|Sheffield Wednesday 1 v 1 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 12th August 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Great expectations - Preview
Friday, 11th Aug 2017 12:48 by Clive Whittingham
QPR won on day one when few expected them to, while Sheff Wed lost in front of a big travelling support at Preston - how have expectations of these two changed ahead of round two?
Sheffield Wednesday v Queens Park Rangers
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday August 12, 2017 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Sunny and warm, no joke >>> Hillsborough, Sheffield, S6
There’s nothing wrong with a bit of ambition. When you’ve put together the most expensive squad in Premier League history, including a £100m French international midfielder, it’s right that confidence and optimism should be high and that questions should be asked when you’re limping along in fifth place and moaning that having to play nine times in April is “inhumane”.
But for clubs lower down the food chain, expectation can be a dodgy thing. We’ve seen several examples of this at QPR in the past few years.
For instance, look at the differing attitudes many QPR supporters have towards Conor Washington and Massimo Luongo, compared to Grant Hall. Washington and Luongo were signed to something of a fanfare, one a prolific scorer in League One capable of going on and being another Andre Gray or Scott Hogan type, the other an Australian international, player of the tournament in the Asia Cup, wanted by Premier League clubs, hero of Swindon’s play-off bid and so on. Washington had video montages of his first day at training put on the club’s YouTube channel.
But neither had ever played at Championship level before. Washington, especially, was being asked to step up very quickly just four years after he was working as a postman and playing part time. Washington’s goalscoring record for Rangers is poor but he’s only 18 months into playing at this level for the first time. Both look to be finding their feet now but have been judged harshly to this point in my view.
Hall meanwhile arrived almost without an announcement at all. Picked up for nothing after a release from Tottenham and a successful trial game in pre-season, you’d have been forgiven for not even noticing he’d come through the door. He was given the supporters’ Player of the Year award in his first season and while I thought he was good, that did rather overlook a poor end to the campaign where he’d started letting the ball bounce in bad areas. He was rewarded for surpassing non-existent expectations, while the other two have been punished for other people’s hype and unrealistic beliefs about how good they should be and how soon.
We spoke last week about how the QPR sides in 1999/00 and 2010/11 enjoyed very successful campaigns when supporters least expected it after years of false dawns and over spending. By contrast, the 2008/09 and 2012/13 seasons were unmitigated disasters after we’d all gone into August believing we were going to sweep all before us.
There are a few factors potentially at play here. Firstly, things are never as good as they seem when they’re going well, nor as bad as we think when they’re not. The relentless, 24-hour nature of the modern sport magnifies everything and blows it all up into a crisis or the second coming of Roy Wegerle. In actual fact it’s somewhere in between 99% of the time. Secondly, lower expectations takes pressure off players and teams and enables them to play with more freedom which often brings better results. Thirdly, a lot of the things that raise expectations, particularly among QPR fans – spending money, signing players – doesn’t actually work that well for our club. And fourthly, expectations can frame exactly the same season in different ways – if QPR finish tenth with more than 60 points this season that will be seen as a success, if they’d finished tenth with more than 60 points in 2013/14 that would have been viewed as a disaster.
Saturday’s opponents Sheffield Wednesday are an interesting study in this themselves. For 15 years they never had so much as a sniff of a play-off position in this division, and spent two separate two-year spells in the league below following relegation from the Premier League in 2000. When Carlos Carvalhal turned up two seasons ago and started playing a reasonably attractive, technically astute style of football, winning nine of his first 14 games including a cup game against Arsenal, the supporters were absolutely ecstatic. Even a no-show in the play-off final against Hull was quickly forgotten under the assumption they’d be better played to go one better in 2016/17.
Now with a second play-off failure under their belts, sands are shifting and attitudes are changing. With financial fair play looming, getting up this season feels increasingly important and as players have arrived and money has been spent so expectations have risen. As with the Man Utd example at the start, it’s not unreasonable to expect a squad with Fernando Forestieri, Jordan Rhodes, Steven Fletcher, Gary Hooper and Sam Winnall to pick from in attack to do well at this level – particularly when you’re paying some of the most expensive ticket prices in the league to go watch them.
But with that expectation comes pressure. They were booed off by 5,600 travelling supporters at Preston last week after losing the first match 1-0 – Deepdale a ground they’ve only managed one win on in 12 attempts. Wednesday have the best team and the best manager they’ve had for nearly 20 years, and they’re closer to a Premier League return than at any point since they left, but that wild optimism of 18 months ago when Carvalhal and his chairman Dejphon Chansiri could do no wrong is starting to erode slightly.
Few in the Championship expected less from their team this season than QPR fans and many were surprised by the comprehensive and attractive manner Reading were demolished on day one. It’s still the same QPR team with all the same positives and weakenesses of ten days ago, but it’s amazing how one win in the first game of 46 against an abysmally dreadful opponent has lifted the mood. Imagine, for instance, the difference in reaction to signing a bit of clogger like Alex Baptiste on a free transfer had we lost 2-0 to Reading instead.
Wednesday and Norwich represent two very tough away matches – about as difficult as you’ll find at this level, and we’ve got them back to back in a week. Regardless of what happened last week, it’s more than likely going to be two defeats. But if Rangers can avoid conceding early and get into an arm wrestle with Sheff Wed tomorrow afternoon, they may find their biggest weapon is the expectations of the locals on three sides of the ground.
Highlights of QPR’s 3-1 win on this ground in 1995/96, including a glorious chipped finish from Simon Barker, which you can read about in this week’s History column.
Team News: QPR’s attempt to rest a few players and squeeze through the League Cup first round wasn’t a conspicuous success with all three senior strikers picking up a knock of some sort. Matt Smith had six stitches in a facial wound which he says takes him up to 33 in his head over the course of his career so far (56 senior goals if you were going to try and make that joke you baddie), Idrissa Sylla went off after suffering a blow to the neck (plenty of neck to blow to be fair) while Conor Washington pulled up with a muscle injury in stoppage time. Maybe we can give Jamie Mackie a gun or something? Steven Caulker and new signing Alex Baptiste are both feeling their way back to full fitness, hopefully in time for James Perch’s first suspension which is due any day. Kazenga Lua Lua has returned on loan from Brighton and is available, though he was always injured last time anyway so who knows?
Wednesday are without Liam Palmer (scarlet fever) and Kieren Lee (cholera) while Steven Fletcher is awaiting rescue after falling down a well.
Elsewhere: No sooner has the performance art form that is Chris Samba on a wet playing surface concluded, the Mercantile Credit Trophy lumbers back into view for round two of 9,568 which is spread across two days this weekend.
The Saturday evening televised game sees Champions Middlesbrough hosting the Sheffield Red Stripes, then there’s a third televised Sunderland match in eight days for you on Sunday lunch time as Simon Grayson’s basket case head to Borussia Norwich.
That leaves ten matches at 15.00 on Saturday including this week’s exciting clash between two teams beginning with B as the Birmingham Bad Knees host Bristol City. To listen to Steve Bruce whittering on you’d think he was in charge of a club on the bottom of League One, down to its last 13 players and into an 18th month of administration (give it time) so he’ll have all on as he takes Big Racist John and the Boys to South Wales for their date on the Eighth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour.
Brentford are at home (or is it away?) to Nottingham Trees while Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion represent quite the comedown for Tigers Tigers Rah Rah Rah whose first home game last season was against champions Leicester. The Derby Sheep host Sporting Wolverhampton in the battle of who can spend the most while progressing the least and the Champions of Europe are at home to Preston Knob End.
The Millwall Scholars host the Bolton Brassics in a battle of what many believe will be two of the bottom three this year – Millwall ran their own miss of the season competition at the Trees last week – and the list is completed by Tarquin and Rupert slumming it on the retail park in Reading. The Ipswich Blue Sox are at Barnsley in a game so thrilling we missed it out from our first edition.
I think somebody somewhere must be tolling a bell.
Referee: Showing a chronic lack of imagination that can only come with trying to administer the Football League over a prolonged period of time, we’ve been given exactly the same referee for Sheffield Wednesday away as we had for the same fixture last season. Details of how he got on and his recent stats available here.
Sheff Wed: Eyebrows raised as much-fancied Sheffield Wednesday slipped to a 1-0 defeat at Preston on the opening day, although with new manager syndrome in play and the Owls’ record of just one win from their last 12 visits to Deepdale perhaps we shouldn’t have been that surprised. They recovered to thump near neighbours Chesterfield 4-1 in the League Cup at home on Tuesday. Wednesday won six in a row before losing to Fulham on the final day of last season and then bombing in the play-offs against Huddersfield – overall in the regular league season last year they won 15, drew two and lost six at home. The veritable mixed bag of pre-season results included wins away at Alfreton (5-0), Mansfield (3-2), Portimonense (Portugal, 1-0) and Doncaster (Yorkshire, 2-1), draws with Farense (1-1) and Setubal (0-0) and a 2-0 home defeat to Glasgow Rangers in front of 10,000 travelling supporters.
QPR: Opta’s QPR supporting Jack Supple says: “Conor Washington has scored a Championship goal every 187 minutes in 2017 (seven goals), compared with one every 946 minutes in 2016 (two goals). QPR are winless in their last seven league visits to Yorkshire (D3 L4), since a 3-0 win at Rotherham in January 2016. QPR have won once in their last ten away league games (D2 L7) and are seven without a win on the road. Rangers have lost their last five away games in league competition and they’ve not suffered six consecutive defeats in the second tier or below since February 2007 (seven in a row). The R’s have won seven of their last ten Championship games played in August (W7 D1 L2).
Prediction: This year’s Prediction League is being sponsored by The Art of Football and we’ll be handing out prizes from their QPR Collection at the end of October, January and to the overall winner. Last year’s winner Southend_Rss is feeling optimistic after the day one win…
"I'd like to think we will play the same sort of line-up and formation as for the first league game, thus keeping some sort of rhythm going. However, Wednesday away will be a tricky test. I feel the formation will be changed accordingly and could mean a much cautions approach. With Washington a doubt after coming off against Northampton, he would have been my choice for first goalscorer. Hopefully we keep the attacking mentality going and I'll have a stab at…”
Craig’s Prediction: Sheff Wed 0-1 QPR. Scorer – Yeni Ngbakoto
LFW’s Prediction: Sheff Wed 2-0 QPR. No scorer.
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