By Ben Summer
Yesterday’s match was, admittedly, my first of the season. For irrelevant reasons, I’ve not made it to any so far, and all of my opinions and worries going into the game were based on what I’d heard from other people – mainly, Lyndon’s lack of confidence in front of goal, an absence attacking intent against Blackburn, a dismal first half against Sunderland and Armstrong’s quality off the bench.
I walked into Loftus Road not yet having formed any first-hand opinions about Michael Beale’s QPR. I walked out, admittedly having clenched my fists with frustration to the point that I nearly broke a few fingers, but feeling generally positive about the season.
Consistency in attack
For one, I think the combination of Chair, Willock and Roberts behind a striker has a lot of promise. It was Chris Willock who ultimately performed the rescue operation yesterday by, as he does so often, making it look like he’s playing the Championship on easy mode.
But as the trio enjoyed their first start of the season together, the signs were encouraging. Having spoken to Welsh friends about Roberts and seen what Leeds fans had to say about him, I’d already been expecting to see a technically strong player who struggled with finishing.
But yesterday I got a more complete image of Tyler Roberts as the guy with the strength to make a run without losing the ball, and the intent to either drive forward or release it quickly. He played deeper than I expected, and with Ilias and Chris darting around in front of him, I can see how that’ll work.
Granted, some of those quick releases – often with a back-heel flick or flourish – found themselves at the feet of a Rotherham defender. It was annoying. But this season we’ve seen Mide Shodipo, Albert Adomah, George Thomas, and to a lesser extent Sam Field and Andre Dozzell handed QPR starts with an attacking remit. Combined with Willock’s injury, we’re yet to see a solid first-choice set of attackers emerge. I think if we give this trio some time, those quick, short passes will start to find their target more often.
Ilias did a better job yesterday than usual in making the sensible passes on the edge of the box rather than letting play slow down. Willock did what Willock will do. And actually, Johansen showed more willingness to make that penetrating pass than he did at times last season. I think if you keep putting Roberts in the middle of that, you’ll see results.
Paal’s to the left of me, Ethan’s to the right
As for the wingbacks – Kenneth Paal had a sorry time of it in the first half, capped off by him losing his man a bit too easily and fouling him a bit too willingly, in a position that half of Loftus Road thought was going to be a penalty. He improved in the second half but it was far from a complete performance.
Laird, on the other hand, I really liked. He spent most of the game working clever, short passes with our attackers in a similar way Lee Wallace did during his time on the opposite flank.
This continued when Adomah came on, and most of our best play seemed to come from the right-hand side of the attacking half. Laird was maybe a bit too willing to send in a slightly low, slow cross at times, but I think as he gets more minutes under his belt he’ll become a really exciting player.
The elephant in the room
Ultimately the finishing lost us the game. I don’t like using xG for individual games but when the second half began 1-1 and both teams would’ve wanted to nick the three points, the fact QPR had a second half xG of 1.06 to Rotherham’s 0.13 shows we created enough chances to get there.
Generally, I like Lyndon Dykes. He applies himself and he’s been responsible for some fantastic moments. Some of the chances he was served yesterday were harder than they looked, but we’re definitely seeing a striker out of confidence and yesterday was a good example of it. I won’t lump more criticism on him here because the nature of the stuff I’ve seen on social media has already turned nasty.
The more interesting part of this equation is Sinclair Armstrong. He immediately got involved in play when he came on, appearing both on the flanks to create chances and making some strong, clever central runs to get on the end of others.
But that’s the thing. The finishing wasn’t quite there yet. I’m not at all worried for him, as little bits of decision-making like which foot to take a one-on-one chance with will come with time.
I just think there’s a balance to be found – yes, he’s enough of an obvious talent that it makes total sense for Beale to have kept him around the squad rather than loan him out.
But on the other hand – he’s 19 years old and he’s only made just over a dozen senior appearances, many of which were in non-League.
I think he’ll get some starts for QPR before the end of this season, and he’ll deserve them. I don’t think it’s fair to pin all our hopes on him at such an early stage, if not just for the pressure that’ll put on his shoulders.
Despite my better instincts, I’m feeling good
I’ve got less to say about Seny Dieng, Rob Dickie, Jimmy Dunne and Sam Field – all of whom, on a very basic level, did their jobs and did them just fine.
In a long-winded way, the point I’m making is: I went to watch QPR yesterday and saw a team that attacked more than in Warburton’s last days, that looked solid enough defensively and lively enough going forward, not lacking in application or in talent, bar a bit of finishing.
Without labouring the point about FFP, we might not bring many players in this season. A couple of transfers are definitely needed.
But at the same time, this version of this side under this manager is clearly in its infancy. Beale’s starting XI is changing significantly with each game, and he’s only six games into his managerial career.
Far from writing the team off after yesterday’s performance, I’m confident that I’ll look back on it as a building block. The project needs financial backing, but it also needs time.