|QPR pray history repeats as Everton visit W12 - full match preview|
Fri 19th Oct 2012 19:55 by Clive Whittingham
QPR will make another attempt to put a first victory on the board before we move into November when they face Everton on Sunday – a remarkably similar situation to the one they faced ahead of this fixture in 1991.
QPR (20th) v Everton (4th)
Premier League >>> Sunday October 21, 2012 >>> Kick Off 16.00 >>> Loftus Road, London, W12 >>> Live on Sky Sports 1
There was a palpable sense of "oh, yeh, that lot" among the LFW travelling party as we dutifully left the warmth and beer of the pub behind and headed up to The Hawthorns for the inevitable defeat to West Brom last time out. The team was billed as QPR's most talented in a generation just a few short weeks ago and already we're barely on speaking terms.
I want to believe, and I think I still do, that this is a temporary situation that will eventually turn around. Mark Hughes' Fulham side was in the bottom three after a heavy Boxing Day defeat at home to eventually relegated West Ham in his one season at Craven Cottage and they ended up rallying to finish eighth. The lines about Hughes being a notoriously slow starter have been penned so often on LFW the letters have rubbed off the s and t keys on my laptop but the point remains valid for now.
As Hughes has used his pre-match press conference to say the squad is – Fabio and Andy Johnson apart – fully fit, this slow starting problem is the only excuse he has left if things continue to go awry in Sunday's televised home match with Everton. A knack of picking up injuries across the back four has certainly hamstrung Rangers so far this season and the shambolic nonsense we saw against West Brom last time out can be partially attributed to the uncertainty that has created. Let's not be too kind though, the defending for all three goals conceded in that match would have disgraced a park side.
What QPR need is a turning point, and despite their superb start to the season Everton could be just the team to provide it. A 1-1 draw in this fixture last season, during which a 15 minute cameo by a squirrel lifted the mood of the crowd, sparked a run of five consecutive home wins which secured survival and it wasn't the first time that Rangers had stopped a rot against the Toffees in recent times.
In the 1993/94 season the cut-price sale of Player of the Year-elect Darren Peacock to Newcastle sparked on field protests from supporters and a collapse in form that saw Rangers crash 4-1 at Oldham, 4-0 at home to Leeds and 3-1 at Sheffield Wednesday inside a fortnight. When Everton came to town on the final day of the terraced Lower Loft and took the lead through Tony Cottee another defeat seemed to be on the cards but Devon White thumped (literally) in an equaliser and Les Ferdinand won the game late on.
But it's a game back in 1991/92 that seems a particularly apt straw to clutch onto as we go into this weekend's encounter. It was a different world back then in the pre-Premier League, pre-internet, pre-24 hour news channel days. QPR were not only able to openly state that they'd replaced respected manager Don Howe with the reasonably untried club hero Gerry Francis simply because they "wanted a younger man" - a fairly short court case followed by a big chunky fine would be theirs for such behaviour if they did likewise today – but then stick with him through a nightmare start to the season.
While Francis is remembered for building an attractive, attacking side led by a spine of Ferdinand, Wilkins, McDonald and Stejskal which he guided to fifth in the first ever Premier League season 1992/93, it's worth remembering at a time of mounting pressure on Mark Hughes that in the present day he'd probably have been sacked less than six months into his reign.
Rangers began the Francis reign with a 1-1 draw away at reigning champions Arsenal where they conceded an equaliser to Paul Merson in injury time. Creditable enough, but they lost Ray Wilkins to a bad ankle injury and Alan McDonald later went the same way. They were beaten in Francis' first home game, 2-0 against Norwich ,and eight games into the season were without a single victory to their name. Sound familiar? It should, this season is potentially the first time we would go eight games at the start of the season without a win since then.
Francis brought in Paul Walsh on loan from Spurs and the R's scraped a 1-0 away win at Luton on his debut to get off the mark at the ninth time of asking but then developed a ball aching trait of blowing two goal leads to draw games – Palace scored two in the last eight minutes, Chelsea did something similar at Loftus Road. By the time Everton came to town on October 26 (spooky eh?) Rangers had won two of 13 league games and were without a win in seven attempts at Loftus Road.
Everton, champions just five years previously and still boasting the likes of Peter Beardsley in their line up, had won five and drawn one of six coming into the fixture but going into the closing stages Rangers led 2-1 thanks to goals from Dennis Bailey and Simon Barker.
Facing the prospect of blowing the lead again and settling for another 2-2 draw Rangers tentatively tried to play out time with some nervous possession in the Everton half. Eventually the ball came to Barker once more on the edge of the box and he took the frustration of the previous three months out on the chance, lashing a ferocious shot past Southall and into the top corner from 20 yards out. A screamer, a winning goal, a turning point.
On New Year's Day that season QPR won 4-1 at champions elect Manchester United. That result stunned Alex Ferguson's side an opened the door for Leeds United to nip in but Rangers beat them 4-1 at Loftus Road in March as well. Sitting just behind the pair of them was Manchester City – but they too were beaten 4-0 in W12 the week before Leeds arrived for their thrashing. From the end of November to the end of March QPR lost just one of 19 matches and eventually finished eleventh to secure their place in the inaugural Premier League. Under the modern rules their fifth place finish a season later would have qualified them for Europe.
QPR have beaten Everton more than any other team in the Premier League era so maybe, just maybe, we're going to kick-start the season this Sunday at 4pm. Mark Hughes, fast running out of excuses, will certainly hope so.
Team News: QPR’s injury crisis seems to be easing with only Fabio Da Silva (hamstring) and season-long casualty Andy Johnson definitely out this weekend. Armand Traore has a situation where the club are nursing him through training and matches to avoid a stress fracture to his leg following a heavy blow in the Norwich away match. Other than that though, with Samba Diakite free from suspension for the next 20 minutes at least, it’s a fully fit squad to choose from.
Everton have a doubt over in form Marouane Fellaini who has been sidelined with a knee injury and is unlikely to travel south. With another player who’s impressed recently Darron Gibson also out David Moyes has made use of the space in his 25 man squad by bringing in former Villa and West Ham man Thomas Hitzlsperger on a short term contract. The German had been training with Everton for some time with a view to the move so he could slot straight into the matchday squad. Long serving right back Tony Hibbert is ruled out.
Elsewhere: Rangers go last this weekend with their 4pm Sunday kick off preceded by the big derby match in the north east between Newcastle and Sunderland. Working back from there we have Arsenal’s trip to Norwich as the Saturday evening televised fixture and then a clutch of 3pm kick offs of which few catch the eye. Fulham v Villa and Liverpool v Reading are run-of-the-mill affairs and only Roberto Martinez’s return to South Wales adds intrigue to Swansea v Wigan. West ham will fancy their chances at home to fellow newly promoted side Southampton having started the new season at a higher level much the stronger of the two teams. Perhaps the most eye-catching one of the conventional kick offs is Man City’s trip to high flying West Brom. City have conceded in all seven league games so far, the first time the reigning champions have ever done that, while the Baggies look a fluid outfit capable of springing a surprise there. The first game of Captain Racist’s four match suspension is Chelsea’s Saturday lunchtime game at Tottenham.
Referee: Jon Moss is the man in the middle this weekend – still a relative new comer to the Premier League list in this his second season on the elite list. Moss refereed QPR twice last season, awarding us two penalties in a home win against Wigan and then presiding over a meek surrender at West Brom towards the end of the campaign. He averaged 7.5 for those two performances so clearly didn’t do too badly by Mark Hughes’ side. Prior to that he was a regular face on the Championship circuit when Rangers were a league lower. For a full case file on his QPR history click here.
FormQPR: Well, if you’re clutching at straws then the league table tells us we’ve actually had a tough start to the campaign with matches against five of the top eight so far and two of the other three to come this week in the shape of Everton and Arsenal. They’ve lost six and drawn two of nine matches so far this season, the one win coming against Walsall in the League Cup, and haven’t won a home league game since a scrappy 1-0 success against Stoke at the beginning of May. They’ve lost their last four games conceding ten in the process and are on their worst start to a season since 1991 when they failed to win any of the first eight. They’ve conceded six times in the opening half hour of fixtures so far this season.
Everton: Everton have started the season well, with only one defeat in the first seven league matches. That opens out into one defeat in their last 16 league games going back into last season which belies their reputation as slow starters – in fact it took until the beginning of December for them to amass the 14 league points they’ve already posted this term. They’ve scored at least twice in their last four league games, and average two goals a game overall. They have scored 10 of their 14 goals so far in the first half of games. Here’s a bizarre stat to finish on – Everton have scored 43% of their goals this season with headers, and conceded 38% in the same way, both the highest totals in the league.
Betting: Professional odds compiler Owen Goulding writes…
“Rangers return after the international break to take on an in-form Everton side, hoping to finally put that elusive Premiership win on the board. I've given up second guessing Mark Hughes' team selection but one thing that I do expect however is Bosingwa to start and provide an intriguing battle with the superb Leighton Baines. Both love to get forward and the key to this match could be which one forces the other one to play as a full back rather than an attacking force.
“It is expected that Fellaini will miss out for the Toffees and this is a massive plus for QPR. It may surprise you, but after starting the season with three straight wins, Everton have actually only won two of their last six games and those came against the sinking stone that is Swansea and a Southampton team who have struggled to adjust to the new found heights of the Premiership. On their last outing, Everton scraped a draw at Wigan and really should have been dead and buried at half-time. But for QPR to win this, they will need to fire out of the blocks and defend much better than they have so far.
“The problem is, when you look at the defence, you struggle to believe QPR can keep a clean sheet, especially against the movement and pace they will face on Sunday of Jelavic and Miralles. I’ve attended some cracking games in the past between these two, and I can see this being another end to end battle. The 8/11 both teams to score interests me but the price is not quite big enough for me to get involved and with Fellaini out, this match looks very even on paper. . So my recommended bet is the draw at Pinnacle Sports at 13/5.”
Prediction: Reigning Prediction League champion Nathan McAllister writes…
“Everton have impressed me every time I’ve seen them this season, especially at Swansea where they had 30 attempts at goal and 19 on target in the course of a 3-0 win that had it been a boxing match would have been stopped by the referee before half time. Marouane Fellaini has been, quite literally, massive for Everton this season, so his likely absence with a knee injury will be a big boost for Rangers’ beleaguered boss, Mark Hughes. But even without Fellaini, Hughes and his team will need to come up with a strategy to blunt the attacking threat posed by Nikica Jelavic (15 goals in only 19 starts since joining from Rangers), Steven Pienaar (eight assists in 2012 – more than any other Premier League player), Kevin Mirallas (three goals in six starts so far for Everton, after 34 in 49 starts for his previous side Olympiakos) and Leighton Baines (arguably the best attacking left-back in the Premier League at the moment). Rangers have looked particularly vulnerable in wide areas this season, mainly due to the constantly changing personnel in the full back positions, so the chances of the right side of our defence being torn a new one by a very much in-form combination of Baines and Pienaar are high to say the least.
That said, Everton are not without their weaknesses, just as Rangers are not completely lacking in quality themselves. Wigan, chiefly thanks to Shaun Maloney and Arouna Kone, exposed The Toffees’ soft-centre more than once in their last outing, especially down the Everton right where Seamus Coleman was filling in at right back. Our own in-form Adel Taarabt is more than capable of giving him, or Phil Neville, or whoever is selected there, a torrid time on Sunday. With Granero and Faurlin (plus one) hopefully back in tandem in the middle of midfield, and with defenders coming back to full fitness, there are straws for hopeful R’s fans to clutch at. My heart says that this is the game where Rangers will finally get the season on track and get the morale boosting win they so desperately need. But then I thought that would be the case against Reading. And West Ham. And West Brom.
Let’s face it this is a game between one team full of quality and confidence, in form and in a Champions League spot; and another, bottom of the table, low on confidence, and with a manager under more and more pressure with each passing game. As Rangers fans we’re entering familiar territory here and it rarely ends well. I’m going with my head this time.
Prediction: QPR 1 Everton 2 (Taarabt)
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