Well that was rather unnecessarily frantic. In the words of Ian Holloway himself, she might not be that pretty, but Miss 3-Points is back in the taxi and coming home with us. And it all looked so comfortable for 45 minutes.
QPR set up with a flat back five nearly, kept a high line, but basically offered no pressure on the ball. It was a near suicidal approach and bar a couple of close offside decisions and some poor execution from a Wolves perspective, it could have been 4-0 by half time. The goals that were scored exhibited exactly the benefits of the team that was selected. Cavaleiro enjoyed the space in behind the full backs and his cross was turned in by N’Diaye, steaming in from deep, providing a late running-presence we’ve often missed. He met the ball like a train and I don’t really want to speculate what the ball came off as I’d like to keep the man’s dignity intact.
The second was all about the front three, floating in that space of uncertainty that defenders hate to enter, as if they’re venturing into no man’s land. Jota seized the opportunity, played Cavaleiro in on goal and the ball was played across. He clearly had more vision than me as I had no idea Costa was galloping alongside him but he left him with the simplest of finishes. It was exactly the kind of goal I imagine Nuno envisaged them scoring when he tasked the three Portu-geezers with the striking positions.
And with that everything was rosy. It felt like an exhibition for the rest of the first half. Neves pulled out his full repertoire of skills. Costa was wriggling himself into position after position. N’Diaye was monstering his way around midfield. What I forgot to mention so far was the rather inauspicious start we made to the game, sloppy in the pass and gifting the ball to QPR’s forwards. Again – a better team would have hurt us.
QPR do have the odd decent footballer. Luke Freeman does a good job of doing nice things miles from goal. Jake Bidwell should never have left Brentford. Jack Robinson was a decent left-back in The Clown Era, although he wasn’t quite as effective as a quasi-midfield destroyer. One man who doesn’t really fit that bill is Matt Smith. It’s not that he’s a really bad player. It’s what he stands for as a footballer. It’s the total abandonment of any coherent plan for what can only be described as prehistoric football whenever he enters the pitch. It’s not his fault he’s so tall. But he’s basically a lighthouse of a footballer, his teammates searching, hands over their eyes to focus their vision. They scour the landscape for their beacon of hope and their he stands upon the cliff. ‘Head that way!’ screams Holloway seeing no other way through Nuno’s choppy waters.
The problem is it basically puts the shits up our defence. They didn’t disguise in any way what they were going to try and do. They even launched long throws into the box in the first half without Smith there, as if they were rehearsing for the main event. John Ruddy can be a commanding presence but he has a tendency to overcompensate at times. He clearly saw the threat of Smith as his responsibility to alleviate. His inability to deal with a cross led directly to the goal and for a massively underworked goalkeeper, that’s a concern.
What ensued was just chaos. QPR made the game chaotic through nothing more than just pressure and long balls. There was no serious tactical intelligence involved in that process. Holloway just reverted to type. We still created chances, because we’re too good to resist. But the wilting of our defence in the presence of Smith was a cause for concern. Thankfully where we are headed, Smith-like characters are few and far between. In the end, Conor Coady’s force of personality and pure will to not be beaten kept us in the game – Eze was another impressive performer – but this was a precarious position to be left in having been so comfortable after 45 minutes.
Whether by design or just by coincidence, we don’t seem to keep up intense pressure longer than for around 10 minutes at a time. We seem happy to gather ourselves and almost regenerate by retreating and ceding possession, before bursting into attack likea coiled spring.
Look this could descend into a rather depressive blog post, but the fact remains we’re in an even better position than we were last week. The match had a slight ‘After the Lord Mayor’s Show’ feel about it and our performance reflected that. What matters most is we’re 3 points closer to the end game. 70 point barrier breached. Astonishing.