Sylla, Perch and late Hull insanity - Knee Jerks
Monday, 21st Aug 2017 20:45 by Antti Heinola
Antti Heinola is back to reflect on three more points, and Holloway showing he can follow a single defeat with a win for the first time.
I've rarely been to a game that was so mundane and nondescript and devoid of real excitement for the first 70 minutes, only for heart-palpitating insanity, drama and chaos to unfold for the last 20.
This was a nothing game. A typical Championship game - competent but not brilliant, diverting to fans of either side, but like watching emulsion get less wet for anyone else. QPR were the better side for half an hour, and should have scored twice (Freeman for, I think, the fourth game in a row managing to miss a presentable chance after a nice pull back from the right) but Hull had the lead after some dreadful defending. After that, they looked the better side, mainly because they pressed us high to stop our new plan of playing out from the back so we're not lumping high balls to Sneezey and Grumpy up front.
Then, at half time, with Fraizer Campbell injured, Hull stopped that effective work and played at being Reading. Dropping off. Two banks of four. Dawson in total command of any dead ball situation. For a while we didn't really know what to do and I was pretty resigned to nothing happening, a game petering out, and the prospect of the inevitable loss to Brentford, followed by the inevitable loss to Cardiff, followed by table-topping Ipswich and then a this-result-is-so-obvious-why-are-we-bothering? trip to Boro and the six in a row klaxon will be wailing again.
But no. Subs lent a hand. Chaos ensued. Olly grew increasingly reckless as Hull's lack of ambition became so obvious, and in the end I'm pretty sure we were playing 2-4-4 or something. I don't know. No one else did either. Luke Freeman took a bit of paper that was passed round the team and studied it for so long I wondered if Birch had written him an unexpectedly beautiful sonnet. James Perch committed his weekly act of violent aggression, temporarily sending Scowen into spasms of pain, and leaving himself with a worse limp than Keyser Soze. Michael Dawson and the rest of the giant Hull side suddenly panicked at the sight of Smith and lost every ball he challenged for for the rest of the game. Sections of the crowd got really angry about something I didn't see. Sylla hit the post and the keeper's head with one shot (a skill that wins you a Smith-sized Minion at most funfairs). Smith missed two good chances and finally scored one. Olly went mad on the touchline for ages and had a huge row with Perch after the winning goal, which was itself a comedy of errors and packed with seemingly obvious fouls. Then Hull suddenly noticed we only had one fit defender left on the pitch and started attacking again and spent most of the remaining six minutes engaged in a single goalmouth scramble, which involved three goalline clearances, two glaring misses, nine mis-kicks, seven deflections, four fouls and, if you watch the replay, a man in a gorilla suit jogging through the penalty area completely unnoticed.
Mayhem, chaos, glorious, jubilant scenes. The Championship may be an unedifying bunfight that's beneath us all, but the last third of that game was utterly, bizarrely, wondrously silly and joyful. Well played, everyone.
I've gone through a range of emotions with Smith. From underwhelmed at his signing. To pleasantly surprised by his start. To almost excited at his fledgling partnership with Washington. To growing dismay at his *cliche warning* 'lack of mobility' and the fact his presence meant too many of our players paid too much attention to the voice in their head saying 'hit the big man'.
But it can't be denied that he, and then Sylla, changed the game on Saturday. While we did 'hit the big man' sometimes, it made sense when we did (clearances, goal kicks etc) and, even better, he won almost everything in the air, with his flick-ons several times causing problems. We also put good crosses in - three of them - including a beaut on the run from Bidwell and Freeman's gorgeously judged cross for the equaliser. That's how to maximise his threat. Our game so far this season doesn't suit his style, but as the classic 'option off the bench' he's a real weapon to have in our arsenal. To paraphrase one of Clive's favourite sayings, Dawson hadn't bothered changing out of his club suit, but realised he should have done once Smith started monstering him once he came on. And now his suit is all ruined with grass stains.
Well, judging by his hug with Birch after his goal, he may have won the assistant boss over. Just Olly to go. Personally, I love him and I don't really give a flying one about whether he chases back or chases every lost cause. This guy is a goalscorer. This was his fourth late winner or equaliser for the club in under a year, and his seventh out of his 11 that have come in the last 15 minutes.
Clive rightly says in his report that if you added up the distance from goal of all his goals for us you'd barely reach outside the penalty area, but he doesn't mean that as a criticism and in fact it shows why he is the most deadly striker we have. He is the one who can get into those positions, who has that killer instinct, and who can reliably finish decent chances with foot or head. More impressive than his goal was his superb turn and shot that hit the post almost before it left his boot. Smith and Washington, for my money Clive (I'm channelling Townsend, so referring to Tydesley, not Whittingham, here. Sorry) do not have that sharpness in the box in their locker.
Other than that, his all-round play was very good I thought, with some smart passes and his usual excellence when it comes to receiving the ball on his chest. Personally, and I know this probably goes against my glowing assessment of Washington after the Reading game, I wonder if Olly needs to get over Sylla's shortcomings, recognise and encourage his strengths, and try pairing him with Mackie up front. Mackie does the work of two men, anyway, and we can afford to carry one if he puts the ball in the net once every 150 minutes. At times before he and Smith came one we were in great positions for crosses, but with no genuine goal threat in the box that Sylla then provided.
On a related note, four games in and all four strikers (five in five, if you count Yeni and the cup) have scored already. Good signs.
I had a bit of a discussion on here the other week about Perch's professionalism. My position was that while he has not been great at right back, he's been good, weirdly, at left back, and always fine as a third defender. Also, the younger players have often mentioned him helping them. I think he gets a raw deal from fans. I don't think he's a shirker. I think he tries. I agree he should stop trying to maim people.
I was ready to argue here what a great team player he is and how he should be applauded for staying on and, it has to be said, defending manfully, when on one leg. What a pro. But is it professional to ignore your manager? Was it professional to stay on, potentially exacerbating an injury when Lynch is out, Baptiste is not fully fit, Hall is out and Caulker is out (pun intended, for cheap gag)? I'm not sure. I certainly agreed with Olly that I wanted him out of central defence. Stick him up front for 'nuisance value' (you never hear that any more do you? Real shame - gone, like outfield players going in goal) and put Smith at the back to head it, or play him at left back, where Hull weren't sending any balls anyway and move Bidwell infield. But he refused. He stayed on and helped win us the game. Took guts - and he had a good game prior to his injury too. A good sign that the squad is scrapping like this already - it felt like a crucial end of season game than an early season one, and that's important. We've had a decent start, but every point will count this season, in what will be a very hard one.
So, where does my jerk land? I think on a positive note - Perch is more suited to the right sided role in a back three, and he helped lead by example, putting his body on the line to help us sneak a win.
I'm not one for booing or getting on a player's back. I once was. I've told this before, so skip on if you don't want to see it again, but I remember Paul Bruce being subbed once by Olly, and I just stood up and screamed, 'And don't come back you useless pr!ck.' But it wasn't his fault, and I'm ashamed of it now. He was just a young player trying to do his best at a level too high for him. That abuse really doesn't help anyone and I cringe when I remember it. And it wasn't an isolated moment in those, in mitigation to me, dark days at QPR.
So it was disappointing to hear so many people getting on Lua Lua's back - and it shouldn't matter whether he's suffered a bereavement or not, what's the point in it? Did it help him? Or the team? No, on both counts. It genuinely made things worse. Look, I didn't feel it was worth bringing him back, I still don't, and especially not at right wing back. No one was on here at the end of last season with a 'sign him up' petition. No one even considered the old 'sign him up' song at games when he was on loan previously. Apart from an outrageous goal at Preston, he's done little to show he's worth what we're paying. Saturday was the same. Nice touches, a stepover or two, and then usually a wasted ball. Not to mention his failure to stop the goal when in pole position to do so. I'd have put Pav, if fit, Darnell, and even an out of position Manning in before him there. Or played Mackie there and had Lua Lua up front. But if all it takes now is a poor 15 minutes for us to start getting on a player's back, I despair. We need patience - let's try and act like nice humans to our own team.
And here's a god example of why we need patience. Plenty would have bombed him out after an underwhelming first season, but Jake is already looking happier this term and has been solid all season. Olly likes him there and feels with him on one side, we can afford a more attacking option on the other - Pav or Lua Lua. He offers that balance. And when he's feeling good, he has good delivery too, such as his very nice cross that Smith will think he should've equalised from.
I think he benefits from the three at the back - before there was a school of thought he was struggling with Lynch on the left of the defence, but now with a stronger back three, he's a bit freer to concentrate on his own job. Last season he often looked isolated - not enough cover behind, nothing in front either. Now with the security of a third centre back, he can defend higher and he seems more sure of his position. It's nothing spectacular, but it is encouraging.
Player You'd Forgotten Existed No. 14: Richard Sneekes
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