End of Term Report 21/22 – Defence
Tuesday, 24th May 2022 08:34 by Clive Whittingham
Part two of our annual examination and grading of the QPR squad focuses on a defence that was a microcosm of the whole team with a strong start and dismal end.
2 - Osman Kakay D
I am more tolerant of Osman Kakay than a lot of QPR fans at this point, but it was certainly a difficult second album of a season for him and he’s a player with plenty of limitations.
Championship squads on tight budgets need players like this. He cost us nothing, will be on a relatively low salary, and can cover three different positions in the defence – right back, right wing back, right centre back. That’s very valuable, and why I’d have kept Dom Ball on, before we even get to the importance and value of having local kids that have come all the way through our academy and made it as first teamers. I think he was unfortunate that two of the times we did need him to start this season were home and away against Bournemouth, where you’ve got the likes of Jordan Zemura, Jaidon Anthony and pre-illness David Brooks running at you – far better players than most you’ll face at this level and certainly twenty thousand leagues better than Osman Kakay. His removal at Dean Court after 55 minutes was less a substitution more a mercy killing and he looked disconsolate back on the bench. That Zemura, and his Cherries team mate Chris Mepham, were both released by the QPR academy while Osman and Hamalainen made it through is eye-rollingly frustrating, but not his fault.
If we’re going to persist with a back three and wing backs, and he’s going to play wide down that right, then his crossing and passing has to improve by a considerable magnitude. I’m not expecting David Bardsley, but he cannot be coming out of a season of ten starts and seven sub appearances with no goals and no assists. We had three strikers last season who thrive on crosses into the box, and our decreasing willingness to provide that with any kind of quality was a big part of Charlie Austin’s struggles in particular. I actually like him a lot better when he plays to the right of the three centre backs. I think it plays more to his hard-tackling strengths, and covers a lot of his weaknesses, though even there while playing quite well on the last day of the season at Swansea he did an inexplicable charge up the field to play an offside trap nobody else was primed for that would have led to the opening goal but for one of three great saves on the day by Seny Dieng.
Overall, not great, and clearly sagging in confidence by the end with fans losing patience in the stands and particularly online.
3 – Lee Wallace C
One of the themes of QPR’s fantastic 2021 was Lee Wallace – if he played, and played well, then QPR tended to do the same. Rangers lost just 14 games from January to January, and Wallace was absent for nine of those. From the start of last January to the end of this he played in 22 victories, five draws and just five losses – 68.75% wins – and to start this season he lost just one of the first 15 games he played in, winning ten. Goals for Lyndon Dykes at Reading and Chris Willock at home to Coventry were the quintessential QPR goals of that time, with Wallace marauding down the left to the byline and cutting a cross back for onrushing attackers. This season started in much the same way, with a typical run and cross forcing an own goal from Jonny Howson in match number three up at Middlesbrough.
The problem then became availability, which has been the issue since Wallace arrived here from Glasgow Rangers three years ago. A row with the high powers at Ibrox, and injury, had meant he’d essentially sat out two years of football before he arrived in W12 and getting hm out on the pitch with any degree of regularity has been a challenge. Flying Scotsman when he played, but very much Avanti West Coast for reliability and value for money. Sure enough, right at the end of that gruelling 100+ minuter on Teeside, he blew his hamstring out again and that was him done until November. The club had prepared for that situation, justifiably deciding Nico Hamalainen couldn’t be relied upon to deputise as often as would be required and bringing Sam McCallum in on loan instead – who I really like. The goalkeeper situation has, rightly, attracted a lot of attention, because you’ll so seldom see a team work their way through as many keepers in such a short period of time as we did. But losing not only the influential first choice veteran left back long term, but also his much younger and supposedly fitter deputy to a similar hamstring issue, was a crucial blow as well.
In the end I’m torn on his time here. When he did play, and was able to string a run of games together, you could see why Warbs loved him so dearly. He personally felt very guilty that he was unavailable as often as he was, particularly when he missed the first four months of his time here having got injured in his first pre-season. We’ve had quite a nice mix here over the last few years of younger players developing alongside experienced older heads anchoring the team, and though I think that probably tilted too far towards the older heads towards the end of Warbs’ reign and we paid for that when they all hit a physical wall together at the same time, you’ll never hear anybody with a bad word to say about Wallace’s influence and impact off the field and in the dressing room. He is, for want of a better word, proper. But he’s also not been cheap, and here we are three years later with that money effectively dead, no re-sale value at all, extra dead money spent on loaning in cover for his injuries, no promotion won, and no left back or left wing back anywhere close to Championship standard of our own for next season. And it’s much the same story on the opposite side as well, where we’re in a similar boat with Albert Adomah. Meanwhile Blackburn, Cardiff and others have been shopping for players like Harry Pickering and Perry Ng at Crewe, Luton have picked up Amari Bell, Derby have brought through Festy Ebosele and Malcolm Ebiowei, Huddersfield got Harry Toffolo from Lincoln and so on.
I can feel myself wanting to say ‘this isn’t what we’re supposed to be doing’ again.
4 – Rob Dickie B
Rob Dickie’s start to this season was extraordinary. He scored in the first three games, and four of the first six, including 30-yard piledrivers against Millwall and Oxford to go with the Goal of the Season he’d bagged at Boro at the end of the previous campaign. What have we got ourselves into here? Quite apart from that, and more importantly, his defensive displays were outstanding – when Hull laid siege to QPR’s goal for the first ten minutes of the second half up there in August it was Dickie repelling all boarders, including a miraculous goal-line clearance that looked an equaliser for all money. One LFW rating of nine is rare, two of them in three games is unheard of since Adel Taarabt left us.
At that point I thought we had on our hands not only an Esri Konsa/Chris Mepham-type £8,-£10m centre back, but perhaps even an Adam Webster, Ben White-style £20m+ player which, as I unashamedly keep repeating, is exactly what we need Rob Dickie, Chris Willock, Ilias Chair, or A N Other to become in reasonably short order. That level of supreme form was never likely to be maintained, and Bournemouth away in front of the Sky cameras proved a chastening experience when his dallying over possession deep in his own half cost us the ball and the opening goal scored by Jaiden Anthony. A hefty defeat at Fulham followed a short time later and while nobody was able to handle Mitrovic in this league last season Dickie’s meek attempt at doing so, particularly for the opening goal after just nine minutes, won’t have buttered the parsnips for any visiting scout.
Dickie’s positioning, ball-playing, defending and all-round game has come on leaps and bounds since he arrived here from Oxford – another player Mark Warburton can very reasonably point to as somebody who developed well under his watch. Very rarely do we see that combination of caught out of position, found wanting for pace, panicked grab of the opposition shoulder that happened a lot when he first came to this level. But one problem he, and a few of his team mates at similar stages in their career – Jimmy Dunne, Ilias Chair – suffer from is keeping their heads together when things go wrong. With Dickie you can see it viscerally, physically out there on the pitch, shoulders hunched down and forward, shy face pointed to the ground, muttering at himself. It can sometimes take several games, never mind minutes, before you feel like a bad moment, mistake or performance is out of his system. Bournemouth error begets Fulham error. With Dunne and Chair it’s a competitive will to win that sometimes boils over into too much frustration, with Dickie it always seems a bit more self-doubt, self-belief, over-thinking related to me. That’s based on nothing at all really, and probably bollocks. Amateur body language expertise bullshit.
While never hitting the heights of August again, can you think of another genuine mistake Dickie made post-Bournemouth? He’s now a brilliantly consistent and reliable player at this level. While Yoann Barbet’s 97 consecutive league appearances caught the headlines, Rob Dickie wasn’t far behind him prior to his season ending injury – 44 appearances this season, 45 last – and he can be relied upon to turn up and play consistently well each week. At one stage through the winter his LFW ratings went: 7, 7, 7, 7, 7, 6, 6, 6, 6, 7, 6, 6, 7, 6, 7. What I was disappointed about is that both he and Barbet stopped crossing the halfway line altogether at some point around November. I don’t expect him to be banging 30-yarders in as often as he was, or at all really, but Dickie is at his best when he’s on the front foot and marauding forwards, panicking a team that thinks it’s in shape but suddenly has a dog in the playground to cope with. His assist for Macauley Bonne at Derby the previous year is Rob Dickie at his best for me, and when he did exactly the same thing in stoppage time at Blackpool in November, Lyndon Dykes really should have scored the winning goal at the back post off the resulting cross. Again, we had three strikers that rely on crosses to do their best work last season, and we stopped putting crosses in for them to attack – Barbet (Bonne at Sheff Wed) and Dickie are two proponents of that from deeper, more infield positions and we didn't utilise that nearly enough. I’m sure opponents studied video and prevented us doing it to a certain extent – get into these two as soon as they cross the halfway line – but it seemed to me either deliberately or subconsciously that after Barbet was caught up field for Siriki Dembele’s winner in the league game away at Peterborough that we became more guarded and less adventurous, and while that improved the defending (we’d conceded 23 goals in 14 games up to and including Peterborough, and shipped just 11 in the 14 after that) it took away so much that was good about our attack.
Where we go, and Rob Dickie goes, from here is up in the air. That market for £3m-£5m Championship moves has collapsed completely post-Covid, bar the odd panic from a club like Bournemouth at the end of a transfer window. You either sell a player for £8m+ to the Premier League, you get rid of them for free or low six figures, or they stay put. At the moment, I’d probably put Rob in that middle bracket. Worth saying that this time next year he’ll be down to the final 12 months on his deal as well, unless there’s a fifth-year option on the club’s side, which is fairly scary given how brilliant we’ve been at dealing with contract renewals of late. Centre backs are trendy, particularly ball-playing ones who can fit seamlessly into the back-three formation of the moment. As clubs with more money than sense like Arsenal and Newcastle go raiding places like Brighton for theirs, then a gap opens up for the next generation of White, Webster, Dan Burn etc. Dickie could easily be that, with just a few more tweaks, a bit more self-belief, and a lot more front-foot play which dominated the start of his season. In the meantime a brilliantly reliable squad member for whoever takes over here, but as we keep saying QPR’s progress and balance sheet is relying on one of these players breaking out and being more than that.
5 – Jordy De Wijs C
Strange one. I can often be accused of being harsh to injured players, because unless we’re going back to those toxic days of Shaun Wright-Phillips, Luke Young and Armband Traore noncing about at the training ground happy to pick up their money and never play then nobody ever wants to be injured, and as I’ve already reported in this piece it drove Lee Wallace up the wall that he wasn’t able to be out there to lead the team through some tough times early in his spell here. It’s also not their fault, unless they haven’t looked after themselves, and there’s one or two we’ll maybe look at in that regard further into the end of terms that week. And often, even when injury prone, it can be very unlucky. De Wijs only played nine games here on loan last season, which made me very wary about signing him permanently because of that old definition of insanity about repeating the same actions and expecting results, but a clutch of those games he missed was after his nose and cheekbone got obliterated in a freak incident at Rotherham, and that’s not really a long term issue or something he’s prone to or doing wrong is it? But, nevertheless, injury prone players are a big problem if you’re operating a small squad on a tight budget, because they suck up salary cap and squad space you then cannot afford to cover with somebody else. Having, once again, been unavailable more often than not through the first half of the season, I can see why the club bit the bullet in January and loaned him out to recoup some wage which could then be spent on Dion Sanderson who, lest we forget, had been the best player on the pitch in both games with Birmingham.
De Wijs does a couple of things for us, though. He plays out from the back, from the left side of the defence, a lot more calmly and accurately than the other three starting centre backs we have. He averages just shy of 50 passes a game, at an accuracy of 85.4% completion – only Dozzell (85.6%) and Willock (85.8%) complete at a higher percentage than him in the whole squad, and the other centre backs all trail well behind (Dickie 81.9%, Dunne 79.4%, Barbet 77.7%, Sanderson 78.2%). When we were getting stuck and bogged down back there with the backwards and sideways nonsense, we could really have done with his forceful, firm forward passing into midfield. The other is he’s a big, nasty bastard. When the going gets tough, particularly away from home, particularly when the waves are starting to lap over our heads a little bit, he’s very good at smashing into somebody to make everybody feel a bit better about themselves. Opening day against Millwall, 3,000 of their mob taking over the away end and the atmosphere, Jed Wallace with a typically brilliant opener, momentum and mood all heading one way, the visiting strikers twice in quick succession tried a cheap hit on Seny Dieng to intimidate him as he claimed high balls in crowded areas. De Wijs allowed the first, but wasn’t having the second, and started a fight about it. At the time I thought this was us descending to their level, prepare to be beaten with experience, but actually it was just what we needed. We’re at home here, we’re the favourites here, you’re not just going to come here and push us all around, and if you try that again somebody’s going to get fucking hurt. I thought a few times towards the end of the season when things were going badly wrong – Jack Marriott and Jonson Clarke Harris running all over us for Peterborough, enormous child come to devour us all Rubin Colwill doing the same for Cardiff, the Sande Berge show against Sheff Utd, we really could have done with that level of gratuitous violence on our side.
De Wijs subsequently went and played very well in Bundesliga 2 for Dusseldorf and we started getting Tweets from the LFW equivalents over there saying we couldn’t have him back. That was, until, once again, he got injured although, this time, it was broken ribs – and what can he do about that? In the end, just ten appearances through the second half of the season again. Very difficult one for the club this. A fit and available Jordy De Wijs I’d have here in a heartbeat, particularly as it seems Yoann Barbet is going to be released and leave a yawning chasm for those oh so readily available fit, sub-30 years old, left-sided, ball-playing centre backs the club seem to think they’re going to be able to get here to replace him on a free transfer. But having loaned him and found him rarely available, then bought him regardless and found the same, I wonder whether this is going to be a fool me once, fool me twice situation. As George Bush probably said, you don’t get fooled a third time.
6 – Yoann Barbet B
Cue, for the final time it seems, the ‘Allo ‘Allo theme tune.
For so long this season, so much Yoann Barbet. He played every game, because since a spell out in his first season here that’s what he’s done – a ridiculous 97-consecutive league appearances at one stage. There were moments of hair-raising defending, more of which came off than didn’t as opposed to when he first arrived here and gave away a penalty every 20 minutes. There were Diags™ - quite a lot of them into the West Paddock, but diags all the same. Against Coventry he decided to thwart a dangerous counter attack by launching a half-volley of his own from 45 yards, struck with such power and accuracy it came within a whisker of being the goal of all time, and stunned everybody so much that he was able to cover the distance and convert the rebound untouched. I like him, I like him a lot. Bit wild, bit careless with the ball, bit rash sometimes, but fitting with the club and the system perfectly.
His finest hour came in January at home to West Brom. In what at the time was a crucial promotion battle, The Baggies brought on new £8m-man Daryl Dike for a debut with half an hour to go and went all out for the win. Dike threw his considerable weight around and what you’d normally think a job for Jimmy Dunne, or Jordy De Wijs, became a mission for Barbet. Dike’s frustration eventually boiled over into a horrible, deliberate, late slam into the advertising hoardings that split Barbet’s head open – worthy of far greater punishment than the casual warning notoriously lenient referee Simon Hooper dished out. Barbet underwent serious running repairs on the touchline, came back onto the field bandaged and bleeding, headed every ball, tackled every tackle, and bullied Dike right back. Charlie Austin scored a late goal, and QPR won with a clean sheet. It was inevitable, from the moment the Frenchman retook his feet and the field, that the game would be QPR’s. A monumental effort, a great moment in the season. Having played through the pain of a busted shoulder at the back end of last season, Barbet’s commitment to the cause could never be questioned, and he deserved all the acclaim he got that day.
What he didn’t deserve, apparently, is a new contract, or even a conversation about one. Even with Rangers flying high and doing well in the league back at the start of December, I thought it strange and said as much at the time that Les Ferdinand casually dropped into conversation at the fans forum that none of the out of contract players would be spoken to until the summer. Barbet, 28-years-old, perpetually available, playing well, key to the system we play, and free to talk to foreign clubs from January, felt like somebody who would be an obvious exception to that self-imposed draconian and nose-to-spite-face ruling. “He wants to go back to France” is one of those things that got said on Twitter, and became accepted truth, but is false – Barbet would like to stay, as he confirmed to supporters at the kit sponsor’s event in the final week of the season. He’s been allowed to speak to, and sign pre-contracts with, French clubs since January, and hasn’t done so to this point. Dave Mc reports that, actually, Les Ferdinand et al don’t rate Barbet nearly as highly as Mark Warburton did. If they think that on our budget we’re going to be able to find a better bet than this – 29-years-old, perennially fit and available, left-sided, ball-playing, 200-Championship-game centre back, available on a free transfer this summer, then I cannot wait to meet the new guy. Cannot wait. Fact is, if Yoann Barbet was our first signing of the summer, on a free transfer from Coventry, you’d be over the fucking moon with that, and you’d be right to feel that way. It’s difficult to not look down the list of players who haven’t got deals and conclude that it’s just a cheap purge of all the Warburton picks. Much like the decision to part ways with the manager himself, as we drift into week three of a summer that started with people seemingly genuinely thinking Sean Dyche might be a possibility, and now finding out that even the League One bosses we’ve approached aren’t keen, this feels like a petty, small-minded move we’ll come to regret. The club say conversations are ongoing with Barbet, and I hope they’re genuine in that statement, and that he ends up staying. It doesn’t feel very likely though at this point.
There’s also the manner in which we go about these things. I know many of you, and many of the other journos covering QPR, don’t agree with me on this, and perhaps I’m being an increasingly sentimental and soppy old soak who cries when Murphy Mahoney plays at Preston. But, for me, I think the way you conduct yourself and deal with people says a lot about you as a person and us as a club. QPR, and its supporters, were very aggy about the way Bright Osayi-Samuel ran his contract down, did a deal with Fenerbahce, and only told us about it after the event. Ryan Manning put a lot of backs up at Harlington as well, and parted on such poor terms that whenever we lose a game his can always be found as one of the first ‘likes’ under the Insta or Twitter announcement. To then have players who are popular here, have given great service to the club, going to the sponsor’s day and having to field questions about their future with “don’t know what’s going on, nobody has spoken to me”… To hear via Dave Mc that one player has been sitting with his furniture in storage, awaiting a conversation... To be denied the chance at Sheff Utd at home to give a send off to departing players – Yoann brought his wife and son Ayden out onto the field long after the vast majority had gone, and got a rather sad round of applause from about 200 people, which he deserved far better than… To find out that players were subsequently told of their futures via Zoom prior to the Swansea game… This stuff will have been noticed, and seen, by players who are already here who we would presumably like to sign new deals at some point – Rob Dickie, Chris Willock – and players who might want to come here. We cannot say a single thing against them if they now decide to act in their best interests and fuck us over the process. Mark Warburton has already been on TalkSport saying allowing uncertainty to linger about players’ futures damaged the group, and while you may think that sounds like an excuse for poor performances, and may well be, Yoann Barbet went from 97 consecutive appearances to missing games with a non-descript knee knock – because why would you put yourself through it, as he had done at the end of the previous season, and risk not being able to get a club in the summer, as has happened to Moses Odubajo?
Modern day club legends like Clint Hill, Ale Faurlin and Charlie Austin, stalwarts of many years’ service like Nedum Onuoha, have all left QPR under this regime bitterly unhappy with how it was dealt with. You may be of the Moneyball opinion – one bullet to the head better way of doing it. It’s football, it’s tough, everybody knows the score. That’s fine. I think we should be a lot better than this.
16 – Sam McCallum B/C
I like Sam a lot, and his injuries were a big problem for us this season. He was brought here with us fully in the knowledge that Lee Wallace was vital to the style of play – that lop-sided left attack with him piling on and combining with Chris Willock as a queue of late arrivers at the far post lined up from the right which became an absolute hallmark of the 2021 form – but that he wouldn’t be able to play every game of a 46-match season. It had been a big problem early in 2020/21 when we tried to cover Wallace with Hamalainen, so McCallum ostensibly made sense as a loan. You could see how valuable he might be in that job share when he popped up with goals at Bournemouth and at home to Bristol City in the same week, and overall I was basically impressed with him whenever I saw him - though I still think Ebiowei torched him in that Derby game when everybody had a go at me for giving him a five. Sadly, that importance to the team rather started showing in desperation – they attempted to nurse him through games while carrying a hamstring injury, always a risky business, and that resulted in a blow-out against Nottingham Forest that cost him the whole winter. If I was Norwich, I’d have been distinctly unimpressed.
There’s a lot of focus on areas of the team that need work for next season, and strikers are always top of everybody’s list. With only Lyndon Dykes and Macauley Bonne signed up by way of senior strikers that’s more than fair, however as discussed on here time and again the accounts clearly show that without a significant, multi-million pound sale this summer, next season’s budget will have to be considerably tighter than the one just gone. With the market the way it is – and thank God Everton or Leeds didn’t drop into our division and start skewing the price for strikers the way Newcastle and Villa previously did, £10m gets you one part-used Scott Hogan or Dwight Gayle – I strongly suspect we’ll be back to relying on loans for forwards. Where I would be tempted to spend our money is in the wing back position.
Mark Warburton can justifiably point to more than half a dozen players who got significantly better and improved as asset value under his watch. Ryan Manning, Bright Osayi-Samuel, Ebere Eze, Rob Dickie, Chris Willock, Jimmy Dunne, Seny Dieng, all came on leaps and bounds under his stewardship. However, none of them are wing backs, and none of those who remain here are quick. By being so attached and investing so much faith and gametime in Lee Wallace and Moses Odubajo, covering them only with a loan from Norwich and another 34-year-old Albert Adomah, we haven’t developed a single genuine wide player who’s still here across the three years. There is, presently, nobody to play either position next season, which is nine weeks away. It also meant we were passing up an opportunity to add genuine pace into a slow team in two positions where, as Nottingham Forest have shown, it can make such an incredible difference at this level. You can dispute the figures but WhoScored.com have us scoring just three of our 60 goals last season in a ‘counter attack’. The team is slow. The five players in this write up who’ve shared the wing back roles share just 14 assists between them – our strikers were starved of crosses from wide areas, and as Charlie Austin showed against Everton, West Brom and Sheff Utd, even with his legs obviously gone, he would still score you a goal if ever you put one like that over for him.
Take the team we’ve already got, add two younger, quicker, attack minded wing backs to it, I think it would be transformative. That could have been Sam, but injuries curtailed his impact. The fact he won the club’s Young Player of the Year, basically by default, a damning indictment on the ‘development’ side of what is supposed to be a ‘development club’.
20 – Jimmy Dunne A/B
Now, this is the sort of signing I like. You’d never heard of him, and there were zero rumours of his arrival which meant Nottingham Forest couldn’t hijack it and chuck him on the pile with the others – he just pitched up here one day with his worldie missus and intense staring eyes saying he’d come to win a promotion. Just 23 at the time, 24 now, with not only Premier League pedigree from Man Utd and Burnley, but a load of lower league smarts having clocked up the thick end of 80 appearances out on loan. No pisballing about on pristine academy pitches piling over the top of the same five-time Chelsea FA Youth Cup winner every week here. Somebody who’s happy to go to Accrington, Barrow, Sunderland and Fleetwood is somebody who wants to play some fucking football, and get mucked into some challenging situations right away. Affordable, young, fit in every sense of the word, spotted by the recruitment and analysis team rather than because somebody knows somebody who knows his agent, he came here fully in the knowledge that we already had a settled back three and backed himself to break into that – which he did in double quick time. I absolutely love him, and the whole model of his recruitment. It’s here, in these early 20s lads that have got bored of waiting for a Premier League chance that will never come, and in League One prospects like Rob Dickie (my God why didn’t we take a similar chance on Scott Twine), that I think QPR can make a real killing, rather than trying to get Championship-standard players through a category two academy while surrounded by category ones.
It took until the end of September for a league start, but he’d already impressed in the League Cup, particularly the victory against Everton. No surprise that his first Championship outing from the start coincided with a clean sheet at home to Birmingham – Rangers had conceded 11 goals in the five matches immediately prior. For a while there through the winter he looked like the near perfect centre back for this club and this level. Strong in the air, composed on the ground, a threat in both boxes, he took to the club and the supporters immediately – I hesitate to say ‘he got it’ for fear of sinking into The Athletic tropes they use to fellate Steve Cooper, but there were certainly no Premier League airs and graces here. He’d come to fight, and to win, and the victories when they did come seemed to mean every bit as much to him on the field as they did to us in the stands. His performance and leadership of the defence in a near hour-long rear-guard action away to Coventry was Richard Dunne-esque, and celebrated with deserved gusto at the end. Harassed at close quarters from the side-stand gibbons at Luton while down injured in the first half, he remembered the faces and went to seek them out at full time of a 2-1 win – Nathan Jones felt this inappropriate and over the top, which is like getting a bollocking off Danielle Lloyd for fucking too many footballers.
A couple of points in the negative column, just by way of balance, because he’s obviously my kind of player, I think he’s been a great signing, and he knocked on the door of being the overall Player of the Season for me. His form, like the rest of the team’s, tailed off alarmingly. He developed this weird, nervous tick where he’d go to sidefoot a simple clearance out of his penalty box but miss the ball entirely, wafting his foot around over the top of it, almost like he’d got the wrong lenses in – this cost us goals against Boro and Peterborough at Loftus Road, and he also gave away a rank stupid penalty in that latter game as well. Like Rob Dickie, said mistakes seem to really get to him, when you’ve just got to get over it and get your head back in the game. And like Ilias Chair, that intensity and determination to win, can occasionally boil over into frustration and trying too hard – Ilias left the field at Bramall Lane in tears, Dunne did likewise at Stoke. Warburton was spot on when he said the trick is to work out how to deal with it and play when things aren’t going well just as you do when they are. And I do think players can suffer or benefit from a narrative building up. Dion Sanderson made poor errors early in his time here, and the narrative was that he was a bit crap, a bit of a liability, shouldn’t be in the team, only getting picked because of the loan deal and so on. Jimmy Dunne played brilliantly early in his time here, celebrated wildly and gave us a lot of his shirts, so the narrative was that he was superb and could do no wrong. I’m guilty of this as well when writing reports and doing player ratings. Actually, in the fag end of the season, there wasn’t a lot to choose between them. Sanderson had got a bit better, Dunne had got worse, and you look at that Sheff Utd home game where they spent the second half blitzing Murphy Mahoney from the air I initially gave one of them a five and the other a seven (since downed to a six) when if you watch it back on the tape neither were doing what was required of the aerially strong centre backs in that situation.
Overall though, fairly brilliant. Great signing, big asset, strong debut season, excellent holiday photographs. Big fan.
22 – Moses Odubajo C
I’ll say at the outset here that a huge chunk of my formative years following QPR were taken up watching Matthew Rose play absolutely superbly, week-in-week-out, for three or four months and rightly be rewarded with a new two-year contract, only to them immediately explode his ankle ligaments into a thousand pieces putting some shopping bags in the back of his car and vanishing off the face of the Earth for 18 months. Lather, rinse, repeat, every, single, time. It has, as discussed in Jordy De Wijs’ piece, lowered my tolerance threshold with injured players to somewhere south of Unfair, and made me deeply cynical and suspicious of players who go from being mostly crap and injured to persistently available and brilliant just as their deal is about to be up. This is my prejudice, and you should judge what follows in the knowledge that I hold it.
In the summer, when Moses Odubajo was playing for a contract, he looked like a world beater. There he was, against Manchester United, gliding, fucking gliding, down that right side like a swan with an outboard motor on the back. United couldn’t live with him at all, and midway through the second half he cut in from the right side and unloaded an unstoppable thunderbastard into the top corner from 25 yards. “Did we mention he can kick with both feet,” agent whispered into Les’ ear in the director’s box. Warbs Warburton said in interview with LFW that week that the deal was basically done (well I suppose it better had be now you’ve said it Mark - sorry cynical old me resurfacing there) and that “Mo” would be a tremendous asset, an athlete, rapid, and the quickest wing back in the division the next season. Contract bagged he then played like a complete tart, admittedly on the wrong side of the pitch, away to his former club Leyton Orient, and a week later up at Boro he got a proper roasting for 48 minutes at which point he made his umpteenth daft tackle of the night and was sent off, leaving his team to play with ten for the whole of the second half.
These were not isolated incidents. Apologies for the repetition but we assembled a strike force that thrives on crosses, and then crossed the ball to them about once a month. When Odubajo did go to the byline and deliver it was often good – goals against Birmingham, Hull and Huddersfield resulted – but his desire to cut infield from the right, onto his left foot, and get a shot away to try and recreate the Man Utd moment became painfully predictable and narrowed our attack to the point of impotence. Bristol City read him like a two-page novel, set a trap for him 30 yards from goal which, when sprung, was able to release Han Noah Massengo (who’d done the intercepting) into the space he’d left behind to set up Chris Martin for an opening goal in first half stoppage time. At that point the crowd, who’d bayed for his signing in the summer, were really starting to turn. On the other side of an injury-hit Christmas (stop it Clive) he turned in an individual performance in a disastrous 1-0 loss at Barnsley that is up there among the worst I’ve ever seen from a QPR player. We gave him a three and frankly he was lucky to get it.
Thereafter, he improved immeasurably. As the team and the season fell apart around him, Odubajo actually maintained a personally high level of performance. That was to his credit, it would have been very easy to phone things in at that point – as several others undoubtedly did. He was our man of the match in the shambolic home defeat to Cardiff when few emerged with credit (he liked playing them, he was absolutely stupendous in the 1-0 win in the corresponding fixture) and really with hindsight we probably should have given him the award at Luton as well, as you guys did on the interactive ratings. I’ll set my cynicism aside, because obviously as it’s transpired he’s suffered a very bad injury in the Derby game which rules him out for the next three months which, with the early start to next season, takes out his entire pre-season and now makes it very difficult for him to secure another club. At 28, with a chequered injury history, and financial chickens coming home to roost all over the Championship, that’s not a nice position to be in. QPR have low-balled him with an offer to come back on trial for a few hundred quid a week to see if he can prove his fitness to the new manager – one of several ongoing contract situations that have damaged mood, morale and relations between first team players, first team management, and the execs running the club day-to-day.
In the end, much like Lee Wallace, Jordy De Wijs and others – when he was fit, and available, and interested, he was good. But he wasn’t any of that often enough. And having spent time and money waiting for those three boxes to be ticked, here we are now trying to put a team together for next season on a budget with absolutely nobody anywhere within the club capable of playing his position.
28 Dion Sanderson D
Dion Sanderson played exceptionally well in two QPR games last season – unfortunately it was Birmingham City home and away and he was playing for the opposition. Given that, and Jordy De Wijs’ persistent inability to get fit, it felt like a prudent and ambitious move to bomb the Dutchman out on loan and move for Sanderson in January once a protracted attempt to get Steve Cook from Bournemouth had gone the way of so many Michael Hefeles and been hijacked by Nottingham Forest.
I did wonder, and worry, about what sort of deal we might have done for him. Premier League clubs don’t loan you their player for free with no strings – there’s often a fee, often an obligation to play him, and often penalty clauses if you don’t. You might, for instance, be allowed to borrow a player on 20% of his wages as long as he’s playing and getting the experience they want him to get, but if you don’t pick him then that contribution increases. Given we had a very settled back three of Dunne, Dickie and Barbet at that point, it made me nervous loaning out a player we owned (admittedly an injury prone one) to bring in another on loan where the pressure might be to disrupt the team and get him in. Still, off the bench he came against Reading and immediately belted somebody which the crowd enjoyed very much indeed so not to worry for now.
Sadly, and trying not to be too harsh, after that he was mostly dreadful. Against Blackpool he’d actually made a tremendous recovery tackle, and brought the ball away powerfully, when he then lost his head after being fouled and headbutted the geezer for a red card. Again, if you are going to headbutt the opposition, which you really shouldn’t, I wouldn’t recommend Tina Turner’s 1988 look for you – huge great mane swaying back and forth as he jolted his head to do it, even Gavin Ward notices things like that when he’s refereeing. With the possible mitigation that Yoann Barbet was carrying an injury by this stage, I thought it utterly lousy that a Premier League loan player then walked straight back into the team away at Nottingham Forest after the three match ban having let his team down so badly against Blackpool like that. Warburton, as I said in the goalkeeper write up, did often seem caught between the ideal of picking what he saw as the best team, and rewarding and punishing players for good and bad performances – resulting in inconsistencies in selection. Dom Ball and George Thomas, a big part of the rescue mission post-red card in that Pool match, weren’t seen again for several weeks, while Sanderson got straight back in. Poor, and brought me back in my mind to the paragraph above about what deal we’d done for him exactly. Warburton’s reward was a centre half performance against Peterborough as bad as you’ll ever see, where he made Jack Marriott look like the second coming of Johan Cruyff, and we delivered a mark even lower than the three Odubajo got off us at Barnsley.
There is another potential explanation for his persistent selection in the face of poor performances. At 22, with several loan spells under his belt, I think it’s getting to the point now where Wolves are probably ready to call it a day. He signed a four-year contract there only last summer, but the well-connected Athletic journalist says the mood at Molineux is leaning towards cutting ties after another centre half – Toti Gomes – emerged and pushed him still further down the pecking order. I wonder, as we did with Jimmy Dunne a year ago, whether we’ve spied an opportunity to bring a very good, young, ball-playing, modern centre back prospect in here for a bit of a song, and in the face of undoubted competition from around the Championship wanted to sell the club to him as a land of potential opportunity. Of course then you’ve got to decide whether his erratic performances for us were a product of poor form and nerves, having been parachuted into what he thought was a settled team pushing for promotion and ending up surrounded by a slow-motion shuttle disaster, or whether we risk repeating the Jordy De Wijs mistake of expecting all the faults of his loan spell to magically dissipate with a permanent deal. Will he change once you’ve married him, basically.
I’d be inclined to go for it, if it is indeed an option. Though sadly that’s based more on the stuff he did at Birmingham than anything positive he really contributed to our cause.
37 – Albert Adomah B/C
I was worried about Albert Adomah for a while there. God knows QPR love a populist signing that plays well on socials but isn’t what the team needs. The club could and should have signed Albert at numerous points in his career, particularly when he was available for buttons and playing down the road at Harrow Borough and Barnet. Having brought him here right at the end of his career, for a long time it was pretty clear that Warbs wasn’t having the king of the Instagram trick shot in his team. A brilliant and memorable late winner at Watford, a goal against Luton, getting that final ball right every time for Macauley Bonne’s sealer at Kenilworth Road and Bright Osayi-Samuel at Norwich the previous season had apparently done nothing to persuade the manager. With Ilias Chair and Chris Willock backing the strikers, and Moses Odubajo quickly nailing down the right wing back spot, Adomah didn’t start a league game until 13 matches into last season, at home to Blackburn.
It’s worth remembering that when Moses was sent off at Middlesbrough and suspended it was George Thomas picked to play right wing back subsequently at home to Barnsley with disastrous consequences – the Tykes were 2-0 up in double quick time, should have been four, and emergency surgery was required on the team before half time. Dominic Ball and Adomah came on as first half subs, completely changed the game, and shared our star man award in a 2-2 draw. To be fair to the manager, while everybody left Leyton Orient talking about and remembering Adomah’s OTT celebrations in the crowd at full time after banging in the winning penalty in the shoot out, his performance in the actual game was miles shy of Championship standard and didn’t exactly press his case. Nevertheless, his absence made decreasing amounts of sense – as he had done against Barnsley, he came off the bench with Rangers two goals down at Reading, set up a goal for Andre Gray, and was intrinsic to a comeback to 3-3 there, only to once again not make the team the following week. When Osman Kakay got toasted in that game at Dean Court, and Adomah came off the bench again to lead a fightback that nearly salvaged another point, the general mood was it was time to stop worrying about whether he could do the defensive side of the position and just let the poor bugger play.
When finally started, against Rovers, he was outstanding, penning back their best player Ben Brereton Diaz down that flank and making him spend the evening chasing back to defend rather than attack. Brilliant again a fortnight later when eventual play-off finalists Nottingham Forest came to town – a twist and turn assist of the highest order put the opening goal on a plate for Lyndon Dykes, Adomah knew he’d got it so spot on he’d actually turned to Ellerslie Road to start celebrating before the goal was scored. And there followed a very decent few months of consistently good performances from him. He scored crucial goals, gaining us four points, away at Birmingham and more memorably late in the day at Coventry – arriving late in the box at the far post from right wing back to convert a chance coming in from the left, as I said in the Lee Wallace write up Warburton’s QPR in this style and shape were at their absolute best when the two wing backs were combining cross-field in high areas of the pitch like that.
His tail off mirrored that of the team exactly. He was isolated, targeted, and absolutely annihilated by a smart tactical set up in the away game at Millwall. The key was always going to be making him defend rather than allowing him to attack and Gary Rowett wrote a blueprint for the division there which was subsequently followed to the letter for another chastening experience in defeat away at Blackburn. I believe QPR’s failure to play out was directly linked to losing Dieng and that lovely 50-yard ball he’s able to play out to the wing backs, but there’s also something to be said for a lot of teams getting wise to how we wanted to play second time around in the return fixtures – QPR only completed four doubles all year.
I also think we’d perhaps allowed ourselves to tilt more towards relying on the older, senior players than perhaps we should. Adomah is 34 and has played a huge amount of football in his career – basically an ever-present through ten years at Barnet, Bristol City and Middlesbrough, rarely missing a game at all. Lee Wallace is the same age and has suffered with a range of hamstring and calf problems since arriving here. Together they, along with Stefan Johansen and Charlie Austin, all seemed to hit a physical wall at the same time, and all four had been absolutely crucial to the spectacular turn around in form through 2021. Standing where we did at Bramall Lane in April gave us a perfect look at Adomah in the second half and, really, it was rather sad. He was miles off it. Even that ability to get the final ball right had deserted him, seemingly unable to lift the thing off the ground it was like watching a toddler try and kick a full-size and weight football for the first time. To be fair to him he did subsequently sling over a glorious cross for Charlie Austin to monster for his final goal for the club at home to Sheff Utd a fortnight later, and if he and we had been able to provide service like that more often then he and Lyndon Dykes would have had better seasons.
In the end I file this one as ‘nice while it lasted’, and I’d be very reluctant to extend his deal beyond this summer.
Conor Masterson is another one of those younger players well liked by a lot of people at the club, and supporters, but who Warburton didn’t rate anywhere near as highly. Like Osman Kakay, he picked him initially under duress and desperation, only to then be surprised by how well he did initially. A loan at forward-thinking League One outfit Cambridge was a great opportunity for him to press his case further, and with 21 appearances there and a further 18 on loan in Gillingham's failed bid to escape relegation I guess it’s been a season of good experience for him. However, he didn’t exactly tear up any trees and Cambridge didn’t seek an extension to the deal in January. Warbs would probably just point to that and drop the mic.
Joe Gubbins has also been a source of some agg between the academy and first team sides of the coaching set up at QPR. The former believe he’s at least good enough to be training with the firsts, the latter kept sending him back to Heston because he “didn’t know the system” as part of ongoing tension between Warbs and Paul Hall et al over the B Team and junior set ups not matching the first team’s back three system. The 20-year-old got two minutes of a League Cup tie with Oxford, three games on loan at Aldershot (W2 D1, two clean sheets) and then played nine times for Conference rivals Southend (W3 D2 L4, two cleans, 13 conceded) at the end of the campaign.
Aaron Drewe was rewarded for a rapid progression in youth football that had caught even the QPR coaches by surprise, and a successful loan at Oxford City, with a first team outing for the extra-time period against Rotherham in the FA Cup. Never has anybody been so delighted with a penalty save as he was with Jordan Archer’s, as he was up next. He's one of a couple I felt could at least have been taken along as a substitute in games like Stoke H, Bristol City A and Swansea A just to show a bit of willing on the manager’s part, rather than naming a short-handed bench.
Nico Hamalainen continued his Instagram-friendly career tour of the world’s shitholes with a loan spell sitting on the bench in Rio de Janeiro following two stints sitting on the bench at separate clubs in LA. Now 25-years-old and two years into a four-year contract, he contributed zero starts and zero sub appearances to QPR for his money this season. God I wish I had his agent.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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The U'sual Ramblings #2 by wessex_exile
The U’sual Ramblings #2, and the U’s first home match of the season. Much has been written on our narrow defeat away at Northampton Town last Saturday, not least that if they are the yard-stick for promotion contenders, we can take plenty of credit (and hope) from most of our performance, which really should have earned a point. However, we’ve seen these false dawns before – remember away at Notts County, and at Bradford, in recent years, where we thought we were playing contenders, and they turned out to be whipping boys for most of the season. Still, I don’t expect that of Northampton, so stout hearts faithful…and wasn’t it great seeing Nouble bombing down the wing doing what he does best again!
The U'sual Rambling #1 by wessex_exile
Here we go folks, are we ready for another rollercoaster of joy and dismay? Right now, I’ll probably take an even mix of both if it guarantees a solid midtable finish, but why stop at that. I agree with Durham in his excellent match review, given how well we finished the second half of the season, ignore the bookies perennial struggler tag – we can do this! For the new season, the blog has slightly metamorphosed into The U’sual Rambling, though largely the same format as last season, albeit perhaps less labour-intensive in content. In my case, pertinent for Saturday given I am missing the opener at Sixfields to dog-sit the beautiful (and high maintenance, super ridiculous, energetic etc.) border collie Reggie.
When Monday Comes #37 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes and we reach the end of a topsy-turvy season, much of which hasn’t been that much fun if I’m honest, though latterly considerably improved under Wayne Brown. If I can, I always like to do the first and last game of the season, but sadly a trip to Hartlepool just wasn’t on the cards, not if I actually wanted to get home again tonight, so I had to console myself with a pretty enjoyable trip to the JobServe last weekend – not quite the victory the U’s deserved over Walsall, but a great day out anyway. I know it’ll be too late for the Player of the Year awards, but wouldn’t it be nice to see a Freddie Sears hat-trick this afternoon to round off the season.
When Saturday Comes #36 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes tomorrow, and I will be on a train heading over to God’s own county for my last U’s game of the season. That should have been last Friday’s trip to the Principality, but as posted elsewhere I was more than happy to be pre-booked to dog-sit Emma’s collie Reggie that night and had to be content with one of Nadine’s ‘downstreams’ on iFollow. Given both the performance and the result, whilst I was sorry to miss it in person, I was more than happy with how Friday night turned out in the end. Tomorrow will be a gathering of the clans for us, with at the last count at least 8, possibly more, of the family gathering for the match. Ironically, I’ll see them all again on Bank Holiday Monday for a family birthday, but I’ll be driving over for that one.
When Saturday Comes #35 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes and the U’s have already given us a fantastic start to the weekend, with a stirring and well-deserved 2-1 victory at promotion-chasing Newport County. Yes, the Exiles had lost the previous three at home and are looking like they are going to bottle their chance for the play-offs, and yes with the U’s now safe technically we had little to play for, but don’t take anything away from this performance. If Wayne Brown is still being ‘interviewed’ for the full-time role as Colchester United manager, then last night was the equivalent of having an excellent incisive question of your own lined up for the interview panel.
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