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Queens Park Rangers 1 v 0 Sheffield United
SkyBet Championship
Tuesday, 31st October 2017 Kick-off 19:45
Holloway brings up 300 not out with Sheff Utd visit - Preview
Tuesday, 31st Oct 2017 10:47 by Clive Whittingham

Fresh from a fine win against table topping Wolves on Saturday, QPR face new league-leaders Sheff Utd in Ian Holloway's 300th game in charge this evening.


QPR (4-6-4, DDLDDW, 14th) v Sheff Utd (10-0-4, WWLWWW, 1st)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Tuesday October 31, 2017 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Lazing on a sunny afternoon, cold and cloudy tonight >>> Loftus Road, London, W12

This evening’s game with Sheffield United is Ian Holloway’s three hundredth as QPR manager across two challenging spells. Saturday’s excellent performance and win against Wolves does at least spare him the ignominy of needing to win it to shore up his position.

Holloway can be infuriating. His team was often too direct towards the end of his first spell in charge, which lasted from 2001 to 2005, and his penchant for picking immobile defenders like Steve Palmer and Matthew Rose as central midfielders, or players like Georges Santos hopelessly out of position up front, would wear thin. His second stint has been marked by lengthy winless runs which have often, at least in part, been triggered by too much fiddling about with the team selection. There is a prevailing feeling, enhanced by how he reacted to failures at Palace and Millwall, that he’s constantly trying to show what a good manager he is, over-thinking and second guessing himself to the point of messing the team up completely.

For a man who was carving out a career in television prior to stepping back into the management game, he’s still incapable of articulating his point succinctly and in less than five minutes. Part of that is his shtick. Under pressure managers can distract from their own failures or actual issues by doing their own version of dead cat politics – Jose Mourinho is a master of cooking up some nonsense argument with an opposing manager, a referee, or a dispensable member of his own squad which the journalists all dutifully run after distracting them from the real story. Holloway’s version of that is just to burble a stream of consciousness out with a few jokes and metaphors until you’re not sure what the question was or whether he’s answered it or not. But when you hear Kaspars Gorkss talking about Neil Warnock’s ultra-basic method of team instruction you do wonder and worry whether Holloway can get a clear and concise message across to modern day footballers.

There are those that say he’s not up to the job now. There are even those that say his first spell was overrated, that he should have kept us in the First Division in the first place (despite looming administration and a terrible team), that he only achieved promotion by spending a relatively large amount of money for the division, that even when it did come it was second behind Plymouth and so on. That win ratios of 39% last time and 31% to date so far second time round are nothing to write home about.

But let’s have this right, QPR’s third longest serving manager of all time deserves respect. A good deal more respect than I feel he’s afforded at times.

Twice now he has come in to manage QPR in difficult circumstances. Yes, once administration had been exited in 2002 money was spent, and a couple of very good players provided for him by the Winton family that other clubs in the division wouldn’t have been able to get hold of, but prior to that he’d been trying to build a team from a starting point of six senior professionals fit and signed up while the club was in admin. To do it as well as he did, to bring the players in he did – the likes of Shittu, Ainsworth, Rowlands, Furlong, Day, Cook, Gallen, Bircham who are all still talked about today – was quite something. Not only that, but the way he changed the whole atmosphere and ethos around the place. And anybody who thinks the team he inherited could have survived doesn’t remember the 5-0s at Wimbledon and Preston and the 5-2 at Sheff Wed prior to his arrival very well. That team was shit.

You can look at how we’re doing currently and say, statistically, it’s really no better than what Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was doing results and league placing wise. But look at our team now, look how it played on Saturday, look how dynamic and mobile that midfield is, look how many shots on goal we’re sending in (only Brentford have more this season in the whole league), look at that Freeman-Luongo-Scowen combination… does anybody really remember anything like that under the previous manager? We are palpably a better team than we were 12 months ago.

Again, it’s being done in trying times. Holloway has once more arrived after his predecessors had spent all the money. He’s being required to cut his wage bill, and will surely be asked to shed at least half a dozen senior players from the current list at the end of this season, while remaining competitive on the pitch. He’s doing exactly that, QPR have only lost four times this season which is the same as league leading Sheffield United and one fewer than fifth-placed Leeds. To finish midtable, which is probably the aim while the squad and wage bill are trimmed, and is what almost everybody you spoke to said in August would count as a good season, you have to lose as many as you win. That’s exactly what QPR are doing, and yet defeats are treated like absolute calamities, and pressure is applied to the manager after each one.

You can make too much of his passion for the club. Neil Warnock had no previous connection to QPR but was absolutely fantastic here. Often Holloway can be overly emotional. All that badge kissing and what have you tends to appeal to the same sort of people who think Nedum Onuoha isn’t a “pwopah leadah” and worry themselves into a TalkSport-phoning frenzy over who the England captain is. But having people who do genuinely care about the club steering it through these difficult times is helping. Are you not reassured that there are people like Ollie, Bircham, Andy Sinton, Les Ferdinand and Gary Penrice working at QPR now? You should be. People who will go home after a defeat just as angry as we are. When you have people like that who care about what they’re doing you find the club making signings like Shittu, Cook, Bircham, Furlong… Josh Scowen. When the opposite is true, you find yourself infested with the likes of Jose Bosingwa.

Holloway is not perfect, and there are better managers out there. We’re certainly welcoming one of those to Loftus Road this evening. Lack of resources at Alfreton, a financial collapse at Northampton, a history of failure at Oxford and Sheffield United, none of it was enough to stop Chris Wilder winning, winning repeatedly, winning all the time. He’s been promoted in every job he’s had so far.

People talk about Sheff Utd being this year’s Huddersfield, and it’s starting to look like that might be the case. Critics of Holloway, and QPR, point to them, and Preston, and say there are clubs with smaller budgets, smaller wage bills, smaller ticket prices, doing better than us, going past us, and yes they’re certainly what we should be aiming for an aspiring to. But Sheff Utd, Huddersfield, Preston, all these clubs went through years of dark times to get their house in order so they could push on. Huddersfield went through four managers and several near misses with relegation in this league before they got to David Wagner. Four managers tried to get Sheff Utd out of League One before Wilder succeeded. The club has to be in a position to move forwards, and if it’s not then the influence of the manager, or the effect of changing him and getting somebody else, is overstated. Look at Simon Grayson, who was doing an excellent job at Preston but is now on the cusp of the sack at Sunderland while his old club has barely missed a beat under Alex Neill. Good managers can flourish at stable, well-run clubs. If the club’s a mess, then more often than not it doesn’t matter who the manager is.

Holloway’s 300 matches at a club as trigger happy as QPR is worthy of congratulation. The job he did before, the job he appears to be doing now, even more so.

Links >>> Wilder’s stock continues to rise – Interview >>> Stroud in charge – Referee >>> You can’t kill us – Podcast

Les Ferdinand there, making the extraordinary look routine as per.

Tuesday

Team News: Fairly typical of QPR’s luck at centre half this season that Joel Lynch crowned his first decent display for months with an injury time yellow card at the weekend – his fifth in just seven appearances this season, so he’s suspended for this one. He’s really up against it now if he’s planning his usual sabbatical over Christmas with games running out in which to accumulate another five. Whether he’s replaced by Steven Caulker tonight or not really rather depends on whether that 20 Stellas for a tenner offer is still on at the local Shell garage. Nedum Onuoha, Grant Hall and James Perch, all potential defensive options, remain on the long term injured list.

John Fleck is also on the naughty step for accumulation of yellow cards following his booking in the win at Leeds on Friday. Sheff Utd, however, have no other injury or suspension problems. Bastards.

Elsewhere: Ten tonight, two tomorrow, one on Friday, the Championship marches relentlessly on into the winter.

Birmingham’s decision to hand out a free cardboard missile with every ticket to their derby match with Big Racist John and the Boys at the weekend proved as shrewd as one would reasonably expect. The prolonged stoppages to clear the pitch only contributing to one of the most tedious football matches you could ever hope to sit through. They get an extra day off for it still, with Captain Bigot taking his troops up to Preston Knob End for a live Sky game tomorrow, and Birmingham welcoming Brentford in this week’s encounter between two teams beginning with B.

Something has to give at the bottom tonight when Sunderland, who haven’t won at home since December, host Relegated Bolton, who are yet to win away since their promotion in the summer. It’s a battle of the bottom two, and anything other than a home win is likely to see Simon Grayson chopped – because it’s definitely the manager that’s the problem at Sunderland, no question. Draw.

Further up the table the Champions of Europe against the Derby Sheep is a battle of two play-off contenders, and two clubs with weirdly unshakeable delusions about their size and place in it all. Sporting Wolverhampton face a tough task in bouncing back from the weekend defeat in their European fixture with Borussia Norwich. The Eighth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour welcomes Ipswich Blue Sox, where manager Mick McCarthy continues to refuse to start with the club’s most talented player Bersant Celina and says fans complaining about that will only make him less likely to give him game time. One thing McCarthy does have is plenty of nose to hack off and spite his face.

What else do we have here… Allam Tigers, struggling, shock, against Middlesbrough; Tarquin and Rupert welcome Bristol City; Sheffield Owls are at home to the Millwall Scholars and Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion host Barnsley.

Referee: I thought things were going a little bit too well. Tony Harrington’s calm, composed handling of Saturday’s belter with Wolves continued a trend for excellent refereeing performances in QPR games this season, and tonight we must pay for that. Yes, that’s right, it’s Keith Stroud time again, so expect a veritable torrent of cards, random decisions and hot nonsense. He’s sent off three QPR players and awarded four penalties against us in his last seven Rangers appointments. Last season he red carded two and booked eight in our draw at Nottingham Forest, then showed another eight yellow cards while totally losing control of the home game with Fulham. He finished the season suspended from the list entirely after awarding an indirect free kick rather than a retake when Newcastle encroached on their own penalty kick against Burton Albion. He’s been on the list a long time, been a liability for several years, and it’s very surprising the league didn’t take that opportunity to shake his hand and send him on his way permanently. Instead, here he is to ruin your Tuesday. Extensive QPR case file and stats here.

Form

QPR: Matt Smith’s winner on Saturday was the sixteenth goal scored for QPR by a substitute since the start of last season – easily the most in the Championship. It snapped a seven-game winless run, but five of those games were drawn and Rangers now only have one defeat in six games coming into tonight’s encounter. The R’s have only lost four times all season which is the same as league-leading Sheffield United and one fewer than fifth-placed Leeds. Only Fulham (1-2) have won here in the league this season, with Reading (2-0), Ipswich, Hull and Wolves (all 2-1) beaten and Millwall (2-2) and Burton (0-0) getting out with a point. Three of Smith’s four goals this season have been scored with his head, the joint most in the league with Middlesbrough’s Britt Assombalonga.

Sheff Utd: The Blades are yet to draw this season, with ten wins and four defeats so far propelling them to the top of the league thanks to a 2-1 win at Leeds on Friday night and Wolves’ subsequent loss to Rangers the day after. Three of those four defeats have come away from home at Middlesbrough (1-0), Cardiff (2-0) and Forest (2-1) but they’ve also won four times on their travels already compared to QPR’s none. Since taking over at Bramall Lane at the start of last season Chris Wilder has won 40 and drawn ten of his 60 matches in charge – only Antonio Conte and Mauricio Pochettino have a better record in this country over the same period of time.

Prediction: Our run of correct predictions came to an end at the weekend, but we’ll take that given the circumstances. It’s the last chance to win the October prize from the sponsor of this year’s Prediction League, The Art of Football tonight. 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 tells us…

“Well what a game that turned out to be against Wolves. Everything just seemed to click. A superb performance all round. It was just so typical QPR wasn’t it? Two draws against bottom sides and then we go and pull that result of the bag.. It would not surprise me in the slightest if we get the win against Sheffield United aswell.

“It seems we play better when teams attack us at home and I can’t see the Blades coming down and sitting back. Not after the way they went about their business against Leeds on Friday night. They seem up for it, playing with confidence and hopefully that’ll create an open game at HQ tonight. Heart says we could possibly get a win here. However, score draws seem to be all the rage these days so that’s what I’ll go with. An entertaining desmond under the lights..”

Craig’s Prediction: QPR 2-2 Sheff Utd. Scorer – Conor Washington

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-2 Sheff Utd. Scorer – Idrissa Sylla

The Twitter @loftforwords

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Antti_Heinola added 11:12 - Oct 31
Lovely preview, thanks mate.
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loneranger1 added 13:26 - Oct 31
Thanks Clive, great preview as always, looking forward to this one
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TheChef added 13:29 - Oct 31
I was looking forward to tonight till you mentioned Keith Stroud.

Mind you sometimes a rubbish ref can get the crowd going as much as a decent team performance.
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enfieldargh added 13:42 - Oct 31
love your previews, informative, entertaining, witty, you should take this up for a living
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PinnerPaul added 14:31 - Oct 31
Just looked up the penalty incident and I didn't realise that the 4th official for that Newcastle game (who along with the two ARs must take some of the blame) was none other than the, excellent on Saturday, Tony Harrington!
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TacticalR added 15:30 - Oct 31
Thanks for your preview.

There was a discussion on 5 Live Football Daily the other day, about continental managers who are employed just as coaches and who only stay somewhere for a year or two. Which made me think about Holloway and JFH - a big difference between the two is that Holloway gets the club, whereas for JFH QPR was just another stopping point on the way to somewhere else.

It will be interesting to see how our midfield does against their midfield trio, but God knows how our patched up defence will do against their attack.
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Wren67 added 17:34 - Oct 31
Great preview, lots to think about whilst watching tonight. A 2-1 win will send me away from Loftus Road and the UK with warm feelings for the duration of the winter.
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