While many had hoped that the international break would act as a watershed for change and the renewal of our collective belief in the direction of travel of the club, we instead remain a club limping into the minefield of the busiest period of the season, still with more questions than answers.
Leading the charge, Zombie David Wagner, against all the laws of footballing physics, somehow staggers on in search of brains. Specifically, the brains to see that the system he dogmatically clings to in rejection of all others, is in fact, not only not working but is actively draining the confidence and morale of the players.
The scenes that greeted Adam Idah’s late winner at Cardiff and the subsequent full-time whistle showed that the players still care and how desperate they were to put in a winning performance, but let’s not kid ourselves that the first decent half-hour of football we’ve played since September was evidence of a team and a gameplan that’s suddenly on the up.
We won in Cardiff because Desperate Dave threw all his attacking options on, had Kenny McLean pinging balls up from centre-back, and we took advantage of the mistakes of a Cardiff side that weren’t prepared for the Alamo suddenly appearing in the middle of what had, up to the last quarter, been a relatively routine home win.
However, momentum is momentum, and in QPR we may be up against one of the few sides whose confidence is as febrile as our own.
Having won only two games all season and none since September 2nd, QPR took the unprecedented step of listening to their middle-aged divorcee fanbase and admitting they made a mistake in appointing Gareth Ainsworth. They replaced him with Marti Cifuentes, who has so far overseen just a 1-1 draw at Rotherham – who later sacked their manager – and a 0-0 draw at home to Bristol City, who themselves were in the midst of a managerial change (those crazy fickle idiots, not waiting until they’ve lost enough games to be relegated before sacking someone).
As such, it’s tricky to predict how QPR will line up at Carrow Road, as Cifuentes is still getting to know his players and the two-week break will have given him his first opportunity to stamp his own personal style and gameplan upon the team. He began with a 4-3-3 against Brizzle.
In goal, QPR have the giant figure of the over-worked Asmir Begovic. At right back, home-grown Osman Kakay, a Sierra Leone international, was in Cifuentes’ first selection, and he has also spent time in a back-three on occasion this season. His main competition on the right side is USA international Reggie Cannon, a summer signing from Boavista.
At left back, Kenneth Paal started the last two matches, as he has for the majority of the season, and is a progressive attacking full-back or wing-back raised in the PSV academy. He is backed up by the experienced Morgan Fox who has plenty of Championship experience at previous clubs, Stoke and Sheffield Wednesday.
In the centre of defence, the regular starting duo all season has been former Bournemouth stalwart Steve Cook, and the highly-rated Man United academy graduate Jimmy Dunne, who is one of the few Rangers players whose reputation has survived the last couple of painful seasons at Loftus Road. The alternative option, who has seen game time, particularly when they’ve gone to a back three, has been Jake Clarke-Salter, a Chelsea youngster who took the traditional path of a loan-a-season for umpteen years before they tossed him aside on a free.
In midfield, Cifuentes started with his most established and experienced options against Brizzle. Sam Field is their reigning player of the season and is a talented box-to-box player who is capable of being aggressive and passing the ball constructively.
They also have Andre Dozzell, an experienced playmaker, attempting to dictate the tempo, and Jack Colback signed in the summer from Nottingham Forest has added his trademark bustling approach.
Another possibility in the middle would be Taylor Richards, who was a highly-touted youngster at Fulham before being snapped up by Man City who then subsequently sold him on to Brighton for decent money. While he never made an impact at the Amex he did get 11 goals from midfield for Doncaster on loan and looks like one of those players that could click under the right manager.
Alternatively, Elijah Dixon-Bonner has seen action this season, albeit mainly from the bench, and he came through the academies at both Arsenal and Liverpool before joining the Rs.
In attack, the starting wide spots last time out went to Chris Willock and Paul Smyth. Willock had a couple of great seasons for QPR where he was a consistent threat running at defences with pace, power and trickery and a Premier League move seemed to be guaranteed but it never materialised and in the last year or so his star has dimmed. He’ll be one that Cifuentes will hope to get the best out of. Smyth is a pacy attacker and is in his second spell at QPR having followed Ainsworth back from Wycombe. Other options are the 73-year-old Albert Adomah, or Guyanese winger Stephen Duke-McKenna.
And then there’s Ilias Chair. Widely regarded as QPR’s most technically gifted player, the Moroccan international is another for whom an expected big-money move has never quite materialised. This is possibly because he is most comfortable in the number 10 role, which is not currently as tactically popular as it previously had been. He has been used out wide quite often this season, although he was suspended against Bristol City and so is a likely returner at Carrow Road.
Up front, Lyndon Dykes has so far been Cifuentes’ first-choice striker and is a big, ungainly unit that can occasionally be effective. His main competition in the role is Sinclair Armstrong, a home-grown Irishman, who is a big ungainly unit that can occasionally be effective. They also have American Charlie Kelman as a rarely used alternative.
Overall, had we been playing them a few weeks ago this would have been a much simpler proposition but having changed manager, we’re unsure what version of QPR will turn up. If the new manager can stamp his own imprint tactically, he has some raw talents like Chair and Willock to mould a side around.
Personally, I think the squad is disjointed and unbalanced and it will take Cifuentes a window or two to put things right.
I would fancy Norwich, despite their appearance of The Walking Dead, to stumble through to three points in what should be, on paper, almost the perfect opponent at this point in time. Although, as we know with this Norwich team, it only takes one defensive error to be punished and it can all go to hell-in-a-handcart very quickly.