Holloway rewarded for more simple approach - Knee Jerks
Sunday, 30th Apr 2017 18:29 by Antti Heinola
It’s panic over for Antti Heinola, who’s already turning his attention to next season and what needs to improve to prevent a repeat of a poor season.
After the deserved and eminently predictable caning at the hands of little Brentford, Ollie was at pains to deny he had been experimenting with the team, or that he was tinkering for the sake of it. He was right - in a way. What he was doing from week to week and during games could hardly be described as tinkering. To tinker means to dabble, to attempt a repair in a casual, comfortable way. You know, like someone tinkers with an engine in a garage. Ollie wasn't doing that. He was taking the whole thing apart every week, chucking in giant new pieces, often where they didn't fit, never consulting the manual and then, halfway through that, throwing all the pieces up in the air and seeing where they land. That is not tinkering. If only he *had* just tinkered, we'd have probably been on about 60 points now.
Anyway, the point is that having said all that last week, Ollie now sought to keep it very simple. 4-4-2, with Manning tucked in a bit on the left, Wszolek finally restored to his best position, and Washington playing off Smith. Apart from Hall, and arguably Furlong, this was the best XI he could have put out. And there were no bells and whistles, no fancy positions, nothing complicated. Just get it to Pav. Hope Freeman creates something. And, a little tiresomely, hit the big man. It worked. We weren't brilliant, but we were better than them and we scored two, could and should have had more, and while Smithies was required to make some good saves (along with a couple of terrifying spills, it must be said) that is what he's paid for.
We saw far less of Ollie on the touchline gesticulating and calling players over. Far less of players sprinting to the bench to clarify the tactics or formation. And it worked. People knew their jobs. It may not have worked against a better side, because we were so incredibly nervy, but it was enough against a poor Forest side who may very well be singing about being Champions of Europe in League One next season. Sometimes, it pays to keep things simple.
A common theme of the last few weeks has been the amount of stupid fouls we give away in dangerous areas. It cost us v Brighton and Sheff Wed as well as other games and could've cost us again yesterday. It's utterly brainless. Lynch is a regular culprit, but yesterday it was Perch, doing his level best once more to get sent off, and Bidwell who made ludicrous and needless challenges when their opponent was facing away from the goal, on the wing, and going nowhere. Worst of all came in the second half. Perch did a good job of shepherding his man back towards the halfway line until he was forced to play it back into his own half. Job done. And it was then that Perch chopped him. I mean, this man is the most experienced pro in our side. Why does he do this? Why can't he learn? And it happens EVERY WEEK. Bidwell I'm slightly less critical of as he's younger and has endured a very tough season (I'm still hopeful he can come good), but Perch really has no excuses.
Pav started just twice in our six game losing streak. Admittedly those performances came in the team's worst two displays in that run (Derby and Bristol), but still, I don't think there's a QPR fan who wouldn't start him every week if fit and healthy. Yesterday he was one of our four stand-out players, turning in perhaps his best display since his masterclass at Reading. Power, pace, skill, discipline. It was all there. Not only did he help Perch eventually get a grip on the tricky Carayol, he was frequently our best outlet and our most dangerous attacker, setting the tone by almost scoring after a typical stumbling, Rob Steiner-like dribble early on. Later on, his wing play, ability to beat his man, intelligence with the ball, and classic pulled back crosses all helped us threaten. If only Austin was still about - he'd have loved to have had someone like Pav knocking back those crosses every week.
One of our many problems is that we look most comfortable at the back if Hall is playing just in front of the centre backs, but that means we don't have enough players to play with wingers AND two strikers. Yesterday, with no Hall, Ollie risked the 4-4-2 and as a result we saw the best of Pav. A key player next year, we have to find a way for him to play wide right every week.
I think Smith, especially for the cost, was a good buy. But I think now we're seeing why he spent so much time on the bench at Fulham. There's no doubt he's harshly treated by refs who, because of his size, seem to think defenders can do what they like to him. And it can't be easy when the team just sees you as a big target to whack any old ball up to all the time. But still, despite his obvious effort, he doesn't quite contribute enough to be a first choice upper-mid-table Championship striker. His hold up play is not amazing, his mobility is not great and he's yet to find a way of playing effectively with Washington (which is also both Conor's fault and the manager's for not giving them more time together in matches). And I could overlook all of that if only he'd take the chances when they came. But this was the third home game in a row where he spurned a real, simple headed chance. True, in one he scored from a corner straight after, and yesterday we scored just after his miss, but still. He has to put those away. Has to. I think he's a really useful player and clearly a great lad and hard-working, strong presence, but there's no doubt we still must look for another striker this summer.
Which brings us to Washington. It's over a year now and I'm still undecided. Part of me thinks he could go to Barnsley or someone and we'd watch him get 18 goals in a season. Part of me thinks he'd go to Barnsley, score 7 in a season, and then end up back at Peterborough on loan. There's undoubtedly a good player there. We've seen it this season. And when he was on that run around February time, he looked like scoring in every game. Somewhere, though, whether through Ollie's rotation or his own frustration when the goals dried up, his confidence went again. 7 goals in a season isn't enough, and while it's not fair to him to mention his fee, it is relevant. 7 goals is not enough for £2.5m - even if he's bizarrely had two disallowed despite crossing the line.
Yesterday I thought he worked hard as always, but still that understanding with Smith is just not there. Weeks ago, when he set him up for an early goal v Wigan, I thought maybe we had a partnership there. But it just hasn't developed. Smith didn't dominate in the air yesterday, but when he did win it, the ball rarely went to Washington. Smith was often gesturing at him to get closer and the chances of a laboured Mr Smith Went to Washington headline always look unlikely.
At half time I thought Washington was offering so little I wondered if we should cut our losses, take him off, and, if we were going to go long, bring Sylla on and try and double the options for that ball. And then when he did race clear I genuinely thought he'd overrun it until that brilliant clipped finish. That's the kind of goal I expected to see more of from him. And perhaps it could still happen. But he's one of many 'maybes' in our squad at the moment.
Still thought it was right to sub him and get Mackie on there to rough them up - Conor was both knackered and carrying a knock: he was walking off before they even held up his number. But, job done. Good goal. Next season is a big one for him.
I like Ned. A lot more than a lot of people. Partly because I don't think my expectations are as high as some others. My main issue is that performances like yesterday don't happen enough. Reading away last year, Bristol C at home this year. This match. Genuine, towering, determined, captain's displays where he uses his strength and pace and desire to maximum effect.
Yesterday, we were nervous, tetchy, clearly terrified to make a mistake. After 5 minutes Forest were waltzing through a series of non-tackles when Onuoha nailed Carayol. It was a bad tackle. A yellow even despite the 'no-bookings-in-the-first-5-minutes rule'. But it sent a message, both to Forest and to his own players. After that, it was a controlled performance from Ned and despite the tireless running of Assombalonga (along with David Vaughan, looking for all the world as if Mark Warburton had in desperation brought Archie Gemmill out of retirement, Forest's stand out performer) he rarely let him out of his sight. To me, it always seems as if Ned's at his best when there's a real challenge. Marking Tammy Abraham out the game earlier this season, or his masterful job on Bale a few years back being prime examples. It was the same yesterday - Assombalonga was their main threat, so Onuoha took him on, and won.
Surgery is needed at the back. But defence is less about players and more about organisation and team work. Ned should be at the heart of that - the questions are, who plays around him - particularly if Hall sits in midfield - and do Ollie, Birch and Fleming have the ability to coach a back four to be far more miserly? This was, incredibly, Ollie's first clean sheet at LR since returning, and only his third in 30 games. And it wasn't a game where the opposition didn't create anything - far from it. That has to improve next season.
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