Tough day at the office - Knee Jerks
Monday, 22nd Jan 2018 14:45 by Antti Heinola
Antti Heinola returns with his six talking points from Saturday's comfortable home defeat by Middlesbrough.
There are games sometimes when you've been heavily beaten and you're disgusted: the effort wasn't there, the belief wasn't there, the pride wasn't there, perhaps they gave up after just going a goal down and then pathetically capitulated and it's all a load of shit and why do you bother and how much is this costing and fuck me this makes me miserable and it's raining and what's the point we never win anything anyway and we're going to get relegated and I HATE THE WORLD!
But Saturday wasn't one of them. I looked around after the game and thought, well, no one played what I would consider to be 'well' (a 7/10), but on the other hand no one was that poor either, and if they were, it wasn't through lack of effort. Until their goal, which, while annoying for it to come from a set piece, was very well-worked and almost impossible to defend if you don't win that near post ball, we'd even been marginally the better side. After that, though, they just looked bigger, stronger, faster and even seemed to have a man more than us at times. They moved the ball well, shifting us one side then exploiting space on the other, and in the end, it was a very good, professional performance from them that we had no answer to. There are reasons and failures for that, of course, but they were just too good.
My Man of the Match. I do hope we can get him to rejoin this summer because he's turning into a very decent player who is also quite versatile. On Saturday he had our three best moments: a thunderous effort from range that would have been a match for Friend's later goal had it been a couple of inches lower; an absolutely superb slide rule pass in the second half that went in behind the Boro full back, and split their defence and which should have led to a goal; a fine goal-saving, goalline clearance. Had he scored with a diving header (which he really should have done - even Lee Cook put two of those in during his career, and they were literally the only two times he headed a ball), it would have capped another very good display from someone who must be moving into the reckoning for player of the season. Thought he, Onuoha and Lynch actually played pretty well, considering we let in three, with Assombalonga the quietest I've seen him against us.
Boro probably had at least four of the top five performers on the pitch on Saturday (Ayala, as usual, superb against us, Shotton also excellent), but Adama (one of five footballers in the world called Adama Traore, apparently) was the pick. I couldn't believe it when I did a bit of research after the game and discovered it hadn't really worked for him at Villa and his richly deserved goal on Saturday was his first for Boro. Because he looked like he had the lot - pace, power, skill, a willingness to track back, almost impossible to knock off the ball (Robbo tried two reducers near the end, one of which was two-footed and he was lucky to get away with, but it made little difference) and he scored a great goal. He was excellent. Far too good for us, and if he continues that level of performance, far too good for this league. Really impressive.
Clive said in his Burton report that Ollie's decision to play two smaller, quicker forwards against Burton's big man defence was a brave choice, but one that worked. He went with the same on Saturday, but sadly Boro's defence, especially now under Pulis's eye, is a totally different proposition. Oteh struggled to establish himself, although at times he showed good willingness to move around and receive the ball. Washington was really no better than he's been all season - in fact, his first three touches were all in good areas and he failed to find a QPR shirt with any of them.
It was really frustrating. In the end, he was lucky he wasn't hooked at half time, and while after the break he did perform one good take down of a long ball before firing wide, he was never a threat to the Boro backline. In retrospect it seems obvious we needed more strength up there, and with our chronic lack of goals continuing, it really might be time to try a 4-2-3-1 (as we had in the second half, with some limited success) so that we can perhaps get Pav and Osayi-Samuel wide on the wings putting balls into the box for Smith/Sylla (with the option of Freeman shifting wide to accommodate Eze if needs be). On Saturday, it was mostly too easy for Ayala and chums. We were too small, too weak, and with not enough guile to trouble them enough.
Chances and penalties
Which does bring us onto this. Although we were well beaten, the fact is, this should have been a lot closer. Boro scored a good set piece, a worldy and a well-worked final goal as we searched for a way back. Smithies made one other fine save that I remember, but the fact was Boro weren't rampant. They didn't need to be, you could argue, but shots weren't raining down every ten seconds. Meanwhile, we did have chances, particularly one for Lynch that he should have put away and a header by Smith from a perfect Freeman corner that really should have been a goal. And then there were the penalty shouts - three of them, all against Smith - at least one of those was a pen. I know you can't add up small infringements, but one in particular he was blatantly impeded from getting to the ball. The final one, he appeared to take an elbow to the face. So there was bad luck here, but also an inability to punish teams when we do make chances. It's been a problem all season, and doesn't look like it's going to change any time soon, sadly.
Well there weren't many, but I thought Furlong had a good game, particularly up against Adama - and it said a lot that he switched wings, I thought. Oteh tried hard and it will be good to see more of him. Eze clearly has talent - he's so comfortable on the ball, and is strong and confident. Cautiously optimistic. And we had Manning on the bench too. There are some green shoots. We might look back on these days as the start of something exciting. This level of penetration into the first team picture is unheard of for many, many years. Not all of them will make it with us - but even if one does, that'll be something.
Pictures – Action Images
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