|Queens Park Rangers 3 v 1 Bristol Rovers|
Tuesday, 28th August 2018 Kick-off 19:45
The new normal - Preview
Tuesday, 28th Aug 2018 12:20 by Clive Whittingham
Former England manager Steve McClaren says last week was one of the toughest of his career, showing just how abnormal our club is. Can it start behaving like everybody else in cup competitions at least, with Bristol Rovers in town tonight?
QPR v Bristol Rovers
Zenith Data Systems Cup >>> Tuesday August 28, 2018 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Dry, cloudy >>> Loftus Road, London, W12
Steve McClaren has really been through the ringer down the years, football wise.
His early coaching career knew nothing but success with Jim Smith’s Derby riding high in the Premier League and Alex Ferguson’s Man Utd at the peak of their treble-winning powers. But since then, he’s often simply been moving from one trauma to the next. At Middlesbrough he won the League Cup and reached the Europa League final, but the latter was only achieved through a series of extraordinary comebacks from big deficits and things also got so bad for him at the Riverside at one point that a supporter ran onto the pitch to throw their season ticket at him during a game.
As England manager he oversaw a dire qualifying campaign for Euro 2008 which included 0-0 draws with Israel and Macedonia, defeats in Croatia and Russia, and then finally the ignominious 3-2 Wembley loss against the Croats where he stood there under his umbrella in the pouring rain as his team collapsed around him – forever cementing his image in the British sporting public’s mind as one of failure, and ridicule. Even a brilliant league-winning spell with Twente is best remembered for his odd technique of doing interviews in Dutch accents and there have since been brief, failed spells with Wolfsburg, Nottingham Forest, Derby twice and Newcastle.
Wolfsburg fired him early amidst poor results, stopping a post-England reputation rebuild dead in its tracks. He lasted even less time at Forest, where everything was not as it seemed in the brochure with the club’s madcap owners. At Derby he dominated the play-off final and lost, then missed them altogether the season after. The Rams are chokers, and McClaren had three seasons trying and failing to save them from themselves. Though he’d gone before it was confirmed, he was relegated at Newcastle under Mike Ashley’s unique style of football club ownership.
A man who’s been through all of that still leant against the wall of the tunnel at Loftus Road on Saturday, blew out his cheeks, laughed a nervous laugh and described the win against Wigan as a “massive relief” and the week that preceded it as “one of the toughest of my career”. Two months and five league games into life at QPR and Steve McClaren, with all that baggage, is already describing it in terms of more difficult than anything he’s been through before in football. We’re just not normal are we?
It’s only when somebody asks you to pinpoint where it all started to go wrong for QPR, and you try to go back through everything that’s happened to us (as we did at the weekend for ESPN’s Iain Mackintosh) that you realise just what a full blown lunatic asylum the place has been over the last 20 years. The takeovers, the bankruptcies, the richest owners in the world, the money spent, the players that have come and gone, the promotions, the relegations, that time when they tried to shoot each other, the whole Ale Faurlin thing that went right down to the eleventh hour, that time the squad caught meningitis, that time we had a running battle with the Chinese national team causing a diplomatic incident, the sheer number of five, six and now seven goal defeats, the constant changing of managers, the Aguero game and Joey Barton’s contribution to it, that time the manager headbutted one of his players, that time we arranged a pre-season tour of Italy but the pitches were so poor we ended up sticking the goalkeeping coach up front, that time we arranged a pre-season tour of Italy and none of the opposition teams showed up, that time we lost at home to Vauxhall Motors, that time the league leveraged the biggest fine in the history of global sports against us, that time our two best players ruptured their ACLs within ten minutes of each other in the same game, that time we came from 4-0 down to draw with Port Vale, that time Scottish Ron was going to run on the pitch and do a naked protest but we scored as he was undressing and all the newspapers carried a picture of the goal going in with a naked man standing behind the goal. We’ve had more court cases than away wins.
We joke and celebrate ‘three days since a major incident’, it has just become normal to us. When Mackintosh asked us whether we were growing weary of lurching from one catastrophe to the next on the back of a 7-1 loss and then 3-0 home defeat in which our brand new manager was barracked by his own supporters, lovely Jas Sandals rightly told him: “that wasn’t a catastrophe, that was just a Tuesday”. But it’s not normal really is it? Only Sunderland and perhaps Newcastle and Leeds can boast a self destruct button as big, red and frequently pressed as our own. It’s not the sign of a normal, healthy, successful club. And neither (segue of the month approaches…) is our cup record.
The FA Cup results are legendary – no outright win, nor progress beyond the fourth round, since Trevor Sinclair’s bicycle kick in 1997. But we fair almost as badly in the League Cup, where we haven’t been beyond round four since 1988 when we were beaten 5-2 at Nottingham Forest in round five. Given that the first two rounds are almost exclusively played against teams from the bottom two divisions, and we seem more often than not to be drawn at home, that’s pretty abysmal.
For a team short on confidence and form, a dwindling support base (11,000 on Saturday, just 1,400 tickets sold for this one as of Sunday) in desperate need of some excitement and success, a manager seemingly just realising exactly what he’s let himself in for and a club that’s made itself a laughing stock once too often, a cup run could be a real tonic. We say it every year, and it never happens, but it’s more true than ever before this season. Let’s see what nonsense they have in store for us on Tuesday.
Team News: Grant Hall was pencilled in for at least 30 minutes of action in the first round game against Peterborough but failed to emerge from the bench in the second half. He’s now picked up another niggly injury, after more than a year out with his ongoing tendonitis issue, so it’s a big doubt whether he’ll get any minutes against Bristol Rovers. Steve McClaren must decide whether to use the opportunity to get some match time into new signings Tomer Hemed and Nahki Wells, or wrap them in cotton wool for the trip to Birmingham on Saturday. And having dropped Matt Ingram for Joe Lumley at the weekend, does he now reverse that decision in a competition where QPR traditionally pick their second choice keeper? Darnell Furlong is a long term absentee. We’re offering a free weekend away, room and board, in Lyme Regis for any sightings of Sean Goss.
Elsewhere: Four games in this round of the competition will have VAR trials running in them to judge goals, penalties, red card offences and cases of mistake identity. Brighton v Southampton, Fulham v Exeter City, Leicester v Fleetwood and Everton v Rotherham are the games chosen for that.
After the dirge of round one, there are actually a couple of interesting ties this week. Chief among them, Wimbledon v West Ham who have lost three out of three under Manuel Pellegrini so far this season and won’t be relishing a trip to the tight little Kingsmeadow Stadium live on Sky Sports Leeds. Wednesday night it’s big-spending Nottingham Forest, who have also started quite poorly having gambled the house on promotion this season, at home to Newcastle United who’ve endured another Mike Ashley summer.
Other potential upsets: big, physical, League Two Lincoln will be tough opponents for Blackburn at Ewood Park; Sheffield Wednesday will welcome a shot at Premier League new boys Wolves; Swansea welcome Palace to South Wales; former QPR knobhead Joey Barton gets his first managerial shot at a Premier League team with Fleetwood going to Leicester; Plymouth Argyle are at Millwall.
The draw for the third round will take place at 2.38am on Thursday at the table by the door to the kitchen at the The Happy Wonton all-you-can-eat oriental buffet at the upmarket end of Zamboanga in the Philippines and be shown live on Faith World TV (Sky channel 589).
Referee: Charles Breakspear, who by some considerable distance has sent off the most players of any referee on the league list in the last season and a bit (18 last season, five already this), is the man in the middle on Tuesday. His QPR case history and intimidating stats are available here.
QPR: The 1-0 win against Wigan at the weekend snapped a run of four straight defeats at the start of the league season, the worst start QPR have made to a campaign in the history of the club. Rangers lost 4-1 at home to Brentford in round two of this competition. In 2016/17 the R’s overcame Swindon on penalties after a 2-2 draw and beat Rochdale 2-1 the round after before bowing out to Sunderland. That was the first time they had reached the third round of the League Cup since being knocked out at that stage as a Premier League side by Reading in 2012 and followed three successive seasons of second round exits at the hands of Carlisle (1-2), Burton (0-1) and Swindon (0-2). It was the first time since 2009 that Rangers have made it to a third tie in this competition (Exeter 5-0, Accrington 2-1, Chelsea 0-1). They haven’t been to round four since 2008 when they beat Swindon 3-2, Carlisle 4-0, Villa 1-0 and then lost 0-1 at Man Utd. The last time Rangers were in round five was a 5-2 loss at Nottingham Forest in 1988/89, two years after they’d been beaten in the final by Oxford.
Bristol Rovers: The Pirates reached this round by beating Crawley at home 2-1 at the first stage, but it’s been almost as difficult a start to their season in League One as it has to ours in the Championship. A 2-1 win at Wycombe is their only success, with the other four league games all lost. A 1-0 defeat to Southend at the weekend did snap a run of every one of their games this season finishing 2-1 but they’ve been beaten now by Peterborough, Accrington, Portsmouth and Chris Powell’s men, with three of those defeats coming at home. They knocked out Championship side Fulham at Craven Cottage in this round last year before losing to Wolves in round three.
Prediction: It’s always a bit toss a coin with these cup ties as you don’t know what sort of team will go out. McClaren has hinted at big changes, and there are some players kicking around on the loan market that will presumably be keen to impress watching scouts with the window closing this week, or wanting to show that the fans are right and they shouldn’t be allowed to go. Rovers meanwhile have been leaking goals and losing matches for fun early doors, but they won at Fulham in this round last year and are backed by a sizeable following. We got our Wigan and Bristol City predictions the wrong way round last week, and I wonder whether, having predicted doom against Peterborough, we might be about to do the same with our League Cup guesses by saying…
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-1 Bristol Rovers. Scorer – Matt Smith
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