Stick or twist? QPR gamble again ahead of cup replay – full match preview
Tuesday, 15th Jan 2013 01:33 by Clive Whittingham
What with Joey Barton’s spectacular return to the social media space, and Loic Remy apparently spurning Newcastle to move to QPR, Tuesday night’s trip to West Brom is rather falling down the list of headlines. Just as well really.
West Brom v QPR
FA Cup, Third Round Replay >>> Tuesday January 15, 2013 >>> Kick Off 8pm >>> The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
Place of employment left behind and colleagues waved farewell ahead of another two days of annual leave wasted on Queens Park Rangers I trudged home through the snow and prayed: Lord bring me a week where I don’t have to write a sodding West Brom match preview.
Never the most inspiring fixture anyway, this is now the fourth meeting between the Baggies and Queens Park Rangers in the last three months. Since October 6 I have seen West Bromwich Albion more than I have seen all but one of my family members.
I’ve looked at Shane Long and his weirdly proportioned body, admired his work rate and recalled that when West Brom were buying him from Championship side Reading, QPR were getting in a flap trying to squeeze Shaun Wright-Phillips and Anton Ferdinand through the transfer window; I’ve watched Romelu Lukaku and wondered if it wouldn’t have been easier, cheaper and more sensible to loan him or an equivalent than to spend God only knows how much and still rising on Bobby Zamora and his passion for anything that isn’t football; and I’ve swooned over Youssouf Mulumbu, a wonderful Premier League quality midfield player signed from Paris SG’s reserve team for £150,000 which is roughly what QPR paid Joey Barton in a fortnight to play the same position much, much, much worse.
I’ve read, in wide eyed awe, the assessment of how a club the size of West Brom or QPR should be run from the Baggies’ technical director Dan Ashworth and found the experience akin to finding a video of that bloke I’ve never really liked making love to that girl I’ve always dreamed about. God love him for managing it, but I never really liked West Brom, and I always sort of hoped that would be me flipping her over like that.
And, naturally, I haven’t actually celebrated a QPR win yet. Two defeats and a draw so far, to go with the defeat and the draw from last season, eight goals conceded across the five matches, and just the three scored. The final one of those came with the very last kick of the last meeting, played out in front of a half full Loftus Road thanks to extortionate ticket prices, and it turned out to be Kieron Dyer’s final act as a QPR player. To be honest I’ve changed my opinion of Dyer over the past 18 months from believing him to be the worst sort of footballing mercenary - thieving a living - to a very good footballer who is just exceptionally unlucky with injuries. Still, I’d have released the bastard as well after he forced another bloody match with West Bromwich Albion. This is like putting that bloody video on again now, and analysing it for technique.
And the Lord, it seems, does indeed work in mysterious ways, because thanks to him, or QPR’s love of disaster, I now have a choice of topics to write about this evening that don’t involve a Tuesday night replay at The Hawthorns. I could, for instance, analyse the latest fall out from Twitter where Barton, who regularly shouts down anybody who brings up his violent and drunken past because he has dealt with those demons and improved as a person, spent the evening berating Dietmar Hamman for similar vices and behaviours because the German had dared to tell the verbose Scouser to hush and show a little respect to two former clubs who made him a multi-millionaire for little return. Twitter continues to gain ground on the self-service check out in the race to be named most loathsome creation ever. Who can possibly find this dirge anything other than loathsome? And how can the item in the bagging area be unexpected when you told me to put it there you patronising bitch?
But of more pertinence is the reason Barton took to the social wankfest in the first place: Loic Remy seems like he might be heading for QPR after all.
And this is good news really, as long as we’re not being used to extract more money from Newcastle. QPR have played the last two matches without a striker at all such is the paucity of their attacking options thanks to Mark Hughes’ misplaced faith in the fitness and longevity of Zamora and Andy Johnson, and moronic decision to make those two of only three forwards named in a 25 an squad back in August. Remy meanwhile is a good age (26) with attributes that QPR lack in his position. Harry Redknapp has done wonderfully well with the mess he inherited, forging some sort of cohesive unit and keeping QPR in with a shout but the team lacks quality and he has persuaded a seemingly excellent player to spurn other, better placed, teams and jump on board. I do recognise the positives in this, it could be a masterstroke.
But then I once tripped on the carpet on the stairs while racing out of bed to try and get to the TV in the front room to see a late night story on the local news about QPR signing George Kulscar from Bradford? Signings used to be such exciting things. QPR have made 16 new signings in the last 12 months, and got progressively worse with each new arrival. Like Remy, many of the new players appeared to be just what we needed: imagine the reaction upon promotion if we’d added Djibril Cisse, Julio Cesar and Esteban Granero. Nobody signed more players than QPR in 2012, few clubs outside the top five have spent as much money, and yet Rangers are in a sorry mess.
Now they sit at the table long after closing time, a broken blackjack player clutching a whiskey in one hand and 19 in the other asking for another card. “Stop being so negative,” people tell me, “ it could be a two.” Yeh, it could, May could bring celebrations at a miracle escape led by Remy and his 12 crucial goals. But it could also be a three, or a four, or a five, or a six, or a seven, or an eight…. I’m not sure it’s another card we need.
In actual fact that metaphor is flawed: QPR are sitting at the blackjack table clutching a hand of 36 and asking for more cards anyway, then threatening the croupier if she doesn’t oblige. More cards. More blood.
Why no rejoicing over the potential arrival of Remy, who I’m happy to admit appears to be exactly what we need in that position? Well because if he does come then he’s turned down £40,000 a week at Newcastle to do so. We’re either being used by an agent to twist Mike Ashley’s hand up his back, or we’re once again adding a colossal wage to the bill that will prove crippling in the league below should we end up there. We’re adding another player whose list of reasons for coming to QPR features football right at the very bottom – probably even below the weather. We’re gambling rather than planning. Again. One thing we’re not doing is learning.
A message board poll to find QPR’s worst ever manager features recurring names: Alan Mullery, Mark Hughes, Ray Wilkins, Ray Harford and Stewart Houston. Coincidentally - or not, as I strongly suggest the case to be – four of those five are also the only QPR managers who ever had any serious money to spend on players.
One can’t help but think that a division lower there’s Charlie Austin at Burnley who would come to QPR for half the touted Remy transfer fee and for half the weekly wage, and sure he’d come for the money as well but he’d come for the football as well and a chance to rip into the Premier League for the first time in his career and show a few people a few things. And if not, he’d be very useful next season in the Championship where he is at the moment anyway on a wage we can afford to pay him – can we say that of Remy?
Still, at least I know the way to the Hawthorns now without looking it up.
Team News: Harry Redknapp must once again balance the desire for a cup run with the more pressing business of staying in the Premier League. Expect DJ Campbell to have another run, but Luke Young’s participation for the reserves on Monday evening suggests he won’t be involved. Esteban Granero withdrew late on Saturday so must be a doubt while Junior Hoilett, Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson are all definitely out. Samba Diakite is at the African Cup of Nations.
West Brom are going through their tough patch of the season injury wise. They were without Claudio Yacob (hamstring) and Steven Reid (leg) for the first game and Marc Antoine Fortune left the field injured in the first half at Loftus Road – all three miss out again. Add in apparent QPR transfer target Peter Odemwingie with a calf complaint, and Shaun Long’s dead leg, and number are starting to run low but the Baggies think two or three of those players may well be fit to take part.
Elsewhere: There are 11 FA Cup replays taking place this week, with nine on Tuesday and two on Wednesday. The two most interesting ties, in my opinion, see out of form Premier League teams heading for awkward matches at lower league opposition: Wigan go to Bournemouth who are on a 21 match unbeaten run, while Fulham were lucky to even escape from the first match with Blackpool with a draw. These seem obvious television picks for me, but since ITV and ESPN got their mits on the FA Cup the fashion seems to be to just show the biggest Premier League teams wherever possible and so Man Utd have a 38th consecutive cup game screened at home to West Ham, while the Arsenal v Swansea replay is also shown. Neither inspire as league games, and they certainly don’t in a competition none of the four teams see as any kind of priority. A shame.
Other than that the winner of West Brom v QPR waits for the winner of League One MK Dons v Championship side Sheff Wed and Brentford meet Southend at Griffin Park for the right to hos a lucrative home game with Chelsea in the next round. Leyton Orient may fancy their chances of an upset against second tier Hull, particularly if Eldin Jakupovic is keeping goal again for the Tigers after his weekend calamity, but Bolton going to Sunderland and Crystal Palace to Stoke may feel as though they’ve missed their chance in the first games.
Referee: Well, as is often the case when QPR take to the field, they’ll be led out by Martin Atkinson – who has probably done that more this season than “club captain” Ji Sung Park so far. But it’s on the line where there’s been a bizarre change. Dave Bryan, good Scunthorpe lad, has been drafted in to partner Darren Cann with the flags with John Brooks dropped altogether. Why? Well, you may recall at the end of the Arsenal v Man City game at the weekend that the Sky cameras picked up an assistant referee urging Joleon Lescott not to waste time shaking his hand, and to instead get over to the away end and thank the travelling supporters who paid £62 each to travel to a game they could have watched on TV anyway. Well, that linesman was John Brooks and that ‘crime’ is deemed worthy of him being stripped from his next appointment which was supposed to be this game. Meanwhile Anthony Taylor, who had two red cards rescinded from the same game before Christmas, was last week appointed to referee a League Cup semi final. Amazing stuff. Anyway, Atkinson’s ever growing QPR case file is available here.
West Brom: The Baggies have decent pedigree, with ten final appearances and five wins – although nothing since 1968 – while manager Steve Clarke has won the competition as a player and coach with Chelsea. Their best recent performance was a semi-final appearance in 2008 when they lost 1-0 to Portsmouth who were of course managed at the time by Harry Redknapp and went on to win the final 1-0 against Cardiff. The R’s may feel they have missed their chance in this tie because West Brom’s excellent season so far – seventh in the Premier League – is based largely on home form of seven wins and three defeats from 11 matches and their fragility on the road shone through with a 3-2 defeat at Reading at the weekend. But this might be a good time to face Clarke’s side on any ground – notoriously travel sick Fulham won here in the last match and they now haven’t won any of the last four.
QPR: Rangers are still unbeaten in 2013, and three matches in that’s starting to be a stat to be proud of rather than something to poke fun at. Work rate, commitment and organisation completely lacking during Mark Hughes’ time in charge has been there in abundance for games against Spurs and Chelsea from which the R’s have taken four points and two clean sheets. A win here though would be flying in the face of history. The last time QPR won an FA Cup tie without the aid of a replay was the fourth round in 1997 when Trevor Sinclair’s wonder goal sealed a 3-2 home success against Barnsley. In the intervening years the R’s went 11 seasons from 2001 to 2012 without winning a game in the competition at all and they haven’t won away against a top flight time since the 1982 success at Middlesbrough when they went on to reach the final. West Ham were the last top flight victims at Loftus Road in 1995.
Betting: Professional odds compiler Owen Goulding says…
“As an experienced football compiler, I have learnt very sharply recently that whatever the stats and form tell you about QPR, you should ignore them and have a bet completely against your judgment. Maybe it’s a Harry thing, but no sane person could have thought QPR would win at Chelsea after the Liverpool performance; no sane person would have thought a game between our sieve of a defence and Tottenham's potent away goal scoring attack would finish goalless; and no sane person would have said after that Liverpool debacle that Shaun Wright Phillips would start to look like he might have a future at the club - yet all those statements are true.
“There is no doubt Harry doesn’t want this game. The fact QPR get another crack of the whip is due to Dyer’s injury time equaliser in the first match and his reward for that was being shown the door. In all seriousness though, West Brom will harbour thoughts of a cup final appearance this year, whereas this will be way down Harry's list of priorities. It will be a much changed side tomorrow for the Hoops, but I expect West Brom to be at full strength. The shell-shocked look on the faces of Baggies players at the final whistle at Mad Stad on Saturday was truly understandable. They dominated a game they could easily have been 5-0 up in with eight minutes left, yet we all know what happened. I don't think it’s going to happen again. Lukaku looks to be a star in the making and ably supported by the magnificent engine of Morrison, it’s going to be a long cold night for the Rangers faithful. When they play at home, Morrison basically plays up top with Lukaku and therefore the standout betting price for me is the same one I tipped last time QPR played at Hawthorn and it won then. I think it’s got a good chance of winning this time too. James Morrison to score first and anytime at 16/1 and 6/1 respectively with Corals. So all the facts, stats and figures point to a West Brom win - so it could be QPR going through after all.......”
Prediction: I’ve only been on prediction duty for the cup matches this season, but I’m two for two so far having called the Walsall and first West Brom games correctly. My prediction for the first meeting was based on the worst case scenario – a replay – coming to fruition so I’ll stick with that formula for this game. Extra time and penalties would mean the few mad buggers going up there by train would really be struggling to make the last service back to London from New Street, so I think it’s taken as a given that we’ll get to spot kicks. A work trip means I cannot go to the fourth round, and a long overdue holiday means I’ll miss the semi final if we get there so I suspect we will.
West Brom 1 QPR 1 AET, QPR 4-3 on penalties
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