The West London Derby is looming. Billy Grant caught up with Clive Whittingham from Loft for Words (@LoftForWords) to get the low down on QPR, Mark Warburton and whether the R’s can keep up their promotion push
We discussed Ex Bees manager Mark Warburton a lot on our podcast this week (click below). He came in this season to change things up a bit. Are you impressed with what he has done?
So far so good, very early in the season with some tough games coming up though.
I think his initial plan was perhaps to do half a dozen out and half a dozen in over the summer, with the club needing to sell Luke Freeman to balance the books and Mass Luongo before his contract expired. What subsequently transpired, after coach John Eustace had got in his ear about the mentality of the squad he was inheriting, was a complete overhaul where the thick end of 20 players were either released, sold or loaned out and 16 brought the other way if you include the return of Wells, Cameron and Rangel who were here last season on short term deals.
That’s a hell of a thing to try and do in one transfer window, while further reducing the wage bill at the same time, but it’s landed us with a much more attractive, attacking team with plenty of goals and confidence about them.
Our top scorer last year got seven league goals and we’ve already got Hugill and Wells on that and Eze on six as well. We won five away games last season, three the year before, and we’re already on four now by the end of October.
We’ve been fun to watch. I expect we’ll drop back over the next few weeks looking at some of what we’ve got coming up but it’s been night and day from last season so far and I’m really enjoying going to games again.
Mark’s infamous phrase is his plan B is to do plan A better. Fans at Brentford, Rangers and Forest felt this was a bit of a cop out and lead to his team at times eventually being ‘found out’ – particularly when they came up with a team that shut up shop. Do you get where he is coming from? Or do you think there is room for improvement?
Well, it’s early days but we haven’t seen any evidence of this ‘lack of plan B’ we were so often warned about in the summer. It’s been quite the opposite in the first three months.
We’ve switched out of his favoured 4-2-3-1 to accommodate two strikers (Wells and Hugill) and two attacking midfielders (Chair and Eze) in the same team and overwhelmed some of the poorer sides doing that.
We’ve also, on occasions, moved from a back four to a back three to enable a recall for Toni Leistner, who Warburton initially didn’t rate and said could leave in the summer, to toughen us up a bit. We’ve come from behind to win on three occasions, two away from home, using our bench well and changing systems and personnel midway through. The substitutions, up to the Reading game in the week at least, have been pro-active, early and effective. Our second goal on Tuesday was a long punt from the goalkeeper flicked on by a target man.
We’re conceding too many goals and he doesn’t seem to know how to stop that, or care very much about it as long as we’re scoring, but bar one against Luton they’re not goals being caused by us giving it away while playing it out from the back, they’re just fundamental, individual defensive errors.
Teams can get in behind our full backs, particularly down the left, because they’re pushed so high but the pay off from that is the amount we’re scoring at the other end (second highest in the league) and Ryan Manning the left wing back has been heavily involved in that attacking side.
We’re coming from a low base: McClaren was mostly dreadful, Holloway erratic, Hasselbaink simply not good enough. It’s been a rough few years and in that context Warburton has been a breath of fresh air so far. Whether it continues or not who knows, maybe the gung ho approach and his style will wear a bit thin, maybe results will start to waver.
I’m not sure whether that would count as him being ‘found out’ though, more us going back to the midtable team we probably are in reality – we’ve got some very difficult games coming up after a reasonably kind fixture list to this point.
For all this “found out” stuff he gets beaten with, he got Brentford promoted, which several managers had failed to do before him, and then into the Championship play-offs, which nobody has managed since – although Dean Smith did win those Justice League titles I suppose.
He got Rangers promoted and into two cup finals, and they’ve not exactly beaten the door down since he left. And he only got six months at Forest and left them with as many wins as losses which is all anybody has been able to manage at that club, often spending big money to do it. I’m not sure his record really justifies the reputation. There have certainly been ‘off field issues’ and personality clashes at all three clubs though so we’ll see how that pans out.
The manager churn has no doubt had a drain on QPR fans. The way the team has performed so far this season – has it restored some faith and pride for you in your team?
Yeh it’s nice to watch our team at least trying to play some good football and attack teams. One of the big differences has been away from home where we’ve just been absolutely dreadful for so long now. Five wins all of last season, three the season before that, six in 16/17, four in 15/16, two (!) in 14/15…
Taking more than five years to get 20 away wins on the board is pathetic really, and it’s become a real chore following the team on the road, particularly in a division as dull and grim as this one. But we’ve already won at Stoke, Sheff Wed, Millwall and Hull this year, we were trailing in two of those, and at Hull on Saturday even when 1-0 down I was pretty confident we had enough about us to go on and win regardless. That’s enormous for the die hard fans who’ve kept doing the motorway miles for no reward over a long period of time.
Eze come. Eze go. A really bad pun. But the sentiment is true with a number of clubs chasing him at the moment. Is he really that good?
Southampton have been having a look this season, Pleat has been in Spurs’ ear about him for years. Potentially, very special player. He’s got an immaculate touch and turn, and good core strength which means he isn’t bullied or knocked off the ball easily. Our third goal at Hull last week came with him dancing around four or five frustrated attempts to hack him down at the shin.
This is only his second full season of Championship football and he’s noticeably better, more effective and more consistent for having 70 games under his belt compared to this time last year when he had 25-30. Six goals already, compared to four in total last term.
He faded badly last season after being flogged to death in a defensive team by McClaren, and some fans were ridiculously quick and very harsh to get on at him about perceived laziness. But that was bollocks back then and it looks laughably ill-informed now.
The system suits him – Chair goes on ahead and takes defenders away from him allowing him to come in field into space that wasn’t there for him last season, and that in turn allows Manning to pile into the space he leaves behind him. All three are graduates from the U23s, picked up from other clubs as teenagers, and it’s good to see QPR developing players like that again after years of not bothering.
Buying Freeman for £300,000 and selling him for £5m was a start. But we need to be doing that more, and for bigger received fees, now our parachute payments have gone
What other QPR players should we be looking out for?
Other than those three, Nahki Wells has come back in great form after a dreadful end to last season and I expect Bright Osayi-Samuel to come in for the suspended Hugill and for us to go back to the 4-2-3-1. He’s a quick winger that can give a full back a good going over if left one on one.
Firmly lodged in the playoff places, do you think you can keep the momentum going in this topsy-turvy league and surprise some people?
Well given that a lot of the summer preview pieces (justifiably) had us down as a relegation candidate, we could finish twelfth and that would count as a surprise. I don’t expect us to make the play-offs. We’re conceding far too many goals, most of them out of rank stupidity, and you won’t get too far doing that.
The teams we’ve beaten, bar Sheffield Wednesday, have been poor sides – Stoke, Luton, Wigan, Blackburn, Hull, Millwall. Whenever we’ve played a good team we’ve tended to lose pretty comfortably – Bristol City, Swansea, West Brom. We’ve got Leeds and Fulham away next two road trips, Forest at home, I expect to see a bit of regression over the next month or so, but Christ it’s so much better than any of us expected I won’t be sticking my head in the oven if that does happen.
I’ve said this a lot this season but I do think it’s a God-awful league this year. Several clubs that were either so awash with money or so well run they were always going to dominate this league have gone – Wolves, Brighton, Newcastle. They’ve been replaced by teams from the Premier League that have big parachute payments but are in varying degrees of state – Boro, Stoke, Huddersfield. Several others who have spent big to get promoted and not made it are now finding financial rules catching up with them – Derby, Sheff Wed, Birmingham.
Although Charlton have started surprisingly well there’s not been a team come up from League One for a while that’s threatened to go straight up and through like Southampton, Sheff United, Wolves and Bournemouth did. I think the Championship is massively overhyped as this intensely difficult league by the host broadcaster when in actual fact the only thing that makes it hard is the ridiculous schedule that leaves you playing three games a week in all corners of the country for four weeks and then getting a fortnight off.
I think it’s particularly average this year so we may have picked a good time to be quite good.
Looking ahead to the match on Monday, do you think Warburton’s free-flowing attacking style and Frank’s passing style sets us up for an exciting contest?
I can’t see anything other than a whole load of goals. 3-2 either way, 3-3, something like that. Be nil nil now won’t it?