End of Term Report 20/21 – Midfielders
Saturday, 22nd May 2021 08:59 by Clive Whittingham
The third part of our annual report card on the QPR squad features everybody who’s made appearances in the middle of the park for Rangers in 2020/21.
10 – Ilias Chair A/B
Lies, damn lies, and statistics. Ilias Chair is 5ft 2ins tall, somewhere between the skirting board and the door handle. I know this because it says it on his profile on the official website. Ilias disputes this, and says if he’s 5ft 2ins tall then George Thomas is 4ft 8ins tall, and actually I’m inclined to believe him. Sure, he wouldn’t be my go-to QPR player for a quick fascia and soffits refit, and standing next to him can feel like physically participating in The Office’s dwarf v midget v elf v goblin debate, but 5ft 2ins feels like a bit of a stretch. Or whatever the opposite of a stretch is. A squish. Nevertheless, it’s there on the internet, and so when he scores a goal or does that click and collect thing round the other side of a helpless full back somebody on the Quest highlights we’ll go “not bad for somebody who’s smaller than my kitchen bin”.
Also on the internet, the official Championship assist statistics - here, or here, or here - which have Ilias Chair on four. Four. Ilias Chair. This is the 47th highest total in the league, and one more than Geoff Cameron. Geoff Cameron. This is, and I don’t use these words lightly, total fucking horseshit. And I’ll tell you for why. It’s Saturday October 31, a little after three in the afternoon, and QPR are opening up a can of anal mace on Cardiff City. Chair has already scored the first goal of the game, beautifully improvising a bouncing volley over Alex Smithies and into the far corner of the net, when he sets off in pursuit of an overhit cross to the back post. It’s going out, for a throw in, for all money, but Chair is quick enough to catch it, talented enough to kill it stone dead, and slick enough to move it up into the air, over his head, over the head of Will Vaulks who has gone with him, and perfectly into his path to collect on the other side of a swish 180. Vaulks immediately phones the Missing Person’s Helpline while Chair advances back into the area with the ball at his feet and picks out Todd Kane at the far stick who top bins it. In the garden at the Crown and Sceptre, the volume of Peroni is immediately seen and raised by a collective tidal wave of cum. It is a sexy motherfucker of a goal, and there’s a video of it below in case you fancy cracking one off over it all over again. Here, also, is the BBC’s report of the game which you’ll notice right at the top lists the day’s ‘assists’ as Albert Adomah (for Chair’s first) and nobody else. Neither Chair, nor it should be said Lyndon Dykes’ without whose towering header Dom Ball’s Goal of the Season that won the game wouldn’t have happened, were officially credited with one. In Chair’s case this is because his Kane-bound cross reached Kane via a very slight brush off a defender at the near post. So no assist for you, rainbow flick or no rainbow flick. Dykes nudging a ball back five yards for Rob Dickie to rip into the net at Middlesbrough = assist. Chair orphaning Will Vaulks’ children and picking a man out in a crowded box = no assist.
Well you can kiss my ringpiece if you think I’m playing to those rules, which is why for these end of term reports we do our own assist stats, and we list the ones we’ve credited to the player so you can go back and check our working out for yourself. Cardiff H is on there because of course Cardiff H is on there and anybody who doesn’t think so can climb into the sea and stay there. This leaves Ilias Chair with eight goals (in a wide variety of styles), and eight assists, in only his second full season at this level, which is a significant achievement that has rather gone under the radar among the QPR support.
Reasons for this… His age, career trajectory, lower league loan success, and position are all very similar to Ebere Eze, and he’s essentially been asked to step into Eze’s role in the team following his big money move to Palace, so comparisons are inevitable and Eze had 14 goals and 14 assists in his second full Championship season at the end of which he was bought – but Eze was a generational talent. Incidentally, in Eze’s first full season of first team football here he got four goals and four assists. There have also been other players grabbing the headlines, praise and criticism this season, while Ilias has just steadily chugged along on the same consistent level. While everybody, rightly, has a big wide on for Yoann Barbet playing every second of every league game, Ilias Chair made the same number of appearances (47) but did three of those from the bench in a period around Preston away when his stats dropped off and he was rested. I’ve barely heard this appearance record mentioned, and I’d venture to suggest that Chair was a lot more consistent across the season than Barbet as well. Even when the team was playing badly, and going ten without a win, it was Chair trying to drag it kicking and screaming to a victory - Stoke at home in one of the two matches played with limited attendance was basically a night of Rangers giving the ball to him to see if he could win the game for us by himself. Whether it’s because he’s been around the club for so long and we forget how young (23) he is and how relatively little football he’s played at this level (73 starts, 21 sub apps in the Championship) and we rather take him for granted, or perhaps because his loan to Stevenage turned into a one-man Goal of the Season competition we somehow expect him to do the same for us and are disappointed when he doesn’t even though that was League Two and patently at least one level lower than he should have been at that stage, I’m not sure. His corner delivery is often quite ropey as well, which stands out and people remember a lot more than a lot of his good work in open play.
If there is a criticism, for me, it’s that he can get the blinkers on a little bit. Ilias Chair’s Perfect Sunday is a ball shifted onto his right foot, just infield from the left corner of the penalty box, with a line of sight into the nearside bottom corner of the goal from 20 yards away. Hull at home in 19/20, Millwall away 20/21, he scored in exactly this manner, but you’d struggle to make that a regular thing even if Tony Roberts was keeping goal against you every week and at times I feel like he hangs onto the ball too long, desperately trying to manipulate that situation into existence when it simply isn’t there. QPR are at their best when they move the ball quickly with tempo, and he can very occasionally slow that down by doing this. That, and the odd bad corner delivery, really are outlying exceptions though, I think he’s terrific. His workrate off the ball is often fearsome - the 1-0 away win at Derby this season he was a man on an absolute mission, covering every blade of grass twice. A lot more terrific than he’s perhaps given credit for. New bumper five-year contract in the bag, it’s a big third season coming up in 2021/22 for Ilias.
45 starts, 2 sub appearances, W19 D11 L16 (41.3% win percentage)
8 goals (Forest H, Cardiff H, Watford H, Rotherham H, Millwall A, Bristol City A, Wycombe H, Coventry H), 8 assists (Plymouth A, Coventry A, Cardiff H, Wycombe A, Millwall H, Coventry H, Sheff Wed H, Luton H)
6 yellow cards (Coventry A foul, Bournemouth A foul, Cardiff H over celebrating, Cardiff A time wasting, Bournemouth H foul, Reading A kicking ball away)
3 LFW Man of the Match Awards (Cardiff H, Millwall A, Stoke H), 4 Supporter MOTM Awards (Cardiff H, Watford H, Millwall A, Stoke H, Coventry H)
LFW Ratings – 6, 7, 5, 6, 5, 6, 5, 5, 6, 8, 7, 5, 7, 7, 6, 7, 4, 8, 7, 6, 6, 5, 6, 6, 6, 6, 5, 6, 6, 6, 5, 6, 5, 7, 6, 5, 7, 7, 8, 5, 7, -, 6, 7, 6, 7, 7 = 6.13
Interactive Ratings – 6.08
12 – Dom Ball C
I’m not sure anybody can ingratiate himself quite so deeply into terminally punctual Warbs Warburton’s good books as Dom Ball clearly has while turning up late to things, but should he miss the allotted start time for the team’s massive lads, lads, lads banterous night out in our fair city I should imagine they cheer when he finally arrives. Here he comes look, arms aloft, through the door, wheeeey heeeeeeeeeey they all shout as one, oiiiiiiiiii oiiiiiiiiiiiiii Rob Dickie adds to the din. It’s Dom, in yesterday’s clothes, with a story about a house party for you which will start “you wouldn’t fucking beliiiiiiiiiiiiieeeeeeeeeeve what happened to me last night” just as soon as he’s skulled this pint of San Miguel which he pronounces with a W in it. “…and then I tried to flush all these fucking cotton buds right, but they blocked the bloody khazi didn’t they…”
To his credit, Ball has combined his freewheeling midfield stylings with a business studies degree that he completed this year. Wonderful. However, combined with Nick London’s occasional tendency to call him The Dominator (a nickname I’ll take some serious convincing Ball didn’t invent for himself and publicise via his LinkedIn) I just see an Apprentice candidate waiting to happen. Star of the opening credits, cutting away from that overly dramatic Prokofiev bit where they try to make it sound like Alan Sugar is still relevant ("once a titan of industry, now a wizened bum chin, Lord Sugar is on the search for his next home carer") to Dom giving his piece to camera in the third person: “for The Dominator, business is something to be booted in the clunge before it bites you in the tits”. Everybody thinks he’s a “top geezer” round the house, and can’t bring themselves to haul him back to the boardroom, so he survives a disastrous week five task where his team is left to tear around St Pancras station at the end of the day trying to shift some vegan cupcakes he accidentally mixed with eight pounds of beef dripping at 5am that morning, to reach the final and pitch Lord Sugar an app that brings a shot of Sambuca straight to you wherever you are in the nightclub.
On the pitch, Dom can be relied upon to do a very specific job in a very specific set of circumstances. If you’re away to Cardiff in January and most of the contents of the Bristol Channel is being picked up and shit on you from above, then stick some armbands on Chrissy Willock and Little Illy and send Dom Ball in there as lifeguard. Off he goes, charging about, splashing around in the mud, having a bloody whale of a time. Love Dom Ball. I thought he was little short of superb in completing a very similar task in a hard fought 0-0 draw up at Preston, where we gave him the star man award for the night. Obviously quite a limited player, as was so brutally exposed by James Garner in the 3-1 loss at Nottingham Forest, and Sam Field represents a significant upgrade in his position, but much like Osman Kakay having a well-liked, very dependable, extremely consistent player in your squad who can fill in a number of positions and isn’t sapping a lot of pay roll is extremely important in a tight squad. His approach to playing as the third centre back at Swansea was typically whole-hearted and seat of your pants – he started by trying to dribble out round their entire team and only Yoann Barbet’s all-or-penalty recovery saved him costing us the opener – but with concerns over Jordy De Wijs’ fitness I wonder whether we might see some more of that in 21/22. If you’re starting Kakay and Ball every week and relying on them at this level, it probably limits your ambitions and expectations, but as back ups they cover about half a dozen players in the first team between them.
Let’s also have it right, sorry Rob Dickie, but Dom’s winner against Cardiff at Loftus Road is the goal of this or any other season. Last minute, left-footed, 30-yard, Loft End winner in a game it looked like we’d blown? Don’t you people appreciate context? Not since Mass Luongo pipped Luke Freeman to the Player of the Year trophy because he’d played quite well in the final eight games of the season has there been a dafter result in those votes. Democracy shemocracy, bring on the benevolent dictatorships.
Chris Willock replaced the tiring Adomah shortly after he’d failed with an attempted backflick finish from a Bright cross. Some sunshine poking through the cloud as Tomlin committed a thick yellow card challenge on Osayi-Samuel. Dom Ball was brought on for a what-we-have-we-hold mission and with ten minutes to go QPR players started to hit the deck with Preston cramp. Wait there, I’ve had a brilliant idea. Have you? I’m going to stick my arm up in the air. Are you? Yeh. Ok then. Penalty number two, Conor Masterson the heartbreaker, Ralls the executioner via a rebound from a Dieng save. While I stepped away a moment to regather myself emotionally, Hoilett could easily have won it. QPR were done. Too deep, too tired, incapable of holding possession, and now with nothing to protect.
Why do we put ourselves through it? There’s no pleasure in this. It's savage amusement. We’re not even there any more. Terminally emotionally invested in something destined to disappoint us, peered at through small screens for ever-mounting subscription fees. There could be so much more to life than this, and yet we piss it away, drinking ourselves to death through one instantly forgettable bucket of Championship slop after another. Let down, time after time, day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, decade after decade, generation after generation. Destined to curse the terminal incompetence of QPR until we’re dead in the ground, like our fathers and grandfathers before us. Other football clubs are available, what the hell did any of us do to deserve being saddled with these suicidal self immolation enthusiasts? I’ll stick my hand in the air indeed. Fuck me.
There was no playing out from the back now. Dieng was just happy the ball wasn’t in the back of his net again, pinging it high and long as far away from his goal as he could get it as five minutes flashed up on the stoppage time board. You sensed four minutes and 45 seconds of that at least would be spent under some sort of siege. Dykes got up and won the header well. Dom Ball peeled off the back of an opponent and controlled the ball with his right foot, moving it into a pocket of space in front of him, 25 yards out from goal.
They’re swines you know. They know when they’ve pisballed about too long. They know when they’ve pushed you as far as you can go. No wins in seven, no goals in four, now a two nil lead blown, five penalties conceded in four games… come on lads, we’ve all had a drink. Just when your bags are packed and the cab is outside and you’re heading for the exit with your door key left mournfully on the kitchen table they stir themselves, slide a conciliatory arm around your slumped and broken shoulders, and whisper into your ear, “I’m sorry, come back inside, I love you really.” We can’t help ourselves. He’s changed mum, it’ll be different this time.
Dominic Ball Ideas Above His Station No.439 In The Series – burning the barn down from 25 yards, a shot for the ages on his weaker foot, a weapon of mass destruction arrowing through the night sky, tearing the net from the posts as it arrives in the top corner like a meteor sent to kill us all. Among a scattered, disparate, lonely fan base, scenes of pandemonium. Smithies, snu-snu'd by the most beautiful women of Amazonia, then the large women, then the petite women, then the large women again. Somebody check on Andy Sinton. Has anybody called Nicky Campbell?
26 starts, 15 sub appearances, W12 D10 L15 (32.43% win percentage)
1 goal (Cardiff H), 1 assist (Forest H)
9 yellow cards (Brentford A dissent, Huddersfield A foul, Millwall A dive, Swansea H foul, Norwich A foul, Blackburn H foul, Brentford H repetitive fouling, Bristol City A foul, Coventry H mistaken identity)
1 LFW Man of the Match Award (Preston A), 0 Supporter MOTM Awards
LFW Ratings – 5, -, -, 6, 6, 4, 6, 5, 7, 7, 5, 6, 6, 6, 6, 4, 5, 5, 6, 5, 6, 6, 7, 7, 6, 6, 6, 5, 7, 7, 5, 5, 6, -, 7, -, 4, -, 7, 6, 6 = 5.80
Interactive Ratings – 5.78
14 – Stefan Johansen A
For several years now games against Fulham in the Championship have been adventures in Tom Cairney Land. You go on the Tom Cairney rides, carry the Tom Cairney balloons around, face the Tom Cairney free kicks and the Tom Cairney corners and the Tom Cairney penalties, and you live, die, breathe or suffocate by how well you do all of those things. In part this is down to the host broadcaster’s method of covering all 24 teams by boiling each of them down to one strength, one weakness, and three trite facts, which is why you get sick to the back teeth of hearing about Brentford’s bloody Justice League analytics when they’re on Sky a few times in a month, or have to suffer through three dozen mentions of Anthony Gordon’s birthday in a 0-0 draw at Preston. But it is true that when we’ve played Fulham of late it’s been Cairney standing out in the midfield and Stefan Johansen? Well I’ve had to go back and check Stefan Johansen was there at all.
I was amazed to discover, for instance, that when Joe Lumley’s mistake let Aboubakar Kamara in for a winner at Craven Cottage in 20/21, it was Johansen who’d calmly picked up the mishit goalkick and slipped his striker back into the space to score, and that when Steve McClaren’s QPR were beaten 3-2 at home by Darren Moore’s promotion chasing West Brom the season before Johansen played an hour in midfield that night at Loftus Road. Johansen scored a late winner against Ian Holloway’s Rangers in W12 in September 2017, and played the full 90 of the 2-2 draw at their place later on that same campaign. Johansen has actually played against us five times in the last three seasons, and we’ve never graded him more or less than a six – which, despite him scoring and assisting in those games, is the mark we tend to give opposition players we don’t particularly remember doing anything of any real note good or bad in the game. Tellingly, we've never beaten a team with him in it. Nevertheless, his loan signing in January, just as he turned 30, with Fulham fans keen to tell us “his legs have gone”, felt like a fairly desperate admission that whatever the recruitment plans had been for QPR in 20/21, they hadn’t worked.
There are players, and I always think of Shaun Derry as the main case study here, who you just don’t realise how good they are, how important they are to the team, the role they play and how effective it is, until they come and do it for you. I’d always, unfairly and possibly because of his appearance, considered Derry a bit of a dog – slowly chugging around the midfield, kicking the more talented boys on the rare occasions he was able to get close enough to them to make contact. In actual fact, a wonderfully intelligent player, brilliant protection for the defence and link to the midfield, providing and allowing the likes of Ale Faurlin and Adel Taarabt to do their thing. It didn’t take very long at all to realise we had another one in Stefan Johansen. He is absolutely fantastic.
In just 21 starts from deep midfield he scored four goals and got an assist for Osman Kakay at Stoke. He won six LFW man of the match awards (only Player of the Year Rob Dickie got more) and picked up another five on the interactive ratings. Nobody got a higher average mark from us than Johansen’s 6.52. In a team performance of total domination at Bristol City he was about as good as you’ll see a midfielder at this level, and would have warranted a nine but for the dire standard of opposition. When he played, QPR won - 13 of his 21 starts, a mammoth 61.9% win percentage – and on the rare occasions they didn’t it was primarily because the opponent had purposefully shut Johansen out of the game. There was a cheat sheet to playing QPR in the second half of the season – let the centre backs have it, double up on the wing backs and make them defend rather than attack, press hard and fast with as many men as you can muster the second they move it into midfield – as shown by Derby and Huddersfield in Shepherd’s Bush and perhaps best of all by Nottingham Forest at the City Ground. For all of Chris Hughton’s limitations, he is a good defensive coach and he’d clocked that a multi-man, high press the second Johansen received the ball in central midfield was the way to beat Rangers – a problem exacerbated by players from an already beaten QPR midfield then being removed to try and add attackers to chase the deficit allowing James Garner to take the game over completely. We’ll also forget and gloss over his glaring miss when 1-0 up at Birmingham that helped them turn that into a 2-1 loss.
Johansen’s the one. De Wijs, worth a gamble, Sam Field, lovely boy loves his mum, Charlie Austin, talismanic, but Johansen… you add him back into this team permanently next season and even I’d start to fancy us for a serious top six tilt. Why on earth Fulham would let him go now they’re back at this level, with a year of contract still to run, remains to be seen though there’s a growing consensus down there that having got promoted twice and bombed him out on both occasions, to ask him to come back and help get them back up a third time might be a cheek too far. If he is playing in white rather than hoops in those derby games next season we’ll certainly notice him this time – he’ll be the one getting a standing ovation from a group of fans so gutted we couldn’t have been there to see one of the best loan spells ever played out in our colours.
21 starts, W13 D2 L6 (61.9% win percentage)
4 goals (Bournemouth H, Millwall H, Sheff Wed H, Luton H), 1 assist (Stoke A)
4 yellow cards (PNE A foul, Huddersfield H foul, Millwall H foul, Forest A foul)
6 LFW Man of the Match Award (Brentford H, Barnsley H, Bristol City A, Coventry H, Stoke A, Luton H), 5 Supporter MOTM Awards (Brentford H, Bristol City A, Millwall H, Stoke A, Luton H),
LFW Ratings – 7, 5, 7, 7, 6, 5, 6, 8, 7, 5, 7, 7, 8, 5, 7, 5, 6, 7, 6, 8, 8 = 6.52
Interactive Ratings – 6.72
15 – Sam Field B
Cardigan-clad Sam Field does not sound like a footballer. He has doe-eyes that have known a great sadness, and the soft Brummie-twanged voice of a boy who tapped his feet on the hard floor of his Year 10 English classroom to the rhythm of a Simon Armitage poem the teacher he was secretly in love with was reading from an anthology and was bullied for it so mercilessly that he still lies awake thinking about it now and listening to the wind at the window of his dark, empty bedroom - his own poems piling up and collecting dust in a drawer with the log of his boiler’s service history because he thinks they’re “shit” and he’s too scared to show them to anybody.
On the pitch, don’t worry about it. Exactly the sort of understated, fetcher and carrier midfielder who makes others around him look better by doing a lot of their dirty work. Every good team has one and although Josh Scowen did a reasonable job of it for Mass Luongo and Luke Freeman in Ian Holloway’s team, QPR haven’t really had one since Shaun Derry was ruling the Loftus Road roost in W12. They’re particularly important in the 4-2-3-1/4-3-3 set up that Rangers used when Derry was around, and is preferred by Mark Warburton. If you’re going to play three at the back it becomes more vital still because once you’ve got your goalkeeper, three centre backs, two wing backs and forwards that doesn’t leave a lot of numbers for the midfield, particularly if we’re going with Dykes and a partner up front, with Willock and Chair on top of that as we did for the away game at Stoke last season. When QPR are poor, and losing, it’s usually because they’re beaten by more numbers and an enthusiastic press in midfield, and we saw in several matches last year teams take games over as they added players to the middle as we removed them trying to chase things with more attackers. Field is not only a steady, physical presence to prevent that, but he rarely wastes a pass either. When QPR are at their best it’s usually when they’re playing with pace, purpose and tempo and Field is excellent at moving the ball on quickly, intelligently, and with real accuracy. We love Dom Ball for all the obvious reasons, but Field is a significant upgrade.
Additionally, Field is a great defensive asset. While his brief stint as the third centre back for the 3-1 loss at Nottingham Forest wasn’t a conspicuous success, that defeat had more to do with him being moved out of the midfield allowing Forest to take it over, rather than anything he did particularly wrong at the back. It was still only 1-0, off a Yoann Barbet mistake, when substitutions were made adding Lyndon Dykes to the attack and taking another body out of the middle to do it, sparking two quickfire Forest goals including one from the game’s best player, and Forest’s central midfielder, James Garner. In other games, in his more favoured position, Field’s 6ft 3in frame proved a very useful tool in defending our own box, and he won important headed clearances in his own area in wins at home to Coventry and Millwall, and most notably at the back post in injury time at Swansea to protect a single goal lead that Rangers had taken just a minute before. QPR have come a long way from a year ago when they’d conceded 76 goals, the third most in the Championship, and led the way in concessions from set pieces. They’ve reduced the goals conceded to 55, and upped the clean sheets from six to 14, but there’s still work to do – all eight teams above is in the table conceded fewer than us, as did six of the teams that finished below us. The addition of Field to the team will continue the progress we’ve made in becoming a more difficult team to play and score against.
I’d like to see him assert himself and influence games a little bit more than he does. He showed against Brentford he does have that ability to arrive late in the box and finish chances, rather than just hanging back being a water carrier for others, but I wonder whether his role last season was rather dictated to by the signing and subsequent form of Stefan Johansen. Like Derry with Ale Faurlin, Ian Holloway with Ray Wilkins, when you’ve got a player of the quality of Johansen in the team then all you really want and need the guy next to him to be doing is what Holloway would subsequently describe as “carrying the piano to the stage for him to play”. It’ll be interesting, if Johansen or his non-union Mexican equivalent isn’t secured for 2020/21, whether Field will become more of an influential playmaker back there.
8 starts, 11 sub appearances, W11 D2 L6 (57.89% win percentage)
1 goal (Brentford H), 0 assists
2 yellow cards (Sheff Wed H foul, Norwich H foul)
0 LFW Man of thr Match Awards, 0 Supporter Man of the Match Awards
LFW Ratings – 7, 7, 6, 5, 6, 8, 6, 5, 6, 7, 8, 5, 7, 5, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6 = 6.21
Interactive Ratings – 6.28
19 – George Thomas C
I liked this signing for a few reasons. QPR were first linked with Thomas when he was at Coventry back in 2017, so to be going back for him three years later shows exactly the sort of consistent, joined-up recruitment policy and strategy we’ve been screaming for over many years. One of our biggest problems has been changing managers as often as we do, always going for a different style of manager, and giving those managers whatever they want to fit their particular plan, when what you should do is set a style and ethos, and appoint managers that fit into that, so the team and squad doesn’t have to be torn up every time there’s a change and the sort of player you’re trying to sign remains consistent over time. Had Rangers signed Thomas when he was a promising, young, goalscoring midfielder at Coventry we’d have been excited about the scouting of a lower league prospect, just because he didn’t break through at Leicester where players of the calibre of Maddison, Perez and Barnes play his position doesn’t make it any less of a good idea. Very good age with a lot of development left in him, and plenty of sell-on potential if he fulfils that.
Running theme, which we’ve seen with De Wijs and Field, he did have fitness issues before he arrived. This is allowing us to pick up players within our budget without much competition who we otherwise perhaps would struggle to secure, but in Thomas’ case he has struggled to put a run of games together and there have been a lot of niggles. When he came off the bench against Millwall before Christmas he was clearly so desperate to make an impression and make up for a bit of lost time that he ended up having a bloody nightmare through trying to hard – couldn’t do right for doing wrong. It was only towards the back end of the season that he was fit to play most games, a brilliant assist for Chris Willock against Sheff Wed and a real shame that he snatched at and shanked a late chance to get his first goal for the club in the final game against Luton because that would have been a nice way to go into 2021/22.
Needs a good pre-season. I still have high hopes.
5 starts, 13 sub appearances, W7 D2 L6 (46.67% win percentage)
0 goals, 1 assist (Sheff Wed H), 0 cards
0 LFW Man of the Match Awards, 0 Supporter Man of the Match Awards
LFW Ratings – 7, -, 6, 5, 5, 4, 5, -, -, -, 6, 7, 5, 6, 7, 5, 6, 6 = 5.71
Interactive Ratings – 5.42
22 – Little Tom Carroll B
Awwwwww Little Tom, signed as bit of an afterthought last summer because none of the other boys wanted to play with him. LITTLE TOM’S BACK, THIS TIME IT’S PERSONAL.
Injured for much of the end of his spell at Swansea, and not particularly fondly remembered in W12 for a pretty non-descript loan spell in 2013/14, it wasn’t a free transfer that set many pulses racing but he quickly became first choice in the midfield, particularly with Luke Amos being ruled out for the season very early on in the campaign. He was reasonably impressive as well, four star man awards through a difficult period for the team, and when he picked up a season-ending injury of his own at Luton there was a good deal of consternation about what this would mean for the team. Of course, what it meant for the team was Sam Field and Stefan Johansen and Carroll’s critics will point to the impact they made, and win percentages north of 60% while Carroll barely won one in five of his appearances, as a clear and stark example of how limited LTC is and how you can transform our team by replacing him with more effective, more creative midfielders.
I was on the camera gantry recording Patreon interviews for the home game with Reading and not only did seeing the team live in the flesh give a much better, clearer picture of what it was doing right and wrong compared to the stream, but being that high up and basically watching it from above was a real eye opener too. I referred to this in the full back right ups, and I bring it up here because Carroll looked really good to me. The team played through him, just as ‘Arry said it would all those years ago, and I thought he looked really good. The long standing prejudice that Carroll only passes sideways and backwards is not true, at the time of his injury no midfielder in the division had played as many ‘progressive’ (forward) passes as him…
…and yet, no goals, one assist (and even that one at Millwall was a pretty basic pass followed by a brilliant goal from long range). That might have climbed a bit had he dropped into conversation his corner taking ability while Ilias Chair was struggling with those early season, but he is basically a midfielder that exists purely for one purpose – getting and giving, recycling the ball, keeping things moving, keeping things ticking along. He’s not going to score you goals, or assist them, he’s not going to provide much protection for the defence or win (m)any headers in his own box, but you can pass him the ball and he will take it in tight situations and move it on intelligently. He's Fred from Scooby Doo, doesn't play narrative role, just moves the van from place to place. Whether that’s enough, when you see how Sam Field does all of that as well as winning headers in his own box, and Johansen does that with loads more goals and assists, I’m not convinced. I was surprised to see him get another year to be honest. Useful cover.
21 starts, 3 sub appearances, W5 D8 L11 (20.83% win percentage)
0 goals, 1 assist (Millwall A)
3 yellow cards (Bristol City H foul, Reading H foul, Norwich A time wasting)
4 LFW Man of the Match Awards (Plymouth A, Watford H, Bristol City H, Reading H), 0 Supporter Man of the Match Awards
LFW Ratings – 6, 7, 5, 6, 5, 6, 5, 4, 6, 7, 5, 7, 5, 7, 7, 5, 7, 7, 5, 6, 5, 6, 6, 6 = 5.875
Interactive Ratings – 5.80
Others >>> Away at Bournemouth Luke Amos was just starting to show that effective, tenacious high-pressing game only Warbs Warburton had maintained faith existed within him when he suffered a desperately unlucky second cruciate ligament injury of his career. Five starts and out. Now back out on the grass, it’s a big season ahead of him. Likewise Charlie Owens, who can’t get up for a piss in the night without blowing his knee apart, but has been given another year of contract to try and shed the rotten luck that has afflicted his time at the club this far. Stephen Duke-McKenna has impressed for the U23s, and looked very tidy indeed coming on late in the day during trying circumstances at Middlesbrough. Amrit Bansal-McNulty spent time on loan at Como but refused to take me with him, little shit.
Faysal Bettache is an interesting case. Just eight substitute appearances, but enough from him in those to spark the gentle murmurings of a clamour for more gametime. Little story from behind the scenes… for our pre-season catch up with Mark Warburton last summer the manager actually arrived late. This is unheard of in anybody’s experience with Warbs since he arrived at the club and he was full of profuse apologies but came with tales of a breakthrough next door where their latest attempt to bring the voice out of the young squad by splitting them into smaller groups to discuss issues and then bringing them back together to feedback to the room looked like dying a silent death once more as they all clammed up, until one player stuck his hand up to say how difficult it was playing central midfield in a team where there’s so little communication from the centre backs. This in turn sparked a response from those players, and a discussion finally ensued where issues were aired and the management eventually left the room with pages and pages of notes which Warbs then carried into his meeting with me. The player who finally did open his gob and say something to spark it all off was apparently Faysal Bettache. A nice Eze or Chair style lower league loan with a lot of gametime in the first half of next season could be a big moment for him.
Ryan Manning did technically play a game for us this season, in the League Cup at Plymouth back in September, before moving to play second fiddle to Jake Bidwell all over again.
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Letters from Wiltshire #48 by wessex_exile
“And now the end is near, and so we face the final curtain…regrets, we’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention”. Not quite right Paul Anka, probably more than a few, but otherwise a fair assessment of where the U’s are today. It’ll be interesting to see how we perform with the relegation monkey finally off their back – I’m not expecting miracles, particularly with Tranmere needing at least a point to guarantee making the play-offs, but they’ll certainly be more nervous than we will be, so can we make that count? This will be my last blog of the season, and not yet sure what I may or may not do for next season, but suggestions are always welcome.
Letters from Wiltshire #47 by wessex_exile
Here we are, at the penultimate game of the season, and our last game in front of the cardboard U’s faithful at the JobServe. It has been a long, difficult, and definitely strange season, which frankly I’ll be glad to see the back of. That’ll we’ll be here again in August is definitely going to be something to celebrate, but I suspect we’re facing a summer of significant rebuilding both on the pitch, and possibly off it too. I won’t be the only one, but the biggest oddity for me has been being able to watch every single game – not always easy viewing, but something I’ve never done before, and probably never will again. But it doesn’t really make up for not being there in person, the long train journey away-days, meeting fellow U’s and other supporters, and of course sharing a beer or three. Fingers-crossed we can return to the terraces in 2021/22.
Letters from Wiltshire #46 by wessex_exile
That was quite a week for us all then. In the space of four short but remarkably tense days we have gone from having to take shoes and socks off to check how many more points we need to guarantee survival, or whether we would even achieve it, to breathing a huge sigh of relief knowing we’re almost there. But close of play this afternoon, whether by our own actions or the failure of others, I am sure survival will be confirmed. Of course, Tuesday night not only all but guaranteed it, it also virtually condemned local rivals Southend United to non-league football for the foreseeable. Looking at the host of fully professional former football league sides currently battling it out for the two promotion slots out of the National league (including Hartlepool, Torquay, Stockport, Wrexham, Chesterfield and Notts County), it is not going to be a walk in the park for Southend to return any day soon.
Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
Tonight, Colchester United face Southend United in what may not necessarily be the most important game of our respective histories (though it’s certainly very close), but is almost certainly the most important Essex derby ever. However this season pans out, by the end of it there’ll either be only one team in Essex, or worst case scenario, none at all. If the U’s win, then Southend will be 9pts behind with just three games to go, and a minimum of a -12 goal difference to overturn if they want to overtake us. Certainly mathematically possible, but that would rely on a remarkable turnaround in their form, form that they’ve shown precious little sign of achieving so far this season. The stalking horse is Grimsby, with their game in hand, who have rather belatedly shown an improvement in form, so their match against automatic promotion chasing Morecambe tonight is equally important, particularly if we want to avoid the unthinkable, with both Essex clubs dropping out of the league.
Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
So here we are, as the nation mourns the passing of His Royal Highness, Duke of Edinburgh, the U’s face the first of two season-defining moments, with our late kick-off match at home to Walsall. Before then, no doubt many will have been focused on events elsewhere, not least the early kick-offs for Grimsby (at home to promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers), and particularly Essex rivals Southend United, who faced a tricky visit to Exeter City – still very much in the hunt for at least a play-off spot. As I finalise this blog, I know that Grimsby have beaten Bolton 2-1, and Southend earned a credible 0-0 draw in the West Country. More to the point, the U’s will know this too. Whilst I can’t help but feel that will ought to be to our advantage, it surely must also put additional pressure on a squad whose confidence is paper-thin. We must hope that Hayden Mullins, assisted by Paul Tisdale, get their heads right, and send the lads out this evening fired up with self-belief.
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