Story of a Match: QPR

Posted by on November 28, 2011 in Match Analysis | 5 comments

Colin came, Colin saw, Colin pissed off without any points and an appointment at specsavers. According to Mrs Doubtfire, QPR got mugged. But is that the case? Exactly how did the team with 17 shots on goal beat the team with 13 shots on goal 2-1?

We were better than them

More or less. I could just leave this match review there, but I feel like illustrating my point with pictures. Now, I don’t mean to say we were better than them for the full 90 minutes. We weren’t. QPR showed decent ability on the ball, not unexpected with Faurlin in centre midfield, and in Mackie/SWP had a couple of dangerous players, even if the latter did spend more time on his arse than his feet. I have to admit, I was wary going into the match having seen the lineups. Regular readers of this here award nominated blog will know that I’m a huge fan of Hoolahan and Fox, and I think they should generally be starting matches if they’re fit. You’ll also know that I have been highly critical of Andrew Crofts’ appearances so far this season, and a midfield that included Crofts, Johnson and Surman suggested a match where we would struggle to retain possession and may lose the midfield. While elements of this were true (we had less possession, for example), it wasn’t a killer blow. In fact, Crofts was hugely improved from his performance vs Arsenal.

The above is just a crude snapshot, but it illustrates a general point. Against Arsenal, Crofts is pretty out of his depth. He didn’t get on the ball much, didn’t offer a lot of help in winning it and was a bit of a bystander. Against QPR and, in fairness, against a team more down at our level, he was much improved, winning the ball in key areas and providing a solid body in front of the back four.

The first half was among the worst football matches I have seen in years, a drab experience of midfield ineptitude, set pieces and boredom. Ruddy wasn’t called upon to make a save until the 46th minute and Norwich deservedly led on the basis we had contrived to actually shoot at goal. A revolutionary tactic. The second half started slightly differently, however, as QPR raised their game and, with the introduction of Bothroyd for Hill, really began to threaten. They deservedly drew level with a goal that contained so many Norwich cock-ups it’s going to take four pictures to explain it.

Ignore the dumb facebook link. So, part 1. The ball comes into the Norwich backline, Tierney heads it down towards the box and Ruddy, as you can see, is on his way to come and pick it up. This is clearly news to Leon Barnett who puts his left foot into the ball and clears it all of 20 yards down the pitch. I don’t think any individual player takes all the blame here, but I’ve seen a lot of people point the finger at Leon and I don’t agree. If he hears a call from Ruddy to leave the ball, he can protect it and allow the keeper to come and collect it. He doesn’t, so he does what all good defenders do; clears. Unfortunately, his clearance didn’t go very far.

Part 2. Now the ball has been cleared and is at the feet of, I think, Faurlin. It doesn’t really matter. In front of him is the back four as well as two Norwich midfielders – neither of whom put him under pressure. In fact, the movement of Surman actually shows him into the middle of the pitch. He shows him into the space where a long shot would be most ideal, instead of pressing up close to try and win the ball, or trying to force him wide. This is just dumb. So now you’ve got some poor communication, a poor clearance and poor decision making to allow the shot to come in.

Parts 3 and 4. After being shown inside and invited to take the shot, Faurlin does, and cracks the post. Tierney, who was 10 yards deeper than Luke Young just seconds earlier, stands to admire the shot, showing the anticipation of a drugged up sloth in the process. Young, doing his best Russell Martin impression, is first on hand to slot the ball away, completely unchallenged as Tierney stood and slowly tried to comprehend the danger of losing the man you’re supposed to mark.

This is why we don’t keep clean sheets, and as long as we keep winning or stay above relegation, I don’t care all that much. But it’s the needless errors that have plagued the defence all season, showing the naivity of a bunch of players who, for 99% of the game, play outstandingly. It is a steep learning curve, and they get punished more in the Premier League than they ever did in leagues below, but until they learn to cut out these errors or judgement, we’ll always need to just score more than the other team.

Change in system

Which is what we did against QPR. Having conceded the equaliser, the game was poised until the introduction of Hoolahan and Holt. 3 minutes later, they combined to bundle in the winning goal. But that wasn’t their only impact. Norwich enjoyed a good spell once both men were introduced and it wasn’t just down to their individual abilities or the crowd suddenly being enthused. The change in system, from a 4-4-2 to the diamond, benefitted everyone. Crofts, Surman and Johnson looked more composed, Wes was able to attack freely and Holt put in a great cameo, bulling defenders and winning the ball high.

This can be seen the messy abstract art above. For the first 69 minutes, Norwich had a pass completion of 68% and no real focus. Some passes were played down the wings but neither Pilkington or Surman have bags of pace so there wasn’t a lot of joy to be had, and Crofts/Johnson in midfield were never going to dominate. For the final 20 minutes, we had a pass completion of 75%, prioriting the middle of the pitch, swamping out dangerous players like Faurlin and getting plenty of balls into the box. No one showed the strength of this system more than Wes, mind.

In his 20 minute spell, he only misplaced 1 ball. Only 1. All but 2 of his passes were in the opposition half, and he frequently got the ball into dangerous areas, either in the box or out wide, high up the pitch. It was the sort of performance he did so well at last year, because he had the safety net of 3 midfielders behind him. And these midfielders raised their game too.

As you can see, in the last 20 minutes, Johnson and Surman were hugely accurate with their passing. In seeing out a win over a rival, they were calm, composed and managed to find Norwich shirts over and over again. Surman in particular was able to get the ball into dangerous areas, linking very well with Wes, while Johnson was more stable, sitting with Crofts and breaking up play.

Conclusion. 

Lambert has deflected a lot of the praise for the tactical change which saw us win the game, and he’s half right to do so. The players out on the pitch are the ones who worked hard for the result – harder than QPR who were lethargic most of the game, really lacking the missing Barton. The players worked well as a team and, despite the mistakes for the QPR equaliser, defended well throughout. Ruddy didn’t have a great deal to do and the QPR strikers had afternoons to forget. But it’s worth noting Lambert’s contribution, because it was his decision to adapt the shape on the pitch to one that players like Surman, Wes and Crofts are all comfortable with. When SWP was taken off, most of their wide threat was missing, and this tactical switch saw us get the goal then see out the victory. It probably won’t be a formation we can try against a lot of teams, but against one that is at our level, against players we’ve seen it work against before, it was the right decision and the players stepped up. Which is nice, because the match really was boring as fuck for a good hour or so.

Credit also has to go to the so far unmentioned Steve Morison and Simeon Jackson. While neither got goals, both had excellent games, working really hard off not a lot of service. It was nice to see Jacko get a start and hopefully he will get more chances as the season rolls along.

Chalkboards as ever come from the wonderful folks at the Guardian.

5 Comments

  1. Bang on in my opinion. Only one minor point, I think it was mackie who hit the post :-)

  2. That was pointed out on the wrath too. If I could be bothered to change it… I might.

  3. Interesting analysis, as always.

    I’m in total agreement with what you say on the goal we gave away. But if I could just add one more thing – couldn’t Barnett have made a bit more effort to block the shot? I know by this stage we’ve already royally screwed up, but given Martin’s heroics last week, Barnett’s final lunge for the ball looked a bit lackluster.

    I think the debate about whether Lambert got the system right or wrong is an interesting one. I think I largely agree with what you say. I’ve said before that I don’t think Crofts has quite been cutting it this season, and I’ve said many times that Fox and Hoolahan are integral parts of our midfield. I think you have to give credit to Lambert for the risk he took with the lineup and formation on saturday. He’d be all to aware that if he was wrong, and we lost the game, every corner of Norfolk would be criticising him for leaving Wes out. But you’ve got to assume that Warnock would have prepared his side ready to face to threat of Hoolahan, and would not have been expecting the team that lined up. In contrast, from the Stoke game, QPR just brought in Derry for the suspended Barton, which was no surprise. I think Lambert rolled the dice here, and just about pulled it off.

    Now we certainly weren’t playing scintillating football. But first XI vs first XI, we won 1-0. For all QPR’s improvement after half time, it was only once they made they brought on Bothroyd that they actually made a breakthrough. I thought it was interesting that Lambert reacted immediately and replaced De Laet with Naughton. De Laet was having an okay game, and didn’t look especially injured, so I’m not sure, but this looked to me at the time to be a tactical move to counter Wright Phillips moving out wide. We did then concede of course, but down to (a host of) personal errors rather than tactical misgivings. SWP remained ineffective, so I think that, if deliberate, this was another good move by Lambert.

    One further point on the initial tactics, which you touched upon, was that I thought we did very well to suppress Faurlin, who I think is the ace in their pack. Crofts looked a lot better today, and both he and Johnson did a great job of closing down the players around Faurlin and limiting his passing options. If you have a look at this chalkboard:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/chalkboards/06663ym794IuCb258XZV

    You can clearly see that Faurlin’s passing is overwhelmingly square (from side to side), and concentrated on the half way line. Almost every forward pass attempt has been cut out. Compare this to any other QPR game and you’ll see we did very well to limit him.

    Another interesting statistic is that Morison received 48 passes, almost twice as many as any player on our team. With the change in personel came a change in a approach. In previous games I’ve pointed out how without Fox, our midfield can’t effectively link defence and attack. But here, we haven’t needed to. We’ve bypassed them and let Morison do battle with Gabbidon and Ferdinand. Again, this is a massive risk. Previously we’ve seen hapless long balls hit hopefully with no real direction and no result. But Morison had the beating of them on saturday. Whether this was a designed plan or luck I don’t know. Last week I showed how ineffective Barnett’s passing was without Fox on the pitch, the prime example being the Villa game. Comparing his stats from that game to QPR is remarkable:

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/chalkboards/v879041345H591tS87H1

    Everything was connecting this week. Of course, then there was the all important game-changing substitution which you’ve explained well. These tactics will not work for many games this season. But Lambert has played his cards perfectly here. Sometimes it’s good to keep your aces up your sleeve for a bit.

  4. Great analysis as ever Holtamania. One thing I will point out is that their goal was from a quick long-field kick. In addition to all the mistakes that you have pointed out, the positioning of our defence was woeful. Naughton was well up the pitch leaving us with 3 v 3 at the back. Neither of the 2 covering midfielders were positioned goal side of their men and the back four was a zig-zag even before the kick was made. It meant Russell martin had to charge out to attack the ball leaving a 30 yard gap between him and Barnett, and completely taking Tierney out of the play.

    What disappoints me most is that in Culverhouse we have an incredibly experienced defender with a great pedigree and coaching experience and really mistakes such as those on Saturday should be not only ironed out but easy to as well.

  5. Broadly agree with analysis – unimpressive game brought to life by Wes and GH – still can’t quite see why they don’t start, even if they get replaced later. Still concerned that being busy is thought of as a good contribution – by you and by PL and IC. I’ve been away this week and was travelling while Man City game on. Pleased that Surman was retained, but still worry about Crofts at this level. Where I disagree is about Jackson’s contribution – busy to the point of headless chicken. As the chap seated behind me points out for all to consider, Jackson fails to control the ball every time he receives a pass – it bounces 4,5 or 6 feet away off him. Not up to it at all.

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