|Birmingham City 0 v 0 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 1st September 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Changing tack? – Preview
Friday, 31st Aug 2018 16:46 by Clive Whittingham
QPR head to happy hunting ground St Andrew’s on Saturday, newly flushed with expensive, experienced players on loan? Is another strategy pivot afoot?
Birmingham (0-3-2, DLLDLD, 21st) v QPR (1-0-4, LWLLWW, 22nd)
Lancashire and District Senior League >>> Saturday September 1, 2018 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Sunny, breezy >>> St Andrew’s, Birmingham
Queens Park Rangers played Birmingham City in the league seven games and almost exactly four months ago. They won 3-1, and this was the team.
QPR: Lumley 6; Kakay 5 (Onuoha 67, 7), Furlong 7, Bidwell 7, Manning 7; Scowen 7; Eze 7, Chair 8, Freeman 8, Osayi-Samuel 7 (Mackie 69, 7); Sylla 5 (Smith 77, 7)
Subs not used: Smithies, Cousins, Smyth, Tilt
Goals: Osayi-Samuel 29 (assisted Chair), Chair 70 (assisted Freeman), Smith 90+2 (Unassisted)
I’m going to try not to go over the old ground that we covered last week, and nor am I going to say that we didn’t need players of the standard of Tomer Hemed, Nahki Wells and, hopefully, Geoff Cameron. We know how we’ve struggled to reach Championship level in attack since Charlie Austin left and we saw how much of a difference having Hemed and Wells up there as opposed to Smith, Sylla and Washington last week. Likewise, we’ve sat through enough of Joel Lynch’s unique style of defending to know that a centre back was a top priority for the summer following the departures of Nedum Onuoha and Jack Robinson. It is possible to be pleased with the arrivals, but concerned with the direction of travel, they’re not mutually exclusive.
That we’ve changed tack isn’t in question, just look at that team above and compare it to the one that starts tomorrow. I’m intrigued to know whether it’s a panic brought on by the start to the season, and particularly the West Brom result which Steve McClaren “didn’t see coming”, or whether this is another permanent change of strategy from the club. Neither are particularly good news.
If it’s a panic, then we were meant to be beyond that stage now. If you ask any football manager anywhere what he wants most, it’s three more experienced players right now. As Man Utd have found with Jose Mourinho, once you’ve bought him those three he wants three more. Managers are only bothered about the next five games, because they know if they lose them all they’ll get the sack. That’s a problem football has created for itself in this country, by seeing the manager as completely expendable and by treating his sacking as an easy cure-all for whatever is going wrong at that particular moment in time – even if it’s actually nothing to do with him. It’s the first thing clubs in this country do now, rather than the last. QPR have been particularly guilty of that over recent years so you can’t blame whoever the current incumbent is from fearing for his future and taking whatever short term step is needed to stop it from happening. Given the choice between a 35-year-old from Swansea who can come in and play well in the next five games, or giving a 21-year-old 20 matches at this level to find his feet and learn his trade, they go with the former 100% of the time.
Short term that’s fine. Angel Rangel is clearly more positionally sound than Osman Kakay, Nahki Wells clearly a better player and bigger threat than Paul Smyth. Long term though, it causes you problems. Because when you change managers as frequently as QPR do - and when you appoint managers as wide and varied in quality and style as Neil Warnock, Mark Hughes, Harry Redknapp, Chris Ramsay, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Ian Holloway and Steve McClaren - you end up with a horribly bloated squad, chock full of all the quick fixes they brought in for all their different perceived problems and to play in all their wide variety of styles. The director of football model has become crucial in this country because the managers leave so frequently, and we were meant to have embraced that system after the ruinous reigns of Hughes and Redknapp. McClaren was meant to be here exclusively to coach. And yet here we are again, tearing up what we thought we were going to do a month ago and trying to haul in expensive short term fixes, chucking stuff overboard to clear enough finance to do it, seemingly at the behest of a panicked manager who fears for his job. It worked against Wigan, it may work tomorrow at Birmingham, but it certainly doesn’t work medium or long term, not at QPR. It has already created a situation where we have an old fashioned front two for a team that plays with one striker, meaning some or all of Luke Freeman, Ebere Eze or Wells are going to have to play out of position or not at all.
Or is this a permanent switch of strategy by those above McClaren? Has the “clear pathways to the first team” and “bringing a proven coach to work with these young players” now been replaced with the strategy Tony Pulis used to get Stoke City promoted from this division all those years ago – small squad, supplemented by experienced, quality players on loan? If so, where does that leaves the likes of Paul Smyth, Ilias Chair, Ryan Manning and others who we were meant to be giving a first team opportunity to, and where does it leave us financially given that we were supposed to be fattening them up to sell in the name of at least attempting to become sustainable/competitive?
It wasn’t so very long ago the club was saying they were deliberately not getting involved with the loan market because it cost so much to borrow players and it was dead money because you didn’t get to keep them – now we’re treating it as our lord and saviour. They’ve done incredibly well to get players of the standard of Hemed and Wells, but they certainly won’t have come cheap and we won’t be able to afford them permanently so presumably this time next year we’ll be trying to borrow the equivalent from somewhere else. Like the permanent transfer market, the position we’re in with Financial Fair Play means we’re competing with clubs that can spend more than us, or shouldn’t but do anyway. I’m amazed they got Hemed and Wells once, to try and repeat that again season after season in this market will be very difficult. The old Moneyball line applies again – if we try to play like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there.
And if it is a permanent switch of strategy, it’s the umpteenth time we’ve done it. We’ve tried to be Bertie Big Potatoes flashing the money around, we’ve tried to be the club that scouts the lower leagues and Europe, we’ve tried to be the club that promotes young players that have fallen out of other academies, and now apparently we’re trying to be the club that plays the loan market. I can’t bring to mind a club that gets anywhere by changing its overall strategy as often as we do. Watford rotate managers like I change underwear, but the overall plan, scouting and system remains the same and that’s their strength. Brentford continue to move off into the distance away from us with a very clear identity and plan that they stick with, even when things don’t go so well for them like the end of the Mark Warburton era and the failed appointment of Marinus Dijkhuizen. Why do these clubs continue to steadily progress while we continue to regress? It seems pretty obvious to me.
So am I pleased that we’ll have Wells and Hemed up front tomorrow rather than Sylla and Washington? Absolutely, we need to win and stay up and it gives us a better chance. Am I pleased that we’ve recognised we can’t rely on Joel Lynch and made an attempt to address it? Also yes, in a race to 52 points it was an important problem to address. Am I relieved that we’ve replaced the experience and dressing room character that left us over the summer when Robinson, Onuoha, Mackie, Perch and Smithies departed? Of course. But am I worried about what’s happened over the last three weeks says about where we’re going next, and what it’ll look like when we get there? Definitely.
Jack Robinson was the surprise double goalscorer in a rare away win for the R's on this ground last December.
Team News: Whether Geoff Cameron has arrived in time and an insufficient state to go straight into the defence tomorrow remains to be seen – one would think a bench spot is more likely and then a big international break to get him up to fitness. Rangers made 11 changes for the first time since the war during the week, and will presumably switch most of those back with Hemed, Wells, Freeman, Scowen, Luongo, Leistner and Bidwell almost certain to start and Ebere Eze, Angel Rangel and Joe Lumley highly likely. Darnell Furlong is a long term absentee. We’re offering a ten minute trolley dash around The Bull Ring after the match for any sighting of Sean Goss.
Birmingham are much the same as they were a week ago with Isaac Vassell (lost in the woods) and David Davis (resigned from the cabinet) still unavailable.
Elsewhere: Leeds often win the league in August, so we look forward to the Champions of Europe collecting their trophy tonight. That is, unless they get a face full of Pulisball right in the mush. Tony Pulis v Marcelo Bielsa feels like something that might cause a vortex to open up and start sucking things into it – they barely even play the same sport do they? Anyway, that’s on Sky Sports Leeds naturally.
With no other Leeds game to show tomorrow (don’t think they didn’t consider it) the telly people have shifted Millwall v Swansea to the evening to make a weekend of contrasting styles. They haven’t for some reason, picked Ipswich Blue Sox v Borussia Norwich though, despite the Old Farm Derby holding all manner of intrigue for those of us that like to watch the footballing equivalent of monkeys throwing their own poo at each other. That’s at midday on Sunday cos it gets pwopah nawty obvs. Bristol City are playing the Mad Chicken Farmers at 1.30 on Sunday as well, because they fancied a change.
Among the Saturday 3pmers, Allam Tigers lost 4-0 at home to Big Fat Frank’s Big Fat Derby in the cup during the week, and get to welcome them back for a second swing in the league. How much difference does one Tommy Elphick make in such a situation? We shall see. Two relegated teams clash when West Brom meet Stoke; two promoted teams do likewise as Wigan Warriors face Rotherham Flat Caps. Preston Knob End v Bolton is a sort of derby game, though they’re both more bothered about others nearby really. Conor Washington will be bagging a brace for Sheffield Red Stripes against Aston Villa.
Every Reading fixture looks like the worst thing ever imagined by man, and a home fixture with Sheffield Owls is no different. Brentford v Nottingham Trees is also taking place.
Referee: If you enjoyed that Newcastle player getting belted in the back of the head and no penalty being awarded at Nottingham Forest on Wednesday night… GOOD NEWS. Jeremy Simpson, the man responsible, is our referee this Saturday, just as he was at Preston last season when he sent off Jamie Mackie and Alex Baptiste. Bless his cotton socks. Warning signs available here.
Birmingham: The Blues are yet to win this season, with three draws and three defeats in all competitions so far. At home they’ve drawn 2-2 with Norwich and 0-0 with Swansea, though they dominated the latter match. At Forest last week they were 2-0 up and looking good before conceding two late goals to the hosts for another draw. They won ten, drew three and lost ten on this ground last year. That included four wins (3-0 v Hull, 1-0 v Ipswich, 2-1 v Sheff Utd, 3-1 v Fulham) and one draw (1-1 v Burton) to finish the season and stay in the league – so they’re actually unbeaten in seven at St Andrews going back to a 1-0 loss to Middlesbrough on March 6.
QPR: Rangers have won just four of their last 35 away matches, and two of those have been at Birmingham City (Burton and Villa the other two). The 2-1 win here last December was Rangers’ first on the road in the 2017/18 campaign at the eleventh attempt and one of only three managed all season. So far this season the R’s have lost 1-0 at Preston and 7-1 at West Brom, their worst defeat since May 1987. It’s now six straight defeats on the road as a result, stretching back to the 2-2 draw at Fulham in April. The 1-0 win against Wigan last year ended a run of four consecutive defeats at the start of a league season for the first time in the history of the club. It was just the second clean sheet the club had kept in 16 games, and Joe Lumley was in goal for both.
Prediction: Well, this year’s Prediction League really looks like it’s going to reward the pessimists/realists/people who watch QPR play regularly out from the rest of you hopeless romantics doesn’t it? Elliott Cooke (@cookiee42, Elliott42) won last year and claimed the Art of Football goodies. Get involved here or sample the merch from our sponsor’sQPR collection. They’ve kindly agreed to provide prizes to the overall winner AND whoever is top at Christmas. Reigning champ Elliott tells us…
“I think this match is the hardest game to predict so far. Our away form is well documented however we have won our last two visits to St Andrew’s. The change of tactics to 442 proved a good decision on Saturday but I just can’t see how we’re going to make that work away from home. Sticking with Freeman and Eze as our wide players away from home could prove suicidal. I was really impressed with Hemed last week and I think his partnership with Wells will be crucial to us staying up. I’ll go for Hemed to get two in two and us to take a rare away point.
Elliott’s Prediction: Birmingham 1 QPR 1. Scorer – Tomer Hemed
LFW’s Prediction: Birmingham 2 QPR 1. Scorer – Nahki Wells
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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