Reading make the short trip into West London on Tuesday night to take on Queens Park Rangers in Mark Bowen’s first away game. It’ll certainly be a tough contest for him - not to mention an interesting one, given his past at Loftus Road - with Mark Warburton’s side sitting in a lofty fifth position.
What have you made of QPR’s start to the season?
Exciting and massively over and above summer expectations. We obviously finished last season in dire form, three wins in the whole second half of the campaign and more home league defeats than ever before in the history of the club. We changed the manager and basically the whole squad in the summer with (I think) 20 players going out either sold, released or loaned and 16 coming in the other way.
The squad needed a refresh, and the wage bill needed to come down again, but that’s a difficult thing to attempt in one transfer window. We only got Nahki Wells and Jordan Hugill through the door very late in the window so most of the summer previews and predictions had us down as a relegation candidate and I don’t blame them for that. I felt optimistic saying we’d be sixteenth.
But we’ve started really well. We’re playing attractive, attacking football with lots of goals. Ebere Eze, Hugill and Nahki Wells have scored six times each already, and Wells top-scored in the whole of last season with seven. We’ve already won four away games compared to five in the whole of last season, three the season before. The defence is all over the place, third-worst goals conceded record in the league and the only team in the division without a clean sheet, so it’s a bit Keegan-esque but we’re loving life at the moment. We’re a good team to watch, which hasn’t been the case for way too long.
What do you think of the job Mark Warburton’s doing at the moment?
Like I say, relative to what was expected at the start of the season it’s been pretty miraculous. We were warned by his previous clubs that he’s quite inflexible but I haven’t seen that so far: we’ve rotated out of his favoured 4-3-2-1 quite a few times to incorporate two up front or three at the back as and when it’s been needed.
He’s recalled Toni Leistner to the defence having basically written him off over the summer, not particularly his type of player but somebody he felt was needed to try and toughen the defence up. We were also told to expect the same, predictable substitutions after an hour regardless of what was happening but the changes he has made have been pro-active and effective, we’ve come from behind to win three times already.
And apparently he’s a bit prone to cliché and management speak in interviews but again he’s been straight talking and no BS so far. I spent some time at training over the summer as I do most pre-seasons and the training sessions he was putting on were absolutely night and day compared to what Steve McClaren was doing 12 months prior – McClaren supposedly this fabled “coach not a manager” of course. It’s been great. It could all turn to s**t, it often does at QPR, but at the moment very pleased.
Are QPR real promotion contenders?
I’d say no. Like I say, we’re conceding goals for fun, and often very preventable goals as well. We’ve given away more penalties than any other team in the league going back to the start of last season and it’s mostly for really stupid, lunging tackles. We’re having trouble getting any of our goalkeepers into form – two or three of those we’ve let in have been glaring keeper errors. We’ve recently been weak in the air at the back post and from set pieces – Cardiff, Millwall, Luton have all scored soft ones against us like that in the last few weeks.
Also, we’ve beaten some poor sides. Hull, Blackburn, Millwall, Wigan and Stoke were all pretty dire, Sheffield Wednesday’s the only one where we might have beaten a half decent side. When we have played good teams, we’ve lost and lost comfortably – Swansea, Bristol City, West Brom. Cardiff was a bit of an anomaly where we had 70% of the ball and they only had four shots on target and somehow beat us 3-0. So no, but we were never meant to be, the progress we’ve made to even be talked about like that is an achievement.
Quick caveat, I do think it’s a God-awful league this year. Several clubs that were either so awash with money or so well run they were always going to dominate this league have gone – Wolves, Brighton, Newcastle. They’ve been replaced by teams from the Premier League that have bog parachute payments but are in varying degrees of state – Boro, Stoke, Huddersfield. Several others who have spent big to get promoted and not made it are now finding financial rules catching up with them – Derby, Sheff Wed, Birmingham.
Although Charlton have started surprisingly well there’s not been a team come up from League One for a while that’s threatened to go straight up and through like Southampton, Sheff United, Wolves and Bournemouth did. I think the Championship is massively overhyped as this intensely difficult league by the host broadcaster when in actual fact the only thing that makes it hard is the ridiculous schedule that leaves you playing three games a week in all corners of the country for four weeks and then getting a fortnight off. I think it’s particularly average this year so we may have picked a good time to be quite good.
What are your main strengths?
The attack. We’ve got a couple of a good Premier League strikers on loan backed up by three exciting kids of our own in Ebere Eze, tiny Ilias Chair and Bright Osayi-Samuel. Beyond them we’ve got some experience in Marc Pugh and some Premier League youngsters in Luke Amos and Matt Smith ready to come in. We look dangerous.
Defence. As previously stated, we’re struggling to defend adequately and the goalkeeping situation is a concern.
How do you see the game going, and what will the score be?
The new manager thing makes it a bit more unpredictable than it might have been, but Bowen is not a popular man at Loftus Road after being part of the Hughes/Joorabchian clusterf**k of our club so I’m really hoping we stuff a big win down his throat. I think there’ll be lots of goals at both ends and I fancy us to come out on top 3-2 or something like that. My predictions are notoriously awful so you should be glad I feel like this as it means it’s the one thing that won’t happen.