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QPR try a second take at Easter as Norwich visit - Preview
Sunday, 1st Apr 2018 20:43 by Clive Whittingham

Friday's defeat at Reading snapped a good run of QPR results through March, and now the R's hope to bounce back at home to Norwich on Monday and dispel fears that 2016/17 might be happening all over again.

QPR (12-11-16, LDWWDL, 15th) v Norwich (13-13-13, DDLWDL, 14th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Monday April 2, 2018 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Absolutely pissing it down, all day, again >>> Loftus Road, London, W12

On the face of it, as meaningless a meaningless midtable clash as you could ever dread seeing.

There’s something particularly attractive and nostalgic about seeing QPR’s blue and white hoops against Norwich’s yellow and green, evoking heart-breaking memories of the 1970s and happier ones of the early 1990s when these two sides were among the unlikely pacesetters in the early days of the Premier League.

But for this week, it’s fifteenth v fourteenth and there’s more at stake at this weekend’s meeting of the Cleethorpes and District Knitting Circle than there is at Loftus Road on Monday. Norwich, just to reinforce this point, have drawn seven of their last nine to leave them with a record of 13-13-13 for the season. There’s average, and then there’s this. Even average thinks this is average, and is looking across at it disapprovingly.

What tends to happen these days in such situations is the players clock off. ‘On the beach’ is the phrase - where Grant Hall already is, and Jay Emmanuel Thomas has been for the past three years. It’s where West Brom lived until they appointed Alan Pardew and Stoke City until they appointed Mark Hughes. It’s where Ipswich have spent 15 of the last 16 springs. And it’s where Norwich are now, judging by their defending against Fulham on Friday.

But at QPR… angst, and nerves, despite it all. The manner of the end to last season, when the whole club clocked off after the final international break and went on a long losing run at the same time as the most unlikely set of Championship results in living memory played out, hangs heavy over the support base and the manager still. And so it should. It nearly relegated them.

The running theme of that run was random team selections. Sean Goss at Brentford, Ravel Morrison against Brighton, Michael Petrasso against Sheffield Wednesday, twisting and twirling, twirling, twirling towards near disaster. None of those players who were given random starts in the midst of months of personal inaction made their case for first team inclusion in the 45 or 60 minutes they were given – a period of time that in Petrasso’s case included rotation around three different positions – and none of them are anywhere to be seen at QPR these days. It was a complete, and nearly very costly, waste of time.

Reading on Friday, like Derby away a year ago to the day, finished in a 1-0 defeat after four changes were made to a team that had been playing well. Now, unlike the Derby game, QPR did actually play alright on the M4 – totally dominant and creating 27 shots on goal in 95 minutes, as opposed to that insipid evening at Pride Park last season where we spent all night pumping it long to Matt Smith to no great effect. The changes have been justified by the management since, with varying strength of arguments, and in all honesty this just looked like another game QPR let slip through their fingers through lack of decent forwards rather than the start of a repeat of last season. But Ian Holloway has spoken openly about the nervousness around the place since his return, the “here we go again” atmosphere that prevails at the first sign of trouble. You can forgive us that because we have seen on three occasions since he came back to the club how quickly these things escalate and we recognise signs - signs like four changes to a team that was on a good run.

He’ll no doubt switch it all back for tomorrow’s game with Norwich, and hopefully that will yield a win, or at least a good performance and avoidance of defeat. Because even those of us who accept the situation we’re in, the restrictions Holloway is working under, the limitations posed by the strikers we have and the state of the market that prevents us from improving that, don’t want this to be us forever.

I’m very happy with how this season has gone, a necessary part of a process towards recovering from our own years of excess. But midtable Championship for the rest of time is not something to aspire to, it saps and drains a football club to the point Ipswich now find themselves at. It’s bad enough Premier League teams setting out purely to survive in the league each season, putting out weakened teams even for cup quarter finals for fear that it might somehow jeopardise that, and basically existing purely to make as much money as possible and get the season over as quickly as they can at £54 a ticket. To do that in this drudge of a division is soul destroying, and people simply won’t turn up and pay some of the division’s highest ticket prices to be part of it at Loftus Road.

We need to see signs for next season that this management team can continue the good work they’ve done this year and improve. For that, Reading needs to be an unlucky 1-0 defeat caused by lack of cutting edge rather than the start of a fourth collapse in results inside a year and a half.

So, take two. Norwich at home. It cannot, cannot, happen again as it did 12 months ago.

Links >>> Norwich inconsistent, Maddison brilliant – Interview >>> Stock’s Rangers fly out of the traps – History >>> Linington returns – Referee >>> Along Came Norwich – Interview

QPR beat Norwich 2-1 in Ian Holloway’s first match back in charge in November 2016 – a crazy game that featured a red card and missed penalty in the first 30 seconds and then Rangers nearly blowing a 2-0 lead against ten men at the death.

Monday

Team News: Despite a great March, Ian Holloway made four changes for the Reading game on Friday with various justifications put around afterwards by assistant manager Marc Bircham. Some you can buy into (Ebere Eze had been ill) others less so. Massimo Luongo had indeed played for Australia during the week, but it was only at Fulham and he’d recently played for us at Villa despite long distance trips with his national team. Matt Smith, at 28, apparently “cannot do two games in three days”, except it’s two games in four days which is exactly the same as the regular Saturday Tuesday weeks we have. Expect all three to return here. Ryan Manning, too, had played twice for Ireland last week, but has only made seven starts and seven sub appearances all season so tiredness, at 21, felt like a bit of a stretch to me. Anyway, expect another boat load of changes, just as we did at this time last year. David Wheeler, Grant Hall and Jamie Mackie are long term absentees, Idrissa Sylla was back on the bench at Reading for the first time since December.

Onel Hernandez (doesn’t like the cold) and Mortiz Leitner (doesn’t like the wet) are out for Norwich but Marley Watkins (sore belly button) is back and pushing for a recall following the weekend loss at home to Tarquin and Rupert.

Elsewhere: Here we go again then, roughly 20 minutes after the last lot ended, another full round of fixtures for you spread between Monday and Tuesday.

Millwall Scholars, like the car in Planes Trains and Autombiles, getting where they need to go in rudimentary fashion, looking for an eighth win in nine games and fourth straight clean sheet at Ipswich Blue Sox looks like a banker away win on the coupon. Ipswich had the cue on the wrack even before last week’s Mick Mac Paddy Sack and now haven’t scored in five matches after a weekend loss at lowly Birmingham. Millwall are one point shy of the play-offs going into this one.

The teams most under threat from Neil Harris’ rampaging troglodytes include the Derby Sheep, whose annual meltdown is really gathering pace this time around. If you haven’t seen the highlights of Richard Keogh’s Big Night Out against Sunderland at the weekend treat yourself – not in particular how he loses his man at the back post for the fourth goal because he’s stopped to adjust his captain’s armband. It would be a bold man to back them for anything at Preston Knob End in the Monday lunchtime TV game.

Bristol City are hanging on in there but feel like they’re tailing off slightly after a weekend draw at Barnsley. Lee Johnson’s side host Brentford this weekend, now one win in six but almost certainly the best side Bristol City have played all season including Man Utd and Man City. Middlesbrough kept it nice and deep and tight and narrow for Tony Pulis against the nine men of Sporting Wolverhampton at the weekend and duly lost 2-1 at home to a side that had two player sent off, but you’d fancy them for a nice boring, ground out, win at Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion.

Further up, the Eighth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour is finishing much like the previous seven with a string of consecutive comfortable victories. He’s going back to the Sheffield Red Stripes in the Monday evening game this week, live on Sky. Sporting Wolves, meanwhile, host Allam Tigers on Tuesday. Tarquin and Rupert also go 24 hours later against the Champions of Europe, live on Sky Sports Leeds. Big Racist John and the Boys are faltering, but should surely win at home to Reading.

Those not mentioned involve teams at the bottom, including a six-pointer between Bolton and Birmingham in this Bank Holiday’s fixture between two teams beginning with B. Sunderland, buoyed by that Derby nonsense, host Sheffield Owls, who seem to have made a goalscorer out of Atdhe Nuhui which is some going. Barnsley are at Nottingham Trees.

Referee: James Linington, making the most of the very reasonable £76 Bank Holiday ferry fare, is coming back over from the Isle of Wight for this one. He’s never refereed a QPR league defeat, but has overseen two humblings by lower leagues in the cup including this January’s loss to MK Dons. He’s done Norwich four times this season: two wins and two draws. Details and stats here.

Form

QPR: A decent March of two wins and two draws from four tough games gave way to a 1-0 defeat at lowly Reading on Friday. That was only Reading’s fourth home win of the season but, despite the improvements at Villa and Fulham, losing away from home is nothing new for Rangers who’ve only won three games on the road this season. At home things have been better, with nine wins, five draws and five defeats which is better than the five sides immediately above Rangers in the table and the same as Derby who are currently fifth. Rangers have won only one of their last ten games against Norwich.

Norwich: These two teams, and Ipswich, really have put the mediocre into midtable mediocrity this season. Norwich in particular, drawing six of their last nine to take their overall record to won 13, drawn 13, lost 13 and a position of fourteenth. They arrive at Loftus Road with just one win from nine, but only two defeats from 11. Away from home they’ve won seven, drawn five, lost seven (home record is 6-8-6 just to keep up the symmetry) but are without a win in four attempts since winning at Brentford (who I’m sure were the best team they’ve played all season). The away wins have come at Sheff Utd, Middlesbrough, Reading, Ipswich, Birmingham, Bristol City and Brentford but only two of those since Boxing Day. They’ve scored 21 times on the road which is on the low side (Barnsley third bottom have 21, Sunderland second bottom have 25).

Prediction: The winner of this year’s Prediction League 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. This week our reigning champion Southend_Rsss, who was spot on v Fulham, tells us…

“A frustrating encounter at Reading, where we had a lot of the ball, but lacked the cutting edge. The whole thing pretty much summed up by the penalty miss. One of those days and we just have to move on. Norwich are a funny old side who are hit and miss themselves. We’ve done well at Loftus Road this season and I expect changes from the Reading game. For this encounter I’m predicting that we will get a draw.

Craig’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Norwich. Scorer – Matt Smith

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Norwich. Scorer – Ebere Eze

The Twitter @loftforwords

Pictures – Action Images

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Myke added 21:08 - Apr 1
Cheers Clive, I suppose if Bircham wanted to be pedantic about recovery time, he could argue that 5.30 Friday to 3pm Monday is a few hours less than 3pm Saturday to 7.45pm Tuesday. But I agree totally with you that all three players should be more than capable of playing in both games. My son is playing at 11 tomorrow and again at 7 (thankfully not at 3!) and didn't even blink at the idea.
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TacticalR added 23:52 - Apr 1
Thanks for your preview.

I know I've bored everyone to tears on this point, but I do think we are still vulnerable to collapses because of our lack of orthodox goal-scorers. That might not be an issue if other players can step up and score goals as they have done in recent weeks.

Having said that hopefully we have moved on from last year's random experiments as most of last year's wild cards (Morrison), dead weights (Caulker) and lost souls are no longer around and some decent prospects are coming through.
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isawqpratwcity added 06:36 - Apr 2
Thanks, Clive. Every man and his dog are predicting a one-all draw for this one (including me...and my dog) but it feels as though anything could happen. Are we all just nominating a median result here?

That Derby-Sunderland game doesn't look like the annual Derby choke, it looked like the EFL should be investigating match fixing. The four Mackem goals came off an own goal, a penalty and for the other two both times a Derby player was responsible for the assist. That's not including the several wide-open opportunities Sunderland missed. Credit, though, for Derby's goal. I hope that Derby didn't get in any trouble for that and the fixer still agreed that he had got his money's worth.
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Wren67 added 12:08 - Apr 2
"But for this week, it’s fifteenth v fourteenth and there’s more at stake at this weekend’s meeting of the Cleethorpes and District Knitting Circle than there is at Loftus Road on Monday"

Lol. Another excellent piece and am lmao, but this is the first match I am able to see since Nov 17 having spent the last few months in the caribbean seeing very little of my beloved QPR with just your fine match previews and reports to keep me informed and now i've travelled 4000 miles to see the last few games of the 17/18 season, so I chose to go to the Norwich game because I hoped to see a free and open flowing game with some goals and us winning and now you tell me its going to be boring and meaningless.

"There’s something particularly attractive and nostalgic about seeing QPR’s blue and white hoops against Norwich’s yellow and green, evoking heart-breaking memories of the 1970s and happier ones of the early 1990s when these two sides were among the unlikely pacesetters in the early days of the Premier League."

Perhaps I should have stopped reading after the above paragraph.
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GroveR added 18:29 - Apr 2
"If you haven’t seen the highlights of Richard Keogh’s Big Night Out against Sunderland at the weekend treat yourself – not in particular how he loses his man at the back post for the fourth goal because he’s stopped to adjust his captain’s armband."

I'd not normally spend 5mins watching another team's highlights but that was a defensive masterclass the likes off which I've not seen since Gus Caesar.
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