City travel full of hope to in an in-form QPR side, buoyed by recent results. However, with QPR on a roll themselves, it will be a tough ask for the injury hit Canaries, Jon Punt spoke to Clive Whittingham from QPR fansite Loft for Words to get the lowdown…
Jon: Much like Norwich, Rangers didn't really enjoy a spellbinding start to the campaign. You looked rudderless, and it seemed as if McClaren was on borrowed time... And then it clicked...
Is it as binary as saying loan signings such as Nahki Wells and Tomer Hemed have transformed your fortunes, or is there a bit more to it than that?
LFW: There's not much more to it than that, no. Ian Holloway did well to extract enough goals out of a Matt Smith-Idrissa Sylla-Conor Washington strike force to keep us out of trouble last season. McClaren seems to have taken one look at them and said 'nah, we'll be needing some loan signings'. Given our financial constraints we're amazed we managed to get two players of that experience and quality in the current market - Wells in particular has looked a cut above so far and made us realise just what dregs we'd been watching before.
We lost a lot of senior players over the summer. Our excellent goalkeeper Alex Smithies went to sit on Cardiff's bench, we couldn't afford to renew Jack Robinson or Nedum Onuoha's contracts, James Perch and Jamie Mackie also said their goodbyes, so it was always going to be tough. The hope was we had enough talented kids coming through to make up for the losses, and it's disappointing to see how quickly young players who were playing very well at the end of last season (as Norwich found to their cost at Loftus Road) have been bombed out of the team - Ryan Manning out on loan, Bright Osayi-Samuel benched, Paul Smyth out of the picture.
But with the addition of Wells, Hemed, Rangel and Cameron, McClaren has added experience, calmness, and a bit of confidence. We've come a long way in the month since the West Brom debacle.
I was about to mention said WBA debacle. Toni Leistner, touted for months with a move to Carrow Road, looked absolutely horrific that day. Like a kid on his first day at school, who’d been robbed of his lunch money and kicked in the bollocks. McClaren seems to have kept faith with him though, has he learnt how to play with the bigger boys yet?
He'd been our best player in the two games before that. He's very, very slow and was horribly exposed that day. Like the team, he's recovered well. Physical, doesn't take a lot of shit, covers for Joel Lynch's brain explosions quite well, poses a threat at attacking corners. But, yeah, not quick. We've kept three clean sheets in four league games now and the defence has looked better drilled (it could hardly have looked worse) and more confident. We've played some particularly poor sides though - Birmingham, Bolton and Millwall were all crap - so it'll be interesting/terrifying to see what happens when we come up against an attack of West Brom standards again.
Slow, I do like the sound of that. Although our quickest attacking outlet (Onel Hernandez) will sadly be out for the next couple of weeks. That said, Teemu Pukki is enjoying a purple patch in front of goal and certainly no slouch. Hopefully that will continue come Saturday.
Interesting league the Championship, Boro looked poor last Saturday, it just seems that any side not particularly ‘on it’ can be made to look terrible if they come up against the wrong opponent at the wrong time.
So, in your view, is your upturn in form due to lacklustre opponents as much as changes in personnel?
Perhaps. We'll see I guess, although the fixtures look reasonably kind for the next few weeks. The addition of the new players, Hemed and Wells in particular, have transformed us from what we were, though the recovery had looked a little fragile before we took Millwall apart on Wednesday night.
Pretty sure you meant to say ‘reasonably kind after Saturday’ yeah?
In terms of that fragility, and apart from Leistner’s aforementioned morbid pace, where can City have joy against QPR? We’re likely to look to dominate the ball, hopefully with a bit more tempo in the final third, which is something that’s been developing nicely over the last few games. Is that kind of set up able to walk away from Loftus Road with all three points?
Well if you've got Jay Rodriguez, Dwight Gayle and Matt Phillips up front that seems to help. We started the season in a 4-2-3-1 with a very deliberate attempt to do the whole splitting the centre backs and playing out from the back thing that's trendy at the moment. The centre backs, and the goalkeeper, weren't good enough to do it. We've steadied the ship by going back to basics in a 4-4-2 set up, and changed the keeper. Still pretty attractive with as much ball for Freeman and Eze as possible, but less piss-balling about in our own area. Hemed couldn't start on Wednesday so that let us go back to 4-2-3-1 and we looked really good doing it so it'll be interesting to see if we stick with that or revert back to two up top. Like I say we've been playing some poor sides of late so we'll see if the defensive improvements continue or if you're able to pick that back four apart as Sheff Utd, Bristol City and West Brom did.
Going forward we’re much improved this term after struggling to create/be clinical throughout much of 2017/18. So maybe we can offer the kind of threat to put you on the back foot.
I’ve heard really good things about Eze so will be interesting to watch him for a full 90 minutes.
Prediction time. In fact, really specific prediction time. I’m going for 1-1, given our current injury crisis, with Rangers taking the lead by virtue of Rangel’s 35 yarder just on the stroke of half time. Jordan Rhodes will then come off the bench to level things up with just seconds remaining, making it feel like a win for the boys in yellow (well not yellow, we’ll be wearing our lime/luminous green third kit on Saturday.)
What are you thinking?
Eze's very exciting. Bit inconsistent as you'd expect of a kid, but well capable. We're basically banking on selling him for James Maddison money to make up the shortfall in our finances when the parachute payments end next year. I think we might sneak a 2-1 win, and Nahki Wells is due a goal to go with his impressive performances. But I'm almost always wrong.
Ha, everyone fancies a bit of that James Maddison money now, he's almost set a precedent. The fact was, he just outgrew us so rapidly. I don't think I've ever seen a youngster who has performed so consistently and influenced games so frequently. He'll play for England, and probably in the not too distant future.
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