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Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 4 Swansea 0
at 11:11 15 Apr 2019

Back by no demand, it's the Knee Jerks. Sorry to anyone who's vaguely missed me, but work commitments mean I've either had to miss games or not had time to do write-ups. Still, what a game to come back to. I'd like to say that result was coming, and I knew we'd do it eventually, but I can't. In fact, I was already mentally spending the £550 I was convinced I'd be winning in a few weeks when our relegation was finally confirmed. I hate myself for making that bet, but I renewed my ST in January - if we're going to play League One football, at least I'll be doing it for free.

1. EUSTACE: I think we all still use the term 'caretaker manager', but these days clubs eschew the imagery of a bloke in a long brown coat carrying a broom and smoking rollies in a little shed, and prefer the term 'interim manager'. Same thing, but grander title. We've had loads that I can remember. Frank Sibley on around 37 different occasions, Marc Bircham and Steve Gallen (a few seconds away from a memorable win at West Brom, them two), John Hollins, Gareth Ainsworth at least three times, Chris Ramsey, Mick Harford, Iain Dowie, Neil Warnock, Bowen and Niedzwiecki... and now John 'Eusty' Eustace.

How much do you know about Eusty? I knew less than I thought. I thought he was captain for yonks at Derby, but he only played about 60 games for them. In fact, his career only spanned about 300 games and was sold for a grand total of £250k, according to Soccerbase, and mainly played for Watford. Then he managed Kidderminster pretty well. So, all in all, we were allowed to be be underwhelmed by his presence as our boss, particularly after his first result. But then, suddenly, a recovery.

On Wednesday last week, he played horses for courses and made sure we were big and strong against Millwall and was rewarded with a rare clean sheet. On Saturday, he switched it up to great effect, picking a team full of energy to worry Swansea into mistakes, which we pounced on time and again in a performance that brought to mind both Adel Taarabt's demolition of Swansea (in apparent homage, BOS even replicated Adel's flicked pass to Clint Hill in the seconds before he nutmegged a completely broken Joe Allen - and in almost the same spot of the pitch too) and Mark Hughes's ultra-rare tactical masterclass (I know, right?!) in a 3-0 win on our way to safety back in 2012.

This was probably our best performance of the season, certainly our most dominant, and while you might argue Swansea were bloody awful and never helped themselves and have nothing to play for, they were on a run of four successive wins and had given us a good hiding earlier this season, so let's not belittle the achievement. It was a performance built on hard work and organisation topped with skill and (fairly) ruthless attacking play (we should really have had six or seven). From the outset, we never let them settle, we pressed them high and sensibly. At the back we were strong and fast, playing safety first, yes, but we haven't looked that confident in defence for months. Everyone knew what to do, and Swansea, while occasionally knocking about some pretty geometric shapes with their passing, simply couldn't handle it.

On top of that, Eusty and his team of scientists had clearly noted that the Swans keeper, Nordfeldt was not a fan of high balls - particularly in-swingers. In fact, the Swansea team as a whole would definitely have preferred we didn't keep swinging those in, because it made them feel very uncomfortable. But we kept doing it - Freeman only took corners from one side so that the superb Scowen could swing them in from the other. It almost worked after about a minute, and when it didn't, we pulled the same trick again and this time they weren't so lucky. And so it went on. Almost every cross could've been a goal. Actual tactics, actually realised during the game. It was like sorcery.

And all the while, Eusty was on the touchline, clapping his hands, urging the tireless Scowen, the relentless Cousins, the snappy Manning to keep pressing, to keep tackling, to resist the urge to drop deep. And they all responded.

It was very, very good. I haven't been that relaxed watching the Hoops since the early demolition of Sheff Wed a year ago, and even that got a bit nervy when they came back to 4-2. But Eusty is an interim manager, and at the moment that's all it is. Three games - one poor, one better, one very good. A personal goal difference of minus four has been dragged back within two games.So we can't get carried away, no one should (or is) demand that he gets the job. But maybe he might, after all, have given himself a chance of it.

2. HEMED: One huge risk Eustace did take was picking Tomer Hemed. Not a popular decision. And quite rightly it wasn't popular, because he's really not been a good signing. A decent start, followed by injury, followed by some pretty poor and, let's say, laid back appearances. I think most of us would have been happy not to see him for the rest of the season. When the teams were announced, his name was greeted with a muted murmur.

So God knows what happened, but this was like a different player - not quite Heidar in his 2011 pomp, but not that far off either. He won more headers in one game than he won in the rest of the season put together. He tried. He chased. He barreled about. He bullied Swansea. He scored two fine goals and could easily have had a hat trick. Where has this guy been? It was, and by some distance, his best performance of the season and was pretty much exactly what you want from your lone loan striker. I don't know what the difference was. Was it Eustace? Was there a scout in the crowd? Was the possibility of a contract dangled in front of him? Or was it just a early goal that gave him some confidence and some fight? Who knows. Fact is - great performance, well played.

3. RETURN OF THE RAT: I'd read from Clive's report that apparently the Rat seemed to be back. He was there at Hull and a little bit at Millwall. But on Saturday, he was properly back, for a whole game. But this wasn't just ratting. Yes, he harried, he won the ball, he kicked Swansea players, he was perpetual motion, recalling his best displays of last season. But there was also skill there too.

At the start of the season there was a story that he'd pointed out to McClaren that at Barnsley he ahd been an '8' - a box-to-box midfielder with license to get forward. The stats bear that out - 10 goals in 80 games there compared with 2 in 60-odd for us. But McClaren, and not unreasonably, told him he was a deep lying midfielder with the job of protecting the back four and giving it to our better players.

On Saturday I think it's fair to say he looked liberated. Yes he was tackling, but he tackled everywhere, from the front to the back, and combined that with some perceptive passing and some impressive tricks and flicks that Freezy would have been proud of. He was allowed to take free kicks and corners to good effect too. You do wonder, already, if Eustace sees more in him than McClaren (who barely used him) did, and that's in turn an encouraging sign that Eustace is his own man with his own thoughts on the squad. Scowen was likely man of the match in a performance that was not only back the highs of last season, but possibly his best ever in a Rangers shirt.

4. CENTRE BACKS: Whether or not Eustace was responding to fans feelings by dropping Lynch is difficult to tell. Last week, it was Leistner who sat it out, but he came back in the week and then Lynch was out by Saturday. I haven't read Clive's report yet, but I suspect he felt Furlong and Leistener needn't have changed out of their club suits on Saturday on what must've been their easiest game of the season. That was partly, of course, because of the phenomenal tackling and harrying by the midfield in front of them, but also because they looked comfortable and organised. We had experience with Leistner and Rangel, youth with Manning and Furlong, and pace with Furlong and plenty of aerial ability. Again, as you might've felt at the back end of last season, Furlong does seem to be more comfortable at centre back. He sees himself as a right back, I think he said years ago he wanted to be a Kyle Walker-like marauder, but maybe it's time to re-assess that. He looks more comfortable there. His pace is useful. He has a great leap. And he seems to complement Leistner well.

Toni himself had a very comfortable game. Poor Routledge tried going up against Furlong, and got little change, so switched to Toni, who easily bullied him out of the game, while the willing McBurnie lurked far too deep to trouble either of them. When McBurnie did, in frustration, have a little kick out at the BFG, he was, moments later, comprehensively cleaned out. We never heard from him again. Do not mess with Toni. Some hope in defence for us, there, perhaps, because a lot of work needs doing there this summer.

Also, so happy for Darnell to finally, after shots cleared off the line and headers hitting the bar, to get his first goal for the club. He should be a bigger danger from set pieces and hopefully he'll get them a little more regularly now.

5. MANNING: Which side of the Manning fence do you sit on? The one where he's overrated, and gets better the more he's out the side? Or the one where he's the answer to all our problems and has been treated badly by both our last two managers. I'm on the fence. I think he had a superb impact when he got in the side over 2 years ago, but then I thought Ollie left him out of games he should've played him in and played him in games he probably shouldn't. I think he hasn't been consistent. I don't think he's better than Freeman, Luongo or Scowen. But I also think he does have a lot to offer. He's tenacious, skillful, he has energy and stamina and passion.

On Saturday, as with the Millwall game, he was really good - so good, Dyer, a frequent scourge of ours down the years, was removed at half time after Manning not only marked him out the game, but also tricked round him on at least two occasions. You can't have your winger being mugged off by a full back all day. Ollie experimented playing Manning as a left wing back and I always liked him there. He is a great passer and a very good crosser and he has the energy to get up and down the line all day. Where he scores above Bidwell comfortably is his ability on the ball - if he could improve defensively I genuinely think he could turn into a quality left back. Some will not like this. Some believe a player has a position and that's it. To them, I say: Clive Wilson.

Manning is not the answer to our worries, but he is a good player and perhaps he isn't our long term left back, but for this game, he was excellent and a joy to watch.

NEW MANAGER: What Eusty has given the club is time. We're not safe yet, but it will take a pretty incredible run from Rotherham (and a couple of other teams) for us to drop now. You'd also hope that we might actually put a couple of results together ourselves because the confidence must be back after Saturday. Had we lost the last two, there would be full-on panic and the need to appoint someone - anyone - would be driving a decision that could easily be the wrong one. Now, no such rush exists. The club can wait until the summer. Do a thorough job. Maybe even consider Eustace if results keep improving. Amazing what one win can do.
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McClaren gone - official
at 10:59 1 Apr 2019

Haven't got a subscription to Murdoch's rag, but...

The club want ANSWERS, damnit!

I think he might get Saturday if only because it would be unfair on the new guy to be in charge of an inevitable absolute humiliation live on sky.

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Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 1 Rotherham 2
at 21:37 14 Mar 2019

Well, if you weren't one of the 19,000 that crammed into Loftus Road last night, you'll be regretting it for the rest of your lives. A scintillating game, played between two cavalier sides at their absolute best, play swinging from end to end like a basketball game where all the players are on speed. Tough tackles, incredible goals - everything you could want from a game at this hallowed level. Breathless stuff from the ref's first powerful blow of the whistle, which seemed to set the tone for the excitement ahead, to his final, exhausted blast - a man as dead on his feet as the rest of us having witnessed a match for the ages, one that will be talked about for years and will surely go down as one of THE greatest 'nights under the lights' at Loftus Road. Absolutely superb - everyone was hoarse at the end as we piled out into the night sky, smiles beaming, limbs aching, eyes disbelieving. This, friends, was pure football.

1. INEVITABILITY: I was going to do all six jerks like that, but truth is, I can't. Because that was truly a pile of dreadful crap played between two God-awful sides, the only surprise being somehow, between them, they managed a shot on target at all. Rotherham were utter garbage - hard working and full of honest endeavour - but garbage. Three months ago we'd have swept them aside as we did Ipswich on Boxing Day. How happy we were back then. The fact that we contrived to lose to them - and deservedly so - tells you all you need to know about the utter poverty of this excuse for a performance.

And of course you knew we'd lose this. Lloyd Doyley, Swindon Town, Daniel Amokachi, John Jensen... any team on a bad run, any player who hasn't had a goal for 10 years, roll up, roll up, roll the fk up to Loftus Road, or invite us to your place, and get that giant monkey off your back - and without hardly trying! The ultimate soft touch once again, the ultimate team to face when things are really bad. If only we were playing QPR on Saturday.

2. MCCLAREN: I've seen people on the board ask for 'McClaren lovers' to come out and defend him and while I can't really understand the apparent glee some fans have when their opinion of a manager is eventually proved, somehow, correct (the fact is, you could say every manager we've had for the last 25 years has, in the end, been 'proven' to be wanting - even the rare good ones), there really is no defence anymore.

No one has ever 'loved' McClaren at this club. He had a couple of songs sung in late December, but otherwise, fans have never warmed to him. I and others were, rightly, pleased with his job even as late as the end of January. Sure, league form had tailed off, but we were still in the FA Cup and December in particular had been a great month, despite losing three of our four loan/free signings to injury. There was a settled side that worked, we played 4-2-3-1, we got goals, we could defend sometimes. There were plenty of positives. Players at least seemed to know their roles and while the talk of play-offs at the start of the year was always likely to be fanciful, a decent final position looked nailed on. Job done. Look to next season.

But the wheels haven't so much come off as spontaneously combusted. And the rest of the car is on fire too. It seemed unthinkable even two weeks ago after the Leeds win, but we are, somehow, genuinely in danger of being spectacularly relegated. This is an appalling run, worse than any last season. Our home form is dreadful, our away form is worse. The players looked knackered and completely devoid of confidence. And while I don't think changing manager is a good idea (when has it really worked for us?) you do have to ask how many games this one can possibly lose before he's shown the door. Because something has to change and at the moment he doesn't look as if he is the man to do it. He's tried 3-5-2 and 4-4-2, he's gone back to 4-2-3-1 but, Leeds apart, none of it is working.

Circumstances have conspired to some degree - a long run of tough games that featured some particularly cruel luck has led to some dispiriting results. The players have looked tired for a while, and you can't blame them really when they had that tricky run of 11 games in 30-odd days or whatever it was. And yet, some of that is of McClaren's own making. You can understand wanting to keep the same team, especially when it's winning, but everyone thought he didn't do enough to rest key players over Christmas and he's paid for that dearly.

Last night we looked as lost as we did in that shellacking at home to Forest last year - the game that, for me, spelled the end of Olly's reign. In fact, we looked worse. McClaren's dug out some big results when he's needed to this season, but he's starting to look as if that's beyond him this time. Nothing last night suggested he knows how to turn this around - in fact, several decisions (BOS skinning their left back, getting him booked and then immediately is told to go and play on the other side of the pitch, for example) suggest the opposite. We are in serious trouble here, and if we lose the next couple - which seems likely - I'm not sure how he can survive. And then what? Thoroughly depressing.

As I sit here now, he's on Sky talking about his career, and despite it all, I like the guy. He seems nice. I think the players like him too. But it was probably recorded a few weeks ago and he ends the show referring to our recovery from the terrible start to the season, before adding: 'Things change quickly in football.' Yep.

3. FURLONG: I love Darnell. I thought he did so well to come back from injury and take Rangel's place and for a month we never missed him. He's a great professional by all accounts. He works hard, he's a great person, he speaks well, he always wants to improve. But currently he sums up our plight more than anyone. It's just gone. Bereft of belief, scared to make a mistake, stopping doing the things he was doing so well, wanting to just get rid of the ball as soon as he gets it. It's absolutely painful to watch. The problem is, with so many players out of form, there's no hiding place.

4. HEMED: Eight touches in the second half. I didn't count first half, but I suspect it was a similar total. Offered almost nothing, hid behind his man, never attacked the ball, never moved into space, never showed for the ball, never chased adequately, never harried. Nothing. Thanks Tomer.

5. LATE GOALS: One of the many signs of a poor side is blowing it late in games. Not having the nous, or the skill or the stamina to get the result that you should get. Bristol, Albion, Birmingham and now Rotherham. Points chucked away for whatever reason so late in the game. Points that would have given us four more points and definite safety. It's not good enough and each time it happens it gets harder for the players to pick themselves up again. And now, understandably, the fans are losing sympathy.

6. THE BRIGHT SPOT: Mr Osayi-Samuel. At least he tried. At least he wasn't scared. At least he kept going. And he got a goal (which, to be fair, was a very good move). I mean, it wasn't great, he was a 6/10 MOTM, but then when everyone else is about a 3 or a 4, 6 seems pretty good. A meagre positive to take.
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Alphabetical XI
at 10:06 12 Mar 2019

Couldn't sleep last night, but in the end what sent me to sleep was trying to think of the best Rangers team I could think of, but the team had to be in alphabetical order.

I know. And yet, from what I've heard (Sat games are out for me for a bit due to work, so knee jerks will be rare for the rest of the season for those that say kind things about them), it was still more fun than QPR v Stoke.

This is what I came up with:

GK: Barron
RB: Bignot
CB: Carlisle
CB: Fenwick
LB: Hill
RW: Impey
CM: Luongo
CM: Rowlands
LW: Sinclair
ST/CAM: Taarabt
ST: Wegerle

You have to stick to that order, no RB, LB, CB, CB. Anyone bored enough to find a better side? If anyone can do it with Bowles either on a wing or up front you're a better man than I.

Post of the Year.
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Antti's Six Knee Jerks: QPR 1 Leeds 0
at 13:50 27 Feb 2019

Finally, it's over. At last, we are no longer on 39 points. I tried everything. Varying where I ate and drank before games. Different scarves. Wearing my glasses. Not wearing my glasses. Predicting wins. Predicting losses. Half time drink. No half time drink. And none of it worked - it was all stupid superstition that makes no difference to anything. Until last night - then, finally, I got the combination right. I cracked the code. Can't tell you what it is - that would break the code, like telling someone what you wish for when blowing out the candles on your child's birthday cake. Anyway. You're welcome.

1. FREEMAN: Jesus Christ. I mean, everyone's already said how good he was last night and my only argument with any of that would be I think he's reached that level more than once already this season: in short, he's been outstanding and a clearer Player of the Season we can't have had since Adel in 2011. Ahem.

Anyway, last night he was our talisman, his skill on the ball and determination off it giving us belief and hope throughout. As against West Brom, he scored the goal that gave us a platform and reminded us that, actually, we're not a bad side at all. Sure, we can play crap. But, never forget, we can play really well too.

At times, it was like the ball was made of metal and he had magnets in his toes - Leeds players continually looked as if they'd nick the ball off him and suddenly he'd twist, turn, stick his arse out and get away from them. Outstanding. Last night, he started reminding me of Lee Cook in his golden year that mostly came under John Gregory. That may seem an odd comparison because their styles are quite different, but in some ways - beyond their excellent delivery and ability to keep the ball in tight situations - there are similarities. Back then, Cook was our out-ball, our hope, the one we relied on to produce something special when we needed it. I remember Cookie at West Brom one night - they were battering us, and somehow he produced two moments of beauty to conjure goals from Nygaard to help us draw 3-3. Without him, we'd have been nothing.

We're a better side than that QPR side, but Freeman's influence is similar. But it's not just that - it's that he has really kicked on as a player this season. The moaning is still there, but it's been toned down because McClaren has made him a leader on the pitch. You can see that maturity in him now. Less moaning, more working his arse off to win the ball back. Gone are the decorative step overs - he still uses them, but now he looks for the right ball more quickly and more often. His running is more purposeful. And he must spend hours practising dead balls at training.

He doesn't look like a footballer. He has that waddling style Clive mentions; his hair is all blown dry and floaty; he looks slow, but actually can't be, because he can get away from defenders when he needs to. But at the moment, he is fantastic. A gem. Enjoy him until the end of the season and let's hope he gets a good move to a club that'll appreciate him and use him properly - ie, not wasting him on the bench like poor Smithies.

2. MCCLAREN: Ignoring social media, which is mainly just people making themselves feel better by being horrible to people they don't know, it's heartening to see that there has been little vitriol aimed at McClaren and no real calls for him to be sacked, beyond the perfectly reasonable, 'well how many games *can* you go without winning before being fired?'

OK, so last night the fans understandably took a while to get going, and there were the usual moaners around me, complaining about Every. Single. Thing. 'Nooo!' 'Too hard!' 'Too low!' 'Don't do that!' 'Chase down absolutely everything ever, even if it means you'll be exhausted by the 55th minute!' The flip-up plastic seat tacticians that know as much about football as the Loftus Road squirrel. One behind me was desperate for us to continually press their last man, even though one of the few times we did do that, we got caught too high, they passed through us and Leeds should have scored. But in the end the place was rocking, helped by a typically noisy following from Leeds.

The reason it hasn't got poisonous (although had we lost last night and against Brentford, I've no doubt it would have done), I think, is because the majority of fans can see that while this bad run included games and periods of games (Wigan, Preston, Boro, half an hour against Birmingham) where we were pretty rank, at the same time, we haven't been that bad in a lot of other games. Irresistible for a half against Birmingham. Very good for an hour against Bristol. Matching Watford and Albion for long periods. So there's been hope and you can at least see what McClaren is trying to achieve. Even when things are going wrong, it's rare that it's appeared the players aren't trying and even when formations have changed, the players have understood their jobs.

He went tried and tested again last night and while there were some hairy moments, particularly first half (and understandably - teams don't come out brimming with confidence after seven strauight league defeats) he was rewarded. Now, it's about getting as many points as possible before the end of the season and then, well, see if we can raise a competitive eleven, minus Freeman, come August.

3. LUMLEY: Poor bloke's had some stick lately. Some deserved, some a bit harsh. There's no doubt he's had a bad patch - whether that was down to the -studs-in-face debacle at Villa or not is open to question. It could just as easily be a combination of pressure and mental tiredness after being number one choice at this level for the first time in his life.

Dips in form are common for all young players though - and he is still 'young' in terms of his position and the number of first team games he's had. You have to hope that the players are strong enough to bounce back from those runs of indifferent form. Last night, Lumley showed incredible character I thought. A good save from a header first half was couple with a couple of poor kicks (one particularly weird one to the left missed Bidwell by some distance. But, his clean sheet remained unblemished and as the game wore on you could see him growing calmer. Two or three great punches from dangerous corners; better distribution; determined in his decision-making, and rounded off with that match-saving double-save (triple save?) that really was as good as a goal.

Really impressive and so pleased for him to get a league clean sheet again for the first time in a long while.

4. LUONGO/COUSINS: While Freeman and Lumley will deservedly get the praise, the truth is there wasn't a bad performance out there. Nervous moments of course, but no bad performances. And mostly that came down to really hard work, exemplified by these two. Luongo was for the most part very good, the tone set early on with two absolute crunching (and fair) tackles that let Leeds know this wasn't going to be a walkover (well, probably not). He then worked like a dog alongside Cousins, while still finding time both to set up with winner with a wonderful run, and also almost score goal ofn the season with his volley. Cousins was his equal. Clearly relaxing a little now he's nailed a starting place down, he's playing really well, his energy, his bite in the tackle, his desire never to give up. All things we desperately need in there. Good teams are often about partnerships and one is starting to develop here.

5. HALL: It seems Hall has now moved ahead of Lynch on merit. Back in the side after a sensible rest at the weekend, Hall still doesn't look quite the player he was - shirt out, he looks more like a tired, injury-battling warrior than the elegant defender he was a couple of years ago - but there are plenty of signs he may just be the player we need after all. We have to hope so - at his best he's good in the air, not slow, strong, and he can pass a ball. Without doubt, a very decent championship defender. I can't really point out any single thing he did last night other than a lovely tackle to deny Bamford in the first half, but surely that's a good thing? Like refs, if you don't notice your centre back too much, does it mean he's doing a good job? Fingers crossed.

6. PAV/FURS: Another partnership down the right. Both had their issues last night. Furlong, uncharacteristically jittery and suffering from some not-great form as of late (not exactly surprising, I think he's played every minute of every game since he replaced Rangel, and when he started that run he hadn't played a competitive game for 6 months), looked terrified of making a mistake. Pav, pounding diligently up and down the touchline, winning the ball, beating the hapless Alioski 4 times out of 5, nevertheless went to pieces every time he crossed the ball. Five times (minimum) in the first half, he had great crossing chances and spunked them all up against the wall (or out of touch by the ellerslie somewhere).

Yet both continued to fight, continued to work themselves into some kind of form. They worked very well together and by the middle of the second half both were having storming games. But my jerk here, really, is their reaction at the end: amazing. After so many games watching our players curl up into balls after defeats, this time, Pav was on the floor, full length, arms out, exhausted, relieved elated. Furs just behind him doing something similar. Then they got to their feet and hugged it out. Brought a tear to the eye. Well done lads.
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