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Are you not entertained? Knee Jerks
Monday, 7th Oct 2019 18:21 by Antti Heinola

Antti’s six talking points on Saturday’s 4-2 win at home to Blackburn make for upbeat reading as Rangers head into another international break in high spirits.

Well? Are you not?

I only ask because in a game of six goals and some bloody lovely football, it all seemed surprisingly flat from our fans. OK, flat is an exaggeration. But before the season started if someone told us we'd score four in a game (it was only two months ago the 'Twitt-R-arti' were lighting flaming torches in readiness for a march on the KPFS, armed with an effigy of Lee Hoos, an old Shoot! poster of Les Ferdinand with an angry red cross scrawled on his face in lipstick, and RED RUM written across his chest instead of Holland Fly KLM and a baby blimp of Tony Fernandes because we hadn't signed any strikers, #DONTANNOUNCECHRISMARTIN #ANNOUNCEWELBECKHESONAFREE) I think we'd have all collectively lost our shit - pandemonium in the stands, man with Mexican hat falling into the Paddocks to be caught by Jude, that girl from the Palace 6-0 game who stripped and ran up and down the top of the exec boxes doing it all over again sort of thing. On Saturday, at least near me, there was a lot of harrumphing, a lot of heads in hands, and then some three-quarter-hearted cheering as we rammed in four pretty sweet goals.

I'm not sure why this is, just as I'm not sure where the fans who turned up in number for the Luton game have gone, unless they simply thought things would never get that good again. And maybe that is the issue a bit. We saw half an hour of near-perfect football, so the feeling among some is: 'well why can't we play perfect football and score a goal every ten minutes EVERY MATCH. WHY NOT?!'

I am, of course, being over-dramatic for (limited, yes all right) comic effect. But I do have a serious point. I think the reason why no one was getting very carried away in the way we did against Luton and in the way we might have done in years past is because none of us really know what is a safe score with this team. And it's not about playing out from the back. For all the complaints, we're actually decent at doing that. It's just that we do look really, really vulnerable in defence. Even on Saturday, Kelly did not have a save to make other than the two that went in, and yet there was still that nagging fear that somehow we could give it away. The bravado of 'you might as well go home' after 30 mins v Luton was completely absent after 80 mins and 4-1 v Blackburn. No one felt safe. The Luton game has perhaps created a weird paradox, where we're desperate to see that swaggering perfection again, but at the same time so scarred by their mini-comeback that we're not sure any score his safe.

Still, it's much fun.

Breaking the cycle

Since Ollie took over in 2016, we've endured these runs: six losses in a row, five without a win, six losses in a row, seven without a win, five losses and one lucky draw in six, five losses in a row, seven without a win.

That tells you how important it was to win on Saturday and snap the cycle quickly. True, this is a different team now, but after such a good start, it would have been awful to start slipping down the league and, worse, losing confidence into what had got us so many point so early in the first place. While we might have spent half an hour of this game being a little more cagey than before, it was good to see that we weren't suddenly abandoning everything. This team knows it did not play badly in the last two games, as much as they deserved to lose both, but that's not a reason to chuck everything away and start again. Strength of character, fortified by Wells' opener, helped us overcome doubts to turn in a smashing performance.

Manning

Another excellent performance from our left back/wing back. One of the great things about this side is how everyone is comfortable on the ball. Even Dom Ball, rested on Sat, and not the most technical player in the squad, has no compunction about demanding a pass. Manning, though, has all the technical skill required for passing, controlling and, to deadly effect, crossing. There can't be many games where a left back can pretty much claim three assists, but currently almost every time struggles with his energy, determination and quality of delivery. One in the eye for the 'round pegs, round holes' brigade. His tackling stats are also hugely impressive.

There's a but coming - you can sense it, I know. I'm just wondering. Unlike some people I wasn't hugely enamoured with the performances of our CDMs on Saturday (see below). There was a suggestion last week of pushing Manning into one of those slots and moving Wallace to left back. I'm broadly against that for various reasons: Manning is performing so well, you don't really want to move him. Wallace surely cannot match Manning's delivery, which has been crucial from wide areas. And I'm not quite sure if Manning is right for a CDM role. But, six goals we have conceded this season have come from attacks down our left side, plus a seventh deep cross from the right against Luton where Manning did not track his man all the way (many of the rest were set pieces). Two of the six from the left were dreadful pens given away by Barbet, for which he is of course responsible, but still, they were dangerous attacks down our left with Manning not really in the picture. This is tactical as much as anything, so please don't see it as an attack on Manning - clearly he has license to be a valuable attacker, often forming that lethal triangle with Chair and Eze higher up the pitch. But teams are targeting him, both with high balls to exploit his lack of height and with balls in behind him. Blackburn several times on Saturday drifted balls over to him to get their right winger away, particularly in the first half, and Luton were particularly keen on bombing deep balls in from the right to isolate Manning's size.

So, I don't know if there's a solvable issue here or not. Would Wallace be better in terms of defence, with Manning becoming more of a quarter back alongside Cameron or Ball? Or would that cut off one of our major attacking threats to our detriment? If Manning is being targeted by high balls or balls exploiting his position higher up the pitch, do we just accept that as an unavoidable consequence and trust he'll do more damage than they can? I don't honestly know.

Defensive midfield

Good games for Cameron and Scowen on Saturday, but I'm unable to join in some of the love shoved their way. I felt the excellent Rothwell and the decent Dack too often had too much time and space to hurt us. Rothwell, at least, was coming from deeper before playing some really very sharp key balls, several times cutting us in half, which made him difficult to pick up. But there was no such excuse for Dack. Especially when we had two defensive midfielders in his space, and even more especially when he was still finding large pockets at 4-1. At that stage, surely, Scowen could've just man-marked him, ensured he didn't hurt us as he frequently threatened to do, as the game was won. The fact he didn't may have been down to Warbs a bit, who I felt could've sent on Ball for the tiring Cameron with instructions to stand on Dack and take him out of the game (legally obvs, I'm not an animal). For me, this was where our main problems stemmed from on Saturday, because apart from The Beard's classic tackle, I found little to fault the back four.

BOS

An odd game for Bright. He's been taking some mild criticism that his approach play is great, but his end product not so much (for wingers, twas ever thus, was it not, friends?). But on Saturday it was the opposite. He wasn't his usual ebullient self with ball at feet and legs on fire, but he set up won and stylishly scored another. I was thinking of him last week and he reminded me a bit of Andy Impey at his age. Younger fans may not remember, but Imps got some fearful stick at one stage from the LR faithful. But then, it slowly began to change, most memorably when he got two away at Ipswich, and he went on to be player of the season and one of our most consistent and reliable performers. I wonder if Bright may follow suit. He has all the tools, he's still only 21 and he has a great attitude. Was really pleased he scored such a good goal on Saturday - hopefully that'll give him confidence to score more going forward.

Four scorers

If ever there was a sign of the new QPR, this was it. Four goalscorers - the only thing missing, and from this season too, is one from Moroccan Messi. When it does come, surely, it's going to be a pearler. The fourth of course came from Hugill another (still another!) getting some stick from some quarters, despite that being his sixth of the season (none of our team got more than seven league goals last season). What a Warby sub that was. 3-1? Better get another striker on, come on lads. Attack, attack, attack, attack, attack. Great header - couldn't have been placed better. Nahki's seventh means he is averaging a goal every 91 minutes at the moment. I insisted in another thread a Prem club wouldn't take him. Having read that, I'm not so sure. Eze's finish was a thing of beauty. We're currently on course to score 50% more goals than we did last season. Woohoo!

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Myke added 20:26 - Oct 7
Great piece Antti, cheers. I wonder would a possible solution for Manning be to play Wallace on the left side of a 3 man central defence and give Manning even more licence to get forward. It's difficult with a flat back four for your full backs to bomb forward (unless you are Liverpool of course) but if the solid Wallace as opposed to the hapless Barbet was covering behind him then we might get the best of both worlds. I wonder for how long too can McCarthy continue to ignore Manning? This was the perfect chance to at least have him in the squad. Meanwhile another Galway man had five minutes of glory against a completely demoralised Spurs and suddenly he's the next Robbie Keane.
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kingfisher6404 added 23:08 - Oct 7
Another great article Antti! I was there on Saturday and felt the atmosphere in the stadium was indeed muted until the first goal went in. I do feel QPR fans are still cautious, almost afraid, that the marvellous ball-passing game we are seeing is too good to be true! Perhaps it will take a few more victories to bring back both the vocal and physical support!!
With regard to Manning he has indeed been a revelation at LB/WB, and he will be a hard for Wallace to dislodge; but both he and Kane imho stand off too far from potential ball-crossers. They should engage or at least close them down. For sure, opponents have been targeting Manning as a perceived weak link, which he is not!
I felt for the first half that Chair had been given the job of picking up Dack as he crossed the half way line, but that was not followed in the second half. There is far better tracking back this season by the midfield (and even Wells) but there is an obvious concern that, as we press forward in numbers with the ball, that if we lose possession in the wrong areas we risk getting punished. Obviously faster players than Cameron, Leistner, Rangel & Barbet would help; but you have to measure this against their repeated knowledge of the game to ideally place themselves against threats. Can we clone Leistner in a fast-breeding unit perhaps?
Final point: All of Warburton's substitutions on Saturday could be seen as attacking ones - Mlakar, Hugill and even Pugh. So even though we were wining Warburton was still going for more, and perhaps that shows his emphasis is truly upon scoring more than the opposition. Long may it continue!
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CLAREMAN1995 added 01:05 - Oct 8
Great report as usual Antti what a day at headquarters .
This is a reply for Myke above regarding Ryan Manning and ROI.
A direct quote from Mick McCarthy today regarding playing Matt Doherty at left back.Greg Cunningham got a bad injury Saturday ,Doherty played left back before those are my options.I don't have too many options .This is enough to make me cry in my drink because even if Manning was starting every game for QPR he should be in that squad.On top of that he is playing superbly and in a hostile environment you need a player on form.
Matt Doherty should be the first or second name on the teamsheet every match for ROI yet MM benches him for Coleman (who is a great player btw)when they should be both playing .Its so frustrating bleeding green but so happy bleeding blue and white at present
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Myke added 13:21 - Oct 8
@Clareman1995 I agree with you 100% McCarthy seems to have a blind spot when it comes to Manning but is happy to include Judge from L1. He was very dismissive of a suggestion last month that Manning would be called up. What makes it more frustrating is that he cited playing regularly for your club would be the criteria for team selection and has used that for leaving out great servant Long, despite a lack of striking options. Anyway he won't be there for long.
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