If you’re manning the panic stations, stand down
Tuesday, 11th Oct 2011 23:41 by Clive Whittingham
The 6-0 massacre at Fulham has left many QPR fans nervous and unsure what to expect next from their team – but despite the disastrous defeat at Craven Cottage our chances this season still look good.
Intruding on private grief
Cannes is a bit of an odd place as it turns out. Being on the southern coast of France you’d expect it to be just another sunshine bathed paradise and judging by the size of the cruise ships that roll silently into the bay every night and dump a thousand German pensioners onto the quayside for a day out that’s exactly what it is to some.
But Cannes is unmistakeably a conference town. At its heart stands an enormous, seven level, impossible to fathom, multi-screen conference centre and spreading out from there is one hotel after another with screening rooms, meeting facilities and networking locations. French waiters serve Italian food to American television executives and stage competitions with each other to see who can be the rudest.
Even the beach is fake – a man made stretch of builders' sand that washes away whenever any sort of inclement weather sweeps in off the Mediterranean taking the restaurants and conference marquees with it. This is a place for business and yacht spotting. It is not a place for a holiday, and it is not a place to try and watch Fulham v QPR.
We’re told that the Premiership is the most watched league in the world and that you cannot move in foreign towns without stumbling across a bar of some sorts showing an English football match. In Cannes, you’d barely even know football exists. People there are too bothered about the latest films, or the latest television series, or whatever the latest conference is about, or what hat to buy for their unfeasibly small dog to give much of a stuff at all about QPR, Fulham or anybody else in our all consuming sport.
Not the ideal place therefore for me to be stationed for the last week during which QPR looked forward to, took part in, and disgraced themselves during the opening London derby of their first Premiership season for 15 years. My popularity at the Martinez Hotel soared as I used up seven eighths of the kids TV conference’s bandwidth to try and stream our match at Craven Cottage but even sapping every last drop of internet available only achieved a patchy picture at best.
My feed had a peculiar method of playing for ten seconds, then stopping for five, and then resuming. After doing this four times the pictures had fallen 20 seconds behind the actual action and so in an effort to catch up it would suddenly lurch ahead. I wondered if this was just the feed settling down to begin with but sadly no – this start, pause, continue, pause, continue, pause, continue, pause, skip forward 20 second pattern of feed was all I had for the duration of the first half. This meant that Andy Johnson’s goal actually seemed to me to be scored during a passage of QPR possession at the other end. They say it only takes a second to score a goal but in the world of dodgy internet feeds it doesn’t even take that. I gave up on the game roughly the same time our team did and relied on increasingly perplexed texts from Colin and Neil in the away end. It could have been worse boys, you could have been in Cannes.
The reaction has been the same as the reaction is to any match in football these days – over the top. Every defeat is a pre-curser to a certain relegation, every victory the first step on what is sure to be a glorious run to the league title. Teams do not just lose games any more. Teams lose because they've all fallen out, or because the manager has lost the dressing room, or because the board is interfering. After two defeats the manager is facing the sack, after two wins people start touting him to replace Fabio Capello. It’s how football is these days. Time was when you could go without a win for eight or nine games without anybody wondering whether a change of manager was in the offing – Ian Holloway did that twice in his time at QPR remember and went on to prosper.
I’ve seen message board posters writing Jay Bothroyd off as useless and saying he should be dropped immediately. I’ve seen people advocating a switch from 4-2-3-1 to 4-4-2 and recalling Jamie Mackie as a full back. I’ve seen people questioning whether Shaun Derry and Alejandro Faurlin can play together in the Premiership, whether Joey Barton is really contributing anything, whether Shaun Wright Phillips is in the right position, why Danny Shittu wasn’t included in the 25 man squad, why Clint Hill has been loaned out and whether our team is actually fit enough to compete at this level. And, of course, I’ve seen several of the message board threads that appeared, without fail, before every single match in the second half of last season – the ones that proclaim the next match (Blackburn this Saturday in the latest case) to be the most important of this or any other season at Loftus Road. If we don’t beat Blackburn we’re doomed. Apparently.
Lest we forget that after dominating the Aston Villa game the talk was of top half finishes and just how far this team can go. One game, even a game as disastrous as the Fulham one, surely doesn’t change everything?
Now maybe it’s because I wasn’t there to witness the full horror of a collapse at the hands of the inflatable clapping stick wavers in person but this all seems rather silly to me. As I recall many people were actually tipping us to beat Fulham before the match without so much of a hint of problems behind the scenes and key flaws with the team selection or player fitness levels. We have started the season very well, with two away wins already which is more than Norwich or Burnley managed in their entire campaigns when they were last promoted to this level. We’ve signed some excellent players and played established top flight sides Newcastle, Wolves and Aston Villa off the park.
After the Villa game it didn’t matter that Jay Bothroyd wasn’t scoring because he was playing the lone striker role so well but now suddenly one game later he’s a useless donkey. The 4-2-3-1 formation that helped us win promotion and seems to suit our players now apparently needs to be changed for a 4-4-2 formation that, it's probably worth mentioning, we used in the second half at Craven Cottage and still lost 3-0 with.
Before Fulham Alejandro Faurlin’s call up to the Argentina squad was only a matter of time and Shaun Derry was a footballing and medical miracle – both exaggerations when things were going well, just as the concerns we're hearing now about both are overblown after this one defeat. Joey Barton is a good player, Shaun Wright Phillips was irresistible against Newcastle and Wolves in the position he played in at Fulham and our team was certainly fit enough to equalise in stoppage time against Villa with ten men. And Clint Hill, bless him, is no more a Premiership defender than I am.
Blackburn at home isn’t the be all and end all. A long season still lays ahead and while a quirk of our fixture list means the Rovers game is more important than most, it’s not quite time to dust off the Championship travel guides just yet even if we are beaten by Steve Kean’s beleaguered side.
Sunday at Fulham told me nothing I didn’t already know about QPR this season i.e. we have a good starting 11 and nothing beyond that. Lose one player and we can cope, lose two and we might be ok, but lose more than that or lose two from the same area of the field and we’re in massive trouble. My thoughts on Fitz Hall are well known and at the Cottage not only did we have to cope with his inclusion, but Armand Traore’s suspension as well. The absence of two players from the back four was too much to cope with against a Fulham side that many QPR fans seem happy to write off despite their ascent to regular mainstays of the top ten and Europa League in recent times. Traore’s absence for the African Cup of Nations in January looks ominous but other than that I’m not overly concerned.
If we don’t win for the next six or seven games then come back to me with concerns, but at the moment all I see is a newly promoted team that had a bad day at the office while carrying injuries. I worry that the recent squad strengthening is going to destroy the patience the fans who applauded the team off after a 4-0 defeat against Bolton had shown previously and replace it with inflated expectations.
It does rather appear as though Neil Warnock has made an error in the transfer market (a rare occurrence during his time at Loftus Road) in assembling his defence for this season. The decision to allow Kaspars Gorkss to join Reading looked strange at the time, even allowing for the Latvian's lack of pace and ability to play at the top level. Now it looks even more bizarre.
As Gorkss went through the exit door Bruno Perone came in the opposite direction. Now Gorkss had his hairy moments even in the Championship last season but has played regularly at international level against quality centre forwards for years. Perone has played neither intentionally, nor at club level, against any kind of quality opponent and to be fair didn't even impress me against our meagre pre-season opposition when I saw him play Crawley and Cesena. I didn't understand why we were so keen to keep him in the summer and I'm even less sure now - Neil Warnock decided to play Fitz Hall injured at Fulham rather than trust Perone because he was "disappointed" with the Brazilian's showing at Wigan. I actually thought he did ok at the DW Stadium, although an early ballet lesson from Victor Moses was his Bob Malcolm moment that drew gasps of horror from the away end.
Hall we know all about. When he's fit he's fine for 89 minutes but in the remaining time he costs us a goal. Mostly he spends his time out injured, or on the field thinking he might be injured limping around and signalling to the bench rather than getting on with the job of actually defending.
And then there's the bizarre situation with Peter Ramage and Danny Shittu, who were both given one year contracts in the summer and then left out of the 25 man squad. Personally I think Warnock took one look at the budget offered to him by Flavio Briatore, decided it was a case of any port in a storm and signed the pair of them up double quick for fear he wouldn't get anything better. That situation changed when Tony Fernandes arrived but still, why is Perone included but Shittu isn't?
I'm not for one moment suggesting that Gorkss, or Shittu, are the answer to any issues we may have in defence this season. But they're a better answer than Perone is. The sale of Gorkss probably made good financial sense - a healthy profit for a high earning centre back who probably isn't good enough for the top flight - but is has left us now relying on two centre backs, Hall and Danny Gabbidon, whose fitness records are laughable and one who even the manager doesn't seem to rate after a single outing. I anticipate a few more results like the one we suffered at Fulham between now and January if we can't get the Young-Ferdinand-Gabbidon-Traore back four out on the field regularly.
I'm starting to loathe the international breaks even more than usual this season. I feel as if the campaign has hardly got going at Loftus Road because even though we're already in October we've only played seven times, and those games have been in short sharp bursts separated by these huge stretches of inaction while England flap about. However I do enjoy the opportunity to catch the obscure lower division matches that appear on our screens during these enforced rest periods and did so again this weekend with Notts County v Hartlepool followed by Oldham v MK Dons.
For Notts County, the familiar bald pate of Gavin Mahon anchored the midfield with rigid discipline - which seemed rather needless against a Hartlepool side with all the attacking ambition of the Swiss Army. Still, it's good to see him with a club after the best part of two years where he's hardly played for anybody at all.
At the other end of the age range Angelo Balanta was part of the beaten MK Dons team in typical Oldham weather conditions on Monday night. Like so many of our youth team graduates in recent years I've never really been that impressed with Balanta so I was looking forward to having another look at him in this game. He played as part of an attacking midfield three behind a lone striker, in a similar position to that occupied by Adel Taarabt at Loftus Road for much of last season. That bodes well for his future in W12, as does the Dons' style of football which is certainly easy on the eye.
Sadly, I'm still not really that impressed with him though. He was the best player on the field in almost impossible conditions for the first 20 minutes of the game but seems to have developed an unhappy knack of choosing the wrong option for his final ball on every single occasion - shooting when he should pass, passing when he should cross, looking for a team mate when he should go on his own. Anyway once Oldham had taken the lead in farcical circumstances he disappeared from the game altogether and was substituted midway through the second half. Sadly, I couldn't help but think that he's already at his level.
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