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End of Term Report 23/24 – Goalkeepers
Friday, 17th May 2024 09:07 by Clive Whittingham

The first of our annual four-part individual assessment of the QPR players’ performances during the previous season always starts with the goalkeepers – and, regrettably, that means we’re puncturing the recent feel-good factor round here by beginning with a negative.

If you want to hear the LFW panel, including stats man Jack Supple, debate the marks for this year’s report you can do so via all three subscription tiers in our Patreon. Part one, keepers and defenders, is live now.

1 – Asmir Begovic D

Queens Park Rangers finished the season with three wins from their final three games, lifting themselves to 18th and putting six points between them and a bottom three they’d occupied throughout the autumn and winter. There was a degree of ‘what on earth were you so worried about’ to the mood and atmosphere on the final day at Coventry. For so long Rangers fans had dreaded a repeat of 1996, when Eoin Jess (rated as one of Coventry’s worst modern day signings) scored his only goal for the Sky Blues to all but condemn Rangers to relegation. In the event it was all blow up dolls, Marti masks, and pubescent virgins storming out of their executive boxes to have a bit of a remonstrate with the away end before being pulled away by their girlfriend (who goes to another school).

There were moments within those three games where the tide could still have turned. QPR, desperately trying to break a two-year losing habit, had been beneath the waves at least twice already and would almost certainly have drowned with a third – no time left in the campaign to save themselves. The first was against Preston at Loftus Road, with the score still at 0-0, when the visitors’ lively winger Liam Millar broke clear in the centre of the penalty box for a wide-open shot at the goal from eight or so yards out. The second was at a similar point in the Leeds match, Rangers 1-0 up this time, when a cross right through the box found Crysencio Summerville, top scorer and divisional player of the year no less, steaming in at the back post with a firm volley. Both were saved by Asmir Begovic. Millar’s finish was poor and you’d expect a stop, Summerville’s was not and the footwork required to get across goal and then propel the other way was excellent. Begovic made another save in the second half from Matteo Joseph, wrongly awarded as a goal kick. Goals there risked a whole different story being told, instead 12th and 13th clean sheets of the season were kept (a respectable total for a club as low down the ladder) and it’ll be glamour trips out of Euston to Bolton and Preston next season, rather than the humiliating horrors of trips out of Euston to Wigan and Blackpool.

We have, you’ll notice, deliberately started with an aggressive positive. It’s played on my mind starting this summer’s end of term reports with a vitriolic rant against somebody who, whatever his other failings, seems like a decent, intelligent guy, well liked around the club and by the other players. Having stayed up we can shake hands this summer and say farewell (we are shaking hands and saying farewell, right? Right?) with no real harm done.

Nevertheless, and of course the mark at the top is rather a spoiler, Asmir Begovic was a poor signing for QPR in 2023/24.

As we correctly called at the time the deal was announced, to some hostility in the comments (ahem), the whole thing was pretty bleak from the start. A relatively young and progressive goalkeeper who had attracted interest from Everton and others, held onto too long until his form and value cratered, offloaded for whatever we could get for him to a Championship rival where his form promptly recovered. We replace him with a 36-year-old big name, with zero sell-on value, who had, as far back as 2015, chosen to bench sit behind the first choice for ‘big clubs’ like Chelsea, Everton and Milan. When he did go back to being a first choice, for bits between 2017 and 2021 at Bournemouth, it didn’t go particularly well. This trend for essentially giving up on your career in favour of topping your pension up doing bibs, balls and cones for a Premier League club has proved attractive for many goalkeepers in recent years – Rob Green, Richard Wright, Scott Carson, Lee Grant, Jerzy Dudek, Carlo Cudicini, Alex Smithies and others have all done it. The examples of clubs turning round to one of those guys and asking them to come back and be a first choice, 46-game goalkeeper are far rarer. QPR found out why that was in 2023/24, and it’s unlikely other clubs will be in a rush to repeat the model.

There were, initially, some positive signs. Begovic was fairly excellent in early clean sheets on the road at Boro (2-0) and Birmingham (0-0), though in the latter required a remarkable goalline clearance from Sam Field to help him out. Overall, though, he looked big, slow, stuck to his line, and with a poor command of his penalty box. His footwork was that of an early round exit from Strictly Come Dancing. Perhaps he was stung by his obviously incorrect, and immediately rescinded, red card at Leeds when Patrick Bamford did what Patrick Bamford does so often, but before and certainly after that trying to get Begovic off his line was like extracting a very large wisdom tooth. There was a horrendous flap for a game-sealing second goal in the Boxing Day debacle at Millwall. Most weeks, his heat map looked like a Japanese flag.

His distribution, bar one huge throw at home to Hull which set QPR away for a splendid counter attack goal, was shocking – mostly straight into the Ellerslie Road stand under Gareth Ainsworth, then terrifyingly around his own penalty box under Marti Cifuentes until the lifeline of Jimmy Dunne at right back was thrown his way.

That wouldn’t have been toooo bad had his shot stopping been up to par. As far back as August, when QPR played well and were unfortunate to lose at Southampton, he was conceding a goal to Fandab Edozie that he should have been able to save in his sleep. It quickly became clear that his footwork was miles away from the standard requiring. He just couldn’t shift a frame that seemed to be physically declining years in weeks – you’d watch QPR Tuesday, come back on Saturday, and Asmir Begovic would be five years older – with the speed and agility required for the level. The pink kit was not flattering. Rather than dive he would collapse from a standing start, which meant if the shot was further away than the length of his body, it was a goal. Jake Livermore, one goal in five years, scored twice in ten minutes from a cumulative distance of 60 yards. Leading a crucial home game with Millwall 1-0 with time ticking away, he was spared a Tony Roberts-level horror only by a dramatic goalline clearance after a routine daisy-cutter was somehow allowed to squirm between his two gloves, through his body, and off towards the unguarded goal in an agonising, sliding doors moment. A beautiful afternoon for 3,000 of us in the away end at Leicester was turned into a traumatic ordeal by a ‘save’ you’d bollock an under 8s goalkeeper for – punched rather than parried or caught, down and back into the traffic rather than away from the goal, Steve Cook just looked at him aghast with arms outstretched and that very much reflected my mood as well. Cook and Jake Clarke-Salter turning on through balls and long punts and frantically beckoning their keeper to walk off his line and take the ball became a weekly ball ache. Of the 50 Championship goalkeepers who got minutes last season, Opta rated Begovic as the third worst for shot stopping, costing the R’s something in the region of seven goals. That figure was on the low side for me.

It felt like it was building up to a big mistake that would cost us in the closing games, and when he once again committed a fundamental technical horror show – why punch or catch when you can flap at it with two open palms? - away at Plymouth to gift the hosts a late equaliser it seemed that moment had arrived. I don’t know what they’re going to teach at this soccer school of his, but I’m not sure I’d be sending my kids there for half term. He didn’t take kindly to a comment from the away end at full time, and was moved away by teammates, but it had long gone beyond the point where a QPR crowd would ordinarily have turned on their keeper – particularly one with a penchant for appearing on Chelsea podcasts referring to “we”, Instagramming his trips to “The Bridge”, and sending automated Tweets flogging his branded merchandise out an hour after he’s spaffed one into his own net away at Millwall.

Gareth Ainsworth rightly prioritised the arrival of some experienced old heads and “culture guardians” last summer to solidify a squad that had looked entirely lost at sea in 2022/23. Steve Cook, and latterly Jack Colback, showed the value in that strategy. Begovic, on the other hand, was a textbook example of getting one of those wrong. You’re bringing a guy in who has played precious little first team football for literally years, and wasn’t particularly good when he did play most recently, here to be first choice. He’s primarily coming not for any great football reasons, but because the club is located nearer to his home and new startup business than where he was previously. Ainsworth then absolutely fawned over him, making him captain, talking about how lucky some idiot scum club like QPR were to have such an enormous name in the sport as Asmir Begovic, and how he couldn’t believe somebody like that would want to come and play for him. Ignoring the previous point about why Begovic actually wanted to come here, this attempt by Ainsworth to paint QPR as some miniscule underdog, just lucky to be going to places like Leeds, was a huge part of why he failed here as manager – the idea we could become Wycombe 2.0, and that we as fans should just be head-over-heals flabbergasted that Oh My God It’s Sam Vokes would want to come here because he’s “heard about your dressing room” was never, ever going to wash. It was also, as Cifuentes proved, wholly unnecessary, even with this flawed squad of players.

The kindest thing you can say is we got away with it, and he did play quite well against Leeds.

In numbers…
46 starts, 0 sub appearances, W14 D11 L21, 30.435% win percentage
60 goals conceded (1.304 a game), 13 clean sheets
1 red card (Leeds A, Bamford The Cheat), 4 yellow cards (West Brom A dissent, Stoke H time wasting, Ipswich A time wasting, Blackburn A time wasting)
1 LFW MOTM award (Ipswich A), 2 supporter MOTM awards (Hull H, Ipswich A)
LFW Ratings — 5, 7, 6, 5, 8, 5, 5, 8, 4, 6, 4, 5, 5, 5, 5, 6, 5, 5, 6, 8, 6, 5, 6, 5, 7, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 6, 6, 5, 6, 5, 5, 6, 3, 6, 5, 7, 5, 4, 3, 7, 8 = 5.5217
Interactive Rating – 5.79

Others >>> One of the big issues with Begovic, and perhaps the reason it took until Plymouth for anybody to say something at a match, was the common acceptance and understanding that there simply was nobody else. His form was so bad through the spring that it became a bit like being stranded on a desert island with only a copy of The Daily Mail (you’d rather nothing at all) but as you can’t start without a goalkeeper everybody just seemed to reason that we were stuck with him to May for better or worse. That was then called into some question in the dead rubber at Coventry where Joe Walsh made a long overdue league debut for the club and not only made a string of saves in ascending order of quality, but also calmly hung around in the far flung corners of his box all afternoon and showed what a difference having a keeper, even a very inexperienced one, doing that makes to your defence, performance, height of your line and so on. Would it really have done us much harm to sling Walsh in earlier? Of course the pressure of games like the homers with Preston and Birmingham versus an end-of-term meaningless knock about in the sun cannot be compared, but on the evidence of what Walsh produced on the final day and what had gone before it might have been worth at least a go.

We wait to see if Walsh, who has been offered a deal, will stick around next year or push to play somewhere else. His loans to this point (nine games for Accrington in League Two over the winter this year, W3 D3 L3, conceded 12, three clean sheets) have been low down and fairly non-descript. Brazilian Matteo Salamon (20) is the one the regular watchers of QPR’s youth and junior ranks seem to rate as the bigger prospect now he’s filled out physically. Murphy Mahoney got 25 games under his belt for Swindon (W7 D7 L11, conceded 53 at a rate of 2.12 a game, four clean sheets) before an exploded hamstring ended his season at Christmas. He was praised for his distribution and ability to play out from the back, but there were some horror scores among that record (seven conceded to Aldershot, five to Wrexham, four to Wimbledon and Stockport) and doubts remain about his physical stature.

The running theme in these goalkeeper write ups for several years is the poor standard of our scouting and recruitment. Since 2015/16, when Alex Smithies arrived from Huddersfield and Seny Dieng was picked up as a development prospect from Europe, we have not made a single successful signing in that position. It is now 2024. In fact, there have been several howlers. Jordan Archer had shown himself previously at Millwall to not be good enough for this level but has nevertheless picked up three years of the sort of money a 31-year-old senior goalkeeper would attract while playing four times. This season, as in 2021/22, one of the few times he was used (Norwich H in the League Cup) he got injured. Through the second half of the season he didn’t even make the bench. The Dillon Barnes transfer still rankles with me – another senior keeper, who’d shown himself incapable of even playing at League Two level, paid for three years while not playing first team or development squad football, or going out on loan for regular games, or even, it turned out, being in our 25-man squad. When an unlikely string of events meant he was required to play, they brought in first David Marshall and then got Keiren Westwood out of retirement instead. He’s now at Harringay Borough in the Isthmian Premier League.

I know analytics in goalkeeping lags behind that of outfielders, but I find it strange that whenever we’ve asked a manager or the head of recruitment at QPR about the position they’ve basically washed their hands of it and said it’s handled by Gavin Ward the goalkeeping coach. The Begovic deal, we understand, grew from a conversation between Ward and Andy Lonergan – another who’d abandoned first team football in favour of bench sitting for the likes of Leeds, Liverpool and Everton and played with Begovic at Goodison Park – who knew he wanted to move south and might be up for it. This doesn’t suggest a whole lot of thought and scouting going into things – more Sunday league standard recruitment, “oh my mate Andy knows a guy”.

A goalkeeper that better suits Marti Cifuentes’ system and the style of play we’re trying to put in place here – hell, a better goalkeeper full stop – is a top priority for this summer. It would be a major, not minor, short-term gain for the team straight away versus last season. A major gain for the club, medium and long term, would be a significant improvement in how we’re scouting and recruiting for this position in general.

Links >>> Keepers >>> Defenders >>> Midfield >>> Attack

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qprninja added 11:29 - May 17
Begovic's "we go again" comment after Coventry fills me with a dark terror.
Let's hope that the new CEO, who seems to be very shrewd and is doing a top job so far makes some changes to the goalkeeping recruitment policies.

phegarty added 21:41 - May 17
I find all the demonisation of Begovic rather OTT. There were plenty of other players who were crap. I still hope QPR get another keeper though...

BazzaInTheLoft added 05:09 - May 18
You have to imagine Walsh must fancy it.

I hope he gets a full pre season and starts for us in the opener, assuming we havn’t got another young keeper with sell on value lined up.

hoops_legend added 07:05 - May 18
Thanks Clive. Happy for him to stay as a back up to a young keeper next year. But his role should be no more

Phil_i_P_Daddy added 19:04 - May 19
Criticism OTT IMHO. Don't recall any clamour for Archer at any point or any moves for anyone better. Begovic was a mixed bag but did a job. Solid C for me 💁🏻‍♂️

Esox_Lucius added 14:32 - May 22
One facet of the chart in the report; goals scored vs shots faced: AB has a much better average than most of them in the list. As good as Meslier and much better than Matt Ingram. From a personal viewpoint I think Walsh and Salamon might be all we need for next season.

pidoc added 02:47 - Jul 10
Good information! What can change?

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