End of Term Report 20/21 – Attackers
Tuesday, 25th May 2021 18:05 by Clive Whittingham
The final part of our report card for QPR’s 2020/21 season assesses an attack that turned around completely upon the arrival of Charlie Austin in January.
7 – Macauley Bonne C/D
With VAR rendering the Premier League an unwatchable dirge, each goal celebration tempered by the knowledge there’s five minutes of crafting lines from the geezer’s pituitary gland to the floor at a time the ball may or may not have been played eight passes earlier in the move to come, thank goodness for the Championship and old school strikers like Macauley Bonne. No need for technology and lines and graphs and freezeframes here, you know Macauley Bonne is offside because that’s where he lives, as the first directly elected mayor of Offsideville. Just draw a flag on the front of the envelope and add a stamp, the postman will know where to go. Dominic Iorfa Summer School Class of 2015 valedictorian.
It certainly couldn’t have started much better for him following a summer move from Charlton. A nicely taken goal on debut off the bench in the last minute at Sheff Wed secured a hard fought point from a dire game, and a similar effort off another centre back assist then brought home a deserved victory from a much more dominant display at Derby. There were a couple of really bad misses which meant we had to settle for a 0-0 at Bournemouth when the performance merited a win but, really, it was strange how quickly the confidence seemed to drain out of him – Charlie Austin fairly candidly saying Bonne had been the first one on the phone to him after he joined the club saying he didn’t really feel like it was working out for him and wanting to know what he could do to kick start the spell. Bonne and Dykes had missed a whole catalogue of chances to knock Fulham out of the FA Cup just before that and although he subsequently scored a beautifully taken last minute sealer at Luton that the heart just longed to be behind the goal for, he was then back on sitter duty away at Watford where Lee Wallace put one on a plate for him from three yards which he rather fell over.
Austin’s arrival and the late season resurgence of Lyndon Dykes restricted Bonne almost entirely to brief substitute appearances through the spring, and he’s already been linked with a move to Ipswich this summer – although our guys up there say that while QPR have watched Andre Dozzell (along with Blackburn who are very keen, and Brentford because of course) the idea of a Bonne swap is news to them and might be a simple clickbait sum of him being out of favour, Ipswich needing a striker, and him being born in the town originally.
The work rate is there, you can’t fault him on that. He’s nasty, watch him, absolutely horrible to the centre backs, which I like. The three goals he scored for us, the 11 he got for Charlton at this level last season, and 47 in 91 appearances for Leyton Orient suggest there is something there – although Addicks fans did warn us it needs three or four good chances for him to score once. If the post-Luton goal tribute to his sister, which Andy Woolmer of course booked him for because that’s the world that poison little gnome inhabits, is a recent thing then perhaps it’s time to cut the man some slack for his form, and remember that while we’re savagely tearing into these young lads on the internet over something as inconsequential as football, they could have all manner of things going on in the background. Even without personal tragedy, if we’ve learned anything from this season it’s the virtue of a little time and patience. I dare say at that point in our season, ten without a win, a fair percentage of our support would have happily given up on Mark Warburton, Lyndon Dykes and a few others. They’ve prospered with perseverance and perhaps, optimistically, the same might happen for Macauley.
9 – Lyndon Dykes B
From great white hope to big fat flop and all the way back again, Lyndon Dykes has gone from “exactly the sort of player we should be signing” to “another huge waste of money” to cult hero and now genuinely exciting prospect for 2021/22 all in one rollercoaster first season in English football. With Nahki Wells lost to Bristol City the previous January, and an attempt to re-sign Jordan Hugill scuppered by a combination of Ebere Eze not going to West Ham and Norwich coming in with a gratuitous bid for a player they had little use for, initially there was just gratitude that QPR had signed a striker at all. As we’ve written many times before, a combination of our declining parachute payments and ever tightening budget, just at a time when clubs like Newcastle, Villa and West Brom came back to our level and blew the market for strikers up to such a ridiculous level that £10m now basically gets you one part-used Gary Madine/Kenneth Zohore/Jonathan Kodija, has meant Rangers have been reliant on the loan market in that position for several seasons. Some, like Hugill and Wells, have succeeded while others, like Mlakar and Hemed, have not. The sale of Eze to Palace freed up enough finance for us to take actual ownership of three strikers, though each of Dykes, Bonne and young Charlie Kelman were all obviously punts and projects rather than finished articles.
Initially, with Bonne and Kelman still to come, Dykes was our only striker. There was little short of panic on the streets of London when he picked up what looked like a nasty injury playing for Scotland a few days before the opening day of the season against Nottingham Forest, and our first question to Mark Warburton in our interview with him that week was “how’s Lyndon?” As it turned out, he was fine, and he scored on his debut in a 2-0 win, showcasing an uncompromising penalty technique that looked pretty foolproof (even if you could save it would you want to?) until he rather mishit one against Norwich at the end of the season and specialist Tim Krul saved with his feet. At that point QPR were trying hard to add Scott Hogan – behind the curtain, Warbs named him as his ideal realistic summer signing at that interview but didn’t want it on tape because a deal was a possibility at that stage – but the mammoth four-year deal he subsequently got from Birmingham, and our desperation for a prospect from Livingston to be fit for the first game of the season rather summed up the battle Warbs and QPR faced. The manager pointed out that while we were sweating over the fitness of a kid who was playing for Surfer’s Paradise Apollo and Queen of the South a couple of years prior, Forest were coming to Loftus Road having just added £30k-a-week Loyal Taylor to £45k-a-week Lewis Grabban and agreed to swallow 100% of Luke Freeman’s wage to bring him in on loan from Sheff Utd.
It was something the manager clearly didn’t feel was taken into enough account by critics of him and his team and, for a while, it looked like the difficulty of competing on that uneven playing field would be exemplified by the Dykes signing. Sure his was a nice story, his progress from the beaches of Queensland and the NRL’s in-house tattoo parlour to smashing up Old Firm centre backs laudable, but the Championship was another level altogether and for a long time looked a step too far. It took 11 games for him to score in open play, and any hope the spectacular nature of that strike at Brentford might spark a run of confidence and form quickly dissipated with a bad miss in the same game right on half time, and subsequent four-month, 22-game run without another goal of any kind. There were misses – a header at Derby, a close ranger at home to Stoke – but apart from the Fulham cup tie you couldn’t really say he was blowing a catalogue of chances. That made me wonder about the Charlie Austin signing – would he, too, simply be standing there waiting for service that never arrives? – but actually it was that old cliché about not worrying if your striker is missing, worry if he’s not even in the position to miss.
The injury prior to Forest wasn’t his only Scotland issue. The frankly irresponsible insistence that international football should not only continue on a locked down continent in the height of a global pandemic, but that the two-week international breaks should contain three games instead of the usual two to cram it all into a seven-month season, was bad enough on its own but in October Dykes was one of only two Scotland players made to play in all three of the matches, would have been asked to do so again in November but for a suspension and then did so a second time in March. In all, he has played 56 matches this season – one every five days for eight months. But at least he looked happy playing for Scotland, charging around, bullying defenders, bringing team mates into the game, being effective. I wanted to see that Lyndon Dykes playing for QPR, but the longer the drought went on, the more remote that prospect seemed. I wondered whether the lack of a crowd was a benefit to him – would he have been given that 22 games without fans turning on him? But then, the Loftus Road faithful were incredibly patient over several seasons with Conor Washington, making up all manner of excuses about how a player palpably not up to the level was being misused as a lone striker, or making do with shit service.
The value of giving Dykes that time started to shine through in March. The relief all round, and the delight of Charlie Austin in particular, when he finally banged in a goal at Reading was there for all to see. It lifted the weight of the world from the Scotstralian’s shoulders and suddenly there was no stopping him. He finished with seven goals and four assists in the final ten games, and had been the man of the match just before that in the comeback win against Millwall. Three of those goals – Sheff Wed H, Rotherham A, Swansea A – were quite beautifully executed, not only goals he wouldn’t have scored a few months prior but from things he wouldn’t even have attempted. That all-action, physically dominant, banterous striker we thought we’d signed was finally here, crawling all over centre backs and cans of hair dye. Charlie Austin’s role in the turnaround certainly not to be underestimated, and we’ll come onto just how surprised I am at that. Theirs is a Disney+ bromance begging for a second season commission. Fox Searchlight, in association with Arte and Screen Australia, presents… Lyndon and Charlie. She’s a carefree Australian fresh off the beach, he’s a grizzled old racehorse owner who’s forgotten more than you’ll ever know, but will the Championship make or break this unlikely union? Yes please, take my subscription fee, see how I binge the living shit out of that.
But it is also a lesson in the value of patience. If you’re signing somebody who was playing for Surfer’s Paradise Apollo and Queen of the South then, fine, enjoy the narrative and the long reads about his “journey” in The Athletic, but do so in the knowledge that it’s unlikely to be a roaring success, and even if it is it’s extremely unlikely to happen straight away. Dykes’ figures – 12 goals for the season, seven assists on top of that, a goal contribution better than one every two games - are very acceptable indeed for a first season at this level even for a conventional signing. Washington, Bonne, Tomer Hemed, Dexter Blackstock would all have rejoiced in such numbers. But it took him time to get there, as it was always likely to do. I’m really hoping the way he and Warburton, in particular, have turned things around from a lean winter will be remembered in seasons to come when we’re rushing to judgement on players and managers.
11 – Bright Osayi-Samuel C
Having rather painted ourselves into a corner with a sweeping pre-season statement that only players committed to the club would be selected for the first team, and those looking to run down contracts and leave on their terms would be shifted out (as Ryan Manning had been), there followed a rather painful five or six months of mental gymnastics to justify Bright Osayi-Samuel’s inclusion.
It’s important to be open and honest with the fans, and too many players have run down their contracts and left this club for free, though we’re absolutely not saying that about Brighty because he’s a terrific lad, but you have to question whether somebody who is out of contract at the end of the season will be making the maximum effort in games, not that this is the case with Brighty who’s been a model professional, but this club is not in a place where it can afford to turn down £150,000 from Swansea for a first team player only to let them deliberately try to leave on a free in a deal that works for them but not the club, which isn’t necessarily the case with Ryan who’s a splendid fellow, but nevertheless it’s important that people in the team are committed to the club, not that we’re for one moment suggesting Brighty and Ryan weren’t committed to the club because they’re excellent young pros, however it just felt like their heads weren’t quite in the right place, not that they’re unfocused because they’re the most focused boys playing the sport professionally in this country today…
On and on this went, for weeks. There was a nonsense situation in October where Bright started a 0-0 draw at home to Birmingham on the Saturday, was then dropped from the squad completely for a midweek 3-0 loss at Barnsley “because of his contract situation”, only to be recalled form the start another couple of days later for a 3-2 home win against Cardiff. Caught between “being honest with the fans” and “keeping things in house” the club did neither, building confusion and ultimately some pretty unfair resentment towards the player. There were a series of last chances, ultimatums and threats about his place in the team should he not sign a contract, none of which were followed through. The whole thing turned into Niles’ relationship with Maris: “Brighty, Warbs. You may feel you’ve triumphed, but all you’ve done is shown yourself to be petty and uncivil. Uh huh. Oh I see. Very well. Yes. I’ll see you at eight, can I bring anything?”
There was a good deal of anger around the club, and the support base, when it was announced over social media that Bright has signed a pre-contract agreement with Turkish side Fenerbahce in January, and Bright did subsequently apologise to staff and management at the training ground for how things had played out before he left – a deal quickly pieced together for him to move early rather than hang around another six months. There was a lot of “good riddance” in the air but the blame lay with QPR more than it did the player. They appointed Steve McClaren to develop the young players with his coaching ability then let him tear up the transfer plans, botch the start of the season, loan in a load of expensive temporary fixes and bomb out the players he was meant to be improving. They held off and waited on contract renewals for Bright and Manning during this period, despite knowing exactly what they had – those above McClaren were annoyed at Bright’s lack of gametime in 2018/19 in particular, they could have backed that judgement with a contract as they’ve tacitly admitted by tying other much more questionable prospects like Osman Kakay and Niko Hämäläinen to lengthy deals. QPR, out of necessity, now have a strict wage ceiling, and when young players improve to such a point that they bump up against that then they can’t be expected to sign on anyway out of some sort of blind loyalty when they can get paid more elsewhere – particularly when, in Manning’s case, very little loyalty had been shown to him prior to Ian Holloway’s arrival when he was on the verge of returning to Ireland, or after his departure when he was shoved out on loan to Rotherham. It was QPR that said players looking to run down contracts wouldn’t be picked, and then picked Bright anyway under some woolly “he’s negotiating in good faith” excuse when in actual fact he was just the best player in a struggling team and we couldn’t afford to be without him. Sure finding out via social media he was leaving is poor form, but saying he wouldn’t be picked if he didn’t sign a deal didn’t exactly encourage a lot of openness and transparency on his part did it?
In the end, Rangers might have been better off sticking to their guns. Sure there were games when Bright was his old electric self again: Rotherham at home when he torched a part-fit Joe Mattock in a 3-2 win; Norwich away where he won and converted a late penalty only to miss a stone cold sitter to win the game in the last minute; Brentford away where his spectacular assist set Lyndon Dykes up for his first goal in open play for the club. But, by and large, he felt, looked and played a bit off. Not to get all amateur psychologist and talk with authority about something I know nothing about (what do you mean that’s the whole purpose of the website?) but his body language was downright peculiar – at times he looked more disappointed than the opposition that we’d scored. His form was nowhere near where it should have been and only Tom Carroll (20.83%) has a lower win percentage than Bright’s 21.73% of players who started regularly. As we keep saying, QPR lost Eze, Wells, Hugill, Manning, Hall, Leistner and later Bright, and they got better regardless. If you keep doing the right thing for the right reasons, however counter intuitive it may seem, however painful it may be in the short term, it comes back to you. They knew Bright had his head turned, they knew his mind was elsewhere, they knew he wasn’t signing, they picked him anyway because they feared it would be a loss too far for the side, and neither he nor the team played well or won games. As it turns out, we’ve potentially got a much more well-rounded, complete attacking player in Chris Willock to replace him anyway, and once that was done in January the form, mood and body language improved markedly.
21 – Chris Willock B
I like it, I like the watch son, not the shoes but I like the watch, I like the watch a lot. Firstly, ticking all the boxes we need ticked in a signing. Twenty-three years old, not a kid, but all the development time and sell-on potential you could wish for in front of him. Exactly the sort of academy education at Arsenal that Warbs gets all dreamy eyed for, with a load of the stereotypical technical European schooling you get at Benfica thrown in for good measure. Cheap enough for us to afford and a three-year contract (with almost certainly the famous Lee Hoos option for a fourth on our side) signed and sealed. Also a direct replacement for a player further on in his development we were likely to lose – while there was much hand ringing and panic about how on earth the team could ever possibly cope without Bright Osayi-Samuel, the answer was already in the building, waiting to go, and, in actual fact, the benefit of having a settled and committed Chris Willock in the team quickly outweighed the impact a half interested Bright was having anyway which will hopefully give the club, and the fans, more belief in sticking to that principal in future.
Initially, a little bit lightweight perhaps. Another LFW recurring theme surrounds academy players who’ve never played any ‘proper men’s football’ versus those who choose to get 150 professional games under their belts as opposed to kicking around the pristine pitches with the excellent young boys into their mid 20s. Willock had only ever made eight starts and eight sub apps at senior level before arriving here and at times, to begin with, it looked a little bit much for him. Even in scoring his first goal at Cardiff, where he was used out of position in central midfield following the injury to Tom Carroll, he didn’t look too sure of himself. But, again, recurring theme number two – rushing to judge players who, in Willock’s case, have only played 20 games of senior professional football in their lives. The more he played through the second half of the season, the stronger, more confident, and more effective he became. All the flicks and tricks, the close control and vision in passing is as immaculate as you would expect from his upbringing, but increasingly with that strong core that stops him being knocked off the ball once he’s planted his feet that we’ve come to know and admire in Chair and Eze. The assist for Chair’s goal against Wycombe was superb, the overall performance in a 1-0 win away at Swansea belied his youth and inexperience – he’s another player you can see developing and improving, game by game and week by week, in front of our eyes in this set up and with these coaches. Tremendously excited about his 21/22.
37 – Albert Adomah B/C
QPR should have been signing Albert Adomah when he was at Harrow Borough, or Barnet. Local boy, playing locally, at financially poor clubs, obviously with enormous potential, could have been picked up for a pittance while we were too busy fitting Ji Sung-Park up for Air Asia baseball caps. Trying to rectify that historic mistake by signing a player deep into his thirties and seemingly well out of our league budget wise, because he’s been doing keepie uppies in old QPR kits on Instagram, felt very much like the sort of idiotic, crowd-pleasing, short-term mistake the club has made too often since the money came to W12. What we are seeing though, through people like Angel Rangel, Geoff Cameron, Lee Wallace, and now Albert, is the advantage of having players like this, personalities like this, at this stage of their career, in and around the squad whether they’re playing or not. Adomah’s enthusiasm for the club shines through everyday in training, and Warbs has praised him as an upholder of standards if concentration and attitude ever slips in things like warm ups and finishing drills.
On the pitch, while the majority of the squad has benefitted from the switch to a back three, it has rather hindered Adomah’s input and impact. When he does play, he’s hugely effective – we saw at Luton, Norwich, Forest and Swansea from the bench that in the final third there are still few better at this level at getting the final ball right. Throw those assists in with two goals, including the gloriously executed last minute winner at Watford that I’d have sold family members to be present for, and take account of his relative lack of minutes on the pitch and his goal contributions aren’t far off one per game (one per 126 minutes). This has led to mumbles, grumbles, questions and queries about why he doesn’t play more, and certainly when you think that both Chris Willock and Ilias Chair were rested for the defeat at Rotherham and that still wasn’t enough for Albert to be given a go from the start it is fair to think that Warbs might have afforded him a few more minutes at least. But if you look at the back three formation and the players we have, once you’ve taken out the goalkeeper, the three centre backs, the players I think common consensus would have as automatic starters (Austin, Chair, Willock, Johansen, even Dykes maybe) and factor in the need for at least one defensive midfielder it doesn’t really leave many positions for Adomah to play bar right wing back, which he did well with in an attacking team selection at Boro A but probably doesn’t have the defensive game to play regularly.
It's pretty clear they’ll shift Todd Kane this summer given half a chance so perhaps that is where Adomah’s future lies in this team. His joy at playing for the club, shining through everytime he’s on the field, every time he trains, every time he’s on camera, is a value in itself – it’s great to have players around the place who care about it as much as we do. I can’t wait for him to finally play in front of a crowd and the reception he’ll get. More than the lack of gametime, I’ve been especially gutted that he’s finally, belatedly got his dream move to Loftus Road only for it to be in the Covid-19 era. The noise for him next season in particular, will be really special.
45 – Charlie Austin A
Hard to believe now, given the transformative effect Charlie’s presence has had on the second half of our season, but I was pretty sceptical about this signing. Given that regular readers (hello to both) will know I thought Steven Caulker, Jordan Mutch and Jordan Cousins were great signings and Clint Hill and Shaun Derry were not, that should come as little surprise, but the logic was fairly sound.
You won’t have noticed this, nor remember it, because as far as fan reaction to the signing went there really was only one show in town, as Flo Lloyd-Hughes’ quick hot take on Twitter that Charlie was “not the sort of man you need in a crisis” quickly blew up and went viral, and continues to be feasted upon by the weirdly large amount of people who have an odd level of hatred for somebody they’ve never met to this day. Incidentally, it’s not the first time Flo and I have expressed a broadly similar opinion about something and she’s had her feet held to the fire while I’ve escaped reaction entirely, which suggests either people stopped reading and listening to me a long time ago (fair), or that I get away more with nonsense opinions about QPR than she does because I’ve got a cock and she hasn’t.
Flo does occasionally set herself up for these problems in the forthright manner of the delivery, has said some inadvisable stuff in the past that I’m sure she’d admit was wrong and she regrets herself, and my concerns weren’t quite as stark as hers. However, I did agree that Charlie clearly wasn’t the player he once was (something a couple of the more vociferous troll accounts had said themselves in the weeks prior and then quietly went back and deleted so they could really get on with the destruction of the female football journalist uninhibited by pesky retweets from their own past). He’d done okay for West Brom the previous season, scoring ten in the league and one in the cup, but in a promoted side, with Diangana, Pereira and Sawyers pulling the strings, you’d have been expecting prime Charlie Austin to double that. Four of the goals were penalties, and six of them came in a five-game hot spell through the end of November. There were two periods of six games where he didn’t score at all, and one of seven. This was not the player we remembered from before, which is often the danger of returning to clubs later in your career where you’ve had prior success.
I also described this idea that Austin would come in as some sort of mentor figure for the struggling Lyndon Dykes and Macauley Bonne as “fanciful”. That’s partly because Charlie, and I mean this as a compliment, had never been anything other than the archetypal selfish striker. Put the ball in the box and his ability to find space and finish the chance is second to none at this level over the last decade – even now, with everything every team knows about him, he’s still able at Stoke away on the penultimate weekend of last season to work himself completely free of markers in the box from a QPR corner and get a shot away that was brilliantly saved, when you’d think job one for an opposing defence would be at least making sure there’s somebody with him. But as for working with others, mentoring, bringing them along… I don’t even really remember him having much of a back-to-goal game last time he was here. Until he became TalkSport’s go-to rent-a-quote in the last six months, you were far more likely to find Charlie getting enthusiastic, talking, Tweeting and analysing horseracing than you were football. No, Charlie was basically being brought in to score us five or six goals, for five or six wins, and 15-18 points that would get us out of the shit and off to Mykonos still a second tier team. It began and ended there.
It was also, apparently, a signing driven by Tony Fernandes, while those running the club day to day were keener on Glenn Murray. Again, alarm bells ring when that’s the case based on past experience. And I wondered whether we were solving a problem that wasn’t there. Sure you could point to a couple of chances for Bonne to win the away game at Bournemouth, bad misses by Dykes at Brentford and at home to Stoke, and a catalogue of misses in the first half at home to Bristol City but, really, prior to the Fulham cup game the day before Austin signed, it didn’t feel like we were creating a whole barrel load of sitters that Bonne and Dykes were butchering.
Bollocks. All of it. Bollocks. From the moment he walked back in the room, he’s been little short of talismanic. He scored immediately, on his second debut at Luton, inspiring the team to a 2-0 victory which was their first win in 11 games. Subsequent goals against Watford, Brentford and Millwall added six points to the team’s total by themselves. He ended up with eight from 19 starts taking him to 56 goals in 110 appearances. Whether he’s the player he used to be or not, he still scores a goal every other game when you put him in QPR colours, and you’ll now also find him dropping short out of the area to bring a ball down and sweep it out wide, as he did prior to his goal at Birmingham, in a way he never did in his first spell. Games like Bournemouth, Bristol City and Brentford, where the team had played well without getting the result, can sap a young team’s confidence in what they’re being asked to do. Having Charlie up there seemed to give the team faith that the hard work would not go unrewarded. His overall performances weren’t that brilliant (8, 6, 5, 6, 5, 6, 5, 6, 6, 6, 7, 5, 4, 6, 6, 7, 5, 6, 5, 7, 7 = 5.90) but the belief his presence gave the rest of the team has been enormous. Rangers won 13 and drew two of the 21 games he was involved in and he scored in six of those wins.
He has taken to the senior player role better than anybody could ever have imagined. Some of it has been pure David Brent – “Did a volley in training the other day, casual, thought nothing of it. The gaffer said afterwards everyone stayed out after training trying to copy me... Of course they couldn't and I didn't even think anything of it, just a volley top bins - whatever - but yeah, that's the kind of thing you see...." – but the difference in Lyndon Dykes in particular is there for all to see. Far from selfish striker, Austin seems even more delighted when Lyndon scores than when he does so himself. The reaction to the Scotstralian breaking his duck at Reading was pure bromance. You no longer hear the criticism about QPR being too quiet and too nice, you can hear Rangers clearly now and Austin is a huge part of that – occasionally, such as his stamp at Nottingham Forest, or some of what went on in the Brentford home game, that’s crossed the line, but I’ll take it over what we saw and heard in those weird lockdown games with Reading and Stoke before Christmas. Warbs has talked about building a reputation and an aura, making teams worry about playing us in the same way they do other sides at this level, and we’re a much more fearsome prospect with Austin in attack than without.
Others >>> Charlie Kelman was rated by Albert Adomah and Luke Amos as the best finisher at the club when they combined a recent prize draw with an interview for the official website, and he certainly looks sharp as a tack in the (admittedly well-edited and cut together) videos from the training ground. Just the one start, to go with 11 sub appearances, in a poor loss at Rotherham but only 19 years old.
His arrival has helped accelerate the long-expected release of Aramide Oteh who exemplifies the gap between the U23s and even League Two level with his struggles for QPR and out on loan. Four goals in eight starts and eight sub appearances during Stevenage’s early season struggles and while they flew up the table after he left, Colchester came the other way after he joined and contributed one goal in four starts and nine sub apps. I suspect it’ll be a Conference team who picks him up on a free this summer. Rangers meanwhile will try and bridge that gap with a B Team next year that will include Marco Ramkilde, whose now three years of solid injury problems are yet to dissuade the club from persevering. Paul Smyth however has had time called with neither Warbs nor Steve McClaren sharing Ian Holloway’s high opinion of him, and three goals in 15(6) at League One Accrington after two in 8(6) at Charlton not doing much to change their minds. Smyth, bless him, described his mood as “raging” on news of his release, and I still think there’s something there if he can get fit, stay fit and get a run in a team somewhere. I’d be very tempted if I was any club at League One level.
That’s where Mide Shodipo has spent this season with Oxford and on the face of it 13 goals in 28 starts and 18 sub apps is one of the more successful loan spells one of our players has produced recently – nice last minute 40 yard winner in a 4-3 at Rochdale for you to enjoy above.. Interesting that the goals rather dried up through the second half of the season before two in his final three games, and that he wasn’t trusted with starts by Karl Robinson when the play-off crunch came round (he scored off the bench in the second leg against Blackpool though the tie was long since dead). One or two stories of chronic lateness doing the rounds locally but apparently they'd have him back. He’s obviously well liked by some at QPR given the ongoing contract faith not shown in the likes of Smyth, but with Willock, Chair, Thomas and you would think Adomah ahead of him I’m intrigued by what 21/22 holds for him.
The Twitter @loftforwords
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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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