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The injury-inducing magic of the FA Cup - preview
Friday, 3rd Jan 2014 19:14 by Clive Whittingham

While many QPR fans still dream of seeing their team reach Wembley again, for now most would settle for Rangers making it through a single round of the FA Cup without a serious injury to their outstanding player.

Everton v Queens Park Rangers

FA Cup >>> Saturday January 4, 2014 >>> Kick off 15.00 >>> Goodison Park, Liverpool

Not really the game to be introducing somebody new to Queens Park Rangers, or football in general, this one is it?

I’m spending my Sundays in the newsroom at the Telegraph these days, desperately trying to drag amusing comments about Southampton 0 West Ham 0 out of an alcohol riddled brain through the fog of the sort of hangover only a late night lock in at the Crown and Sceptre can bring. The grizzled, bedraggled war correspondents, fresh from the front line in Syria, scowl across the floor as my musings on some Premier League war of attrition between twelfth and fifteenth soars above their life’s work on the online hits league table.

And it was there, while rejoicing in the written form at just how utterly wonderful Everton were against Arsenal, that the news of the FA Cup draw came through from an adjacent screen: “Everton…… will play Queens Park Rangers.” Thanks God, or whichever prat is in charge of these things. Thanks a whole bloody lot.

While the sports desk salivated at the prospect of Arsenal v Spurs in the third round, the LFW regulars swiftly filed their ticket requests in via text and e-mail like animals boarding Noah’s Ark: “no”, “no”, “no”, “absolutely not”, “you’ve got to be kidding”, “bloody long way to go for a guaranteed defeat”, “no”, “no”, “you’ll be going on your own to that”, and so on. Of a dozen regulars, not a single one fancied the trip. The magic of the FA Cup is about as magical these days as a grizzled alcoholic trying to scrape enough money for his Special Brew together by messing up balloon tricks at children’s parties.

It’s a dire draw for the R’s in more ways than one. Not least because Everton, with their inspirational young manager and bright, enterprising, attractive team, will probably quite fancy their chances of picking up some silverware in this competition this season. Had QPR drawn, say, West Ham or Fulham then they’d have come up against a poor Premier League team, with its mind firmly on other things, a few miles from home. An upset could have been on, with Rangers roared home by several thousand travelling supporters. But Everton are having a terrific season, and in all probability this is going to be a comfortable defeat watched by a tiny handful of QPR die-hards huddled together for warmth.

To be honest, while I’d absolutely love QPR to go to Goodison Park and record a famous victory, if they’re not going to – and they’re almost certainly not – I’d really like Everton to go on and win the whole thing. The way the cup competitions in this country have been devalued over the last 20 years – the introduction of the Premier League and its television money, the withdrawal of cup tickets from the season ticket bundle, and the growing significance of the European competitions heading a long list of explanations – is a pet topic on LFW as both regular readers will know.

This week it’s Aston Villa manager Paul Lambert – who always gives the impression that he’s terribly bitter about just how shit his home life is – mumbling something under his breath about how most managers and teams could well do without the “distraction” of an FA Cup tie this weekend. Villa, of course, have to concentrate fully on securing that crucial seventeenth spot in the Premier League, or face losing their precious television money next season, and somebody somewhere has decided that going through a few rounds of the cup is definitely, absolutely, certainly detrimental to league form.

Villa are just the latest in a long line of clubs effectively condemning themselves to never winning anything ever again by almost deliberately exiting the cups early in order to preserve their status in a division they have no chance of ever topping. A whole generation of footballers will be able to retire to country mansions at 33 and tell their various illegitimate grandchildren that granddad made his millions by helping a bang average Aston Villa/Sunderland/Stoke team to secure fifteenth place in the Premier League while exiting both cups in the early rounds. “Did you win any medals granddad?” they’ll ask, and receive a blank look in response. “No lad, but have I told you about the time I roasted a 16 year old with Liam Lawrence while Ben Alnwick held the video camera?” Modern football.

QPR are never going to win the Premier League either, and many of the supporters I speak to regularly would kill for the excitement of a genuine cup run. When the R’s just about bundled their way past Huddersfield after two attempts, and then saw off Barnsley with that goal from Trevor Sinclair, back in 1997 the R’s took 12,000 supporters down to Selhurst Park for a fifth round tie with Wimbledon. Two years prior to that, 8,000 had gone up to Old Trafford for a quarter final hiding to nothing against Manchester United – I remember sitting in the front of a carpet van driven by my dad’s mate, with a dozen QPR fans sitting in the back on some PE benches ‘borrowed’ from the local school. A poster of Kevin Gallen adorned the back window. The hunger to see a proper trophy lifted, and some actual medals claimed, continues to burn bright among supporters, if sadly not the players or the managers any more.

But it’s hard to think of a team less likely to win the FA Cup than Queens Park Rangers. Their record of just two wins – against West Brom, last season, after a replay, swiftly followed by a 4-2 mauling in the fourth round by mighty MK Dons, and against the Dons after a replay the year before – in 14 years is made even more embarrassing by the pathetic list of teams who have knocked the not-so-Super Hoops out in that period. Last time Rangers had an FA Cup tie on Merseyside it wasn’t Everton, or Liverpool, or even Tranmere in opposition but tiny Vauxhall Motors from the Wirral – and even they had too much for QPR.

More recently the R’s have used this competition as a means to seriously injure their best players. Jamie Mackie broke his leg in a 1-0 defeat at Blackburn the last time Rangers were trying to win promotion from the Championship, and Ale Faurlin went from oft-scouted Premier League star to crock by rupturing his anterior cruciate knee ligaments at MK Dons in 2012. His story since, which includes the same injury in the other knee to put his career, not just at QPR, in serious doubt is an absolute heartbreaker. It’s all made it rather tough to stick to the traditionalist line that the cup remains something worth competing in and trying to win.

If the poor run of form over Christmas has taught us anything it’s that a similarly nasty injury to Charlie Austin, who already has knee issues severe enough for Hull City to pull the plug on a deal to sign him during the summer, could just about kill QPR’s promotion hopes stone dead here at the halfway point of the season. Even the most ardent FA Cup enthusiast would surely advocate leaving the former Burnley man back in London this weekend, even if that means travelling 200 miles to the North West to watch the latest instalment in the long drawn out, slow, painful demise of Bobby Zamora.

Actually, as Pommy on the message board points out, that could have its uses. An afternoon toiling on his own against Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin might be enough to finish Zamora off completely – “death by 4-5-1” as he puts it. Every cloud and all that.

So, on the face of it, the worst possible game for QPR at the worst possible time in a competition they have an abysmal record in and have next to no chance of winning this season. And tickets in the Goodison Park away end – where the choice is sit at the front and get wet, or sit at the back and not see the game – are £25 each.

But then…. You just never know do you? So I’ll see the less sensible ones amongst you tomorrow.

Links >>> History >>> Opposition Profile >>> Referee >>> Travel Guide

Tommy Smith wheels away to celebrate the only goal of the game at Goodison Park in August 2011 as Neil Warnock’s QPR’s side secured a shock first victory following their promotion from the Championship.

This Saturday

Team News: As ever, trying to guess what teams managers will select in the early rounds of the FA Cup is rather like trying to knit fog. QPR got their first indication as to Spurs’ intentions for their two loanees this week. Benoit Assou Ekotto and Little Tom Carroll can both be recalled at the halfway stage of their deals – Tim Sherwood is allowing the Cameroon full back to play and be cu tied, but Carroll is not permitted to feature, so some clues there. Joey Barton seems to believe he is playing, having Tweeted today how much he’s looking forward to facing his boyhood club with his own son as mascot. Richard Dunne and Danny Simpson are being tipped for a rest. Charlie Austin is surely also likely to sit out given his importance to the league campaign and recent hamstring problem. Tom Hitchcock is back from a loan at Crewe and has traveled.

Everton are also likely to make changes with Nikica Jelavic set for his first start since September as he continues to seek regular first team football elsewhere. Arouna Kone and Darron Gibson are long term absentees.

Elsewhere: Sling em all in a hat, let ITV televise it, get Matt Smith in as hosts, have Teddy Sheringham and his disgustingly good looking son draw the teams out, and see what you get. Answer: a bit of a mess, and a fairly uninspiring cup draw.

Arsenal v Spurs is clearly the stand out, and has been shifted to Saturday evening for television coverage, while Blackburn v Man City is the early kick off. Sunday brings a veritable smorgasbord of kick off times with West Ham at Nottingham Trees at 12, Swansea at Man Utd at 16.00, and several other ties in between. In form Derby v Chelsea might hold some interest at 14.15 before the draw.

Everything else is on Saturday at 15.00 with Grimsby the last remaining non-league side facing Huddersfield at Blundell Park. Count the Fulham fans at their tie in Norwich – shouldn’t take you long.

Referee: After a difficult Christmas period of his own, the country’s top referee gets a gentle start to the new year with this early round cup tie. Webb was heavily criticised by Manchester United manager David Moyes for his failure to award a penalty during the New Year’s Day game with Tottenham at Old Trafford. He last refereed QPR at Southampton when Harry Redknapp’s side secured one of only four victories in the 2012/13 Premier League season. For his full QPR case file and stats please click here.

Form

Everton: The Toffees have lost just one 13 matches – a 1-0 Christmas defeat against struggling Sunderland brought about largely because of the sending off of goalkeeper Tim Howard. A Christmas of fixtures against Sunderland, Stoke and Southampton might have been expected to yield more than the four points it did, but Roberto Martinez’s side have started the season in fine fettle. At Goodison Park that Sunderland set back is their only defeat in 11 outings so far, although League One Stevenage took them to extra time before succumbing 2-1 in the League Cup back in August. They were beaten at home in the quarter finals by Martinez’s Wigan side last season, the semi final by Liverpool the season before and the final by Chelsea in 2008/09. Everton last won the FA Cup in 1994/95 – Paul Rideout’s goal beating Manchester United in the final. They beat Derby 1-0 at home in the third round that year.

QPR: Last season’s third round replay success at West Brom is only QPR’s second win in this competition in 14 years, and was promptly followed up with a 4-2 home humbling by League Two outfit MK Dons. Given that Rangers’ last two progressions to the fourth round have ended in a 6-0 loss to Arsenal back in 2001, and that MK Dons humbling, perhaps it’s best the R’s don’t both getting there again anytime soon. The full inglorious list of clubs who have knocked Rangers out of this cup at the first possible opportunity since a narrow replay win against Luton in 2001 is as follows: Swansea (4-0, 01/02), Vauxhall Motors (0-0, 1-1, penalties, 02/03), Grimsby Town (1-0, 03/04), Forest (3-0, 04/05), Blackburn (3-0, 05/06), Luton Town (2-2, 1-0, 06/07), Chelsea (1-0, 07/08), Burnley (0-0, 2-1, 08/09), Sheff Utd (1-1, 3-2, 09/10) and Blackburn (1-0, 10/11). QPR’s recent away form doesn’t scream upset either – one win from eight road trips and they’ve failed to score in four of those, including the last two. The closest Rangers have ever come to winning this trophy was a final replay against Spurs as a Second Division side in 1982.

Prediction: Reigning Prediction League champion Mase concludes a busy Christmas period with…

“Having just about got home against as mere an opposition as Doncaster on Wednesday, Rangers go into a game as undisputed underdogs for the first time this season.

“Everton look, if anything, stronger under Martinez than they did in Moyes' last season at Goodison. Youth, creativity, and quality abound from all over the pitch and they have several of the home nations' great white hopes on their books at the moment. It is up front they have impressed me. Lukaku in particular is a shrewd signing after his impressive season on loan with West Brom and despite never really breaking through at Chelsea.

“I have a feeling that we will play a weakened team and phone it in for a frustrating afternoon. Everton could, in truth, rest whoever they like and still be confident about their prospects. This is a competition they should be looking to make an impression in this season and Martinez does so love a cup run. Roll on Ipswich and ‘concentrating on the league’.”

Mase’s Prediction: Everton 2-1 QPR. Scorer: Benayoun.

LFW’s Prediction: Everton 2-0 QPR. No Scorer.

Tweet @loftforwords

Pictures – Action Images

Photo: Action Images



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YorkRanger added 21:40 - Jan 3
Glad you can make it Clive. I've put my quill pen back in its box until next time...
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BrianMcCarthy added 22:53 - Jan 3
Superb writing. Enjoyable as ever.
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TacticalR added 00:19 - Jan 4
Thanks (sort of!).

Our history in this competition has been so terrible for so long (and that's without mentioning the awful injuries in recent seasons) it's become hard to do anything except write it off.
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Neil_SI added 13:08 - Jan 4
Let's not forget that Akos Buzsaky did his cruciate against Manchester United as well, albeit in the League Cup.
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