Stepping Up: QPR begin to see the best of Jay Bothroyd

Seeing how Jay Bothroyd fared after leaving Cardiff City in the summer was always going to be interesting, writes Joe Harrison.

Despite the fact that from a team perspective his 3 year spell in South Wales was characterised by near misses (of the play-offs in his debut season then in them for the following two years), on a personal level they represented the best years of his career, where he finally began to realise the potential always apparent, but rarely fulfilled in his nomadic career up to that point.

Probably the most technically gifted forward player I’ve seen during my time supporting the Bluebirds, Bothroyd quickly became the focal point of Dave Jones’ side: the attacking play of the team grew largely based around his ability to bring others into the game with his superb touch. Indeed, it was a common complaint for years that without Bothroyd the team just weren’t the same; many fans claim they knew the game was up as soon as he limped off early in the 2010 play-off final against Blackpool. He spent his first 2 years as an integral part of the team and a steady, if not prolific goalscorer for the Bluebirds (scoring 12 & 11 league goals).

This all changed in the first half of the 2010/11 season. 13 goals in Cardiff’s first 17 league games was a blistering start, earning him a well-deserved England call up and first cap in the friendly against France on November 17th 2010. Unfortunately, this seemed to mark a turning point in his season, netting only 5 goals in the remaining 29 league games (31 if including the play-offs). Bothroyd’s languid style invites criticism for lack of effort when he’s failing to produce on the ball and many questioned his commitment to the cause after his England call-up, such was the dramatic fall in the level of his performance.

Bothroyd hasn’t helped in this regard by stating in an interview this September: “Being among that England squad really gave me a taste for playing with that standard of player every day. No disrespect to Cardiff, but when I went back to club training after being with England I realised I had to play in the Premier League” (Note his adoption of the classic approach of following “No disrespect” with something disrespectful. Well played, Mr Bothroyd).

So this yearning for playing with players of England squad calibre led him to move on a free to…pre-takeover QPR. Considering the likes of Everton were also rumoured to be interested in securing Bothroyd, it is at this point that I let you draw your own conclusions.

Still, it was always going to be interesting to see how a player used to being the focal point of a team battling near the top of a league adapted to playing in a new team fighting at the bottom of a higher division. A tactical overview of his performances shows that this transition has certainly taken some time. Bothroyd made his debut in QPR’s disastrous opening day, the newly promoted side losing 4-0 to Bolton at Loftus Road. A quick look at the possession misplaced by Bothroyd during the game is very telling.

The first striking statistic is that Bothroyd gave the ball away more than a third of the times he had possession, not the sort of ratio an influential link up man would be looking for. What’s also very telling is that of these 18 instances of him surrendering the ball to the opposition, 8 of them are from headed flick-ons. This displays a failure of the team to adapt to his style of play (and/or vice versa) as Bothroyd much prefers the ball to feet to control, lay off and turn on rather than merely competing aerially with centre-halves.

In the little over a month that passed before the next featured game, much changed at QPR. Players like Barton and Wright-Phillips were brought in, while Bothroyd struggled to hold down a regular place in the starting line-up. However, he was restored to the starting 11 for possibly the highlight of QPR’s season to date: the 3-0 drubbing of Wolves at Molineux. Yet the first game on the chalkboard below shows that Bothroyd and QPR still seemed a less than ideal fit: in a game comfortable won by Rangers, Bothroyd attempted a mere 15 passes (9 successfully) — a really surprisingly small impact on the game from a player who likes (and is used to) being at the centre of attacking movements.

However, fast forward a month and a half and compare this to his performance as a half time substitute at White Hart Lane and there seem to be clear signs that the forward is beginning to settle at his new side. As well as heading his first QPR goal from a corner, Bothroyd attempted 21 passes (16 successful). To put this into context: he managed more passes, in 30 fewer minutes, away to a far better team, in a match his side went on to lose. Examination of the variety of the positions of his involvement also suggests Bothroyd and QPR are adapting to each other to the extent that he is beginning to play his natural game and as a result becoming more involved in play.

This impression of progress was only confirmed by his next performance against league leaders Manchester City. Returning to the first team after his cameo against Tottenham, Bothroyd once again put in an impressive showing. Scoring another headed goal from a set piece, hitting the post with another header and as the chalkboard shows, another improved passing display against a team expected to dominate possession. Bothroyd was successful with 24 of 26 passes, including 2 out of 2 attempted flick-ons, a vast improvement in this area on his debut against Bolton. Once again, the diagram shows Bothroyd active in many different areas of the pitch, exerting more of an influence and growing into his role as a Premier League striker.

What is clear is that Bothroyd needed to be given time to adapt to his new surroundings and teammates, as well as the other way around. After a shaky start to his QPR career, recent performances provide reasons to believe that this process of adaption is quickening its pace. Bothroyd is beginning to show the kind of form that made him one of the best players outside the Premier League last season and that will enable him to successfully make the step up to the top flight itself.

The Seventy Two
The Seventy Two published an outstanding series of articles about the Football League between 2010-12 and was the brainchild of Leicester City fan, David Bevan. As well as collaborating with The Two Unfortunates on the Football League Blog Network and a mammoth 2011-12 season preview, the site featured a host of leading bloggers and David was rewarded with a nomination in the 2011 Football Supporters’ Federation awards. Latterly, he was joined as co-editor by Joe Harrison and TTU is happy to present this archive of the site’s output.

Leave a Reply