On November 19th, Ian Holloway took charge of his first QPR game in his second spell as manager. That’s a little over five months ago - and, goodness me, have emotions ever been more up and down under one Rangers manager in such a short time? Alright, Jim Magilton had us playing like Brazil 1970 for about three weeks, shortly before getting his marching orders after allegedly decking Akos Buszaky following a tetchy defeat at Watford. But Holloway’s successes and failures have all been about what’s happened on the field - and has anything really surprised us about what has happened so far?
His first reign at Rangers is remembered for the incredible spirit he fostered, as a threadbare squad bounced back from the brink and won promotion, with everybody singing from the same hymn sheet, if you will. But it was also a time when, particularly after getting their Championship status back, the team would go on long runs where they couldn’t buy a win, and where Holloway’s tactical nous was called into question.
My shorthand for Ollie back then, whenever asked, was that he’d been a brilliant motivator but a limited tactician. This appeared to be borne out later on, as he improbably got Blackpool into the Premier League and then went gung-ho, losing 5-4 every week. It was great to watch, and beat the hell out of Harry Redknapp and his “bonus games” on the road, but the outcome was predictable and inevitable. He then took Crystal Palace up and lost the crowd almost immediately; and then, after keeping Millwall up, suffered the unenviable fate of having the Den faithful turn on him the next season.
When Rangers’ fortunes started to turn around at Wolves on New Year’s Eve, and Ollie changed formation successfully for a number of games, people began to mutter that he’d come back a better tactician than when he left; some musing that the time he’d spent analysing games for Sky had helped him no end. Of course we only see the team on a Saturday (or a Sunday or a Thursday, etc etc), and we don’t know what happens on the training ground during the week. But for a while there, it looked like it was clicking - and there was a proper method to all this.
Ryan Manning came in and looked like he’d been playing first team football for years, Pawel Wsolek was on fire, Conor Washington felt wanted and responded in kind, and Luke Freeman was prized from the clutches of Bristol City, leaving you wondering why a ‘bigger’ club hadn’t come in for him.
There was a bit of a stutter in February, with defeats at Blackburn and Huddersfield, coming on the back of the Burton/Newcastle nonsense, before the team got their rhythm and confidence back, culminating in the kind of defeat of a soon-to-be-relegated team that Rangers don’t usually do, against Rotherham. And we know the rest. Yes, some defeats have been unlucky - here or there a goal that wasn’t, a penalty given, a penalty not given. But I get heartily sick of hearing managers moan about decisions - and when it comes to such things, Holloway is in the whingeing Warnock camp. Say what you like about Chris Ramsey or JFH, and many do, but they rarely if ever tried to deflect from their team’s or their selection’s shortcomings by complaining about referees after the game.
The fact is, stating the bleeding obvious, QPR do not score enough goals, and they concede too many. Granted there have been injuries, particularly in defence, but the weekly tinkering with the team has done no-one any favours, and substitutions are used up trying to repair a two-goal deficit, with one or two rogue line-up selections usually being the players withdrawn. What the thinking was behind starting against Brighton, the best team in the division, with the patently unfit Ravel Morrison coming in from the cold, and a rusty Jack Robinson, Olly only knows. It took their withdrawal, the change seeing Ryan Manning marauding down the left, and Freeman and Yeni brought on, for Rangers to then dominate the visitors for the last 15 minutes. Too little too late.
I alluded to Burton/Newcastle, which is Holloway’s five months in microcosm really. Coming off the back of a hard-fought point in a local derby with Fulham, with what should really have been three points against Burton, Olly rested Manning and Jamie Mackie in favour of Michael Doughty (another in from the cold), and an unfit Lua Lua. We were awful, and deserved to lose, only to go to St James’ Park and grind out an impressive draw. In retrospect, had we fielded the kind of team we should have against the Brewers, we’d more likely to have banked three points - and even had we lost at Newcastle, we’d be two priceless points better off than we are now.
It seems to me that Holloway’s rotation is about trying to keep people happy, when a team not clear of relegation worries should really be playing their best XI, barring injuries. Either that or he’s so convinced of Blackburn’s doom that he’s looking at people with one eye on next season: a dangerous game. Six defeats on the spin (again - when did that last happen to us twice in a single season at this level?) only drains players’ confidence; and, more specifically, every game where the team is as narrow as it has been in this current losing run is a game thrown away.
Pretty much exclusively our best performances since late November have come when we’ve used wide players, getting to the byline and whipping crosses in. Idrissa Sylla isn’t the greatest striker I’ve seen, but if he’s getting repeat service from Pawel, a fit Lua Lua, or anyone else capable of crossing a ball, he’s going to score a few. Lynch and Onouha lumping it to Matt Smith’s head, as we have seen, has limited success, to put it mildly, and is dull to watch. The manager protested after Brentford completed their double over us that he wasn’t a tinkerman, and that he was trying to pick a team to win games - which begs the question how does he think he’s going to do that by persisting with this wingless game limiting chances on goal?
When Rangers took Holloway on again, there was always going to be baggage. The rambling press conferences, the jumping up and down at the fourth official with his trusty lieutenant of dubious qualification (blue hair?) Marc Bircham at his side, the whole emotional package that means they don’t want to fail, no-one at the club wants them to fail, none of the fans want them to fail. It’s all sentiment wrapped up in memories of Hillsborough in 2004, a last-minute screamer at Griffin Park a year earlier. They’ll be cut a lot more slack than JFH ever would have got.
Same with the return of Jamie Mackie - honest, wholehearted player, embodied the spirit of Neil Warnock’s Championship team - but two goals in two seasons, and a lot of injuries buys him a heap more credit than A N Other unfit signing that fails to light the place up. Heaven knows what I was doing looking at a messageboard, but before the Brighton game some (presumably) armchair fans were getting in a bit of an online froth about how great it was that model professional Ravel Morrison was starting the game. This was probably fired by some significant event like a memory of a free-kick at the Loft End three years ago. And yet our Director of Football, Les Ferdinand, with all due respect a footballer none of the names I mention in this paragraph were fit to lace the boots of, continues to get dogs’ abuse. But I won’t dwell on that, as others have covered the subject very succinctly in a recent issue. We’re just a teensy bit short-sighted sometimes, us football fans.
So what of next season? Should the unthinkable happen, everyone at the club bar Karl Henry and Ravel Morrison has a duty to fix it. Alex Smithies could go with everyone’s best wishes - far too good a goalkeeper to be playing in the third tier, and one we have to thank for a good number of the points we’ve managed to accrue this season. If Holloway wanted to walk, the club should refuse him that right. If, however, we’re in the Championship... then the same thing applies, except hopefully keeping Player of the Year (elect) Smithies. The club’s done way, way too much chopping and changing in recent years. It’s getting tedious all this unpicking of the personnel every winter. The club, and the manager they currently employ, need to stop doing that, find something that works and stick with it.
While top-flight football is suspended for the foreseeable future, you are cordially invited to visit this page in order to get a small fix of QPR. Each day, we will post a random article from our archives - and with over 15 million words making it in to print over the years, we can sit out this one for as long as it takes! Underneath each new daily article, we’ll provide a link to previous postings, so you won’t miss out. Of course, if you like what you read and decide to subscribe or to take advantage of our special 2019/20 season bundle offer, that’s what will really keep us going through this! So settle down and enjoy your free daily fix of QPR... on us.
Previous Daily Fixes