|Birmingham City 1 v 4 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 18th February 2017 Kick-off 15:00
QPR start potentially season-defining week at St Andrew's - Preview
Friday, 17th Feb 2017 19:19 by Clive Whittingham
With April's fixtures looming over QPR like the Death Star, and the relegation zone getting worryingly close, the R's need to make the most of this week's games against Birmingham, Wigan and Preston.
Birmingham City (10-10-12, DLLWLL, 14th) v QPR (9-7-15, WDLDLL, 19th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday February 18, 2017 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Thick cloud, pretty cold >>> St Andrew’s, Birmingham
Football a bit boring? Matches not that entertaining? Team too defensive? Saturday afternoons spent queueing to get into Ikea Wembley starting to seem more alluring? Sack your manager, what could possibly go wrong? Nothing, that’s what, and look how green that field is over there, get yourself over the fence lads and start revelling in a better world where Birmingham City and Queens Park Rangers suddenly become the free-flowing, exciting, attractive football teams they always (always, without exception) have been.
Birmingham were seventh in the division and fresh from a home win against Ipswich when they dismissed Gary Rowett at the start of December – partly because the football was a bit functional, and partly because (bizarrely) it had made him so sought after they thought he was going to walk out on them anyway. They’ve won one of 13 matches since, losing eight, including the last two having replaced him Gianfranco Zola – a wonderful player and seemingly really nice bloke, but never a manager and a man with an unedifying knack of turning up and sniffing around clubs that have just been bought by no-nothing foreign owners keen to get autographs and pictures with somebody a bit more glamorous than Gary Rowett.
“Well he got Watford to the play-off final,” they say. Well, yes, only because Leicester missed a penalty in the last minute of the semi-final, and they then lost meekly to Palace at Wembley before embarking on a club record run of home defeats the season after, including a 3-0 loss to mighty Yeovil, which saw him sacked. Watford have gone from strength to strength since he left and are now an established Premier League club. “Olly vs The Wally” as LFW’s resident Watford fan put it over lunch today.
QPR had lost two of their previous eight, beating Fulham away and Bristol City in the process, and had just salvaged a late draw at Nottingham Forest with ten men when Jimmy Floyd Hasslebaink was sacked, essentially because everybody was a bit bored. They’ve won four of sixteen matches since, including a six match losing run over Christmas and a five match winless streak coming into this weekend’s game. They’ve torn apart the squad and attempted to rebuild it mid-season. Not only that, but they’ve largely abandoned the previous transfer strategy (and all but one of their foreign signings) and attempted to change tack completely at the behest of the new manager, slap bang in the middle of the season.
Unlike at Birmingham (though no doubt that will change at 15.00 tomorrow) there are some signs of life at QPR. There have been good performances against Fulham, Reading, Newcastle and Blackburn lately. There has been a plan of attack, completely absent under Hasselbaink – QPR work the ball into dangerous areas methodically and populate those areas with players to try and do damage with it, as opposed to the Hasselbaink era where the ball was simply lumped into the red zone and we hoped it might become dangerous simply by being there. Conor Washington has two goals, a third that was wrongly disallowed and another off the post in the last four games having never previously looked like scoring at all. The legs in midfield issue has been addressed with, unbelievably, a youth teamer we had at our disposal all alone – Ryan Manning has quickly become indispensable to the team.
Despite sitting nineteenth, just five points above the drop zone, the mood remains reasonably relaxed. When we spoke to Alex Smithies earlier this week for the Open All R’s Podcast there was a talk about improving the consistency but when asked if Rangers were in a relegation battle the line was “I wouldn’t say so. I’ve been in battles when you’re in the bottom three and we’ve not been there this season, it could be a lot worse when you look at the teams below us. We’ve got a run of games where we think we could pick up points and get safe pretty early on.” Smithies believes it so much, he’s signed a contract extension to 2020 today – beautiful/silly boy.
And you can kind of get on board with that point of view as well. QPR have been relegated four times in recent history – 1996, 2001, 2013 and 2015. There are traits and patterns among all those teams that simply aren’t present in the current bunch. Is the team obviously not good enough to the point of being uncompetitive? The 2001 side conceded five goals on three different occasions; the 2014 side conceded nine goals in two games to Swansea and took 16 matches to win a game at all; the 2015 lot had two 4-0’s a 5-1 and a 6-0 on their slate. The Newcastle home game apart, that isn’t the case this season – of QPR’s 15 defeats so far only four have been by more than a single goal.
Is the team ageing? Is the team all coming to the end of contract? Is the team full of people who came for the wrong reasons and don’t want to be here? This has been the case several times before but isn’t this season. The struggle to replace the goals Charlie Austin scored for us mirrors the Les Ferdinand departure prior to the 1996 drop but the comparisons end there. QPR seem committed, and are reasonably competitive.
One worrying trait they do have though is underperforming, and generally losing, to the teams around them at the bottom – four points for Burton and Blackburn and three for Rotherham so far – while playing well and not winning in the other games. You can’t be at your best every week, particularly in the Championship when games are played every day (sometimes twice), so you really need to make it count when you are and then scrape together results when you’re not. QPR don’t win at the moment whether they play well or not, that’s a worry.
Like Birmingham, we’ve probably put enough points on the board already to get safe without too much effort. Rotherham, for instance, are 17 points behind. To go past us they’d have to take one more point from their remaining 14 games than they have from the 32 they’ve played so far, and even then they’d need us to lose every match. Even their miracle escape under Neil Warnock last season was six wins and five draws from the final 13 games which, if they did it again, would give them 40 points – QPR need two more wins to get to 40.
Obviously Blackburn, Wigan, Burton and Bristol City are more threat but Rangers should be able to keep ahead of them without too much trouble from a starting base of 34 points. Two wins this week and QPR go back to midtable, above Aston Villa and others. But with an April that offers fixtures with Derby, Villa, Bristol City and Brentford on the road with home games against promotion chasing Brighton and Sheff Wed it’s clear that “should” and “would” needs to turn into “will” and “did” pretty damn quickly, starting this week with Birmingham and Wigan.
Funnily enough, and as is typical of such situations, Grant Hall has been trotted out to say QPR need to win by whatever means possible – grinding out victories if necessary, digging in and scrapping for just the sort of ugly, attritional victories Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink based his whole style on trying to achieve.
Football eh? You couldn’t make this shit up.
Links >>> Ill-advised managerial change – Interview >>> 50years on from semi-final – History >>> Smithieswants to stay – Podcast >>> Davies in charge – Referee
Team News: We wait to see whether Ravel Morrison will be gracing us with his presence this week after not even making the bench for the Huddersfield game. Joel Lynch was on one of his regular sabbaticals last week but might be involved here if he hasn’t got anything else on. Jack Robinson is still at the glue factory.
Two on the naughty step for Birmingham – midfielders Craig Gardner (one match ban for a sending off against Preston for wearing red trousers) and David Davis (two match ban for accumulation of cautions for shouting at parked cars) both miss out. Centre backs Michael Morrison (pierced his foot on a spike) and Ryan Shotton (too much cheese) are both sidelined.
QPR are one of four teams that play twice in that time. Two of the others, Wigan Warriors and Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion, are two of the five teams below us in the table as we near the watershed round 7,500 of this year’s competition. Burton have the Carrot Crunchers at home on Saturday, then the big local derby at the Derby Sheep on Tuesday. Two defeats, one would expect, but the annual Derby meltdown is in full swing so don’t be counting chicken/sheep just yet. Wigan are at the home of football on Tuesday and have scheduled a warm up match with Preston Knob End to prepare them for that herculean task.
The Sheffield Owls are the other overworked souls – away to the Nottingham Trees on Saturday then back at home against Brentford on Tuesday. Bizarrely, in amongst all of this, a couple of teams have no league match at all oweing to cup commitments – The Mad Indian Chicken Farmers and the Wolverhampton Wolves will hold two games in hand over QPR by Wednesday morning.
Of the rest of the weekend games… Barnsley v Brighton is this week’s fixture between two teams starting with B, Relegated Rotherham visit the Seventh Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour having been the venue for the sixth and Ipswich host the Champions of Europe.
Then on Monday night it’s Champions Newcastle v Leddersford live on your tellybox, so when the grandkids ask you where you were when Arsene Wenger’s 20-year reign as Arsenal manager finally came to an end with an ignominious defeat on a plastic pitch to Sutton United you can tell them you were watching second tier drudge on the other side. Villa, sixteenth and without a win in nine, have spent in excess of £50m on their team this season.
Birmingham: Brum have won one out of 13 games, losing eight, since Gary Rowett was sacked as manager with the team sitting seventh and having just beaten Ipswich. They won nine and drew five of the 18 games played prior to that. At home they’ve won one out of six under Zola (beating Fulham 1-0) and lost to Reading and Brighton. Barnsley and Wolves are the other sides to win at St Andrew’s this season. Birmingham have only won one of their last six meetings with QPR and have failed to score in four of the other five. Conversely, QPR have only won once in ten visits to this ground – Ravel Morrison scored twice in a 2-0 here in 2014.
LFW’s Prediction: Birmingham 0-1 QPR. Scorer – Matt Smith.
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