Hugill, Eze and that rickety defence - Knee Jerks
Monday, 11th Nov 2019 15:31 by Antti Heinola
The usual collection of six talking points from Antti Heinola following Saturday's rain-lashed game at Loftus Road between QPR and Middlesbrough.
The gloomy inevitability of another two goals left me resigned, reduced to a grim empty vessel, floating along in the misery of the South Africa Road stand, buffeted by shouts of 'forward', 'wake up' and 'anything other than total domination and a 46-game winning streak is not good enough for me' until I exited the ground to a torrent of grimy piss, streaming down from the grey west London skies, the cold, needle-like droplets skinning my fair cheeks and forcing me to wonder: has Adam Clayton been playing for Middlesbrough since 1973, or is that my imagination?
I don't know. I have nothing new to say on the matter. Can we defend? I'm not sure. I think blaming us for not being able to defend doesn't quite stand up when the two goals we conceded, like so many goals this season, were not down to a defence unable to withstand quick passing or lots of pressure or high balls into the box, but by a wing back winning the ball then deciding not to collect the ball, and a striker deciding to play the ultimate assist, just to the wrong man in the wrong team at the wrong end. That's not about defending. Is it? Or is it the inevitable consequence of us trying to play football at all times? Even though in both those circumstances, pressure was not strong on the man making the mistake, is 96 minutes of high-risk football so much that, while we're actually far more comfortable doing it than what sounds like 95% of an extraordinarily screechy, jittery crowd who can't stand anything other than a big ol' hoof up the pitch, unless that is an actual tactic employed, in which case they'll tell you they love intricate passing football, the law of averages means we'll always make two catastrophic errors that almost inevitably result in goals? I have no clue.
The only thing I will say is this: already the usual suspects are out. The Twitters are exploding. The Insta is imploding. The Facebook (is anyone still on that? How? Why?) is probably self-mutilating. The same old posters who are fed up of any manager within three months are already beginning their lengthy campaign, as endless as the US political cycle, for change. For change may bring the one who will change it all and magically develop us into the club that we were. Once. For about 12 months. Rather than the one we are now, which is the one we have, on average, been for most of any of our lifetimes.
But as we watch Liverpool conquer Europe and smash the double-champions and triple-crown winners into funny little light blue pieces, we all forget, don't we, how it was before the Coming of Virgil. When Liverpool, like us, tore everyone apart but constantly shipped goals. Their incredible yacht, so beautiful, yet a hull made of patched-up cling film. Are we going to be the new Liverpool? No. Are our defensive problems magically going to end? No. But as we have a manager who knows what he is doing, has made a side that created about one chance in a game into one that creates about 10 per game, can we just try not to go too hard on recriminations? Can we not get too upset about what he says in an interview when it doesn't tally precisely to what exactly we think he should say, even if saying that would be rank stupidity? Can we all calm down at games a bit? Can we all try enjoying it a bit more? Please?
There's been some great posts on here since Saturday, from Brian Mc, plus measured, sensible ones from Jonno and Gazza, and some great thoughts from Hunter. I'm usually on Hunter's side, but I wouldn't go quite as far as he did. I don't think, for example, that you should radically alter your game because it's rainy. I also don't think we should radically alter our game because we have a new back three - it's not like they're strangers, they see each other every day. But I was surprised that Hugill did not start for a whole load of reasons. I think he's playing well. I think Boro have a huge team, although not quite as ludicrously huge as they were last year, and we could've done with Hugill doing some bullying and some hold-up play. And there's also the fact it's his old club, his home town club, and superstition tells us he'll probably score if given most of the game (as it was, he could, maybe should, have had two). I don't think we should start abandoning the way we play - it needs to be tweaked of course, and practised, but to get better at a style you don't abandon it when things get tough. It works. We score a lot of goals. Teams are afraid of us. But it does seem odd to me that Hugill didn't start this one. His strength and power and ability to at least win a few balls in the air would have been invaluable. Still, I like to look at reasons why. Wells is on fire, scoring most weeks. So if you keep him, a midfielder has to go. You need Ball or a Ball-type. He wants to get Amos back in, I think, to help the back three or four have someone in the middle who will show for it and take it under pressure. I get that. It can't be Eze. So it's Chair. But take Chair out and we're left with one creative midfielder, who the oppo will then likely double mark, knowing his options are few. So I disagreed with it - but it's worth looking for reasons why, sometimes.
In my experience, people who talk about a Plan B mean a willingness to boot it randomly up the pitch and hope something happens. I've seen a few comments with Plan B coming up, the odd bit of pining for last year's Matt Smith. But it's a waste of time. MW will never play like this except maybe in utter desperation in the last minutes of a do or die game. That he doesn't do this does not make him inflexible, in my opinion. He's a man who understands the game and what is *most likely* to work. So strap in.
Customary Eze jerk. Thought he was great again. That late run, from the edge of his box, where he rode an assassination attempt from someone who didn't seem to get booked, and was only ended by a desperate foul just outside the box, was superb. He's becoming a leader, now, like Freeman did. Tiring of everyone else's failures, he finally just decided it was encumbent upon him to sort this mess out - and he very nearly did. Now basically playing centre midfield, working hard, yet as cool as a glacier throughout, never rushed, always seeing the bigger picture. Absolute gem.
Really impressed with Bally on Saturday. I thought Amos was perhaps the only one in the chaotic opening minutes to show some real bite - two big, crunching tackles from him set the sort of tone we like to see. But it was Ball who played in that manner for longer. The big improvement for me was his touch on the ball - he controlled it well, shielded it well, and looked for the right pass every time. He may not be the best player we have, but he looks bulletproof in terms of belief and confidence. Never hides, always fights. Good to have around.
I think Kelly looks a decent keeper. I think Lummers is a decent keeper. Not really sure if there's much between them, but I wasn't sad when I saw his name on the teamsheet, and I thought he played very well in tough conditions. He punched when he had to, could do nothing about the goals and shambles in front of him, and his kicking was assured, despite the panic in the stands. Real fight on for that spot in goal.
Pictures – Action Images
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