Defensive duo continue QPR's brisk summer - Signing
Tuesday, 13th Jul 2021 20:17 by Clive Whittingham
QPR have continued a brisk summer of transfer business by adding Norwich full back Sam McCallum and Burnley centre half Jimmy Dunne to their defence.
Jimmy Dunne is a 23-year-old Dundalk-born centre back who once fell foul of Joey Barton’s moral code during a loan spell at Fleetwood, which endears us to him immediately.
He was picked up as a 10-year-old by Manchester United’s Irish scouting operation and played his youth football there before switching to Burnley in 2017. His senior football has been played almost exclusively out on loan, first in 2017/18 at National League side Barrow (21 starts, two goals) and later Accrington (18 starts, two sub appearances) where he helped them secure promotion from League Two. The first half of 2018/19 was spent in the SPL with Hearts (14 starts, two goals) where he was very popular, and then a more sketchy time on loan at League One Sunderland followed and included an EFL Trophy final defeat among his 13 starts, one sub appearance and one goal. The ill-fated Fleetwood stint came in 2019/20 where he made 11 starts and scored once.
The 6ft 3in centre half’s first team breakthrough at Turf Moor came in the 2020/21 season just gone, initially with a full debut in a 1-1 League Cup draw against Sheff Utd which the Clarets subsequently won on penalties, and then in the Premier League at Leicester where he scored on his full league debut for the club but couldn’t prevent Sean Dyche’s side slipping to a 4-2 loss. He made six starts and a single sub appearance in league and cup last season but chose to reject Burnley’s offer of a new contract and hunt regular first team football elsewhere. He has been capped by the Republic of Ireland at U21 level, and made the full squad without making an appearance, but has also been linked with Northern Ireland who he qualifies for through his parents.
He’s been picked up by QPR for an undisclosed fee – his young age prevents him moving on a Bosman free transfer – and signed a three-year contract with an option for a fourth.
While Dunne came through the academy education route, this week’s other signing Sam McCallum started in non-league with Herne Bay and was spotted by then League One Coventry in August 2018 playing in Jamie Vardy’s V9 Academy – founded in 2016 and designed to get young non-league players deals with Football League clubs.
He made eight appearances for the Sky Blues in 2018/19 and then became a regular in 2019/20 as they won promotion back to the Championship in the truncated Covid-19 season. McCallum’s performances through the first half of that campaign were enough to tempt Norwich to part with £3.7m for his services, and although they immediately loaned him back to Cov for the second half of the promotion push the season was curtailed early by the pandemic and settled on a points average. He scored his first senior goal in a 2-0 win at Colchester in the FA Cup and followed that up with league goals against Wycombe and MK Dons.
His Norwich debut came in a 3-1 League Cup defeat at Luton at the start of last season but he would spend 2020/21 back at Coventry on loan once more as Mark Robins’ side returned to the second tier. He made 37 starts, four sub apps, and scored one goal in a 3-2 home win against then-high-flying Reading. With Norwich winning promotion to the Premier League in his absence McCallum is again heading out on a temporary deal, joining QPR on a season long loan for 2021/22.
“When QPR requested the loan it was straight away a no brainer. This is a massive club. I am quite an athletic wingback, obviously you need to be these days. I like getting up and down the wing, and providing width for the team. I want to get some game time but I know I will have healthy competition here from Lee Wallace. I am fit and ready to go – I just can’t wait to get started.” -Sam McCallum
“I am really pleased we have been able to bring Sam in. He showed his undoubted quality in the Championship last season with Coventry. He brings real ability and will add competition to the squad which is so important. He also understands the wingback role, he has an attacking instinct, great physicality and is aerially very strong as well. Sam is a player who can have an impact in both boxes, and I am looking forward to working with him.” -Warbs Warburton
“It’s a massive step for me. With the push that the lads had during the second half of last season it would be nice to be part of something like that this season. The loan spells were really good for me but where I am at now I believe it is important to go on a journey with someone. I really want to come here and be part of the club. From the outside looking in, this looks like a really good environment to be part of. I am definitely passionate, I want to defend and I am a winner,” he said. “This league is going to test me and there is a lot of work for me to do but if I can concentrate on my defending, I am sure the ball playing will follow.” - Jimmy Dunne
“Jimmy is a very talented player. He can play anywhere across the back three – left, right or centre – and that gives us great flexibility. Once again, he has great physicality, he looks after the ball well and plays with a real passion and energy. If he trains well he will get his chance in the side and that is what he is here to do.” - Warbs Warburton
Mark Warburton inherited a defence that had shipped north of 70 goals for two seasons running, and progress on making inroads into that was initially slow with another 76 shipped in 2019/20 and QPR far and away the worst team in the Championship for conceding goals from set pieces. Only Luton, and relegated Hull hampered by a late season 8-0 defeat at Wigan, conceded more than the R’s in Warburton’s first year in charge.
Last season there were significant improvements – 21 goals were shaved off the total with 55 conceded, Rangers went from six clean sheets to 14, and 11 teams conceded more from dead balls. It was far from perfect though – all eight teams above us in the Championship conceded fewer goals, and six of the teams below us too including seventeenth-placed Nottingham Forest.
It’s clear from these latest moves that we’ll be sticking with the back three system that we switched to in January and worked so well through the second half of last season – Warbs basically trailed as much in his comments on the Dunne signing. It’s therefore no surprise to see us strengthening down the left with a specialist in that position. Lee Wallace was in flying form through the second half of the campaign but had struggled with injury before that, isn’t getting any younger, and is often sheltered from the three-game weeks. Apart from him the wing backs were often the weakest part of the system last year, and McCallum’s signing is a clear indication that despite last summer’s bumper contract renewal Niko Hamailainen is obviously not ready for this level of football currently. Expect another loan deal there.
Our regular Coventry correspondent Dominic Jerams (@SidewaysSammy) told us: “For the most part, he was okay. He had a couple of sticky patches where he really struggled defensively and didn’t really get forward but part of that was probably down to not being allowed a rest as he was our only left-back in a struggling team.
“The thing with McCallum is that he was linked with a move away almost as soon as his made his debut for us, which set up the expectation that he is going to be something special. However, he’s only shown flashes of being a really well-rounded attacking full-back. Largely, what has been most impressive about him is how he’s held his own in League 1, then the Championship, having been in non-league not that long ago.
“He’s a good athlete and clearly has the right attitude, which is why he’s been one of Mark Robins’ favourite players for us in recent years. He’s good in the air and has a very useful long throw on him too. He still needs to improve both defensively and as an attacking threat. There are the raw ingredients there to be a good Championship left-back, but there is work to do before he gets there. I think moving to a different club is just what he needs now.”
In the centre, where Dunne has been brought to strengthen, Geoff Cameron has been something of a stalwart at Rangers for the last three years and despite his obvious deficiencies the results were statistically much, much better when he was in the team. The need for a ‘head it and kick it’ centre back to compliment Rob Dickie and Barbet’s Diags™ has been pressing for sometime and not helped by the failure of the Toni Leistner transfer. Jordy De Wijs has looked well capable of being that man when he’s been on the pitch, but he arrived injured from Hull, managed nine starts, finished injured and is now apparently nursing another knock early into the pre-season. The club have taken a gamble and pressed ahead with a permanent move there in the hope they can get 30 games out of him in a best case scenario, leaving at least 16 other fixtures without him and with only Conor Masterson fresh from the disappointment of his own injury nightmare at Swindon having finally got that loan deal Warbs had been craving for him as cover. I’m also still not that convinced Warburton is as taken with Masterson as a good portion of the support base is either. Dunne’s pedigree, contract status, age and versatility across the back three make him a potentially perfect solution there.
Chris Boden from the Burnley Express told us: “He’s a lad they took out of Manchester United, very much a head it, kick it centre back if you get me. Did very well on loan at Accrington, winning League Two, and was outstanding at Hearts, before loans of differing success at Sunderland and Fleetwood. Got himself called up for Ireland senior squad without playing, and is a good professional. Got his chance at the start of the season with Tarkowski and Mee injured, and did relatively well, but in truth wasn’t ready for the PL. Manager thinks he can certainly handle the Championship, which is about right I think.”
There’s still further surgery to do down the right side where Todd Kane’s presence as the only senior player of any description in the team for the youth team friendly at Hampton on Saturday underlines just how out of favour he is and how desperate QPR are to end that unhappy relationship. A six match ban to start the season is hardly going to sway potential suitors on an already inconsistent player but Rangers already have ex-Brentford and Sheff Wed full back Moses Odubajo training and ready to go should his own shaky fitness hold and Kane’s wage be shifted.
While I was critical/quizzical of the Jordan Archer signing and goalkeeper situation behind Seny Dieng last week, overall the profile of player QPR are going for at the moment, and the speed and efficiency at which the deals are being completed, gives cause for real optimism. Both players mentioned promotion in their welcome interviews, which following Mark Warburton’s comments at the end of last season about wanting to build an aura around his team and have teams fearful of playing us marks a significant departure from the stock, cagey “be competitive” answer whenever the club is asked what our aim and ambition is. At a time when transfer embargoes, financial issues and outright collapses litter the Championship, it feels like QPR might have got their house back in order at exactly the right moment.
And there’s the demon hope again.
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Pictures – Action Images
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