Confirmation in the press that Todorov will be out for the rest of the season with a ruptured anterior cruciate ligament is dreadful news, for him personally and the club. He has looked a class above others in his ability to link play (greatly helping Reid and others) and create space by dropping deep and taking defenders with him – as well as score goals. I was really looking forward to seeing him play more.
In practical terms it leaves us with three strikers (assuming no repeat of the less-than-successful experiment last season of using Sam as an outright forward), with two for the future, Walker and Dickson, and a failure, Marcus Bent, out on loan (Yeovil for three months, Gillingham for another month, and Wigan for the season respectively).
Maybe we can get a quick call in to Martin Jol at Spurs. ‘Come on, Martin, you know you’re on your way out. Why not have a laugh before you go. You know that striker you paid £16.5m for in the summer and have barely used, and who your supporters don’t seem to like, well he could use the games and …. ‘ Barring such salvation, and assuming we can’t bring back Dickson early, it’s a case of Hobson’s Choice for now: Iwelumo and Varney with McLeod as back-up.
If there is a silver lining it could be Dickson. Of course we’ve only seen him in the reserves and in pre-season and are aware he’s not the finished product. But he gave the impression to me, albeit only at Welling, that along with lightening pace he loves scoring goals and isn’t (yet) scared of missing. Rough diamond indeed. The club obviously saw something special in him – and if through circumstances his chance comes earlier than expected so be it. We should be saying the same about McLeod, but aside from the impressive cameo against Norwich against a tiring defence he has struggled – and was poor on Tuesday night.
I don’t tend to like doing match previews. It might be that I’m much more comfortable pontificating over where it all went wrong than conjuring up some revolutionary and instantly successful formation. But I hope/think it’s rather down to three good reasons.
First, in the cold light of day I’m well aware that Pardew and his ilk have forgotten more about football in a day than I will ever know. Getting the best out of the players and choosing the right combinations and tactics are what they get paid for and in general I’m happy to bow to their better judgement. (It’s just that it seems so different during and just after a game; maybe they put something in the wine in the pubs close to the ground – that might after all explain why it’s so bloody awful.)
Second, for all I know a team formation that I have carefully thought out is based around a player who the previous day staggered into training one step ahead of the rozzers having pranged his Porsche on the way back from an all-day/night bender. Or rather, as it might be outlined in the programme notes, he’d picked up a slight knock. (As an aside, it would be nice if Pardew and others were a little more forthcoming, after a game, about the thinking behind the line-up; then we could really lay into them for getting it wrong.)
Third, most of the time I know next to nothing about the team we are playing. I turned into a true Premiership snob and in recent years would just catch the Championship highlights on a hazy Sunday morning for a chuckle. I’m assuming that QPR will be pants on Saturday simply because of their league position, not because I could name their players or their likely formation. They will come and defend because in an open game we would be vastly superior; they will be happy to leave with a 0-0 and will fail to do so because we will take some of the many chances we create – all pure prejudice on my part.
So with those caveats …
Not so long ago I thought we had good cover in all positions and would be able to tinker with the team while keeping the same shape. I still think that’s the case, but injuries have severely limited the options available at the moment. Holland, Powell, Thatcher, Gibbs and Todorov are all out. Added to that, McCarthy has not yet shown the ability that Pardew clearly believed he has when he bought him, Thomas may still have his head in the clouds (maybe he has got his mind right, I don’t know), Ambrose still flatters to deceive, and McLeod doesn’t yet look ready to start a game.
With Sinclair, Dickson, Walker and Youga out on loan, who are the players who didn’t start on Tuesday night who could come into the equation? Well, Randolph, Sankofa, Basey, Sodje, McCarthy, Racon, Ambrose, Thomas, Christensen, possibly Arter, and Sam (available again) would seem to be the sum total. But apart from Sam (whose return will presumably keep Christensen out of Pard’s thinking) there’s no compelling case to be made for the alternatives.
Instead I think it’s a case of Pardew picking pretty much the same team and telling them to prove to him (and us) they are as good as he has said they are. We are assuming that QPR will be weaker than Plymouth – so if a youngster came in and did OK we may not learn much about his ability to stand up against the better teams – and there is no midweek game coming up, so no need to think of resting players (Reid is the only real doubt on that front). So put a rocket up their arses and push ‘em out on the pitch.
With Sam back and assuming Reid continues, it’s the bench for Thomas and/or Ambrose. And as the only experiment at the back on Tuesday (switching Mills and bringing back Moutaouakil) worked pretty well, in that Mills was excellent and Yassin got better as the game progressed, it’s reasonable to assume that it will be repeated, at least ahead of a mooted loan signing.
That really only leaves whether Sodje should be given a start at the expense of Fortune or Bougherra, whether Racon should get the nod over Semedo or Zhi, and whether Randolph is chosen over Weaver. I haven’t seen enough of Racon to venture an opinion on that front (he looked good against Stockport) and to drop Weaver would be harsh, although something’s wrong with the defence and Weaver still doesn’t seem to command the box or communicate enough to his defenders.
Maybe it is time to bring in Sodje. Neither Fortune nor Bougherra could complain if dropped (and what has happened to those storming runs forward that Magic used to make for Sheff Wed?). We are assuming that QPR will not put us under that much pressure, so would a clean sheet with Fortune and Bougherra together really tell us anything about their ability to cope against better teams?
My team (injuries and other wildcard factors notwithstanding):
Weaver, Moutaouakil, Sodje, Bougherra, Mills, Reid, Semedo, Zhi, Sam, Iwelumo, Varney. Subs: Randolph, McCarthy, Racon, Thomas, McLeod,