What do you make of QPR's start to the season?
Simply put: good August, bad September.
There have been a lot of changes since we came out of the Premier League, and a very different approach to last time, where we essentially just kept on spending and tried to buy our way out of the division. We’ve released and sold some big earners (Joey Barton, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Stephen Caulker) while shopping more sensibly in lower divisions (Massimo Luongo, Ben Gladwin) and abroad (Sebastian Polter, Tjaronn Chery). We’re working with a director of football (Les Ferdinand) and head coach (Chris Ramsey) and we’ve hired Burnley’s notoriously prudent CEO (Lee Hoos), meaning Tony Fernandes has less of a public presence. So we’re at least trying to do it right, and to begin with things looked promising.
Good performances and/or results against Cardiff, Rotherham, Huddersfield and away at Wolves had us fourth at the end of August. Our better players we expected to leave on deadline day didn’t, so there was a good deal of optimism going into September. Four games later and having been awful in three of them and beaten heavily at Fulham last Friday that’s starting to drain away and a lot of questions are being asked again.
What were your expectations at the start of the season and have they changed?
Les Ferdinand, Chris Ramsey, Lee Hoos, Tony Fernandes and everybody else QPR could get in front of a journalist spent the summer urging caution, talking about building steadily, getting a platform set before we go back into the Premier League again.
Part of the problem has been our previous promotions have been castles built on sand – short term signings for the first team, no investment in infrastructure, poor stadium, lousy training ground, no youth academy and so on. This time there was a lot of talk about getting all that right first, before making a push to go back, and bringing the average age and wage of the team down. But the general message was: consolidate and start building this season. Don’t expect to see us challenging.
What happened then, surprisingly when you see the stupid money being thrown around on some of the other tat you can get in the transfer market these days, nobody met the asking price for either Charlie Austin or Matt Phillips. Leroy Fer failed his medical at Sunderland and we couldn’t get Sandro back in the country in time to sell him. So suddenly our anticipated starting 11 for the season has gained four high quality players for the level. Imagine if, on deadline day, Derby had signed, Austin, Phillips, Fer and Sandro. Expectations would have changed.
On paper ours is now one of the best starting 11s in the division, so having been happy to go along with the consolidation, platform building rhetoric initially, supporters are now looking at the starting 11 and not only thinking it should be capable of having a real dig at promotion, but also worrying how much it’s costing and what further FFP consequences there will be if we don’t go up. Probably no coincidence that with no expectations in August the team played well, and post-deadline day with expectations rising things have gone awry. We’ve now lost Austin and Jamie Mackie to medium-term injuries too, which won’t help.
Is Chris Ramsey the right man for the job?
There’s more against him than for now I think. I could write you an essay, but I’ll try and keep it brief.
Things his critics hold against him: lack of experience as a number one; got the job permanently despite only winning three of his 15 games in charge last season; a perception that he only got the job because he’s mates with Les Ferdinand; a perception that he’s a coach rather than a manager; he’s painfully slow to make substitutions and changes to the system in games when it’s obviously not going well; he’s keeping faith with Karl Henry and a couple of others despite them playing poorly every week; we’ve conceded a shockingly high number of goals since the moment he took over and have the division’s worst defensive record this season apart from Bristol City; he sent Shaun Wright-Phillips on at Man City last season so he could have a standing ovation from the home crowd at the end of his career, QPR were 6-0 down at the time and Wright-Phillips was a parasite at our club and symbolised everything that was wrong about the place to the fans who had been humiliated enough that day without that.
By way of support, mitigation and positives – and I’m still with him I think – he inherited a hopeless situation from the half-retired, half-arsed Harry Redknapp so I disregard his 15 matches last season to some degree. The new system has made some signings that are exactly the sort of signing QPR should have been making when they were going around chasing Ji-Sung Park and other wasters like that – Luongo, Alex Smithies, Gladwin, Chery, good players at good ages with sell on value and decent scout reports rather than old cloggers who were good a long time ago looking for a final pay day. He’s shown a willingness to at least involve, and even occasionally select, the odd youth teamer – although keeping faith with Henry over Michael Doughty, Perch over Darnell Furlong, Konchesky over Cole Kpekawa when none of them are playing well erodes that and give fans a stick to beat him with. When it has clicked, it’s looked good.
Even if you don’t rate him, I’m not convinced tearing it all up and starting all over again, again, is going to do us any good. You’d probably have to rip up the structure we’ve put in place with the DOF and CEO and everything else to persuade somebody to come, it would almost certainly be a ‘name’ like Big Sam or Nigel Pearson and all they’d say is "hands are tied until I can get my own men in January" and off we’d go again making another dozen expensive Kevin Nolan-type signings.
The Fulham game is an interesting microcosm – on our last three visits there, under three different managers, with three entirely different starting elevens, in the last six years, we’ve been 3-0 down at half time on each occasion and ended up thrashed. Sooner or later QPR, and the QPR fans, should probably realise the manager isn’t the (only) problem.
What impact will Charlie Austin's injury have and who will replace him?
Massive and not sure. Mackie would have done had he not torn his own hamstring half an hour before. Seb Polter is the obvious answer as he was bought in the summer to play the lone striker role assuming Austin would be sold. He’s big, and a bit lumbering, and a bit raw, and a bit mad, and very hard working but he’s got his own hamstring problems. Other than him it will probably be a midfielder – Matt Phillips maybe.
Who will be the biggest threat for Bolton without Austin?
We’re at our best when the three man supporting cast behind the lone striker get space to play in and quality ball to their feet. If Luongo, Chery and Phillips are playing well we’re difficult to hold – as Wolves found. If they’re not, we’re awful, as Blackburn and Forest found.
Were you disappointed to miss out on the signing of Tim Ream from Bolton? And did you sign anyone else in his place?
No. Not because I don’t quite rate Tim Ream, and I think he would have fitted in quite well, but I’m pleased QPR are now walking away from deals when the transfer fee, or in this case the wage demands, go too high. Previously we were seen as a get rich quick scheme for players not worth anywhere near what we paid for them, not getting Ream or Daniel Bentley from Southend (who I would have loved) could actually be seen as a positive sign. Plus Gabriele Angella from Watford, who we subsequently signed instead, is a far better player in my opinion – not that there was much evidence to support that on Friday.
What do you make of Bolton this season? Where do you see them finishing up?
It seems you’re rather hamstrung by the finances (understatement). I was impressed with how well Neil Lennon did initially, but that’s mainly because I’m sceptical of the ability of anybody who’s only done well while playing St Mirren and Kilmarnock every week and especially when they’re doing it with Celtic who I reckon I could keep goal for in the SPL myself. He always seemed like a bit of a gobshite with it but I think he showed at Bolton last season that he does have a bit of something about him.
I want to say you look difficult to beat this season – three clean sheets, five draws – but then there’s a 3-0 at Middlesbrough (understandable) and a 4-1 at Huddersfield (what on earth?) to go against that. I haven’t seen a lot of you yet so I wouldn’t like to say. I expected you to be around fourteenth at the start of the year so I guess I expect you to pick up a bit from here but not much.
Who do you see as Bolton's biggest threat (if anyone)?
Was looking forward to seeing Zach Clough but I gather he’s knackered his shoulder so that will have to wait. If Emile Heskey scores I think I’m just going to pack in with football altogether.
And what's your score prediction for Saturday?
Ramsey really needs a win. We’ve been so poor in our recent home games and the Fulham match has the knives out. Without Austin or Mackie for the attack that’s going to be tough, and if we play as we played in the first half against Blackburn it’ll turn ugly. Wouldn’t surprise me to see us go much tighter, much more basic, and somehow just about scramble over the line by a single goal – 1-0 and not one for the neutrals would be my guess. My predictions are notoriously awful.