End of Term Report 15/16 – Goalkeepers
Monday, 20th Jun 2016 12:27 by Clive Whittingham
The first part of our annual run down of the individual player performances and stats from the previous season begins with an unusually large group of goalkeepers.
1 - Rob Green D
In an attempt to balance this out – because Green has been here since 2012 so it’s not entirely fair to send him on his way purely with an assessment of his shambolic final 12 months in the team – let’s start with the mitigation.
Firstly, Green behaved impeccably after being brought here from West Ham to be the number one goalkeeper only to be replaced after a fortnight and told he could leave altogether if he wanted to after just a month because we’d taken leave of our senses and not realised that Julio Cesar might be too good to be true. I’ve written before about the damage that did, not only to Green but also the message it sent out to the other QPR players and prospective players about how they’d be treated if something shinier and newer crawled out of Kia Joorabchian’s cave of wonders, but the man most affected by it at the time said nothing, sat on the bench, got on with the job and quietly slipped back into the team when Cesar flopped.
Everything QPR achieved during the Harry Redknapp promotion season of 2013/14 is tainted by the knowledge that the club spent a Championship record £90m on transfer fees and wages to do it. Green set club and divisional clean sheet records that season, but then he would do playing behind a defence of Nedum Onuoha, Richard Dunne, Clint Hill and Benoit Assou Ekotto – the most experienced, most expensive, back four in the league’s history. One which Redknapp still felt the need to park Karl Henry in front of to protect further.
That said, as the team underachieved - finishing only fourth and scraping up by the skin of its teeth - there were games where Green had to excel. There were few better examples of how wrong QPR were getting it, and why they were destined to fail in the Premier League once more when they returned, than away at Yeovil where the multi-million-pound squad struggled all afternoon to contain a team assembled on a Conference budget. Green’s string of saves meant Charlie Austin’s late penalty was a winning goal rather than a face-saver. There were more heroics from him – and Dunne and Onuoha – at Wembley. The keeper and two centre backs far more worthy of praise and hero worship for that day than Bobby Zamora, who happened to be in the right place to capitalise on a defensive error after three years of milking a huge wage from the club while rarely being fit to play.
At that point I was pretty confident in my original assessment of Green – good Championship goalkeeper, not good enough for the Premier League. A goalkeeping Cameron Jerome.
It wouldn’t be fair to talk down his Championship performance because he had an excellent defence in front of him without pointing out that in the Premier League he was playing behind an inadequate back four – or back three, as Redknapp infamously tried for the first game and a half while selling the club’s best full back. But Green is a flawed goalkeeper at that level – his kicking, distribution, decision making and command of box are all inadequate – and he was found out once again.
QPR may have drawn at home to Spurs had he not sprung 15 yards from his line to come for a cross that was never his, allowing Harry Kane to head into the empty net. They may have done likewise with Arsenal had Alexis Sanchez’s weak shot not squirmed through him at the near post – a goal wrongly attributed to Darnell Furlong’s inexperience when the keeper should have saved it. At Hull he made a spectacular injury time save only to come wandering off his line seconds later allowing N’Doye to head into an empty goal as Kane had done – a perfect microcosm of his best and worst. And then there was that bloody Chelsea goal.
No matter, back at his level this season Green should have been a safe bet. In fact, he was a total liability. Another shambolic near-post concession at Charlton on day one started it off. Then there was the Nottingham Forest debacle – given Rangers were fourth at the time and already had two away wins to their name how different the season might have been, how different things might have gone for Chris Ramsey, had he dealt with that back pass, or even let the Forest man go in for an equaliser without bringing him down. QPR had never looked like doing anything other than winning that game but in one fell swoop Green turned it into a defeat which sparked a run of results that marooned Rangers in midtable for the rest of the season and saw the manager sacked.
I can’t forgive him his poor kicking. Saying a goalkeeper’s main strength is his shot stopping is like saying a Michelin starred chef’s best dish is his mushroom omelette. It’s a given that a goalkeeper should be able to save shots – although when Brighton’s Rajiv van La Parra scored at the School End with a daisy cutter hit from somewhere over by White City Tube it was obvious Green wasn’t even much good at that any more. But to not be able to kick is purely down to lack of practice and gym work, as we’ll look at more in the Alex Smithies section shortly. Any able bodied human under the age of 60 can kick a ball three quarters the length of a football field with adequate weights training and practice. That Green still can’t now, consistently, really grates – especially when he responds to moans and groans about it from the crowd by holding up his index finger to indicate he believes it’s his first bad one of the day, as if professional goalkeepers on tens of thousands of pounds a week are allowed one awful kick per match. This was compounded with his throwing, which was wild, and frequently placed his full backs in peril.
Things finally came to a head at Christmas when his decision making, command of area and communication problems all came to a head in a farcical late Hull City winner at the Loft End which he tried to blame on Grant Hall having punched it in off the opposing striker. I was done with him at that point, and thankfully so were QPR.
The media have since treated us to a selection of one-eyed puff pieces illustrated with soft lit pictures of Green in chunky knit cardigans looking forlornly into the lens like a nervous amateur poet too afraid to ever show his work to anybody, or a long forgotten member of East 17 attempting a comeback to cover child maintenance payments. The Daily Mail’s called him “comfortably the best goalkeeper at the club” which was obviously written by somebody who had seen nothing of QPR before Christmas, when Green was giving points away for fun, nor afterwards, when Alex Smithies was playing teams by himself at times. When questioned on Twitter the reporter said “when Alex Smithies has England caps get back to me” – by which logic Les Ferdinand is still comfortably the best footballer at QPR.
Green was quoted several times as saying the decision to leave him out was “purely a financial one” because any further appearances would trigger a contract renewal. This was not only disrespectful to the two goalkeepers who came in to replace him - and turned out to be far, far better - but also laughable given Green only moved here from West Ham in the first place for a massive pay rise, and had turned down chances to go back to Upton Park or to Crystal Palace when they didn’t meet the extortionate salary he was on at Loftus Road. Green, who one would presume never suggested to the club that clause could be waived in order for him still to play, is a bit rich accusing other people of making money-motivated decisions. He spent the second half of the season picking up that massive salary for going to watch Esher play rugby at the weekend. Cry me a fucking river.
Thankfully now out of contract - and replaced by younger, more talented, cheaper options - it’s another big name and huge contract who never lived up to his salary or reputation thankfully on his way out of Loftus Road.
25 – Alex Smithies A
That brief Championship season under Harry Redknapp saw us come face to face with a couple of goalkeepers who really stood out – and in a highly un-QPR-like bit of transfer business we subsequently signed both of them. The first was Alex McCarthy, who played us by himself in a 1-1 draw against Reading at the Madejski Stadium that season but oddly continues to disappoint despite appearing to have all the natural attributes and skillset for his position. The other was Alex Smithies, a serial award winner up at Huddersfield who decided to make the big move south last summer and excelled in the second half of the season at QPR.
Smithies’ prodigious kick, and explanation for it, is a damning indictment of his predecessor. Told as a teenager he was good enough to play for Huddersfield’s first team if only he could improve his kicking to cope with the big pitch at their new stadium, he took to the gym and the training ground until that was rectified. He told the QPR Podcast the pitch is so tight at Loftus Road that he only “has to flick it” to reach the other end of the field. He’s got a huge throw on him as well, which is regularly used intelligently to spring counter attacks and will be a real weapon if QPR can add some much needed pace to their attack next season. The difference this made to the team was immediate and obvious.
A nervous start when plunged into a difficult situation in that Forest game had some ready to write him off, and he could have done better with a subsequent goal against Blackburn too – although the goalkeeper would be awarded a free kick in that situation ordinarily and Smithies was booked for chasing everybody’s favourite incompetent lurch Darren Deadman down the field to protest. But he made a fabulous save before half time in that game and never looked back.
When finally in the team regularly he saved penalties on three separate occasions amidst a string of other remarkable stops. By the time he turned Grant Leadbitter’s Middlesbrough effort aside – Leadbitter hardly ever misses – I started to wonder whether we should start giving spot kicks away deliberately as a defensive strategy, safe in the knowledge that Smithies would save it anyway. The only frustration is we wasted the first half of the season picking Green instead of him – one can only imagine how much higher up the table we’d have been had he been the number one from day one as he obviously should have been.
The arrival of Matt Ingram, and lingering rumours the Huddersfield born and bred stopper is angling for a return north, have sparked speculation about his future but Christ I hope he stays. We’ve got a really, really good one here.
29 - Matt Ingram N/A
Ingram impressed everybody during a brief few outings at the end of the season following a January arrival from Wycombe. Only 22, which you’d never know to look at him physically or facially, Ingram dominates his goal mouth well and has a penchant for spectacular saves. He was particularly impressive in a 0-0 draw at Cardiff, though a subsequent save from a free kick against Reading is the one everybody seems to remember more.
The goalkeeping spot looks better supplied than it has been in a generation at Loftus Road, and it’ll be fascinating to see how that is managed next season. To go from Rob Green and Brian Murphy to Alex Smithies and Matt Ingram in such a short period of time, vastly reducing the amount of money we’re committing to goalkeepers in the process, is testament to the scouts and director of football at QPR and Les Ferdinand and his team deserve huge credit for achieving it.
Others >>> Very encouraging to see that when the need arose in January, youth teamer Joe Lumley was called upon for away games at Forest and Blackburn rather than some journeyman 39-year-old on an emergency loan. Exactly as it should be, exactly as it hasn’t been for too long.
Lumley has a lot of physical development to come, but he did well in both matches – particularly at Ewood Park where the hosts surrounded him with two of the division’s biggest centre halves and one of its best strikers in Jordan Rhodes and pummelled the six-yard box with long throws and corners at every opportunity.
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