It’s the only West London Derby that really counts at the weekend as Brentford take on QPR. Billy Grant caught up with Clive Whittingham from Loft For Words (@LoftForWords) to get the low down on Steve McClaren. The QPR yoof coming through. And the two sides contrasting styles of play.
Holloway is gone. Do you feel more encouraged with the McClaren In charge?
I wasn’t discouraged with Holloway in charge to be honest. The squad compared to when he took over was greatly improved by the end of last season and we had a number of young kids getting regular first team action and doing very well with it last April and May.
There were numerous problems though, and the fan base was very divided on him. The public outbursts and eccentric behaviour, most notably calling the QPR fans out in the Sky interview after our game with you and basically inciting a riot when we went to Millwall away, did him few favours with the support base and the board.
The insistence on switching the team around so dramatically after every game, even after big wins, wore very thin. We only won three away games all last season and he never once looked like he knew how to fix that – we’ve won three already this.
The feeling at board level by the end of last season was that he was just too wild, too inconsistent, too much of a loose cannon and a squad of young players needed a calmer, more methodical head coach to bring them on and progress them. I was more in the camp of people that felt Holloway had done the job they’d asked him to do and was happily working under the restrictions we’re facing financially so should have been allowed to continue, but could see the logic in the other side and the decision they made.
McClaren is quite well regarded at QPR relative to his image in the game in general as a bit of a joke. He did a great job here as coach at the start of the 2013/14 season when That tosser Redknapp was phoning it in from his portacabin.
We broke records for consecutive clean sheets, made an unbeaten start to the season, and that laid the platform for the eventual win at Wembley, ironically against McClaren’s Derby. We were never as good once he’d left for Pride Park.
But that was a very different QPR, with a wage bill pushing £80m and another £20m spent on top of that on the likes of Charlie Austin and Matt Phillips. We were chucking silly money around, completely ignoring FFP, and really it was like shooting fish in a barrel for the management – or it should have been, Redknapp still made it look bloody difficult once McClaren had gone.
Thanks to those days of gross overspend, we’re right up against it now and it’s been several years of cutting back, getting our house in order and functioning like a proper, rule-abiding football club. McClaren was coming into a club that had been cutting back for several years, and was losing five senior players from last year’s first team at the end of their expensive contracts. So it was a very different task facing him and his recent record at Derby second time around and Newcastle was poor.
So plenty of scepticism and nervousness mixed in with the usual feelings during pre-season.
You had a terrible start to the season. But you look to be pulling yourself out of it with a great little run. You had a blip at Blackburn but overall are you ready to compete in this division?
Yeh the start to the season was biblical – the worst in the history of the club with four defeats and 13 goals conceded in the first four games. After the 7-1 at West Brom quickly followed with a 3-0 home loss to Bristol City it was difficult to see how QPR would survive in the division or McClaren would keep his job for much longer. But for a very lucky 1-0 against Wigan in game five, when they missed three sitters, he might have got the sack before the end of August.
What then happened was we went out and added some experienced, quality players to our team for the first time in a number of years. Tomer Hemed (Brighton), Nahki Wells (Burnley) and Geoff Cameron (Stoke) all came in on loan and Angel Rangel (Swansea) signed on a free. They’ve all made an incredible difference to the team, as you’d expect with players of the standard coming into a side that’s been trying to get by with the likes of Matt Smith, Connor Washington and Idrissa Sylla as its main strikers for the past couple of seasons. You can just see the difference in a player like Wells – his touch, awareness, back to goal game, the runs he makes, his nose for space – from a player like Washington.
We always lose at Blackburn, and we always concede late there – we’ve conceded in the 85th, 86th and 90th minutes on our last three visits to turn two draws and a win into two defeats and a draw – so that’s no great surprise nor a big disaster. This latest batch of games between international breaks had been excellent for us, regardless of the result on Saturday, and lifted us up into the top half of the table after basically two and a half years in sixteenth.
Brentford has an average squad age of 24.3 years. Players like Mepham and Konsa (both 21). Canos (21). Watkins and Mepham (22) are leading the youth charge. Talk to us about your young exciting players coming through. Does this bode well for QPR’s future?
Well here’s the thing about the previous answer: medium and long term, where will this shift in approach leave us?
This time next year our parachute payments will have ended, so it’s very unlikely we’ll be able to sign any of those four players permanently (two of them are well into their 30s anyway), nor will we be able to afford their equivalent on loan again given how much Premier League clubs charge to borrow their players.
We were supposed to be aiming to make up the financial shortfall that comes with trying to compete under FFP in a stadium with the limitations of Loftus Road/Griffin Park by developing players and selling them on for profit. But we’ve now got a situation again where a manager fearing the sack has made a number of short term additions to get results immediately, and the younger players we own and want to develop to sell are all behind them in the pecking order.
We have Aramide Oteh scoring every week for the U23s, but with four senior strikers ahead of him – two of whom are on loan. We have Josh Scowen, Jordan Cousins and Ryan Manning who we own, sitting on the bench or out on loan while Geoff Cameron plays their position. It looks like Darnell Furlong will soon have that issue with Rangel as well, now he’s returned from a summer knee injury. It’s great at the moment, not going to lie. It’s nice to be winning games and pushing up the table again and the state of August showed us that something needed doing. But you don’t have to look too far off into the future to foresee some problems down the line.
The standard of our U23 line up for the Monday game with Coventry this week was ridiculous for that level really, but it’s hard to see where any of them can step up into the first team as it stands. Players like Ryan Manning, Ilias Chair, Bright Osayi-Samuel, Paul Smyth and Furlong were all playing, and playing well, for the first team at the end of last season but are now all back downstairs and struggling even for bench spots.
That said, the youth set up at QPR is unrecognisable from what it was before. Under Les Ferdinand and Chris Ramsey we now do have a system that’s creating players – or more accurately discovering players that have fallen out of other behemoth academies as teenagers – capable of playing first team football at this level. We used to loan our juniors out to Conference South clubs, if we were lucky, and now other Championship clubs want our players. They’re capable of stepping into our first team no problem, and we have two graduates from that system in our current starting eleven – keeper Joe Lumley and attacker Ebere Eze.
That’s major, major progress from where we were under Hughes and Redknapp, and before that, despite the concerns I’ve expressed. Two youth team graduates, however they ended up with us, playing regular first team football is more than QPR have managed since Kevin Gallen and Richard Langley.
The QPR side to play Brentford this weekend. Who should we be looking out for? Who would be getting a ‘must do better’ comment on their school report?
It’ll be a 4-2-3-1, almost certainly Lumley; Rangel, Leistner, Lynch, Bidwel; Luongo, Cameron; Wszolek, Eze, Freeman; Hemed. The doubts would be Cameron who missed last week with a hamstring problem and was replaced then, not very successfully, by Josh Scowen; and Hemed who alternates with Wells in the lone striker position.
The strengths just recently have been the defence, which has already kept seven clean sheets this season which is as many as we managed in the whole of last season. Leistner and Lynch have formed an uncompromising, at times outright violent, central defensive partnership which kept three clean sheets in three games last week.
Cameron parks himself in front of them as another physical barrier, almost like a third centre back. All of them though, across that back four and central midfield, are very slow, and we’ve waited with bated breath to face a team with any pace about it as we could be in trouble.
Luongo started the season very poorly after a disappointing World Cup with Australia where he didn’t get on the pitch for a single minute, but he’s picked up a bit of late. Scowen, top man last season, has also been poor so far. Eze and Freeman behind either Wells or Hemed, with Wszolek wide right, is where we do damage – the better that group plays the better we look.
Last season Brentford started singing too soon. We were 2-0 up on 90 minutes but somehow managed to go home with only one point. How do you see our two contrasting styles panning out at the weekend? Will our possession game play into QPRs hands? Can you see you guys going one better this season and nicking it?
It depends what you’re going to do with it. If you mean possession football as in completing 20-25 passes on the halfway line, talking about how much more sophisticated you are than everybody else and waiting for somebody to step out and leave space in behind to exploit then you’ll be passing and waiting for a long time.
That back four and midfield two stay very deep around their own box, very rigidly in shape, and very compact – they don’t mind not having the ball. Villa had nearly 70% of it against us and couldn’t get through.
If you play like that I’d anticipate similar outcome to that game where we won 1-0. If you do that and manage to take the lead then I’d anticipate a similar game to our snooze-a-thon 1-0 loss to Norwich where we just couldn’t get enough possession or get far enough up the pitch to get back into the game after falling behind. It’s a defensive approach that only really works as long as you don’t go behind.
But if you’re going to come at us with some genuine pace, down the wings and in the channels between full backs and centre halves, expose the lack of pace and start pulling that shape about a bit then we could be bang in trouble. Nobody has done it yet, but Canos caused us problems in the game at Loftus Road last season so this might be the one.
Cameron has played well during this run and been quite important to us so if he’s out, as he was at Blackburn, who we replace him with and how they play is also a cause of concern – Scowen didn’t do great last week.
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