Reflections on month one
Fives games down, just the 41 to go. Here we look back at the first month’s games where QPR made a better than expected start. With the inevitable cup embarrassment thrown in as per.
Never are expectations and reality more widely apart than when it comes to football fans talking about the chances of success for their team. On the expectations to reality scale, the further away from reality those expectations are will vary fan by fan.
In one part these expectations come from hope, that this year may just be the year the journeyman forward doubles his average season goal tally. In another it comes from an inflated view of how good the team is, or an entitlement that because we are such and such we should be challenging for titles every year. I’m thinking very much of Arsenal fans in this last instance, but they’re not the only ones.
It’s the beauty of these varying expectations that feeds the debate in pubs, message boards, daily social media one-upmanship and wherever you get your football chat.
For QPR this season, well I’ve seen pretty much everything mentioned, from promotion to relegation to mundane mid-table and great escapes in between. A lot you’d have to say comes down to the way last season ended. Those 6 consecutive defeats and a cue on the rack thumping at Norwich deflated the positive expectations people might have had in February and March. At that time, the team started to gel after another busy transfer window and looked like putting a marker down this season.
Going into this season, would we get the team that looked so good at Leeds and against Cardiff at home? Or would it be the team that looked so frail against Brentford and not arsed against Norwich? Would the lack of signings count against us? Or actually benefit and allow some continuity?
One positive view going into this season was that rather than putting that marker down the players were already thinking of the clubs of Ibiza and Ayia Napa, the beaches of Miami and Marbella (insert your own footballer cliché location here). It’s common when teams have nothing to play for. But before that run, in glimpses we could see a partnership forming between Conor Washington and Matt Smith, consistency from Massimo Luongo and one of the great bargains of our time in Luke Freeman — a potential top 10 player in the Championship.
The other end of that argument is that we don’t have enough quality, there’s still no out and out goal scorer in this team and doubts with Ian Holloway and Les Ferdinand that they can move the club forward. These two are only sentiment appointments.
The reality, as always is the case when it comes to football can be found somewhere in the middle. We have a team capable of winning our fair share of games and we might even flirt with the play-offs at times. We’ll also have our fair share of shockers.
Looking at the first seven games this season, we’ve seen the good, bad and frustrating of QPR. But overall, only those with unrealistic expectations can be disappointed with our start. Games are never played on paper, but the fixture list didn’t look too kind to us to start with so to have seven points from a possible fifteen is a great return. It might have been slightly less save for a late winner against Hull, but it just as easily could have been a few more had we shown more belief in defeat at Norwich and Kazenga Lua-Lua taken his chance late on at Sheffield Wednesday.
There were many things to admire and look back on in Ian Holloway’s first reign, including a standout home record summed up best by his quote on Loftus Road being ‘our cave’.
Leaving aside the Brentford EFL Cup shambles aside for a minute, we’ve fully deserved our two wins at home. Reading were very poor in the season opener, while Hull would have been a very different proposition had they not lost Abel Hernandez just before we played. But take nothing away, in these games this was an Ian Holloway side doing what Ian Holloway sides do, restless harassing of the opposition and direct with purpose play going forward. We’ve now won 7 out of our last 10 league games at home and our final position will again be dictated by making Loftus Road an imposing place to visit.
No matter who plays for us, when asked to play football outside of W12 something seems to happen to our players. Our away record over the last five or six years has been terrible. The one point from nine would indicate we’re going to carry this behaviour on, however it’s just as plausible we could have had a greater return on points.
As the ball was played across goal to Lua-Lua against Sheffield Wednesday, you could only picture one outcome. It wasn’t the one that happened with the shot being dragged wide. Had Nedum Onuoha cut out the cross from Barry Bannan, then we may have just weathered the inevitable storm early in the second half.
Against Norwich you would bank your house on Freeman scoring when faced with just the keeper moments after we’d gone behind. A bit more belief in this one could have resulted in a rare win at Carrow Road. That it’s been their only win so far shows they’re still settling into a new manager’s methods and I feel we’ll look at this one as a game we threw away.
Our last game was a trip to the league leaders Cardiff, with a 100% record and led by Neil ‘Love the Championship me’ Warnock. They’ve started even better than when Warnock led us to the title. It had a sense of visiting the firing line. Yet their players and fans were very subdued and had to be gifted back into the game by two howlers from Steven Caulker and the otherwise solid this season Onuoha. When we took the lead, I wasn’t expecting us to hold out at one nil, but letting a quality side back in the game in the manor we did and again conceding another soft goal before half time was just creating our own downfall. It could have quite easily been a thumping when they got going, but as we left the stadium you were wondering how Yeni N’Gbakoto had managed to not connect in that scramble at the end.
Cup Woes Again
The less said the better about the Thailand’s Second Most Popular Energy Drink EFL Maximise Asia Exposure Cup. I get we have a large squad and it makes sense to make the most of it when the games come thick and fast at the start of the season, but why not make the ten changes against Cardiff, not Brentford? I very much doubt we’ll be talking about the game in Wales come the end of the season, but the Brentford one we will. It will come up as a black mark a few times if we go on a sticky run in the coming months.
Why not send a strong side out and look to progress in the cup. Who wouldn’t want another trip to Wembley? It’s plausible when so many teams in the Premier League and Championship are resting players. At worst a cup run creates a bit of excitement in a season when realistically our aim in the league is to improve vastly on our position last year, but we likely won’t trouble the promotion stakes.
Positives and question marks
One thing that still seems to be a hangover from last year is our reaction to conceding. At Norwich the belief seemed to evaporate once they took the lead and Freeman wasted an instant chance to equalise. At times after Sheffield Wednesday had levelled we had to really dig in. We showed against Hull we can come from behind, we just need to see that belief more and especially away from home.
Of the new signings, Josh Scowen looks like an absolute steal and compliments Luongo and Freeman really well. In Scowen, he has shades in his game of when Martin Rowlands moved to central midfield.
Once the transfer window ‘slammed shut’ we still had the largest squad in the Championship with 35 players, which is way more than the two per position you want to have. As contracts run down that will be taken care of but despite the numbers, there are still areas we seem lacking real quality in. Hard I know when we don’t have the budget to pay the going rate these days.
Conor Washington got off to the fine start against Reading we all hoped but has been lacklustre since. It’s a big season for him to show he can do it at this level and if he’s capable of that then he should be good for 15 goals.
I have my doubts over N’Gbakoto, who just doesn’t offer enough for me to be effective and I’d say he may move on as the signings of Bright Osayi-Samuel and David Wheeler make us very heavy in numbers on the wing.
If you only looked at the match highlights then Onuoha looks to be having a bad start to the season as you can pick faults on some of the goals, however that doesn’t tell the whole story as he’s been pretty solid. The problem comes with who partners him. We didn’t really need to sign Alex Baptiste, a signing for signings sake and not better than what we have. Steven Caulker needs time to to build fitness and confidence after his much publicised problems, while the jury is out on Joel Lynch who looks solid until he makes the same mistake over and over again. We really need Grant Hall back fit.
It’s only when the games start up after the international break that squads are finalised and the season really gets going. But you can never underestimate starting a season off on the right foot. We can rightly be pleased with our start and with a winnable run of games in September we have a good chance to further cement that.