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Middlesbrough 3 v 2 Queens Park Rangers
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 16th September 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Does anybody on board know how to play centre half? Preview
Friday, 15th Sep 2017 19:53 by Clive Whittingham

QPR’s promising start to the season threatens to be undermined by an injury crisis in the middle of the defence as they head up to striker-laden Middlesbrough on Saturday.


Middlesbrough (3-2-2, WLWDWD, 9th) v QPR (3-2-2, LWLLWD, 10th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday September 16, 2017 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Cloudy, dry, chilly >>> Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough

VINDICATION. For those who looked at one of the Championship’s biggest squads, with six senior centre backs salaried, and said “they should have signed more players” or “they’ve left themselves short at centre back”. For those who said a club trying to get its wage bill and spending under FFP limits should add another centre half to Steven Caulker (top earner), Nedum Onuoha (second top earner), Grant Hall, Alex Baptiste, Joel Lynch and James Perch. For those who just like it to go wrong at QPR so they can tell their 156 Twitter followers they were right. Sweet vindication.

They have, Springfield Powerplant Softball style, all picked up ailments at the same time. Not short-term things either – hamstring, hamstring, dislocated knee, tendonistis, alcoholism/terminal moron. Like the six wives of Henry VIII, only Alex Baptiste survives, suddenly elevated from “I hope that clogger has only been signed as cover” to “thank God you’re here, take this captain’s armband”.

This is how we ended up with Gus Caesar of course, back in 1990 when Don Howe and Bobby Gould found Alan McDonald, Danny Maddix, Paul Parker and Brian Law all injured long term at the same time. Rangers went ten without a win, but Gould got his little black book out and produced Darren Peacock from Hereford and Andy Tilson from Grimsby and all was soon right with the world again.

No such options these days. Even allowing for QPR’s improved scouting the transfer window is closed and a perfectly functioning loan system in this country has been abandoned. Unless QPR can find a free agent centre back of Championship quality, they’re stuck with what they’ve got for the time being and will have to muddle through. Action coming up, perhaps, for the likes of Darnell Furlong, Giles Phillips, Chris Paul and Nico Hamalainen which is, of course, what all Championship clubs of our size and resource have had to do for years in these circumstances while we were working ourselves into a financial crisis having Oguchi Onyewu sit on the bench with his 69 full USA caps just in case.

Even if said free agent does become available, it’s unlikely he’ll fit under what’s left of QPR’s available salary. Clint Hill, 39 years old, released by Rangers, recently training at Carlisle and Chesterfield, failed to agree terms this week after returning to train with the R’s. A clearer indication of just how big QPR’s squad is compared to the other teams in the league, just how many players are taking a salary, and just how tight it leaves QPR on their budget and the FFP regulations you’ll struggle to find. But, like I say, there will still be those who say we should have signed more. We. Cannot. Afford. It.

Here's why (again)...

The current Financial Fair Play rules mean QPR cannot lose more than £37m across the 2015/16, 2016/17 and 2017/18 seasons. The last set of accounts, covering the 2015/16 season, showed a loss of £11m despite the maximum parachute payment, the Charlie Austin sale and the Raheem Sterling sell on all coming in. With reduced parachute payments, no Austin money and no Sterling money QPR have to find a way to ‘only’ lose £26m across 2016/17 and 2017/18. Otherwise it’s a transfer embargo, and what players we do have will have to be sold off on the cheap – please see Blackburn Rovers and Bolton Wanderers for examples of what happens in those circumstances. That’s without even addressing the previous FFP breach for which a result is due any day. It’s also without considering whether the board want to continue funding QPR’s losses to the tune of even £11m.

And here's Ian Holloway agreeing with us...

I think a lot of the changes people want us to make, we’re not in a position to do that here because of the contracts we’re committed to. It’s what people want to see their club do when they see other clubs spending loads of money but look at Derby, for instance - they’ve sold £22m-worth of player this summer, people like Ince and Hughes, so their manager can make changes, because he’s got some money and he’s got some people out so he’s got spaces in his squad. Whereas we only had two out of contract this summer, and I re-signed one of those - Jamie Mackie. So we’re already up to our squad number and, really, we’ve done ever so well to be able to bring anybody else in. Scowen is a bonus. The next couple of windows, as contracts start to run out, it’s easier to change things, but I believe there’s already been a huge change in the attitude of people coming into work.

A shame really, because QPR have started the season well, playing good and successful, entertaining, football and picking up points from difficult fixtures. Lose heavily to Middlesbrough and Fulham, as is likely with this defensive injury crisis, and the fragile optimism that has built up will quickly drain away into the hurricane of misery some seem to revel in.

Middlesbrough, in particular, would seem less than ideal opponents. Even with speedster Adama Traore suspended and strikers Martin Braithwaite and Rudy Gestede injured they still have an expensively-assembled embarrassment of attacking riches to pick from tomorrow. Their heavy spending since January has been offset by Premier League TV money, parachute payments and player sales but it’s still a significant investment in the squad. Tomorrow can feel like a hiding to nothing if you think about it too much.

They’re by no means infallible. Preston have already got a 0-0 here this season and they’ve been beaten by Nottingham Forest and Wolves. They sit just a place above ourselves with the same record and points in the fledgling league ladder and while Garry Monk looks a shrewd appointment and I, along with many others, fancy them to win automatic promotion this season this isn’t the Harlem Globetrotters. Monk was sacked by a club that’s usually very patient and sensible with managers and missed the play-offs at Leeds last season. Yes the dismissal at Swansea was harsh, yes they’ve struggled ever since, and yes 2016/17 was Leeds best season for sometime. But at the same time, Leeds are now top and unbeaten without him – his groundwork paying dividends, or are they simply better off for him leaving? I think Monk is brilliant, but at the moment that brilliance that many see in him is still one of those weird ideas in football that sticks with little proof.

But it hasn’t tended to matter who QPR have played away from home for several years now. QPR have won six of their last 26 away games in the league, 10 of the last 49, 12 of the last 68, 20 of the last 91, 22 of the last 110, 25 of the last 129 and so on. Following them away from Loftus Road has become a niche hobby for an ever-decreasing band of weirdoes, and the games themselves rather pollute the days on the road with a mixture of the galling and exasperating.

The Hull and Millwall games suggest Ian Holloway is starting to instill the grit in his team that he wants when he speaks of how his Blackpool team used to react to going a goal down. But for many seasons under many different managers, consistently getting QPR to perform away from home has proved something of a pipe dream. That’ll really take some remedying, even when Holloway does have a couple of centre backs to pick from.

Links >>> Faith in Monk – Opposition Profile >>> Boro’s wasted year – Interview >>> Warnock’s QPR on the march – History >>> Bond, Darren Bond – Referee

Highlights from QPR’s bottle-cap-assisted 3-1 victory on this ground in 2014 with goals from Yossi Benayoun, Ravel Morrison and Bobby Zamora.

Saturday

Team News: QPR’s first choice back three of Nedum Onuoha, Joel Lynch (both hamstring) and Grant Hall (ongoing tendonitis) are all out. Of their replacements, James Perch has a dislocated knee and Steven Caulker has injuries consistent with falling off a wagon. Bring your boots and get a game with Darnell Furlong, Alex Baptiste and Jack Robinson likely to be selected as the last men standing after a plan to bring Clint Hill back to the club on a short term deal fell down at the personal terms stage. Further forwards Jordan Cousins is a long term absentee while Idrissa Sylla and Matt Smith will both be pushing for starts in attack after impressive substitute appearances against Millwall on Tuesday. David Wheeler and Bright Osayi-Samuel await full debuts after deadline day moves.

QPR’s defensive worries will be eased slightly by the absence of Boro speedster Adama Traore who’s been placed on the naughty step for three matches after his early red card at Villa on Tuesday night. Danish forward Martin Braithwaite is still awaiting a Championship debut with foot and mouth disease and Rudy Gestede (piles) is also missing from the home attack. That just leaves Britt Asombalonga, Ashley Fletcher, Patrick Bamford and George Miller for Garry Monk to select from up front.

Elsewhere: A dozen matches all on a Saturday, 11 of them at 15.00, a sign of a coming apocalypse surely? Well, that and all the nuclear missiles flying around the place.

The evening match features Big Racist John and the Boys travelling to Barnsley where manager Steve Barnes is coming under increasing pressure from supporters who all assumed signing Chris Samba and John Terry for a 46-game Championship season and letting Nathan Baker go on the cheap was something other than a one-way ticket on the road to nowhere.

The Champions of Europe are actually tearing it up so far, unbeaten to this point and top. Their record goes on the line against their old mates Millwall Scholars with the Eighth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour loitering a point behind and at home to the Sheffield Owls. The Sheffield Red Stripes have started well and sit third, they’ll be confident of further cementing that top-six place at home to Borussia Norwich whose German revolution isn’t quite sparkling as much as Huddersfield’s did quite yet and fizzled out into a 0-0 draw against Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion during the week – Albion will try and follow that up with a positive result at home to Tarquin and Rupert tomorrow.

Sporting Wolverhampton are now the bookies favourites for the title, despite currently lying fifth, and they’re at home to the Nottingham Trees who have lost their last two. Preston Knob End are also going well under Alex Neill and travel to the Birmingham Bad Knees where the excuse for sitting in the relegation zone despite spending a fortune has shifted from “I need to buy more players” to “it’s early days yet”. That leaves us just six weeks away from “we’re down to the bare bones, when I get the boy Jota/Gallagher/Sandro fit again we’ll be fine” and about two months away from “we’ll have to get one or two bodies in during January”.

Ipswich Blue Sox will be confident of moving back into the top six after a couple of defeats with a gimme at home to Relegated Bolton.

What else can I offer you? Bristol City v the Derby Sheep is two midtable clubs with loftier ambitions and squads to match so that could be a good one. Allam Tigers v Sunderland is two basket cases begging for scraps together. And then there’s Brentford. Well-run, confident, free-flowing Brentford. Three points from seven games for them so far, Reading at home tomorrow.

Don’t be nice to me, tell me how much I’m sweating.

Referee: Darren Bond had licence to award QPR two penalties when he last refereed them – a 3-2 defeat at Barnsley last August. For details on that, his recent stats, and more awful 007 puns click here.

Form

Boro: Garry Monk’s side come into this game on the back of four consecutive clean sheets (W2 D2) against Scunthorpe H (3-0), Preston H (0-0), Bolton A (3-0) and Villa A (0-0). I don’t like the look of that sequence one bit. At home this season they’ve won three and drawn one of their four games and are yet to concede a goal with Sheff Utd (1-0) and Burton (2-0) added to the Preston and Scunthorpe games. They’ve conceded just three times in eight games in all competitions so far. It’s 23 home matches at this level since Boro conceded more than once, and they’ve let in just six in that time. Victory here would be the first time in history Boro have registered three consecutive wins against QPR, following their double in 2014/15.

QPR: QPR’s good start to the season at home has not been mirrored on the road where they’ve drawn at Sheff Wed, lost at Norwich and Cardiff and are yet to win. Sadly that’s in keeping with most recent seasons. Rangers won six of their 23 league games last year which is as many as they’d managed in the previous two seasons (42 games) put together. They only won eight on the road when they won promotion under Harry Redknapp in 2013/14 and overall in the league over the past six and a bit seasons have won just 25 of their 129 away matches in the league.

Prediction: The predictions have been worryingly good of late – let’s hope we’re both wrong today. If you think you can do better you’re in with a chance of winning prizes from the sponsor of this year’s Prediction League, The Art of Football. 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 tells us…

"I think I have just about got over Tuesday night. What an entertaining game, it just about had everything. Smith got that equaliser and for about three minutes after I was shaking, adrenaline was pumping and just couldn't believe our luck with the free kick hitting the crossbar. The way the game was going I'd have literally put a bag of sand on that free kick going in.

“Anyway and just as the dust settles we have a very tricky fixture away at Boro, who should be right up there in the top two come the end of the season. Looking at our last six meetings, we fair pretty well, but with our defensive frailties at the moment I feel it is going to be a big ask to even get a draw. Heart is saying we could sneak a draw as we obviously have true spirit at the club right now. But the head doesn't agree, taking into the defensive problems, I'll have to go for…”

Craig’s Prediction: Middlesbrough 2-0 QPR. No Scorer.

LFW’s Prediction: Middlesbrough 3-0 QPR. No Scorer.

The Twitter @loftforwords

Pictures – Action Images

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Photo: Action Images



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Myke added 22:27 - Sep 15
Cripes I had completely forgotten about Oguchi bloody Onyewu!!
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nix added 09:11 - Sep 16
Just goes to show what a farce it is not being able to get loan players in when injuries pile up. So you have to have potentially injury-prone players because that's all you can afford under ffp. You can't keep spare players in case of injuries because you can't afford to because of ffp. But then they close the get out clause of getting players in to tide you over because of injury crises.

Hence we've all got a chance of getting a game.

Will be watching the results come in through my fingers today.
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