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End of Term Report 23/24 – Midfield
Thursday, 23rd May 2024 11:59 by Clive Whittingham

The third part of our end of term report focuses on QPR’s midfield – an enormous problem for this team for a number of seasons now, it’s been one of the areas of significant improvement under Marti Cifuentes.

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

4 – Jack Colback B/C

And so we come to the latest of Gareth’s culture warriors/snooper force/sponge avengers in this year’s end of terms. Initially that was something of a problem, because you can’t guard much culture from the back of the stand.

Jack Colback gets booked A LOT. There are more cards here than at Lucas Andersen’s gaff on Valentine’s Day. Just shy of a yellow every other game. Now, we have long said QPR are far too nice, far too easy to play against, no street smarts, never say anything to the referee, and too many opponents walk through our midfield untouched. Having somebody there to commit those cynical, tactical fouls can be quite valuable and I actually don’t mind it when Colback does that because I think we’ve lacked it in the past. However, look at some of the reasons for these punishments – three separate occasions he’s been booked for dissent, and once for kicking the ball away. If Sinclair Armstrong was picking up cards at this rate, and for these reasons, he’d be getting absolutely slaughtered for being immature, being a hot head, being a liability, undermining his whole career prospects. Here you’ve got your most senior player, 34-years-old, a decade of Premier League football, repeatedly getting booked because he can’t keep his trap shut. His early red card against his former club Sunderland, which completely turned a match Rangers were winning and dominating at the time, was again the sort of hot-headed mistake you expect of a player literally half Colback’s age.

There is an argument to say these incidents actually fuel him and get him going – look at him chuntering and angry after the daftest of all the bookings in the Leeds game – but it’s not good enough really. By the time we got past Christmas he’d already missed six matches through suspension and eight games injured. This had me making all the Marge Simpson grumbly noises. We had already had to hand out a two-year contract, with an option for a third, to a 34-year-old just to get him here. That, and the similar deals handed out to Steve Cook and Michy Frey, is QPR spending tomorrow’s money today, and I believe all of them are on much better money in their second year because of the FFP constraints we had in the first. It’s also, like Stefan Johansen before them, Rangers giving out two- and three-year contracts as the main incentive to come here, because the rest of football knows you should only be giving them one. While it’s paid off in the case of Cook, and we wait with some nervous trepidation for what Frey might do next year, Colback at the turn of the year looked, again, like QPR failing to learn from past mistakes.

There is, though, another number that stands out among Colback’s facts and figures. His win percentage of 41.38% is among the highest among the players who’ve been here all season. It’s bang in between Steve Cook, whose difference to the team we eulogised about in part two, and Jake Clarke-Salter, who we had as the other main candidate for player of the year. For the crucial Preston and Leeds games Cifuentes went with Colback over Hayden and that’s because under the Spaniard Rangers lost only five times in 19 games when Ginger Jack was on the pitch. This all despite winning one and losing eight of his first ten games here.

He's easily the best midfielder we have on the press and is always first to move on the trigger when we’re looking to win the ball high. He knows when to go and when to stay. I thought against Leeds he was a cut above the opposition midfield which got completely bullied and played out of the game. In a big home win against Millwall in January he set the tone, and that was probably his best performance of the season. This, I guess, is the stuff you expect you’re getting when you sign Jack Colback. Note also, though, that his pass completion is at 89% - the team’s best total. His three goals against Southampton, Boro and Norwich were all classy affairs and – you’ll get bored of me saying this over the next 5,000 words or so – exactly the sort of goals our central midfielders should be scoring, need to be scoring, much more often.

Quite a frustrating player at times, and the wisdom of giving a contract out like that to a player right at the end of his career we’ll only be able to assess fully this time next year, but, look, with Jack Colback in the team this year QPR 1.379 points per game, without him 0.8 points a game. He missed both Sheff Wed debacles and, like Cook, his absence over Christmas coincided with Cifuentes’ only bad run of results so far (eight without a win) and included a showing at Millwall every bit as bad as the slop being served up before. So, quite a valuable member of the squad as well.

In numbers:

24 starts, 5 sub appearances, W12 D4 L13 (41.38% win percentage)

3 goals (Southampton A, Boro A, Norwich H), 2 assists (Boro A, Millwall H)

1 red card (Sunderland H, serious foul play), 13 yellow cards (Ipswich H repetitive fouling, Southampton A dissent, Boro A foul, Huddersfield A foul, West Brom A foul, Leicester H dissent, Norwich A dissent, Stoke H foul, Watford H foul, Huddersfield H foul, Rotherham H foul, Birmingham H foul, Leeds H kicking ball away)

2 LFW Man of the Match Awards (Southampton A, Millwall H), 1 Supporter MOTM Award (Millwall H)

LFW Ratings — 6, 7, 8, 3, 4, 3, 6, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 5, 8, 4, 7, 7, 4, 7, 6, 5, 6, 6, 6, 4, 7, 8, 6 = 5.62

Interactive Ratings — 5.76

8 – Sam Field B

I actually feared for Sam Field a little bit after the change of manager.

Marks and Spencer’s cardigan model in chief had swept the boards at the hollowest of end of season awards ceremonies for 22/23, winning everything bar the best goal award – which he almost certainly would have taken too had he ever scored. With the last two thirds of a dire campaign often boiling down to Sam Field vs The World, nobody could deny he was a worthy winner. No Championship outfielder played more than his 4,033 minutes. Nobody in our team made more tackles (113), more blocks (87) or more interceptions (81). His goal at Burnley three games out from the end of the season was crucial in the team’s ultimate survival. And yet… It is a pretty sad indictment that turning up for work, putting a shift in, making a level of effort, trying your best, maintaining a 5.77/6.19 grade average, was enough to not only win you the player of the year award, but win it so obviously and by such a wide margin. Like handing out a Pulitzer Prize to the one story in The Daily Mail that’s actually true.

While Gareth Ainsworth was still in charge, this routine was always likely to be more than enough to make Sam Field the main man in midfield again. QPR would neither have the ball, nor want it. Possession could “do one”. Against the vast majority of opponents the aim would be to sit in, deep, tight and narrow, and try and keep the game competitive and the scoreline close enough to nick something from a set piece – a set up flawed by, among other things, our lack of plan to even cross the halfway line and win a set piece in the first place, and our penchant for belting them straight into the face of the nearest defender on the rare occasions we did get one. In that environment, Sam Field standing in front of an embattled defence, chucking himself in front of stuff, bringing down and fouling attackers whenever they threatened to expose our back four, was pretty important. Once again, he had the most blocks (61) and the most interceptions (62) in the team. Once again, he got booked one game in three (a ban for five yellow cards as soon as September 22 and round nine is some going) and the only matches he missed all year were through suspension. Once again, he turned up for work - only Chair (3,748), Paal (3,809) and Begovic (4,050) played more minutes than Field’s (3,470). And, once again, he didn’t score a goal until March.

Being our best player without the ball makes him vital to Gareth Ainsworth, being one of the worst with it made him vulnerable under Cifuentes. QPR’s central midfield had been a problem for a long time. It didn’t score, it didn’t create, it didn’t really protect the defence. It just sat there because we had to pick 11 players. In Cifuentes’ preferred 4-3-3, with a high press out of possession and Cruyffian principles with it, your midfield is vital. It needs to be mobile, it needs to have pivots, it needs to take the ball on the half turn and progress it. Simply sitting deep, tackling everybody, and banging every ball you receive straight back at whichever centre back passed it to you in the first place would no longer cut it. No surprise to see Elijah Dixon Bonner, previously ignored, involved right away in Cifuentes’ first game at Rotherham. This is the new direction of the Oakland A’s. And Field, who we’d long said has the ability and technique, and height in both boxes, to be scoring at least half a dozen goals for this team a season, would need to start doing exactly that.

Honest Mick had previously toyed with the idea of Field as more of a forward-thinking ‘eight’, and got a goal out of him in a pre-season friendly at Crawley, but quickly abandoned the idea after an inauspicious start to the season and poor results against Blackburn, Blackpool and Rotherham. Initially under Cifuentes we did, indeed, see Field much higher up the pitch and starting to threaten in the opposition penalty box. Unfortunately, he missed the same, almost identical, chance in exactly the same way three times in quick succession late in the games at Rotherham, Norwich and Sheff Wed. The Hillsborough miss, four minutes from time while leading 1-0, was particularly costly as the Owls broke immediately to equalise and then won in stoppage time. From a ten-point gap between the sides to them right back in contention – Danny Rohl’s side would end up surviving because of the six points QPR gifted them across the two games. Those misses left six points on the table in little more than a fortnight, turning two wins and a draw into two defeats and a single point. Field’s penchant for yellow cards – one in the opening minute at home to Plymouth a particular eye-roller – would also count against him with a manager who frequently removes players booked in the first half at half time (QPR went from a division-worst four red cards in the first dozen games to none at all under their new boss). With Colback returning to fitness in the new year, Isaac Hayden recruited, Dixon-Bonner emerging, it looked like Field might be squeezed out.

Instead, he’s become exactly the midfielder we always wanted him to be. The most obvious change is he is now scoring goals. Vital goals to win a point against his former club West Brom in one of the team performances of the season, and denied a remarkable hat trick in that game only by a Cedric Kipre handball on the goalline, and again at Plymouth in a relegation six pointer we all thought he’d won for us until Asmir Begovic’s calamitous late intervention. The fourth against Leeds was more cake icing on a night of celebration, but these are all exactly the sort of goals he should be scoring – headers from set plays, arriving late in the box to follow in on chances. He’s more than good enough, and under Cifuentes he’s starting to show it. Four goals in ten games, more than he’d managed in his first 130 appearances for the club.

More quietly, he didn’t pick up a single yellow card in his final 15 appearances. He had 11, and missed three matches in two separate suspensions, by January 28, and then never saw yellow again. A product of us having the ball and being more in control of games, sure. But, also, another coaching point of success. Here is a player developing and improving, rather than stagnating and going backwards. So much so that, far from being under threat, Field once again became first name on the team sheet for a manager with an entirely different style and philosophy to his predecessor. For crucial games towards the end of the year it was Jack Colback left out (Birmingham H) or Isaac Hayden benched (Preston and Leeds). It meant a Cifuentes team was playing without a midfield pivot at all really, unthinkable in a Cruyffian football team, and what it looks like next season is another test case for whether this is Cifuentes adapting permanently to the Championship or just being pragmatic in the short term. He prioritised height and physicality in the run in, moving QPR from worst to best in attacking and defensive set pieces over the final dozen games, and having a six-foot-plus central midfielder to add to your defenders and centre forward helps a lot with that. Field was a lot more than a beanpole though, he adapted and grew into Cifuentes’ QPR brilliantly.

And so we look forward in hope, to a brave new dawn under this manager, but also to what Sam Field may be about to become. Still only 25 and with a new three- and a half-year contract signed in January, there’s plenty more growth to come and this manager has given strong hints he may be the one to unlock that.

In numbers:

41 starts, 4 sub appearances, W14 D9 L20 (32.56% win percentage)

4 goals (West Brom H, West Brom H, Plymouth A, Leeds H), 3 assists (Hull H, Bournemouth H, Leicester A)

11 yellow cards (Watford A foul, Norwich H foul, Ipswich H foul, Southampton A foul, Birmingham H foul, Leeds A foul, Bristol City H fighting, Plymouth H foul, Sheff Wed A foul, Watford H foul, Huddersfield H foul)

3 LFW Man of the Match Awards (Leicester H, West Brom H, Plymouth A), 4 Supporter MOTM Award (Norwich H, Birmingham A, West Brom H, Plymouth A)

LFW Ratings — 3, 7, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 6, 8, 4, 5, 5, 4, 6, 5, 6, 5, 5, 6, 5, 5, 5, 6, 5, 7, 4, 5, 5, 7, 4, -, 7, 6, 7, 8, 5, -, 6, 7, 5, 7, 4, 7, 8, 6 = 5.72

Interactive Ratings — 6.19

14 – Isaac Hayden B/C

Such is the level of PR and media training in sport, so terrified is anybody of saying anything controversial that gets them in trouble or provides advantage to an opponent, so cliché-riddled and driven is so much of football’s language and discourse, that paying any attention at all to interviews with football players and managers is a fool’s mission. That situation has unfortunately coincided with a 24-hour internet-driven media cycle that needs constant feeding, and so we’re hearing from the likes of Jurgen Klopp and Pep Guardiola sometimes a dozen times a week, in endless rounds of pre- and post-match TV interviews, press conferences, club official channels and so on. Even at QPR’s level, in a three-game week it’s not unusual to be hearing from Marti Cifuentes ten or 11 times, particularly if one of the games is on Sky.

Amongst that never ending tsunami of beige paint, somebody with something worthwhile and interesting to say stands out a mile. I suspect I was barely even really listening at all, pedalling frantically to keep the 48 match previews and reports show on the road, when Isaac Hayden was welcomed to the club and started talking about “grit, determination, heart” and all sorts of other stock phrases you’d have got whether you’d signed Joey Barton or Lucas Andersen, appointed Mick McCarthy or Roberto De Zerbi. Then, suddenly, a sharp right turn, into a discussion about “accountability”. Ears pricked up. Now you’re talking my language. Somebody in the QPR squad talking about taking some responsibility? We should have him stuffed and kept in the trophy cabinet. “Accountability is a big one for me,” Hayden said, setting out on one of the more erudite five minutes of footballer chat you’ll hear. “Everyone accountable and responsible for their own performances. Whether you’re playing five minutes, ten minutes, a young lad who’s not in the first team yet or a senior pro. Everybody has to pull in the same direction and fight for every point. Every day in training coming in, doing your work at maximum intensity.” Yes please. Here’s the keys to my apartment and the code to my ATM card.

Now, perhaps I am a little blinded by having somebody at QPR finally saying out loud some of the things I’ve been writing on repeat over the previous 18 months. And, like not being sure whether Reggie Cannon was any good or we’d just had to watch 20 games of Osman Kakay, is Isaac Hayden that good or had I just been suffering a midfield with the likes of Dozzell and Tim Iroegbunam for too long? With those biases declared, I would nevertheless go out to bat for Hayden all day long. I think he’s been a big part of the change in attitude and culture around the place. He has been a little up and down (we gave him marks of four at Hull and Sheff Wed at home, where I thought he was really poor in a game that shouldn’t have been hard for him to excel in) but at 46.67% he’s got one of the highest win percentages of any player who started more than ten games – getting on for 15% above the team average.

The questions now are whether he can stay, and whether you’d really want him to if it is possible. He’s on a fortune at Newcastle, with two years to run on his deal. Like Jeff Hendrick (only a billion times more effective) were only able to get him in the first place because it was the end of the window, options to get money for him had gone, and Jamie Reuben on the Newcastle board is tight as arse cheeks with Amit Bhatia. He’s certainly not in the picture at St James’ Park anymore, and there’s some vague suggestion he’s going to come to a financial settlement there, is keen to return to London, money not really the priority… might be a thing.

From here you have to try and weigh up whether it would be QPR doing silly QPR things all over again. Spending all our holiday money at the airport. Does he, actually, fit into a Cifuentes team? Can he receive it and move it as Cifuentes would want as a pivot? By the time it came to Preston and Leeds the manager was going with Colback and Field ahead of him. He has had a number of injury issues in the recent past – his recent loan spell in a 46-game season at this level with Norwich was a dead loss, which should be a warning flag.

Now 29 he’s certainly a long way off done. Our recruitment, particularly in the disastrous Mick Beale summer of 2022, has perhaps focused too much on development prospects we can sell for money, as opposed to putting a competitive, durable team on the field in a tough league. We shouldn’t be reticent in adding experienced players, and bar Begovic every one of those we brought in this season – a top priority for Gareth Ainsworth – have shown their worth at one time or another. The market for Championship footballers has largely collapsed post Covid anyway, so the hopes of getting into that Brentford-type cycle of flogging a player for £10m+ every summer is diminished. Nevertheless, it is one of the very few escape routes available to QPR from here and the team has swung dramatically in the opposite direction – only five teams had an older average age than our 26.7 last year (Sunderland were lowest with 22.4) and as far as significant minutes to U21s go ours basically begin and end with Sinclair Armstrong (albeit the two other best rated prospects, Kolli and Aoraha, had bad injuries). You’ve already committed to Jack Colback for another year, Sam Field’s now got three more years, you want Elijah Dixon-Bonner to stay… do you need Isaac Hayden as well? When your budget surely needs to be concentrated on strikers and goalkeepers?

I don’t know. I’d lean towards yes, because I like and rate the guy. But then I went pretty hot and heavy for Stefan Johansen as well. Now, like then, it’s quite possible that you brought in a loan player to do a job, that job is now done, and you all move on. Never marry your holiday romance.

In numbers:

12 starts, 5 sub appearances, W7 D4 L4 (46.67% win percentage)

0 goals, 0 assists

6 yellow cards (Stoke A foul, Bristol City A delaying restart, Rotherham H foul, Boro H foul, Birmingham H foul, Sheff Wed H foul)

2 LFW Man of the Match Awards (Norwich H, Sunderland A), 1 Supporter MOTM Award (Norwich H)

LFW Ratings — 7, 8, 5, 7, 5, 8, 7, 4, 7, 7, 6, 4, 6, 4, -, -, 6 = 6.06

Interactive Ratings — 6.06

16 – Joe Hodge N/A

Both regular readers will know from my Tim Iroegbunam diatribe last season that I am often very wary of loans like this. Kids from sheltered Premier League academies (Hodge spent his youth beating up the other boys at financially doped Man City and is now in the junior ranks at Wolves) shoved into the cut and thrust of, in our case, a Championship relegation battle and expected to perform to the reputation of their parent club.

That strong, vocal corner of modern football support’s broad church who exist online rather than at the games and are absolutely obsessed with signings, on the other hand, love one like this. The Fifa Ultimate Teams bois get very doe-eyed for signings of this nature: a Premier League academy player, Tweeted about a lot by @YouthHawk2638, who won everything in the game on their last Football Manager ‘save’, going on the slate from some proper, big, important club you’ve heard of, for idiot scum outfits like ours. Cifuentes is cooking, QPR are cooking, Nourry is cooking, everybody is cooking – it’s like a footballing Wing Fest. Not that I’m the suspicious or cynical type, but for the level of Joe Hodge knowledge and enthusiasm upon his arrival on Twitter in particular one can only assume the online TV audience for Wolves and Ireland U21 games must be astronomical.

The hype, as ever, was unfair and misplaced, though it didn’t appear that way on his debut. Stepping off the bench at Blackburn in February he immediately strode onto the best bit of Sinclair Armstrong’s rocks and diamonds performance at Ewood Park, drew the keeper, and finished with aplomb into the far corner. At 21 years and 142 days the youngest player to score on QPR debut since Paul Smyth at 20 years and 113 days against Cardiff in January 2018 (hat tip Jack Supple, as if you needed telling). What on earth was this, a midfielder running beyond the strikers to join the attack? A midfielder scoring goals? Sorcery. Print a copy out for Andre to take home with him and study.

I guess if you score with your first touch it’s always going to be all downhill from there and indeed Hodge turned out to be barely a bit-part player through the rest of the season – albeit one boasting a W4 D3 L1, 50% win percentage, record across his eight appearances.

I felt a bit sorry for him really – he’d been so desperate to get here and play some games after an injury problem at Molineux that he drove down to London overnight after sitting on the bench for Wolves against Man Utd so that he’d be able to be on the team coach all the way back up to Blackburn and play in the game. Again, like Isaac Hayden, exactly the sort of shift in attitude and application we’d been desperately looking for and part of the culture Cifuentes and Nourry are keen to build here. I would have liked for him to be rewarded for that positive mental attitude with the first team football he was desperately hoping for.

I think he perhaps suffered from being brought to QPR more as that attacking midfield option we saw on debut at Ewood Park, when in fact for Ireland and Wolves he’s a much deeper midfield player. Either way, is he getting in up top ahead of Chair, Willock and Andersen, or further back ahead of Colback, Hayden and Field? Probably not. Injuries through the second half of the season may have changed the picture but they never came and we’ve already credited the turnaround in that regard led by Ben Williams in part two. He’s also only a wee lad, and it was very clear to me through the second half of the season that height and physicality of the team were prioritised to make us more difficult to play against, harder to beat, and stem the bleeding from set pieces. With Kenneth Paal and Ilias Chair already in the side, and essentially undroppable, perhaps at times they felt they just couldn’t afford another five footer in there.

A bit of a shame really, interesting to see where he ends up next, and we’ll always have Blackburn. That goal, and result, a huge moment in the turnaround – QPR had won one of ten and four of 25 before that match, they won nine and lost only four of 17 after it.

In numbers:

4 starts, 4 sub appearances, W4 D3 L1 (50% win percentage)

1 goal (Blackburn A), 0 assists

1 yellow card (Rotherham H foul)

0 LFW Man of the Match Awards, 0 Supporter MOTM Award

LFW Ratings – 7, 6, 5, 6, 5, 6, 5, 5 = 5.625

Interactive Ratings — 5.84

17 – Andre Dozzell F

On average, over the course of the season, QPR’s overall win percentage hovered around 31-32%. What I sometimes find instructive when we’re looking at impact and influence of players is when that average jumps substantially with them in the team – the team wins 42% of the time with Jack Colback in it, for instance, or 46% with Isaac Hayden. Steve Cook and Jake Clarke-Salter also nudge us up another 10% or thereabouts. With Andre Dozzell in it, the team wins barely 15% of the time – half as often as it does when he’s not playing.

Now, you could contend that Dozzell was here in the first half of the season under Gareth Ainsworth when things were mostly dreadful, while Colback and Hayden played the majority/all of their football in the second half under Cifuentes when were a top ten side on form. I would counter that it’s precisely because we were picking players like Andre Dozzell in the first half of the season that things got as bad as they did. And I’ll tell you for why…

Lucas Andersen, whose arrival was directly funded by Dozzell’s departure, got three assists in his first six games with QPR. That is as many as Dozzell managed for the club in three years. ‘Dre’ played 98 games for QPR and was shown as many red cards as he scored goals (two). There was actually some chat in the autumn that he was improved and having a decent campaign. He scored a wonderous goal of the season contender, off the post and into the top corner at Middlesbrough with the away fans right behind its trajectory, that had his enthusiastic online fan club hailing their baller and dissing his naysayers. Another goal, arriving late to the penalty area to finish a loose second ball chance at home to Leicester, was, like we’ve said with Sam Field, exactly the sort of goals he and our central midfielders as a collective should be scoring. But in many ways these rare flashes, and particularly a goal as technically brilliant as that Middlesbrough one, only added to the frustration – he could/can do it, he just doesn’t have the heart or physicality to inflict and impose it on games nearly often enough. Those two strikes, and one corner headed in by Jake Clarke-Salter at Huddersfield, made this his best season for goal contributions for QPR. Three. That’s his best ever total, and he’s your ball-playing midfielder.

If you are starting with a central midfielder who does not score goals, does not create goals, does not prevent goals, and does not influence games then you are essentially starting games with ten men. Even the better teams in this division would struggle to win many games starting them a man light every week, let alone Gareth Ainsworth’s shambolic QPR. To really hammer home the point, ‘Doz’ occasionally likes to pick up a brainless red card so you are actually, physically playing with ten men as opposed to just metaphorically. The red he got at home to Leicester, retaliating to a foul that he’d committed, was the stupidest thing I’d seen since Jimmy Dunne’s the week before, and killed QPR’s chances of an unlikely result in that game which had started to look possible up to that point.

Going through a Championship season with this as your first-choice central midfielder is like wearing a meat suit and going jogging in Jurassic Park – you are asking for trouble. But, at least you may notice that guy. Dozzell’s propensity to hide, for hours at a time, was infuriating. Eight passes in an hour and a bit away at West Brom, six completed successfully, a particularly stark lowlight. They took him on Gareth’s big Jungle Jims teambuilding exercise in Austria and it turned out he was afraid of heights. Fuck me dead.

Andre Dozzell in theory is exactly the sort of progressive passer from midfield a Marti Cifuentes team requires, and yet he was the one they were happy to bomb out while persevering with Field et al. He was one of several who were basically done after the debacle at Millwall on Boxing Day, where he was atrocious.

That QPR, in the state they were in, were happy to loan a guy who’d started 24 times for them through the first half of the season to a relegation rival, said so much. West London Sport’s podcast recently hinted the move had been driven by Tony Mowbray doing his old mate Jason a favour, and once Gary Rowett took over as manager number six for the year at St Andrew’s Dozzell finished up not even making the bench. Difficult not to conclude that with a different surname and less influential dad his career would be nowhere near the level it’s reached. That the wage it freed up was enough to bring in players of the quality of Isaac Hayden, Joe Hodge and Lucas Andersen (not you Frey) is a frightening window into how badly wrong we got our transfer dealings the last time a bit of money came our way, and a cautionary tale for this summer and beyond. That Birmingham subsequently got relegated, and QPR survived, said most of all.

Andre Dozzell has played for three professional clubs, and let’s examine his impact at those. He left Ipswich in League One, they’ve since been promoted to the Premier League. He left Queens Park Rangers in the relegation zone, they survived by six points. He joined Birmingham City in lower midtable, they were relegated to League One instead.

What more is there to say? F, for fuckety bye.

In numbers:

24 starts, 3 sub appearances, W4 D5 L17 (15.385% win percentage – squad low)

2 goals (Boro A, Leicester H), 1 assist (Huddersfield A)

1 red card (Leicester H, idiocy) 5 yellow cards (Coventry H foul, Leicester H foul, Leicester H retaliation, Norwich A foul, Sheff Wed A foul)

1 LFW Man of the Match Awards (Boro A), 1 Supporter MOTM Award (Boro A)

LFW Ratings —2, 6, 5, 5, 6, 8, 6, 5, 7, 5, 5, 4, 6, 4, 4, 5, 4, 7, 6, 6, 5, 5, 5, 6, 3, 5, - = 5.192

Interactive Ratings — 5.19

18 – Taylor Richards U

Made four league appearances this season and remained unbeaten throughout, so, I don’t know, a B?

Cultural learnings for your burgeoning football executive… If Brighton & Hove Albion, one of the smartest clubs in world football at the moment, are willing to loan you one of their players with a low (relative to them) fixed fee at the end of that spell, it should tell you they are supremely confident that player is going to do nothing whatsoever to make them look stupid and regret that. If Brighton think there’s even half a chance a player they once paid a couple of million to get from Man City’s academy is going to tear into the Championship with even a sort of moderate eight goals and eight assists-type figures, they’re not going to loan him to you with an agreed £500k figure at the end of the spell. That they were willing to do so for Taylor should have sent us running for the hills.

Running certainly isn’t something he’s overly keen on. He doesn’t appear to be spending a great deal of his off-field time in the gym – ballooning up into the sort of physical condition you’d think a bit much for a pub player. Gareth Ainsworth and Richard Dobson took him on the pre-season tour of Austria and gave him the chance for a fresh start and redemption. He rewarded them with a performance in the second game, against pathetically poor opposition he should have been able to take to school, which, even for a pre-season game, I felt was quite shameful. Ainsworth said he’d “tossed it off”. Picked again regardless at Oxford he jumped so high out of a tackle over by the dugouts he had to pay to get back in, and the U’s ran clear to score one of their five on the afternoon. That was him done under Ainsworth, and rightly fucking so as well.

Richards, all class, popped up with a celebratory social media post when he was sacked, but it’s not Ainsworth’s problem or fault - that's the last three managers at QPR now who have simply not been having this guy. Three very different characters and styles with one thing in common – they take one look at Taylor Richards and do not like what they see.

Christian Nourry, apparently, found a taker for him at the end of January to try and shift his wage and free up more FFP headroom for further squad strengthening. If that’s true, then this guy is some sort of magician. Unfortunately, we never got to find out, as he picked up an injury which Cifuentes would playfully assign to a different part of the body in each week’s press conference. Presumably that happened trying on fucking trainers in Westfield, or filming some top quality content bantz for the Gram, because it certainly wasn’t through playing any bloody football.

Of course a lot of these things were said about Dele Alli for a long time – lazy, can’t be arsed, dreadful attitude, terrible lifestyle, dodgy friendship circles, mercenary etc etc. Then he comes out and tells you what he’s been through in his life and you feel bad for being so hard on the lad. Maybe that will happen here, although when you’ve got him repeatedly posting Instagram stories of his big banterous Saturdays out with the ladz, grinning from ear to ear, when he’s meant to be playing for us, it’s difficult to buy into the ‘oh he’s just terribly stricken with grief’ narrative.

Nourry is taking steps at the club, such as interviewing every player we sign before agreeing to the deal, to improve our vetting of the characters we’re bringing in here. Richards, remember, the guy who got injured in his Birmingham City medical – AVOID AVOID AVOID. The proof of those measures will be in the pudding, though Lucas Andersen and Isaac Hayden are two ticks in the right column for his first transfer window. For now though, in a summer where we had no money at all to spend, having to spend on this absolute waste was a disaster.

In numbers:

1 start, 4 sub appearances, W0 D2 L1

0 goals, 0 assists, 0 Cards

0 LFW Man of the Match Awards, 0 Supporter MOTM Awards

LFW Ratings — -, 4, 4, -, 4 = 4.00

Interactive Ratings — 4.92

19 – Elijah Dixon-Bonner C

Potentially a classic bit of LFW hypocrisy coming here having absolutely slaughtered Andre Dozzell for neither scoring goals nor setting goals up from midfield, while praising Elijah Dixon-Bonner who made 11 starts and 15 sub appearances in the same role and contributed just one assist – and that for Ilias Chair’s 25 yard worldie at Coventry so quite a generous assist at that. Below par win percentage as well.

Nevertheless, I like Dixon-Bonner a fair bit. I think he brings a progression out of midfield that none of the three senior first teamers ahead of him (Field, Colback, Hayden) struggle to do. That’s why, I believe, he was involved immediately once Cifuentes was appointed (literally straight in for first ever league start for the club in his first match at Rotherham) and I’m surprised the Spaniard hasn’t involved him a bit more with that ability to take the ball on the half turn and get us moving forwards.

For me he’s actually the opposite of Dozzell in that he never hides out there on the field, wants the ball constantly, and gets us moving forwards every time. Look at him in the build up to that goal at Cov, happy to receive the ball in a tight spot out on the left, working himself into space, then demanding players come towards him and show for a pass before picking the right option – getting the team onto the front foot, and very quickly scoring a great goal. He’s also only ever started 12 games of senior football in his life, while Dozzell is up around the 150 mark.

Dixon-Bonner perhaps fell victim to the pragmatic prioritisation of height, physicality, experience and game smarts over the run in which, however much you like EDB or otherwise, you’d have to admit worked exactly as they hoped it would. With his contract up, but a new deal on the table, the question he’s now asking himself is whether Cifuentes will go back to his more purist principals for 24/25 with a whole summer to work on the team and without the millstone of two wins from the first 17 games hanging round the neck of the team, or whether this is what the manager now believes is required to succeed in the Championship. In what Nourry likes to describe as the “4-3-3 game model” Dixon-Bonner is a great option, but he turns 24 on New Year’s Day and he is desperate to play first team football.

Mentored by Ian Wright, he won’t be short of contacts. He won’t be short of interest either.

In numbers:

11 starts, 15 sub appearances, W5 D4 L11 (25% win percentage)

0 goals, 1 assist (Coventry A)

2 yellow cards (Southampton H fight, Blackburn A foul)

0 LFW Man of the Match Awards, 0 Supporter MOTM Awards

LFW Ratings: -, 5, 6, 5, -, 5, 5, 7, -, 6, 6, 7, -, 6, 5, 6, 5, 6, 5, 5, 5, -, 4, 6, -, 7 = 5.6

Interactive Ratings — 5.59

37 – Albert Adomah E

Another all’s well that ends well story as we bid a fond farewell to Albert Adomah, a good two years later than we really should have been bidding farewell to Albert Adomah.

We’ve all got homes to go to so let’s keep the rehash of points we’ve made many times before brief. The ridiculousness of a QPR fan from Shepherd’s Bush playing for years down the road at Harrow Borough and Barnet without us paying a blind bit of notice, only for him to go and have a terrific career in the top two divisions with Bristol City, Middlesbrough and Villa many miles from home. The feel-good glow of him finally coming home to W12 for an Indian summer with Rangers, and the sorry frustration at us all being locked in our homes for his first season here, which included moments like a last minute winner at Watford, and game-sealing third in front of the Loft End at home to Luton, that you’d have paid thousands to be there for. I thought he was pretty terrific in that first season – his ball for Macauley Bonne’s winner at Luton, or Bright Osayi-Samuel’s equaliser at Norwich, showcasing his consistent ability to get the final ball right every single time.

His second season, with crowds in grounds, brought connection and memorable moments such as the winning penalty in the shoot out at Orient, and his raucously celebrated goals at Birmingham and Coventry when it looked like Mark Warburton’s side could push for promotion. Although we would belatedly get our chance to go apeshit behind the goal at Vicarage Road celebrating an Albert Adomah goal in year three under Mick Beale, it had been very clear towards the end of that Warburton season that Adomah was just about done. A performance away at Sheff Utd right in the trough of the team’s collapse was really quite embarrassing – like watching a dad in a dads and lads match – and I was certain he’d be released that summer. To not only keep him, but keep him for two years, was insanity.

The story goes that so keen was Adomah to come and end his career here that the contract was for far less than you would have thought, and he walked into Harlington, signed it, and walked out without even reading the thing. But it won’t have been for nothing for a player of that pedigree, and in a season when we were right on the FFP line carrying a 36-year-old record Championship appearance holder in your development squad is just bloody crazy talk. When he did play this year he had the worst pass completion recordin the whole squad and his legs were completely gone – ratings of 3, 3, 5, 6, 4, 4, 5, -, -, 5, 3, 3, -, -, -, 5, -, 6.

That, inevitably, started to draw friendly fire as the team struggled. Adomah even referenced it himself in his farewell interview, “I know some of you think I outstayed”, which is really quite sad. Over the winter he had a little fire back at one Twitter comment pointing out that A) he was earning far less than the £12k a week that was being touted around and B) he was at least turning up to work, which was a comment clearly fired totally fairly and utterly squarely at another squad member in this section of our round up. It is to Adomah’s credit that he was ready, happy and willing to go and play with the development squad and lend them the benefit of his experience in the game, rather than just toss it off and collect his money through the final six months of his deal as I suspect just about every other 36-year-old in his position, with his career, would have done – and certainly several other far less decorated players have done at QPR in recent times. I don’t see Taylor sticking his hand up for too much development squad action, for instance.

After all of that, and with the fact we should have released him two years ago parked, it was wonderful that we could finish the season getting him to the 525 record Championship appearance figure (he’s also now QPR’s all time record substitute, with 81 appearances from the bench), and giving him a huge send off at Loftus Road in front of a capacity crowd and TV audience, under the lights, while running a large pork sword right through the shitter of Leeds United. Wonderful because it meant we were safe, and could afford to do it; because it meant he didn’t finish on the potentially disastrous own goal at Plymouth; because he’s a decent guy, who’s had a great career; and plenty more obvious stuff besides.

Also because Marti Cifuentes is trying to build a group here with collective responsibility, accountability and spirit that had previously been entirely missing. Where lots of modern managers are engaging in this performative full time triple fist pump celebration in front of the fans, Cifuentes hangs back behind the players and points at them when the crowd sing his name. It’s not about him, or any individuals really, in his ideal QPR. It’s about a collective. They’ve started taking big group photos in the changing room after wins, like the one at Blackburn or the homer v Leeds. That’s the sort of Arsenal trick that winds up dinosaurs like Richards Keys when they’re not busy knocking off their daughter’s best mate, but managers like Arteta do it for a reason. Cifuentes likes winning, he wants his team to like winning, he keeps telling us we should enjoy them. At the end of the year he got everybody together on the training ground for a big group pic before they all went off on their hols. I haven’t seen stuff like that QPR before. It’ll take a lot of turnaround from the state of the place and squad he inherited, but one thing players will see, and like, and will help, is him going out of his way to get a character like Albert those games at the end, for the record and the reception from the fans. Footballers like that a lot, and they like managers who get that. A big moment for ‘Uncs’, but also potentially for QPR as well.

In numbers:

3 starts, 16 sub appearances, W2 D2 L7 (18.18% win percentage)

0 goals, 0 assist

2 yellow cards (Cardiff A foul, Coventry A foul)

0 LFW Man of the Match Awards, 0 Supporter MOTM Awards

LFW Ratings: 3, 3, 5, 6, 4, 4, 5, -, -, 5, 3, 3, -, -, -, 5, -, 6 = 4.33

Interactive Ratings — 5.01

Others >>> Stephen Duke-McKenna had long been thought of as a potential cover option in midfield – like a Josh Scowen ratting type for certain desperate occasions. There had been some substitute appearances under Mark Warburton to that end. When it came to the crunch, he wasn’t up to the level, and watching poor Jack Colback have to babysit him through the home shellacking by Blackburn was savage. Six starts, ten sub appearances (W3 D7 L6) and two goals in a 4-4 draw at MK Dons on the final day for a Sutton team relegated from League Two will attract the attention of somebody somewhere this summer. We wait to find out who.

The club are steadily announcing the release of such players one by one this summer, with a Christian Nourry ‘shit you heard on LinkedIn’ comment thrown in for each of them. Will we have enough inquisitive minds here next season? I suspect he might be doing these as a bet with somebody, but overall I’m quite pleased with the change of approach as I’ve often found QPR quite bitter and chippy in bidding players farewell after giving decent service – Mass Luongo springs to mind here – and coming back to that culture Cifuentes is trying to build in his squad it’s a little thing that could make a big difference.

What it is bringing home, however, is just how much, under the Les Ferdinand, Chris Ramsey and Manisha Tailor (all now moved on themselves) regime, we hung onto large amounts of footballers way past the point it was obvious they were never going to be good enough for the Championship. Often that obviousness was born from their physical attributes – Aaron Drewe, for instance, who we’ve already discussed, and Rafferty Pedder, who, however much ability he may or may not have, weighs as much as a loud fart.

Seeing a more ruthless approach to our retention, and a move towards a more physical, durable, difficult to play against squad is, for me, welcome. There may be some mistakes amongst them, and if you were a betting man you’d probably look at Arkell Jude-Boyd who Mick Beale was a big fan of, scored six goals in 17 games on the way to being Torquay’s young player of the year in National League South, and is apparently interesting Plymouth and Rotherham. Overall, though, it’s long overdue here.

Of those that stay, Iraq international Alex Aoraha is the one making the most noise, but will have to recover from a horribly timed broken leg first.

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

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will16macgill added 16:23 - May 26
There’s always mentions of Richards socials but I’ve never been able to find him. What is his user handle?

tsbains64 added 09:43 - May 28
Love Collback but has way too many unnecessary yellow
Sam Field as an M and S model- perfect
Tayor Richards- mental health can be painful-give him time to recover
Andre- the Boro goal should have been GOS
Uncs- is a legend -always gave 100% Loved his farewell

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