The return of flat February - Knee Jerks
Monday, 3rd Feb 2020 16:45 by Antti Heinola
Antti Heinola returns to pick the bones out of Saturday's home defeat against Bristol City with his usual six talking points.
With the atmosphere flatter than a Paul Hart teamtalk, it was hard to believe this game took place in the same month as two triumphant thrashings and a defeat of the current league leaders. Then I remembered it was February 1, a brand new month, and it seemed slightly more understandable.
I had to feel sorry for the team. Half an hour in, admittedly a goal down, and the boos started. I've talked about this before but I've been going to the football since I was two and I swear to God my recollection in the 80s was you had to be about 5-0 down before boos rang out and they generally only rang out at the end of the match. Now, apparently, we can boo after 30 minutes if things aren't going right.
That's not to excuse players or management for a very slow first 45 - although any team is going to find it hard to break down Bristol when set up like this. Clive reckoned they had seven behind the ball, but I frequently counted every outfield player bar Diedhiou massed between the 18-yard line and an imaginary 30 yard line. Sorry, but while you might see Mane and Salah dance through that sort of density, at Championship level it's a different story. The booing was, it seemed to me, because the team was not being direct enough. And there was too much passing backwards and sideways and not enough risks being taken. But sometimes patience is needed from players and fans. We were only 1-0 down. We dominated possession after that for long periods and once or twice the excessive possession led to chances when they finally found gaps - usually thanks to the celeverness of Ilias Chair.
It wasn't good enough, they knew that, MW knew that. I'm just not quite sure why we couldn't lend them a bit more support here? I get the frustration to an extent - although the weird notion that with Leistner and Scowen we'd somehow be troubling the play-offs but without them we've 'binned off the season' seems an absurd one to me. Even with Wells we weren't going to finish sixth and while I love to dream as much as the next person, sometimes dreaming that big is only going to add to your fury. At the start of the season, many were convinced we'd go down. By January, the club are being hammered for not chasing a play-off dream hard enough. To return to the point - who in this team does not work, does not give their all, does not show passion, does not try to pass the ball? In the bad times you often hear the refrain 'all I want is for my team to care and try and play good football' - well if that's the case, why not support this lot?
People are angry at the state of football, they're angry about QPR's financial situation, at the owners and so forth. 'What's the point in coming,' they say, 'if they've binned off the season?' But what they're really saying is, 'what's the point in coming if we're not going to get promoted - or challenge for that?' And I think - if you think like that, fine. But this is sport and not all clubs can challenge all the time. We used to come because it was our local team and we loved the game and we wanted to see our team do well. I don't know when success was a pre-requisite for attendance. Maybe it's because of how fans are treated now - as customers, and as customers you demand satisfaction (especially at modern prices), so patience is in short supply.
But success never comes easily or quickly. We may have been conditioned to think that because of the quick turnaround under Warnock, but even that came off the back of three years of frankly crazy spending and he inherited a side packed with talent that had been appallingly managed. I looked at this team of cheap buys, free transfers, U23 graduates and two loans and thought, 'do this lot really deserved to hear booing after 30 minutes? Really?'
Personally, I actually like the fact that we're not in the ref's face all the time like most other teams. One of the greatest managers of all time, Brian Clough, always forced his players to be respectful of refs, and I've often thought that if players are reasonable refs might actually feel better disposed towards you. So complaints that we don't try to ref games like other teams are not something I agree with. But I do feel we are too nice sometimes. You look at that team on Saturday and think apart from Wallace, who's hardly Mark Dennis, walking yellow card Dom Ball, and Hugill, who is, admittedly, something of a sh!thouse, we're a very nice team of nice lads trying to play nice football. Now, of course, they are tough - you don't get to play at that level without being tough - but it does feel we're lacking a bit in that department - a real bully somewhere to give us a different dimension.
Gah, I hate it when a ref is one of my jerks. We didn't lose because of him, but he really wound me up on Saturday. Perhaps worst of all was the awful 'advantage' he gave when the ball had gone from the edge of their box into our own half. I'd love to know how he could explain how it was more of an advantage to have the ball in our half than a free kick near the penalty box - particularly as, unusually for us - we actually looked dangerous from set pieces on Saturday. But I think what angered me most was his laziness. Twice there were instances where he stopped the game and was in no rush to start it again. Once to give a yellow card to a Bristol coach (why can the fourth official not do that?) - and here, as we pressed for an equaliser, he walked the 20 metres to chat and then issue the card. Why walk? Why? You are a ref, we are not here for you, RUN mate. At the very least jog, or at least appear to be in a hurry. If you're not fit enough, then get out of the job. He then did the same thing with the drop ball, which somehow took about two entire minutes to sort out, this time walking slowly across the entire pitch. RUN, mate. This is a sport. RUN. If a player was being subbed and walked as slowly as he did he'd been in danger of a booking. Just GET ON WITH THE GAME. Utter crap.
People have been saying that Eze is a little out of sorts at the moment, and I think that's probably a fair comment. He's not quite the danger he was earlier in the season, although it's not through lack of trying. One thing I've noticed is that MW seems to be using him more of a playmaker and in recent weeks we've seen him dropping deeper and deeper for the ball and he rarely actually gets inside the box any more. He's a dangerous player, with a good shot, yet you almost never see him run past our striker any more. I just wonder if we're asking too much of him to create and need to give him a bit more license to get in where he can really hurt other teams. Whenever he gets near the box we look dangerous, but too often he seems to be playing his football out by the halfway line.
Saturday made me want to mould Wallace and Manning together as one. He seems to have now taken that left back slot as his own and while he did little wrong going forward or back, you did at times wish he had a bit more of Manning's early season guile as we searched for that equaliser. Still, I thought Bristol's goal was an excellent one but other than that I felt we defended well, with only really Diedhiou's overhead kick (which surely should have been a foul for high kicking) causing Kelly much of a problem (although it was Wallace who played Wells onside when he should have secured the game with a header).
After enduring the toughest of full debuts, it was great to see him come on and show why Warburton was keen to get him in. Maybe he's just more at home on the left wing. I thought he was superb - kept it simple: beat the man, get a cross in. One cross in particular was an absolute swirling, whipping beauty that could easily have brought an equaliser. Hopefully that'll give him confidence going forward.
Pictures – Action Images
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