Things are looking up for Reading at the moment, but the mood is very different for Tuesday night’s opposition, Queens Park Rangers, who have struggled for form in recent weeks. To work out what’s going on at Loftus Road, and how worried we should be about Rangers bouncing back at the Mad Stad, we spoke to Clive Whittingham. He writes for QPR site Loft For Words - you can find them on Twitter here.
How’s the season gone for you so far?
It’s been up and down like a bride’s nightie. We lost the first four matches of the league season for the first time in the history of the club, conceding 13 goals in the process including a 7-1 loss at West Brom. We recovered reasonably well from what could have been a profoundly damaging start, going five unbeaten with four wins and ten points put on the board.
We won away from home at Bolton Wanderers during that stint as well, and getting points away from Loftus Road has been a chronic problem for us for several years now. That run coincided with some team strengthening at the end of the second window, with Nahki Wells and Tomer Hemed coming in to bolster the attack along with Stoke City’s Geoff Cameron – all on loan. We peaked a fortnight ago with a 2-0 home win and very good performance against Millwall.
However, we seem to have dropped off a cliff again. Three defeats in a row coming into this one, no goals scored and in truth no real proper shot on target in 270 minutes of football. Steve McClaren spent a lot of credit he didn’t really have with supporters by chucking out a silly team and losing at League One Blackpool in the Carabao Cup last week, spurning a chance to get to the fourth round for the first time in a decade. Then the players he rested all came back in on Saturday and lost 3-0 at Swansea City in pretty abject style.
What do you make of the job Steve McClaren is doing at the moment?
The fans were very split on whether Ian Holloway was doing a good job or not, and whether sacking him was the right thing. The pitch from the club was that a number of senior players were leaving in the summer, leaving us with a very young squad of talented but inexperienced players who’ve come up through our under-23s, and they wanted an experienced head coach to come in and develop them, improve them and hopefully then sell them on for big money. Holloway was seen as too erratic, too wild, too inconsistent for that after a number of public outbursts and a series of maddening team selections last season.
Once in the job, Steve McClaren has basically ignored all that and gone down a sort of Championship Harry Redknapp route of demanding the club sign him a load of 30-something Premier League players we can’t afford to buy, can barely afford to loan and certainly won’t be able to keep beyond this season.
A prime example of all this is Ryan Manning, a very promising Irish youth international who was in the team playing well and scoring goals from midfield at the end of last season, has been bombed out on loan to Rotherham United where he’s doing exceptionally well and scored against Stoke at the weekend while we’re picking Geoff Cameron, a creaking 33 year-old centre back on loan from Stoke, in the middle of midfield instead.
Paul Smyth and Bright Osayi-Samuel were also playing well at the end of last season and now can’t buy a minute on the pitch, except when we’re throwing out nonsense teams in the League Cup. Having signed two strikers, Nahki Wells and Tomer Hemed, on loan McClaren is now trying to force the rest of the team into a 4-4-2 system to accommodate them which means our two best players Ebere Eze and Luke Freeman are forced to play out of position on the wings (not going well), Cameron is being asked to go box-to-box in the middle of midfield, the full backs are exposed and the centre backs aren’t good enough.
He’s making a bit of a pig’s ear of it so far to be honest.
Any fond memories of games against Reading in years gone by? Any you’d rather forget?
I’ll be honest it’s not my favourite ground to visit given its location and lack of atmosphere and I don’t envy you guys having to sit in it every week. The stand out is the 1-0 win in the Neil Warnock promotion season when we went down to ten men early on but still came back to win with a late goal from Wayne Routledge off a glorious pass from the always brilliant Ale Faurlin. Typical of that team to grind out that win with a goal of that quality in that manner. Those really were the days.
What are the main strengths of this QPR side?
We’ve got some very good players when used correctly. I love Freeman and Eze, like I say, but they’re both being asked to play as wingers in a 4-4-2 currently which doesn’t really suit them. When they played as part of an attacking three behind a lone striker against Millwall last week they looked sensational.
Nahki Wells, unlike Hemed and Cameron, has also really looked the part since he came in on loan and there’s a growing consensus that we need to bite the bullet, drop Hemed and go with Eze playing behind Wells in a 4-2-3-1.
What we don’t know, and one of the many reasons that relying on them is such a daft idea, is whether these loan deals include clauses that say the players have to play. We have some really good young kids coming through, but don’t expect to see any of those on Tuesday.
The defence is poor, particularly at centre-back. Toni Leistner has settled reasonably well since arriving in the summer from Union Berlin but he’s slow. We can’t get Grant Hall fit to partner him and Joel Lynch and Alex Baptiste are League One standard. To try and compensate for that we’ve dropped the two central midfielders very deep to sit right in front of them for extra protection, but that leaves acres of space for opponents to play through the midfield and also means we can’t do any sort of pressing at all.
When we have the ball, the attacking players are frequently surrounded in possession with no options to pass to. Playing two ‘tens’ as wingers in a 4-4-2 keeps leaving our full-backs exposed. The biggest weakness is the system we’re trying to play at the moment, it suits only two of the ten outfield players and it’s not working.
How do you see the game going, and what will the score be?
I think it’ll be one of the worst football games you’ve ever seen before in your life, and one of the teams will accidentally win it 1-0.