Goals, sitters, penalty appeals - Knee Jerks
Sunday, 16th Feb 2020 21:54 by Antti Heinola
From the brink of being sucked in to having to battle yet another last few nervy weeks of the season, QPR suddenly rediscovered their potency to give Stoke a playful spanking. Antti Heinola, for one, enjoyed it.
It's been a word on the lips of Warbs so often recently even he's had to preface it by saying something about sounding like a broken record, which only makes the younger panickers even more angry because they have no idea what a record is, broken or not. But I had sympathy for him there. In a recent report Clive rightly said that you can't just point at someone and say 'be more clinical' and hey presto, more clinical he becomes. But at the same time, we do miss chances that you would expect any forward, even at semi-pro level, to comfortably tuck away. Yesterday was a case in point as we contrived to miss no less than three times when faced with an open goal from less than a yard out. Luckily we scored four others, so it matters less, but weirdly MW could still repeat his most recent interviews even after this game because the fact was we were still wasteful in front of goal - three misses from a yard, plus Pugh's powder-puff finish when clean through - and that's just for starters.
But let's get to the positives. After losing Wells, the team seems to have collectively lost its knack(y! get it?) to score goals, even to the point where one morose poster said the other day that they 'couldn't see where the next goal was coming from'. And I mean, you get people during a bad run saying 'I can't see where the next win is coming from' which is a meaningless cliche in itself, but to apparently think a team which has scored 56 goals in all competitions before Saturday , of which just 15 were scored by Wells, would fail to find the net for the next couple of months takes a special kind of pessimism. Other than the fact that when it comes to QPR experience tells you that you can never assume anything, I was never too worried, because we do have quality going forward and if there's one thing Warburton teams do, it's create plenty of chances.
Still, after the Hugill and Pugh misses, I did start to worry, especially after we then went two-down. It was so frustrating knowing we should be two-up. So it was even more gratifying when the players refused to lie down and clawed their way back into it before the half time whistle had blown. Hugill especially deserved praise - after missing some frankly easy chances in recent games, he showed real character to put away his chance - a goal he fully deserved for one of his best performances of the season. From, there, finally, we were clinical. Eze broke his long goal drought as his recent return to form continued, BOS grabbed a beauty and Chair got his second of the season - he's one who should be looking to score more often too. Hopefully, those four goals will give us confidence again that we can take teams apart even without our beloved Nahki.
Quick word on Ryan, who showed signs of his early season form returning on Tuesday and went a step further again on Saturday. It was not an easy role for him, often having to face up against the tricky Tom Ince, but with Pugh ahead of him playing a disciplined role that seemed to help and Manning both defended well and attacked well. After a long drought of his previously excellent deliveries, things came good again. Not only that, when the team was down and facing a fairly devastating defeat, it was Manning who took things in his own hands to really make something happen - cutting in expertly and then playing the perfect through ball in for Hugill - a particularly lovely moment, because it showed he harboured no grudges towards Hugill for missing that earlier chance from one yard (sorry to keep going on about it). Then at the end of the game he bravely took on a shot rather than trying to maintain possession, which brought about our fourth goal. Would be great if he continues to re-find his form like this.
A lot of people have been saying this season that one of the reasons we have been so poor defensively is because we're losing the battle in central midfield too often. After trying a few different combinations in the two holding roles, on Tuesday Warbs pragmatically decided to field both Ball and Cameron, and when that worked well, apparently without ruining our attacking philosophy too much, he stuck with it here to even greater effect. OK, we stll conceded our customary two goals, but overall the pair of them were immensely effective - two hard workers who covered a lot of ground and gave us an extra layer of protection and, perhaps more importantly, a bit more height and strength (not that it stopped us once again getting caught on at least four occasions with deep crosses to the far post - a major weakness in our game). It also allowed Cameron to go forward a bit more than we're used to seeing, and suddenly he's out there attempting dribbles, drag-backs and other skills like he thinks he's Ebere bleedin Eze. One incredible run in the second half for a moment threatened to be the sort of solo goal that would have us making comparisons with Roy Wegerle. Interesting to see what Warbs does frm here - Amos will certainly come back into the side at some point, but while things are going well, he may have to bide his time a bit on the bench for a while.
Jordan's been getting a fair bit of stick from fans lately so I was really pleased to see him find some confidence, get a goal and generally contribute what was arguably a man of the match performance. In recent weeks I felt he hasn't won enough for us in the air, but on Saturday he was constantly picking balls out of the air and laying them off to great effect. He now has 12 goals this season - four more than the wonderful Heidar Helguson had at the same point in our promotion season. Of course, there's more onus on Hugill to score than Helguson because there is no Adel Taarabt, but they are similar players in many ways, and Helguson also took a fair few of our penalties. I think Hugill deserves far more credit than he gets, even if his frustrating propensity to hit the ball miles over the bar is enough to drive anyone nuts. If he goes on to get 15 or 16 goals, that's a decent return for any striker and the sort of return we have rarely seen in recent years. No, he's not vintage Charlie Austin, but who is?
Ebere Eze should walk away with the Player of the Season gongs, but by far the most fascinating season for a player in our team is Bright. After a year of unfairly limited chances given by a limited manager, he started this season in the side under Warbs. He impressed, but, even as a huge fan of Bright since he arrived, the delivery wasn't quite there. Then injury saw him out the team again, before he worked his way back into the side around November. The moment it turned for him, I think, was his possiblr Goal of the Season at Birmingham. Since then, the 'no end product' naysayers have melted away, because Bright has been mainly excellent since then, scoring and assisting regularly.
This burst of form, and in particular his one-man dismantling of Swansea has had the consequence of making him a marked man. He's doubled up on frequently and both Swansea and Stoke played a player out of position specifically to look after our winger. So Bright is having to learn to deal with this sort of attention and Saturday showed how he will not be cowed by it. It was a terrific battle with Martins Indi that was even for long periods until eventually Bright's superior fitness and determination finally won out. His goal may have come from the other channel, but from around the 70th minute, Martins Indi looked a beaten man as Bright continually ran him ragged down the right, and perhaps should have brought us an extra goal or two. Still, it was a fine finish for our crucial third as he spotted a gap no one else noticed, and his blossoming continues - a potent mix of strength, pace and skill, he must be a tempting target for top flight clubs.
Clive is often unhappy with Warbuton's comments abiut Bright not having an Academy education, but when you look at his improvement this season, it's not hard to see Warburton's point: an outstanding talent is there, and slowly it's being honed. Equally, of course, Bright will have developed other skills by not being part of an academy - desire, determination, a willingness to scrap, that, yes, perhaps you don't see in all young PL graduates.
A quick word on our diamond. Last year he did run out of puff, hammered into the ground as he was by McClaren's understandable desire to play him in every single game. There were concerns the same may happen here and I noticed the odd sarcy comment slipping in from fans here and there about 'his head being turned' and so forth. More accurate, I suspect, is Warburton's belief that young players do have ups and downs. They don't have incredible consistency at 20, 21. Eze may have not been as impressive as he was early season, but he followed up a great first half at Huddersfield with a beautiful display at Swansea and an excellent one on Saturday. He may not be as demonstrative as Taarabt, as explosive, but Christ, if he did give it away on Sat, you could count the times on one hand. His gliding style, is calm confidence on the ball, his lovely, calm finish for the goal - it was all there on Saturday. Enjoy it while you still can.
Pictures – Action Images
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