|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 0 Aston Villa|
Friday, 26th October 2018 Kick-off 19:45
Anatomy of a turnaround - Preview
Friday, 26th Oct 2018 12:01 by Clive Whittingham
After a nightmare start, QPR top the Championship form table going into tonight's game against Aston Villa at Loftus Road. Where did it all start going so right?
QPR (6-2-6, LLWDWW, 13th) v Aston Villa (4-6-4, LDDLWL, 16th)
Lancashire and District Senior League >>> Friday October 26, 2018 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Cool and cloudy >>> Loftus Road, London, W12
Football teams can turn around difficult runs in a multitude of ways, but often there’s one really pronounced game or moment you can point to and say ‘that’s when it started going our way’.
For other clubs that’s often a change of manager, though as we know that rarely works for QPR – new manager bounce something we’ve only really read about in books. But it can also be the return of players from injury - Alan McDonald and Paul Parker 90/91, Ray Wilkins 91/92, Les Ferdinand 94/95, Charlie Austin 13/14 all had profound influences both in their absence and returns to the side. It may be a new signing that sparks something, often on loan – Mark Kennedy 97/98, Lee Cook 02/03 both proved the catalyst to end long losing runs. Or a previously unheard of member of the reserves or, often, youth team suddenly bursting onto the first team scene – Richard Langley for Gerry Francis in 98/99, Ryan Manning for Ian Holloway in 16/17. Sometimes it’s a lucky goal or fortunate result in a match – the old story about Mark Robins saving Alex Ferguson’s Man Utd job with an FA Cup goal at Nottingham Forest.
You could lazily divide QPR’s 2018/19 season so far simply into ‘before Hemed and Wells’ and ‘after Hemed and Wells’. Rangers lost their first four games of the season conceding 13 goals without them, the worst start in the history of the club. Since they arrived 20 points have been taken from ten games, which is the joint best run in the Championship over that period along with Sheffield United.
But there are many factors in what, given the state of things after that Bristol City game, has been a remarkable change of fortunes for the R’s this season. Quite a few of them reflect very well on Steve McClaren.
Working from the back, the change of goalkeeper has been crucial. McClaren and his coaches did Matt Ingram few favours back in August, making the already difficult job of replacing the wonderful Alex Smithies behind a defence that had lost both its first choice centre backs from the previous year almost impossible by also insisting he become some Pep Guardiola-style playmaker from the back in his first ever gig as a number one at this level. But many managers would have doubled down and entrenched themselves in that mistake, whereas McClaren brought in Joe Lumley and changed the style of play. Harsh on Ingram, whose QPR career now looks to be all but over, but a hard earned chance for Lumley who’s impressed during two League One loan spells, has kept seven clean sheets in 11 games, and brings a noisy confidence to the defence sorely missing in the early games. He’s far from faultless, at times it seems it’s pure luck, but he’s made a huge difference to us.
Likewise Angel Rangel. Bringing in expensive 35-year-olds released by Swansea to play in front of youth team prospects is not what was pitched as the aim for this season before it started, but it’s difficult to argue that Osman Kakay is up to the rigours of regular Championship football yet despite impressive cameos, nor that the defence hasn’t improved for having Rangel’s experience on the right side of it. The clean sheet record speaks for itself, and Rangel is one of those quietly effective full backs you never notice because he never makes mistakes.
I’d still go with Darnell Furlong when he’s fit again – he offers more attacking threat, heading ability in both boxes, and an out ball to the right flank for defenders and goalkeepers under pressure that Rangel doesn’t. But the Spaniard is better defensively – Furlong frequently gets caught out on his inside left shoulder with players running into space between him and the right centre back which doesn’t happen to Rangel – and he’s been an important factor in the upturn.
Toni Leistner and Joel Lynch playing regularly together and building a partnership has helped. Lynch is in the form of his QPR career so far (not hard), although that mad crossfield pass straight to Joao in the first half against Sheff Wed shows that even when he’s turning in a man of the match performance his brain is still prone to the odd long, lingering fart. Leistner is slow, but effective. I like him. Interesting to see what happens to the pair of them against better strikers though, given the West Brom debacle.
Their form has been aided by Geoff Cameron being parked in front of them. Initially I didn’t get it with him, he looked unfit, out of position, immobile and far too prone to giving the ball away to me – although, admittedly, I’m a fan of Josh Scowen and Ryan Manning so it was perhaps more that I didn’t think a 33-year-old on loan from Stoke should be selected ahead of younger players we own, more than what Cameron was doing. Either way, he’s been very impressive in the last couple of games and helps form a really solid defensive shape with that back four and keeper behind him. Masismo Luongo, having bottomed out at Swansea, is also seemingly on the up.
The return of Pawel Wszolek, initially from the bench against Reading and Derby, and now from the start against Ipswich and Sheff Wed, has also improved us. His work rate without the ball, and a return to form with his final ball with it, add a balance to the right of the three attackers that we just don’t have when trying to shoe-horn either Ebere Eze or Jordan Cousins in there. It’s allowed Eze to move back to ten as well, which is by far his best position.
And the realisation that Hemed and Wells starting together in a 4-4-2 suits them and nobody else. Having begged, stolen and borrowed to get them, and no doubt paid serious whack just for loans, it’s brave to leave one of them out for the good of the team but it had to be done and it’s worked a treat in the last couple of games. We probably only needed to sign one of them, two is just gratuitous, but being able to bring a player like Wells on after an hour on Tuesday was night and day from what we were working with last season and makes us a more potent threat.
A running theme through all of this has been McClaren’s flexibility. There’s been no stubbornness, no favourites, no entrenchment – if it’s needed changing he’s changed it. We’ve moved through three formations already to get to where we are now, he’s abandoned the two striker set up even though we paid a lot to sign the pair of them, he’s dropped one of the three undroppable midfielders from last season which may have been harsh on Scowen but is working so far and he’s bitten the bullet on the goalkeepers.
But there’s always a but. The fixtures have been rather kind and the one half difficult game amongst them was lost very comfortably 3-0 at Swansea. Villa bring good players to town last night despite their poor form, Blackburn are looking good ahead of next week, and then Brentford will (altogether now) almost certainly be the best team we’ve faced all season the week after.
Next test to pass in the meantime is responding to adversity, because while Rangers are very good once they’re in front they have been prone to giving up when falling behind this season. They did recover from one down against Frank Lampard’s Derby County, and that result looks better and better with each passing week, but the way the games at Preston, Sheff Utd, West Brom, Bristol City and Swansea were able to just slip away under varying degrees of stress and strain sticks in the mind. If we’re 2-0 down with 20 minutes to go tonight would it be kitchen sink or white flag?
Whichever way it goes, it’s been remarkable and creditable turnaround with many constituent parts since the outright panic of August.
Geoff Cameron facts #9 – Geoff was cast as Tinky Winky in the original version of genre defining BBC kids series Teletubbies, but once he discovered the role required him to carry a purple handbag around at all times he turned it down on religious grounds.
Team News: Steve McClaren would undoubtedly like to keep the same team after two wins and two clean sheets this week, but three games in six days maybe a bit much for certain older members of the squad – Josh Scowen and Jordan Cousins stand by if Geoff Cameron can’t make it. Darnell Furlong is back in training and likely to be pushing Angel Rangel for the right back slot soon and Grant Hall has made it back as far as the bench for the last two games after 18 months out injured. We’re offering a ten course KFC tasting menu for two in the company of Jay Emmanuel Thomas for any sighting of Sean Goss.
QPR fan, and perennial scourge of the Super Hoops, Albert Adomah banged his bonce at Norwich during the week and is a doubt. Rest it up Albert, you can’t be too careful with these things. Tammy Abraham is counting his money today and may not be finished by kick off so is also doubtful. One time QPR transfer target John McGinn is back after a one game spell on the naughty step and forward Keinan Davis has recovered from a groin issue.
Elsewhere: QPR go first this weekend, and could potentially be as high as seventh going into Saturday were they to win for the third game in a row this evening. I’d forgotten there even was a seventh.
A few noteworthy results from the midweek fixtures other than our own. Frank Lampard’s Derby County really laid down a marker with their performance of the season so far in a 4-1 win away at West Brom, and now go to another promotion chaser Middlesbrough in the game of the day on Saturday lunchtime. Boro busted everybody’s coupon with a 0-0 against Rotherham while Frank Lampard’s Derby County were doing the business at the Hawthorns. West Brom will have a tough job recovering against Blackburn, who’ve surprised plenty already this season.
Borussia Norwich continued their fine recent form with a 2-1 win against Big Racist John and the Boys and they’re at home to Brentford who were 3-0 down inside 20 minutes at lowly Preston despite being the best team North End have faced all season. They eventually lost 4-3 and will have all on with Norwich who’ve lost only one of the last 11, but they will, almost certainly, be the best team Norwich have played this season.
One win in 15 saw Paul Hurst sent on his way by Ipswich Blue Sox ahead of their weekend trip to Millwall Scholars. Paul Lambert is the favourite there which is as close to running back to Mick McCarthy with a big bunch of flowers as it’s possible to get without actually just re-appointing Mick McCarthy. The Champions of Europe hammered the final nail in for Hurst to snap a run of one win in five and move back to the top of the table briefly. Sky Sports Leeds, naturally, have their home match with Nottingham Trees on Saturday night. Down in South Yorkshire, two of the other early form teams – Sheffield Red Stripes and Wigan Warriors – meet at Bramall Lane.
A fair few attractive/intriguing games for us there then by the standards of the Lancashire and District Senior League. In the interests of balance there’s also Bolton, whose chairman has been making managerial change noises, and hapless Hull to take your loved ones to if you gave up your career to have a family and the kids turned out to be shit. Bristol City v Stoke, Preston Knob End against Rotherham and Birmingham against Sheffield Owls close out the weekend.
Referee: Just as he was for this fixture last season, when he (rightly) awarded a stoppage time penalty in the first half against Jack Robinson to turn the game back in Villa’s favour, Darren England is the man in the middle tonight. It’s his second QPR appearance this season, following the opening day loss at Preston when he fell for the old Ben Pearson histrionics hook line and sinker. Details here.
QPR: In the Championship since December 2015, QPR are unbeaten in 30 games when they’ve led at half time following this week’s wins against Ipswich and Sheff Wed – 24 wins and six draws. The Sheff Wed win made it six clean sheets in the league this season compared to just five last, and the win at Ipswich equalled the number of away wins in the whole of last season and it’s only the end of October. Midweek was the first time Rangers have scored more than twice in a game this season and having been the joint lowest scorers in the Football League at the start of the week they’ve now notched five in two games. At home they’ve won four and drawn one of the last six in all competitions. Joe Lumley has kept seven clean sheets in 11 appearances since replacing Matt Ingram in goal – only Middlesbrough’s Darren Randolph has a better record in the Championship this season. If QPR do win here then following the 3-1 victory at Villa Park in March it will be their first back to back wins against Villa since 1989. Rangers and Sheffield United are joint top of the Championship form table over the last 10 games with 20 points apiece.
Villa: Villa won their first three games of the season against Hull (3-1), Wigan (3-2) and Yeovil (1-0) in all comps but have only won twice in 13 games since against Swansea (1-0) and Rotherham (2-0). Both of those were at Villa Park which means that since winning on Humberside on the opening weekend of the campaign they’ve gone six away league games without a win. That includes defeats at Sheff Utd (1-4), Millwall and Norwich (both 1-2) and draws at Ipswich, Blackburn and Bristol City (all 1-1). Since sacking Steve Bruce they’ve lost two away from home and beaten Swansea at home. Villa have lost 11 of their last 13 trips to London, with the other two being wins against QPR at Loftus Road.
Prediction: Our Prediction League this year is sponsored by The Art of Football, with prizes available for the Christmas leader and overall champion. Get involved here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Last year’s champion Elliott tells us…
“What a run this is that we’re putting together. It’s never easy being a QPR fan so when we’re playing like we are at the moment, you’ve got to make the most of it. We look solid at the back but able to score goals from all over which is a beautiful formula. I was delighted that Wells got off the mark on Tuesday night, he’s really deserved that and I hope he can now go on a run. I like Dean Smith and I think when he’s sorted Villa out, they’ll be a real force. There’s no way we’re keeping a third clean sheet in a row so I’ll be the party pooper and go for us to get beat here, in front of the millions of viewers on Sky Sports.”
Elliott’s Prediction: QPR 1-2 Aston Villa. Scorer – Nahki Wells
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Aston Villa. Scorer – Ebere Eze
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Pictures – Action Images
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