End of Term Report 2019/20 – Attackers
Sunday, 9th Aug 2020 21:29 by Clive Whittingham
Our annual statistical review of the QPR squad concludes with the best bit, the club’s free-scoring, free-wheeling attack.
9 – My Chemical Hugill B
Wor Jordan is not only everything you want in a Premier League loan, he’s everything I want in a QPR player.
In the latter years of the old First Division and formative years of the Premier League Queens Park Rangers had Les Ferdinand up front, one of the leading striking talents in the whole of Europe and the envy of many a larger club. Les would get 25 goals a year without taking penalties. If you got too close to him he’d role you, if you stood off him he’d push it past you and beat you with pace, if you tried to beat him in the air he would humiliate you. He was, for a good few years, utterly unplayable. You couldn’t do anything with him. On the occasions he missed out through injury, QPR covered for him with an electrician from Ilkeston called Devon White, who once lived up to his Bruno nickname by punching one into the net to seal a 2-1 win against Everton. If we hadn’t seen such riches…
That’s our club to me, rocks and diamonds, and when Jordan Hugill leaned back on an unmissable chance against Wigan Athletic in August and somehow skied it over the bar from half a yard out, then immediately curled an incredibly difficult 20 yarder around the keeper and in off the far post a few minutes later, I knew we had a QPR player on our hands.
Hugill may have come in from West Ham, but his background is non-league and lower divisions. He counts the immaculately named Seaham Red Star among his former clubs. Sometimes that’s unfortunately betrayed in his technique – the glaring miss against Wigan was far from an isolated incident, head over the ball Jord there’s a good lad. But it has a positive impact on his attitude and application. He’s a game boy, he likes to smash people up a bit, there are arms and legs and elbows and hair-gel everywhere, he always comes off at the end absolutely caked in mud. He used to work in a Middlesbrough pub, and does indeed look like every barman who’s ever served me north of the Watford Gap, wearing a shirt two sizes too small to accentuate the pecs and sleeve tattoo, just marking time until the producers pick his Love Island demo tape from the pile. He looks unbelievably grateful to be out there playing professionally - a goal against Reading, scored only thanks to an enormous deflection en route, was celebrated with an all-night rave down by the corner flag. If I’m a centre half I feel like I could write a damn long list of things I’d rather do with my Saturday than spend 90 minutes dealing with his shit.
He’s certainly not as technically good as Heidar Helguson was, but he performed a similar role for us, leading the line mostly in a 4-2-3-1 and providing a focal point off which a number of more technically gifted attackers could play. He had the best goalscoring season of his career, 15, but so too did Ebere Eze and Bright Osayi-Samuel behind him, Ilias Chair was able to breakthrough at Championship level, and Nahki Wells scored more than he ever had before at this level. Testament to the way Warburton’s team sets up, plays and attacks, but also the value of having a big effective point man leading the line. Some of his goals – the first against Sheff Wed away and Swansea in the FA Cup, were proper goals that actual footballers score. When Wells left in January Hugill was left to do the latter months alone without backup, a task he attacked gamely with, as it turns out, an incredibly painful injury that required an operation and needle shoved into his pubic bone as soon as the lockdown came. Please, do sit down and tell me about Tomer Hemed’s four-month winter hernia lay off again.
While recovering from that operation Hugill passed the time by progressing through to the latter rounds of the Battle of the Bands competition at the Redcar Walkabout. Sporting the sort of swept bowl look not seen outside of the north east since 1997, Fall-Over Boy quickly missed a very presentable late one on one to rescue a point at home to Barnsley, then spurned an even easier chance from point blank range to do the same at Charlton. Panic! At the six-yard box. Parmomore did get on the scoresheet after a minute against Fulham but couldn’t prevent defeat, and there was another goal for Jordan Eat World up at Middlesbrough, volleyed in so spectacularly from long range that it exploded his hamstring and ended his season. It was the best goal of the lot, securing a rot-stopping 1-0 win just as things felt like they were falling apart again, and came, typically, moments after he’d absolutely butchered a far easier one on one chance with the goalkeeper. Jordan doesn’t like boys Jordan likes to head and volley, Jordan will laugh at sitters when it’s not funny.
Talk of his return being a case of sticking him on the end of a potential deal to take Ebere Eze to West Ham rather ignores the fact that there’s no way QPR are going anywhere close to his rumoured £37,000 a week wage there. Players don’t give that sort of money up through desperation to come and play for QPR, so West Ham will either have to swallow a chunk of it to get him off the books or we’ll have to make do with a loan deal for him again. But I hope it happens one way or the other. I enjoyed him. Can come again.
10 – Ebere Eze A
Ebere Eze ended the season at West Brom in exactly the same way he’d started it at Stoke, almost a year ago to the day – by scoring a goal of outstanding natural beauty. Much of what went on in between was breath-taking. In the Championship dickswinging competitions there’s much comparison of Brentford’s Said Benrahma, Leeds’ Kalvin Phillips and West Brom’s Mattheus Pereira to Eze, but they’ve all been performing in the best three teams in the division, winning most weeks, surrounded by excellent team mates. We’ve mentioned several times over the last week about how difficult QPR can be to play for, every win made to feel like giving birth to a snooker table, but here’s a player who’s made it look completely effortless over the last year.
The Stoke goal set the tone for not only Eze’s season, but how Mark Warburton would want QPR to play when they had the ball. On the occasions it worked, it was a pleasure to be present for, and it was usually Eze at the heart of everything good. He scored the club’s first goal from a direct free kick since Yeni Ngbakoto at Birmingham in 2017 with a cute effort against Wigan, then set Jordan Hugill up for a goal with a Taarabt-like pass down the line with the outside of his right boot. He scored from long range against Luton, and then against Blackburn after beating two men on one of those potent, slaloming runs infield off the left flank which have become something of a trademark. This is now a player that scores all types of goal, a threat to opponents wherever he is on the field.
A real highlight came at Hull. On it from the get go, gliding past three players on the way to an early shot on goal, he dominated the game by himself, eventually scoring two penalties both of which he’d won, the first after an 80-yard dash down the field during which he beat two defenders, the second after a long winding dribble from the near touchline which took him past three Hull players, some of them more than once. Having sat George Long down with his stuttered penalty run up in the first instance, he was then faced with the goalkeeper refusing to go early in the second so he just shelled it into the bottom corner instead. His first England U21 cap followed in The Netherlands.
There was another double to come at home to Preston, and a goal in the 6-1 New Year’s Day rout of Cardiff. Of course the previous season his form had tailed off badly in the second half of the year, being asked to play every minute of every game really took its toll on the youngster and Steve McClaren was pilloried for mis-managing the player. An outstanding performance against Leeds in January, schooling Phillips live on Sky, suggested there’d be no such slow down in 2019/20 even before the four month lockdown came and he would end the campaign as our only ever-present in the league. His cheeky little laugh in the background of the Phillips red-card incident needs framing for my bedroom wall, so it can be the first thing I think about every morning when I wake up. The recovery from 2-0 down to beat Stoke 4-2 at home owed much to his performance and his curled finish at Deepdale sealed a 3-1 win against Preston despite Rangers being reduced to ten men.
Like most of his team mates, he came back very sloppily in the early summer games, and as with Bright Osayi-Samuel there was some mumblings of disquiet among supporters about self preservation to avoid jeopardising a Premier League transfer. He’d certainly been doing the rounds in the downtime, appearing on every TV show and podcast going – at one point I half expected him to turn up on Antique’s Roadshow clutching an old pot – and there’s obviously an agent hard at work in the background. It looked to me like he’d started doing that thing Jack Grealish often does for Villa, dropping too deep down the field trying to write the theme tune and sing the theme tune allowing teams to simply foul him out of the game in neutral areas when you really want him up in the ‘ten’ role where he could do serious damage, but the heat maps suggested it wasn’t so much his position that had changed but that of several others, and he’d become isolated with less support. Thankfully there was a sparkling return to form, and another goal, in the 4-3 against Millwall in July before the eye-catching end at The Hawthorns after which club commentator Andy Sinton could only laugh and applaud by way of comment and analysis. We're in the presence of genuine, special, greatness here folks.
He’s also gone past the 100 professional appearances mark (132 now) which I think is worthy of note. I always get a bit of a bee in my bonnet about academy players who get to 22-23 without ever playing any actual football, and how much more beneficial it is to players like Bright and Eze to get into three figures of senior appearances early. Both those players have prospered into genuine Championship superstars this season, which I really hope those who were blathering on about Ebere being lazy and “don’t really see what Eze does” when he was back on the 50-60 game mark take on board. I think/hope we might see a similar breakout from Ilias Chair over the next year, he’s currently on 72. These things take time and patience and Eze has rewarded QPR for showing both in spades.
He's a beautiful player, graceful and intelligent, deceptively quick and strong, with an eye for an immaculate pass. Some of his assists, such as the sweeping crossfielder for Nahki Wells’ first against Cardiff, or the silky swift slalom past two Derby players prior to Ilias Chair’s “strictly business” finish against them, have been even more wonderful than the actual goals he’s scored himself. He sees passes that wouldn't even have occurred as a possibility to most other players. He’s matured brilliantly this season, using the obvious struggles in the latter part of 2018/19 to improve and grow, prospering and thriving in Warburton’s style of play.
A fairer comparison might by Jarrod Bowen, who was able to perform outstandingly well in a crap Hull side, literally the difference between them staying in the league or losing every single game they play. West Ham paid north of £20m to get him in January, and he’s settled well into the Premier League. West Ham, Crystal Palace, or whoever it may turn out to be should have to pay at least that to capture this rare, freakish talent.
The simple fact is, there just isn't a better player in this division at the moment.
Look at the fucking numbers:
20 – Bright Osayi Samuel A
If I asked you about art you’d probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo? You know a lot about him. Life’s work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientation, the whole works, right? But I bet you can’t tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You’ve never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling. Seen that. If I asked you about women you’d probably give me a syllabus of your personal favourites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can’t tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. I ask you about war, and you’d probably throw Shakespeare at me, right? “Once more into the breach, dear friends.” But you’ve never been near one. And if I asked you about love you’d probably quote me a sonnet. But you’ve never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone could level you with her eyes. Feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you…who could rescue you from the depths of hell. If I ask you about football, you’d tell me about Pele and Puskas, the Dutch and ‘total football’, that night in Barcelona “and Solskjaer has won it”. But you’ve never stood there among the empty seats at St Andrews, in the dark and the cold, watching Bright Osayi-Samuel set off towards you, with a full back on a booking who absolutely doesn’t want anything to do with him, and experienced the dawning, glorious, realisation that he’s actually going to score, and absolutely losing your damn mind when he does just that, jumping around punching people, falling over seats, as if no other person, place, event or thing anywhere in the world matters as much as this.
It was not only the moment that reaffirmed why we go to football, and why we’re missing it so much now, but also the point at which Bright Osayi-Samuel truly arrived. That potential had always been there, and who knows if Steve McClaren hadn’t been so bizarrely adverse to using him then it might have clicked earlier for him and we wouldn’t now be in the situation where he’s hit sparkling form with only a year left on his contract, but he’d lacked consistency and, at times, confidence and belief. No such problems were evident after he’d cracked open Maxime Colin’s soul and feasted on the goo within. After that you couldn’t get the ball off him, and his form over Christmas was absolutely electric. The assist for Marc Pugh’s goal against Charlton, rounding four players on his way to the byline before putting a chance on a plate only Jordan Hugill could have missed, was quite something else. He then produced a performance in the 6-1 New Year’s Day drubbing of Cardiff the likes of which I’ve scarcely seen. We gave Jazz Richards, the Cardiff left back, a one that day, and he was lucky to get it. Days later Bright was handing out similar ritual humiliation to our former charge Jake Bidwell in the FA Cup and the only mystery about another superb showing in the 1-0 victory over Leeds is why on earth they’re not trying to buy him now they’ve won promotion. Apparently available at less than £5m, he should be top of every shopping list in the upper part of the Championship and lower half of the Premier League.
The contract situation is annoying. You can’t force a player to sign a deal, we’re not in a position to break wage structures and financial plans for individual players, and you can lay some of the blame at McClaren’s feet, brought in to use his fabled coaching ability to develop our players but so busy loaning in his “team of men” he became totally ignorant of the impact Osayi-Samuel and Ryan Manning, in particular, could have in the side. But the club knew what they had, even if McClaren didn’t. I’ve told the story many times about the fury expressed by one senior staff member that Bright was only given a token run out off the bench in last year’s 2-0 loss at Middlesbrough. McClaren was on his last legs by then and the senior officials at the club knew it, that’s when some faith should have been shown and a renewal put in front of Osayi-Samuel. Perhaps they’d tell me it was, and he wouldn’t sign it then either, but I’d be surprised if that was the case. Players like Hamalainen and Shodipo, who’ve shown far less prospect of maturing into Championship level footballers than Bright had even before this season, seem to get new deals frequently just on the off chance, I find it strange and frustrating that Bright didn’t get similar long before this season even kicked off.
His lockdown form was strange to say the least. His performance at Charlton, in particular, against a team he’d paralysed in the corresponding fixture, was lamentable, constantly checking back inside and playing a nothing ball to nobody rather than taking a full back he knew he had the beating of on to the byline. With speculation rife about a move, and the heavy hand of an agent clearly in evidence in pushing a move to Champions League side Club Brugge, it was said, not unfairly or without justification, that he was simply going through the motions and trying not to get injured. That changed at Luton away when he was deliberately hauled back when away in an attacking area by Pelly Ruddock-Mpanzu. Osayi-Samuel was furious, grabbing hold of the Luton man, but he held back from delivering a punch and instead channelled his anger into a show-stopping second half performance with all the pugnacious strength and unmatchable speed we’d seen earlier in the season, eventually powering past two men to set up Dom Ball’s equaliser. That better channelling of frustration was a clear improvement in his game this year from last, when he was booked on three different occasions for retaliation and petulance. He started the season similarly, booked against Swansea and Bristol City for lashing out (latter one could easily have been a red with a different referee) but by the end he was holding his temper and letting his football speak as his reply instead.
What happens now remains to be seen. He has apparently turned down the Brugge move, and QPR will again try and persuade him to sign a deal to stay at the club. It’s unlikely he’ll sign that and should he stay and play here the club will rely on the compensation system to try and get some money for him next summer because of his age. Player and club were both hoping the talks in Belgium might trigger a bid from a Premier League side but with only passing Crystal Palace interest, and with extra money just left sitting on the table every month he stays on his current QPR deal, there may be a tiny chink of opportunity for the club to get him tied down on a longer deal. We’ll be putting a card behind the bar at the Crown if he does end up signing. A wonderful player and a an exhilarating joy to watch.
21 – Nahki Wells B
Conventional wisdom… Nahki Wells is a Championship demi-God, whose goals would almost certainly have powered QPR to the play-offs, and who was so blissfully happy in London he was thinking of running for mayor, and it’s little short of a disgrace that skinflint QPR weren’t willing to break budget and wage structure to match the chunky three-and-a-half-year contract Bristol City offered him in January and ended up losing him to Ashton Gate without replacement. Have you seen the Wells Twins Instagram account? Have you seen how much they love it at London Zoo? How does Lee Hoos sleep at night?
Wells is indeed a super little player at this level, one who I often enjoyed watching immensely. A performance against Millwall at home under Steve McClaren always sticks in my mind, deftly leading the line alone against two much bigger, more physical centre halves, making all those excuses we’d made for Conor Washington not having the physique to play as a one up front look rather flimsy. But it is worth bearing in mind that by the end of last season the crowd had just about given up with him. A penalty miss against Birmingham robbed us of a comeback from four nil down to draw and his confidence drained away thereafter, culminating in a weird display in the final home defeat against Nottingham Forest where he rather half-arsedly blazed a couple of great chances over the bar and then insisted on taking another late penalty only to strike it weakly and have it saved again.
The natives were not impressed and Wells’ return to the club last summer was relatively unheralded, done right at the end of the transfer window almost as an afterthought because the player was still available and deals for other targets – chiefly Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah - had fallen through. He talked about having a point to prove and initially that looked like it was going to work out very well for us. A goal against Bristol City in the League Cup was an absolute stunner and he quickly bagged another two against Luton, and a further brace of nicely taken goals in our first win at Millwall since 1990. Warburton being Warburton adapted the 4-2-3-1 to remove a defensive midfielder and have two up front, pairing Wells with Hugill supported by Eze and Osayi-Samuel, and goals flowed against Blackburn, Reading and Middlesbrough. He’s technically superb, and when he’s confident and in form there aren’t many better strikers at this level.
However… he also cost us the win against Boro with a ludicrous backpass which put Britt Assombalonga in to make it 2-2. Starting at Fulham the week after and continuing through the Christmas period he didn’t score a goal for nine matches and there were definite “here we go again” vibes about whether he and Hugill were about to do what he and Hemed had done the previous year – start well, impress, then lose interest, form and fitness in the second half of the season with the end of the loan deal in sight and options for next season to consider and protect. Had he moved to Bristol City on January 1, I’m not sure anybody would have been overly fussed about it.
What he did instead was score three times in the 6-1 win against Cardiff, and quickly followed that up with goals against Brentford, hilariously via a double handball against Leeds, and Sheff Wed in the FA Cup. Six goals in four games, Championship player of the month, suddenly we had the form striker outside the Premier League on our hands, with a clutch of clubs trying to pick him up, and an online clamour for QPR to spend money they’re simply not allowed to do under the FFP rules to make sure he stayed with us.
There followed a week where everybody lost their damn minds a little bit. Bristol City, first of all, became so infatuated with the idea of signing him that they ended up paying £5m for a player who was coming out of contract and soon to be available for free, and awarding him a highly lucrative three-and-a-half-year contract at the end of which Wells will be 33-years-old. Once they’d done that, there was only ever going to be one outcome – the player got the biggest contract of his professional career just as he’s about to turn 30, Burnley got some wedge for a player they had no use for and thought they were going to release for free, QPR couldn’t compete with either the wage or the transfer fee because of FFP. It was inevitable. And yet this bizarre narrative grew up that Mark Warburton is bessie mates with Sean Dyche, and Burnley weren’t too fussed about the five million quid anyway, and Nahki Wells absolutely loves it at QPR and his family are so settled in London they may never leave the city boundaries again for the rest of their lives and how on earth will the Wells Twins ever cope without their twice daily trips to London Zoo? Sensible people, people usually worth listening to, people who know how these things work, were talking about how much those kids love that fucking zoo, and that Warbs and Dychey are tight as arse cheeks, and how we hold all the cards. QPR themselves decided, in their wisdom, to Tweet out a nice picture of him at training, captioned “just happy to be here” which, when he inevitably did leave and join Bristol City 48 hours later, took us over the dividing line between top quality #bantz and looking like right muggy cunts.
So far it’s been one of those Mike Sheron to QPR transfers that hasn’t worked out for the buying club, the club he was playing for before, or the player. QPR, now completely reliant on Jordan Hugill to lead the attack, came back from lockdown in dire form and quickly worked their own way out of the play-off picture they’d been threatening to break into in February. Robbed of his sparkling QPR support network, Wells scored just five times in the second half of the season. Bristol City, always a streaky team under Lee Johnson, won just two of their final 14 matches to slip out of the promotion race completely. Johnson has been sacked and City, now apparently fairly skinted after splashing their Adam Webster and Jonathan Kodija money on shiny things to try and make the Premier League and failing, are talking up a new approach focused on (cheap) academy graduates under Johnson’s (cheap) former assistant Dean Holden. That three-and-a-half-year-deal ambitionless QPR were a “disgrace” for not matching doesn’t look quite so shrewd now and it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that Wells may go on the loan block again, with City swallowing a percentage of that wage just to get the rest off their books and save cash. Who knows, perhaps we haven’t seen the last of that Lego hair in Hoops yet. After all, his kids do love that fucking zoo.
47 – Jack Clarke D
The only thing I can think of is halfway through the January transfer window QPR believed there was a very real chance that Ebere Eze, Bright Osayi-Samuel and Nahki Wells may all end up leaving before the end of the month, decimating our sparkling attack and leaving us woefully short of options for the second half of the season. Otherwise this was a completely gratuitous addition of a player we neither needed nor, it seemed in the end, wanted very much, in the one position of the field that we were over-stocked for players – a position we’d already spent the first half of the season struggling to find gametime for Marc Pugh in. As I said with Dillon Barnes in the goalkeeping section, QPR plead poverty at every turn, try desperately hard to educate the fanbase on the FFP rules and how they restrict us, and have spent years gamely battling their wage bill down to a more sustainable level. When you then go out and spend money on something like this, it rather undermines the message somewhat.
Clarke would make one solitary start for the club, against Sheffield Wednesday in the FA Cup when he was absolutely atrocious and culpable with Todd Kane and Joe Lumley in the conceding of the first goal. He was hooked after 66 minutes. He did subsequently impress as a substitute in a 1-0 home loss to Bristol City, coming on to chase the game down the left flank this time, allowing him to cut back infield and deliver inswinging crosses which really seemed to suit him and, naturally, we never tried again. It actually started to become a bit weird, like we were going out of our way to do anything other than pick him. I wondered whether I might get minutes for QPR before Clarke did, which made it rather hard to fathom why we bothered extending the loan deal to cover the summer lockdown fixtures. Well, to cover Marc Pugh’s departure, is presumably the answer, except even with QPR losing every game and playing abysmally, so down on numbers they weren’t able to name a full bench, Clarke was still only afforded the last half an hour of debacles against Wigan and Sheff Wed again.
Easy to forget the Red Bull fiend is still a teenager, and has actually only started six professional games of football in his life (to go with 27 substitute appearances admittedly), but in the end the only mystery bigger than just what on earth the point of all this was is how on earth Leeds were able to extract £8.5m from Tottenham for him while we can’t get more than £5m for anybody.
Others >>> Jan Mlakar was a panicky summer addition from Brighton – Warbs calling in a favour from his old running mate David Weir – just as the annual hunt for Premier League strikers on loan was threatening to send us into a season with only Aramide Oteh as a recognised striker. We subsequently got hold of Jordan Hugill and Nahki Wells, rendering Mlakar rather surplus to requirements before he’d even begun and although he looked quite tidy in the League Cup against Bristol City, there was little to commend him to the judges in his other one start and six sub appearances and he failed to trouble the scorers before heading off for a similarly unproductive loan spell at Wigan (one sub appearance, no goals) in the second half of the campaign.
Hugill’s hamstring explosion at Middlesbrough did give Oteh some gametime of his own in the final few matches. He’d scored five times in ten starts and ten sub appearances for League Two Bradford up to January but there was little in his one start and eight sub appearances for Rangers to suggest the 21-year-old is going to be good enough to play at Championship level. Marko Ramkilde is a year older than Oteh and has been brought in as a bit of a project, having won Danish youth caps while playing at Aalborg before suffering a bad injury. Having not been furloughed with the rest of the under 23s during lockdown he came back to train with the first team, but didn’t make the bench until a half hour cameo at West Brom on the last night where he looked tall. That was apparently because of a hamstring injury, though word on the grapevine is there was a little bit more to it than that.
Mide Shodipo remains a bit of a strange case. As has been the case since Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink left the club he’s unable to stay fit enough for long enough to ever really feature in first team plans, or really impress greatly when he does get there. He was quite good as a substitute at Wigan under lockdown, but he again finished with a paltry two starts and ten substitute appearances. Now 23 (a year older than Bright) you would think, much like Niko Hamalainen, that 2020/21 is time for him to piss or get off the pot.
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Letters from Wiltshire #02 by wessex_exile
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