|Queens Park Rangers 2 v 1 Cardiff City|
Saturday, 4th March 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Warnock returns on nostalgic day in W12 - Preview
Friday, 3rd Mar 2017 19:12 by Clive Whittingham
QPR mark 50 years since their League Cup win, and welcome back former boss Neil Warnock for the first time as an opposition manager, as Cardiff arrive in W12 this Saturday.
QPR (11-7-16, DLLWWL, 17th) v Cardiff City (13-7-14, WLWWWD 12th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday March 4, 2017 >>> Kick off 15.00 !!! >>> Weather – Light rain, cold >>> Loftus Road, London, W12
It's not just the weird lack of eyebrows, Neil Warnock's whole demeanour these days does make me wonder whether it's actually a man in a rubber Neil Warnock mask doing an elaborate send up.
A recent appearance on Goals on Sunday raised hopes of a morning game of Warnock Bingo, but the card was full before we'd even really got going. Headers, tackles, muck, nettles, my kind of club, Championship over Premier League, Tarbs, Sharon… it was all there, enthusiastically poured into the first seven and a half minutes of the broadcast. An embellished version of a story we'd sort of heard about Taarabt before, a couple of borderline impressions, retirement to Devon, William’s hockey – a real tour de force. He finished by saying he'd like his death to be marked by a minute of booing at every Football League ground and you couldn’t help but admire whoever this was, enthusiastically beating Neil Warnock into second place in a Neil Warnock sound-a-like competition.
Warnock is one of the best managers in the history of Queens Park Rangers. The club has only been promoted eight times in its history (1948, 1967, 1968, 1973, 1983, 2004, 2011 and 2014) and he achieved one of those, picking up an absolute shambles in 2009/10 and turning it into the dominant, title-winning force that went unbeaten for the first 19 games of the 2010/11 campaign. That was the seventh promotion of his career and after a difficult spell with Leeds, a job he always seemed to have taken on the bitter rebound from his harsh QPR sacking against his better judgement, and a miraculous recovery with Rotherham last year he's starting to look good for an eighth at Cardiff. In the bottom three when he took over, they've climbed to exactly halfway in the division and scored 15 goals in four wins and a draw across six games in February. He's agreed a contract for next season, he's secured money to buy the four players he thinks he needs this summer and the Championship would do well to watch out next season.
This, QPR's on field performance, and Warnock's return to W12 for the first time as an opposition manager this weekend, will all restart the pub debate about whether he should have been handed the manager's job at Loftus Road for a second time. Warnock was back here as a consultant, and then caretaker manager, in November 2015 but Rangers subsequently appointed Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to replace Chris Ramsey.
Now as we know, Warnock had told the club he could only help out short term, had no interest in being a manager again, and it subsequently transpired that his wife was poorly and they had a safari planned over Christmas. That story changed this week to "got the bug again" and the Hasselbaink appointment was a "bolt from the blue". I like Warnock's stories. They're harmless mostly, done to entertain, self promote and make people laugh – unlike Harry Redknapp's tall tales which tend to be more malicious and done to cover up a dodgy deal, poor performance on the field or the total collapse of one of his clubs. But we all know, when Neil’s rolling out the old classics about Tarbs and Paddy Kenny and Jairmi Macki, we all know there's only a liquid 25% of it that's actually true. His autobiography that covers the QPR promotion, while full of wonderful nostalgia and memories for the discerning Super Hoop die hard, rivals Sandro’s passport and the Mr Men series for factual content.
So it’s both a difficult argument but also a moot point to say QPR were right not to bring him back permanently for a second time – difficult because Rangers have struggled since while he's revived first Rotherham and then Cardiff, but redundant because he told the club at the time he didn't want the job and couldn't take it even if he did. But these 46 match previews a season don't write themselves so we're pressing ahead regardless.
The four matches Warnock was in charge for last year have been contorted to fit so many people's agendas that I'm not actually convinced I was in attendance at the same games any more. Two wins, one draw and one defeat was a decent record, but QPR played without a striker at all for the majority of them, scored just two goals and went a full 90 minutes against Preston without a shot on target. One of the wins, at Reading, only happened because the ever obliging Ali Al Habsi dropped one in the net in injury time and the other was against a dire Leeds team being haplessly managed by Big Fat Steve Evans when Big Fat Steve Evans was still big and fat. Reinforcing the point that Warnock's personal circumstances prevented him taking the job full time, he didn't actually attend one of the other two games away at Middlesbrough which didn’t exactly smack of somebody in a position to take on a full time management position – totally understandable, Warnock admitted that himself.
During that period he relied heavily on Sandro, Leroy Fer, Matt Phillips, Junior Hoilett and Rob Green – with Charlie Austin working his way back from injury to score the other of the two goals. All of these players had to be sold or released to redress years of ruinous spending. You can of course say that one promotion to the Premier League can cure all your financial ills, and nobody is better at achieving that than Warnock, but really QPR needed a restructure and a rebuild rather than another short term punt at a promotion that would almost certainly have failed with that group of players even if Warnock was managing them. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink didn't work out, but that doesn't necessarily mean Warnock would have done. Or would have taken it, as we keep saying.
The release of QPR's latest set of accounts to Companies House, covering the 2015/16 season, show what a remarkable job Lee Hoos and Les Ferdinand – both criticised to varying degrees for not re-hiring Warnock among other perceived crimes – have done at Loftus Road in the last 18 months. While the club losing another £11m can hardly be seen as good news, nor that we’re currently paying out 10% of our income in interest on shareholder loans, it's a remarkable achievement when you dig into the figures, which are analysed brilliantly by Niall Rogers on Twitter (@nrogers959).
They show that losses are down to £11m from £46m the season before, despite revenues declining £44m through a loss of Premier League and TV money. It's the least amount of money QPR have lost for eight years. Hoos and Ferdinand have overseen a cut to the wage bill from £63m per season to £36m – the average salary at QPR has come down from £446k a year to £246k. More than £12m was made in player sales. Rangers, despite the state that Ferdinand and Hoos inherited from Phil Beard, Harry Redknapp and the owners, were FFP compliant last season.
Football is about results on the pitch of course, not on the balance sheet, and those have not been good enough. Fans, often of the mouth breathing variety, still think QPR should be in the market for Jordan Rhodes or Ross McCormack, still think “Tottenham Les” is on some weird quest to employ all his mates and sign youngsters and no-marks when really he could just go out and buy Dwight Gayle if he wanted to. Hasselbaink didn’t work and has been replaced, and any "never go back" arguments around Neil Warnock are somewhat nullified by Rangers doing exactly that with Ian Holloway who promptly tore into the squad and signed another half a dozen new players in January.
But the club seems much more stable than it was, and hopefully in a better position to start addressing its infrastructure problems – which is of course how the Premier League money should have been spent, do bear that in mind when praising the owners for writing off £180m of shareholder loans. That, and the fact that the Airbus A320 which makes up 77 of Air Asia's fleet of 80 planes cost US$98m each so £180m isn't that much in the grand scheme of things.
It's being run something more like a proper business/football club again, something the much maligned Ferdinand and Hoos deserve much credit for. Whether that would have been the case had Warnock been kept on last season, and a second promotion punted at, who knows? One thing is for sure, chucking money at trying to get to the Premier League and stay in it wasn’t working, and QPR are far better off trying to do things this way.
Despite that, several people at QPR – players, managers, administrators – have been judged harshly in the last couple of years simply because they're not Neil Warnock, nor the class of 2010/11. People like Chris Ramsey, Les Ferdinand, Karl Henry, Ben Gladwin, Nedum Onuoha and others have been pilloried because they're not Warnock, Taarabt, Faurlin, Helguson, Hill, Derry and so on. In actual fact, these people are just parring the QPR course – or in Ferdinand's case smashing the living daylights out of it – but our expectations were raised by that glorious season under Neil and while what’s happening now isn’t anywhere near as good it is basically what QPR have done for 140 years and what a club of our size and resource should be doing.
I think Jamie Mackie summed it up best in our interview with him earlier this week.
"It’s the best team I’ve ever played in, the best group of lads I’ve ever played with, best squad, best season. From there I’ve always been chasing that season again and it’s very difficult to get that feeling back. As I’ve got older I’ve realised that I’m lucky I’ve had that season and I’ll keep it in isolation and not try to chase it too much because you won’t ever replicate a season after another season, that’s the nature of football." – Jamie Mackie
I think we've all been guilty of that, to the point where we've convinced ourselves that Neil Warnock a) could have been persuaded to come back and b) would definitely have worked the old magic again. In actual fact that was an exceptional season, incredibly difficult to replicate, one of only eight promotions in the club's history. Even Warnock, who’s been promoted seven times himself, rates it as his greatest achievement and happiest time – which should tell you something about how difficult it was to pull off.
So when we stand, as we surely will, to welcome Warnock back to Loftus Road for the first time as an opposition manager tomorrow let’s do so remembering what a remarkable achievement that was and how much we all enjoyed watching his team, not mumbling and grumbling that he should be in the opposite dug out.
On a day of welcoming back past legends, QPR will mark 50 years since the League Cup triumph with a special all white kit and a half time presentation to some of the team from the 1967 success against West Brom. You can listen to our extended interview with winning goalscorer Mark Lazarus at the embed above, or via the Open All R’s QPR Podcast site. Also be sure to pick up your special FREE copy of A Kick Up The R's tomorrow - 80 pages strong, being given away all around the ground before and after the match.
Team News: QPR are running a little light on numbers, and miss a couple of in-form players from their team this weekend. Luke Freeman’s incredibly harsh red card at Preston was a second yellow, rather than a straight red, and therefore couldn’t be appealed so he’s grounded for one match. Kazenga Lua Lua scored his first goal for the club at Deepdale after an impressive display against Wigan but has apparently turned his ankle in training (not celebrating his goal thank you ‘Arry) and is out for a month. Throw in long term absentees Jack Robinson and Jordan Cousins, and late fitness checks for Grant Hall (hair) and Conor Washington (biceps) and it’s a little tricky. Expect Mackie to start with Smith and Wszolek if Washington doesn’t make it and Massimo Luongo to come into midfield with Perch and Manning.
Cardiff have Bruno Manga back in training after a bout of gout but he’s not fit enough to be involved. Lee Peltier (can’t get a babysitter) and Rhys Healey (can’t afford the bridge toll) are also ruled out.
Elsewhere: Hello again sports fans and welcome back to our regular enthusiastic preview of another huge thick slice of Mercantile Credit Trophy action as the competition reaches a veritable crescendo at round 9,864 out of 10,580. Just another two months and several dozen times more over the horizon now and then this seemingly never ending flow of mediocre footballing sludge will abate for a glorious three quarters of an hour that we’re being allowed to rest this summer between the 2016/17 season and the 2017/18 campaign, which needless to say will be the biggest, best and brightest ever.
For the truly dedicated masochist who can no longer stand the sight of their own reflection in the mirror, there’s some televised Friday night fare to distract you from your own mortifyingly dreadful social life – Gianfranco Zola’s (still somehow) Birmingham host the Champions of Europe in a match the West Midlands Constabulary have been looking forward to all season.
That leaves just the 11 fixtures for Saturday, including an evening televised clash between Borussia Huddersfield and Champions Newcastle which should, in fairness, actually be quite good. Promoted Brighton, who somehow contrived to lose two late goals to Rafa Benitez’s grossly underfunded team in the clash of the top two during the week, should be able to bounce back against the Nottingham Trees who could yet end up in League One next season.
Standing in their way are The Wurzels who at 16 defeats, three draws and three wins from their last 22 matches may be the first and only example of even LFW saying ‘probably time to consider a managerial change really’. They’re at home to Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion and an away win will surely see Lee Johnson fall on his very tiny sword.
The Wolverhampton Wolves have quietly crept back down into that relegation picture as well, aided by an unhappy knack of losing home matches to crap sides like Birmingham Wigan Warriors and… ahem. They’re at The Oracle this weekend which should be good news for The Mad Indian Chicken Farmers if they can follow recent improved form under new boss Tony Mowbray with another win against fellow strugglers Wigan Warriors at Ewood Park. Depending on how full your glass is, teams below QPR will definitely be picking up points this weekend but also definitely losing them as well.
What else can I offer you? Sheffield Owls can cement their play off place by beating the Carrot Crunchers at home, Tarquin and Rupert welcome the chronically underrated Preston Knob End, Barnsley look a good bet to turn the gas up still further on the annual Derby Sheep meltdown which is in full swing, and Relegated Rotherham host Leddersford.
The mid table belter between Ipswich and Brentford will be marked by mobile phone lights in the air in the 57th minute as a mark of respect for Mick McCarthy’s neighbour Ted who suffered a flat tyre on the way home from his bridge club on Tuesday and subsequently missed that day’s edition of Countdown. Stay strong Ted.
Referee: Although this is Darren England’s first match in the Championship as a referee, it’s far from his first rodeo. The Barnsley-born official was a premier League linesman in his mid-20s, running the line at the FA Cup final between Arsenal and Hull before downing his flag to progress back up through the ranks as the main man. This is his second full season on the Football League list, and obviously first QPR game – though his first match in the top flight on the line was our win at Stoke under Neil Warnock. Stats here.
QPR: Rangers remain consistently inconsistent, with five wins, five defeats and two draws from their last dozen games. Consecutive wins against Birmingham and Wigan were vital to give breathing space between the R’s and the bottom three, but Blackburn’s contribution to the annual Derby County meltdown during the week has reduced that gap back down to seven points. With a tough April head, games with Cardiff (twelfth), Barnsley (tenth) and Rotherham (dead last) at Loftus Road in the next four outings are going to be important. Rangers have only won five times on their own ground this season mind, and only Wigan have scored fewer than our 17 goals at home (Rotherham have got 20).
Cardiff: Neil Warnock’s side have had a tremendous month, with four wins and a draw from six games and 15 goals scored across those games. They’ve won their last two on the road – at Derby 4-3 having trailed 2-0, and at high-flying Leeds 2-0. They’ve won seven and drawn one of 11 since the turn of the year. Away from home they’ve won five, drawn four and lost seven this season – the victories coming at Derby and Leeds as mentioned as well as Bristol City, Nottingham Forest and Rotherham.
Prediction: Tough game this one, as is Tuesday night against Barnsley. I’ll take a win and a defeat if we can get the three points, but for some reason they both stand out as potential high-scoring draws to me at this point.
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-2 Cardiff. Scorer – Matt Smith.
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