Back in the league, but hopefully not back to normality for QPR - Preview
Friday, 12th Jan 2018 15:50 by Clive Whittingham
QPR return to league action after their latest FA Cup disaster with a trip to Burton Albion, a team that hasn't won in nine attempts at home, losing eight.
Burton Albion (6-6-14, WWLDWL, 22nd) v QPR (7-9-10, WDDLWL, 17th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday January 13, 2018 >>> Kick off 15.00 >>> Weather – Cold, cloudy >>> Pirelli Stadium, Burton upon Trent
Mark Hughes getting the sack at Stoke City certainly provided a thin silver lining to a cloudy Saturday last weekend as we reflected on 21 years of absolute FA Cup nonsense from our dearly beloved. Wherever and however you apportion the blame for what’s happened to our Rangers since 2011, if you can’t take some pleasure from seeing a man of the calibre of Hughes losing his job then where’s the joy in your life? It certainly perked up the night in The Crown, where the locals/TV comedians were already well into a ‘drink to forget’ session that started with a bookmaker foolishly offering 5/1 on an MK Dons win. They, and we, never learn.
I saw an interesting stat about Hughes prior to his dismissal (shut up, groan at me, how very dare you) that pointed out he’d basically kept himself in employment, and Stoke in the Premier League, by winning one match a month for the best part of a year and a half.
A division down, QPR and Ian Holloway are doing something similar this season. There were two league wins in August but then just four across September, October, November and December and now one in January against Cardiff. With the draws, that’s been enough for 30 points so if it continues like that and we win one in each of February, March, April and May that would leave us needing ten draws from the other 16 games to stay up, assuming the magic 52 point mark remains magic and the mark this season.
In all likelihood, it’s going to need a few more wins than that, and in theory tomorrow’s trip to Burton Albion is an ideal chance to post one of those, and make it two whole wins for the month of January already. Champions next year etc etc.
Firstly, because results, points on the board, the league table and everything else like it suggests Burton are a worse team than QPR this season – six points and five places lower.
Secondly because all of the problems with FFP, wage bill reduction, financially straightened times, market for strikers and so on that QPR are struggling with, pales into insignificance when compared with the resources that Nigel Clough has to work with. Not since Yeovil Town accidentally found themselves in this division, promptly leaving in last place soon after, has a budget as miniscule as Burton’s been used to try and sustain second tier football in this country. The money even an apparently skinted QPR paid Exeter for the lesser spotted David Wheeler in August would be Burton’s record transfer fee paid. The Brewers’ actual record transfer fee paid went to Ross County for striker Liam Boyce last summer, he promptly exploded his knee and hasn’t played a competitive game for them yet.
If tomorrow does go badly and anybody dares mention the difficult circumstances QPR are operating under currently as mitigation it will be every bit as crass as Harry Redknapp’s Sky interview at this ground earlier this year where he blamed a second half collapse brought about by Nigel Clough’s shrewd tactical switch at the break on the fact that he hadn’t been allowed to spend enough money and sign enough players. He signed more than a dozen in the end, and was sacked a month later with Birmingham in relegation trouble, where they remain.
And thirdly because, regardless of all that, you don’t stay up by allowing the teams that are below you wins against you, closing the gap, building pressure and so on.
But Burton are a team that QPR, and other clubs like us, struggle with. They survived at this level last season beating Sheff Wed, Derby, Cardiff, Birmingham (twice), QPR, Wolves, Norwich, Nottingham Forest and Leeds along the way. And if ever you had to compile a list of abysmally run, dreadfully managed, more-money-than-sense, ideas-above-their-stations clubs from the recent Championship years that would just about cover it would it not? Bertie Big Potato clubs with their histories and their money and their regularly changing managers and their enormous squads and their reams and reams and reams of failed transfers, all of them knocked off one by one by an organised and functional Burton Albion.
Burton may not have much, but they work well with what they’ve got. They are drilled, they are coached, they know their shape, each player knows his job and they give every last bead of sweat to try and get something out of games. It was, a fortnight ago, enough for a 3-0 win at Sheffield Wednesday, whose three-year quest for Premier League football has turned to farce this season and will surely result in an FFP breach this time next year. Sheff Wed, with £8m Jordan Rhodes among their ranks who in transfer fee and wages alone costs more than Burton have spent in total on transfer fees and salaries since they were promoted 18 months ago.
It has also been enough, in five competitive meetings and one pre-season friendly to date, to never lose to Queens Park Rangers. And that’s no surprise, because as we’ve said before when Brentford have torn us a new arse, a team with a plan is a better bet than a team without one, even if the one without cost four times as much to assemble. QPR have more of an idea and identity this year than they have for several seasons: Luongo, Freeman and Scowen are our best players and should play together in central midfield, and we want to press high and work hard. But even that semblance of a theory seems to leave the rest of the team rotating and oscillating wildly around it, with a defensive left back forced to play wing back down one side, an attacking winger or central midfielder forced to do likewise down the other, and ten different players used up front already.
Burton never looked troubled at Loftus Road in September. They were as well-drilled and physical a side as we’d faced at that point and QPR wouldn’t have scored in that game if it was still going on – Conor Washington and Jamie Mackie selected together in attack like the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz against Burton’s tight, narrow, deep, giant back three. It was a painful watch. Made even more so by what happened subsequently. Albion, whose defence needn’t have changed out of their club suits at Loftus Road, conceded eight in their next two games at home to Villa and Wolves. They then conceded four at home to Barnsley, three to Sheff Utd, and lost on their own patch against Sunderland.
In fact their 0-0 draw here against Norwich over Christmas snapped a run of eight straight defeats at home in which they conceded 23 times. They come into this one without a win on their own patch since beating Fulham 2-1 on September 16, the week before we played them in the first fixture at Loftus Road. Which again makes this an important game for QPR to try and register a win (because everybody else is), or at least not to lose (and keep that six point gap) but also raises the spectre of what somebody dubbed in a comment or Tweet to me this week the Charity Park Rangers syndrome. Already in action this season to help Steve Morison break his Championship goalscoring duck at the twenty eighth time of asking, QPR’s tendency to roll over for a team or player in need of breaking a long negative record is almost as potent as their inability to deal with teams with a clear plan and strategy.
After last week’s traditional FA Cup disaster, we don’t need another one of those ‘typical Rangers’ days tomorrow.
In the absence of any highlights of QPR ever doing anything even half decent against Burton Albion, we interrupt the preview to bring you this breaking news bulletin.
Team News: New Messiah required, apply within – Paul Smyth is injured and hasn’t travelled. Neither, less surprisingly, has Jordan Cousins, whose hamstring is giving him issues again. James Perch came through 90 minutes of second string football in the week when the Under 23s scored five from a succession of crosses by wingers, including Mide Shodipo – remember him? No doubt it’ll be Pawel Wszolek back in at right wing back for the firsts and a random draw for the Smyth replacement. Alex Baptiste has recovered from the back injury he suffered early on against MK Dons so can start if Holloway elects to Leave Grant Hall and Joel Lynch on the bench.
Burton duo Will Miller and Tom Flanagan (romantic weekend away) are out but defenders Jake Buxton and John Brayford are expected to recover from Light Ales Thursday in time to play. The machine in use is Guinevere and it’s set of balls number six.
Elsewhere: With the Champions of Europe’s hilarious exit from the Simod Cup at the hands of Newport County last weekend clearing the way for Sky to televise all of their Mercantile Credit Trophy fixtures for the rest of the season, make the most of this Leeds-free weekend with their fixture against Ipswich Blue Sox safely parked on Saturday at 15.00.
The televised action starts tonight with a proper lairy encounter between the Sheffield Red Stripes and the Sheffield Owls. Chris Wilder’s men really kicked into top gear with a 4-2 win at Hillsborough earlier in the season and having faltered of late will be hoping for a jump start from their neighbours tonight. Quite the first game in charge for the new Owls boss who, as we’d never heard of him before he got the job last week, we’re going to call Johnny Foreigner and assume he’s nowhere near as good as a dozen managers they could have taken a chance on from League Two .
The Eighth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour has stuttered of late with four straight defeats, but there can be few better opportunities to right that listing ship than Sunderland at home which is tomorrow’s lunchtime TV game. The Mackems have this week sent their two main striker signings from the summer away – Lewis Grabban has gone back to Bournemouth from whence he was loaned, and James Vaughan has been flogged on cheap to League One Wigan after arriving from Bury for £900k just six months ago.
All change at Nottingham Trees as well where they’ve decided that a team with a ropey defence but four or five really good, bright, pacy, young attackers, who took great glee in ripping into Arsenal in the cup last weekend, really needs a manager who spent three years at Middlesbrough playing a flat back nine and lumping long balls to Alvaro Negredo. The revolution begins with a TV game at home to Big Racist John and the Boys tomorrow evening.
What else can I offer you? Birmingham v Derby Sheep in the Gary Rowett derby? Bristol City v Borussia Norwich, the latter fresh from selling Alex Pritchard to Huddersfield for £11m? Sporting Wolverhampton away at Barnsley? No? No pleasing some people. Allam Tigers v Reading? Come on, puddle forming on the floor at that one surely?
Tarquin and Rupert are slumming it up at Middlesbrough, Preston Knob End are travelling the other way to play the Millwall Scholars. Brentford v Bolton is this weekend’s exciting game between two teams beginning with B.
Referee: For the third time this season, Steve Martin takes charge of a QPR game following the earlier draws at Sunderland and, hilariously, at home to Brentford. Even the real Steve Martin couldn’t have cooked up a funnier ending than that one. More concerningly for those who don’t like coincidences, Martin was the referee the last time Burton won at home – 2-1 against Fulham, ten home matches ago back in September. Full details and stats here.
Burton: Having looked dead to the world with just three wins to their name all season going into the Christmas period, Burton have breathed life into their season with three consecutive away wins – Bolton 1-0, Reading 2-1, Sheff Wed 3-0. That masks an abysmal home record though which shows just two wins all season, and none since a 2-1 win here against Fulham in September after which they lost eight in a row conceding 23 goals (including three separate four goal hauls) against Villa, Wolves, Barnsley, Ipswich, Sheff Utd, Sunderland, Preston and Leeds. The run was halted with a 0-0 draw at home to Norwich last time out at the Pirelli but that leaves them without a home win in nine attempts, and third bottom of the Championship. Manager Nigel Clough is unbeaten in seven meetings with QPR dating back to that memorable 4-2 win from 2-0 down at Derby County under Jim Magilton.
QPR: If you include the drawn pre-season friendly here 18 months ago this will be QPR’s sixth crack at Burton Albion in recent years and they’re yet to win – three draws and two defeats. They’ve drawn twice (including the friendly) and lost once as a Premier League team on this ground so far. Rangers’ away record this season is almost as bad as Burton’s home. They’ve won just once, at Birmingham before Christmas, and in fact have only won two away games in a calendar year now – both of them at St Andrew’s. They’ve drawn five and lost seven of the other road trips this season and have failed to score in five of their last six away games. The Christmas haul of two wins and two draws was the best points haul (eight) over the Christmas fixtures since Luigi De Canio took nine from three wins in 2007/08.
Prediction: The winner of this year’s Prediction League (and the person top at the end of February) will be furnished with goodies from The Art of Football, but if you don’t fancy your chances then you can browse their QPR Collection here and purchase something instead. Our reigning champion Southend_Rsss tells us…
“After the real shock of Holloway selecting a pretty much first team against Franchise FC, the inevitability of the same old result – still out. Same FA Cup round. Same FA Cup round defeat. Same old QPR. I’ll admit, I (like I imagine many other season ticket holders no doubt) just couldn’t face attending. So we return to league action with a tricky away trip to a Burton. The tombola machine is due to be used again no doubt and Washington will be back in the matchday squad. Other than that I haven’t a clue what the actual starting line-up will look like. However I reckon we will win this one. Gritty, ugly, not exactly a classic. But I’ll go with an away win.”
Craig’s Prediction: Burton 1-2 QPR. Scorer – Luke Freeman
LFW’s Prediction: Burton 1-0 QPR. No scorer.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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