|Sunderland 1 v 1 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 14th October 2017 Kick-off 15:00
Plot twists or same old story? Preview
Friday, 13th Oct 2017 09:33 by Clive Whittingham
Two away games in a week usually means one thing for QPR, but against the bottom two in the league something surely has to change if there’s any hope of anything this season.
Sunderland (1-4-6, LDLLLD, 23rd) v QPR (3-4-4, WDLDDL, 16th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday October 11, 2017 >>> Kick off 15.00 >>> Weather – Overcast, not as cold as you’re expecting it to be >>> Stadium of Light, Sunderland
Ale Faurlin be praised, proper football is back.
Another vitally important and wildly entertaining international break/dark fortnight spent staring into the black abyss of how miserable your life would be if club football wasn’t in it, has finished. A fresh dose of Championship methadone is ready and waiting to pacify the discerning footballing heroin addict up in Sunderland this Saturday (somewhere between Newcastle and the moon if we recall correctly).
Sunderland away a trip of such great distance and expense for what remains of QPR’s away support that it is frankly a miracle to see it taking place on a Saturday at 15.00 and not on a Tuesday morning, or Thursday tea time, or just before midnight on a Monday, at the behest of the Football League CEO/six foot cum rag Shaun Harvey.
Harvey, friend of the site, insisted publicly this week the league believes all the local games that are easy to get to should be played on Saturday so more people can go, while all the long-distance and hard-to-reach trips should be played during the week necessitating two days off work and a 1am ride in the lift at the Premier Inn Blackburn with a Vauxhall Insignia-driving stationary salesman and whatever toothless hooker he found shivering down the side of the Wetherspoons. Awareness and knowledge of the target not seen since Harvey Weinstein published his book of chat up lines. From Shaun Harvey, that is, not the Blackburn whore - she knows her market.
With the Championship season so brutally carved up into four weeks of playing every time it gets light (and often in the dark as well) followed by a fortnight of doing nothing at all, this represents chapter three in the enthralling story of Queens Park Rangers’ attempts not to totally fuck up the 2017/18 season in the second tier of English football.
Previously on The West Wing… Chapter One the absolute definition of not judging a book by its cover. QPR, seven defeats from eight at the end of last season, one free transfer from Barnsley belatedly topped up in a bit of a panic by the free acquisition of a defender we’d all previously considered a bit shit, seemingly lambs to the slaughter against the team that lost on penalties in last season’s play-off final, the team that lost on penalties in last season’s play-off semi-final, a team relegated from the Premier League with a parachute payment that eclipses even Darren Bent’s trainer budget, a promotion favourite under trendy German management and the division’s early pacesetters. But wait, who is this Josh Scowen character, who calls himself The Rat, and clearly – judging by the abomination on his face caused by several years of trying to grow a moustache - isn’t dissuaded easily or prone to throwing the towel in? Take that naysayers, QPR posting wins, and points, and looking bloody good doing it.
Chapter Two, well here we go then isn’t it? I mean this was meant to be the recovery, the rally, the hope springing from the horrors of August. Nice set of games against a load of old tat, points posted, division climbed, Holloway allowed to remove the hood and have a bit of a cigarette and a chat with the executioner, lovely lovely. And it started like that as well, with a good win against high-flying Ipswich, won much more comfortably than the 2-1 scoreline would ever suggest. But then, plot twist: Millwall Millwall us right up, all rough and physical and direct. Steve Morison nearly lobs Alex Smithies from three quarters of a mile away. Two goals are conceded double lively. All set to that bunch of heathens droning MIIIIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLLLLLLL. Only a harsh sending off rescues a point for Rangers. Any suggestion that a staggering 31 shots on goal (one every three minutes) shows Holloway’s men are actually really good and were unlucky was quickly blown away by a 0-0 draw at home to Burton Albion that made standing in the queue at Boots for your syphilis medicine sound like a three week all expenses trip to the Maldives. QPR never looked like scoring once, Burton subsequently lost at home 4-0 and 4-0. Defensive calamity and defeat at a Middlesbrough team that’s looking oddly vulnerable, and a bloody crap showing against an equally wretched Barnsley side where a point was rescued only thanks to a flukey late goal later and everybody’s got a face on again.
Now Chapter Three is where it potentially all gets a bit generic. Nice surprises so far, promising new author. Could be about to get all Patricia Cornwell or Agatha Christie on us here. Who’s heard the one about QPR playing the bottom team in the league that hasn’t won yet this season in 12 attempts and losing quite comfortably with little resistance? Swindon Town, Rotherham? That’s next week against Bolton. Who’s heard the one about a big club fallen on hard times, with no wins from nine matches, sitting second bottom of the league, desperate for some charitable hand out to prevent the whole thing descending into the locals turning over cars and looting shops? That’s this week against Sunderland. Who’s heard the one about QPR never winning in 33 attempts against Nottingham Forest at the City Ground? That’s away game three of this stanza. More obvious booby traps you wouldn’t find in the script for Indiana Jones and The Temple of Doom. I’ve seen this shit more than I’ve seen Airplane (and I’ve seen Airplane more than I’ve seen my own mother) and it tends to end with a change of manager in the next international break.
Chapter Four is then the hunt for the new manager; Chapter Five is the “got to get them fitter, find out what I’ve got, not my players” thing; Chapter Six is “probably need one or two in January”; Chapter Seven is getting six or seven in January; Chapter Eight is “got to bed them in and get them playing together”; Chapter Nine is the good one where enough points are accumulated to maintain divisional status and build sufficient optimism for season ticket renewal; Chapter Ten is where it all goes to shit again; Chapter 11 is where they flop over the line amidst promises of a “ruthless pre-season” and then Chapter One next novel is said ruthless pre-season in action – plot spoiler, it makes fuck all difference. And that’s basically life as a QPR fan for all but a handful of the last 20 seasons.
To avoid this hamster-wheel monotony QPR need to do one very simple thing, and one very difficult thing.
The simple thing is just keep playing as they are. There’s a lot to like. The midfield three of Luke Freeman, Massimo Luongo and Josh Scowen is dynamic, creative, attractive and brave. It’s very un-Championship, but it’s effective. There’s the prospect of Grant Hall coming back to anchor it with Scowen, freeing Luongo and Freeman up to go still further forward with somebody like Pawel Wszolek, David Wheeler, Kazenga Lua Lua, Bright Osayi-Samuel (maybe Ebere Eze in time, oh Christ, MESSIAH, MESSIAH) alongside them. That’s exciting, and could make up for our lack of striker firepower. Don’t lose faith in those three, or the passing style that suits them - we’ve got three gems there. Jack Robinson isn’t a centre back but is playing very well there, so keep him there unless there’s a Millwall situation where the opposition want to turn it into a bareknuckle brawl. Alex Baptiste was bought as cover, and isn’t very good, but is playing well, so keep him there, even when the others get fit again. We saw against Fulham what happens when the first choice, conventional centre back is fit again and goes straight back in no questions asked – Joel Lynch the human turnstile clicking into action once more, too busy screaming at Jake Bidwell to ask anybody for an entrance fee. Play as we did against Hull, Ipswich, Middlesbrough, second half against Millwall, Reading, Sheff Wed… those performances were good enough for big points against Sunderland, Bolton and Nottingham Forest (if we can find a witch to piss her Pinot Noir over the corner flag or whatever it needs to lift a curse these days). The fear is, as we saw at Barnsley, that QPR regress into a mush and waste the opportunity.
The difficult thing is a change of mentality. QPR are a club, and a team, that lose away from home. Different managers, different squads, different wage bills, different circumstances, same result, same mentality. QPR are little, QPR are inferior, QPR are the team that will roll over for Swindon or John Jensen or Lloyd Doyley, QPR will get their points at Loftus Road because teams don’t like playing there and QPR won’t be winning much away because that takes ability and ambition and bollocks and we haven’t got a lot of any of that. When Neil Warnock’s QPR team stomped up to Sheffield United and won 3-0, then went to Derby and scored two goals in injury time to draw 2-2 you knew that was different, the mentality was different, something special was happening. Rangers won ten, drew nine and lost just four on the road that season. When Harry Redknapp said all our away games are “bonus games” and “we’ll stay up based on what we do at Loftus Road” and promptly lost his first 12 away from home, you knew we were shafted.
Even in Redknapp’s promotion season there were ten defeats away from home. One of the wins was a scraped 1-0 thanks to a late penalty at Yeovil Town, whose entire wage bill for the whole club for one month could have been covered by Bobby Zamora or Andy Johnson’s weekly salary. Since the Warnock promotion season in 2010/11 QPR have played 131 league games on the road and lost 78 of them, drawing 28 others and winning just 25. Whatever the context, that’s abysmal. This idea that that a 1-1 draw at Barnsley, who by their own admission were awful, is somehow a good result because we equalised late, is bullshit. This mentality is wrong, and we shouldn’t be pondering along under any “point away is always a good result” wetwipe this week against either Sunderland or Bolton. There are four points here, minimum, for a team with anything about it.
So let’s see if this season is a page turner or same old story.
Paul Furlong takes aim with a Goal of the Season contender in this fixture in 2004/05. Newly promoted QPR led 2-1 thanks to this and a Martin Rowlands special but conceded in injury time against the freshly relegated Mackems to draw 2-2.
Team News: Nedum Onuoha remains on the long term injured list but the centre back crisis is easing somewhat with the return of another physio botherer, Grant Hall, for 45 minutes of reserve team action during the week. This game will be too soon for him though. Steven Caulker also played in that second string outing so could be an option, mind you it’s 80s disco and buy one get one free on sours down at The Horse and Groom Saturday night so he’ll want to be back for that. Massimo Luongo has been halfway round the world this week and is often rested after such trips – maybe a chance for another long termer, Jordan Cousins, to make his return?
A 5-2 loss at Ipswich saw a defensive reshuffle for Sunderland at Preston with John O’Shea back in place in Lamine Kone, and they’re expected to continue with that after an improved showing in a 2-2 draw at Deepdale. Marc Wilson (Weil’s disease) and Bryan Oviedo (leprosy) are now fit to return.
Elsewhere: Goodness I feel like there should be some sort of trumpet noise for this... It’s actually quite an enticing, entertaining, almost exciting weekend of fixtures in round 754 of the Mercantile Credit Trophy this weekend. I know, I was surprised too.
In insist you listen to that while we rattle through the veritable feast of slightly above average gruel that begins with two matches on Friday night. Because why not? The Eighth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour looks like ending like most of the previous iterations and there was little in the Birmingham Bad Knees’ 6-1 humbling at Allam Tigers to suggest they’ll put up much resistance, even allowing for the arrival of Steve Cotterill and his gold chain. Dark horses Bristol City, meanwhile, will fancy their chances against Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion.
Saturday is headlined by the evening game between Sporting Wolverhampton and Big Racist John and the Boys, which genuinely without the usual dollop of sarcasm I’m really looking forward to. Likewise the Sunday televised argument about who loved Brian Clough the most between the Derby Sheep and Nottingham Trees.
That leaves eight fixtures for 15.00 on Saturday (reap the feasts of the harvest now before the next TV deal kicks in and you’re all at fucking Shrewsbury Town in the Tuesday morning rush hour) wich includes but is not limited to Barnsley at home to Middlesbrough.
Now, fingers crossed, rosary beads in hand, prayers said for the Sheffield Owls losing to Relegated Bolton – for we all know what will happen next weekend if Phil Parkinson’s team come into our meeting with a record of P12 W0.
Champions of Europe’s self-anointed crown is slipping slightly, but they’ll fancy their chances at home to Reading who are paying the price for boring us all to death last season by sitting through all of the same drudgery with none of the positive results this term. The Allam Tigers are at Borussia Norwich and surprise early high-flyers Sheffield Red Stripes are at home to Ipswich Blue Sox.
That just leaves Brentford, who think they’re brilliant, and should be brilliant, and probably will be brilliant, but have just one win from 11 played so far and host big angry Millwall Scholars this weekend. Big point in their season this one I feel, win (as they should) and the kick on we all expect from them will begin, but lose (as they easily could) and then you’re looking at a very different 2017/18.
Referee: Veteran comedian and actor Steve Martin is the man in the middle for this one, his first encounter with Rangers since a 1-1 draw with Reading at Loftus Road last season. Martin started his career as a writer on The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour in the 1960s and was a regular guest on The Tonight Show before becoming a well-known stand up and comedic actor in films such as Planes, Trains and Automobiles, and Three Amigos. He was ranked sixth in the all-time greatest stand ups survey conducted by Comedy Central in 2004. More details about his recent Championship outings can be found here.
The particularly lovely QPR-supporting Opta editor Jack Supple tells us…
Sunderland: Sunderland started the season quite well with a draw at home to Derby and win at Norwich in the opening week, but that remains their only victory to date in the Championship and they arrive into this fixture with six losses and three draws from their last nine league games – albeit on the back of a better performance and result in the 2-2 draw at high-flying Preston last time out. At home this season they’re yet to win in the league, losing to Cardiff, Sheff Utd (both 1-2), Forest (0-1) and Leeds (0-2) as well as that opening night draw with Derby. They did, however, squeeze through two rounds of the League Cup with away wins at Bury (1-0) and Carlisle (2-1) before going down 0-3 at Premier League Everton. No wins in five home league fixtures this season continues a dire run of just 23 home wins in the league in their last 100 games at the Stadium of Light, though of course the vast majority of those came while fighting against relegation in the Premier League. Sunderland haven’t lost any of their last 10 league matches against QPR in the second tier (W6 D4). Their last defeat was in May 1973, four days after winning the FA Cup final against Leeds. QPR have beaten Sunderland in their last three league encounters, all in the Premier League between 2013 and 2015. Simon Grayson hasn’t lost any of his last seven league meetings with QPR (W4 D3) since a 3-2 defeat as Blackpool boss in March 2008. However, Grayson’s heaviest home defeat as a manager came against an Ian Holloway side – Grayson’s Leeds were hammered 5-0 by Blackpool in November 2011. QPR haven’t won an away Championship match against a side who were relegated from the Premier League the previous season since beating Derby in January 2009, drawing nine and losing five since. Sunderland haven’t failed to win any of their opening six home league games of a season since 2005/06, when they finished bottom of the Premier League.
QPR: Of course QPR’s away form is every bit as lousy as Sunderland’s home record over the same period of time. They’ve taken just two points from five league games on the road this season, in stark contrast to three wins and a draw from six games at Loftus Road. That’ll have to change soon if Rangers aren’t to be sucked deeper into relegation trouble with three of the next five on the road, including games against the bottom two in the league as the table stands. Rangers come into this game without a win anywhere in five attempts (three draws) and have only won one of the last eight in all competitions after starting with three wins in the first five. QPR have gone 12 away games without a win in league competition (D3 L9), their longest run since December 2012 (23 games). The R’s have lost 10 away games in 2017 – the joint-most in the Championship along with six other sides. Ian Holloway has won just 1.12 points per game since returning to QPR last year, a lower rate than his predecessor Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink (1.26). Conor Washington is looking to score in consecutive appearances for the first time since February. Only Brentford (197), Cardiff (172) and Bristol City (165) have attempted more shots (inc. blocked shots) than QPR (163) in the Championship this season.
Prediction: How sad we were to be spot on for the Fulham home game. 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. Our reigning Prediction League champion Southend Rsss has been drinking…
Craig’s Prediction: Sunderland 1-2 QPR. Scorer - Conor Washington
LFW’s Prediction: Sunderland 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Matt Smith
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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