End Of Term Report 21/22 – Goalkeepers
Monday, 23rd May 2022 07:03 by Clive Whittingham
The first in our annual four-part report card on the individual performances of each QPR player from the previous season focuses, as always, on the goalkeepers – and this year that might take some time.
1 – Seny Dieng B
Quite the extreme example of ‘you don’t know what you’ve got ‘till it’s gone’.
Seny Dieng, unlike the team, had not finished 2020/21 particularly strongly. His hesitancy and wild decision-making up at Middlesbrough eventually cost him a red card in a game Rangers nevertheless went on to win. Joe Lumley deputised, and deputised well, there and for a subsequent 1-0 victory at Swansea. When Dieng was put straight back into the team regardless, for the next home game against Norwich, Lumley was distinctly unimpressed, thought the manager hypocritical after he’d previously lost his number one status in similar circumstances, and effectively ended his time at the club there and then. Dieng, meanwhile, repaid the faith of the manager by allowing a particularly poor error to cross the line for a game-costing goal against the eventual champions.
He started 2021/22 in middling form. He actually reminded me a bit of Juergen Sommer in the 1996/97 season, our first after relegation from the Premier League, where basically every shot we faced went in, but it would be a stretch to blame the goalkeeper for any of them. There was perhaps one on the near post at home to Barnsley, another at home to Preston, possibly one down at Bournemouth that was more Rob Dickie's fault. But in general it was all really more Marge Simpson grumbling noise than trying to rip your seat out of the concrete to beat Tony Roberts to death with it – that was until we got to West Brom when a glaring error, allowing a routine Karlan Grant shot to squirm all the way through him and out the other side, cost us an important away result. Dieng had actually made a brilliant save in the first half of that game as well.
But what Dieng brings to the team isn’t a whole load of flashy, unbelievable saves as we came to rely on with Alex Smithies. One message board critic said he wanted to see him make more “saves he shouldn’t be able to make” which feels like the sort of cruel standard my junior school swimming teacher used to judge us by. There hasn’t, as yet, been a lot of Paddy Kenny back-peddling and launching 15-stone into the air to keep out a Yakubu lob with one hand right at the moment it was about to dip under the bar and cross the goalline from Seny. He makes the saves you’d expect him to make, doesn’t make the other ones, and rarely lets in one he shouldn’t. I actually think he also makes some quite difficult saves look routine through his positioning and handling but where he really excels is in everything else – decision making, handling, command of penalty box and distribution. In all of these there are few better goalkeepers in the Championship.
When he went out of the team, first to the African Cup of Nations where he played the first two games for eventual champions Senegal, and then out injured long term after a crude tackle from Blackburn’s Sam Gallagher, three things happened.
The first was that QPR started playing this weird, boring, passive, staid style of football where possession was held and shuffled almost exclusively between the three centre backs and defensive midfielder with seemingly no-way out. It was in stark contrast to how we’d played in 2021, and it infuriated the supporters. Lee Wallace and Albert Adomah, who’d starred from wing back over the previous 12 months, both hit a wall at the same time – ineffective, old, exposed. And then, when Dieng made a surprise early comeback at Swansea on the final day of the season, you saw why. Standing behind him for the second half at the Liberty Stadium there was one incident where, under pressure, he drew a boot back and pinged a perfect 50-yard pass right onto Albert’s boot out on the halfway line to turn defence into attack. And then, soon after, he did exactly the same over a slightly shorter distance with his left foot to get McCallum away down the other side. Dieng was a midfielder until very late in his development in Switzerland, and he can see a pass and execute it better than most of our outfielders, with either foot. Every team needs an ‘out ball’ that they go to when the original plan has failed. Ian Holloway spoke at length about how his out ball in his first spell at QPR was into the channel to turn the opposition full back around, and then post-Leicester he changed that to a cross-field ball to the opposite winger or full back to stretch the play widthways based on something he’d taken from watching Roberto Martinez’s Swansea. QPR’s outball is Seny Dieng, and without him they simply couldn’t get out. David Marshall, as we’ll come onto, struggled with it. Keiren Westwood didn’t even do that well.
The second was QPR started conceding goals from set pieces again. In Mark Warburton’s first year in charge they shipped 76 goals in 46 league games, and were bottom of the Championship for goals from dead balls. At the start of his second year, with Joe Lumley retained in goal, they conceded a soft goal from a corner in pre-season at Oxford (Kelly in goal), crashed out of the League Cup to three goals from crosses at Plymouth, and that all led up to the Kyle McFadzean farce at Coventry in the first away league game. After that Dieng was given his chance and by the time we got to January this year Rangers had conceded from set plays just three times all season, including penalties, which up to Coventry away was by far the best record in the Championship. Without him over the remaining games Rangers let in ten from set plays in 20 games, a record second worse only to hapless Birmingham. The third, related thing, as I’ll come onto, is QPR started facing a lot more shots on target.
That ability to decide quickly, move commandingly, claim calmly, and release intelligently is where Dieng excels, and it stops so many problems at source. Boy did we miss it when it left us.
25 – David Marshall C
I actually thought we’d had a right touch with this deal initially. As both regular readers will know I am not a fan of Jordan Archer, and the thought of spending January in his company was keeping me awake at night. I obviously wouldn’t wish the painful injury he suffered on him, and that he did it while saving a match-winning penalty against Rotherham was ironic, but I thought David Marshall was a significant upgrade. Initially it looked that way. He made the sort of extraordinary saves that bring a crowd to its feet – one under the bar from point blank range to get us a point at home to Middlesbrough stands out. At Coventry, under siege, he was magnificent in a 2-1 win that felt vital at the time.
Marshall was brought in to cover Dieng’s absence in January, a month we were all very worried about with the AFCON call ups. If we’d been able to leave it at that, an unbeaten month of five wins and two draws in which Marshall made critical saves, then I suspect he’d have been pushing an A rating here, and we’d be reflecting on an important role in our play-off push which I think we’d have maintained if Seny hadn’t subsequently got injured when he did – so important do I believe that goalkeeper is to Warbs’ preferred style of play.
Instead, initially, there was even some debate, which just seems so ludicrous now, as to whether Dieng should get back into the team when he came back from Africa at all. To begin with Warbs seemed to be wrestling with that himself – Marshall kept his place for a comprehensive beating at Millwall with Dieng on the bench. A theme of Warburton’s reign was struggling between the two ideals of having a definitive and defined number one, and allowing the person in possession to retain the shirt as long as their form was good enough. As said, Joe Lumley was particularly pissed off to be dropped for Dieng after playing well at Boro and Swansea the previous season, because he had previously been asked to wait for Liam Kelly after losing his place through injury. Warburton ended up asking Marshall what he'd have expected to happen if the boot had been on the other foot, and he’d gone off with Scotland as number one only to return to a lost place – Marshall admitted he’d have expected to be put straight back in, and that is then what happened at Blackburn only for Gallagher to nobble Dieng, and our season, just before half time.
Marshall came on as substitute that day and erred badly for Rovers’ late winner – a wide free kick Seny Dieng would have caught in his teeth, to quote the late, great Ray Wilkins. From there on we had a problem. Standing ten rows back, directly behind the goal, at Coventry in January we marvelled at Marshall’s shot stopping, but you could see very clearly that day he was struggling with the demands of playing out from the back in our system, particularly the necessity to keep finding quick and effective out balls to the wing backs high up the field. His distribution statistics were good, but they were from a small sample size and didn’t pass the eye or the smell test for those of us at the games. This was fine when he was making miraculous saves, but once he was back in at Blackburn the reverse started to happen. The crucial home defeat to Cardiff, in which Rangers were one nil up against a crap side, started to unravel when a routine shot was somehow allowed to pass through his hands, up into the air, and over the line. You’d have saved that yourself. Likewise Cameron Jerome’s daisy-cutter at Luton.
Only Jack Walton, in ten games for hapless Barnsley, and Luke Southwood, who played 27 times for a dreadful Reading team, faced a higher average shots on target per game in the Championship than David Marshall last season – as per @AnalyticsQPR. We asked a lot of him, as we have done all our goalkeepers for several seasons now. The hamstring blow out that ended his season occurred the week after Luton, at Nottingham Forest - he played well that night, and did all he could to keep QPR in the game even when physically crocked. So I’m probably being harsh, but I couldn’t help but wonder with hindsight how many of these chances, shots and goals we were suddenly facing were happening because we’d gone from a goalkeeper who plays us out of our own half and stops so much at source, to ones who couldn’t do that and rely on their reactions when bad things happen.
29 – Keiren Westwood D
All of the David Marshall report without any of the saves.
Keiren Westwood was a goalkeeper I used to absolutely love. I’d have given anything to have him at ours when he was at Coventry – at that point just about the best in the league for me. But he’s 37 now, hadn’t played at all since getting relegated at Sheff Wed the previous May, where several managers hadn’t had him in their squad at all, and was effectively pulled out of retirement for the final few games of our season. With things already going south, the defence busted, form spiralling, confidence low, it wasn’t a good situation to be walking into even as a keeper fully fit and up to speed, which Westwood patently wasn’t. Our Sheff Wed correspondent had warned us to watch out for him pulling out of games in the warm up, and sure enough we got one of those up at Preston. I’m not sure you could particularly blame him for many of the goals, other than to once again wonder how many of them Dieng simply stops at source. He didn’t so much struggle with the playing out from the back we required, like Marshall, as just point blank refuse to do it at all. Far more long kicks and clearances, which depending on how arsed or close to a Scotland fixture Lyndon Dykes was on any given day was basically tantamount to just giving the ball away in our team. Frustrations with him boiled over at Huddersfield where Yoann Barbet had to pull him and Jimmy Dunne apart during the game.
Look, he was on a hiding to nothing. We were desperate, and long gone, by the time he arrived. He’s basically retired, and should be removing the ‘basically’ bit of that forthwith. The real questions lie elsewhere…
I am particularly concerned at the moment with how we go about recruiting and retaining goalkeepers. Seny Dieng is a brilliant outlier. Other than him we seem to accumulate an awful lot of them through the firsts, B team, U23s and U18s for a club that’s supposed to be budgeting, and the vast majority of them are nowhere even remotely close to the standard required. Jordan Archer terrifies me at this level of football. A rather baffling signing who, even in victory and while playing quite well, at Leyton Orient in August did that trick of his that we saw at Millwall where he stands six yards off his line while the ball is in an extreme wide position and lets his mind wander onto other things, then has to dive spectacularly backwards towards his post at the last possible second to not concede from any slightly mishit cross. Not my favourite, Rotherham penalty save notwithstanding – and having a goalkeeper that can actually save the odd penalty has been a rarity for us since Smithies left.
Joe Walsh looks a good deal more promising. I liked a lot of what I saw of him in the pre-season cameo against Man Utd. He must be absolutely kicking himself at the timing of a hand injury that has surely prevented him from clocking up a dozen unexpectedly early first team appearances this season which would have been a good deal more useful to us and him medium and long term than bringing two 37-year-olds out of retirement.
That we’ve had to do that while carrying 26-year-old Dillon Barnes on our payroll is disgusting. This signing has been a bugbear of mine since it was made because Barnes is clearly and obviously not good enough for our first team or the level we play at – because he wasn’t good enough for Colchester’s first team or the level that play at either, which is why they stopped picking him and released him. He had two loan spells this season at Conference outfits Yeovil and Aldershot where he got six games, conceded 14 goals and won none. There was a cup tie with Bournemouth in there and games with high flyers Stockport, Wrexham and Grimsby… but still.
Warburton would get ratty whenever I raised Barnes but his hand was shown clearly when we were allowed to sign Westwood outside the transfer window because he was a free agent and, crucially, we had one space in our 25-man squad available to do it. The club had deliberately left Barnes out of the selection and kept that spot clear so they could do that in that eventuality. Confident enough in his ability to sign him, and renew his fucking contact, and pay him for three years, but not enough to put him in their 25-man squad, or think he might be a better bet than a retired goalkeeper. Barnes never played for us, and rarely for our B team, our U23 team, or when he went out on loan, and yet we happily gave him three years’ worth of money. Even at £1,000 a week that would be £156,000 spent. It’s another example of QPR playing rich-club poor-club with itself. On the one hand we can’t pay £6,000 for a Stan Bowles sign for the Ellerslie Road stand because we have to be sustainable, but on the other we think nothing of spunking six figures on a goalkeeper not even good enough to make the team at Yeovil when he went there. Are we skint or not skint? Pick a team and be consistent with it please. Frankly I’ve thought this whole transfer, and contract renewal, has been stinky from the start. 0(0) – three years of money. Joke.
I’m still not overly convinced he’s gone. He will never actually leave the club. He’s a part of us now, and as long as we’re here, so will Dillon be, watching over us. The first dew on the freshly cut grass of a new season’s pitch? That’s Dillon. The cold air that hits your lungs when you step out onto the terrace for the first autumn Saturday? Dillon again. Always, subtlety, keeping us aware of him. And when we hear the winter wind howl through the rusting roof supports of the away end at Turf Moor next winter, it will whisper the name… Dillon Barnes.
The mischievous adventures of Murphy Mahoney and Harry Halwax got some first team time right at the end of the season when things really had gone all to shit. Seeing Mahoney emerge from the tunnel before the first team for a quick, rudimentary warm up after being dropped in the deep end at Preston made me quite emotional. I find as I’m getting older things like this really get to me now – just a young boy really, all that pressure, all those people watching, all those thoughts racing through his mind, out there by himself, banging his big gloves together, fans singing his name in support. I thought he acquitted himself well there, making several second half saves to keep the score respectable. Against Sheff Utd, again, good saves, but he struggled in a second half land of the giants as they rained set pieces down on him for a full 45 minutes – I think boo boy target Dion Sanderson might have done a little bit more for him there, and do-no-wrong crowd favourite Jimmy Dunne certainly should have done.
He's too small, is my initial observation, but there’s potential there which he’s shown clearly in two outings. The question, and the issue, that came to a head at the end of the season is we’re supposed to be the sort of club where chances like that come along far more readily for players like this. If you have three senior goalkeepers and they all get injured then that’s unprecedented bad luck, but you then pick the next cab off the rank and if that’s Murphy Mahoney then that’s Murphy Mahoney. You don’t go hauling old soaks out of retirement to pick ahead of them. Marshall for a month when you’re fourth in the league I can perhaps see, Westwood far less so. In this area – signing not only David Marshall but Keiren Westwood as well, the Dillon Barnes thing, all of them placing ahead of Mahoney, the club has failed, and if it was Warburton pushing and demanding those signings then, with Westwood in particular, I can see why Les and co are pissed off with him. Would Mahoney really have done worse than four defeats and a draw from six outings?
Whatever you think of Mahoney’s prospects, or how Marshall and Westwood did, it’s not what we’re meant to be doing – not because it’s nice to have kids in our team, but because we cannot afford to do it any other way.
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