Tough times – Knee Jerks
Monday, 18th Feb 2019 08:20 by Clive Whittingham
Antti Heinola runs us through his six talking points from Friday night, and tries to pick the bones out of a particularly traumatic week for QPR.
I'm not sure I can remember a week like it. Three losses in a week has been standard for us for years. But not three like this. It seems particularly cruel to narrowly lose three games in which we didn't deserve to lose any of them.
I thought this was shaping up to be a bit like a Rocky movie. Sure, we'd suffered one beating, then another. But we never say die, we're still standing, clinging to the ropes with our eyes bleeding, but our heart still pumping with determination. When Smith went down in the first half and was patched up with a Steve Foster headband (one for the teenagers), I was almost convinced: what better Cup hero is there than Mathieu Smith, scoring a winner, blinking back the blood, wonky bandage no impediment to a trademark thunder bastard header? Against all odds, this was going to be it. A great underdog story before we lose 17-0 at the Etihad in a couple of weeks’ time. Is it more typical or less typical of QPR that this didn't happen? I don't even know anymore. Feels like my heart was ripped out on Saturday, stamped on on Tuesday and flushed down the bog on Friday.
But Rocky never gave up. He got mad, and he beat up Clubber and Ivan and Tommy and had that exhibition match, and became a trainer to Apollo's son. There's a lesson there for all of us. Isn't there? No, you stop writing shit.
Is it finally, *finally* happening? He'll never be Luke Freeman. He'll never even be Mass Luongo. But for two and a half games now he has been brilliant. The all-action vessel of energy we've been waiting for. Maybe he realised this was it - his last chance, because as things stood, unless finances meant we had no other real option, Cousins wasn't going to be here next season. But finally, he's grabbed his chance. On Friday he was great - he broke up Watford so many times in the first half. Sometimes it was just giving them a throw, but that doesn't matter: he disrupted them, forced them to play hurried balls or balls they didn't want to play.
And he demanded the ball too. He wasn't hiding; didn't look scared to receive it or to take chances. He pressed high up the pitch, confident that his outstanding fitness would mean he could get back if he wanted to - plus he had Luongo, also having a good game, backing him up at every turn. I thought we were terrific in midfield, and Cousins did everything that could be asked, even going to right midfield and eventually right back. I hope he can keep this going. He's always given the impression of a great person, willing to work, humble. If he does find some consistent form, it would be a real boost to everyone except, maybe, ratting rats.
The same romantic in me that had the complicated, barely comprehensible thoughts about a Rocky story, held the hope all week that our big hero was going to be Nahki Wells - redemption after the penalty miss a week ago. But on the day he, as the match reports used to say before I gave up reading them, 'cut a forlorn figure' (a phrase only ever uttered in the context of a football match). Not much seemed to come off for him. His first touch was often uncharacteristically dodgy, he seemed to take the wrong choice a bit too often, and he missed two of our three most presentable chances. The first, after an eyebrow-raising chipped pass from the impressive Luke Freeman, he didn't quite connect well enough with and Gomes managed to flick it wide. The second, arguably better, was a great effort - a curling high shot that beat Gomes and for a brief second I thought was going to fly into the goal, but instead dropped wide.
Still, you can't be too hard on him. He never hides, he always works hard, he'll always shoot if he can. But, like quite a few of our players, he looks a little drained, a little tired, and not sticking away these chances won't help him with that. I'd say rest him, but realistically we have no one else; Hemed looks unfit and Smith will always struggle over 90 minutes.
Have a look back at that moment in the Euro 96 semi final. Keep your eye on Gazza. He's chases a ball back to win it. Then sets off on a run into the box. Sheringham floats a ball to Shearer, he volleys it across and then, somehow, as if he foresaw the entire move, there he is, in the box, ready to get on the end of Shearer's fierce cross. It's perfect. It's a golden goal. He stretches everything, every muscle, every bone, every sinew. But his studs are a centimetre too short and somehow he doesn't connect. You know the rest.
Toni Leistner's chance had so many similarities. The ball played across the defence, Furlong volleying fiercely across the goal, suddenly, Toni's there, no one else is. He's onside, and even though it happens in less than a second, you have time to hold your breath, imagine the net bulging, gather in a great gulp of hope, ready yourself to explode for a goal we surely deserved. And unlike Gazza, he's got there! He's got there! But it's wide. And you knew it had gone. A real Gazza moment.
We saw the pros and cons of the 3-5-2 on Friday. On the one hand, having three centre backs meant that we were able to deal with the threat of Andre Gray and the weighty Troy Deeney, who parroted some absolute nonsense about this being QPR's cup final (mate, it'd have been packed whoever the oppo was at this stage of the competition - don't flatter yourself). It also allowed us to have two strikers on the pitch and we did cause them some issues with that. However, it also meant that we never quite got the width we needed higher up the pitch on a regular basis. At times in the first half, justifiably concerned with staying in the game as long as we could, Pav was pretty much a right back and it's a big ask to get him and Bidwell to cover the entire flanks by themselves for the whole game.
Watford were also ready for us and their method of dealing with the towering Smith I thought was excellent. They pushed up very high for crosses, constantly catching him offside, and also keeping him away from their six-yard box, where he has proved in recent weeks to be so dangerous. One free kick in the second half they pushed incredibly high up, leaving a huge gap between themselves and the keeper, but it worked. They trusted Gomes to deal with anything high, and even if Smith was to connect with a header from 15 yards, most keepers will fancy saving that. But then, Watford have a great defensive record this season, it's not surprising they had a plan.
And yet. One shot. One shot off the semi-useless Cleverley shanking a hopeful ball into the box that happens to land at the feet of bloody Capoue, the one player in their side that probably had the class to finish like that. What a blow. We did so well to limit them to just that for the entire game - it was one of Lumley's quietest games all season. But it was enough. In the end, we didn't quite have the cutting edge - due to form, due to tiredness, due to whatever - to take those chances we did have to force extra time. It would have been deserved, too. But this week, 'deserve' has had very little to do with things.
Still, at least we only lost 1-0 to a team in the league above, it could have Bees worse.
Pictures – Action Images
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