Manning, midfield and Maddison v Eze - Knee Jerks
Tuesday, 3rd Apr 2018 21:47 by Antti Heinola
Antti Heinola looks back at Monday's fine win against Norwich City with his usual six talking points, including our own starlet Ebere Eze v Norwich's highly rated James Maddison.
An entertaining match and a great win marred only by the miserable bloke near me mansplaining the game to his female companion thinking he sounded like Guardiola, and then, after moaning about long balls, conceding the goal and the lack of atmosphere, failing to celebrate our goals because he was busy checking his acca. We all go for different reasons, don't we?
I think he's been in fine form recently - as has Lynch, to be fair - and he had a particularly good game yesterday. We often struggle against Oliveira for some reason, but while he was certainly a threat first half, Ned stuck to his task well and wore him down quite effectively. I know he's had his detractors at Rangers, but now he's finally settled as a centre back I think he's become a really important player. His pace and strength are vital, and he's also really silenced the critics who believed he wasn't a proper captain. He leads by example, is rarely booked, and while he does make mistakes, all players do. First half in particular he made some crucial challenges, and there was one lovely moment where he strained every muscle in his body to catch up with Oliveira and execute a perfect tackle before glaring at Darnell Furlong for being caught upfield. That's all it took. No bollocking, no histrionics, no playing to the gallery JT-style. Just a hard look. Perfect person for Furs to learn from.
Second half things were a little easier for us at the back, and Ned decided to cut loose with a couple of rare marauding runs, one of which saw him winding up for a long range effort which would have brought the house down had it flown in. But he got tackled before foot met ball. Never mind. Persuading him to sign again might be our most important signing this summer. It's no coincidence that our worst run of form this season came when he was injured.
This felt very much like the Fulham game to me. We didn't exactly play poorly in the first half, but we weren't quite at it either. Both times a goal from our prolific midfield goal-getter Massimo Luongo proved an important stepping stone to us dominating after the break.
And here you have to give credit to Ollie - he shifted things around and our renewed vigour nullified Norwich's main threats while simultaneously making us much more dangerous going forward. Clearly, the second half display was one of the best of the season, with the floodgates finally opening as we finally scored the goals our creativity merited. I thought just about every player improved second half, so whatever was said at half time worked a treat. but what is the reasoning? Is the team just a bit unsure of itself? Was it too scared of Norwich's counter attacks, in the same way they were timid against Fulham? If so, hopefully recent results will give them a bit more belief.
I think there's a pretty good case for the argument that this was his best game in a QPR shirt. I don't think he's ever won so much in the air and for once we were regularly getting on the end of his flick-ons. He gave the Norwich defenders a torrid time, and while their manager may pathetically make jibes about our long balls, the fact is we have to play to our strengths, as any team does. And if your big man is winning that much of the ball, you'd be foolish not to use him. Having said that, none of our goals came from actual long balls, so not really sure what he was going on about.
But back to Smith. I really admire players who obviously work at their game, and Mathieu is one of them. He's shown definite improvement in his year at the club, he now has 9 goals for the season which is none too shabby, as well as a similar number of assists. He was desperately unlucky in the first half when he hit the post, but his goal he really made out of nothing. It's a rea skill to challenge for that ball and not impede the keeper in any way - great opportunistic striking. His knock down for Eze for number three was also excellent, and it showed the value of having someone as bright as Eze getting in and around him for precisely those kind of balls. And then there was the stunning trick he did in the centre of the park. Moments like those are just so great - the whole crowd cheered in the way they do when a centre back unexpectedly tricks his way past a full back out on the wing after a corner's been played to deep. In a way, you feel for Smith, because the reaction is one of surprise as much as delight that he could pull that trick off when, as wooden as he looks, he's 1000 times better than any of us will ever be at playing football. But I'm sure he knows the spirit in which it's offered. Brilliant - a goal, an assist an all-round display and some Taarabt-like skill. A perfect day for him.
Eze v Maddison
First half, Maddison looked terrific, particularly in tandem with the dangerous and very quick Murphy down the left (another tough test for Furlong there). We really struggled with the little triangles those two were a part of with various third wheels down the left in the first half, and Scowen couldn't quite seem to get hold of Maddison. Meanwhile, despite swapping positions behind Smith, Eze couldn't get into the game effectively, and often had to drop too deep looking for the ball. not that he played badly, but he was just not as involved as you'd want him to be.
Second half was almost the opposite. Eze took up a Taarabt-like position on the left and we finally started getting him the ball regularly. And he stated causing trouble. He is so difficult to disarm and so good at just bursting away from defenders with a little puff of speed. More than once, Norwich were reduced to just kicking him, and in the end he scored a nice goal that his performance deserved. Meanwhile, Maddison was not the force he was before the break, with Scowen in particular ratting around him and snuffing out his threat. So while Maddison couldn't quite capitalise on his freedom first half, Eze did in the second.
Yes, we could even call them Scowongomanning now, if we want to. Anyway, point here is that I thought of the three, in the first half only Luongo really shone. I think he made about 5 tackles just in the first 15 minutes, and he made several telling interceptions as well as being dogged in possession. Indeed, while his goal was a nice one, with some good passing, it really came from his utter determination not to give up even as three or four Norwich players converged on him. He's really matured this season. Scowen improved markedly after the break to shut down Maddison as he began to hunt the ball like the wild dog that he is - he won it more frequently and higher up the pitch too, cowing Norwich with his ability to close down incredibly quickly. Freeman was perhaps not so great, but he was still dangerous as usual and is having to adapt to a slightly different role now Eze is in the side. The trio's ability to adapt to the changing side will be key next season (assuming they all stay).
I'm not as high on Manning as a lot of fans, although I still feel that he should've played more games this season than he has done. On Monday I felt he really struggled first half. When on the right he didn't give enough or effective support to Furs against Murphy (although Freeman didn't offer much more when he switched) and he also didn't offer much going forward. However, as the game wore on he got better and better. His great running and his sharp closing down matched Scowen's work and in the end he scored (another) fantastic header, even better than the one against Villa. Coming in from the right, beating his man, and adding power and direction as he met Bidwell's superb cross. And that's what Manning really does well - attacking the box. We have lots of players decent outside it, along the 18 yard box, but he's not afraid to get in there and give support to the strikers. Now firmly back in the fold, Ollie has real headaches when choosing his midfield, especially when you consider he had Smyth and Wszolek, both with MOTM displays in the last few weeks, sat on the bench. The future feels bright.
Pictures – Action Images
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