|Queens Park Rangers v Birmingham City|
Saturday, 29th April 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Take seven – Preview
Friday, 28th Apr 2017 15:46 by Clive Whittingham
QPR’s seventh attempt to get the win they need to make them mathematically safe sees them welcome fellow strugglers Nottingham Forest to Loftus Road on Saturday.
QPR (14-8-22, LLLLLL, 19th) v Nottm Forest (13-9-22, DLWLLW, 20th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday April 29, 2017 >>> Kick Off 15.00!!!!!!!!! >>> Weather – Cloudy, cold >>> Loftus Road, London, W12
That extraordinary set of results required to send Queens Park Rangers down a few weeks ago is slowly being ticked off. It remains improbable and unlikely – 50/1 and longer according to the bookies – but it would no longer be remarkable. QPR are not so much spending credit as torching it. A cat with nine lives that has spent the last month or so deliberately flinging itself from upstairs windows. This is now seriously threatening to turn into one of those ‘only at Loftus Road’ moments.
Rangers would need to lose their final two matches for it to happen, and if they do that than frankly they deserve to be playing in League One next season. Having only lost six league games in a row three times in the history of the club the not-so-Super Hoops have done it twice in five months and another two this week would mean Ian Holoway’s side finish the campaign with eight straight losses. They’ve already equalled the record number of home defeats in a season – more than any other previous relegation season – and can surpass that with a loss on Saturday to a Nottingham Forest team that hasn’t won away in 13 attempts. In amongst it, the 6-0 defeat to Newcastle was the club’s record home league defeat. QPR should stay up despite it all, but they’ll be lucky to do so given all of that.
If they do lose both matches then Birmingham need to beat one of Huddersfield at home or Bristol City away having only won two of their last 24 games, and Blackburn need to beat Aston Villa at home and Brentford away having only won one of the last ten. None of their opponents have anything to play for, and to see how much effort Brentford might put in knowing a home loss could relegate QPR you only need look at their reaction to beating us last week. If QPR get a point tomorrow, then Forest would need to beat Ipswich and Birmingham and Blackburn would need to win twice each. A loss to Forest and a point at Norwich leaves Birmingham and Blackburn requiring two wins each but makes Forest safe. It’s gone from something only Joey Barton might think worth a bet (and this would be the fault of the FA, Football League and Premier League, you understand, for allowing betting advertising, and absolutely not the responsibility of a known and proven delusional shitgibbon) to something you might like to consider a wager on yourself - for emotional insurance only of course.
From a position of five wins in seven, 50 points attained, top of the Championship form table, playing well, scoring goals, optimism building for next season… however did it come to this?
QPR love having somebody specific to blame. Blame means we can fire somebody, or sell them, and hire or buy somebody else, then everything will be ok again, even though we hire, fire, buy and sell all the time and it hardly ever makes a blind bit of difference.
It could just be that this is how good our team is this season. This six match losing streak includes three of the same teams from the previous one, plus two other sides we also lost to pretty comfortably earlier in the season. It could just be that our team isn’t as good as Derby, Aston Villa, Brighton, Sheff Wed and Brentford – a fact backed up by every column on this year’s league table. Not Ian Holloway’s fault, not Marc Bircham’s fault, not the players’ fault, not something that could be corrected by a new manager or assistant or anything really, short term. Just beaten by better sides.
Of those games QPR were poor at Derby, but still only lost to one late goal from a defensive error in circumstances (Gary Rowett’s first home match) you’d have expected County to win in. Villa had won six of seven coming into the following match and Rangers played well and deserved at least a point. Brighton have won the league since and were lucky to leave Loftus Road with a point. Sheff Wed may yet be promoted, had won three in a row prior to our game, and the referee turned down two very good QPR penalty shouts which would have got us a draw.
Brentford last week outplayed Rangers and deserved their win, but even in that Dan Bentley made three good saves, Idrissa Sylla missed a presentable chance and Conor Washington had a(nother) header over the line not seen by a referee’s assistant. Despite Jota’s brilliance, despite Brentford’s obvious superiority, despite James Perch’s ongoing quest to get himself sent off, despite Joel Lynch playing and behaving like an ageing beer league lout and despite Jake Bidwell living out the sort of personal nightmare usually only brought about by going to bed too soon after some strong cheese, that too could have been a draw in marginally different circumstances.
Only at Bristol City, who we did beat earlier in the season, could you just throw your hands up and say Rangers were proper dogshit – and even there a goal was disallowed, and Frankie Fielding saved well from Ngbakoto in a single goal loss.
But that’s not much good for next season is it, assuming/hoping we’re still at this level? QPR aren’t a big club but they’ve been in the top two divisions for almost all of the last 50 years, they’re still receiving parachute payments, clubs of equal or smaller size/support/income are doing well in this division and the one above, they shouldn’t just be shrugging and accepting that half the division is better than them. Especially as they were the division’s best payers last year and are certainly still paying more than Brentford and many other teams this – wages usually the soundest way to predict football team performance in the modern game, QPR the constant anomaly on that graph.
In the search for a solution, Rangers often look to whatever they’re not doing now and decide to head for that. So, if they’ve signed a few old players they suddenly start demanding younger ones, if there are a few foreigners they start demanding Englishmen, if they’ve been signed from big clubs we wonder why we don’t shop at small clubs, if they’re signed from the Premier League we demand signings from lower leagues. We had experienced old managers and demanded younger up and coming ones. We said wouldn’t it be nice to actually have some QPR people running the place, bit of passion, know the club, care about it etc when we didn’t have that and now we’re swimming in them. We said (rightly) that the board needed a football person between them and the manager, now we hate Les Ferdinand, even though he’s done a huge amount of good for the club.
I’ve seen loan players mentioned this week, because people have remembered we had Kyle Walker and Wayne Routledge (imagine) in the promotion season and Tammy Abraham has kept Bristol City up this year. Cast your mind back to 2010 and the problem - everybody said, Warnock said - was we had too many loan players.
I’ve no doubt we’ll hear the “buy League One players, get League One performances” and “you can’t buy bargain foreigners and expect them to do it on a cold Tuesday night at Barnsley” stuff as the fallout from this season continues. This would be to completely ignore what’s going on down the road, where Brentford have been in play-off form for three months and have outplayed us twice with a team that, last week, was bought from Southend, Anderlecht, Southampton Youth, Walsall, Chamois, Arsenal Youth, Shrewsbury, Walsall, Gothenburg, Celta Vigo and Norwich.
This is why it’s so unhelpful – and for him must be incredibly frustrating and depressing – to have Tony Fernandes exposed to these snap, often angry, judgements on social media. In general, when things go even slightly awry at QPR, we want exactly the opposite of what we’ve got, and then everything will be alright again. Ian Holloway the latest popular choice (there’s been little dissent about any of the appointments during Fernandes’ reign other than the decision to give Chris Ramsey the job permanently) that the jungle drums are now beating for after just a few short months.
Holloway, who was clearly affected by the grief he got walking across the pitch after the match at Griffin Park last week (he should have been there for Ramsey’s walk on that ground last season if he wanted to know real over the top hostility), has been coming out with some odd stuff this week. He’s adamant that he hasn’t been experimenting with his team, causing all these problems, nor is he tinkering with it for the sake of doing so.
Certain things back that up. When QPR were winning there were half a dozen changes made from the Cardiff match on the Saturday to Barnsley on the Tuesday – Holloway was praised for picking a horse for the course. Likewise after the fine display at Leeds, widespread changes for the 5-1 win against Rotherham a week later. He says he’s simply still trying to pick a team to exploit weakness in the opponents, as he did when things were going well.
But then quite what weakness he’d seen in Sheffield Wednesday to justify starting Michael Petrasso for the first time in a year is difficult to fathom. And it’s impossible to see, either tactically or in the name of experimenting, what we get out of slinging him in for a half, moving him round three positions, taking him off and then never using him again. To me an experiment would be giving somebody a little run of games – if we want to see what Petrasso has got then give him three or four on the run, let him get a feel for it and bed in? Play Washington and Smith together up front for five games straight and see what happens. That’s an experiment.
Instead we’re seeing random selections like Sean Goss last week, suddenly thrown in from the start against a good side, withdrawn at half time. Holloway's right, this isn't experimenting, but nor is it tactical, it’s just bloody barmy. Holloway said this week Goss needs to be better, “needs to realise how quick it is in there”, and that’s fair enough as yet another one of those excellent young boys who’s done nothing but play academy football his whole life. But how’s he meant to do that with no starts for a month and then 45 minutes and a slagging off at Brentford? If we’re trying to get him up to speed, wouldn’t three or four starts in a row be more use? I’m really not sure about Goss, and as usual we’ve done the over-hype thing “came from Man Utd, comparisons with Michael Carrick” for a player who’d never played a single second of senior football before arriving here. But fuck me, poor little bastard, what exactly did we expect just tossing him in there like that last week?
If I was to have a stab at it (and I’ve been wrong about just about everything for years now) I’d say we’re a bit soft. This is not, you understand, me going down the Terry Butcher, Tony Adams, six pints of Best in the Rose and Crown and then home to give the wife a quick going over, path of demanding “pwopah leadahs” because as I said when Nedum Onuoha was copping stick earlier this season, how do you know from your position in Ellerslie Road, out of earshot, and never attending training, and never travelling with the team, who’s a leadaaaaah or not?
But we’re not a gritty team are we? We’re not a team for a tough occasion? We’re not a team you’d back to see through 30 minutes with a single goal lead are we? Matt Smith, Conor Washington, Massimo Luongo, Nedum Onuoha, Ryan Manning – they all seem like really nice lads. Well spoken, thoughtful boys. There’s nothing wrong with that, they’re a credit to the club, Clint Hill was the same, intelligent guy, but Clint Hill was also a head it and kick it man and we don’t have that do we? Joel Lynch was brought in as Hill’s replacement, and he’s unravelling fast, playing last week like he’d dropped some bad acid and stayed up all night watching videos of Georges Santos. Hill meanwhile is being handed special awards at Glasgow Rangers for his performances there.
We’ve been difficult to play against at times this season. At Birmingham, at Reading, with Manning and Freeman snapping and Grant Hall anchoring, and we’ve gone away from that. We’ve looked good going forwards, when we’ve played with width, when Pawel Wszolek has been playing, and we’ve gone away from that.
The old man over the road used to say “I shake my head our Helen” when he was chewing my mum’s ear off about some perceived village injustice in the queue at the post office. And I do. I shake my head. What a bloody mess hey? Let’s hope we flop over the line somehow – awful refereeing decision, goal awarded when it hadn’t crossed the line (that’d be nice), dodgy penalty, one off somebody’s cock end. Anything. Anything. Then we’ll try and sort it all out in the summer. Again.
Brief highlights from a meeting between these sides on this ground in 1995 when Simon Barker scored late on for the R’s after Steve Stone had opened the scoring for Nottingham Forest.
Team News: Alex Smithies and ten outfield players selected randomly at five minutes to two by a blindfolded Marc Bircham putting pins in a squad list while Ian Holloway shouts Marco Polo. Grant Hall, annoyingly, is still out while Jordan Cousins’ season is long since over and Steven Caulker hasn’t been seen since that three bottles for a fiver offer started at Temple Walkabout.
Left back Danny Fox has been caught by the local hunt but Mustapha Carayol has agreed to miss his bridge night to attend. Zach Clough has been having his ears pinned but should return, having battered QPR for Bolton at the Reebok Spaceship last year, but Jack Hobbs has a golf match Saturday morning and may not make the bus in time.
Elsewhere: This nonsense can all be taken out of QPR’s hands (probably for the best) if Leddersford do them a favour for the second week running and beat The Mad Indian Chicken Farmers at Ewood Park. Or, thanks to goal difference, if ‘Arry’s Brum revolution flounders for the second week running at home to Borussia Huddersfield – although their midweek win at the Wolverhampton Wolves has secured their play off spot and Herr Wagner says he’s resting players. Triffic.
The last play-off spot has come down to Tarquin and Rupert, who are in form and at home to Brentford, against the Champions of Europe, who are (hilariously) not and host Norwich.
Champions Brighton can actually become champions if Promoted Newcastle fail to win on the Seventh Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour tonight, or if they beat Bristol City at home tomorrow night.
Literally nothing else matters, so everybody can busy themselves with their various pointless minutes of applause and whatnot without fear of missing anything on the field. Reading v Wigan Warriors looks particularly tiresome, and their fellow play-off qualifiers Sheffield Owls won’t be expecting much by way of entertainment from Mick McCarthy’s dire Ipswich side.
Barnsley v Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion is this week’s fixture between two sides beginning with B while the Derby Sheep v Wolverhampton Wolves and Preston Knob End v Relegated Rotherham are also football matches taking place this weekend in order to get people out of the house and socialising with each other.
Referee: James Linington has refereed two QPR wins this season, and has never been in charge of a Rangers league defeat. Three of his four Nottingham Forest appointments this season have ended in defeat. His last QPR outing was a crucial win at home to Wigan a couple of months back. His full case file is available here.
QPR: The recent 2-1 home defeats to Brighton and Sheff Wed snapped a run of four successive wins at Loftus Road for QPR but continued the path towards several unwanted records for the R’s in W12 this season. As well as suffering a record home league defeat (6-0 to Newcastle) the R’s have now equalled their record number of home defeats (ten, 1949/50, 1968/69) and will go past that with a defeat here. Rangers had only lost six league games in a row three times in their history prior to this season but have now done so twice in five months.
Forest: Well if nothing you’ve read so far has filled your heart with dread then try this on for size. Nottingham Forest haven’t won an away game since November 25 at Barnsley. Since then they’ve lost ten and drawn three of 13, conceding 24 goals and scoring six. They’ve failed to score in eight of those, including the last two, and the run includes two failed attempts to win, or score, at relegated Wigan. Overall this season they’ve won just two away matches, which is the league’s lowest total apart from Rotherham who haven’t won any yet. Five of the remaining 20 have been drawn with 15 losses which, again, is the worst record apart from the bottom side. Wigan (five), Blackburn (three) and Birmingham (four) have all won more away matches than Forest this season. Although QPR’s record at The City Ground is notoriously dreadful, Forest haven’t done too well at Loftus Road of late with last season’s Rob Green-assisted 2-1 victory their first in eight meetings here going back to 1998.
Predictions: A draw, and Birmingham and Blackburn wins, which just about makes QPR safe but still sends us up to Norwich next weekend looking at other results and cursing our life choices.
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Forest. Scorer – Matt Smith.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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