End of Term Report 20/21 – Goalkeepers
Monday, 17th May 2021 08:00 by Clive Whittingham
It’s number crunching time again as we cover the kitchen table in tally charts, pore over the stats, and go back through the videos to assess the QPR class of the previous year, starting as always with the goalkeepers.
13 Seny Dieng A
A superb first season as Queens Park Rangers’ number one for Seny Dieng, who finally got his chance in the first team following the horror show at Coventry in round two and has never looked back. Rangers went from 76 goals conceded and six clean sheets in 2019/20 to 54 conceded and 14 shut outs in 2020/21 and the form of the Senegalese goalkeeper was a big part of that. At times, in the early part of the season, his heroics were merely keeping the scores down for a struggling team – he was excellent in comfortable defeats away at Barnsley, Blackburn and Huddersfield. But as the season wore on and the team improved his saves were crucial in dragging narrow wins from Blackburn at home and, particularly, Cardiff away where he was incredible, and a draw at champions-elect Norwich. He finished with a remarkable tip onto the inside of the post to keep Rangers on course for a 3-1 home win against Luton on the final day.
Of course there’s more to goalkeeping than simply shot stopping. A big part of the team’s defensive improvement this year, particularly the reduction in goals conceded from set pieces, has been down to Dieng’s command of the area – he comes big, early and confident and claims cleanly nine times out of ten. Rangers had got to the stage last season where opposition corners were starting to feel like opposition penalties, but that’s not the case any more. The team has also struggled, first under Steve McClaren, and then under Warbs Warburton, to play out from the back effectively with the players they have at their disposal. This, too, has improved markedly through Dieng’s calmness, decision making and accuracy in his distribution, aided by his time spent as a midfielder in the youth set up at Grasshoppers – Dieng actually only moved between the sticks at the age of 14 because the existing goalkeeper at that age group was too small and was costing the team goals from distance. He makes really quite difficult things look very easy, whereas too often since Alex Smithies departed our goalkeepers have been making really quite easy things look very difficult.
He hasn’t been faultless. Sometimes when a narrative builds and an opinion starts to groundswell around a situation like Lumley v Dieng it can feel a little like the incumbent can’t do anything right while the new guy can do no wrong in the eyes of the baying masses. Lumley has now had this from both sides – he came into the team amidst a clamour for him to replace Matt Ingram, kept four clean sheets in his first five games and eight in his first 12, which meant when he did err, as he did in a 2-1 win at Bolton and 3-2 home victory against Brentford, it was largely overlooked and ignored. As Lumley’s stock fell among the QPR fans so he started to be blamed for things that didn’t have much to do with him while Dieng, like Lumley before him, was playing well and keeping clean sheets out on loan elsewhere. The idea that Dieng has been absolutely perfect this season is wrong, there have been moments – most notably at Boro away and Norwich at home but also for the equalisers at Wycombe and Reading, and at home to Rotherham where Lee Wallace chucked his body on the line after he’d fumbled a low cross – where he should have done much better. Talk of £8m moves to West Ham feel a little premature at this point. Overall though, it’s been a remarkably impressive and consistent first season at this level. No goalkeeper in the league made more than his 119 saves, though that is in part because, concerningly, we still face more shots on target than most – only Daniel Bentley at Bristol City (174) and Bartosz Bialkowski (168) at Millwall had to face more shots than Seny with 164. His save percentage of 72% is the eleventh best in the league.
Which then raises the question of why exactly it was his first season at this level. Dieng is not new to the club (signed in 2016) and nor is he a kid (26). Since Alex Smithies left QPR have rotated through Matt Ingram, Joe Lumley and Liam Kelly without any prolonged periods of success while Dieng has travelled to Whitehawk, Hampton and Richmond, Stevenage, Dundee and Doncaster on loan. When he did finally break through three games into this season it felt long overdue, and to watch how confident, assured and talented he is it feels a bit ridiculous that he’s had to wait as long as he has – particularly when you consider the travails we had in his position last season. While I do think he was overdue an opportunity, it’s not a theory I particularly subscribe to. There were similar rumblings about why Ebere Eze and Ilias Chair were out tearing it up on loan while the first team struggled back here without them but those guys, and Dieng, are the players they are today because of those loan spells. Dieng’s clearly a confident, calm character - if they fancied reviving the ‘seriously easy going’ Malibu ads they could do worse than give his agent a call - but do we think he’d have stepped into his first ever season at Championship level with quite the same assuredness without the League One, League Two and SPL experience he’d garnered over the previous two seasons? Returning to a favourite theme of these pieces about the difference you see in players for passing 50, 100 and 150 appearances, those loans meant Dieng had made 66 senior professional appearances before even getting a start for us. While his call up may well have been overdue, the loan spells were a big part of making him what he is, and what he is at the moment is one of the best goalkeepers in this division.
Stand up Seny, everybody look at Seny.
1 Joe Lumley N/A
It felt like a big call to initially continue with Joe Lumley as our number one this season, one I’m sure the management had many sleepless nights over last summer with Seny Dieng fairly well battering the door down by that stage and not one they were initially rewarded for. Lumley did, indeed, keep a clean sheet on day one against Nottingham Forest, though that was more due to Lewis Grabban’s wasteful finishing and all the defensive and goalkeeping horrors of 2019/20 then reared their head all over again that Friday night at Coventry. I’m not sure how much you could blame Lumley for those three goals – slow off his line for the second certainly but let down by Lee Wallace for the first and Yoann Barbet for the third – but it was clear something needed to change back there and we’ve seen since how Seny Dieng’s physical presence, decision making, and command of the box has brought a swift end to the days of Kyle McFadzean helping himself to three free headers in three minutes from three corners.
Lumley then spent emergency loan time in League One at Gillingham (W1 L1) and Doncaster, where Rovers won six of his nine appearances. That’s quite a comedown, from Championship number one to emergency loans in the division below in a matter of months, but it’s to his credit that he wanted to do that to play football, and not exactly in the most attractive places, and did so without complaint. The reports back from both clubs were positive. Lumley has also been a vocal supporter of QPR through many long months on the bench, every bit as delighted with the home win against Brentford as everybody else which, again, speaks highly of his character and how together the camp is as a whole. He’s been happy to admit to anybody that asked that “Seny has been incredible”. When Dieng’s red card at Boro thrust him back into the action he made two supremely good saves to protect a 2-1 lead with ten men, and was then back with a clean sheet and fine performance in the subsequent 1-0 win at Swansea that midweek. He’s actually ended up winning four of the six appearances he’s made this season, keeping four clean sheets into the bargain. His save percentage, 76.9%, is actually higher than Dieng’s – albeit over a limited number of games.
If we could have just left it at that it would have been a fitting end – coverage cutting back from a replay to a wide angle shot of Lumley “looking for a ball” at the back of the stand at Swansea, possibly the most outrageously flagrant bit of time wasting from a long list, infuriating when it’s done to us, hilarious when it’s Our Joe. Sadly the decision to recall Dieng in a mask for the weekend defeat to Norwich sparked a disagreement between goalkeeper and manager, which Warbs will only go so far as to describe as “had words”, and Lumley wasn’t on the bench for the final two games. A sad end, if it is indeed the end, and I sympathise with him a little bit because Warbs has made a very big deal of picking players on merits and you hold the shirt if you deserve it regardless of who you are and nobody could say Lumley had been anything other than brilliant at Middlesbrough and Swansea. Of course Dieng coming back in and literally dropping one into the net against Norwich didn’t exactly help. Contracts have been offered and talks are said to be ongoing but Lumley has made it plain that he wants to be a number one, if not here then somewhere else and I expect him to move on.
It’s seemed like both club and player have needed a fresh start for sometime now. It felt like he’d lost the trust of the defence and the crowd by the end of 2019/20. While I think a lot of the criticism was harsh, and like I say a narrative had built up to such an extent that he was blamed for a lot of stuff that wasn’t his fault (you try keeping goal behind Lynch, Hall and Leistner and see how you get on), he’s clearly not as good as Seny Dieng. Personally I think he hovers somewhere between League One and Championship level but in a market strangled by both Brexit restrictions on who you can buy from abroad now, and the financial fall out from Covid-19, there’s a 26-year-old goalkeeper with 139 senior appearances (76 in the Championship) going for free here and he could well make a very tidy summer signing for, say, Middlesbrough, who’ve been badly hindered by having Bettinelli and Archer keeping goal for them for the last 12 months. Bristol City have watched him in the past.
I’m pleased he at least got those games at Boro and Swansea in, which really were Joe at his best, before he ends a long association with the club, and wish him all the luck in the world for the future.
Others >>> There can’t be many clubs at this level carrying as many goalkeepers on their books as QPR do. Liam Kelly is a first team goalkeeper for most clubs but has been relegated to third choice at Rangers and made 20 appearances on loan at Motherwell (W9 D6 L5, 45%), conceding 25 goals (1.25 a game), keeping seven clean sheets and saving four penalties, two in open play and two in a shoot-out against Morton. He remains under contract, Motherwell are keen to take him back again next season. Like Lumley, it’s worth pointing out just how vocal and supportive of the team Kelly is even when out of favour – the coverage of our 0-0 draw at Bournemouth had him constantly urging Rangers on in the background from the side stand. Good signs, both of him as a person, and of our group collectively.
Adding Dillon Barnes to all of this was gratuitous at the time, and looks even more ridiculous now Dieng has ascended to the level he’s at. Barnes’ many varied adventures this year took him to Hibs (W5 D0 L3, 62.5%, conceded nine (1.125), two clean sheets) who seemed to quite like him, and then Burton where he played just once, in a 4-0 defeat at Oxford on the final day of the season – Mide Shodipo with one of the goals. Barnes’ situation still strikes me as very strange indeed. He’s in the Jamaica squad for their forthcoming internationals. Every stop he makes, he makes a new friend.
Joe Walsh is an extremely highly rated 19-year-old, signed for an undisclosed fee under some considerable competition in January from Gillingham where he’d already made seven senior starts in cup competitions and come off the bench for an hour of League One action in a 1-0 defeat by Ipswich. One would presume it’s between him and Kelly to back up Dieng next season, with Lumley and Barnes heading for the exit.
Beyond that we still have Marcin Brzozowski who seems to have been keeping goal for our youth team since Tony Roberts vacated the spot, Tyla Dickinson, Murphy Cooper (two first names klaxon), Max Little, and Tom Middlehurst all listed as U23 keepers and Matteo Salamon in the U18s. Maybe the league will let us start playing with more than one?
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