The West London derby is upon us once again. A year or so ago West London was apparently Brentford’s (according to the terrace chant on that night). But it’s even stevens once again. So who will ‘own’ West London this season? Billy Grant caught up with Clive Wittingham from Loft From QPR blog Words (@LoftForWords) to get the latest on W12’s Mystic Meg Ian Holloway. The lowdown on QPR’s up and coming players. And reflect on QPR’s link to the Grenfell Disaster campaign.
QPR have had a so-so start to the season. Beating the likes of Wolves and Sheffield United but losing to the likes of Forest. Why so inconsistent?
A few reasons. Firstly, the formation used this season with a three-man midfield, a back three, two up front and a very high press suits us much more at home where we’re expected to be on the front foot and we’ve got quite a tight pitch. Away from home against more attacking teams and on bigger pitches teams have got in behind the press and exposed us in wide areas far too often – Holloway has spoken recently about changing the approach away from home although hopefully the dire display at Derby on Tuesday isn’t what he’s planning on changing it to.
Secondly, injuries, particularly in defence. We’ve been without Nedum Onuoha, Grant Hall and James Perch for basically the whole season and that’s the first choice back three. Steven Caulker continues to make himself unavailable through his poor behaviour, Joel Lynch now has a foot injury and Jack Robinson is feeling his way back from a long termer – that’s the second choice back three. Darnell Furlong, another defender, was injured at Derby on Tuesday along with Massimo Luongo, Jordan Cousins and Bright Samuel. Even the richer clubs in this division would struggle for consistency if you took ten first team players off them.
Thirdly, we’re not that good. The club’s going through a difficult time trying to get its house in order after years of catastrophic mismanagement and it’s a painful but necessary process to go through. Just standing still – performance and league position wise – while we’re sorting the wage bill and everything else out would represent progress but it’s very tough to even do that.
Overall Holloway’s not been dealt a good hand, and he’s doing the best with what he’s got, though plenty of fans, mainly the rabid lot on Facebook, would disagree with me there.
Has Holloway changed anything from last season or is he still rotating the team through three or four different systems every 90 minutes – something that frustrated you somewhat about last season?
No he’s been much more consistent with selection this season, even though, as discussed, he’s basically lost every defender he’s got to injury. The midfield three of Luke Freeman, Josh Scowen and Massimo Luongo have been our best players and “pick themselves” according to the manager, which few would disagree with. Once you’ve decided you’re going with a central midfield three, and you want two up front, it kind of limits the formations you can use so it’s almost exclusively been 3-5-2 or 4-3-3.
We interviewed Holloway (click the link for interview) a couple of months back and asked him about that run and he said: “I gave one or two who were on the fringes a chance to show me, because I liked what they were doing in training. Everybody was buzzing, things were good, and again we just started to lose by the odd goal. We still played quite well but it’s typical of what happens here, we started looking over our shoulder and getting more and more nervous, everybody starts wondering what’s going on, what’s happening…”
Sadly, three defeats in a row and a mounting injury crisis, it kind of feels like we’re looking over our shoulder again. This sort of sh!t always seems to be happening just when you lot turn up!
You were excited about a few up and coming players. Ryan Manning, Luke Freeman and Pawel Wszolek were three players you highlighted as ones to watch at the start of the season. How have things panned out with them so far? Has anyone else shone this season?
Ryan Manning has struggled to get into the team because that midfield three is playing so well, but still looks useful when he plays and is definitely one for the future. Freeman continues to play absolutely out of his skin and is up there for POTY so far with Luongo and Scowen – needs to score more goals though, finishing definitely the weak point of his game. Wszolek has dropped off somewhat.
Credit to Jack Robinson, who’s meant to be a left back but has come back from three years of horrendous injury problems and almost retiring from the game to excel in a left centre half role this season. He captained the team for the first time on Tuesday. Sadly, as he was signed from Liverpool during the Harry Redknapp years, he’s almost certainly on a massive wedge and with his contract up at the end of the season I suspect he’ll be on his way just as he’s finally got fit and started playing well for us.
You seem to be struggling with injuries. Is this a problem or do you see it as an opportunity to get younger, hungrier, more enthusiastic players out on the pitch?
Like I say, take ten first teamers off anybody and see how they do, particularly if six or seven of them are in the same position. Darnell Furlong really looks the part to me as a right-sided defender coming through the ranks but he, too, is now injured. We do finally have one or two coming through from junior levels. We’re all excited about how Ebere Eze is doing at Wycombe on loan and suspect he may be back in January to bolster the attack. Illias Chair has been doing very well in the U23s, as has Paul Smyth who we signed from the Northern Irish league. But these are all attackers and the injuries have bitten us in defence where there’s not exactly anybody hammering on the door.
I our pre-season predictions you were not that confident of QPR doing well – predicting them to finish in 19th place this season. However you predicted a couple of dark horses spot on with Cardiff and Bristol City featuring as your two ‘ones to watch’. Having played almost half the games this season, who do you think is looking tasty?
Given that QPR are sixteenth, Bristol City fifth and Cardiff second this might be my greatest set of predictions ever – I’m usually hopeless. Wolves are obviously going great guns, though I’m not a great fan of the manager – I think he gets jobs because of who his agent is – and it wouldn’t surprise me if they had a little wobble later on. Villa I thought might be a car crash when they signed Chris Samba and Big Racist John but they’re coming on strong now. I expect Sheff Utd to stay the course, mainly because of the manager who gets promoted wherever he goes regardless of circumstances. There’s not many in the chasing pack behind the play-offs looking too exciting currently.
Football aside – QPR right in the heart of the Grenfell Tower community, you must have felt quite proud of QPRs involvement in the campaign to try and help families who had suffered from the fire.
Yeh absolutely, I couldn’t believe how many people turned up for a celebrity football match at Loftus Road but it showed the strength of feeling and how important the day was. The moment when a few of the firefighters and residents came on as substitutes was quite something. Les Ferdinand, the director of football, grew up on that estate so it was very close to his heart and was a great success.
A few years ago the QPR in the Community department was separated from the club and made into a registered charity – The QPR in the Community Trust – by its excellent CEO Andy Evans (we know Andy very well. He actually came on an Brentford “Official Unofficial” – ie. the away travel linked to Beesotted back in the 90s – coach I put on back in the day. I think it was to West Brom. I’ll see if I can dig out the photos – Ed). That, at the time, we thought, was to keep it out of the clutches of the Flavio Briatore ownership, which would no doubt have just cut it as a needless expense. Since then it’s gone from strength to strength with Andy at the helm. With the ex-players association led by Andy Sinton with help from Ian Gillard and Martin Rowlands (sorry) doing great things for our former players we really do seem to be making strides in off the pitch areas we used to be absolutely terrible at.
It’s a real shame that we weren’t doing this, and the people who are running the club now weren’t running it, when there was actually some money washing around the place. They’d have made a much better job of it on the pitch, and we wouldn’t have been so dislikeable off it.
We spoke to Paul Finney from the QPR Podcast on our podcast this week (link above and click here). He was slightly worried that history will repeat itself between the two teams. Surely Holloway will take this game more seriously than the last three times including the cup match in August when we won 4-1 do you think?
QPR’s attitude to cup competitions has been absolutely disgusting for a long time, and remains so today. That’s one thing that does show no signs of changing. We have the worst FA Cup record in the country – no outright win since the Trevor Sinclair bicycle kick in 1997 – and some of the League Cup exits have been nothing short of embarrassing. You could see how the game in August was going to go as soon as the team selections were made.
We called Holloway on it in the interview I linked earlier and he gave it the usual spiel about how important the league is but the fact is you lose one cup game and you’re out of the cup, you lose one league game and in the Championship there’s 45 others to make a recovery from it. That’s assuming you believe cup runs are detrimental to league form, which I don’t believe is the case – in the last four seasons one of the promoted Championship clubs also made the League Cup quarter finals in the same season. You can talk about the potential for players to get injured in the extra games – all our players got injured anyway. You can talk about how important the league is – we lost the following match at Cardiff anyway, so resting them all didn’t help much did it?
It really gets on my tits to be honest. Clubs all over the place, not just QPR although we’re particularly bad for it, tossing away their places in cup competitions to focus on leagues they’re not going to win. Football should be about medals and trophies and that little bit of hope that it might be your year – this attitude that you have to get to the Premier League and then make sure you finish 17th or higher every year and bollocks to everything else runs contrary to what sport actually is, or at least should be. It’s keeping average footballers and their agents rich, mediocre managers like Tony Pulis not only in work but held up as some sort of object of desire for your club, and football supporters bored.
Bradford, Portsmouth, Cardiff, Barnsley, Tranmere, Swansea and Wigan have shown what is possible in cup competitions for “clubs like” QPR and yet we’re still absolutely desperate to get eliminated from them at the earliest possible opportunity, often in highly embarrassing circumstances, so we can focus solely on finishing sixteenth in the f**king Championship. It’s not just Holloway, it’s been like this at QPR for 25 years now and it’s just not acceptable or good enough.
He could hardly take Monday’s game any less seriously than the cup game could he?
I know you hate score predictions but considering we never park the bus and always come to play football, how do you think the game will go?
I’d have been confident a fortnight ago after beating Wolves and Sheff Utd at home, but it does feel like it’s catching up with us a bit at the moment and you could see the confidence draining out of them on Tuesday. We’ve been a match for everybody we’ve played at home this season so I’ll go with a high-scoring draw 2-2 but I don’t really believe it myself to be honest.
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