Luongo, Robinson and Baptiste all impress - Knee Jerks
Sunday, 10th Sep 2017 15:48 by Antti Heinola
Antti Heinola's talking points from Saturday's victory against Ipswich include positive reflections on the likes of Massimo Luongo, Josh Scowen, Jack Robinson and Alex Baptiste.
A very good, all-action performance for a thoroughly deserved three points. But it wouldn't be QPR if we hadn't been hanging on in a game we should have won with real comfort.
I blame my neighbour, who genuinely said with eight minutes left, 'I have never been more sure that we will win a game.' I told him to shut up, but it was too late. He'd said it.
Not sure I'll be able to say anything more than what has already been said on the board, but this was one of his best performances for the club. From the start of the season he's looked bigger and stronger - I'm not sure whether he's been working on that in the gym or whatever, but the (slightly unfair) knock on him that he gets pushed off the ball too easily seems to have been nailed now. He is very strong on the ball, is capable of using both skill and strength to extricate himself from tight situations. His passing has always been decent. And of course, he wins a phenomenal amount of the ball through tackles and interceptions. This season, playing higher up the pitch, he has really stepped it up with some impressive stamina, constantly snapping at heels, or as Ollie would say, bad-rashing opponents.
So, his all-round game has improved, but yesterday in particular there were two really pleasing aspects. Firstly, the fact that, in a team of decent performances, he still shone and was the obvious man of the match - and this despite clocking up another few hundred thousand airmiles over the last two weeks. If he can hold his form despite his Australia commitments, that is a huge boost for everyone except perhaps poor Ryan Manning. And secondly, he's starting to address the criticism that he doesn't create enough goals or score enough. True, he still hasn't scored this season, but he's getting in the positions. He was hugely unlucky when he hit the inside of the post on the opening day, and yesterday he was unfortunate again - first with a glorious, totally unexpected drive from 30 yards that almost found the top corner, and then after another ling-busting run, curling a shot just inches wide. It's coming. He was also, of course, heavily involved with both our goals and it probably says something too that when he did slip and therefore failed to stop Celina - he went on to score a cracker. Great performance - if one of those efforts had gone in I'd give him an extremely rare 9/10 mark.
I'm always wary about getting too carried away with new signings. Players can turn up, play well, and have that element of surprise about them, but the shine can soon go off the boil, as the Pub Landlord says. But I've seen him a few times now and he is quality. I'm not sure how you'd describe him - he's not an out and out stopper of an anchorman, but neither is he Xavi. He is, though, somewhere in between. A superb reader of the game, a player who wins a lot of the ball and, crucially, he's plugging those gaps in our central midfield that were constantly a problem last season. And, like his midfield partners further up the pitch, he's comfortable on the ball, banishing memories of Karl Henry dithering and then passing backwards, as he uses the ball so effectively and moves it so quickly. A little like Ray Wilkins, he seems to know exactly what he'll do with it before he gets it.
He was very good again yesterday and while Freeman's runs and excellent goal and Luongo's non-stop play might be more eye-catching, they can both play those games precisely because Scowen is so reliably good behind them. We've been crying out for a player like this since we lost Derry and we've found one who may turn out to be even better. What an absolutely brilliant freebie - huge credit to Penrice (if it was him) for this one. Gave the ball away once yesterday, though. So he's not quite perfect.
I didn't think this was a great signing, and I saw little against Hull that made me think we might have been better off picking up Hill or Delaney. But yesterday, he was much better - and crucially looked a lot fitter. Very calm on the ball, very calm in the tackle too. Two moments in the first half showed why Ollie signed him. The first was when, for one of the only times in the match, Ipswich got in behind us. Baptiste got back, stood McGoldrick up in the box, didn't dive in and forced him to give the ball away. Really good, unfussy, intelligent defending. The second was when Robinson and Onuoha were in a slight tangle and it looked like the ball might break on the edge of the box to Waghorn - no, Baptiste strolled over, took command, and the ball was cleared. Calmness is important in any defence and yesterday he seemed totally unhurried and unruffled. Will be a huge bonus if he keeps up that level of performance.
It could be argued, and I've seen it, that Ipswich didn't threaten much and so you can't really judge our defence. But Ipswich have scored a lot of goals this season and you would also say that we only had one of our first choice back three playing, and one of the other two has probably never played in that position at senior level. The fact that Ipswich caused us so few problems was down to hard work from back to front, but also because Baptiste and Onuoha had very good games and were able to work effectively with Robinson.
It was an unexpected decision to start with Robinson there. He does have the height, but he's always seemed like more of a wing back to me. I'd have thought bringing in Furlong, who could easily play on the right of the three, was a more obvious choice, and of course Bidwell has played on the left of a three too. But perhaps sensibly Ollie might have been unwilling to alter the team too much. Most of this side has started every league game in the same position, so he kept Bidwell wide and took a risk on Robinson.
I suppose the questions are, did it work and could it work on a more permanent basis, given our centre back issues. I'm not sure. First half especially he and Bidwell struggled a bit down that left, and I thought Robinson struggled a bit in the air. But what I really liked was that Robinson worked his arse off. You could see him fighting and scrapping throughout the game, challenging for every ball, showing real testicular fortitude. That's the sort of attitude Ollie wants from his players and if you show that you can only improve. Maybe, if he stays fit, there could be a place for him there, but he'll have bigger tests than yesterday's ahead.
Jamie was perhaps a bit of a surprise inclusion on the opening day, but he's now made that spot in the starting XI his own. It's interesting watching him and comparing him to the player who first arrived under Warnock. Then, a lot of his game was about pace. It has, of course, always been about grit and a never-say-die attitude, and that's what made him the player he is.
Now, though, with injuries and age taking their toll a little, that old electric pace isn't quite there. So he's adapted. He's become a bit of a leader on the pitch. His first thought isn't always now to get his head down and run with the ball. Now, a simple lay-off might be the best option. I think he plays more intelligently, but he hasn't lost any of his indomitable competitive spirit. He had a right old battle with Connolly yesterday, who clearly thought he could rile him up, maybe get him sent off. But while Mackie is combative, he's not stupid. He's niggly, but rarely violent. And, especially once he tucked home the first goal so nicely, Connolly was finished. The fight wasn't there anymore. Mackie had worn him out.
Well worth that contract extension - let's hope he can stay fit. Loves a goal against Ipswich as well, I think.
There start to the season was a bit of a surprise to me. It sounded like turmoil at the club. I actually like Mick MCarthy - he's funny, doesn't take himself too seriously, and understands the game far more than many would give him credit for. That's not to say I'd be delighted if he was QPR manager, but I like him. Amusing on the co-comms too. So I was quite pleased that Ipswich had a decent start - but having watched them yesterday, I'm not quite sure how they have had such a good start. I thought they lacked fight, ideas and a cutting edge. That was partly because we don't let teams settle at LR, but at 2-0 the only way they were going to get back into it was a penalty or a flash of out-of-the-blue inspiration. It was the latter, but it came far too late in a game they had been largely out-played in.
We're a decent side - it's still too early to say how good, exactly, because I think Ipswich were poor and so were Hull and Reading will probably not play that badly again this season. Of course, we've stopped them from playing because we played so well, but it's still very early days. Still, I expected more from Ipswich after the start they've had. Their fans evidently did too - their early boisterousness soon quietened into a depressed silence. Meanwhile the vaunted forward line of McGoldrick, Garner and Waghorn, so effective earlier this season, rarely caused us any issues. Are they reverting to the mean, or is this just a blip?
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