Is the phrase “we need to be more clinical” familiar to anyone? It looks like Mark Warburton’s classic catchphrase will be trotted out a few more times this season. Today’s QPR performance against Plymouth Argyle was much of the same old story. The game started out as a great chance for QPR to look like a composed side against out-of-practice opposition, but this was quickly snuffed out by a chaotic defensive strategy that asked a lot of an inexperienced backline.
Just to clarify, when I pile criticism on the backline, I’m not talking about Osman Kakay. As far as I’m concerned, Kakay is perfect and I would trust him with my life – or at least, that’s how I felt when he banged home the equaliser to make it 2-2. In QPR’s current setup, there’s little more satisfying than seeing a defender get fed up with our lack of bite in attack, and make like Thanos at the end of that Avengers film – “fine, I’ll do it myself.”
The problem is, especially in a setup that doesn’t employ any traditional wingers, the backline is left very exposed by moves that force the full-backs forward. The optimist in me says that Lyndon Dykes’ availability next week and the prospect of bringing in a winger or two could solve this, and allow Warburton to return to his favoured 4-2-3-1 formation. The pessimist says that we still shouldn’t be expecting many clean sheets. It seems harsh to pass judgement on Rob Dickie at this early stage, when he hasn’t played a single minute at Championship level, but this match was at least a forecast that he is not an instant solution to the club’s problems. It’s hard to tell if Barbet was missed or not – Masterson rarely looks worse than decent, and always manages to get in a few solid blocks here and there. However, as always, each of the three goals Rangers conceded were the result of allowing Argyle to totally carve us up in the defensive half.
I am, however, of the view that Lumley isn’t to blame here. There was little middle ground today between loose attempts that were easy for him to claim, and Mark Nouble’s mega-volley in an otherwise empty box. You can’t blame the keeper in a system that makes him this vulnerable. Likewise, Dieng might have looked good last season in a totally different team in a totally different league, but I fear that those calling for him to replace Lumley might find that the outcome would be largely the same.
Warburtonball works against sides not composed enough to deal with it. Generously, the first goal could be credited to this, with a set piece forced from the manager’s aggressive style resulting in Ryan Manning finding the header unmarked. As usual, the team blew hot and cold with periods of dominance that unbelievably didn’t result in anyone finding the net – even when Rem Oteh of all people did his best Dennis Bergkamp impression, picking out a wonderful Manning diagonal ball.
However, Tom Carroll looks to be something of an antidote to this. A few times, he managed to pick up on a failed Argyle move and find a well-placed long pass to the frontline. When the team’s slick, short style of play fails, Carroll’s longer passes may prove extremely useful. Combined with Dom Ball winning possession and keeping it in style, these two may emerge as my dream Football Manager midfield pairing. Amos, though, did not impress as much. With his opportunities to get the benefit of the doubt wearing thin, he looked the opposite of his usual self – normally a slick passer but un-physical, he looked a lot happier to throw himself about but got precious little from it.
So – the keeper’s not to blame, the defence is inexperienced, the midfield is a mixed bag. It seems there’s only once place left to look. Ilias Chair looked confident enough going forward, but gave the impression that his position on the wing was only a temporary situation – for my money, he always looks better playing centrally. Save for his one flash of near-brilliance, Rem Oteh mainly stuck to shielding the ball with his impressive strength but generally failed to progress. Granted, he improved throughout the match and became less anonymous in the second half as he began to meet the supply from midfield better. Oteh might be a player who is only a goal away from a good run of form, but he’s running out of opportunities. Osayi-Samuel seemed to adjust to the striker role better than his attempts at the end of last season – when combined with his presence on the pitch for the full 90 minutes, could we dare to dream that he’s planning to stick around?
The introduction of Smyth (who looked nippy and fairly controlled) and Shodipo into the frontline above all served to prove that we don’t really know what we’re doing with the striker position. The dream scenario is that Dykes comes in and tears things up, with either Smyth or a new recruit mopping up the ball from his holdup play and sticking it in the net. The only certainty is that the team needs a bit of consistency in the attacking setup – most of our forward players have a lot of individual quality, but spent this whole game failing to find the final pass.
This match was not a disaster, but it demonstrated two things. Firstly, the team has not quite found a rhythm at this point in the middle of the transfer window. Secondly, Osman Kakay is the love of my life.