QPR face old foe Jones with Wednesday in town – opposition focus
Thursday, 1st Aug 2013 23:44 by Clive Whittingham
Dave Jones, whose Cardiff side were pipped to promotion by QPR when the R’s were last at this level, has an immediate chance for revenge on Saturday with his Sheff Wed team first up in W12.
One of the few things QPR did very well during a harrowing two year stay in the Premier League was successfully reignite a rivalry with near neighbours Chelsea. Save for the odd non-event in the FA Cup, regular meetings with the racists down the road had been off the calendar for 15 years prior to Rangers’ promotion in 2011 – Kevin Gallen’s magic hat and the Easter Monday massacre disappearing ever further into the memory banks of a diminishing number of QPR fans.
In that time Chelsea had become awash with Russian rubles and felt they had bigger fish to fry than little old QPR in their grubby corner of Shepherd’s Bush. “I didn’t even know this was a derby game,” said Jamie Redknapp during Sky’s coverage of the league meeting in October 2011, showing typically astute judgement of footballing history prior to 1996 and basic London geography. Well he, and Chelsea, certainly knew after that day as Rangers extracted a 1-0 win and two red cards from a match that would also eventually directly lead to the termination of the England careers of John Terry, Fabio Capello and Rio Ferdinand.
There was of course a subsequent 6-1 thrashing at Stamford Bridge that we won’t dwell on too long but two wins and a draw from five meetings across two seasons, and plenty of needle throw in, was certainly a creditable effort from a team as ragged as QPR. And that’s a good thing because Rangers were lacking a real rivalry prior to that. There was a brief dalliance with Brentford during Ian Holloway’s time here, and given how well the Bees are being managed on and off the field at the moment the not-so-Super Hoops must fear a reprisal of that situation in the near future, but really the W12 faithful have been left to rely on circumstances season-to-season to get any kind of derby-like passion into games.
There was a flirtation with Stoke for a while, based around their fans’ desire to ensure somebody n QPR colours was killed, or at least seriously maimed, whenever the two sides met – goalkeepers, fans on buses back to the station, women and kids, nobody was safe really. But then they got promoted and Sky started telling us how wonderfully passionate the miraculously swollen ranks of Stoke supporters are so we’ve forgotten all about that.
There was a bizarre eight week period in 2002/03 when QPR and Tranmere suddenly turned into Barcelona and Real Madrid in pursuit of the last play off spot in the Second Division and then a year later Bristol City’s Brian Tinnion decided three months out from the end of a tightly contested title race was probably the right time to give an interview saying QPR and Plymouth were “running scared” of his team and it would be “all over bar the shouting” by the time the three sides played each other at Easter. Oh how we laughed our way to the First Division while City bombed in the play offs.
Luton, Huddersfield, Reading, Norwich – there have been all manner of these ‘niggly nemesis’ rivalries for QPR over the last decade or so but perhaps the most enduring has been with Cardiff City. For one reason or another QPR’s promotion charges or relegation struggles have always coincided with exactly the same turn of events in the Welsh capital. That was the case once again in 2010/11 when the R’s won this division and so having made a mess of a spell in the top flight, and now been passed by the Red Devils this summer, it’s perhaps apt - or terrifying - to find City’s boss from that season Dave Jones lying in wait for us on day one.
With a face like a pound of butter left out in the sun too long and a personality that makes the Reverend Ian Paisley seem like Timmy Mallett, Jones’ involvement in Rangers promotion season just added further glee to an already wonderful season.
Never a moment went by when he didn’t feel the need to mention a stick on penalty that Cardiff hadn’t been awarded in their 2-1 defeat at Loftus Road that November. He’d bring this up in post-match interviews, programme notes, casual conversations over dinner, and whenever Sky invited him on as a studio guest for one of their other live games – fans of Derby County and Leicester City must have wondered why on earth they should give a shit about some poxy penalty appeal in a game between QPR and Cardiff as Jones hijacked half time analysis of their match to lament referee Kevin Friend’s decision all over again. It also rather ignored the fact that immediately after Friend had waved away Jay Bothroyd’s appeal that he’d been tripped by Matt Connolly (he definitely had as well, which made it funnier) he also turned down an equally blatant one at the other end when Leon Clarke was wrestled to the floor. That was about the only thing Clarke did other than eat during a mercifully brief spell at Loftus Road.
When Rangers subsequently drew the return fixture in Wales that line changed to “if they didn’t have Adel Taarabt we’d have beaten them.” Very true – Taarabt scored two that day, 19 in all that season and added another 22 assists besides which means that without him QPR probably wouldn’t have even made the play offs. But they did have him, and therefore they were better than Cardiff and went on to win the league. I’m not sure what Jones’ problem was with that – it’s like Neil Warnock saying “if Cardiff had played without a goalkeeper all season they’d be nowhere near us.” True, but totally irrelevant, and rather short sighted given that Jones himself had managed to snare Craig Bellamy on loan for the season.
In the end QPR were promoted and Jones focused his attention instead on bullying television journalists for having the temerity to bring up Cardiff’s tendency to crash and burn horribly in play off competitions. When Cardiff crashed and burned horribly in that year’s play off competition Jones left his job. Why do I get the feeling he’d take special delight in getting one over on QPR this season?
To do so he’ll have to reverse a situation at Sheffield Wednesday that isn’t so much a trend as a permanent state of affairs. The Owls were relegated from the Premier League in 2000 and have never once so much has made a concerted push for the play offs in an attempt to return. Managers last little more than 18 months on average – Paul Jewell, Peter Shreeves, Terry Yorath, Chris Turner, Paul Sturrock, Brian Laws, Alan Irvine, Gary Megson and now Dave Jones have all had a crack at this job since they were last in the top flight. Four of the intervening years have been spent in League One and the club continues to hemorrhage money season on season.
Despite looking like he would probably promote them from League One the season before last Gary Megson was replaced by Dave Jones (only Peter ‘Reidy’ Reid and Paul Hart required to complete the set) after a 1-0 home win against bitter rivals Sheffield United. Jones saw the job through but once again found that this famous old name just isn’t well equipped to deal with a Championship campaign. Wednesday could easily have been relegated last season having lost 15 of 19 played from September through December but they rallied with play off form in the second half of the season and climbed clear. Jones, meanwhile, is fast approaching that 18 month point when they usually make a change.
Still, he’ll attack the situation with his usual cheerful vigour and optimism I’m sure.
Having spent two years building up a network of contacts in the Premier League so we could get opposition supporters’ opinions at the drop of a hat, it’s something of a ball ache that LFW is now faced with doing it all over again for 23 new teams. Luckily, having lived in Sheffield for eight years, it’s a gentle start and we thank Hillsborough season ticket holder, six-a-side-footballer-supreme and part time Jake Humphrey look-a-like (available for parties, weddings and bat mitzvahs) Jon Hore for his time and input on Sheff Wed.
Reasonably near miss with relegation last season – will it be different this time around?
Over the second half of last season our form had us in the top four so I'm confident we won't be dragged into a relegation battle again. We'll know what to expect in the Championship now and will be a lot more settled in terms of personnel and tactics. I'm not expecting miracles but think a comfortable mid-table position is achievable.
Who has come in and who has gone this summer?
Last summer saw a ridiculous amount of new signings and this lead to a situation where Dave Jones didn't know his best 11 or even what formation he wanted to play. I think he's learnt from that and it's been a quiet summer so far. Jeremy Helan's loan deal was made permanent and we've also brought in Jaques Maghoma from Burton, he scored 18 from midfield in League 2 last season so it will be interesting to see how he goes. We've also signed a complete unknown quantity in Austrian-Albanian striker Atdhe Nuhiu. There have been no major departures but the likes of Nicky Weaver, Julian Bennett and Nejc Pecnik have been released. Steven Bywater was offered a new deal but has signed for Millwall.
Who are the weak links in the team, and who should we be looking out for?
We were heavily reliant on Michail Antonio for attacking threat last year and I expect it to be the same again. Lewis Buxton must be one of the top full-backs in the league, he's consistently excellent. At the back Miguel Llera is loved by the fans for his commitment but lacks a bit of pace and can sometimes struggle with good movement in behind him.
What is the general consensus among the support base on firstly Dave Jones as manager and secondly Milan Mandaric as owner?
After the nightmare start to last season there were a lot of fans were calling for Jones’ head but then he had an affair with a netball player, we started winning games and the dissenting voices faded. He's a bit of a miserable twat in press interviews but I think he's building a solid team. You won't find many fans with a bad word to say about Mandaric - he saved the club from oblivion and the supporters will be eternally grateful for that. He's not invested heavily on the playing side but has really stabilised the club and put us in a position to move forward.
We hear the 'sleeping giant' line a lot, but Wednesday have been in serious financial difficulty on and off for a decade and rarely looked like making it back to the Prem – can a return to the big time happen in the near future?
It's going to be difficult without some serious investment into quality players, and realistically that's not going to happen under Mandaric. He is currently in talks with Chinese businessman Sammy Yu regarding takeover so that could be the step that's needed to allow us to push for the Premier League. Mandaric has repeatedly said he'll only sell to the right bidder, someone who he thinks will take us where we want to go.
Who do you think will go well and who will struggle in the Championship this season?
It's difficult to look past Yeovil for one of the relegation spots they just won't have the quality. I also think Blackpool might struggle, they've lost a few players and Ince hasn't managed to replace them yet. At the other end, I haven't really got a clue, it's as open as ever. Watford should be up there again after signing up most of the loanees, and I expect Forest to be strong. Reading under Nigel Adkins, are going to be hard to beat.
PS. Congratulations on getting rid of Jose Bosingwa.
Trying to pick patterns from last season’s Championship table is like trying to knit fog.
You could say that goal scoring was Sheffield Wednesday’s big issue last season, given that they bagged 30 at Hillsborough which was four less than relegated Peterborough, ten less than bottom placed Bristol City and the same amount as the third demoted side Wolves. But then Cardiff who the league and they also scored just 37 home goals to Bristol City’s 40. Hull finished second with 35, Derby only managed tenth with 43 and Middlesbrough sixteenth with 38. Similar story away from home where Wednesday scored 23 – two less than Wolves, nine less than Peterborough but only three fewer than Hull and two more than the third promoted team Crystal Palace.
Nevertheless, the fact that Wednesday were tricked into taking Jay Bothroyd on loan for the first half of the last campaign should tell QPR fans all they need to know about the attacking options in this part of the world. I saw Wednesday three times last season – 1-1 at home to Leeds, a 3-1 defeat at Middlesbrough, and a 3-1 win at Hull – and they had a different attack in every match. Bothroyd led the line, and led it very well, in the first game, scoring the one and only goal of his 14 match spell in the process. At Boro former Carlisle man Gary Madine started and acquitted himself well but seems to struggle for a look in under Jones. At Hull Michail Antonio was the chief attacking thread in a Wednesday shirt, although of more danger to Hull was the outrageously awful performance by their own goalkeeper Eldin Jakupovic who ultimately decided it was better to feign injury and leave early than stay on for any more torture.
Bothroyd was far from the only striking loanee that smacked of desperation. Jones worked his way through temporary spells with Stoke’s Mamady Sidibe (six starts, four sub appearances, one goal), Barcelona B’s Rodri (five, six, one), Leroy Lita (13, four, six), Sunderland’s Connor Wickham (four, two, one) and, probably most embarrassingly of all, crusty old warhorse Steve Howard from Hartlepool (five, three, one).
What’s needed is a permanent solution, but permanent solutions in attack cost money – or good ones do in any case – and that’s not something that’s washing around at Sheffield Wednesday. Goals from deeper lying positions may be the key with Michail Antonio threatening last season and former Spurs trainee Jacques Maghoma coming on board this summer having scored 18 goals in an impressive Burton Albion side at League Two level last term.
At the back Miguel Lera makes few friends with a combative, cynical style of play but QPR would do well to not get involved and instead focus on exposing his lack of pace in one on one situations. He’s got the turning circle of a stone cottage. If the papers are to be believed Jones is currently in the midst of trying to bring Roger Johnson in on loan from Wolves to bolster the defence.
Pictures – Action Images
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