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Signs not good as QPR end annus horribilis at Wolves - Preview
Friday, 30th Dec 2016 22:37 by Clive Whittingham
With just 14 wins from 49 matches played, QPR will be glad to bid farewell to a horrible 2016 at Wolves on Saturday. But they desperately need to find a fifteenth success first.
Wolverhampton Wanderers (7-7-9, 15th) v Queens Park Rangers (6-5-12, 21st)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday December 31, 2016 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Cold, dark, fog, should be dry though >>> Molineux, Wolverhampton
You know when that niggly little bit of DIY you think you’ll have done in five minutes before Coronation Street starts actually turns into the water tank falling through the ceiling and you’re standing there sopping wet, freezing cold, nervous that you didn’t renew your home and contents insurance and desperate to just go back ten minutes and leave the bloody thing as it was? Yeh, that.
QPR were a boring, dreadful to watch, midtable team five weeks ago. That sounds like a veritable paradise compared to what they are now – six straight defeats, no goals for four matches. When they met Wolves at the start of December they sat fifteenth, five points north of their opponents who were 21st. Now, in this the first return fixture of the season, the roles have completely reversed with Rangers in 21st trailing Paul Lambert’s side by five. All that now stands between QPR and the bottom three is one dotted line and a three-point gap to Blackburn, who have a better goal difference. Boredom and midtable? Gimme gimme gimme.
Six straight defeats is the club’s worst run of results since 1995/96 when they lost seven on the bounce (Arsenal 0-3, Man Utd 1-2, Chelsea 1-2, Blackburn 0-1, Wimbledon 1-2, Man City 0-2 and Liverpool 1-2) before finally beating Sheffield Wednesday 3-1 at Hillsborough. That campaign ended in relegation and Rangers are starting to look worryingly like a League One-bound side at the moment. This is getting serious.
Confidence among the players is clearly, understandably, non-existent. Wages earned by modern footballers makes them fair game in the eyes of supporters but they are still human beings, young lads mostly. Given that many of them have stepped up to this level, or into football in this country, for the first time with QPR during the last 18 months it’s fair to assume there would have been a degree of self-doubt anyway. Add in six straight defeats, a new manager with a new system they’re all obviously struggling to grasp, a difficult crowd to play in front of and the knowledge of just what a total financial disaster a relegation would be for the club and you can see why heads are down and self-belief has drained away. You only need watch Tjaronn Chery to see expectations and circumstances weighing, almost literally, on the shoulders of an individual - he can't even take a corner any more.
That’s where the old adage about needing one to go in off somebody’s arse comes into play. Go to Wolves to stop the rot, keep it tight at the back, see a dreadful game through to injury time at 0-0 and think you’ve put a much-needed point on the board only for the ball to accidentally fly in off Polter’s arse (it is big enough to have its own post code at the end of the day) with the last kick of the game for a 1-0 win. Get a positive result against a poor Ipswich side on Monday and off we go, panic over.
Back in 1991 QPR started the season, their first under Gerry Francis’ management, with a run of dreadful results as they struggled with the transition and injuries to key players such as Ray Wilkins and Alan McDonald. They won none of the first eight and three of the first 16 in the league before a late November trip to Notts County which looked like drifting away to a 0-0 until a 94th minute cross from the left bobbled, bounced and bumbled its way through to a young Les Ferdinand at the back post and he completely mishit his sidefooted finish just badly enough to completely deceive the keeper and win the game. Rangers only lost four more league games all season from the remaining 25 fixtures – a run that included an 11-match unbeaten spell, a 4-1 win at Man Utd, a 4-0 home thrashing of Man City and a 4-1 riot against eventual champions Leeds.
But there are more troubling elements to what we’re seeing from Rangers which suggest this is going to take a bit more than a lucky goal here, a couple of wins there, a bit of confidence, a few players coming back to fitness and so on. Firstly, although you can say that, prior to Brighton, Rangers weren’t getting thrashed by anybody and were well in the games against Derby, Villa, Rotherham and so on –really it was only Alex Smithies that kept them there. There were some positives from all of them but QPR don’t look like scoring a goal at all, and would be conceding many more but for the keeper. This run is not bad luck.
Secondly, the amount of players crying off with this knock, that strain or the other pull. Players are disappearing for weeks and weeks on end with injuries that are never really explained to the supporters publicly, nor given a timescale. They’re just not available, for some reason. This rush of players pulling out with muscle rather than impact injuries (itself an indictment of how they’re training or being trained, Roberto Martinez always said he took muscle injuries as a personal slight about the way him and his coaches were working) has, wouldn’t you know it, peaked in the Christmas week. QPR have nearly as many players unavailable for the unappetising New Year’s Eve trip to Wolves as they do available. Knock me down with a feather.
James Perch should have been sent off and suspended for a dreadful tackle at Ipswich, then did exactly the same tackle in the next game against Wolves and did get his red and ban, then did basically the same thing in the 39th minute of the Brighton game – needless tackle, obvious foul, nasty play, on a winger tight to the touchline with his back to goal going nowhere. Now either he’s stupid or he’s quite enjoying these weeks off a ban offers you.
I’m trying to tread carefully here, but there doesn’t seem to be a lot of desire to actually get out there, muck in and put this right does there? Quite the opposite in fact, we’re all coming up with reasons we can’t play in ever increasing numbers.
Thirdly, while I do think the old ‘lack of leaders’ is an easy broad brushstroke to level at the current crop of QPR players, there is an issue here. Quite how you’d know what kind of captain Nedum Onuoha is, or who does what in the dressing room, without being in there or out there on the pitch yourself I don’t know. No nation obsesses over the role of the captain as much as the English who seem to think that unless you’re spewing blood from your head and screaming in people’s faces you’re not doing the job correctly.
Onuoha is the season’s latest scapegoat following Karl Henry, Ben Gladwin, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and others. Still, as a support base, we go after individuals, never once noticing that as each of those individuals is dropped or sacked, it makes absolutely no bloody difference whatsoever. Henry doesn’t play any more, Gladwin doesn’t play any more, Hasselbaink isn’t here any more, and still we lose every week – and rather than wonder whether we were wrong to vilify them, and Matt Phillips before them, and scores of others before him, we simply set off after somebody else. Onuoha this time, Ferdinand surely next, and none of it makes any difference at all.
But there is a lack of backbone in this team, a lack of grit, a lack of spine. There’s no “fuck off out of my way”. I’m not going to go off on one about Shaun Derry, Clint Hill, Alan McDonald and so on but it’s an obvious deficiency. I remember that January John Gregory brought in Camp, Cullip and Bolder and plonked them at 1, 6 and 8 straight down the middle of his team. A similar job awaits Ian Holloway this January, if he’s still here to do it, and there’s surely no guarantee of that if the two games this weekend go badly.
Fourthly, most troubling, the casual disregard of the very basics of the sport. The marking at corners at Brighton was astonishing. That moment in the first half where we left Wzsolek two on one at a short corner, then did exactly the same thing to exactly the same player from exactly the same set piece on exactly the same side of the field five minutes later. The three separate first half corners Brighton hung up to the back post where Duffy and Dunk were left unmarked every time – Onuoha blocked the first, Smithies the second, Murray headed another wide after it had been directed back to him. All three could have been goals – same corner taken in the same way from the same side of the field towards the same players in the same part of the penalty area and we let it happen exactly the same way with exactly the same results three times.
Lack of confidence and belief is clearly a problem, and understandably so as I’ve said, but marking your man at a corner is rock all to do with anything other than you not doing your job properly. I don’t care how depressed you are, you can go and stand over there next to Lewis Dunk when a corner’s being taken.
The Perch tackles, the marking at corners, Ngbakoto letting Bruno run in behind him, the way we give the ball away at ever one of our own throw ins… we’re making the same mistakes over and over again every week. It’s like we enjoy making them. Twice in the last three away games we’ve conceded almost identical goals (Baldock’s was a better strike than the Rotherham one) from throw ins on halfway – one of the throw ins was ours for fuck’s sake. You can’t be talking about goals going in off people’s arses and your luck changing when you’re as repetitively negligent as this.
Although Wolves have picked up of late, you couldn’t really ask for three better fixtures in a week than Wolves A, Ipswich H and Blackburn H if you need to a bit of a kick start. Town and Rovers are just about as bad as there is at this level this season and Wolves aren’t a great deal better. QPR do have the games to play themselves back into form – in the next ten fixtures there are home games with Blackburn, Burton, Wigan and Ipswich while the away games offer Blackburn (again) and Wolves.
But if you’re not even doing the basics of the sport, if large amounts of players aren’t even turning up to play, it doesn’t really matter how poor the opposition are. The form table says nobody in this league is worse than QPR at the moment in any case. The final six away games of this season are Leeds, Derby, Villa, Bristol City, Brentford and Norwich. The final three home games include visits from Brighton and Sheffield Wednesday.
Yes QPR need a break, yes they need a bit of luck. But they need to get out on the pitch, get their sleeves rolled up and start making a bit of their own luck as well or this is going to unravel.
Two goals from Matt Phillips and a powerful header from Charlie Austin saw Rangers recover from two goals down to win this fixture 3-2 last season as Chris Ramsey’s side began the season in decent form.
Team News: A series of conveniently/suspiciously timed knocks and niggles mean it’s bring your boots and get a game time for Queens Park Rangers. Jack Robinson and Joel Lynch haven’t been fit all season, Tjaronn Chery and Seb Polter are out with unspecified problems/Christmas, Nedum Onuoha is suspended for the red card at Brighton after QPR’s appeal was predictably/laughably rejected, Jordan Cousins continues to struggle after being rushed back from hamstring injuries and so on and so forth. Jamie Mackie might get a start.
Michal Zyro (afraid of the dark) and Jordan Graham (starring in a local pantomime adaptation of Jack and the Beanstalk) are long term absentees but Mike Williamson may return after a nasty eggnog overdose/stomach pump episode.
Elsewhere: Lessons in weather from Reading where Tarquin and Rupert were booted out between the aperitif and amuse bouche because of the fog with the score still at 0-0. Now, when is a fog bound match not fog bound? Here’s a shot from Reading, and another from Yeovil Pompey which played to an alleged conclusion in League Two. Promoted Brighton didn’t even bother trying to fulfil their date on the Seventh Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour.
Champions Newcastle beat Nottingham Trees 3-1 while Ipswich scored late to win 2-1 against the Wurzels – Mick McCarthy safely in position for Monday at least.
That leaves six games for Saturday, which is roughly 35 minutes before the next round of fixtures begins. Norwich’s meltdown continues apace, and their journey to the earth’s core calls in at Brentford for the Saturday evening Sky game – eight defeats in ten, Alex Neil still in position thus far.
There’s an early kick off for the north off between Borussia Huddersfield and the Mad Indian Chicken Farmers while Barnsley v Birmingham is our match between two teams beginning with B. Preston Knob End host the Sheffield Owls while a minute of applause will be held in the tenth minute of the Derby Sheep v Wigan Warriors in memory of all those who have passed away on Steve McClaren’s hair island during 2016.
Referee: Lee Probert capped a fine 2013/14 season by taking charge of the FA Cup final between Fourth Placed Arsenal and Tigers Tigers Rah Rah Rah but has been plagued with injuries ever since, not refereeing a single game in the whole of last season. Still on the elite list, and therefore still a paid professional referee, he’s working his way back up the tree all over again this season with a few months of League One and Two appointments finally giving way to his first Championship date of the campaign at Burton v Newcastle. This will be his second game in this division so far this season. Full details and stats, including that time he sent off Jude the Cat after mistaking him for the QPR players, here.
Wolves: Wolves have started to show a few signs of life under new manager Paul Lambert recently, winning three of the last five including the last two and scoring 12 goals across those fixtures. That run of ten points from a possible 15 has lifted them to fifteenth in the league and was started by the 2-1 win at Loftus Road against QPR prior to which Wolves were five places and five points worse off than Rangers and hadn’t won for nine games. That night was also a battle of fifteenth v twenty first, except the teams have now swapped roles. Wolves have only won three times at Molineux in the league this season, drawing three and losing five of the other eight. Reading, Brentford and Bristol City have lost here this season while Sheff Wed, Derby, Leeds, Norwich and Barnsley have all won.
QPR: Rangers have done alright in this part of the world just recently, with two victories from the last two visits and six goals scored in those matches. Start with a positive because there’s not a lot else to cling to by way of form – now six straight defeats, five of them to nil, including a 2-1 loss to this opponent at Loftus Road at the start of the month. It’s now just three wins from the last 19 fixtures for QPR who are the league’s lowest scorers with 20 and have failed to net in seven of their last ten games. Away from home QPR won three and drew one of their first six road matches but have lost four and drawn one of the last five since the success at Fulham and only scored one goal in the process. They’ve lost their last three matches away from Loftus Road to nil.
Prediction: An increasingly depressed reigning Prediction League champion Dylan Pressman tells us… “I’m not very hopeful for the away trip to Wolves. The first half performance against Brighton suggests we might be able to put on a good show, but it seems unlikely that we will actually score. One nil to Wolves.”
Dylan’s Prediction: Wolves 1-0 QPR. No scorer.
LFW’s Prediction: Wolves 2-0 QPR. No scorer. Sandro substitution sweepstake - 55 mins.
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