Championship Play-Off Final: Michael Owen’s View
The challenge for Queens Park Rangers this week is to bounce back promptly from the 3-0 West London Derby defeat at Brentford last time out.
They had put so much energy into the 1-0 win over Leeds the previous Tuesday, a last-ditch defensive display in which goalkeeper Joe Lumley starred, that they perhaps struggled to keep up with the Bees four days later.
The Rs were off the pace – they did not make any overt errors but when they played a team that executed one and two-touch combination play so well, they did not have any answers.
Part of the problem is the lack of squad depth.
We saw earlier in the campaign that when the West Londoners have a fully fit, available first eleven, they can be a match for anyone in the division.
However, it has only taken Geoff Cameron and Joel Lynch to suffer injury problems, plus Massimo Luongo to go away with Australia on international duty, for the synergy of their performance to suffer.
Plus, we have seen the likes of Lumley and speedy striker Nahki Wells experience dips in form and there is no like-for-like replacement for the latter.
Equally, QPR are strong when opponents play all their football in front of their rear-guard, but once opponents get in behind the initial press, defenders like Lynch and Toni Leistner tend to have a problem, which is something Stoke will hope to exploit.
— QPR FC (@QPR) March 6, 2019
It seems remarkable to think that, within the last month, there was a point at which a small section of Stoke City fans had begun to question manager Nathan Jones – even though he had only taken over in January.
At Luton Town, Jones built a wonderfully hungry, high-tempo, possession-based 4-4-2 diamond outfit which comfortably won promotion from League Two last season and looks set to achieve a similar feat this term, thanks largely to the Welshman’s work.
However, it is worth bearing in mind that the best results came 18 months into his work at Kenilworth Road, following steady progress in the second half of 2015-16 campaign and a play-off finish in 2016-17.
For that reason, an element of patience is needed at Stoke as Jones looks to mould his squad to suit his methods which, it should not be forgotten, are different to those of predecessor Gary Rowett – and even Mark Hughes during the latter’s last two seasons in charge.
There are signs that Jones is starting to identify who can execute his methods and who cannot – because they produced the most complete performance of his reign in last week’s 2-0 victory over Nottingham Forest.
💬 Boss pleased by what he feels was the Potters' most complete performance during his reign in charge.
— Stoke City FC (@stokecity) March 2, 2019
We saw Ryan Shawcross improve his distribution, Joe Allen use possession efficiently and Oghenekaro Etebo start to look like energetic maestro that starred at the World Cup with Nigeria, scoring an excellent opener from outside the box.
Sam Clucas made selfless diagonal runs out to the right to allow Tom Ince to relish the extra space behind Benik Afobe, who looks revitalized and took his goal with aplomb.
Over the last eight games, Stoke have posted 1.10 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game and 0.67 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of 62.09% which is the third-best in the Championship in that sequence.
This is the wrong time for anyone to face the Potters – and arguably a good time to play QPR.
Tip: Stoke to win – 17/10
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