|Sheffield United v Queens Park Rangers|
Tuesday, 21st February 2017 Kick-off 19:45
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Tuesday, 21st Feb 2017 11:41 by Clive Whittingham
A fantastic performance and result at Birmingham at the weekend has set QPR up for their latest attempt to kick start their form at Loftus Road as relegation-haunted Wigan visit W12.
QPR (10-7-15, DLDLLW, 16th) v Wigan Athletic (7-9-16, LLDLWD, 22nd)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Tuesday February 21, 2017 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Cloudy, unseasonably warm >>> Loftus Road, London, W12
If you weren’t busy last night watching a genuinely incredible football story turned into a tawdry, money-making betting opportunity by a comic complicit in the institutional cover up of the Hillsborough disaster, you’ll probably have been watching Newcastle v Aston Villa on the other side. You’ll have missed the flat track bully’s flat track bully Theo Walcott getting a nice goal for himself in a game Arsenal should have been able to win with their eyes closed, before no doubt disappearing back up his own arse – presumably decorated with designer stubble all of its own - to hide from occasions when Arsenal actually need him, but I’m sure you’ll cope.
Villa lost again, for those who weren’t watching, 2-0. No disgrace really, given the resources Newcastle have at their disposal and the players and manager they’ve been able to bring in because of that. QPR won 4-1 at Birmingham at the weekend – those two teams lost their first meetings with Newcastle this season by a combined score of 10-0. Newcastle are quite good when they want to be.
But this was Villa’s tenth match without a win – eight of those have been lost including the last five. They’re now seventeenth, below QPR, just six points shy of the relegation zone, already onto a second manager of the season and having shelled out in excess of £10m for a striker on three separate occasions in an overall spend of more than £50m. One of those strikers, Ross McCormack, is now fat and out on loan at Nottingham Forest. Another, Scott Hogan, left the field this evening on a stretcher.
Aston Villa are simply the latest version of QPR, who themselves were the latest version of Leeds, or Nottingham Forest. These clubs look odd during their meltdowns, because they completely outspend their rivals, and they buy players who look good on paper, and appoint managers you would think would do well given the resources and time. But none of it ever works. Great players come and go, great managers come and go, and the results continue to flatline.
If you’re badly run club, usually owned by a foreign entity who is naïve, or incompetent, or malicious, then you can sign all the big names or great players you like, and you can hire and fire as many managers as you like, it will make no difference. It’s basically like shovelling stuff into a black hole – shovel as much as you like, the hole doesn’t fill up. Conversely, if your club is set up and run in the right way then it overcomes a multitude of sins and players and managers alike go on to achieve more than they ever did before.
Villa are the perfect current case study for this phenomenon. Conor Hourihane was the outstanding player in the Championship in the first half of this season – along with Jonjo Shelvey, Tom Cairney and Aaron Mooy who were all from far more accomplished backgrounds and playing in far better teams. Hourihane, 26, Irish, cast aside by Sunderland and Ipswich before establishing himself at Plymouth, was the fulcrum of a wonderful, free-scoring Barnsley side that won a promotion last year and has taken the Championship by relative storm this term with a squad averaging out at 24 years old. He, and Nottingham Forest’s influential central midfielder Henri Lansbury, took lucrative offers from Villa in January and suddenly can’t find their arse with both hands.
Ashley Westwood meanwhile, a promising if slightly workmanlike midfielder from Crewe who rather lost his way at Villa like everybody else, moved to Premier League Burnley to make way for the newcomers in January and looks great a division higher. If you have an identity, if you’re well run, if your manager is brilliant, if your chairman isn’t a knob, then you take players like Westwood on and they perform ten times better than they ever did before. If all of that is the other way around, then you buy players like Hourihane and they never get close to being as brilliant as they were before.
It’s why it continues to astonish me that so many at QPR believe salvation lies in getting rid of one more manager, or signing four more players. This idea that everything will be ok if only we could just get rid of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink/Chris Ramsey/Les Ferdinand/Ben Gladwin/Karl Henry/Nedum Onuoha. Even after six years of this not working, we’re still often in ‘announce Ravel’ mode. Still looking for something else shiny to throw in the hole.
The latest new dawn is the appointment of Ian Holloway, which has come with yet another change in transfer strategy and complete overhaul of the squad. This culminated in the weekend win at Birmingham – 4-1, away from home, QPR terrific throughout and completely dominant. But Birmingham are awful, managed by a complete herbert, and were there for the taking. I’m not turning my nose up at it, QPR usually hand such basket cases a free wad of notes to tide them over, but it was what it was.
I can understand why chairman Tony Fernandes kicked into social media mode on Saturday night, openly asking where the people who email him abuse were after a 4-1 away win, because some of the stuff that gets sent to him on social media is absolutely embarrassing. But changing yourself from that footballing black hole into something more coherent and effective takes so much time and effort and the job isn’t done just because you beat a bad team with a dreadful manager 4-1 in their own back yard. Les Ferdinand – who gets nowhere near the credit he deserves – is doing his best to get us there along with an excellent CEO in Lee Hoos. But they’re not perfect and the job isn’t easy.
The performance on Saturday, the manner of the win, the players who played well in it, the system and style we employed all bodes really well. We’ve looked good in several games under Holloway now – exciting to watch, a threat. My God wouldn’t it be wonderful if the two men who finally turned the ship back around were Ian Holloway and Les bloody Ferdinand? But if QPR stay true to form they’ll follow it up with a shambles against Wigan at Loftus Road on Tuesday night, turning down the chance to move ten points clear of the third bottom side and instead narrowing the gap to four. We’ve still only won four times at home all season.
We need to be as we were on Saturday – relentless, creative and attacking with the ball, tenacious and desperate without it. “Boy aren’t we working hard?” said Olly afterwards, and he’s exactly right but we need to try and be like that every week. That Burton game still haunts me. We need to be running a sword through nonsense like that Birmingham City shemozzle on Saturday as a matter of routine, not going through six matches with Blackburn, Burton and Rotherham without a win. We need to be doing that consistently, and we need to be nasty and aggressive with it.
We need to be a club of Alex Smithies, Jamie Mackie, Grant Hall, Ryan Manning and Mide Shodipo. We need to be the club that signs a player like Matt Smith, and gets him playing better than he did at his previous clubs – not rated highly by Leeds or Fulham, he was fantastic on Saturday. We need to stop being a club of Sandro and Steven Caulker. We’re getting there, Ferdinand is getting us there, Holloway is showing flashes that he might be the manager to get us there, but it’s a long road. Another baby step on that journey would be not following up Saturday’s epiphany with a home defeat to Wigan Athletic.
Highlights from QPR’s 2-1 extra time win against Wigan in the second leg of the 2014 Championship play-off semi-finals at Loftus Road. Charlie Austin got both goals, naturally.
Team News: Although Saturday’s team selection, and bench, strongly hinted that Olly was preparing strategically for two games in quick succession, the manner of the victory at St Andrew’s will likely see him stick with the same team. Sean Goss and Ravel Morrison are, according to the manager, short of match fitness.
Matt Gilks double penalty save against Preston at the weekend will see him retained in goal, but midfielder Michael Jacobs (parents evening) is out.
Elsewhere: Five fixtures in this bonus midweek round of fixtures, including our own, and local derbies for Reading who are at Borussia Huddersfield, and Brentford who visit the Sheffield Owls.
There’s an actual Derby derby between the Derby Sheep and Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion and then tomorrow the Wurzels host Tarquin and Rupert for a meeting of cultural minds. Burton, having played on Tuesday, then have to go again on Friday night against the mad Indian Chicken Farmers.
Referee: James Linington is popping over from the Isle of Wight for this one. He was last in charge of QPR during those heady days of August when Rangers were awarded a penalty in every match (sometimes two) and won more often than not. He granted Seb Polter a spot kick in a 2-0 win at Cardiff. More details here.
QPR: Rangers’ thumping 4-1 win at Birmingham at the weekend was their sixth away win of the season so far (Cardiff, Wigan, Fulham, Wolves, Reading, Brum) which is more than they managed in the previous two season combined. At Loftus Road, however, the R’s have won only four and drawn four of 16 played and their record against the teams below them this season is also poor with no victories from five matches against Blackburn, Burton and Rotherham. Wigan, of course, were beaten 1-0 back in August. Only Wigan (12) have scored fewer goals on their own ground than Rangers’ 15 this season – even Burton have managed 17 and bottom-placed Rotherham 20. Rangers have won four, drawn two and lost four of the last ten. Conor Washington has three goals (four really) in his last five outings after scoring just three in his first 40 appearances for the club.
Wigan: The Latics have won four of ten in all competitions since the turn of the year having only won four all season in 25 prior to that following last season’s promotion. They’ve won two of their last three away games to nil in the league – 1-0 at Wolves, 2-0 at Burton – but their overall away record of four, four and eight (identical to QPR’s home record) isn’t anything to write home about. They’re currently seven points behind Rangers occupying the final relegation spot so it’s a massive match for QPR this one – win and attentions can probably start turning to next season, lose and that gap comes down to four once more and undoes the good week of the weekend.
Predictions: More fool me but I’m keeping faith with what I saw on Saturday. Play like that and we’ll win. But we’ve said that before.
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-0 Wigan. Scorer – Matt Smith.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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