End of Term Report 20/21 – Defenders
Tuesday, 18th May 2021 17:08 by Clive Whittingham
Part two of our annual examination and grading of the QPR squad focuses on a defence that went form 76 goals conceded and six clean sheets, to 54 and 14.
2 – Todd Kane D
Having rushed to judgement and repented at leisure a thousand times before, I’ve been making a real effort to try and stay on the fence with Todd Kane for as long as possible. While Dave Sexton, Terry Venables, Steve Wicks, John Spencer, Ray Wilkins, Paul Furlong and others have all shown Chelsea connections, heck even outright Chelsea fandom in Super Ray’s case, is no barrier to success and adulation at QPR, it is certainly the case that the journey into bad books and boo-boy status is a lot shorter at our club if you’ve come via Stamford Bridge than if you haven’t. See how much benefit of the doubt was afforded to Joey Barton, Ji-Sung Park, second season Djibril Cisse, Stephane Mbia and others during that horrible period of our history compared to Jose Bosingwa and Shaun Wright-Phillips. Note also the different attitudes and reactions to Jordan Cousins’ years of underperformance at Rangers compared to Todd Kane’s. It’s like falling asleep and ending up at the end of the Metropolitan Line - reaching the status of ‘Chelsea cunt’ takes no time at all, getting back from it (as Furlong did) is like the Lord of the Rings trilogy.
So, I’ve tried to keep an open mind as Kane has increasingly replaced the likes of Josh Scowen as the scapegoat of choice – though this has increasingly felt like Homer Simpson talking himself into his runaway hog roast still being edible when it comes to a stop. I didn’t like the sale of Darnell Furlong, somebody I saw doing ten years at QPR and captaining the club flogged for a pretty measly £1.5m to be replaced with exactly the sort of waster, happy to get rich signing contract after contract and complete one loan into neutral territory after another at a club he’s never got a hope in hell of playing for, that I’ve come to despise in the modern game. But, if somebody offers QPR £1.5m for an out of form right back who cost them nothing in the first place, and you can replace him with a mid-20s player with heaps of experience in this division from a Premier League club for nothing, then you do that and I accept it. It’s just a little dirty, it’s still good.
I don’t like the way Kane defends – I thought it was very telling that we lost twice as many games as we won with him in the team in 2019/20 (W9 D5 L18) whereas when Angel Rangel played his position it was 7-6-7. But then in a Mark Warburton team the full backs are pushed very high as attacking weapons - and Kane is much more attacking than Rangel - and are therefore likely to be exposed more with balls in behind them, particularly when we’re playing a back four. So it’s the system as much as Kane’s incompetence I told myself, and you guys – QPR conceded 1.3 goals a game in 19/20 whether Rangel was right back or Kane and freakishly the team’s win percentage (39.28%) and goals conceded per game (1.13) is exactly the same in Kane’s 25 starts and four sub appearances in 2020/21 as it is in Osman Kakay’s 24 and five. It’s just a little slimey, it’s still good, it’s still good.
I don’t like the way the opposition left back is frequently left with a deep and long lasting concussion from Kane’s uncanny, unrivalled ability to smack every single cross he attempts square into the side of the skull of the first man who’s attempting to block them. I was hugely relieved that Fulham decided to send on Antonee Robinson to help Joe Bryan out for the extra time period of our cup game with Fulham, because Joe Bryan is a very beautiful boy with a sharp and analytical mind who I enjoy looking at and listening to and another half an hour of Todd wellying the ball straight at his face from five yards away could have left him looking like Iain Dowie and talking like Paul Merson. But then Kane got four assists in 25 starts last season, and three in 25 this which extrapolated out over a full campaign is kicking around the seven or eight mark which is very acceptable. His cross for Albert Adomah's goal at Watford was probably a case of throw enough shit at the wall, given the space and time they allowed him that night, but the balls in for goals at Birmingham and Bristol City were Bardsley-esque. He’s also shown a penchant for arriving late in the box to score eye-catching goals, against Millwall last year, spectacularly against Cardiff and against Bournemouth this. It is there, somewhere, though often very well hidden. Rangel, meanwhile, no goals and one assist in 21 starts last season, Kakay two goals and one assist in 24 starts and five sub apps this – miles off what we need, particularly if we’re sticking with a back three and wing backs. It’s just a little airborne, it’s still good, it’s still good.
Homer never did get his pig back though, and increasingly trying to make a case for Todd has felt like Anatoly Dyatlov sitting in the Chernobyl control room staring at the dosimeter maxing out at 3.6 roentgen and muttering “not great, not terrible” when deep down you know the truth is far worse, and will be revealed if we go and get the good dosimeter from the safe, or play against any half decent left sided player. In defence, Kane is too easily exposed, particularly in a back four. The goals we conceded at Huddersfield and Wycombe, I swear to God, remove the limitations of the football field perimeter and the restrictions of gametime and Anis Mehmeti and Josh Koroma would still be running forwards with the ball now, all these months later, Kane still backing away from them, refusing to engage. I think they could have run most of the way to fucking China before he tried to put a bloody foot in. Going forwards, yes flashes of brilliance – you won’t see many better goals from full backs than the Cardiff one, or crosses than the Bristol City assist – but maddeningly inconsistent and too often wasteful of excellent positions. Even when playing quite well in a victory at Watford, such was the space they afforded him that night it did feel a little bit monkeys and typewriters when he did finally set a goal up.
Any benefit of any doubt you or I may have afforded him evaporated as he windmilled into the end of the season in spectacularly dim-witted fashion. The details of his FA charge, which has led to a seven-match ban, make for confusing and uncomfortable reading – why is “diving foreign cunt” not ok but “ugly English cunt” is? Why is one Brentford player taken at his word but two QPR players aren’t believed at theirs? Is that really a seven-game ban, when “fucking black cunt” only got Chelsea’s captain, leader, legend four? Are we really achieving what we’re setting out to do by going after somebody hot and heavy for that, when so much worse is said and done and left unpunished, or certainly punished less severely? Regardless, there was no need to mention that Canos is foreign, particularly when playing for this club in this climate. The provocation is Brentford’s problem to deal with, the wild insanity of the FA and its decision making is their business, we look after ourselves and when others go low we go high. The club’s statement and response was good, the decision and how it was reached is a nonsense, but having a player banned for seven matches for referencing another player’s nationality or race in abuse of him puts us in a deeply uncomfortable position as a club that has worked hard to set itself apart as a forerunner in this area. Once you start making excuses, saying it’s alright for Todd because a, b, c, but not alright for somebody else because x, y, z, trying to draw distinctions between "diving", "diving foreign", "diving Spanish", "diving spik"... that’s not a road you want to be walking down. Todd has put the club in that position and set them off on that journey.
Then there’s the small matter of his comments to youth-skewing R Generation about Osman Kakay. Confidence in your own ability is a good thing, believing you’re better than the guy you’re competing with a place in the team, pretty much a necessity of being a competitive professional footballer I would have thought. But coming out with Bertie Big Potatoes stuff about a £13m move to Sheff Utd that looks like it’s got at least one decimal point missing; dissing a team mate and West London-lad for going all the way up to Partick Thistle on loan just to play football, gain experience and play for QPR when you were happy getting rich and going nowhere on Chelsea’s Vitesse Arnhem Highway (it was actually Nijmegen and Groningen in his case); talking about “knowing the game inside out” when we’ve seen precious little evidence of that since he got here… Not for me Clive, and nor for Warbs it seems for whom lack of respect ranks as a war crime. When we talk about how tight the dressing room is, and the culture and ethos Warbs and Les Ferdinand are trying to instil in the team and the club, this is the exact opposite and it’s basically best now if ways can be parted. Whether that’ll be possible, with six games of the ban still to go and that mid-range £500k-£1.5m Championship transfer market now non-existent, remains to be seen.
How delicious do you like your karma? I wonder if Partick fancy another of our right backs on loan next season…
3 – Lee Wallace B
Oh how we used to laugh. Lee Wallace the coal-fired full back. Less Flying Scotsman more Caledonian Sleeper. Sending orders down to the engine room to get the final boiler lit to see if it can get him through two games in a month. Son of the manager, who referred to him only as “Captain of Glasgow Rangers”, and Glasgow Rangers only as a “magnificent football club”. What sort of photographs has he got of Warbs, we wondered? And what is Warbs doing in those pictures, we feared? All the Methuselah’s Volvo comparisons we could cram into a season of match reports without you noticing how often we recycle the jokes. Such clever, funny, witty boys. Not so funny when he gave away two penalties in one match at home to Preston, and if The Athletic fancy doing a 15,000 word oral history on just what exactly in the name of fuck is going on for the first Coventry goal in that away game I’d be all over that like a seaside donkey on a plate of chips. But, nevertheless, a great source of material. Certainly much more use to LFW than he ever was to QPR.
Well, isn’t the joke on us now? Paul Furlong levels of QPR career turnaround in progress here as Wallace goes from less than zero to cult hero in the eyes of the Loftus Road faithful. If the club had announced a one-year contract extension for the former Scotland international at the turn of the year I suspect it would have been chipboard at the windows time for the Bush Hall and Solomon’s kebabery as the looting, pillaging and turning over of parked cars began in earnest down the Uxbridge Road. Now it’s welcomed under a tidal wave of ‘Scottish Roberto Carlos’ goodwill, and they’re semi-serious with it too.
He’s fairly near the head of a lengthy queue of beneficiaries of the switch to three at the back. The weaknesses of all four of our full backs were getting frequently, badly exposed in their deeper lying roles in a flat four – never better exemplified in Wallace’s case by that away loss at Coventry and comfortable home defeat to PNE. It’s also allowed him to showcase an intelligent, effective, incisive attacking side to his game which I can’t say I was aware of him ever having in the first place, and was certainly a shock to see making a reappearance at the age of 33. Goals away at Reading by Lyndon Dykes and at home to Cov by Chrissy Willock just two examples of how well Rangers attacked through Wallace down that side after he switched to wing back. He should have had another assist too, at Watford, but for Mac Bonne's missed sitter. The position also comes with the added benefit of Yoann Barbet on his right shoulder, who as we’ll come onto shortly is basically the perfect player for the left side of a back three at this level of the game.
With this sudden burst of form and fitness has come Lee Wallace interviews. Bright, articulate, thoughtful, uses the word ‘vindication’ a lot – again, something of a surprise for somebody who was once arrested for threatening to pop a cap in the ass of a doorman at an Edinburgh nightclub. “I’d shoot you if I had my gun.” “Yeh, well, you don’t.” We’ve seen, on and off the pitch, over the course of the last five months, everything Warbs saw in him all along. The ‘I told you so’ is strong in this one. Through injury and then club politics Wallace had barely played any football at all for two years prior to arriving in W12 for a first career crack at this level of football well into his 30s, and the burst of form has coincided with him being fit to play most weeks for the first time since he got here. That lack of action pre-arrival made his signing a risky one, and for a long time it looked like a classic case of ‘what manager wants manager gets’ failing QPR as a recruitment strategy once more. Now though, and with the caveat that we’ve seen this sort of miraculous recovery just before a contract expires before in one Matthew Rose, you can see why ‘vindication’ is his favourite word.
4 – Rob Dickie A
QPR quietly rolling Rob Dickie into Loftus Road while Brentford went bigger and costlier for Northampton’s Charlie Goode, with whom Rangers were also linked, is not only a rare recent example of us doing better recruitment than them, but also a seldom seen case of LFW calling it right when it happened. Well, when you’re wrong as often as we are, it’s important to flag up the success stories.
Why Rangers were able to do that, and watch as Dickie has quickly grown into one of the outstanding centre backs at this level of the game, quite so cheaply and with so little competition is probably a question being asked in a few analytics departments up and down the Championship right now. It’s not like, as a play-off finalist in a very progressive and attractive Oxford team, he was some big secret. Initially there were clues as to perhaps what had put other sides off. Dickie is not quick across the ground, in the same way that Chatsworth House is not quick across the ground. Caught out for this glaring lack of pace in early games against Forest, Coventry and Barnsley he had a terrifying tick in his game of reaching out and grabbing opponents by the shoulder – fortunate not to give away a penalty for this in the first two, he was then penned and red carded at Oakwell which turned a bright QPR start to the game into a 3-0 defeat. That appears to have been coached out of him – a really obvious bit of physical evidence of how players are being coached, improved and developed at QPR these days rather than coming here to die at the end of their careers – but the speed thing is still very much a thing. Tony Mowbray’s rather bitter sounding post match interview following a tight 1-0 loss at Loftus Road pinpointed Dickie as a weakness they’d tried to target, which certainly raised eyebrows, but it is true that in both the home and away games with Rovers they were able to get into the channel behind the right wing back and to the side of Dickie, pull him out of position and exploit him for speed. Dickie was singularly fortunate not to be sent off again in the first half at Ewood Park for a litany of identical fouls after a yellow card. Luton did the same in the final home game of the season – teams have been able to get in down that side in a way they haven’t on the opposite flank behind Wallace and to the side of Barbet.
As far as negatives go, that really is it. Pound for pound one of the best signings made in the Championship this season, Dickie for me really settled in and came into his own half a dozen games in, first away at Bournemouth where his domination of Dominic Solanke was total, and then at Derby where he crowned a magnificent man of the match performance with a last minute assist for Mac Bonne – crunching through a tackle on halfway and asking questions later, delivering a peach of a cross into the box which Bonne could scarcely miss. We gave him eight star man ratings in the end, only Stef Johansen gets close with six, and that includes the latter season away win at Middlesbrough where he first of all pinged a random one into the top bins from three quarters of a mile out, and then stood firm in a proper old-school defensive effort as we protected a single goal lead with ten men. Not goal of the season for me, not while Sir Dominic of Ball is blooting injury time winners in from 30 yards on his left foot against Cardiff, but not half bad for a centre back. Two other goals, both from corners against Bristol City, suggest to me he perhaps should score a few more, and we’ll look out for that next season.
Given he’s stepping up from a lower division, playing Championship football for the first time, and doing it with such aplomb that he contributes to knocking 21 goals off our conceded total and more than doubling our number of clean sheets, I think it’s gone better than any of us ever could have hoped for. The mantra at QPR now, as we know, is all about trading our way out of the shitstorm we got ourselves into – buy low, develop, sell high, reinvest, lather, rinse, repeat. I’ll be interested to see whether Dickie becomes part of that, or whether those small faults in his game that made us his best option in the first place put off potential suitors – Mowbray may have sounded like a bit of a bitter Bebe, but it was quite telling I thought that while we’re lording him as practically perfect in every way other managers are trying to get in down his right shoulder. Win win either way for us – the idea of Rob Dickie standing there as part of QPR’s defence for a long time to come is very appealing indeed.
Like Lee Wallace, good performances bring interviews and podcast appearances, and like Lee Wallace, Dickie seems like a proper decent geezer. He may look like a giant toddler, but I feel like I could have a pint with Rob - as long as he’d brought his ID. I feel like he’d back me up if I got a bit lairy about “where are all these fucking rugby union lot the rest of the year eh?” and “the Autumn Internationals are just meaningless bloody friendlies with clever branding you know”. I feel like I could have a round of golf with Rob, with tinnies, that he would bring for us both. For all of these reasons and more, he is the LFW Player of the Year.
5 – Jordy De Wijs B
QPR had conceded 70+ goals for three seasons in a row prior to this, and there has been a fairly common consensus as to what the problems have been at the heart of the defence. When we’ve gone for a ‘big ugly bastard’ like Toni Leistner or Joel Lynch they’ve been too slow, too accident prone, and incapable of playing out from the back as first Steve McClaren and now Warbs Warburton want to do. When we’ve gone less physical and more cultured, with Jack Robinson or Yoann Barbet, we’ve become easy to play against, easy to score against, too nice, and too quiet. Four successive QPR managers have resorted to parking at least one and often two very defensive central midfielders in front of the back four just to stem the bleeding. What we’ve needed for sometime is somebody who not only looks like he should be working a door somewhere, but is also capable of passing the ball from A to B without endangering the lives of those in the first 15 rows of the Ellerslie Road stand. Problem is, as Warbs has often pointed out, if you find the complete player in any given position, under 30 and fit, they’ll cost you north of £8m and they’ll be playing in the Premier League.
Jordy de Wijs, so far, looks like a very reasonable stab at a centre back who can indeed do both jobs for us. First of all, just fucking look at him. I’ve stopped watching 24 Hours in Police custody because my anxiety that he’s going to show up ferrying a load of terrified modern day slaves around the Cambridgeshire Fens in an old Transit van has become too acute. The last goal of the season, scored by Albert Adomah against Luton at the Loft End, begins with a De Wijs header that Nick London correctly identified as travelling further than most of us can kick it. Out of my way puny boy. But, second of all, he is not without his charm and craft either, as you’d expect of a Dutchman brought up through the PSV system. QPR’s record with him in the team is stark – they won six and lost only two of his nine matches, one of those defeats was at Rotherham where he was forced off at half time with the score 0-0, and the other was against champions Norwich. Percentages from a small sample group aren’t to be trusted much, but his win percentage is higher than every other outfield player. Rangers kept five clean sheets in his nine appearances, his 0.66 goals conceded a game ratio is again by far and away the best of anybody we count that stat against (defenders, players starting in defensive midfield in a 4-2-3-1, wing backs).
Why we’re able to get him may become clear in time. While QPR were conceding 76 goals in 19/20, Hull were conceding a league-leading 84 with De Wijs in the team, including an 8-0 loss at Wigan. He has impressed on loan, a change is as good as a rest and all that, but he never particularly stood out for me while at the Tigers and he wouldn’t be the first player to impress initially on loan, or after a transfer, and then regress/settle to a lower level. His fitness is also a concern. The really nasty head knock he took at Rotherham was a freaky outlier, not his fault by any means and couldn’t be helped, but he arrived injured from Hull, took until March to make a debut, and completed 90 minutes on only two occasions in five months. But, again, without those concerns, he probably wouldn’t be available in our price range. It’s a trade off when you’re shopping on a budget and while I’m sure if he’s missing more than he’s available next season I’ll be sitting here next summer saying we shouldn’t have expected anything different based on his loan, if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck it’s a fucking duck etc., he showed more than enough in the games he did play to suggest this is a gamble worth taking.
6 – Yoann Barbet A/B
< AlloAlloTheme > For a while there, we thought we knew exactly what we had in Yoann Barbet. A centre back who actually thought of himself more as a ‘ten’. Bought to be Alan McDonald, considered in his own mind to be Ray Wilkins, actually churning out performances more akin to a flamboyant Steve Yates. The ball must be distributed diagonally at all times, often into the West Paddock. What defending he did trouble himself with, frequently calamitous. What’s that flying through the air and maiming the centre forward? That’s the Barbinger of Doom. And what happens now? They get a free shot at the goal from 12 yards. He takes the attacking free kicks – but of course! Has he ever scored an attacking free kick? Well there’s some grainy footage of one flying in up at Bolton this one time, but it’s in black and white and Eddie Hopkinson is the goalkeeper.
And for a while this season that’s what we got all over again. The calamitous end to the 3-2 defeat at Coventry in round two, where the home team were permitted a succession of free headers from multiple corners until one of them finally went in, was his fault more than most – doing that squeely arm wavey thing he does, making lower league chump in chief Kyle McFadzean look like something that might even give Duncan Ferguson half a lob on. He was poor in a home defeat to Preston and his performance in the 3-0 loss at Barnsley was like nothing I’ve seen of heard of in his position since Gus Caesar was loose in the wild. A rare LFW 2/10, a farcical own goal to put the tin hat on a dire night. When it was good, it tended to be going forwards, like the assist for Macauley Bonne’s late equaliser at Sheff Wed. The perfect centre back for a Warbs team – can’t defend for shit but how about those diags?
The transformation since, while not quite on Lee Wallace levels of extraordinary, has nevertheless been impressive. Barbet is the only outfield player in the entire league to complete every second of action for his team this year – a remarkable achievement in any season but especially the truncated 2020/21 with all its well known time and logistical challenges. The team has come to rely on him for more than simply turning up every week though – Barbet has been solid. The guy hasn’t given a penalty away for days now, and in a superb backs-to-the-wall effort away to champions-elect Norwich when the R’s hadn’t won for ten matches he executed a last ditch sliding tackle so brilliant even Todd Cantwell didn’t appeal for a spot kick. His display against Premier League Fulham in the FA Cup, when really Rangers were the better side for the normal time period of game and should have been out of sight but for wayward finishing, was superb. Likewise a matchwinning display, at both ends of the field, in a hard-fought 1-0 home victory over Blackburn where he scored the only goal. There was another glorious assist for a wonderful Lyndon Dykes goal at home to Sheff Wed over Easter.
There’s been a few factors in this transformation. The first is that Yoann Barbet was never that bad in the first place. He’s still got a brain fart in him – Nottingham Forest’s opener when he tried to let a ball run out on the stroke of halftime instead of just booting the thing into The Trent is very Barbet indeed – but then, running theme, he probably wouldn’t be playing for us on our budget if he didn’t. We take the piss to pass the time and try and make you guys laugh, but he’s always been a decent player and many of his issues were the same issues faced by all the centre backs playing in a back four in a Warburton system – you can get exposed easily with the full backs pushed as high as they are. Secondly, the switch to a back three which helped turn the whole season around, suited him better than anybody else. If you could get a 3D printer to kick you out the perfect left sided centre back for a Championship back three, it would be Yoann Barbet, and he’s been so good in it that it kind of made you wonder why we haven’t been playing it since he walked through the door so ideally suited is he to the system. If you want to be unkind, you could say the extra cover over his right shoulder takes a lot of the terror out of situations where he gets caught wrong side and outside a striker bursting through – from which so many of the penalty kicks arose. But then you could also point out that the team does now occasionally get caught in the channel between crowd darling and LFW Player of the Year Rob Dickie and his right back (Blackburn A, H, Luton H) in a way that very seldom happens down Barbet’s side, even when Niko Hämäläinen is playing instead of Lee Wallace. His low average rating partly down to his ropey start to the season, but also maybe our higher expectations of him compared to those of a lad stepping into the Championship for the first time from League One Oxford. In truth, since Christmas, there’s been little to choose between them, and, hands up, the marks should have reflected that more.
It got to the point where Barbet was in the running for the top award himself, and not simply for his perfect attendance record – something he achieved despite playing the final three games of the season with a painful shoulder injury suffered in a high fall at Swansea. Had we played a back three all season, I think he’d have walked it. < /AlloAlloTheme >
47 starts, 0 sub appearances, W19 D11 L17 (40.43%)
20 – Geoff Cameron C
For a good while there, it looked like Captain America might have gone on a season too long. It took him 19 appearances this season to register a seven from us, and his performances at home to Preston and Stoke and away at Huddersfield were graded as low as four. As with so many individuals, and the team as a whole, the switch to a back three helped Geoff immensely as he slotted in between Rob Dickie and Yoann Barbet and came out of the midfield area. His average before the switch was 5.388 and 5.937 after it – he went from no sevens at all in the first half of the season to five after it.
While his overall win percentage of 38.24% isn’t that remarkable relative to the rest of the squad (14 players have higher) some of the stats around the games he didn’t play are rather stark. Through that first half of the season when we were grading him so harshly, QPR lost all six of the games Cameron wasn’t involved in. The change from 3-1 up and cruising to 3-2 and panicking at home to Rotherham occurred after Cameron left the field in the 66th minute. It wasn’t until Bristol City away on March 6 that we won a game without him in the team, and of course that was also the debut of Jordy De Wijs. We subsequently beat Stoke, Swansea, Boro and Sheff Wed without him giving us an overall record of W5 L8 in the games he didn’t play. As Hoops and Dreams (@HoopsandDreams_QPR) points out, this has been a common theme of Cameron’s three years here – Rangers have been much more likely to lose if Cameron isn’t in the team, he was one of only four players to finish 19/20 with a positive WDL record and has now repeated that in all three seasons for the club – though you could argue the impact of De Wijs suggests that’s much more about needing somebody with those attributes in that position than necessarily needing Geoff.
I’ll tiptoe slightly around this next bit for fear of laying waste to the comments and Twitter mentions. It made me uncomfortable, and I’m not sure it was right, that on one occasion the captain of the club posted a Trump conspiracy theory, and on another praise of some NRA nutter’s basement filled wall to ceiling with guns, on his Instagram stories. I’m absolutely not wishing to get into lefty vs righty, red vs blue, one side is good and pure and the other is mean and evil session here, because I hate it, and I don’t feel the way political debate has been reduced to ‘my way is the one true faith and everything my side does is correct and if you disagree with any of it then you’re a massive thick racist/communist’ is very helpful. However, on those two specific points, about the stolen election conspiracy theories, and the gun toting, I didn’t feel it was appropriate for the captain to be doing that and I think the club got away with it rather. Certainly if I’d been a journo working at Sky, who QPR quite rightly went after with some venom when targeted over their ditching of ‘taking the knee’, I’d have probably had a bang on a story about how the club captain was subsequently Instagramming Trump conspiracy theories. As I said in the Todd Kane piece, if you put yourself out there as the forward thinking, inclusive club, for whom actions speak louder than words, which QPR do and do very well, then you’ve got to be careful in this climate about ever straying away from that or making excuses when your players do. It’s a small thing, it’s my opinion (first amendment rights?), you may not agree with me, I’ll maybe get some angry comments back about this par, but there it is.
While I felt that necessary to say (you may disagree), I think we can all probably concur that it would be massively unfair to finish on it. Let’s reflect back on what we thought and said when Geoff signed, at the end of the summer 2018 transfer window. We’d lost the first four games of the season, including a 7-1 at West Brom, and conceded 13 goals in the process. It felt like a season, and managerial reign, already in a death spiral. Adding Geoff Cameron, well into his thirties already and so far removed from a very poor Stoke side that they were happy to loan him to a Championship rival, felt desperate, and I wrote all kinds of thinkpieces about how McClaren had abandoned the remit he was given, gone back to the bad old QPR ways of signing a few players you’ve heard of before who were good five or six years prior and giving them a place to come and die on a nice fat contract at the end of their career. We expected Geoff to chug through a year, help keep us up, and little more than that.
In fact, he’s stayed for three, captained the club, been brilliant and important in the development of exactly the sort of younger players we thought we were abandoning by signing him, and also been a very important member of the starting 11 right up to and including the arrival of Jordy De Wijs. As Angel Rangel pointed out in our recent Patreon interview, that McClaren season unravelled fast after a promising autumn when he and Geoff were both injured in a December trip to Leeds – one of two vile attempts on Cameron’s career by Kalvin Phillips. Other than that, despite his advancing years, Cameron has been a mainstay – another 35 appearances this season taking him to 91 for the club over three seasons, such a shame he came up short of the 100 but still waaaaaaaaaaaay ahead of anything we’d have thought possible when he first arrived. Although Barnsley’s team of U24s is a notable outlier, striking the balance between getting gametime into our young players but not sending out a team of kids to be slaughtered seems to be the trick to this player development lark. At times I’ve felt like we’ve leant too far one way, with McClaren’s “team of men”, and at times we’ve made skewed too far the other, like the first half of this season prior to the arrival of Austin, Johansen and De Wijs. It’s clear, when you watch them train together, when you listen to the senior lads talk, when you hear what Warburton has to say, that good, sound, experienced characters like Rangel, Cameron, Albert Adomah, Lee Wallace, are having huge influence and doing enormous amounts of good with what we’re trying to do here at QPR.
No rest for the wicked either – he now moves to Cincinnati whose season is only four games old. He goes there with our best – turned out to be a very good, shrewd signing and important part of some serious progress made by the club and the team over the last three years.
Links >>> About those Geoff Cameron Facts - Column
24 – Osman Kakay B/C
Things Osman does well: defending. When Kakay tackles you, you stay bloody tackled. Orphanages filling up everywhere with the children of slain Championship widemen. Despite only starting 24 of the games, he was involved in eight of the 14 clean sheets we kept. He works hard, both during matches, and off the field at his game – the improvement season on season is marked and obvious, and one of the most egregious things about Todd Kane’s interview comments were that they came about a young player, a universally popular member of the squad, somebody who has worked tirelessly at his game to get to where he is, and somebody the club hold in very high regard as a role model to others having progressed through from a local comprehensive school and been with the club since the age of nine. It’s becoming routine to have lads like this progress at Rangers now, showing the pathway to others, and is a far cry from the Redknapp and Hughes days.
Whether he’ll progress to be more than just a very reliable back-up utility defender will probably depend on him improving what he does with the ball going forwards. One assist, albeit a brilliant one at Rotherham for Lyndon Dykes, and one league goal, again excellent at Stoke, is not enough from right wing back in this team, in this system, playing this way. He can occasionally look quite clumsy with the ball, like it’s caught under his feet and he’s not sure what he’s doing with it either now or next. That’s the next area for improvement, and my God if he’s shown anything it’s that there’s always plenty of willingness to learn and self improve in him.
If not, then having a local lad like that tied to a long contract, presumably down towards the bottom of the pay scale, and knowing you can bring him in and rely on him for a steady show at right back, right wing back, centre back or to the right of a back three is still very valuable indeed in the sort of small, tight squad that Warburton says he wants to operate. Warbs made a point in his post season analysis with Nick London of talking about players who are versatile and can play a number of positions so he can maintain that small, tight squad, and in Osman he’s got somebody towards the bottom end of the pay grade who can be relied upon to do a very steady job in three or four different defensive positions. For all sorts of reasons on the pitch, off the pitch, and on the balance sheet, every club needs players like Osman Kakay.
25 – Niko Hämäläinen C/D
I’m not going to say too much here, less I get into the realms of puppy kicking. Niko Hämäläinen is not a kid at 24, but his senior appearance count has only recently ticked over that 50 mark I talk about so much, and of those 56 starts and ten sub apps only 19 starts and six sub apps have come at Championship level. There is still time for him to develop further, and Lord knows he’s got a lot of that on his side having been afforded a four-year contract last summer which looked even at the time like an excessive, panicked reaction to what had happened with Bright Osayi-Samuel and Ryan Manning. I guess it’s a bit Richard Littlejohn-style “my job is to sit at the back and throw bottles” journalism to sit here and criticise the club for not backing their judgement and renewing Bright and Ryan’s deals earlier, then on the other hand slate them for going over the top with Niko and a couple of others, so I’ll try and refrain from doing so. But… yeh… Anyway…
For me, just a little bit too hesitant, too nervous, too nice. He doesn’t assert himself on games, or opponents, either offensively or defensively. Whether that’s lack of confidence, ability, experience or a combination, it was really noticeable watching in person and on high from the camera gantry against Reading at home just what a problem it is for the team and the way Warburton wants it to play when Hämäläinen and Kakay are the full/wing backs – so many moves broke down having reached them in good areas. We are, fairly obviously, a worse team with him in it compared to anybody else who has played down that side – his win percentage of 26.09% is by far the lowest of any player who was available through the second half of the season (Bright, Amos and LTC are lower but didn’t play after the turn of the year). In a run of two defeats and six wins in 11 matches through January and February the two games we did lose, against Derby and Birmingham were the only two he started. Rangers only lost seven games in the whole second half of the campaign and three of those came in his six starts. Swansea on April 20 was the first time we’d won without Lee Wallace in the team since Cardiff on January 20, and you can debate among yourselves how much that’s Wallace’s influence and how much is Niko’s deficiencies.
All is not lost. I settled in for a long night when he started the penultimate away game at Swansea, having seen the Swans’ excellent Welsh international right wing back Conor Roberts tear teams apart down that side all season, but Hämäläinen played very well in an away win and clean sheet, and Roberts was barely seen all night. Maybe that belief, assertiveness and confidence will come with time and perseverance on our part – four months ago the suggestion Lyndon Dykes was remotely good enough for the Championship would have seen you laughed out of QPR internet court. I also know Warburton would say, as he did about our goalkeeper assessments last year, that reviews like this will hardly help, focusing on the negatives rather than, say, the 7/10 performance he gave in another 1-0 away win at Derby, or the 1-1 at home to a very talented and ultimately promoted Watford side. So I’ll leave it there, with the question of whether perseverance, or another loan, might help, or whether he’s just not quite got it, hanging in the air. Would love to see him come good, fear he might not.
Others >>> Conor Masterson won many friends and influenced many people in his debut season, but I’ve never been as convinced that Warbs is as big a fan of his as some might think. His rare outings for QPR this season were not a conspicuous success. Four starts and two sub appearances saw 13 goals conceded (2.16 goals a game compared to the overall team average of 1.19) and included the defensive calamities at Plymouth and Barnsley, the artery hardening 3-2 wins against Cardiff and Rotherham (Masterson conceding a senseless penalty in the former) and the 1-1 at home to Watford when he was at fault for the visitor’s early opener – taking an air swing at the first corner of the match. He finally got the loan move Warbs has mentioned for him twice a week for 18 months and so needed it to go well. A win, a draw and three defeats in five outings was pretty par for the course at League One strugglers Swindon (six goals conceded, one clean sheet) but he then suffered the rotten luck of a bad hamstring blow out which ended his season early. He heads back to Loftus Road, hopefully holding hands with Scott Twine and leading him away from his mother, with his future very much more in question than I think a lot of people realise.
I have to say I was a little bit disappointed, following his first team debut in 2019/20, that Joe Gubbins’ loan was to Oxford City rather than United. He played seven times there. Aaron Drewe joined him and spent most of his 17 appearances (two goals) completing outrageous goalline clearances – have we actually got 11 goalkeepers on the staff? He won the National League South Young Player of the Season award before the competition was curtailed.
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Letters from Wiltshire #48 by wessex_exile
“And now the end is near, and so we face the final curtain…regrets, we’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention”. Not quite right Paul Anka, probably more than a few, but otherwise a fair assessment of where the U’s are today. It’ll be interesting to see how we perform with the relegation monkey finally off their back – I’m not expecting miracles, particularly with Tranmere needing at least a point to guarantee making the play-offs, but they’ll certainly be more nervous than we will be, so can we make that count? This will be my last blog of the season, and not yet sure what I may or may not do for next season, but suggestions are always welcome.
Letters from Wiltshire #47 by wessex_exile
Here we are, at the penultimate game of the season, and our last game in front of the cardboard U’s faithful at the JobServe. It has been a long, difficult, and definitely strange season, which frankly I’ll be glad to see the back of. That’ll we’ll be here again in August is definitely going to be something to celebrate, but I suspect we’re facing a summer of significant rebuilding both on the pitch, and possibly off it too. I won’t be the only one, but the biggest oddity for me has been being able to watch every single game – not always easy viewing, but something I’ve never done before, and probably never will again. But it doesn’t really make up for not being there in person, the long train journey away-days, meeting fellow U’s and other supporters, and of course sharing a beer or three. Fingers-crossed we can return to the terraces in 2021/22.
Letters from Wiltshire #46 by wessex_exile
That was quite a week for us all then. In the space of four short but remarkably tense days we have gone from having to take shoes and socks off to check how many more points we need to guarantee survival, or whether we would even achieve it, to breathing a huge sigh of relief knowing we’re almost there. But close of play this afternoon, whether by our own actions or the failure of others, I am sure survival will be confirmed. Of course, Tuesday night not only all but guaranteed it, it also virtually condemned local rivals Southend United to non-league football for the foreseeable. Looking at the host of fully professional former football league sides currently battling it out for the two promotion slots out of the National league (including Hartlepool, Torquay, Stockport, Wrexham, Chesterfield and Notts County), it is not going to be a walk in the park for Southend to return any day soon.
Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
Tonight, Colchester United face Southend United in what may not necessarily be the most important game of our respective histories (though it’s certainly very close), but is almost certainly the most important Essex derby ever. However this season pans out, by the end of it there’ll either be only one team in Essex, or worst case scenario, none at all. If the U’s win, then Southend will be 9pts behind with just three games to go, and a minimum of a -12 goal difference to overturn if they want to overtake us. Certainly mathematically possible, but that would rely on a remarkable turnaround in their form, form that they’ve shown precious little sign of achieving so far this season. The stalking horse is Grimsby, with their game in hand, who have rather belatedly shown an improvement in form, so their match against automatic promotion chasing Morecambe tonight is equally important, particularly if we want to avoid the unthinkable, with both Essex clubs dropping out of the league.
Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
So here we are, as the nation mourns the passing of His Royal Highness, Duke of Edinburgh, the U’s face the first of two season-defining moments, with our late kick-off match at home to Walsall. Before then, no doubt many will have been focused on events elsewhere, not least the early kick-offs for Grimsby (at home to promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers), and particularly Essex rivals Southend United, who faced a tricky visit to Exeter City – still very much in the hunt for at least a play-off spot. As I finalise this blog, I know that Grimsby have beaten Bolton 2-1, and Southend earned a credible 0-0 draw in the West Country. More to the point, the U’s will know this too. Whilst I can’t help but feel that will ought to be to our advantage, it surely must also put additional pressure on a squad whose confidence is paper-thin. We must hope that Hayden Mullins, assisted by Paul Tisdale, get their heads right, and send the lads out this evening fired up with self-belief.
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