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Queens Park Rangers 2 v 1 Middlesbrough
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 15th December 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Injuries biting as QPR prep for a very Pulis Christmas - Preview
Friday, 14th Dec 2018 15:19 by Clive Whittingham

Angel Rangel, Geoff Cameron and Tomer Hemed are all medium term injured, QPR have no wins in four games, and Tony Pulis' horribly functional Middlesbrough side are in town on Saturday. Happy holidays.

QPR (8-4-9, LWDDLL, 14th) v Middlesbrough (9-9-3, DWWDLD, 6th)

Lancashire and District Senior League >>> Saturday December 15, 2018 >>> Kick off 15.00 >>> Weather – Rain like it’s never rained before, bring an ark >>> Loftus Road, London, W12

When I was a little boy I wanted a Nintendo Gameboy for Christmas. What I got instead was a bottle of bubblebath shaped to look like a Nintendo Gameboy, with a little game on one side of it where you pressed its fake buttons and it propelled tiny plastic hoops towards tiny plastic hooks. My poor little crestfallen face.

My mum hadn’t done it deliberately to be fair to her, and I almost certainly got spoilt with loads of other stuff besides. But I know a man who would do it deliberately, and would bloody enjoy it, laughing that big throaty laugh of his as the extent of the disappointment becomes clear across the naïve, unspoilt face of whatever seven-year-old he’d inflicted it on. Tony Pulis.

Just imagine him sitting there on Christmas Day, in a worn arm chair he’s too mean to have recovered, in his tracksuit and brand new baseball cap with the cardboard ‘REDUCED £4.99’ label from Mike Ashley’s Sporting Goods Emporium still dangling from the clasp at the back, drinking Lidl’s own-brand red wine from the renowned vineyards of Pakistan. Imagine how loud that laugh would get as the children find, once more, that their stocking fillers are oranges and bananas.

Pulis, the sort of man who insists the kids can only have wooden toys, most of which he’s made himself, and not because he’s worried about all the plastic going in the sea and ruining his £2.89 Friday fish supper with chips and gravy, but because it’s all he ever got, during the fucking war, and pragmatic, dogmatic lessons in the harsh realities of life/football are so much more rewarding than the joy on a child’s/young footballer’s face. Especially at Christmas. Now get that ball punted into that channel and get after it. Later, an Asda Rollback ham terrine, which looks, smells and tastes an awful lot like the Asda Rollback cat food.

In all seriousness, he’s not who we want to see this Saturday is he? Yawping over the Westway, dressed like an angry pensioner who used to dig for coal until Thatcher told him he wasn’t allowed to any more, in the freezing cold, and the pouring rain, in the midst of a vintage QPR December run of no wins in four games, with a team built to belt the air out of the ball and as many opponents as they can get close to. Remember that brutally effective Middlesbrough team that won 3-0 here last season and existed purely to destroy all obstacles between them and the ultimate goal of getting the ball to Adama Traore? Well, this season they’re like that, without Adama Traore. They did want our own Luke ‘Lukey’ Freeman, in what would have been the closest thing to an NFL designated kicker ever seen in association football – in the team purely to plant all the free kicks and corners square onto the forehead of Aden Flint who would have top scored in this league with about 37 goals had the move gone through. Without him and instead, they’ve gone for the full grind, with just 14 goals conceded all season long easily the best defensive record in the division. As ever, he’s getting results – Boro are sixth even despite a recent wobble and God knows we’d love to be sixth, we nearly pissed our knickers when we went eighth for a couple of hours recently. But, as ever, there’s not a lot of joy to be found in watching him do it.

All Steve McClaren wants for Christmas is some better news from the treatment room. Last week’s defeat at Leeds came at a heavy cost with Angel Rangel and Geoff Cameron both now ruled out for a couple of months while Tomer Hemed is also sidelined by his ongoing groin problem and Grant Hall is, well, being Grant Hall again. Coming up against an experienced, physical side, it’s less than ideal to be losing your experienced, physical players all at once like that but it is a somewhat inevitable consequence of relying on ageing loan players and temporary signings to play every single minute of every single game.

Having Darnell Furlong back in for a stretch of games is no bad thing. It may not be ideal tomorrow, because while the Boro fans have George Friend as their public enemy number one at the moment and he is well past his impressive best he is a player that tends to play well against QPR, and against Furlong. But he was meant to be our first choice right back this season prior to his knee injury, he was playing well towards the end of last season all across the back four, he is a good player and he adds a real aerial threat in both boxes as well as a useful outball to the right wing from the goalkeeper or the defence that Rangel doesn’t. Also, while Rangel has undoubtedly been a great short term signing, and is very important in the dressing room by all accounts, we have been conceding a lot of goals lately after having our offside trap sprung and while it was Leistner playing Roofe on at Leeds last week, Rangel was the man who’d dropped too deep for Stoke’s second and Hull’s third, as well as being targeted in the air for Rotherham’s first. Like I say, probably not ideal tomorrow against Boro, but maybe no bad thing for Furlong to be stepping back in at this juncture. Assuming he doesn’t do something mental like stick Jordan Cousins there.

Hemed has fallen behind Nahki Wells in the pecking order anyway and McClaren has been reaching for Matt Smith rather than him when trying to change things in recent games. A few more opportunities from the bench for Bright Osayi-Samuel, or perhaps U23 goal machine Aramide Oteh, would, again, actually be quite welcome.

The replacement of Cameron will be the tricky thing. Like his team mates, recent performances haven’t reached the standards of his September and October, but Rangers have struggled without him all season long. Josh Scowen, so key to Ian Holloway’s team, has not played well for a few months now and upset his manager with his ridiculous behaviour at Blackpool where he had to be substituted before half time to stop him getting sent off, and the late challenge on Ben Brereton at Blackburn which resulted in their match winning penalty. On for Cameron at Leeds last week, he was booked within a minute. He’s the obvious choice, and may benefit from a run of starts, but he needs to improve rapidly on recent showings. Cousins is another option there who has struggled for form, Grant Hall could do the job but I’m not sure McClaren shares Holloway’s enthusiasm for the idea of him as a midfielder and he can’t get out of bed without suffering a compound fracture of the shin so he’s a non-starter in every sense of the term.

Worth remembering also that Mass Luongo will fly to the Asia Cup with Australia in January – a tournament it looks like he’ll have a big role in following the news of Aaron Moy’s own two month lay off up at Huddersfield. That means that in little over a fortnight we will in all likelihood be without the first choice ‘2’ in the 4-2-3-1 system that McClaren prefers. A recall for Ryan Manning from Rotherham looks likely now, though after an explosive start to life in South Yorkshire his form and first team selection has drifted of late – a familiar pattern from his start to life at QPR as well.

All of which makes us rather grateful we’ve stuck as many points on the board as we have already, and those Christmas fixtures at home to Ipswich and Reading – two of the three worst teams in this league along with Bolton – will need to be taken advantage of. In the meantime, more obvious 0-1 away win I’ve rarely seen on the coupon than Boro at home tomorrow. Merry Christmas. And there’s that laugh again.

Links >>> Six goal thriller – History >>> Stuttering Boro – Interview >>> Langford returns – Referee

Geoff Cameron Facts #15 – While playing for the Long Island Sea Snails, Geoff survived a vote of confidence in his captaincy with 107% of the vote.

Saturday

Team News: It looks like Steve McClaren will be forced to change his settled side by injury to two key players at Leeds. Geoff Cameron didn’t reappear for the second half at Elland Road after a nasty tackle by Kalvin Phillips and Angel Rangel left the action in injury time at the end of the game without a replacement being available. Darnell Furlong will get a first start of the season at right back if Rangel doesn’t make it while Jordan Cousins, Josh Scowen and, who knows, maybe even Grant Hall will compete to replace Cameron at the base of the midfield. Likely to be as you were elsewhere, although two decent showings off the bench in as many games should really be seeing Bright Osayi-Samuel push for a start ahead of Pawel Wszolek who’s been poor since the highs of the Brentford game. We’re offering two places for your kids on Tony Roberts’ Dealing With Tricky Back Passes Christmas Skills School for any sighting of Sean Goss.

Mo Besic is on the naughty step for one match after getting himself into all kinds of trouble against Blackburn and then trying to extricate himself from it by pulling Bradley Dack away from his dinner. Never a good idea. Lewis Wing is a doubt with a hurt feeling while Dael Fry is missing after being emotionally blackmailed.

Elsewhere: Several matches in the Lancashire and District Senior League under threat of postponement for water logged pitches this weekend as a river of tears washes through the division at the news that the Champions of Europe may have placed all their eggs in the wrong rich foreigner’s basket once more. News broke on Wednesday that Andrea Radrizzani is seeking investment and insurance options for Leeds next season should they not be promoted to the riches of the Premier League. Radrizzani made high profile rights plays for live matches from La Liga, Serie A and UFC over the summer for his Eleven Sports streamer but having placed substandard coverage nobody wants to watch in a place where nobody can see it without yet another subscription he’s found that (shock fucking horror) nobody’s watching, or paying, and the business is already on the bones of its arse.

The Telegraph reports that assurances over funding are already being sought for next season should promotion not be achieved, while Here Is The City (a bastion of quality journalism) says the club potentially going to the wall again should it narrowly miss out on promotion to the likes of West Brom, Villa, Boro, Sheff Utd or Norwich is terrific news for Leeds fans because it means they’ll try extra hard. It also says they’re currently top of the league, which is about as accurate as everything else they’ve ever published.

One potential crisis club visits one that’s in a permanent state this weekend as Leeds go to Bolton, where the wages for November still haven’t been paid and the PFA has abandoned its previous plan to meet those costs for the club owing to ongoing financial concerns. Wanderers are second bottom, without a win in 11 games, above only Ipswich Blue Sox who’ve still only won once all season ahead of this weekend’s visit from Wigan Warriors.

The weekend is bookended by two potentially outstanding matches live on the tellybox – no sarcasm. Sheffield Red Stripes at home to all-out-attack West Brom on the Friday has the potential to be a classic at this level, and then on Monday evening it’s the big East Midlands rivalry between Frank Lampard’s Derby County and Nottingham Trees. League leaders Borussia Norwich go to Bristol City in the Saturday evening game so, credit where it’s due, in a festering swamp of mediocrity there are three potentially excellent games for your viewing pleasure over the next four nights.

In unrelated news, Preston Knob End are at home to Millwall Scolars and Rotherham host Reading.

Big weekend for Spartak Hounslow last time out, with another moral victory against Swanselona moving them two points clear at the top of the Justice League. To the untrained eye, a 3-2 defeat in which they were 3-0 down before half time, a seventh defeat in nine games, but when you look into it, it’s a very different story. The first Swans goal came directly from the kick off while the all-conquering Bees were trying to play out from the back, which shouldn’t really be allowed as it’s stopping young players expressing themselves and playing football the way it’s supposed to be played. The second is an own goal, but Chris Mepham is one of the greatest young centre halves in the world at the moment so we’re not counting that either. The third comes off a Panenka-style cross which is just showboating and that’s really not fair to demoralise young players like that so also disallowed. To have all that go against you and still nearly come back and draw anyway is worthy of enormous praise, and two points. They’ll almost certainly be the best team the Allam Tigers have played all season when they meet on Humberside on Saturday.

Big Racist John and the Boys are at home to Stoke while Blackburn v Birmingham is this weekend’s exciting fixture between two teams beginning with B, and Swanselona v Sheffield Owls is the lesser spotted fixture between two teams beginning with S. Wednesday with one win in nine and on the verge of another managerial change, with Jos Luhukay reportedly about to be dispatched back to whatever school railings they found him peering through in the first place. Best off out of it mate.

Referee: After suffering at the hands of a cockwomble alliance of Andy Woolmer, Jeremy Simpson and Peter Bankes across the last three games, we’ve been thrown a bit of a bone by the appointments secretary this weekend with the league’s most reasonable and lenient official Oliver Langford in town, just as he was for this fixture last season. And there’s absolutely no way in the world that comment can blow up right in my face. No way at all. Details here.

Form

QPR: Rangers have one win in six and no wins in four coming into this fixture, sinking back down to fourteenth in the league after the highs of ninth following five wins and a draw from seven games through October and November. The defeat against Hull here last time out was the fourth home loss of the season already – Rangers only lost six at Loftus Road in the whole of last season. Two more goals conceded in defeat at Leeds a week ago was the fifth game in a row the R’s have shipped at least two and they’ve conceded 11 goals across that five-game stint having previously kept three clean sheets in a row. Rangers haven’t scored direct from a free kick since Yeni Ngbakoto did so in a 4-1 win at Birmingham in February 2017 – 82 games ago. Having been booked once in the first 11 games, Joel Lynch has now received five yellow cards in nine games, including three in his last four. Only two more attempts to get that annual Christmas in Dubai booked in though Joel – 9/2 with William Hill for a red card in this game, 8/1 it’s a QPR player with Sky Bet.

Boro: Middlesbrough have gone a bit wobbly of late, with no wins in the last three and two wins in the last eight to drop out of the automatic promotion places down to sixth. Five of those eight, and two of the last three, have been draws and only Forest (ten) have drawn more times than Tony Pulis’ side this season. But Boro are unbeaten away from home in six games, and have by far and away the best defensive record in the league with just 14 conceded – Leeds are next with 18 and then Forest with 22. They have conceded five in the last three though (including three at home to Villa) and are without a clean sheet in four matches after three in the previous four. Boro haven’t scored more than two goals in a league game since the opening home match of the season – a 3-0 win against Sheff Utd – and have scored one goal or fewer in 13 of their 21 matches. They’ve drawn 0-0 on four occasions in the league already this season to QPR’s one.

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. Reigning champion Elliott was right to call a defeat at Leeds but what’s he saying this week?

“As expected, a defeat at Elland Road. Another two goals shipped in and with a big, physical side in Middlesbrough coming to town on Saturday, I will be surprised if there’s no changes at the back. Eleven goals conceded in the last five games isn’t good enough. Boro look poor when I’ve seen them recently. The first goal in this game will be huge.”

Elliott’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Boro. Scorer – Mass Luongo

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 0-1 Boro. No scorer.

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RrsssOntheline added 17:24 - Dec 14
Brilliant article Clive. Grins galore! 3 NIL to the R'sss..
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joolsyp added 18:03 - Dec 14
Possibly the best match preview I've ever read. I guffawed at that image of Pulis in his armchair on christmas day. Thanks Clive!
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knocker added 18:05 - Dec 14
Think you're talking up Freeman too much!
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AgedR added 22:14 - Dec 14
It’s actually a Liberty us getting this quality of writing for nitch.

Thanks Clive. If an stranger hands you a Peroni in the Crown one day, it’ll be me.
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SimonJames added 22:31 - Dec 14
The downside of QPR being on an upward trajectory is that we don't necessarily get to experience the full range of your acerbic talents.
Thanks for all the laughs.
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TacticalR added 14:39 - Dec 15
Thanks for your preview.

Tony Pulis. He upsets small children.

Geoff Cameron has become pretty key for us so his injury is a blow, even if Middlesbrough are stuttering.
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