Furs returns, Pav impresses, Toni dominates - Knee Jerks
Monday, 17th Dec 2018 14:19 by Antti Heinola
Antti Heinola reflects on Saturday’s unexpected and extremely satisfying three points against a team ripped from the pages of The BFG.
Recent results felt and looked like a wobble even if we probably only played poorly in parts of games and arguably deserved more than two points out of 12. Still, this is a side that over the last two years has been prone to barren runs more barren than 95-year-old Baron Barren, the impotent Baron of Barrenshire. So a win, and a very good performance, was relieving, welcome and fully deserved.
I don't think I've ever started a knee jerks talking about the opposition, but like Clive in his report, I can't help it. Jesus wept. This is a side with some very decent players in it. Howson, Hugill, Assombolonga, Ayala, Clayton, Downing. I mean, these are not shit players, but almost none of them did much of note on Saturday through no real fault of their own. In the first half they were direct - as you'd expect. In the second, it was genuinely the worst, most naked, dullest, bone-headed, creatively-bankrupt 45 minutes of 'football' from a team with that sort of talent in it that I've ever seen.
At Cambridge, John Beck used to make sure the grass was a bit longer at the end of the pitches so his teams could hit long balls into the corners and then get crosses in. They played the channels, got in behind teams. That was ugly enough. This didn't even have that. This was simply one long game of humping the ball from behind the halfway line long, straight and high. Our biggest player (once Lynch had gone off) was probably only taller than two of Boro's entire side, and yet our defence, shorn of its usual full back, with a rookie keeper, and one centre back hobbling off with less than hour gone, actually dealt with this quite easily. Boro had one meaningful shot in the game, and it went in. They didn't even deserve that.
And I feel for their players and their fans. This was anti-football at it's worst. Pulis has a team that should win promotion, that has had money lavished on it, and effectively he's saying, 'this is all I can do with this lot.' And to think some people wanted him here at one stage. Jesus Christ. The bloke should be banned from the game. This isn't what this sport is. They aren't in a relegation dogfight, with no money and no players. They're a team who should be challenging for the title. And that's how they play? Their fans deserved more, I felt sorry for their midfield (genuinely, he might as well play 5-0-5), and Assombalonga was completely wasted.
You look at our team, which must be one of the smallest in the league, and think this is the kind of team that Boro should steamroller. Maybe in the past they would have. But there was steel from Rangers, steel and boldness and resolve; a determination to defend the crap thrown at them and to still try and play actual football, with passing and stuff. The short corner routine that almost brought a goal for Eze was a better moment, produced in about three seconds, than Boro managed in the entire game. After their equaliser, I felt we would probably crumble. We didn't, and Wells' winner was the least we deserved.
And what's Pulis's reaction? To blame the ref. OK mate. Nothing to do with your absolute, craven inability to do anything with that side other than exhort them to lump long, high balls towards the penalty box at every opportunity, then? He added: 'Because of the situation with us not scoring goals, the team is trying their damnedest to win a game of football. The players have reacted to the fact that we haven't been scoring and, in their desperation to score, we've lost our shape a bit.' Shape? What shape? Why do you need shape to play the way you make them play? Boro fans deserve more than this utter shit.
On the QPR Pod the other week there was talk that 'it's well known' Freeman wants to leave. But, surely, he can't have watched that and thought to himself 'I'd play for that lot'. What would be the point?
And now the goals are coming too. He's been playing well all season, but the goals were missing. Slowly they came at first, but now with more regularity, which is lucky, because Hemed seems to be out for a while. Saturday was possibly his best game for us and for a player so slight and, while not short, not exactly tall, he plays that lone striker role incredibly well. His movement is good. His control is good. He battles, he niggles, he puts his foot in, he's creative and he scores goals. Love him.
At 1-1 and with Lynch off, I was thinking that SMac must've been tempted to bring Wells off and stick Smith on, mainly to help out at the back on set pieces. I wouldn't, in truth, have blamed him. Steve spoke about how the gamble of removing Cameron v Hull didn't pay off as we conceded soon after, but the pleasing thing here was that he kept trusting his players and didn't make a panic substitution. He's been criticised, with some fairness, for leaving subs too late, but here his bold decision to delay bringing on Smith paid off as Wells not only scored the winner, but continued to be a thorn in Boro's side.
And it was a smart goal too. While Randolph's positioning can be questioned, Wells deserves credit for using the melee in front of him as a shield to bend the ball around the unsighted keeper. It looked odd going in so centrally, but Randolph barely saw it until it was past him. Really good performance from Wells.
I'm a big fan of Darnell - I've said before and I'll say again, I think eventually he'll be a centre back and it wouldn't surprise me if he wasn't one day QPR captain. Before this game some worried about throwing him in against such a tough side, particularly against George Friend who he's had trouble with before, but I wasn't particularly worried. One of the best things about Furs II is that he continues to improve. I thought he had a great game on Saturday in tough conditions against a team of giants. but his pace and ability in the air really helped us. Even when he went to centre back, he just continued playing his game and dealt with everything that came his way.
Well, nearly everything, he must be annoyed that his error, whether it was due to indecision or a slip (he was even unlucky the ball didn't hit him on its way into the net, actually), that led to their equaliser. Still, for a first game back, it was an impressive performance and we'll need more of them over Christmas, particularly as it looks like he'll have to play centre back while Lynch, er, recovers.
I imagine that sort of bombardment is less common in Germany, but nevertheless, he never looked bothered did he? It was like he had a magnet in his head. Constantly heading the thing away he was. Constantly. Unflustered, unhurried, using his strength and his bloody-mindedness, Toni led from the back with the sort of iron will we saw against Villa a few weeks back. And then when Lynch went off, he simply stepped it up. It was like he thought, 'well, I'll just have to win even more of the ball then', so he did. Hugill won't fancy another crack at him for a while.
PavI love Pav. But even I have to admit that since the international break he's gone off the boil and hasn't been performing to the standards he set himself earlier in the season. A decent argument was beginning to build to give BOS a bit of a run in his place, offering us a bit more explosive pace. But Saturday was Pav back to his best. A goal at his favoured School End (his willingness to get into the box, incidentally, is key to the 4-2-3-1 system working properly), some good crosses, an assist and, of course, his ludicrous, scarcely credible ability to run his arse off up and down that wing all afternoon with just a little pause for tea and oranges and/or pierogi at half time. One run in the second half, where he outstripped their entire team, and which must've seen him carry the ball for a minimum of 60 yards all the way to the byline defied belief. And for that sort of thing, you must love him dearly, no matter who you are. And that is why the ref did not book him - not for a blatant rugby tackle, nor for a tired, naughty, 'I know I won't get the ball, but whatevs' tackle from behind towards the end. How could you book him? He's just too loveable.
I'm still Team Cousins. I think he's had a horrible time here, mainly because of injury but also because he's never had a run at central midfield. His chance came on Saturday and F me, did he fancy it. Three hard, snappy tackles in the opening five minutes set the tone for the whole side, to tell Boro that we weren't going to be pushed about. Thereafter, he was perpetual motion, winning tackles, blocking and using the ball well. But, of course, the poor lad ended up at right back. He cannot catch a break. Still, he did just as well there and one overlapping run past Pav was particularly impressive coming as it did so late in the game.
He leaves SMac with a decision to make in the next couple of games - most likely three - thanks to Lynch's injury. Does he recall Kakay to the defence for the first time in the league since the Albion debacle and play Cousins in midfield? Or does Cousins play full back, with Scowen, who played well himself, restored tot he side alongside Luongo? Or does Baptiste come into the equation? Or Hall? Well, not Hall. Is there anyone else?
Still, I hope Cousins continues his form - the bloke deserves a bit of luck.
Pictures – Action Images
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