RAMBLE | QPR 4-2 Wednesday

RAMBLE | QPR 4-2 Wednesday

Coming down on the train, I’d made the ill-advised decision to share my quiet confidence ahead of the game on Twitter.

QPR were hammered at the weekend by a Hull side generally lost at sea all season, and to top it off the fabrics of their team spirit showed signs of cracking with a sending off and that school yard/chimpanzee pen at the zoo thing footballers do of squaring up to each other.

So why wouldn’t I?

Having taken in the Fulham game – the first I’d attended since Wembley – where a good team on a slight off day still had enough about them to stifle us, you could be excused for thinking a team like QPR, holes glaring like a true Holloway side, would fit our playing style a lot better.

It wouldn’t quite turn out that way, though.

Coming down on the train from Sheffield I had that experience I guess many will have once they get out into London: So. Many. People. Like being in an ant’s nest.

I made my way to Shepherds Bush on a sardine’s can of a train and after a bit of a mix up with a few pubs only wanting home fans (because they don’t like revenue in London apparently), settled in BrewDog with a good group of people.

Then had my second “Yorkshire moment” when presented with the beer prices: ‘Ow much?!’

Apparently five days in Sheffield is enough to acclimatise to quality but affordable beer, when that’s the reaction to pricing more like back home in Denmark.

But it was good stuff, and while I may be stingy (I do prefer frugal to be honest!), I don’t mind paying for proper quality and value for money.

 

PRE-MATCH: Loftus Road

 

Making our way from the pub to Loftus Road the stadium lived up to lots of my criteria of proper football stadia: set in a residential area, almost like an afterthought, and deeply integrated in its surrounding.

Coming in and going to my seat the air of yesteryear and physical tightness continued.

Having been warned about the risk of an obstructed and even partial view of the pitch, I was happy to find a full view of the pitch in perhaps the steepest stand I’ve been in, although it wasn’t very tall.

At the heart of the neighbourhood

Despite being only a few rows from the back of the upper tier of the stand, it almost felt like sitting atop a cupboard looking down on the game.

The pitch was also squeezed in between the four stands with only two paces between the advertising hoardings and the lines of the pitch.

So all was well.

Then the game happened.

When the team was announced, I was surprised at Atdhe, Joao, Forestieri and Reach starting and at the same time.

The ineffective Venancio, presumably the latest victim of the most infectious disease since the bubonic plague – the Great Hillsborough Injury Crisis of 2017-18 – was out, David Jones in.

Nuhiu: looked to continue his good scoring form

A handful of other changes to the starting eleven indicated the aftermath of that “injury and fitness plague” isn’t exactly over yet.

We simply don’t seem to have a group of players capable of two games in three days at the moment.

As the ref was about to blow for kick-off, it was clear this was a very different team to the one at Fulham: a back four with Palmer right and Thorniley left and Pudil partnering Lees centrally.

Ahead of those four a screen of Jones and Pelupessy, Reach slightly ahead in a linking role and Joao, Nuhiu and Forestieri up front with one or two dropping wide and back.

Something like a 4-2-3-1, a formation often (but far from exclusively) favoured by Luhukay during his time in Germany.

Remembering the onus Luhukay has repeatedly put on having sufficient time to work on preparing upcoming games on the training ground, I was a bit surprised to say the least: the back three against Fulham changed for a back four and only Wildsmith, Lees and Pudil picked again.

It may well have been a forced change, because of, say, an unfit Boyd, but it seemed a little puzzling to not simply change a (presumably) injured Venancio for Thorniley in the back three, and keep Boyd on as wingback.

Not as a positive choice – despite the slightly improved form shown versus Fulham – more as a case of “who else?” than anything else. A principle very much forcing team selection after team selection on Luhukay, while the black spots are still all over this Wednesday side.

 

THE MATCH

 

Thorniley: another start for the young defender

Lining up as we did, we put a big weight of responsibility on Reach: with two “defensive” full backs in Palmer and Thorniley, and Jones and Pelupessy screening, he was the only player not tasked with a simple “defend” or “attack” role for the evening.

The risk in doing that became all too clear: lose footing in midfield, and your team is going to break into two unconnected pieces of defenders and attackers.

Reach has been asked so much of this season, and in December to February in many ways he carried the team with an almost robotic degree of hard work and high intensity running and willingness to take the responsibility for forward passes, runs and shots, when others would put a foot on the ball and pass back- or sideways for fear of failure.

A monumental task for a seasoned performer let alone someone like Adam Reach.

He’s grown up very quickly in that time, but from the thousand small cuts he’s taken, this past month or so the giant of our season is showing signs of weakening and of fatigue (which considering his mileage and running intensity can come as no surprise). A(nother) ticking injury time bomb.

In any other season he’d be given a very well deserved rest, but so is our plight that we can’t really do that.

A Reach at 70% still gets in the team ahead of the other midfielders.

Unsurprisingly, then, he found himself incapable of influencing the game, and somewhat predictably our team broke apart in two separate entities.

Reach: ready for a rest

QPR was exactly as Holloway as you’d expect, at us like the Golden Horde charging on the gates of Vienna, all thundering hooves and pressure.

Again, nothing that will come as a surprise to a studious manager, and despite the lack of time for preparation definitely something the players would’ve known about. A prime opportunity for counter attacks.

Even the best laid plans require a modicum of execution, though.

But instead we looked like we were doing a warm down after a training session. Even though we had a lot of players in defensive positions, all bar a few looked nothing like being part of anything resembling an organised football team. It was every man for himself on a sinking ship, panic painted on faces and paralysis in place of purpose.

Recovered after his mistake – Joe Wildsmith

Joe Wildsmith had a heavy hand in that nightmare start, but what annoyed me most was the group of fans behind and to the right of me that ironically cheered when he later on caught a ball in the box.

Goalkeepers, like players everywhere else on the pitch, make mistakes, but they’re often much more noticeable in the Loneliest Position. Younger players even more so.

Unfortunate as it was that it essentially cost us the game, Wildsmith has been very, very good this season and for me now, already, easily better than Westwood.

In a ranking of the quality of chances faced, and goals conceded, Wildsmith recently ranked third in the entire Championship: an average ‘keeper would’ve let in six more goals over a season, facing the quality of chances Wildsmith has faced.

He also seems to have the mentality to go far.

After that torrid start, which could’ve destroyed ‘keepers many years his senior, in the second half he showed great technique on the ball to dribble – and embarrass – their onrushing player.

It takes a special sort of personality and mental strength to do so.

Especially with the dearth of English goalkeeping talent elsewhere, there’s every chance Wildsmith could one day find himself in an England squad, if he keeps on progressing as impressively as he is.

He reminds me a bit of Iker Casillas: that quietly (but strongly) confident ‘keeper of slender proportions, but exceptional speed of movement and thought.

Casillas: a player to whom JW can look up to

Wildsmith’s mistakes came about from situations where the defence was back in full-on ‘Burton mode’: players running unchallenged, no one picking up the mantle of leader, everyone instead throwing their arms out.

For all Wildsmith’s mental fortitude, the brittleness and lack of concentration in that defence is at times mind-boggling, looking like they’ve never played football at this level, never mind with each other.

It’s a far cry from the rudimentary, but hard-fought organisation Luhukay seemed to instill when he first came, which had us almost last-ditch defending for full 90 minutes at a time.

As that third went in, with little to no resistance, that 8-0 Newcastle defeat reared its ugly head deep in my mind. Being married to Wednesday is definitely hard-going at times, but this was turning into an abusive relationship.

Thankfully QPR then relented, their frenetic 15 minute burst more than sufficient. We began to compose ourselves, won back territory in central midfield and even traded equal blows with a QPR now well into first gear cruise control.

A few close sniffs at goal even, and a growing sense there might actually, inconceivably, be a way back into this game for us.

No goal to begin the comeback before half time, though, as it all sort of fizzled out and we all took to trying to recover from shell shock.

 

HALF TIME – QPR 3-0 Wednesday

 

The embers of hope had cold water thrown on them ten minutes into the second half, though, and at 4-0 it seemed like game over.

A deserved rendition of “4-0 and you still don’t sing” was a nice response from us in the stands, as was, frankly, several fans singing to tell the guy in a sombrero hat in the QPR stand next to us, who’d also brought a horn and a rattle, exactly in which orifice of the body he ought to store that rattle.

Forestieri, in his first start after that very long layoff of his, hadn’t put much of a mark on the game.

Forestieri: the long road back

Clearly off the pace of the game, and even his touch and dribbles looked a bit off.

The issue with his injury, and recovering from it, is a lot bigger than most probably realise.

As a “veteran” of two torn anterior cruciate ligaments myself, the rehabilitation after such an injury – even just into everyday life, never mind high level professional sports – is all-encompassing and frankly overwhelming.

It was almost like having to learn to walk again, and the intense pain of injury will reside in your body every time the knee is stressed.

We won’t see Forestieri truly back before next season.

There were glimmers of the wizardry of old, though, and when he pulled one back for us it was an excellent finish with the outside of his boot, a shot of high technical quality.

What we desperately missed more than anything else in this game was Barry Bannan, though.

He would’ve loved picking passes out against this QPR side, who looked very average defensively. Without Bannan, the whole team seized up, and no one tried making any incisive runs.

Bannan: vital cog

Jones does not have Bannan’s speed of thought and instinctive execution of passes from deep, but after being part of the horror show early on, he recovered quite well in this game in a “doing the simple things well” kind of way.

After Forestieri’s goal, even at three goals up, QPR seemed to get increasingly nervous, and like a dog we smelled the fear and upped our game and tempo.

That most rare of things – a well-executed Liam Palmer cross – then ended up perfectly on the forehead of Atdhe Nuhiu and celebration in earnest all around me, after the subdued celebrations of Forestieri’s goal.

Nuhiu, in games like this where we’re deep and break into two parts of the team, always gets frustrated and drops way too deep, surrendering any advantage his size, physicality and technical ability lends him.

The same happened at Fulham, but changing the team up and pushing 15 yards further up the pitch now meant Nuhiu played inside of and close to the box, and as a result we had more of an edge to us.

As we recovered from unexpected celebration, a warm feeling now flowed: Could this be on? Could we really do it? That worst and most cruel of things in football was suddenly back: Hope.

To be fair to QPR, despite panic now seeping into their play at times, then recovered quite well and continued killing the tempo of the game we desperately tried to ramp up.

A few decent half chances aside, and perhaps a 3-4 minute spell of sustained pressure, it never quite looked likely we could finish a hugely spectacular comeback.

We might not have got any points back with us, but at least we recovered some pride and belief we’re actually a football team capable of matching our peers in the division.

 

FT – QPR 4-2 Wednesday

 

And to be cruelly frank, our peers are now QPR, Reading and the like. Not the top six teams.

Yes, we have some good players, but look at the squads in the bottom half of this division: they’re littered with the “he used to be good”, “he could do job” etc. (as well as a scary amount of overpaid deadwood, a parasite class of ineffective, uninterested footballers feeding on the crass irrationality of the fortune of football).

To draw one positive from the QPR game: no fan will be in any doubt any longer that there’s something wrong at the club deeper inside the core, infesting the roots.

That this is not a simple papering over the cracks job, but a sizeable, almost monumental rebuilding job.

I do fear for expectations for next season, though, considering it WILL be a season of restructuring and rebuilding and highly unlikely to see us challenge at the top end of the division.

 

Season of adjustment beckons

 

Hopefully what happened at QPR will make people realise the option of using the players we have to “get back” to challenging for promotion is a complete dud. Both fans, the players, the manager and – crucially – the legal tender of our club, Dejphon Chansiri.

As we discussed after the game, maybe getting to Wembley permanently skewered expectations and the feeling of entitlement that frankly had lurked not far from the surface even in the darker years after 2000.

The job that Jos is on will be very hard, and could easily be a case of “gets worse before it gets better”.

The rebuild will be tough

Considering the gravity of the job, I’m far from convinced there is anyone we could employ as manager, who’d be wholly sufficient for the task.

That includes Luhukay, who has been oversold by the club as a ‘promotion expert’. Perhaps done by the club PR people, because of the unease felt at the appointment of “an unknown” rather than one of the many serially failing British managers, which is, though, a credit to Chansiri (and credit where it’s due).

Maybe Chansiri also believes that tag that with a snap of the fingers Luhukay will come in and we’ll be knocking on the door of the top 2 again just like that.

A partnership for the future?

That would wildly underestimate the scale of the task – and Luhukay’s ability.

He did win promotion to the Bundesliga three times, but also spent £15m at Hertha (a big sum of money for a promoted club) after going up, and was sacked before the end of the season then.

At both Gladbach and Hertha – clubs significantly bigger than Wednesday – he was essentially a bandage on the gushing wounds of behemoths who’d stumbled into relegation.

His only job of deeper and long term rebuilding was at tiny Augsburg.

The sad news for Luhukay is that, in the summer, the war chest is empty, and – what’s more – there’s a hole in it that needs filling before any talk of paying transfer fees for new signings of which we’ll have to make many, closer to 10 than to 5.

This club needs, at the basic level, a new culture.

If not we’ll continue to have massive blips of complete incompetence at games and seemingly at random (after the improved play and results of the handful of games prior to QPR).

Cultures aren’t built in a day, not even, sustainably, in a season (as Carvahal’s reign eventually proved), and I’m not convinced you could truly carry it out as a manager or sporting director – the latter we desperately need – at a club like ours absent super-human powers.

What we MIGHT have, though, is the realisation now that it will be hard.

Being a Wednesday fan is hard, tiring work.

As Kennedy said “we do these things not because they are easy, but because they’re hard”.

Even with my record of 2 Championship wins attended in now 16 goes – and an away Championship record of W0 D1 L6 GF7 GA16 – I’ve no intention of stopping, despite people probably likely to be calling for me to be barred from entering the country by now!

This summer will be interesting to say the least.

Peter
Owls Alive
E-MAIL: owlsalive@gmail.com
Twitter: @OwlsAlive and @ploehmann

Images: SWFC, unless stated.


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