|Leeds United 0 v 0 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 11th March 2017 Kick-off 15:00
In-form QPR head to standard-setting Leeds - Preview
Friday, 10th Mar 2017 14:45 by Clive Whittingham
A sudden burst of wins, form and fun has QPR fans dreaming of what might happen next season again, but they'll get a good idea of the standard that needs to be reached from high-flying Leeds on Saturday.
Leeds United (20-5-11, LWDWWD, 4th) v QPR (13-7-16, LWWLWW, 14th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday March 11, 2017 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Overcast, chance of rain towards full time >>> Elland Road, Leeds
And so, less than three weeks after our last “might we still get relegated this season?” thread, comes the first of 2017’s “will we get promoted next season?” discussions. Honestly, it’s like running a drop in centre for paranoid schizophrenics.
The answer of course is yes, yes we can. While the Championship may look like a fearsome thing its main challenge really is the sheer number of games, rather than the quality of any of the teams. It’s a big stodgy blob of mediocrity in the most part, which rewards consistency and bloody mindedness more than skill and ability, and it’s going to be weaker next season than this.
Despite Brighton’s recent wobble it seems likely we’ll lose them and Newcastle going up, and they’re two of the best sides we’ve seen at this level for some time. Coming the other way, in all likelihood, will be Hull City who are unlikely to pose much threat while under the malicious ownership of Assam Allam, and Sunderland, whose American owner Ellis Short seems to have grown weary of flushing his money down the toilet. Lose either Sheff Wed or Leeds, two ‘big clubs’ who’ve got their act together and will challenge next season if they don’t make it this, and gain Middlesbrough, who will always be a threat while Steve Gibson is chairman but not while their manager continues to forbid them crossing the halfway line and, again, the division is weaker.
Coming up the other way you’d think Sheffield United might make a decent fist of it but there’s surely little to worry about among Fleetwood, Bradford, Scunthorpe, Southend, Millwall, Walsall or Bolton Wanderers who remain a financial disaster zone. Lose Bristol City, who have a far better team and financial backing than their current performances/manager shows, and/or Wolves who have all the gear and no idea, and again the division is weaker. Huddersfield won’t have Aaron Mooy, Izzy Brown or Casey Palmer (all on loan) next season, Reading surely can’t maintain their play-off push into a second season while playing so abysmally, Fulham’s parachute payments are ending, Norwich’s are reducing, Birmingham are worse than they were six months ago, Forest are owned by a fucking moron. Only Cardiff, really, under Neil Warnock, look like they might significantly improve next season.
There are few better examples of what can be achieved reasonably quickly than our opponents on Saturday Leeds United. Now Leeds may be absolutely mahusive, sleeping giant, Champions of Europe, scarves in the air, whirl them around etc etc but they are a club with a traumatic recent past, a chaotic boardroom currently occupied by a rabid nutter, and no parschute payments. And yet simply by appointing a very talented young manager, securing the defence, and getting a striker scoring they’re now fourth in the league, coming into Saturday on a run of eight home wins (and seven clean sheets) from nine matches.
Let’s take each of those in turn. Firstly, the manager. To most Championship football fans the idea that Ian Holloway might have it within him to mastermind a promotion for QPR must be mildly amusing. He’s that rambling fool that used to say ridiculous things on the television after all. But he’s been promoted from this division before with Palace and, in highly unlikely circumstances, with Blackpool.
It’s clear from his time at Rangers already that he’s developed as a tactician so much from his first spell, when although he took QPR from level three to two he was pretty direct and basic. He’s shown an ability to sadle the right horse for the right course, picking very different teams and adapting very different styles to see off Birmingham, Cardiff and Barnsley in the last fortnight. His selection for Tuesday night in particular, that looked like it had been drawn out of a drum two minutes before kick off, made perfect sense once the game started. Barnsley, a team of excellent young boys, can run all night, so Holloway picked a more athletic, mobile, pacy team than Saturday to combat that. Cardiff, under Warnock, are more rudimentary, so that’s what Rangers went with. Result – two victories.
To say this is a promotion waiting to happen, Holloway is some sort of genius and so on is premature, but he’s no clown.
Second, the Chris Wood factor. Wood has 22 goals this season for Leeds as they sit fourth and the general consensus is QPR would need the fabled “20 goal a season man” to perform similarly next season – despite recent improvements and form from Matt Smith, Idrissa Sylla and Conor Washington that man doesn’t look like he currently exists in the QPR squad. That’s not great news really – top of the table Newcastle have Dwight Gayle on 21, second placed Brighton have Glenn Murray on 19, Sheff Wed’s Jordan Rhodes would no doubt be around 20 if he’d been there all season… And thanks to Aston Villa and Newcastle, these players now cost hideous amounts of money.
But there are reasons for optimism here as well. Firstly, if you’d told Leeds fans Chris Wood would suddenly score 25 goals in a season a year ago they’d have taken a break from booing him during matches to laugh at you. When he scored late against Fulham at the start of this season he cupped his ear to the home crowd because he’d copped so much abuse before that. Matt Smith scored 13 goals in 20 games for Bristol City. Washington has been prolific of late. It’s not beyond the realms of possibility.
Nor is it a pre-requisite for a promotion push. Huddersfield are third with a top scorer (Kachunga) on ten, Reading are fifth with one on nine (Yermorgant), Bristol City are ion the relegation zone with Tammy Abraham on 18 goals. Of last year's three promoted teams only Burnley (Andre Gray, 25) had a striker with more than 20 goals. The season before Bournemouth (Callum Wilson, 20), Watford (Troy Deeney, 20) and Norwich (Cameron Jerome, 18) just about got there, but Blackburn who had Rudy Gestede and Jordan Rhodes break the barrier finished ninth. In 2012/13 Cardiff and Hull were the top two in this league with top scorers on eight (Whittingham, Helguson, Gunnarsson) and nine (Robert Koren) respectively.
They’re nice to have, these free scoring strikers, but they’re expensive and you can get round it by sharing goals out, tightening your defence, rotating your squad etc – QPR have scored 11 goals in the last five matches from seven different scorers (including two own goals to be fair) which is another positive sign.
The defence probably does need work. Our opposition fan this week, David Watkins, points out that Leeds made their worst start to a league season in 40 years this season with four defeats and a draw from their first six league games (including a 3-0 loss at QPR) and ten goals conceded in those games. The turn around since, he says, is down to the defence settling down. Once the likes of Sol Bamba had been bombed out and the current Green, Ayling, Bartley, Jansson, Berardi/Taylor back five was in place they’ve never looked back – eight clean sheets in nine home games.
QPR have been better since utilising Grant Hall as that central go-between, dropping from midfield to the defence, and Alex Smithies will win the Player of the Season award at Loftus Road by a country mile. But this area of the team still needs work. I prefer Darnell Furlong to James Perch but he’s learning his trade and needs to bulk out. I don’t mind Nedum Onuoha as much as most but I’m very unconvinced by Joel Lynch. Quite apart from his frequent injury sabbaticals – which are a right pain for centre backs, as we found with Fitz Hall, because it’s a position on the field that rewards consistency of selection and partnerships – he just seems a bit wild with his positioning and decision making to me. I’m quickly growing weary of him running the long way round his striker to try and intercept a long ball forward, only to be rolled too easily and allow his man to run goalside and inside. Bidwell has been better of late, but is regularly exposed by the system.
So if there are signings to make, it probably needs to be there, in the form of a big, nasty, athletic centre half. Such a shame we couldn’t shove that Alfie Mawson transfer through before the Premier League cottoned onto him.
Ultimately I’ll just be happy with the continued improvements, in both results and the quality/entertainment of the football, that we’ve seen over the last few months. Improve on our position this year, try not to bore the tits off everybody as we did before Christmas, continue developing the likes of Furlong and Manning, continue the hard work on the club’s finances that Lee Hoos has done brilliantly so far…
But it wouldn’t take that much to go better than that, and Holloway has shown in recent weeks that he’s got more than enough about him to be trusted to get on with that task.
Highlights from that wonderful comeback in 1990 as a Goal of the Season from Roy Wegerle and a volley from Ray Wilkins see the R’s roar back from 2-0 down to win 3-2 at Elland Road.
Team News: Conor Washington, Matt Smith, Jamie Mackie and Joel Lynch were all benched or missing entirely for the midweek win against Barnsley but could be recalled depending on how Ian Holloway wants to go about this. Jordan Cousins (thigh), Jack Robinson (amputation) and Steven Caulker (always best not to ask) are long term absentees. Kazenga Lua Lua will return from an ankly roll (lovely with mayonnaise) after the international break.
Leeds won’t be failing, they’ve got Luke Ayling – man best known by QPR fans for leaning on the goal post at Yeovil a couple of seasons ago and striking up a conversation with us on the terrace behind the goal while the match was going on, he’s available again this weekend after missing the Fulham game breeding. Chris Wood, calf knack, who’s a bit good, is also available again. Kalvin Phillips has two games on the naughty step.
Elsewhere: It’s time for another of those mythical later rounds of the FA Cup this weekend but as the good people of the Mercantile Credit Trophy all dipped out of that nice and early and in a variety of farcical circumstances in order to focus on the absolutely crucially important and never-any-less-than-fascinating league campaign, there’s a full round of another dozen fixtures over the next two days.
The fun starts tonight with Promoted Brighton, having a little wobble, hosting the Derby Sheep, having a full on seizure. Who would have thought a dressing room with the likes of Tom Ince, Darren Bent and Bradley Johnson in it, overseen by Schteve McClaren, would consistently fall apart whenever the going gets even slightly tough? Still, at least they got rid of that idiot Paul Clement and his boring football when they were fifth in the league last season. Nothing much ever became of him.
Loads of games tomorrow. Loads and loads of games. Loads and loads. Barnsley v Ipswich counts as one. Mick McCarthy keeping things tight with seven defensive players in his team for the home visit of the Wolverhampton Wolves during the week, despite the visitors losing six on the spin going into that one. A fairly predictable 0-0 stops the rot for Paul Lambert who now wants an actual win, a whole one, at home to Relegated Rotherham.
If he gets it, that puts whoever fails to win the Wigan Warriors v Wurzels game bang in it, although given the way those two have been playing of late one wouldn’t be surprised to see them both lose. The Mad Indian Chicken Farmers reside just above all that nonsense and go to Norwich this weekend, and Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion are just above them with Nottingham Trees in town providing all the Clough angles, family stories and old wives tales you could ever possibly handle in one fixture.
The first class buffet on the East Coast mainline will be getting a thorough seeing to as Tarquin and Rupert head up to Champions Newcastle. Defeat there, and a win for the Sheffield Owls at Leddersford, re-settles the play-off picture. Or turn those results around and make it really interesting. I still keep thinking Reading might blow out, given the fact they’re shit, but they’re comfortably fifth ahead of a trip to Preston Knob End. Borussia Huddersfield are running out of games to catch the top two, but should win at Brentford to boost that cause.
Everybody up on their feet and applaud in the eighth minute of Cardiff v Brum please in memory of Neil Warnock’s eyebrows as The Seventh Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour nears its conclusion.
Leeds: Garry Monk’s side have won 12 home matches this season (drawing two and losing four of the other six) which is one more than league leaders Newcastle and a total bettered only by Brighton and Huddersfield, the two sides directly above them in the league. Cardiff, Newcastle, Huddersfield and Birmingham (then managed by Gary Rowett, not that clown they’ve got now) are the four teams to win on this ground this season but the Whites come into this game on a run of eight wins from nine matches on their own patch and they’ve kept seven clean sheets in those nine games as well.
QPR: Four wins from five matches, including three consecutive home victories having only won four all season previously, have quietly lifted QPR to the top of the Championship form table. The fifth game in that sequence was a 2-1 loss at Preston but the 4-1 win at Birmingham prior to that was the sixth away win of the season (Cardiff, Wigan, Fulham, Wolves, Reading, Birmingham) which is as many as Rangers had managed in the previous two seasons combined and the same as promotion chasing Sheff Wed who are sixth. Substitutes have scored on nine separate occasions for QPR this season, the most of any team in the league.
Prediction: Despite QPR’s recent improvements it’s hard to see them getting much here given Leeds’ formidable home form. You never know though, if QPR can keep it tight early (big if) and maybe prey on the nerves of the home crowd we might be able to scrape something out of it. As ever, Ian Holloway’s team selection will probably be the most interesting bit of the whole episode.
LFW’s Prediction: Leeds 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Matt Smith.
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