24: Season Review, Part Five: QUE to SHE
Three expected challengers who never came close and one mooted set of whipping boys who did Lincolnshire proud. Topsier-turvier times would be hard to conceive for the hoops of Reading and QPR as Kevin Blackwell meddled with his line-up like a demented pharmacist and the amiable Nigel Adkins proved he was more than just a mate of the BBC’s Mark Clemmit.
Queen’s Park Rangers
QPR were scintillating in the Fall, a televised comeback at Derby evoking memories of Seventies legends. This came on the heels of batterings of Barnsley and Reading at the Bush and a syrupy forward line looked way too exotic for the plain biscuits of our tier. Jay Simpson was providing the finishing touches to the extravagant skillz of Wayne Routledge and Adel Taarabt, and if doubts persisted about the Super Hoops’ defence, then who cared if the ball stayed perpetually in opponents’ halves.
But kids who like sweets can act like the spoilt children they are. At Stoke, a season of tea cup throwing behind the scenes did nothing to weaken the manager’s grip on power; at Rangers, it was the head man himself who departed: Jim Magilton exiting stage left after a torrid night at Watford. Cue an obvious Lord of the Flies situation as Mick Harford and Paul Hart witnessed a plunge into the relegation zone.
Something had to be done and Neil Warnock was adjudged to be temptable. You know what you are getting with Neil and Mikele Leigertwood and Damion Stewart displaced Taarabt and the departed Routledge as QPR’s pivotal players. The final couple of months boded well as the Londoners lived up to the lyrics of Hard-Fi’s biggest hit once more.
Final League Position: 13
Our Pre-season Prediction: 15
Marks out of 10: 5
TTU Player of the Year: Damion Stewart
The season hung on a three week spell as we entered 2010. A 4-1 savaging at Plymouth was a low point even by the standards that had brought only two home wins in 2009, an annus horribilis that saw the Royals redefine the meaning of the phrase “soft touch”. The downsizing that had come with relegation and a failed play-off bid would inevitably lead to teething problems, but Brendan Rodgers’ tactics looked good only on paper as panicky exploitation of the August transfer window and a constant chopping and changing caused anguish among the fans.
But a plucky 1-1 draw with Liverpool in the FA Cup was followed up with a monumental 2-1 replay win. Then, Burnley and West Bromwich Albion were dispatched and only John Carew denied the club a first Wembley appearance since 1995. So much for the cup damaging league prospects – Derby, Coventry, Preston, Posh and Sheffield Wednesday were all not just beaten, but literally pulled apart as youngsters such as Gylfi Sigurðsson and Ryan Bertrand, back in favour captain Matt Mills, and wingers Jimmy Kébé and Jobi McAnuff applied the shredder to other clubs’ ambitions.
At the helm of it all was a former Premier League reserve title winner. Brian McDermott looked an unambitious replacement for the hapless Rodgers, but clever substitutions, no nonsense loanees such as Andy Griffin and nuanced tactics brought hefty rewards. A ninth place finish having gone into February one from the bottom is an enormous credit to the Royals’ unassuming front man.
Final League Position: 9
Our Pre-season Prediction: 11
Marks out of 10: 6
TTU Player of the Year: Gylfi Sigurðsson
Masquerading somewhat at this level, a 4-0 opening day reverse at Cardiff’s new stadium left one worried for Nigel Adkins’ play off winning charges. Always just a few spots ahead of the relegation zone, it nonetheless proved to be a heartening season of over achievement.
It’s usually the tendency for under resourced clubs to pack the midfield and defence and apply caution as their watchword in an attempt to deny more celebrated opponents time and space. Scunthorpe adopted the opposite approach and their chief assets were offensively minded. Gary Hooper and Paul Hayes are as good a front pairing as we saw last season and Martyn Woolford provides much of what they feed upon. An early win over Newcastle will go down in the annals as the Glanford Park strikers showed genuine pace, movement and finishing ability.
At the back, Adkins stayed loyal to a shaky quartet of Rob Jones, David Mirfin, Cliff Byrne and Marcus Williams, although the latter has already opted for a new home along with Hayes. It could be tough for Scunny hereon in, but they’ll look back with immense pride on 09-10.
Final League Position: 20
Our Pre-season Prediction: 22
Marks out of 10: 8
TTU Player of the Year: Paul Hayes
Less a lesser Neil Warnock, more a lesser Claudio Ranieri, Kevin Blackwell’s tinkerman tendencies in Sheffield United’s misfire of a season cost the Bramall Lane club dear. Add to that an unhealthy obsession with defeating one’s main rivals and Blades will be feeling pretty abject right now: pulsating derby day wins are all very well, but not if you can’t beat the others: a 6 game streak of January and February away defeats was cringe inducing.
Billy Sharp never did the business in the stripes but to witness his ascent at Doncaster while £3 million man Ched Evans struggled will also have been galling. Championship journeymen Richard Cresswell and Darius Henderson plugged the gap ably, although only at their usual paltry rate of scoring.
The Blades’ squad was peppered with impressive individuals in 09-10. Toni Kallio was a more than acceptable loan acquisition from Fulham, Matt Kilgallon confirmed his solidity before jumping ship to Sunderland, Jamie Ward is an irritant to opposing defences and loyalists Nick Montgomery and Chris Morgan were evergreen. But Blackwell should have made more of this equipment. For sure, injuries played their part, but there are eleven players on a team Kevin.
Final League Position: 8
Our Pre-season Prediction: 2
Marks out of 10: 5
TTU Player of the Year: Nick Montgomery