Six games into the 2015/16 Championship season and with the transfer window finally closed, Queens Park Rangers’ chances of a quick return to the Premier League look remarkably better than any rational person would have believed at the start of the season.
After a 2-0 away loss to Charlton on the opening day the truth, the situation really began to resonate with every Rangers fan. This was supposed to be a new manager, with a new team, new style and new attitude. But after a poorly planned preseason that saw two of the R’s opponents back out, all the positivity surrounding what was supposed to be a new and better start was overshadowed by what was old and emblematic of past mistakes.
On top of that, every day the looming threat that the club’s best players would be ripped away at any time left a giant question mark hanging over QPR’s prospects by the start of the season.
While the first half of the match against Charlton started well, displaying the positive signs of the attacking style Chris Ramsey clearly intends to play, the second half showed the exact opposite. The team conceded an early goal as the defense became exposed adjusting to this new offensive style. Eventually, the whole team shape seemed to fall apart as the obvious lack of fitness appeared to set in, and play reverted to long balls lumped up top. In the end, the worst part of the whole affair wasn’t even losing, it was hearing a select few QPR fans boo Charlie Austin off the pitch.
Things felt like a mess and not because of the performance. Queens Park Rangers looked like a normal Championship level team, something R’s fans should’ve expected but weren’t ready to accept, but the harsh reaction to Austin’s performance was not representative of the Rangers faithful, and to experience such a low point was disappointing. It was well known that Austin wanted to play in the top tier, and who can blame him? But at the same time, every supporter of a smaller club understands the frustration of losing their best to the bigger guns.
Already, people began to point the finger at Ramsey after the Charlton result and the matches to follow barely helped to ease any fears. A point against Cardiff would have been welcomed were it not for the fact that QPR squandered an early two goal lead, throwing away two points through naivety right at the death.
Similarly, Rangers gave us one of the most entertaining football displays in recent memory against Wolves by overcoming a two goal deficit, mostly thanks to the individual efforts of Matt Phillips. Yet in both games, the R’s defense was easily picked apart. We continue to do things the hard way.
A decisive win against Rotherham saw new additions Massimo Luongo and Tjaronn Chery click in a 4-2 result. Chery scored two excellent goals and Luongo, who has so far been our breakout player alongside Alejandro Faurlin, was instrumental in making things happen in the final third, an area QPR have consistently struggled in over the past few seasons.
So far, the most important game for the R’s was Huddersfield away. Not only did Rangers manage to win three games in a row, they were able to keep their first clean sheet. It was a continuing concern that even though the offensive performance improved, and QPR were putting points on the board, they conceded two goals in each of their first four matches. For Rangers to grind out a 1-0 away victory, it showed that they do have the ability to see out games and put together a solid defensive display. The Championship season is a long one, forty-six games of football, and while scoring goals wins games, defense is everything in this league. Inevitably at some point in the season, the goals will dry up, and to see a solid defensive team display like the one against Huddersfield is a huge positive to take away early in the season. Young ex-Spurs recruit Grant Hall, who looked shaky when first slotting in next to Nedum Onuoha, stepped up and showed he has the potential to become a formidable starting center back for QPR in this league. The transfer window loomed and Charlie Austin was leading both the club and the Championship in scoring with four goals in five matches.
Club loyalty is a rare occurrence in the modern game. Everyone felt Charlie Austin was leaving and had to deal with it. Many fantasized about it, but no one truly thought he might actually choose to stay, which is what makes it so much more magical that Charlie Austin was not only still a QPR player when the transfer window shut, but that he admittedly turned down offers from Premier League sides. By far, this was Queens Park Rangers most important news on deadline day, which overshadowed some shrewd late acquisitions made by Les Ferdinand in the forms of Daniel Tozer and Gabriele Angella who both played for Watford in the Championship last season.
While it would have been nice to pull a decent result from Forest after such a high point, but this is the Championship, one of the toughest most competitive leagues in Europe. And despite another quality goal from Austin, Green’s yearly “oops moment” made sure it wasn’t meant to be. Fortunately, things are still mostly positive, but good results in the upcoming matches against Blackburn and Hull City are imperative to keep the momentum going.
Best Starting XI: Green, Koncheskey, Hall, Onuoha, Perch, Faurlin, Doughty, Luongo, Chery, Phillips, Austin.
Best Performer: Alejandro Faurlin. As we learned from his absence against Forest, he is really the only player we have that can successfully initiate this offense. Tozer was clearly brought in as a similar option, but did not seem capable of pulling the strings in the same way Faurlin does. Without him, the ball movement is too flat and lacks any definitive forward intent.
Most Improved Player: Faurlin. Coming back from a third ACL injury is no easy task, and while he is noticeably slower, his importance cannot be overstated.
Injury News: Yun Suk-Young, Jamie Mackie, Ben Gladwin.
Best business completed in transfer window: Tjaronn Chery, Massimo Luongo, and obviously keeping Austin.
Rating the manager: B+. Chris Ramsey is trying to implement a free flowing, entertaining offensive style that centers around a 4-2-3-1 where the front four moves around interchangeably, and requires ball playing defenders. Admittedly this is an uncommon style of play for the lower English leagues, mainly due to the talent required to make such a formation successful, but the club did well to bring in the type of players required and keeping Austin and Phillips won’t hurt.
The only big thing Ramsey needs to work on are his substitutions. They seem to be reactionary more than preemptive and often come a few minutes later than they should. There are times that it seems a switch to a simple 4-4-2 during matches is necessary, but as his feel for the squad continues and his experience grows the wrinkles should smooth out.
Weaknesses: While the loss to Forest was mainly due to a goalkeeping error, conceding two goals in each of the first four matches and against Forest (even if they were down a man) is worrisome. This new attacking style means that the back line can be exposed at times and requires that the forward players are willing to get back quickly and cover defensive positions when necessary. Luckily, we have seen snippets of this and hopefully we will see more defensive performances like the one at Huddersfield.
Overall rating: 3.5 out of 5.
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