ah this'll make him feel better, I'll be sarcastic when he catches one?' Christ, I despair. And you'd think, for a Cup game, this would be our core, our really core fans, who aren't total assholes. Well done Ingram for having a good second half and shoving their pathetic sneering back up their backsides.
We saw quite a lot of it last season, particularly near the end, and it was disappointing if, in retrospect, understandable, that we saw less of it this season. But I can't help feel excited. We have Lumley, Furs and Eze as regulars. Chair looks like he might be someone who could step up, as do Oteh and BOS. And that's without even mentioning Smyth and Manning who, while, like Furs is not exactly a 'youngster', still came through the system to some degree. I mean, this is really exciting isn't it? Leeds did not have their first team out by a long way, but still: Kakay, Furs, BOS, Eze and Oteh all in the side from the start and no one looked overawed or out of place.
I've been convinced for weeks that injuries / suspensions / loss of form / McClaren's propensity to manage sides that fade badly after Christmas (or all of the above) will see us revert to type and we'll finish a little tamely, but still nice after the start we had, in a position between 11th and 16th. But this keeps being defied. Everyone said we were winning because of the loanees. But one barely played, two have been injured for weeks, and none played at all yesterday. And still we won.
Must. Stop. Optimism. Rising.
Stranger Things, though.
Pictures – Action Images
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