The Monday Verdict: QPR in need of formation revamp?
Neil Warnock needs to find a way of getting the best out of mis-firing Jay Bothroyd
The manner of QPR’s conclusive defeat to Fulham on Sunday afternoon highlighted deficiencies at both ends of the pitch for Neil Warnock’s side.
Warnock gave no excuses after the 6-0 drubbing at Craven Cottage, but he did offer mitigating circumstances, at least for a defence which suffered several reshuffles in the build-up to the game.
“We had (Matt) Connolly pick up an injury yesterday in training, we got (Danny) Gabbidon out and then Fitz Hall picked up an injury before the game today as well, hence they sliced though us like a knife through butter, so no excuses really,” conceded the Rangers boss.
“We can’t afford that many injuries in the situation that we’re in and I thought they took advantage of that and scored some really good goals.”
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Minus Gabbidon, Connolly, and the suspended Armand Traore, Rangers’ defence had a makeshift appearance, with Luke Young switched from right to left-back, Bradley Orr playing on the right, and Hall featuring alongside Anton Ferdinand in central defence.
Collectively and individually, Rangers’ backline was ponderous and hesitant; from Paddy Kenny’s foul on Andy Johnson which led to Danny Murphy scoring Fulham’s second from the penalty spot, to some non-existent marking in the box which allowed Johnson and Clint Dempsey score the fourth and fifth.
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But individual errors can be ironed out on the training pitch, understandings between new players will improve over time and key players will return from injury. As Warnock pointed out, when QPR have had their first choice defence playing this season they have looked relatively secure.
Their problems at the back are not yet at crisis point. At the other end of the pitch however, the manager has a more pressing concern: the lack of goals coming from forward areas.
While Fulham’s Bobby Zamora and, in particular, Johnson, ran Rangers ragged from virtually first minute to last, it was another fruitless afternoon in front of goal for QPR’s Jay Bothroyd.
Yet to score for his new club, and playing on his own up front in QPR’s 4-2-3-1 formation, Bothroyd was kept firmly in check by Fulham centre-backs Brede Hangeland and Chris Baird.
Sunday’s defeat brought the first rumblings of criticism aimed at Bothroyd, who barely had a sniff at goal and whose first touch was too often poor, with possession quickly lost as a result.
But to reserve all criticism for Bothroyd is doing a dis-service to the man who was so prolific for Cardiff City last season. Against Fulham, he received limited support from the supporting trio of Shaun Wright-Phillips, Joey Barton and Adel Taarabt, the latter of whom Warnock withdrew at the break after an uninspiring first half.
Rather, it is QPR’s formation which must come under the spotlight; the system which worked so well last season is simply not suited to Bothroyd who, at his many clubs throughout his career, has operated primarily with a strike partner.
At Cardiff in the Championship last season, Bothroyd’s pairing with Michael Chopra produced a combined total of 27 league goals – two thirds of which were scored by Bothroyd.
In his three years at Cardiff, Bothroyd almost always played off another attacker, often Chopra and occasionally Ross McCormack. It was a similar story in his time at Wolves, where he operated alongside Andy Keogh, and the same story again at his previous clubs Charlton and Coventry City.
To get the best out of the England man, the answer could be to switch from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-1-2, and pair Bothroyd up, ideally with DJ Campbell, who has expressed his desire to play through the middle rather than on the wing, or with Heidar Helguson or the returning Jamie Mackie.
Both Taarabt and Shaun Wright-Phillips are capable of playing just off the front two, which would leave Warnock able to call on Barton and either Alejandro Faurlin or Shaun Derry to occupy slightly deeper roles in a four-man midfield, thus balancing a greater attacking threat with defensive stability.
Away from home, and certainly at grounds such as Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge and the Etihad Stadium, playing one up front can pay dividends when the priority is defensive resilience.
But in games against sides of a similar standard to QPR, as Fulham undoubtedly are, QPR have nothing to lose by letting the shackles off.
Talk will now inevitably turn to the January transfer window, and the possibility of more new signings, but it is important to remember that the Financial Fair Play rules which came into effect this season now make it difficult for clubs to simply splash the cash to solve their various problems. Simply bringing in a host of new faces is not the answer.
There is certainly enough attacking quality at Warnock’s disposal, and Blackburn at home in two weeks’ time offers him the chance to experiment with his formation ahead of a difficult trio of games against Chelsea, Tottenham and Manchester City.
Whether Bothroyd can score the goals which could be pivotal in keeping QPR in the Premier League remains to be seen, but playing alongside a second striker would at least give him a fighting chance and provide a more accurate assessment of his ability.
Follow Ian Cooper on Twitter @QPRTimes
Ian Cooper will be hosting a live QPR webchat here: http://bit.ly/n2zbKn on Thursday at 1pm