One year on - Preview
Monday, 31st Dec 2018 19:52 by Clive Whittingham
QPR see in 2019 at Aston Villa on New Year's Day. A tough game they'll do well to get anything from, but Rangers are in better shape than when they lost this time last year at Millwall.
Aston Villa (9-10-6, WDDLWD, 9th) v QPR (11-5-9, LLWWWD, 8th)
Lancashire and District Senior League >>> Tuesday January 1, 2019 >>> Kick off 15.00 >>> Weather – Bright and breezy >>> Villa Park, Birmingham
I spent the fortnightly ‘oh-my-God-what-have-I-done, oh-my-God-where’s-all-my-money-gone’ post-Crown and Sceptre Sunday morning Festival of Regret watching Crystal Palace v Chelsea this week. Well, I figured the self-loathing could do with a little top up (I hadn’t checked the previous night’s What’s App activity by this point) and, besides, the remote control was a good five and a half feet away and would have required a full roll and stretch to reach and put a much more pleasurable old episode of Air Crash Investigation on. So I stuck with it.
Crystal Palace, playing at home, started with nobody up front, and no real need for anybody there either given how often they moved the ball into the final third. Later, they brought on Conor Wickham, which is like having nobody up front but paying £50,000 a week for it. They didn’t score, registered just two shots on target, and reach the end of 2018 with a whopping five home goals all season. This doesn’t matter of course because they’re four points and four places away from the bottom three and not likely to end up there any time soon given the state of some of the teams below them. They are, very slowly, boring their way the completion of their mission, and the mission of two thirds of the team in the Premier League each season: bank the TV money, bank the revenue from the extortionately priced tickets, get to seventeenth, don’t whatever you do qualify for the Europa League, get out of both cups and get yourself off to Dubai for your lavish holidays.
It is “existence football” as Miguel Delaney from the Indy put it on Monday, and exactly what we’ve been banging about on here for years. Sport is supposed to be about medals, and trophies and achievement. What, exactly, is the point of all this, other than to make already rich people even wealthier still?
There’s been little sign of this filtering down in the Championship so far. Clubs with no parachute payments at all (Leeds, Sheffield United, Derby, Birmingham and Forest) or those in the final throws of them (Norwich, QPR) are competing for the top six positions while Swansea and Stoke, receiving the maximum amounts, are languishing in midtable. West Brom are the only one of last year’s relegated crop performing as their bank balance and spending power suggests they should. It is still possible – as we’ve seen at Sheff Utd, Huddersfield, Preston and Burnley – to go a long way in this league through running your club well, managing your team creatively, investing in infrastructure rather than wanker footballers and scouting players properly.
Whether that remains the case remains to be seen. The Premier League TV money is likely to become even more stratospheric when the big tech companies and Disney start eyeing rights that would make their SVoD services a must-have for football fans in this country and around the world, and with that will come bigger parachute payments and more clubs like Newcastle and Villa able to drop into our league and casually spend upwards of £10m each on three strikers and then, when they don’t work out, fork out the extortionate loan fees to cover those mistakes with the likes of Tammy Abraham anyway. Meanwhile clubs that try to keep up with that spend are hampered by Financial Fair Play legislation and should you shoot for the stars and fail to reach them you end up like Sheffield Wednesday and Birmingham surely shortly will be – under embargoes, and facing hefty point deductions.
If 'existence football' is to come to the Championship then Queens Park Rangers will have to work very hard not to be one of those clubs merely existing. As our parachute payments end next year, and assuming a surprise promotion doesn’t materialise this, all we can do is continue to try and do the right things we’ve been doing for the last three years under Lee Hoos and Les Ferdinand and hope it takes us where it took Huddersfield, Burnley and others.
Costs will have to come down again next year, and there’ll be some tough decisions to be made on contract renewals with several first team mainstays coming to the end of their current deals. We’ve relied heavily on the loan market this year, particularly up front where Nahki Wells has been heaven-sent, but there will be less money to spend on those temporary signings next year, and we’d be very lucky to get players of the quality and attitude of Wells, Tomer Hemed, Angel Rangel (slightly different I know) and Geoff Cameron again. Relying on loans is just as likely to land you with a half-arsed Marcus Bent or Tamas Priskin as it is a sublime player like Wells.
The rules on how many players Premier League clubs are allowed out on loan is changing too – the powers that be are trying to reduce it to six. Chelsea currently have more than 40 out and about and have 14 goalkeepers on their books and the rule change is designed to stop that stockpiling of talent. Hopefully it will flood the market with available players which could benefit us, but it will certainly make the ones they do loan out in future more expensive, and the competition to secure them fierce, which won’t. We’ve got three youth teamers now starting games regularly already, which is great progress, but we really are going to have to find some time to get some big minutes into the likes of Aremide Oteh, Paul Smyth, Bright Osayi-Samuel, Ilias Chair and others in the second half of the season because once the summer rocks round and the loans and contracts expire they’re going to be all we’ve got again.
But, on the positive side, QPR are clearly making steady progress in their recovery from years of ruinous management. The team is far better as 2018 turns to 2019 than it was on New Year’s Eve last year when Ian Holloway’s behaviour, antics and tactics in a 1-0 loss at Millwall finished him off in the eyes of many supporters and, crucially, several senior figures at the club. QPR were effectively looking for a new manager from that moment onwards and although he would say he kept the team midtable with a strike force of Matt Smith, Conor Washington and Idrissa Sylla while Steve McClaren has been allowed to add two strikers of a quality Holloway could only dream of having last season, his replacement has won more games, kept more clean sheets, and won more away games despite the loss of first choice defenders Nedum Onuoha and Jack Robinson and star goalkeeper Alex Smithies from last year’s line up. Toni Leistner has been an inspired signing, Joe Lumley goes from strength to strength.
I wrote this after that debacle at The Den, and while it was coloured by being forced to spend an hour in a cage after the match so Millwall can say matchday arrests are down and they’re the Family Club of the Year again, it’s clear that things weren’t terrific a year ago. They were, however, better than they’d been 12 months before that, and 12 months before that. That steady progress, at the same time as costs and the wage bill have had to be halved and halved again, is credit to the people running the club and is the only way we claw our way back out of the hole we dug for ourselves. Steady, sensible, calculated, incremental progress. There are challenges ahead next season in putting together a team even as good as the one we have now on less money and without these loan players, but I’m a good deal happier than I was 12 months ago, and in August for that matter.
Happier with this website as well, truth be told, while we’re in the mood for reflection. I feel like it’s had a bit of a return to form this season along with the team, and that’s been reflected in several lovely people taking time over Christmas to come up and say nice things to me in person at matches. Thanks for that, however mortally embarrassed I look I do appreciate it and it does mean a lot. While it’s all nonsense and frequently wrong and written from the point of view of a gobshite rather than anybody who knows anything about football it’s back to being something I would want to read myself. We’ve also added a couple of great columnists in Steve Hardy and Antti Heinola and we’re always looking for more.
That’s come with the return of a bit of confidence personally. It’s hard enough, particularly at this time of year when the games (and the loneliness) come so thick and fast, to sit here staring at a blank page every couple of nights and think of something to write when you’re restricted to Queens Park Rangers as a topic (not that we stay on topic very often of course). When you’re doing that while feeling shit about yourself and what you’re churning out it becomes doubly difficult and you end up slinging out any old bland rubbish. Nothing makes me feel quite as shit as QPR doing poorly, but there have been times in the past where social media has come close. There are people who exist there not to disagree with your point of view (which is fine) but to persistently, doggedly and determinedly come after, run down and bully people who, for whatever reason, want to run a website or a podcast about their club. It’s not enough for these people to disagree, and it’s apparently not an option for them to just avoid the output if they don’t like it - for them the enjoyment and the sport is in the constant drip, drip, drip of hostility towards people who support the same football club and whose only ‘crime’ is to be a regular guest on a weekly podcast, or run a blog for a few extra quid, or attend the fans forum, or sit on a committee trying to help the club in its new stadium efforts.
This drip, drip, drip comes constantly, day and night, piped into your phone, often waiting there for when you wake up. Any sort of response doubles, trebles and quadruples the flow. It’s weird behaviour, from weird people, to no apparent end other than to make the target feel miserable about themselves and the perpetrator, presumably, better about their own existence. We all, believe it or not, support the same club, but that “we’re all QPR aren’t we?” solidarity gets lost behind the need of some to be fucking vile to others.
I’ve seen it recently directed at others, but thankfully I no longer hear it myself. A New Year’s resolution this time last year to ignore/mute it all and just carry on regardless with what I want to do has slowly returned a bit of self-belief in what I’m writing, motivation to keep this site going, general happiness all round and the ability to sleep through the night. Hopefully you’re enjoying the results – the actual ones, and the stuff on here – as much as I am.
Happy New Year everybody and thanks for your support.
Geoff Cameron Facts #19 – On a recent visit to The Lamb pub in Chichester, Geoff insisted on being allowed to throw a copper kettle over the roof using an official Territorial Army method which broke the previous record and shattered the windscreen of a nearby Kia Sportage.
Team News: Josh Scowen was fortunate not to be sent off for a second yellow card against Reading which ended up being attributed to Darnell Furlong. The Rat is never far from a moment of gratuitous violence and with Rangers missing Geoff Cameron through injury and Mass Luongo at the Asia Cup they’re only one such brain explosion away from facing a tough January with Jordan Cousins and one of the U23’s in central midfield. Consequently, sensibly, Ryan Manning has been recalled from a loan at Rotherham and is available for this one – more than likely on the bench with a start next week in the cup against Leeds one would think. Angel Rangel has had thigh surgery and Tomer Hemed an op on a hernia so they’re long term absentees. We’re offering a place on the QPR bench for any sighting of Sean Goss – don’t worry about it, you won’t get on.
Giant Croatian goalkeeper Lovre Kalinic has signed a deal with Villa which will be completed as soon as the transfer window reopens, but that’s not in time for this game. Meantime, current first choice Orjan Nyland has suffered an Achilles injury in training which means Mark Bunn will play against Rangers. Villa have also seen fit to recall Jed Steer from a season long loan deal at Charlton to sit on the bench for this one match – a real example of the haves and have nots in this division against a team that’s playing with its youth team graduate in goal with back up from Wycombe alum Matt Ingram and that’s your lot.
Jack Grealish is out with a shin injury – perhaps some shin pads for Christmas? Axel Tuanzebe (rust) and Neil Taylor (perforated self-esteem) are both missing from the defence so Tommy Elphick has been recalled from a loan at Hull – seemed a bit odd letting him go there in the first place to be honest given their struggles to find a competent partner for James Chester at centre half this season.
Elsewhere: Pressure apparently continues to mount on Aitor Karanka at Nottingham Trees, who lost 1-0 at Millwall Scholars on Saturday to go five games without a win and four without a goal. Not about to get any easier either, they face the Champions of Europe tomorrow (who, as we know, won the league back in August) and then Chelsea in the FA Cup on Saturday.
Leeds were actually beaten at the weekend, by the resurgent Allam Tigers who can continue their climb up the table with a home win against Bolton this weekend – best get those points piled up before somebody snaffles Jarrod Bowen in January and the money disappears to wherever Assem and Ehab put the cash from the sales of Robert Snodgrass (£7m), Harry Maguire (£17m), Tom Huddlestone (£2m), Jake Livermore (£10m), Andrew Robertson (£8m), Sam Clucas (£16.5m) and Ahmed Elmohamady (£1m) I reckon. Still, fit and proper owners according to the Football League.
That loss didn’t matter so much to Marcelo Bielsa’s league leaders though as Borussia Norwich’s policy of only starting to play in the final 30 minutes of games came a cropper when, via a floodlight failure delay, Frank Lampard’s Derby County decided to do the same thing and ended up winning 4-3 with two goals in extended injury time. Norwich will struggle to recover from that against Spartak Hounslow, who will be the best side they’ve faced all season buoyed by another moral victory (0-0) at Birmingham on Saturday. Frank Lampard’s Derby County, meanwhile, are at home to faltering Pulisball.
West Brom are calmly plodding along in third despite a 1-1 draw with Sheffield Owls at the weekend. They’re at the Mad Chicken Farmers this week, who have quietly slid down the table without anybody noticing in recent weeks, while the Owls can make it three wins from four under caretaker manager Lee Bullen if they beat Birmingham at Hillsborough. Gary Rowett is another manager being linked with the chop at Stoke after a defeat at Birmingham and 0-0 draw at Bolton which was every bit as good as was promised in the brochure. They have a tricky home one with Bristol City to start 2019 with.
It took Rotherham going down to nine men (no arguments with those red cards) at Ashton Gate to get City over the line at the weekend, and that result along with Bolton’s point means Paul Warne’s side are into the bottom three for the first time this season prior to hosting Preston Knob End. Below them, Ipswich Blue Sox are at home to fellow struggles Millwall Scolars and Reading will hope to continue their form from Saturday with a home game against a Swanselona side that’s lost five and drawn one of its last eight. Promotion chasing Sheffield Red Stripes are away to the Wigan Warriors.
Referee: Rangers have won eight and drawn two of their ten league matches with James Linington so far, including this season’s thrilling 3-2 home win against Brentford. They have lost twice to lower league teams in the cup under his watch mind, and will really have to go some to maintain the league record at Villa Park. Details here.
Villa: Aston Villa have only lost one of ten games since they were beaten 1-0 at Loftus Road – and they were leading that one 2-0 against Leeds here on December 23 before going down 3-2. They have only won one of the last five though, with three draws, and have conceded 15 goals in their last eight games, including five in one against Forest here so they are gettable at the back. At home they’ve only lost one of the last seven but have won none of their last three with draws against Stoke (2-2) and Forest (5-5) to go with the Leeds loss. Only third placed West Brom (53) have scored more than their 47 goals this season but you have to look down as far as Blackburn in fifteenth to find a team that’s conceded as many as Villa’s 38. Second bottom Reading have shipped 37, fourth bottom Bolton 32.
QPR: While disappointed not to win, Rangers did keep a third straight clean sheet against Reading at the weekend, the second time this season they’ve locked teams out for three consecutive games – Villa were involved in the first run with their 1-0 loss at Loftus Road following a 2-0 win at Ipswich and 3-0 at home to Sheffield Wednesday. Rangers have now kept ten clean sheets this season – which is their best run since they kept 17 in the 2013/14 promotion season, the last time Steve McClaren was involved in the club. Saturday’s man of the match Joe Lumley has kept 11 clean sheets from 21 appearances in all competitions this season – ten from 20 played in the league. Another game without defeat stretches the unbeaten record to four and means the R’s have only lost three of the last 15. Jake Bidwell, Ebere Eze and Luke Freeman are ever present in the league so far, with 25 starts each, with Toni Leistner one back on 24 and Joel Lynch on 23. QPR have won away games already this season compared to three in the whole of last – but one of those three was a 3-1 success at Villa Park in March.
Prediction: Congratulations to DanRanger who held off the challenge from DerbyHoop to top the Prediction League at Christmas – we’ll be in touch this week about your goodies from our generous sponsor The Art of Football. It’s tight at the top though so still plenty of time to overhaul Dan and be crowned overall winner in May. Get involved here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Reigning champion Elliott tells us…
“Reading was a funny old game. We had the best two chances yet we never really controlled the game. Due to McClaren not making any changes until the 90th minute, I expect some rotation for this one. We were very flat against Reading which is understandable considering we’ve played the same 11 for the majority of the Christmas period. We were absolutely fantastic against Villa at home but I think it’ll be very tough to repeat that here.”
Elliott’s Prediction: Villa 2-0 QPR. No scorer.
LFW’s Prediction: Villa 2-1 QPR. Scorer – Nahki Wells
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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Letters from Wiltshire #48 by wessex_exile
“And now the end is near, and so we face the final curtain…regrets, we’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention”. Not quite right Paul Anka, probably more than a few, but otherwise a fair assessment of where the U’s are today. It’ll be interesting to see how we perform with the relegation monkey finally off their back – I’m not expecting miracles, particularly with Tranmere needing at least a point to guarantee making the play-offs, but they’ll certainly be more nervous than we will be, so can we make that count? This will be my last blog of the season, and not yet sure what I may or may not do for next season, but suggestions are always welcome.
Letters from Wiltshire #47 by wessex_exile
Here we are, at the penultimate game of the season, and our last game in front of the cardboard U’s faithful at the JobServe. It has been a long, difficult, and definitely strange season, which frankly I’ll be glad to see the back of. That’ll we’ll be here again in August is definitely going to be something to celebrate, but I suspect we’re facing a summer of significant rebuilding both on the pitch, and possibly off it too. I won’t be the only one, but the biggest oddity for me has been being able to watch every single game – not always easy viewing, but something I’ve never done before, and probably never will again. But it doesn’t really make up for not being there in person, the long train journey away-days, meeting fellow U’s and other supporters, and of course sharing a beer or three. Fingers-crossed we can return to the terraces in 2021/22.
Letters from Wiltshire #46 by wessex_exile
That was quite a week for us all then. In the space of four short but remarkably tense days we have gone from having to take shoes and socks off to check how many more points we need to guarantee survival, or whether we would even achieve it, to breathing a huge sigh of relief knowing we’re almost there. But close of play this afternoon, whether by our own actions or the failure of others, I am sure survival will be confirmed. Of course, Tuesday night not only all but guaranteed it, it also virtually condemned local rivals Southend United to non-league football for the foreseeable. Looking at the host of fully professional former football league sides currently battling it out for the two promotion slots out of the National league (including Hartlepool, Torquay, Stockport, Wrexham, Chesterfield and Notts County), it is not going to be a walk in the park for Southend to return any day soon.
Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
Tonight, Colchester United face Southend United in what may not necessarily be the most important game of our respective histories (though it’s certainly very close), but is almost certainly the most important Essex derby ever. However this season pans out, by the end of it there’ll either be only one team in Essex, or worst case scenario, none at all. If the U’s win, then Southend will be 9pts behind with just three games to go, and a minimum of a -12 goal difference to overturn if they want to overtake us. Certainly mathematically possible, but that would rely on a remarkable turnaround in their form, form that they’ve shown precious little sign of achieving so far this season. The stalking horse is Grimsby, with their game in hand, who have rather belatedly shown an improvement in form, so their match against automatic promotion chasing Morecambe tonight is equally important, particularly if we want to avoid the unthinkable, with both Essex clubs dropping out of the league.
Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
So here we are, as the nation mourns the passing of His Royal Highness, Duke of Edinburgh, the U’s face the first of two season-defining moments, with our late kick-off match at home to Walsall. Before then, no doubt many will have been focused on events elsewhere, not least the early kick-offs for Grimsby (at home to promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers), and particularly Essex rivals Southend United, who faced a tricky visit to Exeter City – still very much in the hunt for at least a play-off spot. As I finalise this blog, I know that Grimsby have beaten Bolton 2-1, and Southend earned a credible 0-0 draw in the West Country. More to the point, the U’s will know this too. Whilst I can’t help but feel that will ought to be to our advantage, it surely must also put additional pressure on a squad whose confidence is paper-thin. We must hope that Hayden Mullins, assisted by Paul Tisdale, get their heads right, and send the lads out this evening fired up with self-belief.
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