|QPR is a strange club, in my mind, they are the very definition of bang average. I know that may well be unfair, but I have never come across a QPR fan in day-to-day life and that in turn has led to me knowing little or nothing about them. For their part, the club hasn't exactly made many headlines in recent seasons.
The manager on the other hand I do know a bit about, Gareth Ainsworth was always an 'in your face' sort of player, now retired and in his 50s, but still wearing more than shoulder-length hair. He is married with three children and fronts a band called the Cold Blooded Hearts, who released an album entitled 'The Cold Light of Day' last month. So, there are plenty of contradictions to be going on with.
From a football perspective, Ainsworth is something of a cult hero at his previous clubs Preston, Wimbledon, QPR, Port Vale, Lincoln City, and Wycombe Wanderers and likes his teams to be aggressive and press high.
Ainsworth was appointed manager of QPR in February of this year with the team deep in trouble in 20th place in the Championship. They still finished the season 20th, but some six points clear of the relegation zone.
The manager seems to be moulding a team in his own reflection, so I am expecting a feisty afternoon!
|As we were finishing lunch the teams were announced and the rumours were true, there was no Ché Adams in the team, or even on the bench!
The back defence pretty much picked itself:
Bazanu Walker-Peters, Bednarek, Stephens, Manning
The middle three were:
Alcaraz, Charles, Stuart Armstrong
The front line was:
Amo-Ameyaw (Making his first senior start), Adam Armstrong, Edozie
It struck me that, given the QPR team would be physical, the Saints lineup was a bit light on experience and size. This was going to be harder than I was expecting it to be.
Saints would, as usual, wear the red and white striped home kit, with black shorts and white socks.
Adam Armstrong scored again and he struck up an immediate rapport with debutant Ryan Fraser
|Well, that went pretty much as expected. At least with QPR being 'robust' anyway. Saints made heavy weather of winning but given the comings and goings at the club and now Adams being absent mulling over his future, I guess it was a decent enough result. four games played, three wins and a draw. That has exceeded my expectations so far.
Once again there was a decent crowd of over thirty thousand, which is a real surprise, given the appalling stuff on offer last season. The last time Saints were relegated I think the crowds dropped immediately to around an average of twenty to twenty-five thousand. There is definitely a more upbeat feel to things these days.
It soon became clear that QPR's tactics were to leave just the big centre-forward, Sinclair Armstrong upfield and defend like terriers, always looking for the break. This tactic seemed to work, at least as far as blunting our attack. The exception was Edozie who seemed to be making life difficult for their defenders, routinely skinning the full-back, but always short of passing options when he got to the byeline.
One move down the right saw good work by Amo-Ameyaw who sent a lovely teasing cross into the box and which was met by Alcaraz, who could only head tamely into the arms of the goalie, Begovic the ex-Pompey player and a regular target of verbal abuse from the Northam all through the game.
On the other side of the pitch, Manning put Edozie through and he left the full-back sat on his backside, and pulled the ball back, but Adam Armstrong was heavily marked and his shot hit a defender which went out for a corner which came to nothing.
Once again Edozie charged down the left twisting and turning the defenders, until he was on the verge of the penalty area, when Smyth brought him down and was an easy free kick for the referee to give. Stephens took the kick, which resulted in a prolonged bout of head-tennis before the defenders managed to clear.
That turned out to be Stephens' last contribution, as there was a coming together between players that I missed, but I was aware that Stephens had gone down and when I looked he was on his back, thumping the ground and obviously in real pain. The trainers spent some time with him and then slowly walked him off the ground and that was his day done. Downes came on in midfield for his Saints debut, with Charles dropping back into Stephens' place at the heart of the defence.
Within five minutes Saints had the lead when Manning sent another great pass to Edozie, who broke clean through, turning at least three defenders, before sending a shot goalwards which seemed to go underneath the outstretched Begovic for Sam's first goal for Saints. The place erupted and the applause was well-earned by the youngster. 1-0.
I just don't know what to say about what happened next, other than within two minutes it was 1-1.
Saints were caught cold. QPR worked the ball down the right and a shot was half cleared with the ball only going as far as Colbeck and with it obligingly sitting up for him he sent a volley arrowing goalwards. It hit the inside of the post and flew across behind Bazanu, who had no chance whatsoever.
After the match Martin was clearly annoyed with the team conceding immediately after scoring for the second game in a row and I suspect that this will be a priority to make sure this doesn't happen again.
Just after that Bazunu made a wonderful save from the equally wonderfully named Chair. The ball dropped loose and Sinclair Armstrong was there to bundle the ball over the line, but the linesman's flag was up immediately as the big striker was clearly offside.
That was the last meaningful action of the half and it finished 1-1, with Saints looking a bit out of sorts.
No changes after the break but before too long Alcaraz, who was not having the best of games, made a mistake in midfield, gifting possession to QPR who then broke with purpose and Chair drew an impressive save from Bazunu to save what seemed a certain goal. the keeper batted the shot aside, but it went behind for a corner.
Saints just seemed unable to break out of their half and the players seemed to be panicking. Two, or three shots came in, but fortunately, they were each fractionally wide.
Martin was going nuts on the sidelines and then had a brief consultation with the coaches and Mara and Fraser made ready to come on. Eventually, there was a break in the play, when Amo-Ameyaw and the disappointing Alcaraz were substituted. Edozie moved to the right wing and Fraser took his place on the left, while Adam Armstrong dropped back into midfield and Mara took his place at the front.
The changes had an immediate effect, with both Fraser and Adam Armstrong tormenting the away side's defenders. This budding partnership soon reaped the rewards of the changes.
There was some crisp interplay between Walker-Peters, Manning, Fraser, Stuart Armstrong and Adam Armstrong, ending with a cute pass from Manning to AdamA, who swivelled and sent a piledriver across goal into the far corner. GOAL! And the crowd went wild. Again.
Just as an aside, on the day I wasn't that impressed with Manning, but just looking at my notes I am surprised to see how often his name crops up in the important passages of the play and he is always critically involved in dead ball situations. I have come to the conclusion that he is absolutely crucial to the way this team plays now.
Not long after Manning had a pot shot at goal and it only just went the wrong side of the upright.
Saints then went into game management mode, keeping the ball away from QPR and some of the football was superb, particularly Downes, who is clearly going to be crucial to the team going forward. The only time they briefly lost control was when Stuart Armstrong had a shot at goal which came back into play and there was some frantic backpedalling by Saints to snuff out the danger.
Saints then broke forward and Mara was on his own but was brought down, earning a free kick from the referee. In some really quick thinking, he spotted Fraser making a run and took the kick quickly sending the Scot clean through on goal. Begovic came right out to narrow the angle and Fraser shot straight at the keeper, who batted the ball safely away. A few more games under his belt and I would back the little man to score in a one-on-one situation like that.
There was still time for an edge-of-the-seat moment when QPR threw caution to the wind. Their substitute who seemed to have some sort of wild animal on his head - I don't believe for a second that was all his own hair - broke through, but in a display of incredible calmness Bednarek and Walker-Peters played their way out of trouble.
A short time later it was all over and the monkey was off Saints' back, they had scored the first home win of the season and the first home league win the long-suffering fans had seen since the win over Leicester on the 4th of March.
There were plenty of candidates, including the debutants Downes and Fraser, as well as the goal scorers, Edozie and Adam Armstrong. But on reflection, the player pulling all the strings and getting the team to function was the player that on the day didn't impress me - Ryan Manning. He is the glue that holds this embryonic team together.