Brentford v Wolves

Matt Doherty draws Wolves level; credits REX FEATURES 

Wolves scored twice in the last 10 minutes as they came from behind to beat Brentford and move four points clear of the relegation zone.

Full-back Maxime Colin fired low into the corner from Konstantin Kerschbaumer’s fantastic flick to give the Bees a half-time lead against the run of play.

Nouha Dicko hit the bar and Lee Evans had a shot blocked on the line for Wolves, before Matt Doherty deservedly levelled.

The visitors continued to dominate and substitute Ivan Cavaleiro crossed for ex Benfica forward Helder Costa to volley in a deserved winner.

The defeat for Dean Smith’s side was their second at home in the space of four days, whilst Wolves are now 18th in the Championship, having picked up seven points from their past three games, and sit just five points behind their opponents.

Wolves kept knocking on the door

Header Costa celebrates his winning goal; credits REX FEATURES

Despite going a goal down, Paul Lambert’s side were far superior and caused former Walsall boss Dean Smith’s side plenty of problems.

24 shots was the result of their dominance, although only scoring twice will be a concern for Lambert.

Lining up in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Nouha Dicko was the lone striker with Dave Edwards behind in a supporting striker role, whilst Heldar Costa operated on the right and Andreas Weiman on the left as inverted wingers.

Although Brentford took the lead, Wolves refused to be knocked out of their stride and despite losing on their two previous visits 4-0 and 3-0, Paul Lambert’s side showed plenty of character and quality to get back in the game.

Brentford had kept just one clean sheet from their league games in 2017 and this could have been one reason why, despite going in at half time 1-0 down, they had hope as they pushed for the goal their play merited.

Wolves bench blows Bees house down

Ben Marshall supports on the inside and delivers a brilliant cross for the equaliser

Lambert’s team were even more proliferate in the second half than the first, and it seemed they were destined to end up with nothing but the change from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2 and the introduction of some super substitutes, reaped its rewards.

On the hour mark Lambert made the first of his three changes to try and turn the game around.

George Saville made way for £7m signing Ivan Cavaleiro, who partnered Dicko up front, with Edwards moving beside Evans in the centre of midfield in a traditional 4-4-2.

Costa and Weiman swapped wings and now worked off their stronger foot, which I felt was needed to get around the Brentford defence.

Despite this change Wolves still couldn’t a way through, so with Dicko tiring, Lambert sent on Ben Marshall, a player he worked with at Blackburn Rovers previously.

This change was much needed as Dicko at times was so slow in getting back onside, Wolves were sometimes playing with a player less as he was not an option for the player in possession.

It was from a cross by Marshall that Wolves equalised, Matt Doherty  tapping home at the back post, before Cavaleiro crossed for Costa to volley home and send the Wolves fans into a frenzy.

Throw ins present pressing opportunity

Edwards presses the throw to win possession in the build up to the Wolves winner

There were signs in the first half that Rico Henry was unreliable with his throw in selection.

He was often guilty of releasing the ball when his receiver wasn’t ready and also offering no signal, either verbal or non verbal, as to tell the receiver what to do, for example to turn out or set back first time.

With a full back having anywhere between 10 and 30 throw-ins a match, it is so important full backs are able to make the right decision on throw-ins, particularly when in your own half and often the success or not of throw-ins can be overlooked.

In the image above, Wolves’ Edwards recognises the throw from Brentford left back Henry has too much height which was his trigger to press the ball.

If Henry had coached his team-mate to set him back first time or hook on, Brentford may have still have ended up with something, however the receiver took a touch and that enabled Edwards to win possession in the lead up to the winner.

Brentford (4-3-3): Bentley; Colin, Dean, Egan, Henry ; Woods, Yennaris, Canos; Jota (Clarke, 68), Vibe (Jozefzoon, 61), Kerschbaumer (Sawyers, 80).

Subs: Bonham, Hofmann, Barbet, Field.

Goal: Colin (31)

Wolves (4-2-3-1): Ikeme; Coady, Batth (c), Hause, Doherty; Edwards, Evans, Saville (Cavaleiro, 60); Costa, Dicko (Marshall, 82), Weimann (Gibbs-White, 90).

Subs: Lonergan, Stearman, Saiss, Bodvarsson.

Goals: Doherty (86), Costa (89)

Referee: Keith Stroud

Leicester City V Hull City

Craig Shakespeare offers congratulations to Riyad Mahrez

Leicester City came from a goal down to beat Hull City as caretaker boss Craig Shakespeare made it two wins from two games to strengthen his case to be the Foxes next permanent manager.

Following the brilliant win against Liverpool, the reigning champions started brightly but went behind after ex Leicester player Sam Clucas started and finished a brilliant counter attacking move, which involved the impressive Kamil Grosicki.

Equally industrious was Jamie Vardy who set up Christian Fuchs for the Foxes equaliser, before Riyad Mahrez netted his first goal since November.

The victory was sealed when Hull City’s Tom Huddlestone headed into his own net following a corner to put the gloss on a well deserved victory for the Foxes.

Hull have heart

Despite the scoreline, Hull City showed some real flair and in Sam Clucas and Kamil Grosicki, they have two brilliant players.

Grosicki, in particular, gave Leicester right back Danny Simpson a torrid time.

The Tigers winger was often allowed to run at will one on one against Simpson, and with Foxes winger Mahrez offering no help whatsoever defensively, Simpson had no answer to his speed and directness.

Therefore it was no surprise that Grosicki was at the centre of the Hull goal.

Clucas intercepted a poor square pass from Wilfred Ndidi then fed Oumar Niasse before he found Grosicki who had made up over 5 metres on Simpson.


The Pole then had the presence of mind to cut the ball back across goal for Clucas to tap home after a counter attack of lightning speed.

Maguire must mark

Whenever I have seen Hull this season, one player has always stood out, Harry Maguire.

He has been a fantastic purchase from Sheffield United and can play in a back three or five, as Hull have done this season.

He is virtually impossible to mark when he is sent up to attack set pieces, and defensively, I have rarely seen him beaten in the air.

Therefore, against such a big side like Leicester, it was strange to see him in a three-man wall outside the box, when the obvious danger was lurking at the back post.

Maguire is circled now attempting to effect the second phase ball, whilst the job of marking Robert Huth and Wesley Morgan fell to Oumar Niasse and Grosicki, a complete mismatch.

Leicester lack width from their wingers

Leicester under Shakespeare have fallen back into the formation and personnel that served them so well last season.

Although it is touted as 4-4-2, I see them more as a 4-2-3-1 side at present, with Ndidi and Danny Drinkwater playing as two holding midfielders and Shinji Okazaki ahead of them, providing the link with the lone forward Jamie Vardy.

Mahrez and Marc Albrighton work as inverted wingers, a tactic that served them so well last season, although so far it has proved far more difficult to work.

This season, teams appear to have condensed the centre of pitch slightly more to limit the spaces when the two wingers do cut inside onto their favoured foot.

This dictates that Vardy is often the one penetrating into wide areas, which I feel limits his presence in the box.

Against Hull he was terrific but spent too much of his time in the areas of the pitch natural wingers would occupy, as circled below.

It would be interesting to see how Leicester would do if Mahrez and Albrighton played off their natural foot and penetrated beyond defensive lines, rather than receiving in front as they so often do at present.

If they played on their natural sides, they would utilise the wide areas more often, which would then allow Vardy to remain in a more central area as circled above.




Arsenal v Watford

Hurelho Gomes jumps for joy; credits 101 great

Arsenal’s Premier League title hopes suffered a huge blow with a shock home defeat as Watford secured their first top-flight win over the Gunners since 1988.

Former Tottenham defender Younes Kaboul lashed in the opener within 10 minutes for Watford with a shot from outside the area which deflected off Aaron Ramsey.

Just two minutes and 57 seconds later, the visitors doubled their lead as Troy Deeney tapped in the rebound after Etienne Capoue’s fine run ended with his shot being saved by Petr Cech.

The Arsenal goalkeeper was called into action again as he tipped Sebastian Prodl’s header over the crossbar and pushed away Daryl Janmaat’s curling strike.

The hosts improved significantly in the second half and Alex Iwobi pulled a goal back by steering Alexis Sanchez’s cross home.

Lucas Perez struck the crossbar with a powerful drive, but they could not find the equaliser.

Gunners failed to fire

Arsenal here lack width and depth with full backs and midfielders too compact in possession

Arsene Wenger chose a much changed team after the demolition of Southampton in The FA Cup, which may not have been much of a surprise, however his tactics were.

Lining up in a 4-2-3-1 with Oliver Giroud as a lone striker supported by Ozil behind, the two pivots and cautious nature of their play seemed to play into Watford’s hands.

I cannot see why Arsenal need to play with two pivots, and a more expansive 4-3-3 would surely serve Arsenal better?

All the pace and penetration on show at St Mary’s a few days ago had been taken out of the team with Giroud and Ozil rarely penetrating beyond the Watford defence.

The pace out wide against the Saints provided by full backs Hector Bellerin and Keiran Gibbs was much missed.

Watford’s back three played a high line to begin, with Arsenal posing little threat through the middle.

The hornets were able to be very aggressive in the early exchanges and Oliver Giroud was largely anonymous, in contrast to the effective Troy Deeney.

With no threat centrally I expected Arsenal to attack wide, however, their full backs were never advanced enough, allowing the Watford midfield to crowd around the Arsenal players when they did receive.

The Ox is no Carthorse

Alex Iwobi takes on his man as Oxlade-Chamberlain watches on.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain began the game on the bench, despite a scintillating display against his old club Southampton in the FA Cup match on Saturday, although how Arsene Wenger is utilising his talents is puzzling to me.

Oxlade-Chamberlain is an out and out winger and it was his displays for Southampton out wide that convinced Arsene Wenger to shell out £15m for his talents originally.

The Ox made his debut whilst with me at Southampton and he was always destined for the top with his wonderful talents, although I can’t help but feel that he has spent large parts of his career at Arsenal playing in the wrong position.

The Ox is being used presently as a supplier, someone who feeds others and supports behind the ball in a role many players could manage but not many have his talents when he has the ball wide, in space and is running at people.

Against Southampton and Watford he rarely received ahead of the ball, got turned or ran at defenders, all traits you would associate with his talents.

Against a weak Southampton side his range of passing was imperious but against a much better Watford team, his skills were needed higher up the pitch to break down a well organised defence.

Often, Arsenal’s most attacking threat came from their full backs but who would you rather receive in the final third, Gabriel or Oxlade-Chamberlain?

Gabriel cannot go past a player the way the Ox can and in games such as these, that Arsenal need to win, a change was needed.

I think at half-time or when Ramsay was forced off injured, Wenger could have sacrificed a midfielder and played 4-4-2 with Oxlade-Chamberlain positioned out wide in a full back or wide position, to supply a front two of Oliver Giroud and Alexis Sanchez.

The Ox is more than capable of playing two games in succession and you have to remember being a player who sits and serves, is vastly different physically, to one who attacks up and down the wings for 90 minutes.

He would have barely broke a sweat against the Saints and could have started this game to provide more penetration where Arsenal needed it most, in the final third.

Arsenal fail to cope with Troy Deeney

Deeney wins another flick on, with Arsenal providing no screen in front and Watford’s M’Baye Niang is ready to pick up the second ball

One thing Arsene Wenger would have known from Watford’s much changed team against Millwall in the FA Cup Fourth Round tie, was that Troy Deeney would start, so there can be no excuses for how they failed to neutralise his strengths.

From the first kick by Heurelho Gomes, it was clear Troy Deeney was going to position himself against the weaker of the two Arsenal centre backs, Shkodran Mustafi.

Gomes is not renowned for his kicking and his kicks are often punted high with height, which would help Arsenal in trying to screen Deeney in front.

Once it appeared Watford weren’t going to play out, Ramsay or Coquelin could have quickly retreated to screen in front of Deeney, although not once did Arsenal show any inkling to do this to prevent Watford winning the first ball up.

Once Deeney challenged for the ball, Watford had runners going in behind for the second ball and this theme continued until the second half.

At 1-2 up Watford seemed to abandon this idea to adopt a more defensive approach, where they did not commit any players beyond Deeney.

Wide players need work

Arsenal again failed to prevent balls into the box, like the Southampton game previously, and the Arsenal wingers need to improve their defensive skills.

Against Southampton in their previous match, the only time Arsenal looked in trouble out of possession was when their wide players were tasked with defending the ball.

Danny Welbeck in that game was especially slow to press the full back Cuco Martino, who was able to deliver too many crosses into the Arsenal box.

Although, as Southampton only had one up front the threat was minimal, against this giant Watford side however, any ball allowed into the box was a danger.

For Arsenal to tighten up at the back they need wingers who are willing and able to defend, particularly against sides that play in a more direct fashion or with two strikers, for example.

What next?

Arsenal face a crucial trip to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge on Saturday (kick-off 12:30 GMT), while Watford host Burnley the same day at 15:00 GMT.

Utrecht v Ajax

Lasse Schone celebrates his winner 

FC Utrecht were left to rue their poor finishing on Sunday as they lost by a single goal to Ajax, who were far from convincing in their quest to catch runaway leaders Feyenoord.

Utrecht had several good chances to take the lead in the Gelgenwaard stadium, though a fantastic strike by Lasse Schone saw Ajax take the three points.

Utrecht lined up in a 4-4-2 with a diamond formation that sought to pose a threat to the Ajax defence going forwards whilst limiting the space for Ajax number 9 Kasper Dolberg to operate in, and it worked with Utrecht Captain Willem Janssen outstanding in the heart of the defence.

In a game that struggled to come to life in the first half, Utrecht ended it strongly although they lacked the cutting edge needed.

As chance after chance went begging, Utrecht were left to count the cost of their wastefulness as Lasse Schone hit a half volley from outside the penalty area that flew into the top corner to seal the victory.

Diamond shines for Utrecht

Manager Erik Ten Haag has stuck with the recent tradition at Utrecht of playing with two strikers, a deviation from the 4-1-4-1 formation he deployed whilst in charge of Bayern Munich’s second team.

However, to compete in the midfield area against sides that play 4-3-3 he has chosen a diamond formation which sees all four midfielders very narrow and compact.

When Utrecht advanced, it was with short incisive passing as the diamond formation meant the midfield unit was always close together, and despite their lack of possession, the threat the diamond posed going forward saw Utrecht have by far the better chances.

If a Utrecht forward dropped deep, the tip or outside of the diamond would penetrate behind, thus Utrecht always posed a threat to the Ajax back line and only poor finishing let Utrecht down.

Bosz will be Boos (Angry in Dutch)

Ajax lined up in a 4-3-3 with Lasse Schone as a single pivot and Davy Klassen and Hakim Ziyech as the attacking midfielders ahead.

Up front, Kasper Dolberg was the central striker with Anwar El Ghazi and Amin Younes playing as inverted wingers, which suited the Utrecht formation as they had plenty of players infield when they cut inside.

It was arguably his strongest line-up, nonetheless, Head Coach Peter Bosz would have been very disappointed with his team’s display.

Needing a victory to keep up with Feyenoord, you would have expected his side to be at their best, however the ball was turned over far too much, the decision-making from his players was poor and they could have been at least 2-0 down at half time.

Dolberg found it hard to get into the game and with Willem Janssen marking him very tightly, his hold up play was mixed with possession often lost.

When an opportunity did present itself, the Dane seemed out of sorts and wasn’t his usual composed self, possibly affected by the aggressive marking by Utrecht.

As Ajax like to build up through him, he is often used as a wall to play off, I feel though, he needs to be facing the opponents goal more often.

Dolberg here is finally  facing forward

The set piece delivery from Ajax rarely threatened the Utrecht defence who had enough height to deal with most crosses in the box, and the inverted wingers often took too long to shoot when cutting inside allowing the Utrecht compact midfield time to recover back.

With Younes attacking inside from the wide left position, I would have expected Ajax to get their full backs to attack, similar to how Feyenoord play with Jens Toonstra and Rick Karsdorp, but the Ajax full backs were far too conservative.

Possibly due to Utrecht playing with two strikers, Ajax were caught between attacking with real intent and playing it safe to keep enough players back defensively.

Their attacking play suffered because of this.

When Utrecht advanced it was often centrally with close passages of play, so switching play quickly to attack wide would have seen Ajax create much more.

Bad Build up

One feature of Peter Bosz’s teams is how they like to build up from the back, the selection of winger Daley Sinkgraven as full back is one feature to enable a better build up.

However, against the diamond Utrecht formation, Ajax were guilty of poor ball handling and were fortunate not to concede from losing possession around their own penalty area.

Lasse Schone is immediately pressed on receiving 


Up next for Utrecht is a home tie against SC Cambuur in the quarter final of the KNVB Cup,kick off 18.30 whilst Ajax host ADO Den Haag on Sunday, kick off 14.30.

Utrecht:(4-1-2-1-2) David Jensen; Mark van der Maarel, Ramon Leeuwin (Giovanni Troupee 64min),Willem Janssen, Robin van der Meer;Wout Brama, Sofyan Amrabat, Yassin Ayoub, Nacer Barazite ( Menno Koch 86min); Richairo Zivkovic (Kristoffer Peterson 76min), Sebastian Haller.

Ajax: (4-3-3) Andre Onana; Joel Veltman, Davinson Sanchez (Matthijs d Ligt 74min),Nick Viergever,Daley Sinkgraven;Lasse Schone, Davy Klassen, Hakim Ziyech( Donny van de Beek 90min); Anwar El Ghazi( Justin Kluivert 73min ), Kasper Dolberg, Amin Younes.

83.Lasse Schone 0-1


Attendance: 21,009



Brentford v Newcastle United


 Daryl Murphy glances home brilliantly

Daryl Murphy’s first league goal for Newcastle, in only his second appearance, sent his side back to the top of the Championship in a hard-fought win against Brentford at Griffin Park.

Dwight Gayle had put the Magpies into a first-half lead with his 20th goal of the season before going off injured.

The lively Lasse Vibe equalised for Brentford after the interval and almost put them ahead when his chip hit the post and rolled along the Newcastle goal-line.

However, Murphy’s header from a fantastic Ayoze Perez cross then sealed the win late on.

Newcastle’s return to the Championship summit came after Brighton lost 0-2 at Preston and puts them a point ahead of the Seagulls having played a game more.

Bees blown away by Gayle

Gayle wheels away after giving Newcastle the lead

Brentford have had some success of late with their 3-5-2 shape and the players seemed very comfortable going forward, although I found they lacked options wide when their wing backs were in possession, which tended to funnel attacks infield.

Although Tom Field is quite capable going at an opposition full back, I don’t feel the Brentford wing backs are enough like wingers to threaten a team like Newcastle wide, they are more natural defenders and struggle to beat someone in a one on one.

Play therefore often tends to be recycled backwards, slowing down the Brentford attacks.

Where the 3-5-2 encountered problems most though was when Brentford lost the ball.

With the wing backs high, Brentford were vulnerable to balls down the sides, with centre backs often dragged out into areas where they were less comfortable, and this was typified by the Newcastle opening goal.

Brentford lost possession in the Newcastle half and with acres of space down the outside channel due to the Bees’ wing back high, Dwight Gayle was released with Harlee Dean having to travel out into areas a full back would normally be occupying.

Gayle was given plenty of time to run one on one against Dean, who was forced to retreat into his area.

He shifted the ball onto his left foot before driving the ball past Bentley in the Brentford goal.

Against strikers of the quality of Gayle you simply cannot leave such spaces available and a more compact zonal defence may have been better, particularly when you have centre backs who prefer to defend centrally.

3-5-2 asks a lot of the Brentford midfield

Woods here can’t get close enough to block the cross that led to  Murphy’s goal

There were warning signs for Brentford in the first half when Newcastle were able to switch play early enough to their wingers and full backs to create overloads and it meant in the place of wingers, Brentford’s midfield had to get across to help out in place of wingers.

The midfield trio of Nico Yennaris, Josh McEachran and Ryan Woods had their work cut out to sustain it however.

McEachran did not have the legs to keep up with the marauding Dumnett in the first half and Newcastle could have run Brentford ragged by moving the ball quicker and stretching the midfield three of Brentford, particularly McEachran.

Woods was more able to cover the ground as he has greater mobility, however, by the 79th minute Woods didn’t have the energy to close quickly enough in the move that lead to the winning goal.

I felt Newcastle could have tested Brentford more by playing Matt Ritchie and Yoan Gouffran on their natural sides, particularly when Murphy came on.

Once Gayle came off, and Murphy replaced him, the effectiveness of inverted wingers was less as Murphy thrives on crosses into the box which don’t tend to come with inverted wingers, they invariably look for threaded passes into a forward or third man runs from midfield, so with Murphy on I expected Rafael Benitez to swap them round to get more balls in the box.

The winning goal came from one such ball, with Newcastle moving the ball from the right-wing to the left-wing, with a cross being delivered with inventiveness via the outside right foot of Perez and a brilliant header by Murphy.

Nucleus of Newcastle

Newcastle were impressive through midfield and attack, with excellent delivery from set plays via Matt Ritchie, although aside from Dwight Gayle, the main threat from Newcastle were their full backs.

Welshman Dumnett, a product from the Newcastle academy was particularly impressive, and at 183cm a great size and build, whilst DeAndre Yedlin had pace to burn on the right.

As soon as the ball landed with the wingers the full backs were on their way, attacking the space left by the wingers invariably coming inside.

Manager Benitez switched to a three-man central defence when Vernan Anita was forced off injured and this was a smart tactical move to retain what they had after losing three starters to injury.

Newcastle were much weaker than when the game kicked off and with a slender lead, this change in shape seemed a good call.

Substitute Grant Hanley slotted in-between Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark as extra cover for the final stages as Brentford pushed for an equaliser.

  Brentford use a block to free one of their main headers

One area of concern for manager Rafael Benitez will be their defensive set up at corners.

The Magpies bring all 11 players back, with a mix of zonal and man marking.

Brentford attempted to block goalkeeper Karl Darlow, he struggled to come for the ball, a tactic that lead to the Bees equaliser.

When Darlow did attempt to claim one delivery, he misjudged the flight and parried the ball too low which allowed Vibe to poke home.

The near post space will be a particular worry for Benitez as Brentford were able to put the ball into this area at will.

At Liverpool Benitez favoured a zonal marking system which was successful, so I wonder if he will revert to this in time.

The Magpies man marking system meant they were susceptible to being blocked off and with Woods’ outstanding delivery, Newcastle struggled to contain Brentford’s three main headers.

As the role of the near post space zone marker is a vital one, Benitez will be concerned with how Murphy defended this area once he came on.

It appears, in Benitez’s system, the near post space area is defended by his number 9 as Gayle was tasked with this role before he went off injured, and the Magpies will need to defend this area better in the games ahead.

Next up for Brentford is an away fixture against Wigan Athletic, whilst Newcastle host Rotherham United, both matches on Saturday 21st January at 15.00 GMT.

Brentford: Bentley; Egan (sub Hofmann 87 mins), Dean, Bjelland; Colin, Yennaris, Woods, McEachran (sub Jota 80 mins), Field; Sawyers (sub Clarke 90 mins); Vibe
Subs (not used): Bonham, Kerschbaumer, Barbet, Hogan
Bookings: Vibe (81 mins) (second of season)

Newcastle United: Darlow; Yedlin, Clark, Lascelles, Dummett; Colback, Hayden (sub Anita 62 mins (sub Hanley 71 mins)); Ritchie, Pérez, Gouffran; Gayle (sub Murphy 28 mins)

Subs (not used): Sels, Lazaar, Ameobi, Sterry Bookings: Dummett (31 mins)

Attendance: 11,435

QPR v Ipswich Town

Pawel Wszolek slides home the equaliser for QPR: credits REX FEATURES

Ian Holloway made it two wins in a row after a late win sealed another hard-fought victory.

QPR, who had lost six in a row before their win at Wolves on New Year’s Eve, move up to 17th place in the Championship, two points and two places behind Ipswich.

QPR started poorly and would count themselves fortunate to go ahead.

A long throw in from the right hand side of the penalty area was inadvertently flicked on by Ipswich Captain Luke Chambers to Idrissa Sylla who volleyed into the roof of the net from inside the 6 yard area.

David McGoldrick had two good chances early on for the Suffolk side before Sylla’s opener, though Rangers’ Guinean striker was forced off with a neck injury soon after giving his side the lead.

The outstanding Tom Lawrence equalised soon after the restart with an effort that is likely to be a contender for Town’s goal of the season, however they missed a series of chances before the home side’s winner.

Brett Pitman had a great chance to put Ipswich ahead after receiving a bouncing ball over the top from strike partner David McGoldrick though Pitman delayed too long and allowed Grant Hall to recover brilliantly to intercept.

With the game nearly at an end, substitute Nedum Onuha cleared a long ball over the top which beat Adam Webster, allowing Wszolek to control and round Bartosz Bialkowski before slotting into an empty net to seal a surprise 2-1 win.
QPR lack tempo

Ian Holloway will be a happy Hoop; credits

There is no doubt manager Ian Holloway will be delighted with the six points collected over the Christmas period, although the performance levels will have been disappointing.

Holloway stuck with the formation from the Wolves victory and the same scorers produced again with Sylla and Wszolek on the score sheet again.

The 4-2-3-1 deployed against the Tractor boys saw QPR rarely threaten, with Ipswich controlling possession and the team performance was similar to the Aston Villa game, where the away team had the majority of the ball and dominated proceedings.

With the added numbers in midfield it suited QPR to play out from the back, and the back four split to do so, although as soon as Ipswich man marked their two centre backs, QPR decided to kick long and often lost the first ball.

It appears Ian Holloway’s men need some rotations to get out against sides that field a front two or who prevent them building up.

When QPR did play long and regain the second ball, they were too keen to go forward early with long balls and often surrendered possession straight back, and no one was more guilty than substitute Abdenasser El Khayati.

He was introduced to add some impetus and tempo to the game in the second half, however, he slowed the game down and was too ponderous in possession, often incurring the wrath of the home crowd who wanted more dynamic play.

The crowd also grew restless as the Hoops attempted short corners, rather than delivering into the area as Rangers rarely threatened the Ipswich goal.

A set piece, such as a corner, provided the chance to do so,however the short corners were poor and they may be better delivering into the opponents penalty area to test the opposition, rather than trying to be too clever when not in the run of form to do so.

Positive signs for Ipswich despite the result

Lawrence celebrates his stunning equaliser; credits

Cole Skuse was terrific in midfield, always looking to link with the front two and by playing with two forwards, naturally it enabled the Ipswich midfielders to look forwards rather than sideways and it was via Skuse that Ipswich equalised.

For the Town equaliser he received in midfield and with no option wide to the right, turned back inside before finding Lawrence between the lines, who shifted the ball onto his right foot before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the top right hand corner.

Welshman Lawrence, on loan from Leicester City, was a real threat on the wing all game, even before he scored and, as Ryan Fraser before him, it seems Mick McCarthy has made another shrewd loan signing.

He started on the left and was able to shift the ball and deliver brilliant in swinging crosses as well as provide great service from set plays.

Once QPR realised he was becoming too dangerous, they doubled up on him, however he still tried to cut back onto his right foot into traffic, when attacking down the line and delivering with his left foot would have been the better option.

QPR (4-2-3-1): Smithies; Perch, Lynch, Hall (cpt), Bidwell; Cousins, Manning (El Khayati 69); Wszolek, Mackie, Borysiuk (Onuoha 58); Sylla (Washington 38).

Subs ( not used) : Ingram, Shodipo, Ngbakoto, Sandro.

IPSWICH TOWN (5-3-2): Bialkowski; Emmanuel (Ward 46), Chambers (cpt), Webster, Berra, Kenlock (Knudsen 77); Skuse, Bru (Douglas 69), Lawrence; McGoldrick, Pitman.

Subs ( not used) : Gerken, Dozzell, Sears, Varney.

Attendance: 15,136
Referee: T Harrington



Brentford v Cardiff City

Peter Whittingham strokes home; credits Huw Evans agency

It was a Boxing Day goal bonanza at Griffin Park after both sides traded blows, which saw an exciting end to a lacklustre game.

After Whittingham gave the Bluebirds an early lead and with time running out, Brentford equalised with a wonderful effort from substitute Sullay Kaikai with six minutes remaining.

However Neil Warnock must have thought he had snatched a late win when on 88 minutes Kenneth Zohore raced clear to score.

However, the sting in the tail from the Bees was when Kaikai headed home in time added on to see the game end all square.

Zohore holds off  Tom Field; credits Huw Evans agency

Cardiff lined up in a 3-5-2 with Sean Morrison supported either side by Matthew Connolly and Bruno Ecuele Manga in the bluebirds defence and Manga in particular was very strong at the back.

Cardiff took the lead against the run of play after referee Simon Hooper decided Andreas Bjelland brought down Cardiff defender Sean Morrison in the box from a free kick and Peter Whittingham calmly stroked the ball down the middle to give the Bluebirds the lead.

Prior to that, Cardiff were indebted to a couple of fine saves from Brian Murphy in the Cardiff goal, whilst in the second half he denied Ryan Woods and John Egan with outstanding reactions.

Murphy could do nothing about Brentford’s first equaliser, as substitute Kaikai cut inside from the left and hit a brilliant curling shot from outside the area that went into top corner.

Cardiff looked most threatening from throw ins and set pieces, with Aron Gunnarsson able to launch the ball into the six yard area and Kenneth Zohore providing an outlet in behind.

Brentford had a warning in the first half when Zohore chased down a long clearance from a corner against and only a fine save by Daniel Bentley, the Brentford goalkeeper, prevented a goal.

It seemed the Bees didn’t alter their marking as Zohore raced away in the second half to make it 1-2 from a near identical situation, showing good strength to hold off Tom Field after Harlee Dean tried to play Zohore offside from another through ball.

Zohore showed why he is the number one striker for Neil Warnock with a powerful performance, which underlined why Rickie Lambert was left on the bench.

Warnock decided to pair Zohore with Junior Hoilett, however, the latter was disappointing, often caught offside and always on the periphery buzzing around but outshone by the powerful Zohore.

A pairing of Zohore and Lambert would surely be too powerful for most Championship defences.


Sullay Kaikai was fantastic; credits

With the game slipping away Bees Head Coach Dean Smith made a double substitution just after the hour mark, replacing the ineffective Lasse Vibe and Romaine Sawyers with loanee Sullay Kaikai and Josh McEachran.

Both Vibe and Sawyers found it hard to get into the game and it may have been down to Brentford not making Cardiff retreat into a back five, which would have allowed them more space to operate in.

With Brentford happy to receive in front of Cardiff they never tested Cardiff out wide.

The lack of width by Brentford enabled Cardiff to compact the play centrally, whilst the Cardiff back three will never have had an easier afternoon.

The only time the bluebirds back three were moved, was when they gained a throw-in inside their own half and central defender Sean Morrison would jog over to throw it down the line, pushing on the wing back Joe Bennett.

After Jake Bidwell’s departure to QPR, youngster Tom Field has emerged as a possible long-term replacement in the left back role.

However, both Brentford wing backs needed to operate more like wingers with the Bees also playing with a back three.

Neither of the wing backs were able to go past their man until the scoreline required someone to make a difference.

Brentford’s first equaliser came after Field beat two players with two separate nutmegs before crossing for McEachran to set the ball back to Kaikai to equalise.

The on loan Crystal palace striker Kaikai was lively as soon as he was introduced and provided the Bees with some much-needed pace and penetration.

Therefore it was a wonder why he wasn’t introduced earlier, although the double substitution by manager Dean Smith did have a positive effect on the Bees performance thereafter.

With Brentford always chasing the game, it was left to one of the outside centre backs John Egan or Andreas Bjelland to venture a little further forward and try to create two v ones out wide, although neither looked comfortable doing so.

For protection, Ryan Woods would drop into the centre half position to enable the outside centre backs to advance forward but Brentford lacked the inventiveness and creativity a natural wide man provides, such as the injured Alan Judge.

After Cardiff went in front, the second equaliser came from Brentford penetrating the Cardiff penalty area wide and Kaikai met a brilliant cut back cross from John Egan to glance into the far corner of net.

Brentford ended the game as they should start, attacking wide to score centrally, a tactic that served them so well under Mark Warburton and to get the most out of this Brentford side, it is out wide where the Bees will find their wings.

Brentford: (3-5-2) Bentley; Egan, Dean, Bjelland (sub Hofmann 77 mins), Colin, Woods, Yennaris, Sawyers (sub McEachran 63 mins), Field, Vibe (sub Kaikai 63 mins), Hogan
Subs (not used): Bonham, Saunders, Kerschbaumer, Barbet
Cardiff City: (3-5-2) Murphy; Peltier (sub Pilkington 64 mins), Connolly, Manga, Morrison, Bennett, Gunnarsson, Whittingham (sub O’Keefe h/t), Ralls, Hoilett (sub Noone 77 mins), Zohore
Subs (not used): Wilson, Lambert, Harris, Huws
Referee: Simon Hooper
Attendance: 11,098

QPR v Aston Villa

Kodija rifles home; credits

Jonathan Kodija repaid some of the £15m fee Aston Villa paid Bristol City, with his eight goal of the season at QPR to hand Villa only their second away win of the season, against lowly QPR.

Villa’s top scorer had earlier had a penalty saved by Alex Smithies, but he redeemed himself with 17 minutes to go with a powerful shot that squirmed under the QPR goalkeeper.

Steve Bruce made six changes to the side that lost to Norwich 1-0 and he started and finished with an attacking 442 formation that sought to bring the best out of his expensively assembled front line pairing of Kodija and Ross McCormack.

It worked as his side delivered 18 shots on goal, double QPR’s total.

With a defence that was rarely penetrated in behind, Villa were able to defend aggressively in front and left back Jordan Amavi was particularly impressive.

Amavi was rarely beaten and there can be no wonder the likes of Liverpool and Everton are said to be interested in his services.

The France U21 international has just returned after a lengthy spell on the sidelines after rupturing his knee ligaments playing for France U21, though the £10m signing from Ligue 1 Nice looks back to his best, which will have pleased manager Bruce.

With Idrissa Gueye recently prised away from Goodison Park by Ronald Koeman, Bruce will be keen to retain the services of the 22-year-old as he looks to force Villa into the top 6.

Hoop dreams fading

Ian Holloway will be concerned with Hoops form; credits

Ian Holloway will be desperately disappointed with the form of his charges with his side just three points above the relegation zone.

After winning his first game back at the helm, QPR have slumped to five consecutive defeats, scoring only once in the process against Wolves in a 1-2 loss.

With the starting line up featuring only one striker Holloway must have felt playing 4-2-3-1 was still the best way to get a result against the more attack minded Aston Villa, who adopted a 4-4-2, with two recognised strikers in Ross McCormack and Kodija.

With Conor Washington as a lone striker supported by Tjaronn Chery in the number 10 role, QPR sought to score by finding the latter in pockets in the hope he would supply Washington.

For all Chery’s endeavour, QPR lacked penetration with nobody prepared to take someone on in a 1 v 1 or receive in behind.

Too often, QPR players supported behind the ball, happy to receive and pass backwards rather than play on the last man and penetrate in behind.

When QPR did attack, the back four were often too deep, stretching the units which prevented a more compact, higher tempo game from the home side and it was little wonder QPR only had nine shots at goal, none on target.

It was no surprise to see Washington replaced at half time, although you felt playing as a lone striker in a 4-2-3-1 was not the way to get the best out of him.

With Sebastian Polter left on the bench, this seemed like an opportunity missed for Holloway to play 4-4-2, particularly as they were at home, and the search for the right formula continues.

The Christmas period is a tough one for QPR as they travel to Brighton on the 27th, kick off 12.00 GMT, whilst Aston Villa host Burton Albion on Boxing Day 15.00 kick off GMT.

QPR: (4-2-3-1) Smithies; Bidwell, Hall, Onuoha, Perch, Lynch, Luongo, Wszolek (sub Shodipo, 62) Chery (sub Mackie, 78) Washington, Ngbakoto.

Subs (not used): Ingram, Borysiuk, Polter, Sandro, Sylla,

Villa: (4-4-2) Bunn; Hutton, Baker, Chester, Amavi, Jedinak, Gardner, Bacuna, Adomah, McCormack (sub Agbonlahor, 70) Kodjia (sub Gestede, 89)

Subs (not used): Gollini, Elphick, Westwood, Grealish, Ayew.

Referee; Geoff Eltringham

Attendance; 16,285

West Ham v Hull City

Hull City players dejected after another defeatcredits Reuters

Mark Noble struck the winning goal for West Ham in what was their worst performance of the season against a Hull side who will be wondering how they managed to lose this game.

Mike Phelan’s visitors were far more threatening from the first whistle and hit the post three times, enough to make the post man of the match from a Hammers online vote.

Noble’s goal came after Tom Huddlestone was deemed to have pulled Michail Antonio in the box although contact appeared minimal.

The referee Lee Mason seemed to dismiss the claim at first before his assistant referee intervened and a penalty was given.

Although the converted spot kick secured back to back wins for the first time at their new home, this was a far from convincing performance from Slaven Bilic’s side.

Hull City forward Dieumerci Mbokani should have put the Tigers in front early in the first half but struck the inside of the post when one on one with Hammers goalkeeper Darren Randolph.

Harry Maguire had two efforts cleared off the line from two corners, whilst Andrew Robertson smacked the inside of the post with a thunderous drive from outside the area.

Despite all their good work Hull slipped to a seventh straight away defeat which seems them sink to the bottom of the table for Christmas.

Hull pay the price for missed chances

Another chance goes begging for Mbokani; credits

Hull set up in a 3-5-2, a formation which Phelan has used with mixed results so far this season.

Against Spurs in midweek, Hull’s wing backs were too tight to Spurs wing backs and Hull were punished out wide with the pace of Danny Rose too much for the likes of Ahmed Elmohamady.

However, West Ham did not pose the same threats in wide areas with most of the play in front of Hull which suited their aggressive back three.

Curtis Davies, Michael Dawson and Maguire were in command from the first whistle, with one marking Andy Carroll closely with the others picking up any flick ons in behind.

With the Hammers lacking runners beyond the Tigers’ defence, Hull could have been even more aggressive with their line to squeeze the pitch and limit the space for the likes of Dimitri Payet and Manuel Lanzini to play in.

However, whenever West Ham looked like building up in front, Hull were able to snuff out any danger with good interceptions or tackles.

With their size, Hull were a real threat at set pieces and Phelan was able to make good use of the zonal spacing employed by Slaven Bilic and in particular where he put his best header of the ball, Andy Carroll.

With Carroll positioned at the near post space to head any short balls clear, it was left to Michail Antonio to pick up Harry Maguire, a clear mis-match.

With the reliable delivery from Robert Snodgrass, Hull sought to isolate Maguire against Antonio and only two goal line clearances from West Ham prevented Maguire scoring twice.

I thought Bilic may change this at half time but he stuck with his corner marking system and Maguire nearly scored again after the interval and this is an area where other teams may look to expose West Ham.

With Mbokani back after a three game suspension, he was the more effective centre forward on show, often retaining possession and linking well with his partner in attack Robert Snodgrass.

If Mbokani went up for a header, Snodgrass would be running in behind penetrating the Hammers back line, whilst Robertson and Elmohamady were always dangerous out wide.

In the second half Snodgrass received 25yds from goal and smacked the inside of the post and he showed why West Ham bid £8m for his services in the summer with a fantastic all round display.

The best chance of the second half though fell to Mbokani but his failure to capitalise on a poor Aaron Cresswell back pass, when one on one with Randolph, cost the Tigers in the end.

Hammers dig in

Mark Noble salutes the crowd; credits sky

The result was all that mattered to manager Slaven Bilic, although he knows the crowd will not be expecting to be served up such fare over the Christmas period, in a game Hull could have won comfortably.

Bilic got his formation and personnel wrong with too many ‘Number 10s’ and no threat in behind, West Ham were slow in possession, lacking tempo to their play and rarely penetrated the Hull back line.

In fairness to Bilic he recognised this and was swift in trying to effect a change in performance levels by making a double substitution at half time.

Andre Ayew and Fernandes replaced the ineffective Lanzini and Pedro Obiang and out went the Christmas tree formation and in came 4-4-2, with Michail Antonio the surprise choice to partner Andy Carroll in attack.

West Ham improved but the service from front to back was poor and Antonio failed in shine in an unfamiliar role with his back to goal.

You could see the rationale behind such a move, Bilic saw that he needed more pace in behind and Antonio is one of the very few players in his ranks who possesses such a trait.

Carroll though needed a centre forward beside him who was used to playing with a front man, someone to read flick ons, hold the ball up and play in a partnership.

Carroll appeared lacking in match fitness and often spent large periods of the game outside the box and I couldn’t help but wonder if the Hammers aren’t getting the most out of him or if he is not getting the most out of himself.

Whenever the ball was wide, West Ham were slow to get the delivery in and this is one reason Carroll seems to spend so much time outside the area.

Another, is he doesn’t expect the ball to come in as the likes of Payet and Lanzini like to dribble with the ball so much.

I looked at Salomon Rondon last week for West Brom who scored a hat-trick of headers, all from wide deliveries and I thought of Carroll.

As soon as Chris Brunt of West Brom received the ball wide, he looked to deliver into the penalty area and Rondon was in the box ready to challenge.

Carroll and West Ham need to play to the strengths they possess and start attacking wide with penetration, with Antonio as a winger receiving higher up, enabling Carroll to make his way into the box and the Christmas period seems the right time to switch to a more traditional formation and style of play.

The Boxing Day fixtures are next up for these two as West Ham travel to second-bottom Swansea 15.00 GMT whilst Hull play host to Manchester City at 17.15 GMT.

West Ham: ( 3-4-3):Randolph; Kouyate, Reid, Ogbanna;Antonio, Noble, Obiang (sub Fernandes 46min), Creswell; Payet (sub Nordtveit 90min), Lansing( Ayew 46min), Carroll

Subs (not used): Adrian, Feghouli, Fletcher, Quina

Bookings: Obiang, Noble

Hull City: (3-5-2): Marshall; Davies, Dawson, Maguire: Elmohamady, Livermore (sub Henriksen 68min),Huddlestone (sub Bowen 85min), Clucas; Robertson; Snodgrass, Mbokani (sub Diomande 68min)

Subs (not used): Jakupovic, Meyler, Maloney, Weit

Bookings: Livermore, Dawson,Henriksen, Maguire

Referee: Lee Mason

Attendance: 56,952


Watford v Everton

Stefano Okaka wheels away in delight; credits Getty Images

Stefano Okaka was the Hornets hero as he scored his first goals for Watford as they beat an out-of-sorts Everton side.

Okaka, signed from Anderlecht in the summer for £10m, put the finishing touch to a flowing move in the first half before heading home after the break to seal a memorable win for Walter Mazzarri’s side.

Everton took the lead on 17 minutes after a hopeful ball from Gareth Barry was helped on in midfield and, with the Watford defence and goalkeeper slow to react, Romelu Lukaku poked home from close range.

Sebastian Prodl added a third before Lukaku set up a tense final few minutes after heading in late on.

Hornets sting in the tail

Watford had lost three out of the last four and after falling behind looked likely to continue that sequence, however, Everton were lacklustre in possession, often launching long balls up to Lukaku and hoping to win the first or second ball

Watford, meanwhile, were dogged in defence and with Deeney and Okaka a constant threat, Everton’s midfield were caught between pressing or shielding and did neither very well.

If Watford had comfortable possession in midfield the crowd would urge the Toffees to get stuck in.

If they did go and press the Watford midfield, it would leave big holes to play into the Hornets strikers and that meant trouble for Everton.

With Ashley Williams and Ramiro Funes Mori struggling to handle the Hornets front pairing, Watford were able to build attacks and penetrate the Everton back line.

Deeney, however, appeared low in confidence in front of goal, and you could see why he hadn’t scored in 8 league games.

After being presented with a wonderful opportunity after a lovely cut back cross, he took a touch when he could have shot first time.

Toffees come unstuck

A dejected Ramiro Funes Mori and Enner Valencia; credits Getty Images

After a bright start under Ronald Koeman, Everton have won just one of their past 10 matches and defensively they have kept just two clean sheets in the league so far this season.

They lack pace to play a more compact game, with Koeman alluding to this in his pre match press conference.

However, the lack of partnerships all over the pitch, which were a hallmark of the Moyes area, seemed to result in a very disjointed performance.

Kevin Mirallas was largely anonymous before being replaced in the second half and it was surprising Koeman left it until the 64th minute, by which point Everton were 3-1 down.

After such a tepid first half display, the Everton fans may have rightly expected to see a change in attitude or personnel in the second half but it was much of the same until Ross Barkley was introduced just after the hour mark and Koeman left it too late to effect the result.

Things don’t get any easier for Everton as they host Arsenal in the league on Tuesday at 19.45 GMT and Watford travel to face Manchester City on Wednesday, kick off 20.00 GMT.

Watford: (3-5-2) Gomes; Zuniga (sub Kabasele 90 mins), Prodl, Britos, Holebas, Capoue, Behrami, Guedioura (sub Janmaat, 61 mins), Amrabat; Okaka (sub Watson 81 mins) Deeney.

Subs (not used): Pantilimon,Success,Sinclair,Ighalo

Everton: ( 4-4-1-1) Stekelenburg; Coleman, Williams,Funes-Mori, Baines (sub Lennon 83 mins); Gueye (sub Barkley 64 mins), Barry, Deulofeu, McCarthy,Mirallas (sub Valencia 71 mins); Lukaku

Subs (not used): Robles, Jagielka, Cleverly, Holgate

Referee: Andrew Taylor

Attendance; 20,769