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End of Term 23/24 – Attack
Saturday, 25th May 2024 11:56 by Clive Whittingham

The fourth and final part of our annual review and number crunch of the QPR squad finishes with the club’s amazing non-scoring strikers.

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.

7 – Chris Willock C/D

Chris Willock started this season as he’d finished the last – firmly out of favour with manager Gareth Ainsworth. At Watford, a game in which QPR quickly went 4-0 down while playing Paul Smyth and Charlie Kelman up top behind Lyndon Dykes, Ainsworth made Willock go on as his final sub on 90+7. There’s poking players for a reaction, and there’s spitefully taking the piss out of them. You’ll all have your own opinions of where that one placed on the line between the two. What was crystal clear was that Willock’s often total disregard of the defensive duties of a winger were considered a liability by a manager who intended to play without the ball a lot more than with it. Ainsworth didn’t trust Willock, and had told him that explicitly to his face.

Any new manager coming in to replace Ainsworth when the inevitable axing came was going to have a tough hand of cards to work with. We used to defend Gareth because he’d inherited a mess in the middle of a season and had little FFP headroom to put it right in his first summer. Well, whoever came in next had all of that inheritance plus what Gareth had done with the break-glass-in-case-of-emergency credit card. We said in our FourFourTwo season preview QPR would “sack Ainsworth around the time of Rotherham away in October, and we’ll spend the rest of the season with Ajax Youth Bot 3.6 trying to teach four-box-two systems to Josh Scowen”. I’m starting to think I’ve been doing this job too long.

One of the pretty obvious cards any newcomer could play, however, was reintegrating Chris Willock, rated as one of the ten best players outside the Premier League by that same magazine just 18 months prior, back into the first team. Stick an arm round him, tell him you love him, get him fit, get him back in, get Illy and Willy back together down that left side, and let the strictly business start to flow. When Neil Warnock briefly became the short-odds favourite for his Seventeenth Annual Farewell Tour you could almost hear him: “He's a lovely lad Chrissy. I tried to sign him you know, at Boro, and you buggers wouldn't let me have him. But I've got him now and he's a smashing player. I said ‘come on Chrissy lad let’s get us bikes out and go round Richmond Park’. He said ‘gaffer I don't have a bike’. I couldn't believe that, me. Young lad without a bike. This day and age I suppose. Anyway he borrowed our William's and we just set off through t'woods and talked it all through. I've told him I'm going to start every game for me this season regardless.”

Inevitably, that’s exactly what Marti Cifuentes did. The club’s official social feeds were all pointed pictures of the new man apparently in lengthy touchline conversations with Chair and Willock down at Heston. It took three games but he did indeed then burst into life. QPR won three in a row, with Willock scoring in each of them – Stoke at home a stoppage time goal born more of relief than anything else, Preston away laid on a plate by Chair’s super-sub act, and then Hull at home a proper goal of the season contender the likes of which we’d come to expect from Willock before his hamstrings exploded into a thousand pieces. The path, it seemed, was set, and message boarders egged each other on to get the 500/1 on QPR for the play-offs while it was still available. At one point on the BetFair Exchange QPR were trading at shorter odds for a top six finish, while sitting third bottom, than Sunderland, who at that point were actually sixth.

Rangers’ ultimate climb away from trouble was less spectacular than that but no less miraculous. One of the narratives within it has been that Chris Willock has been back to, if not his best, then certainly something very decent indeed. Revived under a manager that wants the ball and values his talent, he’s made more appearances this season than in any other during his time at the club (39). We’re back to “announce Willock” season on the socials as his contract runs down.

I’ll admit I’ve grown weary of Willock over the last two years. You may think that harsh after the three hamstring injuries he’s had, but I do think Ainsworth was right about his attitude and his defence, and his reps/dad have clearly been engineering a lucrative free transfer for him this summer for the best part of the last two-and-a-half-years. When I’ve been coating off the likes of Laird and Roberts within earshot of the higher ups at QPR they’ve often pushed back. On Leon Balogun, for instance, who Ainsworth bought into right up to the point of his shock return to Glasgow. Or Jake Clarke-Salter, who everybody said was a good lad and player who was just desperately unlucky and wanted to be back out there. Nobody has ever had a good word to say in Willock’s favour.

So, take my attitude as bias if you’re a fan of his and think he’s done alright/well this season if you like, I’ll hold my hands up to it, but I’ve still not been overly keen. This apparently newly revitalised Willock has only scored once in his last 23 games, and that at home to divisional whipping boys Rotherham. He really should have scored another to win an important game against a crap Sunderland side up in the North East, but fluffed his lines two minutes from time. Full disclosure, he has had eight goal involvements (goals and assists) in 29 games under Cifuentes, a total bettered only by Chair. But, bar the spectacular goal against Hull, and a terrific role in the second that day, that power in both his drives down Main Street and his shot, best exemplified against Middlesbrough under Mick Beale, just don’t seem to be there anymore to me – physically. You can see, and hear, from my position in South Africa Road just how much time Cifuentes spends in games haranguing Willock on his positioning and defence, almost driving him around like a remote-control car. Cifuentes playfully said in a press conference “he’s a great player but he’s one I like to keep close by”. One of the many great successes of Jimmy Dunne at right back is he doesn’t stand for any shit from the winger in front of him, and is incessantly vocal and demanding in that regard.

It really wasn’t a surprise to me that Willock was one of those they tried to shift in January, nor that the sort of wage his reps are looking for was out of FFP reach even for a Hull City club that was spending enough to attract Fabio Carvalho from Liverpool that same week.

He was brilliant in the final three games and I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see him go somewhere else in this league and tear it up. He’s got all the ability you could need to do so if and when he’s fully fit, as we saw in the first half of his time at QPR when I was genuinely excited about him. I still wouldn’t want to see QPR using their new FFP headroom and TV deal, or potential windfall from an Ebere Eze move, to fall over themselves with a daft deal to try and keep him here though. Maybe that’s just me.

In numbers…

27 starts, 12 sub appearances, W13 D11 L11, 37.143% win percentage

4 goals scored (Stoke H, Preston A, Hull H, Rotherham H) (1 goal every 576 minutes), 6 assists (Stoke H, Hull H, Millwall H, Rotherham H, Preston H, Leeds H) (Goal contribution every 230.5 minutes)

3 yellow cards (Norwich A foul, Sunderland A foul, Plymouth A foul)

1 LFW MOTM award (Rotherham H), 1 supporter MOTM award (Rotherham H)

LFW Ratings — -, 6, -, 5, 4, 6, 4, -, -, 6, 6, 5, 6, 7, 8, 5, 5, 5, 5,, 4, 5, 3, 5, 5, 4, 7, 7, 7, 7, 5, 5, 6, 6, 4, 6, 4, 7, 8, 7 = 5.571

Interactive Ratings — 5.75

9 – Lyndon Dykes D

At the risk of making an ear worm out of the old Fantasy Football League song about people who say things that commentators can contradict so as to appear more knowledgeable, or becoming one of those ‘content creators’ sticking out deliberately contrary nonsense for clout and clicks (QPR’s final position of eighteenth would usually guarantee them Championship football next season, but Ryan Dilks isn’t so sure…), it is often the very best of Lyndon Dykes that frustrates me about him the most. For a striker who scores a goal once every 400 minutes, and has one goal away from home in the thick end of three years, you think I’d want to just grab onto the rare decent flashes when they come and be grateful for those small mercies, but there’s a special type of frustration that comes with watching footballers like this one as opposed to, say, a Zesh Rehman, Karl Ready, Sammy Koejoe type who you know full well are just fundamentally rubbish.

After a season in which Dykes scored just seven goals – QPR’s lowest top scorer total outside the top flight ever (ever’s a long time isn’t it?) – there are plenty, now, who’ve climbed down from various fences and surrendered to the idea that he, too, may just not be very good. And yet, look at that goal he scored in injury time to get a point at home to Swansea – fiercely attacking a nothing cross, diving full length, arching his back, angling his neck perfectly, generating power, achieving accuracy, beating the keeper with a header from out near the edge of the penalty box. Brilliant goal. Likewise, the equaliser at home to Stoke at the Loft End which set up a memorable 4-2 win – technically excellent, on the turn, snap shot, head over the ball, pure strike, past the keeper from a decent distance, a goal of real genuine quality. There was the cute and clever movement for the game-sealing third against Leeds, who could well be a Premier League side by the end of this weekend. The timed run and assist for Ilias Chair at Leicester, who are already back in the top flight. Even when not scoring away at Preston (a team he really seems to enjoy playing), he charged around all night smashing the home centre backs up to Ryan Lowe’s hilarious fury and laid a platform on which Chair, Willock and Smyth were able to shine and win the game.

Now, I’m not labouring under any expectation that he should be doing this sort of thing all the time. As I write in these reports often, there’s got to be something wrong with you if you’re playing in the Championship for QPR. With Lyndon’s physical stature and international caps if he was scoring 15 goals like the ones against Swansea and Stoke, or kicking around the 20 goal contributions with more assists like the one at Leicester, he wouldn’t be here. We’d have been inundated with offers around the £8m mark and he’d have gone. But this isn’t a case of ‘oh he’s a bit inconsistent’, this is QPR spending months and months on end with Mr Dead The Talking Corpse (he’s dead of course) up front.

The top scorers in the Championship last season were Szmodics (27), Armstrong (21), Summerville and Whittaker (19 each) and Vardy (18) – Lyndon Dykes only had 18 shots on target. All seven goals coming at Loftus Road means that Morgan Fox outscored our main centre forward away from home. Dykes’ last away goal was more than a year ago, at West Brom in the 2-2 draw last Easter, and that’s his only goal on the road since October 2021 at Fulham, 56 away matches ago. Seny Dieng has as many away goals for QPR as he’s got in the last two seasons – a goalkeeper who hasn’t even played for the club for a year. The goals Dykes did score came in little flurries (two in the last two games, two in two in January, two in the same game at home to Stoke) which means there were again great big long periods of time without him scoring (15 games in the second half of the season, spells of eight and nine matches in the first). Since Dykes arrived here from Livingston he has had separate scoreless streaks of 21 games, 15, 14, 13 (straddling two seasons), nine, and two of eight.

Persistent chat about lack of quality service into him, or at last the sort of service he requires, might have held water for a while – Dozzell hides, Chair hangs onto the ball too long and always wants to cut in and shoot, Willock’s physically shot, Smyth’s end product is garbage. That excuse, however, leaves town the moment Lucas Andersen marches in on his horse. A ‘ten’ with Champions League experience who quickly posted three assists in his first six games and moved QPR from the division’s worst set piece side to best. If you can’t score with that fucking stud helping to ease it in for you it’s time to reconsider your life choices. One of the other avenues available to you could be the one Kevin Davies made a career out of – nuisance target man value to make up for low goal totals. This would work well at QPR with the likes of Chair, Willock and Andersen waiting just behind the centre forward, and like I say I thought Preston away was one of Lyndon’s better days this season despite not scoring there himself. But, again, not only are the scoreless streaks long and barren, the overall contribution in those periods isn’t there either – that said, 173 aerial duel wins is the highest in the team.

Some of his performances towards the back end of the season – Hull and Sunderland away, Sheff Wed and Middlesbrough home – were pathetic. Wholly and completely anonymous. And then he suddenly scores two in two vital games for us again, albeit one a gift from a goalkeeper. That’s Lyndon. I don’t know what the answer is. Well, I do, it’s him going to the Euros, having a Hal Robson Kanu moment, and tricking somebody into giving us some money for him. Failing that he’s got it all to do next season. There’s only so long you can talk about how many defensive headers he wins in his own box from corners.

This was the sort of season, with the sort of numbers, that runs the patience tank down to fumes.

In numbers…

33 starts, 10 sub appearances, W12 D10 L18, 30.77% win percentage

7 goals scored (Swansea H, Stoke H, Stoke H, Bournemouth H, Watford H, PNE H, Leeds H) (1 goal every 392 minutes), 1 assist (Leicester A) (goal contribution every 343 minutes)

7 yellow cards (PNE A foul, Hull H foul, Cardiff H foul, Leicester A delaying restart, Sheff Wed H foul, Plymouth A foul, PNE H fight)

0 LFW MOTM award, 1 supporter MOTM award (Swansea H)

LFW Ratings — 3, 7, 6, 5, 6, 6, 4, 5, 3, 4, 5, 4, 4, 4, 6, 7, 6, 5, 5, 5, 4, 6, 4, 5, 6, 7, 3, 5, -, -, 6, -, 6, -, 4, 4, 5, 4, 6, 2, 7, 8, 6 = 5.077

Interactive Ratings — 5.29

10 – Ilias Chair A/B

So much of writing these reviews – and, I guess, supporting, managing or recruiting for a club like QPR – is looking at distinctly mediocre and flawed footballers and trying to pick out the positives. Ok, so he can’t do that, or that, or that, and if he could then we wouldn’t be able to afford him and he wouldn’t be here, so what can he do? We’ve already looked at Lyndon Dykes, a striker who’s scored the same number of goals away from home over the last two years as the goalkeeper, and talked about his ability to win headers in his own box, or smash up opposition centre backs. We’re going to come onto Paul Smyth and Sinclair Armstrong, who somehow score even less often than Dykes and apparently spent last summer at The Dean Coney Finishing School, and talk about the value of their pace and impact from the bench. Michy Frey’s movement to the near post for one goal against Norwich will attract high praise, and let’s be honest Michy Frey was otherwise completely fucking awful.

With Ilias Chair things seem to work the opposite way around. People say he’s selfish, hangs onto the ball too long, too predictable, always looking for that same cut in from the left onto his right for a shot, too slow to deliver his crosses. We look for his faults. You ask the rest of the division who QPR’s best player is, who’s the player they’d most like to sign from us, and it’s Ilias Chair every time – FourFourTwo again placed him in their top 25 EFL players, the only QPR player to make the countdown from 50 – and yet he’s never once been named the club’s player of the year. Ebere Eze and Luke Freeman have had it in that time, perhaps fair enough, but it’s also gone to Sam Field, Rob Dickie, Chris Willock and now Steve Cook ahead of Illy. All very worthy winners at the time, no doubt, but this is starting to feel a bit like that time Adel Taarabt produced a 20-goal, 20-assist title-winning season that still marks him out as most people’s best Championship player Of All Time, and we voted Paddy Kenny as our player of the year instead of him.

Perhaps, as Marti Cifuentes said when he subbed him an hour into a mediocre showing at Sunderland, this is about expectation levels – “I think he’s one of the best players in the Championship, and so I’m very demanding with him”. Maybe because Chair produces so consistently, and is perennially available to play even when he’s subsisting on biscuits for Ramadan (43 starts and a sub appearance this season, 42 appearances the season before, 43 the year before, 47 in 2020/21, 45 before that) that we’ve just come to take him for granted.

Let me tell you, Ilias Chair is your best player, by any measure.

Another seven goals and ten assists this season, in a team that never scores (only managing more than two goals in a game twice in 80 attempts). I liked that the middle chunk of those goals (Hull H, Millwall H, Bristol City A, Leicester A) came from inside the box. We all love it when he produces that flash of long range brilliance against Rotherham, Leeds and Coventry, and with 12 of 25 from outside the area he’s now level with Taarabt who scored 12 of 34 from range, but to move consistently into double figures each year as a goal scorer he needs to be getting in on rebounds and tap ins, arriving late at the back post, for exactly the sort of goal he scored at home to Millwall. Particularly as our actual strikers never score those types of goal either. No surprise to see that immediately identified and worked on by this manager.

Aside from that pick any number you like – most shots Ilias Chair (115), most shots on target Ilias Chair (36, twice as many as our main centre forward), highest xG Ilias Chair (6.7), most successful dribbles Ilias Chair (83), most progressive carries Ilias Chair (195), most carries into the opposition final third Ilias Chair (132), most carries into opposition box Ilias Chair (62). Most assists (ten), highest expected assists (8.3), most shooting chances created (175), most progressive forward passes (185, stop hanging onto the ball too long Illy FFS), most touches in the attacking third (1,058), most touches in the attacking penalty area (143). Only Jack Clarke and Crysencio Summerville were more dangerous for shot and chance creation in the whole league – sorry, you were saying something about him being too selfish?

We can talk about without the ball, too, if you like. He has the most ball recoveries in the team as well (229 times he’s done that!!) – an overlooked part of his game. This kid runs his blood to water for QPR every week. Blackburn away, one win in ten games going into the match, a desperately needed 2-1 lead secured going into a ridiculously over-the-top ten minutes of added time. In the tenth minute of that, it’s still Chair, charging around, shutting down Blackburn defenders, forcing them to go back and back again until the ball is all the way over there with goalkeeper Aynsley Pears again. He collapsed to the turf shattered at the end, he literally could not have given any more to get us over the line that day. And that’s pretty typical. He is inexhaustible. When he and Eze were coming through the ranks here somebody at the club once told me that Eze was very laid back, calm, and whatever happened happened, whereas Ilias would “step over his own grandmother to be a professional footballer”. When the manager gave him a little nudge by leaving him out at Preston, he came on for the second half and won the game by himself. In times of poor results and great frustration that can occasionally turn into him almost trying too hard. But, again, fuck me, that’s a criticism is it? You know the problem with your bird? Her tits are too nice. How terrible.

More man of the match awards from me (nine) and you guys (six) than any other player.

There was, however, the dark side of his story looming over much of the season. The incident four years ago on his kayaking weekend in France, where a man was hit with a lump of rock in the queue for a bus, has reared up a couple of times this season – no less than the eve of the important home game with Rotherham when The Scum and other prestigious publications went with “Chair jailed for two years” without picking up the phone to check it was true, such is the state of modern journalism/churnalism. In actual fact he was at the QPR training ground, and played on the Saturday. We’ve done all the jokes about the girl in the green bikini, whether it was really a big stone or whether it just looked big because it was Illy holding it, if you got beaten up by Ilias Chair wouldn’t you be too ashamed to take it to court etc. If it really was him, and he really has hit some poor, defenceless, working class guy in the head with a rock, fracturing his skull on a family holiday and preventing him from working and earning, then that’s appalling, and there’s a strong argument to say QPR should have stood him down – as happens mandatorily in the NRL and elsewhere. Both club and fanbase seemed quite happy to park that because a) we were in the shit and b) he’s your best hope of getting out of the shit. If it’s some loudmouth trucker getting inappropriate with Chair’s girlfriend, getting the slap he so sorely deserved, and now chasing some easy money because he’s realised it’s a footballer that hit him, well that’s a different story altogether. At the moment we just don’t know the full facts. The club and player have clearly gone to ground on the issue – Chair’s performances with all this hanging over him were consistently brilliant, but he hasn’t been allowed to speak, or even appear in the group photos, for months now, when he was previously one of the media team’s go-to for content. When Sky gave him man of the match against Leeds, Sam Field and Asmir Begovic were sent to accept it for him. He left the field after the latter games before the other players, and often in tears, which I didn’t think bode particularly well for his prospects of being a free man next season, never mind still a QPR player, but we’ll wait and see.

If it’s the last we’ve seen of him that’s a terrible shame. I’ve enjoyed him immensely. A very QPR player, the beating heart of our team, and another terrific individual season in the can.

In numbers…

43 starts, 1 sub appearance, W15 D10 L19, 34.091% win percentage

7 goals scored (Rotherham A, Hull H, Millwall H, Bristol City A, Leicester A, Leeds H, Coventry A) (1 goal every 535 minutes), 10 assists (Sunderland H, Swansea H, PNE A, PNE A, Sheff Wed A, Huddersfield H, Blackburn A, Rotherham H, Leeds H, Leeds H) (Goal contribution every 220 minutes)

7 yellow cards (Ipswich H delaying restart, Boro A foul, Huddersfield A foul, WBA A foul, Rotherham A kicking ball away, Millwall A foul, Norwich H foul)

9 LFW MOTM awards (Swansea H, Coventry H, Rotherham A, PNE A, Hull H, Southampton H, Blackburn A, Bristol City A, Leeds H – squad high), 6 supporter MOTM award (Rotherham A, PNE A, Blackburn A, Bristol City A, Leeds H, Coventry A – squad high)

LFW Ratings — 3, 7, 6, 6, 8, 5, 6, 7, 6, 5, 4, 5, 4, 6, 7, 6, 7, 8, 8, 5, 5, 7, 6, 6, 6, 7, 5, 8, 7, 4, 7, 6, 7, 6, 6, 5, 6, 6, 4, 6, 3, 6, 9, 8 = 6.022

Interactive Ratings — 5.75

11 – Paul Smyth C/D

If you wanted a microcosm of Paul Smyth’s first season back at QPR, then it came in the home match against Bristol City – Cifuentes’ first game in charge at Loftus Road. Smyth was, I thought, fairly exhilarating that day. He bombed on down the right time after time after time, tormenting Cameron Pring (who I quite like and rate) to the point where the Robins full back was openly gesticulating and pleading for team mates to come across and offer some help. It was, at times, electrifying, and we drew the game nil nil because Smyth ended up with zero goals and zero assists.

That was Paul Smyth’s 23/24 in a nutshell.

Given the state we were in and the budget we had last summer, picking up a player who’d only been held back here previously by injuries, and had just won promotion from League Two at a well-run club like Leyton Orient, wasn’t a bad punt to take. Still only 25, he came here for less than the money Orient offered him to renew at Brisbane Road with a point to prove. Love all of that. His role in that Orient team was cutting in from the left side to score ten, often spectacular, goals. Of course, we immediately stuck him on the opposite side and asked him to provide, but that’s just QPR being International Year of The Wally Brain again isn’t it? It’s not his fault. Given that we were desperately crying out for players on a budget, players who wanted to be here, players who were committed and willing to pour everything they had into what was inevitably going to be a big ask, I couldn’t really fault the signing, and have strong admiration for him ignoring the money, comfort and security that he did have to come back here and take a second swing at a challenge he failed at before. In the early games under Ainsworth, particularly at Cardiff where I thought he was outstanding, that attitude, tenaciousness and energy, meant we could basically play him two positions at one – right wing back in a five out of possession, right wing with a back four in it – and almost effectively have 12 men. In those sorts of situations you just want people who are willing to put their shoulder to the wheel, and Smyth did that and then some.

The failings were all end product based. Even with our more generous assessment of what counts of an assist he ended up with just three (the EFL official count has just the one, for Armstrong at Cardiff). His finishing was amateur hour. QPR played well at Southampton on the August Bank Holiday weekend and should have won the game. They lost, in the end, because Asmir Begovic conceded a goal he should have saved in his sleep, and most of our best chances fell to Smyth who spaffed each of them in turn high, wide and not so handsome at the near post. I watch football on the television and hear former players chunter on about everybody being taught to go across the goalkeeper to the far corner. Nobody’s told Smyth that. And nobody told him it after Southampton either, because there we were back on a different bit of the South Coast in April at Plymouth watching him piss several more chances of securing our Championship status up the wall in exactly the same manner. In the second half a high win and perfect assist from Dykes put a goal on an absolute plate for the Northern Irish international, and he inexplicably blasted it straight at Mike Cooper with the goal gaping and time to spare. He needs to learn about the corners of the goal, not that bit in the middle where the big bloke with the gloves stands. Stoke away another key game that slipped away at least in part because Smyth couldn’t finish his dinner.

There were important goals, to be fair to him, away at Preston when we desperately needed a win, and at home to Rotherham when an early Tom Eaves goal threatened to make all the “typical bloody QPR” predictions come true (Swindon was 93/94 Olly, sort it out mate). I ended up standing next to him at Ealing Broadway Tube when his goal against Cardiff from Rayan Kolli’s brilliant assist had proved in vain and it felt like the club was circling the drain, I thanked him for at least looking like he cared and was trying – which at that stage was all we felt we could really ask for. If he wants to be part of things moving forwards, though, his quality and cutting edge in that final third is going to be important.

He also either needs to work on his diving, or pack it in. Even I wouldn’t have given the one at Portman Road when he collapsed to the ground, and when you look back at that incident it probably is a penalty that he’s made look like a dive when, ideally, you’re going for the opposite effect. He missed another absolute sitter in that game too, leaving two more points hanging. Diving to the floor and then getting booked for dissent when the referee ignores you is not big, and not clever, and it happened more than once. He was our most fouled player mind - 69 free kicks awarded in his favour.

I’m probably, overall, a lot more in his favour than many. I wonder, though, whether that’s just because he’s quick. We’ll have this discussion again shortly when we get to Sinclair Armstrong but item 251 on QPR’s problem list is that the club allowed Bright Osayi-Samuel to leave and have completely ignored the need to put pace back into the team with their recruitment ever since. We are coastal erosion levels of slow, and so when you get somebody like Smyth, or Armstrong, on the pitch it makes a hell of a difference even thought their basic fundamentals are… well, basic. They're the only two we've got who I'm confident would beat me in a race.

Much like we said with Kakay, Fox, Larkeche and others earlier, if you’ve got Paul Smyth as a quick, lively, bench option to take advantage of tired legs and exposed defences, you’re fine. If you’re starting these League One-standard players every week, as we were at the start, then League One is where thou shalt end up.

In numbers…

23 starts, 22 sub appearance, W12 D10 L19, 29.268% win percentage

3 goals scored (Preston A, Cardiff H, Rotherham H) (1 goal every 729 minutes), 3 assists (Cardiff A, Boro A, Watford H) (Goal contribution every 364 minutes)

8 yellow cards (Ipswich H foul, Birmingham A foul, Coventry H dissent, Blackburn H dissent, Bristol City H dissent, Sheff Wed A fight, Millwall A foul, Rotherham H time wasting)

1 LFW MOTM award (Bristol City H), 1 supporter MOTM award (Bristol City H)

LFW Ratings — 4, 8, 7, 6, 8, 4, 6, 6, 5, 4, 4, 5, 4, -, 5, 7, 6, 7, 6, 6, 5, 6, 5, 6, 6, 6, 7, 5, 6, 6, 4, -, 7, 6, 6, 6, -, 6, 6, 5, 5, 4, 6, 7, - = 5.707

Interactive Ratings — 5.76

12 – Michy Frey D

Having outlined my frustrations with Lyndon Dykes already I’ll try not to go back to beating the Scotsralian up here, but when Michy Frey ran across the front of his marker to attack the near post and score a leveller in an entertaining 2-2 draw at home to Norwich my exasperation only grew. A low cross to the near post, attacked with purpose on the front foot, and a goal. Exactly the sort of chance we pass up time and again because Dykes is flat footed further back in the penalty box wondering what might have been. See, Lyndon, it’s not that hard. And my god didn’t a few more afternoons spent watching Frey play bring that home? Moving about, it turns out, is not his strong suit.

I found the Swiss striker’s cameo on debut at Blackburn fairly alarming. He moved about like a retro fridge, filled with brick. Don’t rush to judge, I told myself. You’re not at the game, you’re watching it on a stream, in a hotel lobby 6,000 miles away. It’s his first game in English football and he hasn’t played for anybody anywhere at all since May 13 while he was at Schalke because of the contract dispute he got embroiled with at parent club Royal Antwerp – if you’re coming here there’s something wrong with you somewhere strikes again. Let’s give him the time to get up to speed and then see. Lo and behold, a goal in his second game against Norwich – exactly the sort of shrewd striker’s goal we’ve been missing from our forwards.

Two sub appearances and a fairly ineffective performance against Rotherham later and the whole team was absolutely at it for a home game against West Brom on the night the club paid tribute to Stan Bowles. It was, until the Leeds game came along, the best I’ve seen QPR play for many a long year, and Frey was an unorthodox but effective presence at the heart of much of it. He’s right there in the mix helping to cause the first Sam Field goal (albeit his attempt to win a penalty in that scramble was laughable), he had a goal in the second half very controversially disallowed by a referee and linesman combination who got taken into some deep water and drowned by the pace and intensity of that match, and he missed a penalty. I guess that can happen to anybody, but having addressed the ball like prime Julian Dicks about to send the ball, goal and goalkeeper out into orbit around the planet Mercury, it was bitterly disappointing to see him then fanny about trying to place it. Maybe jumping to unfair conclusions too soon, but my initial assessment is that finesse isn’t something Frey should be relying on too much – very much a spit on it and call it foreplay kind of a footballer.

Still, effective, I thought. Look, we can’t afford proper strikers can we. As I’ve said, Dykes’ lack of willingness to just charge about smashing into people when things aren’t going his way winds me up almost as much as his biblical goal droughts. From there, though, Frey regressed when you’d have thought he was meant to be getting better for more training and gametime. There was an injury, fair fucks, but Jesus H Christ this guy accelerates like a moderately sized static caravan. I get stuck behind two Michy Freys overtaking each other every time I try to use the A1 past Scotch Corner. His cameo from the bench at Swansea genuinely looked like one of the players hadn’t turned up so both teams had agreed to let his dad fill in as a ringer as long as he only kicked with his left foot. The Swansea fans, even in defeat, were laughing at him. There was a thread on their message board about him. He would finish the season with the team’s lowest pass completion rate – this somebody who is, in theory, meant to be linking the play. He looks like he needs a good splash of WD40.

Frey was so desperate to play football and get out of Antwerp that he agreed to a deal here heavily weighted towards the second season because of our tight FFP situation – heavily weighted as in one packet of Monster Munch now, actual money next season (fuck me don’t give him any more crisps).

It’s also the sort of signing I think we’ll see more and more of under Christian Nourry’s “football focused CEO” approach to his role. QPR’s pick up of Frey seems to have been at least partly driven by online footballer meat market TransferRoom (or, at least, they’re certainly claiming some credit). Things have come a long way since that DVD of Sammy Koejoe – mind you, I wouldn’t like to bet who’d win in a race between him and Frey (nurse, cancel my one o’clock). That’s only likely to increase now the CEO and DOF keys have apparently all been handed over to Nourry. It's just you and me now, Pete. We're all in. They signed four players in January, Andersen and Hayden were a success, Hodge was neutral, and so far Frey has been poor – that’s not a bad ratio and record for football signings overall. There’s also plenty of time for Frey to come good – he scored 25 goals in 45 appearances for Antwerp as recently as 2021/22 so there’s something there.

Kindly put he needs a good pre-season – like a pre-season with the Navy Seals. And possibly a new gear box fitted.We’ve been praising Ben Williams impact on the fitness and conditioning of our squad, and he’s got our work cut out here. He needs to shed so much timber we might end up with a deforestation issue – where will the orangutan live? But, this is the sort of signing you have to take chances on in our situation.

In numbers…

4 starts, 5 sub appearance, W4 D2 L2, 50% win percentage

1 goal scored (Norwich H) (1 goal every 369 minutes), 0 assists (1 goal contribution every 369 minutes)

0 cards

0 LFW MOTM awards, 0 supporter MOTM award

LFW Ratings — 5, 7, 5, 6, 6, 6, 5, 5, - = 5.625

Interactive Ratings — 5.81

25 - Lucas Andersen B

While we’re talking about the success or otherwise of our late January transfer window business, how about this absolute babe? You successfully shift on the colossal wage of Andre Dozzell, whose main asset and qualification for the job seems to be his surname, and use the headroom created to sign Lucas Andersen, who played Champions League football in the Camp Nou for Ajax. We say Nourry talks a bit LinkedIn, well that one will certainly be going on the CV.

QPR survived this season despite having the division’s statistically third worse goalkeeper, and the worst strikers in the league apart from Rotherham’s. After Sinclair Armstrong’s winner at Leicester, none of the strikers scored for eight matches in the run in, and we had to find goals from Steve Cook (who hadn’t scored for four years) and Sam Field (who went from three in 130 to four in ten). There were marginal and major gains like that in between the keeper and strikers all over the park – as there would have to be. Cook, Clarke-Salter, Colback all improved markedly, Hayden was a terrific addition to the midfield and dressing room, Field added that attacking threat to his game long since missing, Chair was absolutely unreal. The team started to tick. The two major changes, for me, were Jimmy Dunne’s move to right back and performances there, and that swap of Dozzell for Andersen. Because there goes a scared little waif, living off his dad’s name, terrified of getting involved in games, contributing nothing at either end, and here comes a fucking footballer. Within his first six games Andersen had registered three assists, as many as Dozzell managed in three years and nigh on 100 appearances for the Hoops. It’s not me, it’s you. Do we stay up this season without this transfer? I have my doubts.

The one that spoke to me most was at Bristol City. QPR were coming off a terrible performance and potentially highly damaging defeat in the week at Stoke, and now faced that dreaded third game in a three-game week we usually hate so much. Away from home at a progressive side that had wiped the floor with Southampton in the week ending the Saints’ club record unbeaten run. In the event, Rangers were excellent that day, up there competing for our best performance of the season behind the Leeds, West Brom and Leicester games. Cifuentes’ side should have won by more, but the goal they did get was put on a plate for Ilias Chair by Andersen wide on the right. His cute low cut back, behind a retreating defence, was pre-planned and beautifully executed. He stopped, took a breath, looked for a man, and took the time to put the pass where Chair needed it to go. Now, that may sound really basic, but when you watch, for instance, Paul Smyth’s attempt at a final ball from that side of the field, this sort of stuff makes you one of the five richest kings of Europe in my eyes. Andy Sinton, who knows a thing or two about setting up goals for other people, said “brilliant” on the commentary before the ball had even got to Chair – so obvious was it that we were about to score. Our ascent from divisional worst to best in attacking set plays was because we had this guy taking them. Even Morgan Fox scored a goal.

I’ve held off from an A or A/B rating because he should have scored more goals. The left footed strike against Leeds couldn’t have arrived at a better time or against more fitting opposition, but Andersen missed big chances at that end of the pitch against Norwich, West Brom and Sheff Wed which all left points on the table that would have had us safe far earlier than we were. That needs to improve.

Nevertheless, I’m an absolute sucker for players and personalities like this at QPR. I’m pleased I’m not in charge of sorting his shower plughole, but the hair, the look, the cutting about Chiswick in classic Brooks replica shirts and the sort of shoes you’d usually see walking into the Year 9 Dungeons and Dragons after school club… I’m absolutely here for it. He’s got a bromance going on with Jimmy Dunne, but you just wait until next winter hits and behold the chunky knit tips him and Sam Field are going to share. He doesn’t talk about football like a footballer. He talks like, not only a football fan, but the sort of football fan you find ticking grounds off on the QPR pre-season tour of Buttfuck Nowhere because he runs a Tumblr account documenting pictures of abandoned lower league stadiums in the former Yugoslavia. You meet him on the stopping train, with a floppy hat, tote bag and copy of Mundial under his arm. He’s wearing sunglasses and staring out of the window as the suburbs drift by. Muchos tequilas and a 3-0 defeat later he’s regaling the bar with some of his poetry. Mel’s there and says “he gets it”.

The club, recognising they not only had a player on their hands but also a popular personality, kept getting him in for the generic “It’s a big game isn’t it Lucas…” pre-match interviews, and he’d start wiffling on about how he’s been chatting to people who approach him down by the river and he’s come to realise QPR is the sort of club where the whole family supports them, and it’s handed down through generations. Steady on there Reverand, pass the pipe around and let everybody else have a toke. And, while you’re taking your turn, he’s back in the club shop hoovering up replica gear for his kids as well. Can you be too perfect? Shut the fuck up, we are allowed nice things.

The whole demeanour and style is reflected in his play. Fluid, calm, creative. Why play that pass, which everybody is expecting, when I’ve already clocked this one over here, which is going to be far more effective. Let’s just take that moment longer to get it right and create something beautiful. The guy should do Grolsch adverts – stop, it isn’t ready yet. I’m not going to pretend it was all a success – he had one of those afternoons in the Preston home game where everything he tried failed and the more he tried the worse it got – but to import that more considered, aesthetic, incisive style of play into a team that started the season managed by Gareth Ainsworth, into a relegation battle, and into a league that’s very much Stag Stag Stag Lads Lads Lads to Andersen’s “I’ve heard about this one man play where they do Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales in mime across four hours, would you like to come with?” I think is pretty extraordinary. He hadn’t played any football at all since June 3 by the way, before he debuted in the 2-2 against Norwich and immediately put a chance on such a shiny platter even Michy Frey couldn’t help but score the fucker.

It never really feels like QPR to me unless we’ve got an enigmatic Johnny Foreigner gliding about with wild and dangerous opinions of his own. Wegerle, Buzsaky, Faurlin, Taarabt, even the 20 minutes we got with Inigo Idiakez still sticks in my mind. He’s different, he’s classy, he’s unorthodox, he’s flawed, he’s brilliant, and he’s ours. A pure QPR player. I’m in love again, and I don’t care who knows it. Full swoon. Attacking next season a full Marti Cifuentes summer, transfer window and pre-season deep is exciting enough. Having this guy fully fit and up to speed, in a team with a fresh start, only adds to that.

Shirts on, lights off, no talking.

In numbers…

12 starts, 4 sub appearance, W8 D4 L4, 50% win percentage

1 goal scored (Leeds H) (1 goal every 916 minutes), 4 assists (Norwich H, Bristol City A, WBA H, Coventry A) (Goal contribution every 183 minutes)

2 yellows cards (Leicester A delaying restart, Sheff Wed H foul)

1 LFW MOTM award (Boro H), 0 supporter MOTM award

LFW Ratings — 6, 5, 7, -, 7, 8, 6, 6, 6, 7, 5, 6, 3, 5, 8, 7 = 6.133

Interactive Ratings — 6.31

30 – Sinclair Armstrong C/D

Sinclair Armstrong came into this season without a senior goal to his name at all. When you watched him score in the second friendly in Austria, missing the first chance entirely before a panicked defender walloped the ball into the net off his arse, you started to appreciate why. Watching Sinclair it is often quite difficult not to conclude this is a boy trapped in the wrong sport – unreal speed, strength and athleticism but couldn’t trap a dead rat.

The first goal, and a really quite composed assist for Kenneth Paal, did soon arrive away at Cardiff for a surprise early season win. Rangers were subsequently very unlucky to lose 1-0 at home to eventually promoted Ipswich in a game where Ilias Chair almost chipped the goalkeeper from halfway, and Armstrong worked space in the first half for a ferocious shot which implausibly came back into play off the insides of both posts. At that point we were basically giving him star man every week – three of his five awards came in those first three games.

His journey from there has been one veering wildly between making you think we’ve got a supremely exciting young prospect here, to just wondering how on earth he became a footballer in the first place at all. Blackburn away was a tremendous microcosm – twice he ran clean through on the goalkeeper only to completely fluff his lines, and then he set the winning goal up for Joe Hodge with a cute bit of approach play. Rocks and diamonds, rarely anything in between. The goal he scored against Bournemouth in the FA Cup, picking the ball up out wide near the halfway line, stripping his man on the outside for speed, and then finishing into the far bottom corner, is the sort of goal he needs to be scoring six or seven times a season with his physical attributes and advantages. Instead, that sort of thinking time is usually a terrible burden to him. The more time to consider the options, the more likely he is to choose badly. The goal against Leicester, a real high point for his and our season, where he strode on from the bench, volleyed a first timer in with his first touch, and continued his path over to the away end for the now trademark 20 minute goal celebration is much more his scene. Likewise a two yard tap into an open net to seal the homer against Millwall. He’s fine with those. His xG tells a story – it’s a full three goals higher than he actually scored, the biggest gap in the team, which means this is a striker who misses A LOT of chances he should score.

I like him and rate him. I think we’re more dangerous when he’s on the pitch. I think he frightens defenders more than our other strikers. He’s only 20-years-old and only Chair, Dykes and Willock did better than him for goals and assists this year. Those seven goal contributions are exactly the same amont Ebere Eze got in 2018/19 when he was 20 before his big breakout the year after. I’m in no way suggestion somebody as technically limited as Armstrong is going on to do that sort of thing, but it’s not a terrible return at this stage of his career and does offer some promise when allied with his obvious physical strengths. From not knowing the offside law at all, to only being caught once in the second half of the season under Marti Cifuentes intensive training programme for him, shows improvement and coachability. But, then, I do get the frustrations and scepticism others have with him. The Sheff Wed home game, when perhaps the team were guilty of just lazily pumping channel balls for him to chase too readily, was a really bad afternoon for him and his appearances after that haven’t even been long enough to trigger a mark.

I wonder if there might be the potential to create a Championship Adama Traore here. Stick him out wide where we currently use Paul Smyth, tell him to get the ball, burn past the full back, and cross low into the box – nothing else. We could even get Loft Flags to hold up big STOP and GO signs in the Lower Loft. I fully accept though that this is maybe just me being blinded by the pace he’s got, and our team is desperately short of in general. It’s rare for me to be the overly optimistic one at QPR but maybe here we are.

When he last signed a new contract the club reported there was a one-year option on the club’s side for an extension in 2024/25. You would think, surely, we’ll be taking that up. Whether he stays beyond that or not I’m less convinced. The agent has always been high maintenance in this case – he was getting linked with Liverpool and Celtic when he was 17 for goodness sake – and is boisterous in the promotion of a client he feels QPR are under-valuing and under-using. Cifuentes doesn’t seem overly keen in any case. We’ll see, but don’t get too attached would be my advice.

In numbers…

20 starts, 20 sub appearance, W8 D7 L17, 25% win percentage

4 goals scored (Cardiff A, Bournemouth H, Millwall H, Leicester A) (1 goal every 445.5 minutes), 3 assists (Cardiff A, Coventry H, Blackburn A) (Goal contribution every 254.5 minutes)

6 yellows cards (Watford A foul, Cardiff A foul, Sunderland H foul, Coventry H foul, Bournemouth H dissent, Blackburn A foul)

5 LFW MOTM awards (Watford A, Cardiff A, Ipswich H, Bournemouth H, Huddersfield H), 4 supporter MOTM awards (Watford A, Cardiff A, Ipswich H, Bournemouth H)

LFW Ratings —6, 8, 7, 6, 6, 5, 5, 6, 6, 4, 4, 4, 4, -, 6, 5, 7, -, 5, 5, 6, -, 6, 6, 7, 7, , 5, 6, 4, 6, 5, 7, 6, 6, 4, -, -, -, -, - = 5.625

Interactive Ratings — 5.70

Others >>> Charlie Kelman has no goals in 26 appearances for QPR and none in 11 this season (2, 5, 5, -, -, -, 6, -, -, 4, - = 4.4; one assist v Stoke H; W1 D2 L2). His selection in rotation for a 0-0 draw at home to ten-man Plymouth was not a mistake Cifuentes repeated. His achievements were three goals in six starts and eight subs on loan at League One Wigan (two of them in one match at Charlton) and being the only one who spoke to Andy and I in Austria on the pre-season tour. Seemed like a nice boy, have a new contract on us.

Rayan Kolli has amazing hair, and his brilliant assist in the home defeat to Cardiff promises much. He made 11 sub appearances in all (7, 6, -, 7, 6, -, 5, 4, 5, 6, 7 = 5.88; W1 D1 L7; 2xLFWMOTM, Norwich H LGC, Cardiff H; 1xsupporterMOTM, Cardiff H)

Somebody’s been brave enough to tell Hamzad Kargbo he’s no longer required. We’ll always have that Clive Allen-style goal at Hampton & Richmond, but also that long afternoon by the municipal swimming pool having the Slavia Prague fans laughing at us whacking long balls at him.

Some surprise from the development squad watchers that Nathan Jeche was also released despite seven goals in 11 games after joining last summer from Maidstone.

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

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HastingsRanger added 22:26 - May 26
Clive, absolutely fabulous write up as always. As I have repeatedly said, your write ups and insights into the team we all support are thoroughly absorbing and for those who cannot make so many games keeps us close to the club. Thanks to you and your team for the Previews, Reports and End of Term reports. Totally indebted to you.
I cannot quite fathom what will happen next season after the remarkable change from that Watford opener to the Leeds home game. Can we hang on to Marti, let alone the likes of Illy, Anderson, Dunne? Has Cook got another season? Has Willock got over his injuries. And when it comes to persistent injuries, how do we know when Taylor-Richards has finally gone - when he was never present in the first place?
All said, a very exciting prospect for next season. Play-offs perhaps - or do I need the summer off too?

Beckenhamhoop added 09:44 - May 27
He’s no slouch granted, but I’m not entirely sure that Armstrong is as quick as people seem to think he is. Having watched his performance against two big Sheff Wed Centre backs he couldn’t out run either of them.

tsbains64 added 09:52 - May 28
Enjoyed that read Chris-great work
See you next season

Loft1979 added 17:43 - May 29

Sinclair. I felt that early on he was victimized by referees and targeted by opposing players trying to get him booked. Otherwise his pace and speed out on the right might have had more impact. Looking at Field's worldie late season which Sinclair basically takes the defender out of the play is am instance where his physical play probably gets penalized during Gareth's tenure.


Northernr added 13:07 - Jun 3
Loft - I'm much more on your side than some others TBH, really like Sinclair, think there could be a big player about to explode from all that rawness. Sadly I wonder if that might happen somewhere else.

MichaelFindley added 13:11 - Jun 26
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MichaelFindley added 13:19 - Jun 26
End of Term 23/24 – Attack is such a good article to read about Chris's work and his dedication it's excellent. I am also dedicated to my academic studies. I used the <a href=""> Pay Someone To Do Homework</a> writing service to improve my dissertation writing. Their experienced writers are best for academic students to enhance their performance. They ensure quality work and deliver work on time.

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