I don’t think any of us in our wildest dreams could have predicted the outcome of Friday’s local derby at home to QPR.
Of course we do have previous when it comes to showing our neighbourhood rivals up, although I can’t say I was dissapointed with just the four goals this time round.
All the talk before the match centred around the danger that Charlie Austin posed and the fact that our back four, having shown a complete inability to defend set pieces just days earlier at Hillsborough, would have to gel quickly despite all being relatively new acquisitions to the club and as a quartet playing together for the first time.
I think we all knew that Stearman and Ream would need time to form an understanding and while they were certainly not tested a great deal against the Hoops, nothing builds confidence more than a clean sheet, a collector’s item in SW6 these days. The pre-season injury to Luke Garbutt left us woefully exposed at left-back, although since managing to re-secure James Husband on loan from Middlesbrough, the difference in class has been clear for all to see. It has to be said that Voser did not exactly set the bar particularly high prior to Husband rejoining, but his composure and ability to get forward has noticably allowed Ben Pringle in front of him to play his natural game.
Upon signing Ryan Fredericks from Bristol City, I felt the ex-Spurs man would be a more natural option at right-back rather than in midfield. Having being given the chance to step in following Jazz Richards’ absence against QPR, it was a chance to see what is, in my eyes, the strongest back four available play together for the first time and hopefully work on building some sort of understanding that could serve us well for the rest of the season. There were in fact a number of incidents, particularly in the first half, where the pace of Fredericks from a defensive perspective paid dividends alongside providing a better balance in terms of width with Cairney in front of him.
To call the win over QPR a turning point in the season may still be a little presumptuous, especially given the defeat against Wolves four days later, but at the very least we now have a benchmark to aim for with the current group of players in mind. Both Cairney and Pringle have undoubtedly benefitted from the freedom that the respective full-backs provide in undertaking their duties effectively, but the performance of Ryan Tunnicliffe alongside O’Hara in the central midfield berth must also receive an honurable mention.
Having previously struggled for options, we are now at the stage where competition for places among the likes of Tunnicliffe, O’Hara, LVC, Hyndman and the soon to return Scott Parker may in fact be counterproductive in establishing consistency and balance to the side. So, with a back four which will hopefully now get a run of games together, we can focus on solidifying a midfield partnership that brings out the best in our creativity going forward, while providing ample protection to a defence that will continue to grow with playing time.