|Stoke City 2 v 2 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 24th November 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Dreaming of better on the way home from Stoke-on-Trent – Preview
Friday, 23rd Nov 2018 19:44 by Clive Whittingham
QPR return from the last of 2018’s international breaks with a trip to Stoke City on Saturday, a scene of memorable victories, dismal defeats and outright violence since we started coming here in 1998.
Stoke City (5-7-5, WLDWDD, 14th) v QPR (8-2-7, DWWWLW, 10th)
Lancashire and District Senior League >>> Saturday November 24, 2018 >>> Kick off 15.00 >>> Weather – Grey and cold >>> Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire
Last time Queens Park Rangers played Stoke in Stoke Jonathan Walters scored a hat trick, which is as close to shitting the bed as you can get without shitting the actual bed.
Like losing to Bob Malcolm in a 100-metre race, or still managing to trail this Tory government in the polls, conceding a hat trick to Jonathan Walters is really something. Difficult to achieve, even if you were setting out to deliberately try and do it, which presumably we weren’t, although it was always difficult to tell with the shambling shithouses we had playing for us back then. Barton had probably had a fucking bet on it.
QPR are, of course, the club that once conceded a first half hat trick to Carlton Palmer, so we’ve got form for it, but a hat trick to Jonathan Walters ranks somewhere between an immediate sackable offence and a reason to give up altogether and fold the club. Quite rightly, it proved to be the final game in charge for That Tosser Redknapp who slunk off a few days later when the club finally took a long overdue extinguisher to the bonfire of money he’d been feeding in the back garden of Willie McKay’s house. You may recall at the time he blamed a crippling knee problem so bad that he couldn’t get from his car to the ground to watch matches, nor stand on the side of a field and watch his grandkids play football. Big bad Martin Samuel went into bat on the Sunday Supplement with tales of woe about having to call taxis to move ‘is mate ‘Arry from one wine dispensing establishment to another 500 yards away.
Not, it turns out after no surgery at all, crippling enough to stop him accepting a six-figure sum to travel to the other side of the world and take part in a physical gameshow format set in the Australian jungle for three weeks, you understand. I don’t have a lot of time for that programme at the best of times, and Billy Liar pitching up on his one-man experimental mission to find out once and for all just how much money does one person need is not the best of times. Benefit of the doubt, maybe he’s skint? Perhaps Rosie the dog lost the online banking log in or something.
Prior to that, whatever they’re calling Stoke’s castle on the hill these days had been a relatively happy hunting ground for Rangers. I say relatively, because for most normal, functioning, football clubs four wins in eight attempts at a ground is nothing to write home about. But this is QPR, who can go to Nottingham Forest 34 times and never win once, who took 19 attempts to win at Grimsby Town for the first time, who’ve spent 20 years trying to win once at Blackburn Rovers. Mark Hughes was in charge here for ten months and didn’t win a single away game. When we drew 2-2 at Wigan at the start of December 2012 LFW commissioned a special commemorative cake for the train up there to mark a full year since our last road win. Never mind writing home about four wins in eight trips to Stoke, for QPR it’s an excuse for a four-day Ibiza weekender bender with Dean Gaffney.
We started here with a defeat, and in fairly vintage QPR style as well. Deep in relegation trouble, Ray Harford’s Rangers pitched up at Stoke to face one of the few teams you could reasonably argue were worse than us in 1997/98. Starting on November 22, the Potters had embarked on a run of one victory in 22 fixtures prior to our visit on March 21. The run included a 7-0 home loss to Birmingham City; home defeats to Reading, Crewe, Charlton and Huddersfield; away setbacks against Swindon Town, Tranmere Rovers and Stockport County; and our trip was sandwiched neatly between a 5-1 shellacking at Oxford United and a 3-0 home reverse against Tranmere again. QPR lost. Of course we did. It was Chris Kamara’s only win in 14 matches in charge of Stoke, and Iain Dowie scored an own goal. He was always good for one of those. Recreate the image of him traipsing back to the halfway line by drawing a sad face on your thumb.
In mitigation, the team was: L Harper, S Yates (A Heinola, 78), S Morrow, G Kulcsar (S Slade, 68), K Ready, D Maddix, I Baraclough, S Barker, I Dowie (K Gallen, 45), M Sheron, A Scully.
Stoke went down, QPR stayed up thanks to Jamie Pollock’s spectacular own goal which saw him beat Jesus Christ and Karl Marx into second and third place in the University of California’s online poll for the Man of the Millennium. When we eventually followed them, we won our next three visits to their ground in increasingly controversial circumstances. First through a single Gavin Peacock goal, then through a hail of rocks and other assorted debris from the surrounding car parks after Marc Bircham had kicked it all off, and finally thanks to goals from Paul Furlong and Richard Langley after which Rangers were fined for not allowing their goalkeeper to be beaten up in the back of the net by a couple of disgruntled local smackheads.
Bircham, as only Bircham could, told the Open All R’s Podcast all about the adventures of the middle game post Taggert red card when he went on the show a couple of years back.
“It was the first time I’d ever seen a 22-man brawl in the tunnel. The thing is, he did actually split my lip. Gifton Noel Williams was playing for them and we’d grown up playing against each other, he kept asking me why I was cheating and I was like ‘do you think I bit my lip myself you idiot?’. The rest of their team wanted to kill me and I don’t mind a fight so they were all saying we’ll see you in the tunnel at half time. When the half time whistle went you’ve never seen two teams and benches all sprint down the tunnel so quickly. We’ve gone in, Gerry Taggert has come out of a side door in a towel and swung for me, I’ve landed a punch and then there’s this huge roar and a rumble and it’s all going off. Matty Rose is hanging off the Stoke dressing room door shouting ‘Furs help’. They had a player called Darrell Russell and it all opened up for me like a slow-motion clearing in the chaos and I landed an absolute beauty.
“Once the police had come in and separated it all we’ve gone into the dressing room and Olly is shouting at us saying ‘what you all doing? You’ve got to keep this crowd quiet, and Birch you’re kicking them all off.’ I said ‘Olly, he’s elbowed me in the mouth, what do you want me to do? I’m not getting bullied’. Olly’s then started shouting ‘that’s fucking right, we won’t get bullied’, and he was godfather to Tony Pulis’ kid but he’s started shouting ‘we won’t get bullied, I hate bullies, I’ll show them bullies’, stormed across the tunnel, kicked their dressing room door open and given it ‘Tony, if you want to fucking bully us, we’ll fight, if you want to fight we’ll fight’. He’s come back and our team talk was ‘right, second half, keep the crowd quiet, fight em, but not too much so we keep the crowd quiet’.
“ITV were following us around that day because we could set a record for consecutive wins, and their cameraman got laid out in the tunnel. Matt Lorenzo was shouting at him ‘did you get the footage’ while he was sparko on the floor. I didn’t know at the time but they interviewed Olly on his way back out for the second half and they said to him ‘it looked like a lot of commotion going on in the tunnel at half time’ and whereas a normal manager would have played it down as handbags he’s gone ‘oh yeh it’s gone right off in there, but we’ve looked after ourselves and we’re coming out to win second half’. Ten minutes later Kev’s put it in and scored to make it 1-0. On the way back to the centre Ade Akinbiyi has come up to me growling, he had muscles on muscles, and said ‘if you win I’m gonna kill ya’. And I said ‘ahhh Ade there’s every chance if you’re up front because you’re never going to score’.”
But it’s the fourth win of the four, the most recent, that really hangs in my mind as we prepare to head back to Staffordshire for the first time since 2015.
Rangers won 3-2 here in November 2011 in the Premier League when Stoke were at the height of their physical powers, intimidating their way into the middle of the top flight by blasting the namby pamby modern day footballer with a Rory Delap long throw that looked like it had been fired out of a cannon. We were absolutely brilliant that day, opening the scoring with a header for the ages by Heidar Helguson that you could see coming all the way from the back of the away end once Armand Traore had wrapped his foot around a beautiful left wing cross. Helguson would score twice that day either side of a powerful shot into the roof of the net at the end of a flowing move from Luke Young of all people.
It was the last time I felt genuinely, unfailingly optimistic about what the future held for us. We’d already been to Wolves and taken them apart 3-0 with Alejandro Faurlin showing immense Premier League pedigree, and won 1-0 at Everton, to make it three away wins from our first six road trips back in the top flight for the first time in 15 years. We would only win four more in the following two and half Premier League seasons under four different managers but at that point we felt unstoppable. Chelsea had been beaten at a white hot Loftus Road a couple of weeks before and moneybags Man City had Yaya Toure to thank for escaping an absolute humdinger at Loftus Road with a 3-2 win.
Shaun Wright-Phillips hit the inside of the post that day at Stoke for what would have been 4-2. Put that with the one he hit off the underside of the bar at home to Newcastle when we annihilated them but drew 0-0, another off the post at Wolves, and a goal incorrectly disallowed against West Brom that would have made a 1-1 draw a 2-1 win and you wonder how different things might have been for him, and Neil Warnock, had they all gone in. Luke Young, looking good and scoring. Armand Traore, playing well and assisting. Joey Barton, effective and creative. Who would know they’d all turn out to be such unimaginable shitbags? Certainly not us travelling back on the train that night, sitting eighth in the Premier League, kicking back the beers and planning a possible European campaign to come. These are the good old days, we told ourselves at the time, full of fun and happiness and hope and testosterone and imported Italian lager.
Even under Hughes the following summer, after a remarkable run of home wins saw us survive 2011/12 at the expense of Bolton (who Stoke relegated on the last day), we were giddy with expectation. Junior Hoilett, a star of the Premier League at a great age, signing for us. Djibril Cisse, a good each way bet for Premier League top scorer at 80/1, we said. We laughed and turned the radio off when Gabrielle Marcotti told Five Live that QPR had signed “a bunch of turds”. There was a Lexus advert at the time with a catchline “we don’t stop, until we create amazing” and we started drunkenly using it in our live transfer deadline day blog that year in relation to our club, as Stephane Mbia flew over in a private jet and a bow tie to sign for, he thought, Glasgow Rangers. A thread on our message board aggressively argued that you couldn’t rule us out of finishing in the top four of the Premier League.
I was so, so genuinely excited.
And it all turned to dust. Literally as soon as a ball was kicked – we lost the opening game of the next season 5-0 at home to Swansea. It never really got any better than that night on the way home from Stoke.
Few support bases have been whipped up so high only to be dropped so far.
We’ve had our moments since, most notably a last minute winner in a Wembley play-off final which is a moment we’ll all take with us to our graves as a genuine life high point. But even then you knew Rangers were being run shambolically, crashing through Financial Fair Play rules, spewing good money after bad, jeopardising the whole future of the club, ruining our public image and wrecking our team. Our reward for that Bobby Zamora goal was Rio Ferdinand, and a dire stay in the top flight which included that sodding Walters’ hat trick – a twelfth consecutive away defeat from 12 attempts.
We travel back tomorrow four years into a recovery from those days of greed, folly and foolishness and for the first time in that period there does seem to be some genuine optimism around the place. That can soon be quashed, as Steve McClaren said at last night’s fans forum the Championship can soon serve you up three defeats in a week and suddenly the mood is very different. But QPR play Stoke (14th), Rotherham (19th) and Hull (22nd) this week and can propel themselves further into surprise contention with positive results.
We were so sure in 2011, and we fell off the side of a cliff. We’re too weathered and world weary by what’s happened since to ever really, genuinely believe again I think. But it’s nice to be heading back to the Potteries in a better place, and just daring to maybe hope for better times around the corner once more.
And then we lost 4-0.
Geoff Cameron Facts #12 – During the 2009 MLS season at the Houston Dynamos, Geoff identified as a provocative female giraffe and insisted his team mates call him Fifi Le Roux if they wanted him to pass them the ball.
Team News: The biggest challenge facing Steve McClaren ahead of this one is the break up of his influential central midfield combination. Geoff Cameron can’t play against his parent club and Massimo Luongo has been away with Australia over the international break. Josh Scowen and Jordan Cousins are on stand by, but against Ryan Woods who we always struggled with during his Brentford days it’s potentially a big miss. Tomer Hemed has recovered from his groin injury and has travelled, but Nahki Wells scored against Brentford so you would think he’ll keep his place. Mide Shodipo is a long term absentee, Darnell Furlong and Grant Hall have returned from their respective bad ones as far as the bench.We’re offering two places on three day residential course Powerpointing with Steve McClaren for any sighting of Sean Goss.
Stoke are likely to be missing Erik Pieters (dashed optimism) while Tom Ince is a doubt with worry warts. The BBC reports that Sam Clucas, Darren Fletcher and Saido Berahino are all pushing for recalls for want of something better to do with their time.
Elsewhere: Borussia Norwich come back from the international break as league leaders on 33 points and a run of nine wins and a draw from 11 games. That despite them conceding 20 times already this season, 12 more than Middlesbrough’s miserly eight in second place. The Canaries’ European fixture at Swansealona is arguably the division’s game of the weekend. Boro, meanwhile, play Saturday evening on Sky Sports Leeds against Spartak Hounslow who, despite losing four of their last five matches, will almost certainly be the best team Tony Pulis’ side have played this season.
It’s tight as a mouse’s waistcoat up at the top of this division though. The Champions of Europe and Sheffield Red Stripes sit just behind the top two on 30 points each ahead of their respective fixtures at home to Bristol City and away to Rotherham this weekend. Leeds are without a senior goalkeeper for that trip. Frank Lampard’s Derby County and West Brom come next on 28 prior to respective visits to Sheffield Owls and Ipswich Blue Sox – the latter game is the Friday night offering for your tellybox. Won’t the mrs be pleased?
Nobody down to Stoke in fourteenth is more than two wins from the top six. Nottingham Trees lead that pack and they’re away to Allam Tigers. Then come Swansealona in eighth and the Mad Chicken Farmers in ninth prior to their local derby with Preston Knob End. You R’ssssssssssssssss sit tenth after three seasons of steadfastly refusing to move from sixteenth. Then come Big Racist John and the Boys in eleventh with a big second city derby clash with Birmingham at Villa Park on Sunday lunchtime – the Blues have been doing well themselves with only one defeat in the last 13 to climb to twelfth but they still face the strong possibility of 12 points coming off at some point for aggravated breaches of FFP regulations (if you appoint Redknapp it’s classed as an aggravated breach).
Those we haven’t mentioned so far are at the bottom where apart from Ipswich adrift on 11 points you have four clubs on 16, two on 18 and two on 20. Wigan Warriors have lost four in a row ahead of this week’s mouthwatering home game with Reading, and that leaves Millwall’s six pointer with Bolton to round out the weekend.
Referee: QPR did quite nicely out of Andy Davies when he was last in charge of one of our games – winning 1-0 at Reading with three penalty appeals turned down from the home team. In fairness, they were all fairly obvious dives, but we’d still happily take a repeat this weekend. Details of that and his previous appointments with us here.
Stoke: Summer title favourites Stoke have found the going tough since returning to the Championship for the first time in ten years. They won just one of their first six in the league, a run that included defeats to Leeds (1-3), Wigan (0-3) and West Brom (1-2) and draws with Brentford (1-1), Preston and Sheff Wed (both 2-2). Things have improved of late, with just one defeat in the last eight (0-1 to Birmingham at home), but four of those have been drawn and overall the Potters have drawn seven times in 17 games this season, compared to QPR’s two. They have stopped conceding goals mind – after shipping nine in their first four and 18 in their first ten they come into this game on a run of three clean sheets in a row and just two goals conceded in seven games. Their last two have finished 0-0 mind. At home they’ve won three (Hull, Swansea, Bolton), drawn two (Boro, Brentford) and lost three (Wigan, Blackburn, Birmingham) so far. Only the bottom three sides have scored fewer home goals this season than Stoke’s eight).
QPR: Since losing their first four league games of the season QPR have won eight and drawn two of 13 Championship fixtures, posting 26 points from a possible 39 on offer. Two points a game, traditionally, promotion form. Three of those wins have come away from home (Bolton 2-1, Reading 1-0, Ipswich 2-0) equalling the number of away wins achieved in the whole of last season. They’ve also matched the number of clean sheets they kept in 2017/18, with seven already in 17 games so far. They come into this game with one 1-0 loss at Blackburn their only defeat in seven games, of which five have been won. The R’s have conceded just four goals across those seven games but still have -4 goal difference owing largely to that nightmare August. Although Rangers have lost on four of their last five visits to this ground, they’d initially started here quite well – winning three of their first four and four of their first eight visits.
Prediction: Our Prediction League this year is sponsored by The Art of Football, with prizes available for the Christmas leader and overall champion. Get involved here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Us the code BF20 to get a 20% discount today only. We were both right to tip QPR to beat Brentford, and Nahki Wells to score, but couldn’t nail a 3-2 prediction last time out – let’s see what reigning champion Elliott has for us this week.
“A two week break which leaves our squad almost fully fit. Again a tough one to call after the international break and it’s difficult to look too much into both sides form. Stoke haven’t conceded a goal in their last three games so hopefully they’re due to concede. However, they have drawn their last two so I’ll keep with the pattern and predict a draw here.”
Elliott’s Prediction: Stoke 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Ebere Eze
LFW’s Prediction: Stoke 0-0 QPR. No scorer.
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Pictures – Action Images
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