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Blackburn Rovers v Queens Park Rangers prediction logged
Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 1 Leeds 0
at 19:33 20 Jan 2020

I suddenly noticed during the second half that I'm becoming calmer watching this team. Usually when we're 1-0 up I'm on the edge of my seat, desperately hoping for a bigger cushion (for the team, not for me) and praying for us to hold on. Now, i feel relaxed. Not because I think we'll hold on to the lead, but because I assume we won't. Accepting we'll concede at least twice is actually quite liberating, and when on those rare occasions when we don't, the pleasure is merely doubled thanks to the element of surprise.

1. STYLES: Clive may comically deride this league for its desperate nature, its propensity to bear large similarities to a fight involving buns, and its drive to set records for sheer number of games to be played in the shortest month of the year, but I have to say, it is rather fun.

A big part of that fun is us. We are the funnest team in a division of fun. Our style means we rarely complete a game without being fun in some shape or form, but our style can also mean real fireworks. and when i say fireworks, I mean both kinds: the kind that we stare at and go 'wow! ooh! aah!' at, and the faulty kind that blow up while you're lighting them and leave you with a flayed hand.

It means that some sides, however good they are, will struggle against certain other sides that they should, on paper at least, beat easily. And others will beat sides quite easily when you might expect the games to be closer. For example, if the current Brentford side could pick a perfect team to play against, it would be us. Willing to attack, hugely vulnerable at the back, absolutely no chance of deciding to play for a 0-0 with a deep, packed defence and five strung across the midfield, no pace through the middle or at full back. We are made for them.

Leeds are not made for us, because they're a very good side. If you look at league positions, they should be beating us fairly easily. Yet despite them sitting above Brentford in the league, we were always going to enjoy more success against them. Leeds always have plenty of the ball, but they don't have the pace or the power of Brentford, nor do they have Brentford's stiff defence. They give you a chance, and with a team like ours, we don't really need to be give much of a chance. So while we had fortune in our win, Leeds never came close to the sort of dangerous domination Brentford enjoyed a week ago. They had plenty of the ball, but created very little. As Liam Kelly said, apart from the penalty, he perhaps only had to make two decent saves, and would have been disappointed had either gone in.

The difference in the two games was fascinating considering we were playing two teams of such a similar calibre. But that is the Championship. Teams are constantly going on long runs of winning and then of not winning - we're not the only ones. Teams have patches that propel them up to 8th, 7th, 6th, only for them to drop back down to 17th within a month. And vice versa. There isn't a team in the Premier League that has happened to this season except, perhaps, Southampton. And I love it.

2. THE MASTERSON: I won't spend too much on our saviour of the defence as it's been done very well by plenty of other people on this site already, but he did have a very good game. Big ticks are his heading ability and positioning - he headed away a lot of the ball on Saturday - and his comfort on the ball. Not ruffled, not rushed, happy to receive it even if he's in a fairly tight situation. And he's not afraid of making himself heard, either, which is important for a CB and especially in a team like ours which is not the loudest you'll meet (for all Leeds' fans complaining about us and the ref, it wasn't our players constantly in the ref's ear for the entire game).

He was done rather easily by Bamford in the first half, but things like that can happen to any defender, let alone one making a rare senior appearance at the start of their career and is at least excusable. But I will add a couple of things. The first is to commend Warburton, who could easily have put Leistner straight back in the side this week but decided that Masterson deserved to retain his place. That is one huge plus I love about Warburton - if you come in and do well, you will get a run and not be dropped once an established first teamer returns. Eze is perhaps the only player who could not be kept out the side by someone else. Secondly, for all the deserved praise Masterson has had, it's worth remembering that he's young, that this is only a couple of games, and that young players very often come in reeking of adrenalin and that is enough to carry them through the early matches. It is after that, after the first 10-15 games, when you start to really see if you have a player. Comparisons with Alan McDonald, or suggestions he should play every game for the rest of the season are not really helpful. It should be, and is, a one game at a time thing. Criticism of certain players has been well over the top, but I sometimes think this comes from there being too much praise early on - witness some posters deroiding others now for saying positive things about Lumley a year ago, for example.

3. LAST SEASON: There are inevitable comparisons with this season and last season. Both games 1-0. Both games Leeds deserved more out of. But in other respects this was a different game. Last year we really were fortunate, winning with a bit of luck, a bit of skill, some tireless work and of course Luke Freeman playing like the devil himself. This time there was nowhere near the intensity, we didn't require a virtuoso performance, and what we got was solid performances, if no spectacular ones, from all over the pitch. Leeds meanwhile did not create anything like the same amount or quality of chances. This time, they looked beaten long before the final whistle and bereft once they went down to 10 men. There's much discussion about our progress and how much (if any) progress we have made (considering our similar number of points and similar league position), but this game did show the difference in how we as a team coped better with Leeds, and did not need superhuman interference to deliver three points.

4. BRIGHT: Another mention for Bright. He's appearing here quite a lot lately, so I'll keep it brief. With no Hugill (who Warburton must've been wishing he could call on to give us someone to hold it up front and win the odd header), Wells did a brave job trying to compete for Kelly's long balls, but so did Bright. Using his incredible strength he constantly got his body between ball and marker and tried manfully to retain possession for us. I thought he battled really well and caused them problems all afternoon, and his one thrilling run where for a moment i thought he might somehow pick his way through a whole pack of chasing Leeds hounds, was almost the icing on the cake. Becoming a big player for us - that goal at Birmingham has transformed him.

5. WALLACE: It's taken him half a season, but he may now have finally won the left back slot, at least for a while. One of the reasons Warburton probably settled on Masterson in defence was that he had the option of putting Wallace next to him, giving him tha t valuable experienced head next to him. Wallace was also an improvement on Manning for his defensive side of the game, certainly stopping more crosses than Manning has been managing. That's not to have a go at Manning, who obviously has aspects of his game that are better than Wallace, but that bit of solidity at the back certainly helped us on Saturday -and maybe that added bit of organisation too made him a smart pick. Be interesting to see who plays against Wednesday.

6. CONTENTIOUS DECISIONS: I think it's fair to say it was handball - even under the old rules, when it hit Wells's right hand, it should have been disallowed. My rule on this is always to imagine what I would think if the decision went against us, and on this occasion I would have been annoyed. Not furious, because he did not know anything about it, and it was accidental, but certainly a bit cross it hadn't been seen by the officials. Having said that, the new handball rules seem to be nonsensical, where a handball in one situation is punishable, but not punishable in another situation.

Palace had a penalty awarded against them on Saturday which was then overturned after VAR. Yet it was a handball. Had Aguero used his arm in the same way and then scored, then it was no goal. But the Palace player doing likewise was not penalised, even though the intervention of his arm could have prevented a goalscoring opportunity. It is utter madness.

As for the Leeds penalty, there's no doubt Bamford dived, and no doubt Kelly tried to pull away. It probably should not have been given, but I wasn't too angry about it. Those ones tend to be given and I'd expect us to get similar ones in most cases (unless it involved our old Matt Smith). Fortunately, Kelly made a superb save, although I have to say he owes me a drink. Just before the penalty I stared at the ball, willing it to move, like Uri Geller did before Gary MCAllister's penalty at Euro 96. I think it did just slightly move, causing his small scuff, that helped Kelly make the save. I'm claiming it as at least partly down to me.
Stats on Eze
at 23:11 18 Jan 2020

Noticed some stuff about Eze on the match thread today that were not overy critical, but i still felt were unfair.
Hist stats today, for the record.

52 touches - most for QPR
88% pass accuracy - highest of QPR starting XI
10 ball recoveries
9 dribbles attempted - most on pitch
6 successful dribbles - most on pitch
2 key passes - as many as anyone on the pitch
2 shots
1 interception

Just because he's not single-handedly blowing the opposition away, does not mean he's not playing badly or not working hard enough.
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Antti's Six Knee Jerks: Brentford 3 QPR 1
at 12:22 13 Jan 2020

The most predictable result since lame race horse Mr Predictable attempted to take part in the Predictable Stakes at Royal Predictable in Predictableshire.

1. SELECTION: Like many others, I looked at the team selection by Warby and immediately thought, 'hmm, that doesn't look too promising.' The defence looked like a back four and keeper that Brentford would pretty much name as their ideal back four and keeper to play against. My conviction that this was likely to be a fairly easy home win was solidified.

At the same time, though, it was only two games ago that there were claims on here that the team put out for the Cardiff game was one that was a defensive side made up to nick a 0-0 draw. Turns out, that wasn't quite the case. Sometimes selections can surprise you. I was convinced Dom Ball would play RB v Cardiff - the idea of Cameron playing there seemed bizarre - but it worked. So I wasn't about to jump on Warbs's back about it.

Also, there was the point that he really didn't have a great deal of choice. While Graham Cameron may have been fine as a full back against the aerial attack of Cardiff, he was unlikely to be as well-prepared for the trickery and speed of the superb Benrahma. Rangel's experience might have been better, but he doesn't seem to be able to play more than an hour this season without needing time off. So Kane was his only real choice. At left back, he could have played Wallace, who had after all played left back in the two recent maulings. But Manning was back from his rest and it was only a couple of weeks ago that Warbs was being castigated for playing Wallace instead of Manning up at Barnsley - and his presence there didn't stop us from shipping five. In central defence, where we are already weak, we had two of our three senior, natural CBs out. You can say Masterson did well second half, but Brentford still created chances pretty much at will and had long since had the game won before he came on the pitch. I'm not sure he would have made any difference at all. So, I do have sympathy for the selection at least. I have less sympathy for what actually then occurred.

2. SET PIECES: And here's the main bone of contention. We have almost conceded as many goals just from set pieces as Brentford have in total this season. It is such an obvious, glaring weakness now that it's almost comical. To be fair, I actually thought Brentford's first was very difficult to defend. A hard, low ball from very close to the box - it is extremely difficult to beat someone to that when they know what's coming and you don't. And once he's hit it, from that range, there's not much you can do when it's in the corner. So I don't blame the defence or Wells for that one - but, as Clive says, Manning's foul was needless and when we are so poor from set pieces, one way to mitigate that is to not give away stupid fouls.

Their third was more typical of the set piece goals we've consistently conceded all season and this is becoming critical. I don't mind passing from the back, I love our style of play, I love how exciting we are in most games, how many goals we score, our at times excellent passing and imaginative movement. To have that, you do have to play in certain ways, take certain calculated risks and make certain sacrifices. But none of that involves being so unable to defend set pieces adequately. I also don't think it can be fixed merely by switching from zonal to man-marking. It's clearly deeper than that. I'm not, however, a defensive expert. I don't know if this is poor coaching, no coaching, or we happen to have a set of players who are simply not great at dealing with crosses into packed areas. But a team that often fields Hugill, Leistner, Hall and Cameron really should not be having a huge problem - all are decent in the air. It is true that teams target our left post - in other words, Manning, and maybe that is becoming a problem too big for our left back to deal with.

I don't know what the solution is, but I do feel it's one that can be solved. I saw Bosh calling for Clint Hill to be brought in to coach the defence, and while I kind of see the logic in that, I can't see why he'd leave an assistant boss role to be a defensive coach, I'm not sure we have the luxury to pay for such a specialist role, Fleetwood's defensive record is good (better than ours) but not noticeably great and, finally, just because we love him and he was a great captain, it does not necessarily mean he is a great coach or defensive coach. I'm not saying he's not, but I'm not sure how we *know* at this stage of his young career. This *should* be something Warburton and Eustace can fix themselves - and it really needs to be a priority now, because every team knows how weak we are in those situations. It may be that playing Wallace more regularly and bringing in a new CB alleviates the problem, but I met a Brentford fan on the way to the game who said Warbs's Brentford team couldn't defen set plays, and Forest fans say the same. It does seem to be a real problem with him.

3. FULL BACKS: I thought both full backs had poor games on Saturday. Manning was below par throughout, and his wonderful crosses and passing do seem to have dropped off over the last few weeks for some reason. First half, Mbuemo had him well tied up, so he must've been relieved when in the second half Brentford all but abandoned attacking down our left, so dominant was Benrahma against a game but completely out-classed Todd Kane. I don't want to pick on players, and I have mentioned this before, but right back is a huge issue for us now. Positionally, neither full back seem to get close enough to their wingers, and it's rare that either of them stop a cross. That improved when we played more of a diamond in midfield, but with Eze and Bright playing higher up again, these two are getting exposed by decent sides. On Saturday, Benrahma didn't so much rip Kane a new asshole than tear away all the flesh just to live one single gaping hole for his intestines to flop out of. It was absolutely horrific and it's beginning to happen too regularly. He is not a bad player, he has a good touch, he has a very good cross, but defensively we need more. You would imagine Rangel will have to go this summer, and I suspect a right back is very high on Warbs's wanted list.

4. LUMLEY: I was shocked Lumley was picked for this game. I like him, I still think he has a future, as I'm convinced that nearly all younger keepers go through tough times, and it's only in their late 20s / early 30s where they really start to blossom and become consistent and have that huge experience to rely on. You often see it with young players - an eplosive start, then a drop-off, then a sort of second-coming. But at the moment, it seems obvious to me that he has tobe taken out of the firing line. When you think back to the player we had 13 months ago, the player who never shut up, who you could hear yelling throughout the game, who was buoyed by incredible confidence in his own ability, and compare it to who we have now, there is no comparison. And you cannot be a nervous keeper. You cannot be a keeper who is struggling with confidence. Because then every single thing you do is a problem. Every kick, every cross, every shot. When Lumley has to think, at the moment, he's in trouble. He's not happy coming off his line, sweeping up, as he was a year ago. His handling is not as safe. His kicking, which while never great, was decent, has become erratic.

It was good at the game to hear the fans cheering him, giving him encouragement during the second half, in stark contrast to the nonsense he's faced online. But this is a shell of the player we knew, and for his own sake he must sit it out for a while. I applaud Warbs's faith in him, and no goal on Saturday was totally his fault (we should have been able to defend his poor kick - it wasn't great, but it wasn't like he presented Mbuemo with a free run on goal), but Kelly has to be given his chance.

5. CAMERON, BRIGHT: On a more positive note, I think both these two deserve a bit of praise. Neither had a great first half. Cameron was culpable for the second goal and generally struggled, while BOS got no change out of Henry (another excellent player) on the very rare occasions he actually got the ball. But second half, at least those two (and to be fair, most of the team) battled. Cameron came out and snapped into challenges, usng his big frame to its full advantage to spider over players and continually win the ball with some bone-shuddering challenges. He demanded the ball, he went looking to win the ball, he showed desire and fight.

Bright did likewise. He was very evenly matched with Henry, who must be one of the few full backs in the league who can match BOS's pace. But, by sheer bloody-mindedness, by using everything he had - skill, strength, pace, desire, he made things happen, he set up a goal, and caused problems. Othet players would have folded a bit, but he kept Henry tied up, and at least stopped him marauding forward - not that Benrahma needed much help up there. Great attitude from both.

6. FANS: I sometimes give some of our fans a bit of stick, but they deserve praise here. I wasn't enamoured by all the songs. Bus Stop in Hounslow is funny before the game, and would be funny if you were winning 2-0. But at 0-3, it sounds utterly pathetic. There was a very, very brief rendition of that awful 'we're fkn sh!t' song, but thankfully it didn't last - it has to be said, while in the past it had some merit, it was extraordinarily mean to chant that off the back of our last two results, however poorly we were playing. But those two niggles aside, he fans were excellent. I fully expected the end to be half empty at the start of the second half, but everyone seemed to stay and the humour was good. When you see Villa fans walking out after 28 minutes last night, that shows how good our fans are. I'm not sure anyone did that. The willingness to sing in the second half was great, and the 'We've got the ball / We've lost the ball / We'll win it back' chant was genuinely funny - the 'win it back' part was fantastically defiant too - loved it. And well done all the fans who gave Lumley their backing - he appreciated it, you could tell.

What we have to temember is that Brentford are on a a steep upward curve. This is not overnight - this is years of work. And while we can all be wise after the fact now, there were precious few, if any, fans saying we should be more like them 6 or 7 years ago when they started on this journey and we were in the Premier League singing about how rich we were. As Clive pointed out - they are a model, but not just for us. For loads of clubs. For loads of much bigger clubs then them - and us - but the key is patience. We're seeing green shoots. We're on the right track. If the most negative fans, who came flooding back on here on Saturday after their relative placidity after the previous two games, could accept this instead of always demanding instant change, we'd all be a lot happier.

Clubs of our size and similar, whether it's Norwich, Fulham, Birmingham, Bournemouth, Watford, Palace and now Brentford, will never, ever have prolonged success in the top flight. Bournemouth have had a wonderful run, but that looks like it's coming to an end. Palace are dojg well, but at some stage in the next 10-15 years, they'll be relegated. History tells us this. You can demand the best, you can demand change, you can demand whatever you want, but our clubs, our mid-sized clubs, simply cannot and never will reach the stage where, like Spurs, Everton, Arsenal, Man U, and now City and Chelsea, relegation is almost an impossibility. In my view, we already reached the bottom of our curve, and we're starting to swing up. But that upswing, of a kind more sustainable than the one built quickly by Warnock, however much we loved it and loved him, simply takes more time. We will get there. Praise be to the fans who'll stick with us.
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Great debuts
at 15:08 7 Jan 2020

Following on from the praise for Masterson, what are the best QPR debuts you've seen?

Clive Allen's is an obvious one, but I wasn't there. For me, Gareth Ainsworth stands out, brilliant debut v Blackpool. Lee Camp, first time. Jamie Mackie's was decent.

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QPR Player of the Decade
at 23:27 24 Dec 2019

Guardian has done a player of the decade for each prem club. Some odd choices, but who would ours be? I know the club have been doing team of the decade, but player?
I’d say the runners snd riders are...

Adel Taarabt
Clint Hill
Shaun Derry
Ale Faurlin
Chaz Austin
Nedum Onuoha
Luke Freeman

For me, the sentimental choice is Ale, the solid choice in terms of effect and longevity is Clint. But there’s only really one answer.

Adel Taarabt.
Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 2 Charlton 2
at 12:15 23 Dec 2019

A frenzy of mistakes, fights, occasional brilliance, joy, heartbreak, unexpected cameos from people you'd assumed were retired and at the end a real sense of nostalgia. But enough about the new Star Wars film - let's talk about QPR v Charlton. BOOM! TOPICAL!

1. MISSED CHANCES: Many hands have been wrung at the catastrophe of that last minute goal which some seem so upset about I had to check the table to see if we were were 6 points adrift at the bottom, rather than it being a bit of a freak goal that happens to every team every once in a while, but the reality is, at it was against Reading, Boro and other games this season, that goal would have meant nothing had we taken our chances to score the goals we should have done.

It's bizarre to sit here writing this sort of thing again when only one team on the division has scored more goals than us this season - and they're top. But it's true. We score most weeks, and yet we still should score more. Against Luton we scored three, but should have had six easily by half time. Luckily that time we got that extra goal we generally need to win a game (unless we're playing Barnsley away). This time, we only managed two. You could say with all Eze's shots that brought saves of varying quality from routine to excellent, he was unlucky not to score, but when you have that many shots you'd hope one would go in. But then there's our strikers, both of whom I love dearly. And both of whom have a decent scoring record this season, we should remember. But, still, we have Hugill who is guaranteed to blaze at least one into the upper tier at the Loft End every week, and Wells who is at times deadly, and at others... well, that's the second time this season he's raced clear with no defender much closer than Westfield and he's found a way to miss. For someone as technically skilled as him, it's baffling that he should miss that. And you felt at the time it would cost us - and in the end, it did.

2. KANE: Toddy Kane has plenty of upsides. He's quick. He puts in a decent cross. He works hard. But there are big issues. When targeted and left isolated, he seems to get beaten more often than not. Clive Wilson he is not - but then, who is? He has that annoying habit of going forward, checking, turning back and laying off a dangerous backwards pass that takes pressure off of him, but puts more pressure on the team. On Saturday, frankly, he was absolutely destroyed for most of the game. Bullied and hammered in the first half, nothing was done at half time by Warburton to redress the glaring problem at half time. If anything, Kane went narrower, affording more and more space down their left - an out-ball that was always available. And he was seemingly completely unable to stop the flow of crosses. I couldn't help thinking that Rangel would not have allowed that sort of thing to go on for so long, but Kane looked lost and had no real idea how to solve his problem.

The solution, however, was plain: Bright Osayi-Samuel on to play in front of him and force Charlton onto the back foot down that side, and also have BOS tracking back when needed, too. Warburton was a bit testy about people questioning why Bright was left on the bench. I have some sympathy there (not that others were not culpable but his failure to watch ball or man for Barnsley's 5th last week was not a great look) because he is a young player and there's nothing too much wrong with putting him in and out. The mistake was waiting until the 66th minute to make the change. I wouldn't have argued had he done it at half time, but to wait that long when it was such a patently obvious change that would solve so many solutions seemed very strange to me.

Still, Kane is beginning to look a bit like what he seemed at the time: a hasty stopgap following the unexpected sale of our right back. With Rangel surely likely to retire at the end of this season, especially as Warbs has barely used him anyway, I think we'll be in the market for a right back next summer.

3. EZE: A friend of mine is a West Brom fan and he says that when he watched them in the late 70s / early 80s he and his mate would walk out at the end of the game and discuss who was man of the match. But for that period, they had to change slightly. The answer, every week, was Bryan Robson, so they just discussed who was man of the match 'apart from Bryan Robson.'

Eze is starting to get to that sort of stage with us now. It's fantastic when you get to see a player really develop over a couple of years. For me, from the first time I saw him, I could see he was special. What we've seen since his improvement in every single area of his game to the point where he stands out in every match we watch. I know Clive has BOS down as MOTM, and I won't argue with that, such was his impact, but I thought Eze was superb. His control, his grace, his intelligence, his movement, his accuracy, his calmness. Just brilliant. That trick he repeats again and again where he cuts past a defender and seems to duck underneath them in a tight circle before accelerating away seems almost undefendable. I was watching Spurs yesterday and just thought - you know, you could stick him in this team. And I really think you could.

We have to be so clever with this deal. We do not need to sell immediately, we don't need to negotiate. Just keep saying no, because his price if this continues will just keep going up. And on top of all that, who was the player, on his haunches, absolutely distraught at that late equaliser? Eze. Upset perhaps that he shot a couple of times when he could've taken it to the corner (although the old 'taking it to the corner' thing seems to have had a baclash recently from some who believe it doesn't particularly save a lot of time, and merely keeping possession is a better option). But I won't blame him for that. For me, the game was won - we shut them out of it very well, we were not put under any pressure, we didn't retreat to the edge of our box and have to defend for our lives. The game was won - a poorly timed header cost us badly. Still, here's a player who must know he's going if not in one month then certainly in six, and look how much he still cares. A gem.

4. HOLDING ON: There were plenty of charges of unprofessionalism and so on from posters about that late equaliser. And it was heartbreaking as well as a terrible gift of a goal to give away. But at the same time, as mentioned above, I disagree with that a bit. The fact is that from the 80th minute we controlled the game beautifully. We attacked fluently, we should have killed the game off, we kept possession well and we defended sensibly. Charlton did not make a chance in that time, nor did they put us under any pressure. It was good football. But then came the hopeful punt, the misjudgement from Cameron (I am firmly blaming the man-bun - if it was a bit gigher up his head, it would've had ore of an impact and taken it beyond Sarr and safely to Lumley to shank out for a throw in). It was a poor goal, but overall, I thought we dealt with the end of the game well. It was again, an unfortunate mistake that cost us.

5. PRATLEY: I mean, this guy looked finish seven years ago. How is he still playing football? Somehow he's only 34 - I could've sworn he was 39 minimum. He's been around forever. And here he was again, taking out Eze nice and early, a clear and obvious booking which was not given on account of it being early in the game. So he did it again, still no booking, but he engaged in a lengthy diatribe (diatribes are always lengthy) until finally the yellow was produced. I was convinced Pratley had a week booked in Dubai with Joel Lynch, but turns out that was his seventh of the season, so he's already had his ban, so I'm not quite sure what he was playing at. Still, that shut him up and for the rest of the game we got to see Eze turn this waster inside out a few times. Hopefully retirement is imminent.

6. BRIGHT OSAYI-SAMUEL: Shall we just start him in the next game? That was a message to the manager, wasn't it? What a performance. Not seeing quite so many 'no end product' messages about now, after a goal of the season, an assist, and now an assist of the season. Very, very exciting. When he, Eze, Chair and Manning are on song together they look unstoppable.
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Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 2 Preston 0
at 11:01 9 Dec 2019

It feels nourishing, doesn't it? Like a massive, warm winter soup full of goodness, bursting with vitamins and minerals and joy. A win. A comfortable win. A comfortable win with no goals conceded. I'm licking the bowl clean and I'm asking for seconds.

1. FORMATION: There's been a lot of chat about Warburton's so-called 'no plan B' (aka he doesn't put a centre back up front and force the other centre back to loft it up to him 15 times in the last five minutes), but the evidence is he has lots of other plans. A different plan for MW, however, doesn't necessarily mean a complete change of style. Because abandoning a way of playing is a dangerous road to go down - it's a waste of everything you've done before, for a start. Equally, just because results have not been great, it does not necessarily mean wholesale change is needed. The fact remains that had we not been painfully careless against Reading and Boro, we would still now be hovering around the 4th play-off spot. So while the Tw@tterati may be panicking and typing obscenities towards their favourite whipping boy, we're lucky that Warburton is not a manager who panics.

Since the Forest game, which was not quite as bad, other than the last 10 mins, as has been made out, we have conceded once - and that a 30-yard exocet free kick. And while the way we have played in those games is definitely a modification of our play so far, it's far from abandonment of it. Saturday saw us play, I thought, with a midfield diamond and the result a team who finally looked comfortable in itself, and a set-up that saw everyone knowing their job and their responsibilities. Leistner at his best once more, because his job was to wrestle with a physical attacker and when the ball is in the air, to head it. Kane and Manning were more effective going both ways, because unlike when we play with three centre backs, they had cover if they bombed forward. Eze had his favourite free role. Wells had someone to play off. And Lumley was given free rein to boot the ball away if he saw fit, which he usually did, and as a result he looked more assured too.

Because everyone knew their job and also because everyone worked very hard, we suddenly looked extremely solid and, as we all should have guessed, we managed to keep our first clean sheet of the season against one of the league's top scoring teams. It was great management - Preston like to harry and press high, so we on the whole kept the ball out of those areas where they would be most dangerous - although on at least two occasions we still showed we could pass our way beautifully out of trouble if circumstances dictated.

All of this was to the delight of a few fans around me, who cheered every long ball and screamed in anguish every time someone tried to pass the ball from behind the halfway line, but they will be disappointed, because undoubtedly MW will keep working towards a more fluent style of play that starts with the keeper and, in the main, rejects the long ball.

2. PUGHIE: A cry of despair was issued from the magical fingertips of Westbourne R on these pages last week, with regards to our thirtysomething winger/attacker/midfielder thingie from Bournemouth. Where was he? Why was he not much good? Why is he so concerned with nice food? (Westbourne did not pose all these questions, I exaggerate in the hope of regaining your rapt attention). And it was like Pughie read it himself. Maybe he did, while eating a delicate Carbonara (homemade pasta, natch). Because I thought he was great. His workrate was superb - constantly closing down players, giving Kane some real protection that he in truth has needed all season, and also a threat going forward, culminating almost in a goal, but instead a decisive penalty.

I will agree with Westbourne that we have not seen enough of this Pugh, but in truth he has rarely had the chance. I thoguht his early sub appearances were promising, but if you're a man like Pughie used to gorging on (healthy) gourmet, low-fat, low-salt, high-in-fibre, high-in-good-stuff food, and are fed table scraps of 10 minutes as a sub here and 5 there, perhaps it's no wonder we haven't seen the best of him. This was really good, and also encouraging, because we will need to use our squad over, altogther now, 'the crucial festive period.'

3. CAMERON: Graham also had his best game of the season I thought, and it was a performance that harked back to his best under McClaren - sitting in front of the back four, winning headers, and working with the two centre backs. In previous games it's been noticeable that when Leistner sometimes chases his striker out trying to win the ball, he gets caught out of position. With a back three constantly stretched wide by high wing backs, the gaps he left were enormous and frequently exploited. On Saturday that gap was plugged. Several times Leistner chased his man out, but each time Cameron simply let him go and stepped back into his place, plugging the hole and keeping our shape. Again, an example of everyone understanding their role. Cameron was not really required to maraud forward either, saving those big ol' American legs, yet at the same time he demonstrated his occasional eye for a great through ball. Last year around this time it was his wonderful pass to Wszolek v Villa, this time it was a more delicate chip to Eze for the first goal. Great, soccer, Granville.

4. EZE: It was one of those games where you could ask 20 people afterwards who was man of the match and you'd get at least 5 different answers. Haven't seen who Clive gave it to yet, but for me if you get two goals and you play like Eze did, you get the champagne. He may have given the ball away once or twice, but I can barely remember it. Now our top scorer, and looking increasingly confident in his ability each week, he is an absolute joy to watch and deserved his ovation when he was substituted late on. It baffles me how he moves, because he is effortless, yet once he's running he seems to outpace most defenders. He'll get shouts around me from people saying move it quicker, but I don't think anyone moves it quicker than him, it's just that he, like the great Ray Wilkins, just seems to have so much more time than anyone else. He is just brilliant and I think is benefiting hugely from MW. It was interesting in the gaffer's comments afterwards that he acknowledged how well he played, but also mentioned he was still working on other aspects of the game, the defensive side, even though it is now indisputable that Eze is nothing if not a team player. His second brace of the season - a hat trick may not be far off. Hope it's for us.

5. BOS: He's had a real struggle to force his way back into the side, first because of injury, then because of a formation that didn't really have a place for him. But now he is back in and you can see his determination to keep it. I really think there's so much more to come from Bright because the building blocks are all there: pace, skill, strength, work rate. He's had some criticism for lack of end product (that bane of the lives of nearly all wingers), but I actually thought on Saturday that he put one or two very nice crosses in, had a very good shot that went just wide, and linked up well with the strikers and Eze. There weren't many crosses sailing over the bar or whatever and on another day he easily could've had a couple of assists. Perhaps most impressive, as others have pointed out, was his tracking back, his helping of Manning, and as a result we looked much more secure down that side.

6. MISTAKES: Been saying it for ages, but if we cut them out we're a different proposition. On Saturday, they were cut out. Not that there weren't the odd hairy moments, but you're always going to get that. In the end, because concentration levels were high, we restricted Preston really to only two really big chances - one in the first half when Hall executed a great last ditch tackle when Lumley had maybe come out a bit early; and one in the second when Lumley made what was undeniably a fantastic save, with a very strong hand down to his left. And that was it. A superb response to the Forest game, and four more points towards safety.
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