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Sheffield United 1 v 0 Queens Park Rangers
Barclays Premier League
Saturday, 12th January 2019 Kick-off 15:00
QPR's form and confidence faces stiff Sheff Utd test - Preview
Friday, 11th Jan 2019 19:36 by Clive Whittingham

QPR are back to league action on Saturday with a tough - but given our new found ability to play away from home - exciting trip to high flying Sheffield United.

Sheff Utd (14-5-7, LDWWWL, 3rd) v QPR (11-6-9, WWWDDW, 9th)

Lancashire and District Senior League >>> Saturday January 12, 2019 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Grey and windy >>> Bramall Lane, Sheffield

QPR fans who haven’t been going to away games since the days of Charlie Austin rampaging around and “AT LEAST BARTON TRIES” are in the grip of FA Cup fever; racing around the internet doing the Team America secret signal and demanding to know why they can’t have a ticket to Portsmouth away in the fourth round immediately and why Andy Sinton won’t deliver it personally to their front door.

For QPR fans who have been huddling together for warmth in empty away ends for the last couple of years wondering where all those people went just when the club needed them most, it’s business as usual in the Championship this weekend. Another trek up north for one of those boring, run-of-the-mill, league games for which there are, funnily enough, loads of tickets still available. Pay on the door. A welcome distraction from the steady stream of text messages from folks we haven’t heard from in yonks enquiring about what we might be doing with our loyalty points in a fortnight’s time.

Ouch. I know, bitch right? Sorry. (Not sorry).

Forced to go a few days without scheduling a match while Jake Humphrey and Dan Walker groaned about the ‘magic of the cup’ and circle jerked over clips of that Ronnie Radford goal, the Championship rather lost its mind. There’s a new manager at Stoke, there’ll be a new manager at Sheff Wed just as soon as the England tour of the West Indies is over, and also at Forest where the mini-Mourinho Aitor Karanka cycle of spend all the money-draw all the games-fall out with all the people-demand more money to spend-flounce off has rounded its final corner once more.

Leeds have been spying on Frank Lampard’s Derby County, Bolton are skint again (shock) and Birmingham City have finally released that most glorious of modern football phenomena – a set of accounts from a season when Harry Redknapp was managing your club. A red-letter day for football finance enthusiasts and people who want to beat the recent cold snap by warming themselves around a big pile of money on fire. Still, he was bloody funny in the Jungle though wasn’t he? Wasn’t he? Eh? Did you see him, in the Jungle? Wasn’t he funny? Wasn’t he?

For QPR, motoring along quite nicely cheers, it’s a trip to Sheffield United. A game between one team firmly in the play-off places and eyeing the top two, and another well in contention for a surprise run at the top six themselves. Therefore an odd choice, you would think, for Chuckles Woolmer’s afternoon of physical activity insisted upon by the carers at his home. A referee who controls games like the bastard love child of Father Jack and Frank Spencer for a top third of the Championship clash between two physical sides? Ok, it’s your funeral.

Rangers are as long as 5/1 with some bookies for this, so reducing the whole thing down to the complete lottery Woolmer’s games often become might not be a bad thing. Whether those odds are entirely fair, or reflective of Rangers’ recent results and performances, I’m not so sure – but then given my record of predictions and the lack of former bookmakers begging for coppers at Old Street tube station I suspect they probably are.

Sheffield United are a good, physically strong, attacking team with two and a half years of consistent forward momentum behind them since Chris Wilder came into the club and transformed it into a winning machine as he’d done previously with Alfreton, Halifax, Oxford and Northampton. They’ve strengthened in January already, bringing in England youth international Kieran Dowell from Everton. While a similarly eye-catching summer loan deal for Liverpool’s Ben Woodburn fell flat, QPR fans who were at Nottingham Forest last season will need no reminder of the havoc Dowell can wreak when he’s on one. He comes into a confident team, fully comfortable with the system it uses and formidable opposition on their own patch. Swansea won here on day one during an oddly slow start for the Blades but since then only Leeds and West Brom have done likewise – two of the top four, and only by narrow margins, and only thanks to superb young goalkeeper Dean Henderson’s uncharacteristic error in the first instance.

It's shaping up to be an intriguing second half of the season at the top of the league. Two of the relegated teams with the biggest parachute payments haven’t competed at all while the third, West Brom, have just had their best player recalled midway through a loan spell. Five of the top nine, including Sheff Utd, are there without receiving a parachute payment at all while Norwich and our good selves are in the last year of theirs/ours. The Birmingham news, and almost certain points deduction, brings it home once more that you can gamble and win (Leicester, Bournemouth, Wolves) but you’re also very likely to bet the house and end up sleeping under a bridge at the railway station. Forest’s results have nose-dived since a visit from the chairman to the training ground in November and an impassioned speech/ill advised bollocking to players and staff that after an outlay north of £20m last summer it’s promotion this season or hellish consequences beyond. Consequences about to be born by Brum, and Sheff Wed shortly after that given their chairman’s recent statement at a fans forum: “We didn’t just break the rules a little, we broke them a lot, eight figures.”

As Sheff Utd are showing, it is perfectly possible to cut straight through this division without the outlandish spend if you run your club properly and your manager is on board with that and shrewd as fuck. Huddersfield and Burnley have done it, Preston haven’t been a million miles away, the Blades have a great chance of emulating them.

Naturally, this being Shaun Harvey’s Football League, we don’t know what the actual punishments are for clubs that ignored the rules and missed. Birmingham’s hearing, scheduled for February, will be a test case and the league are pushing for a 12-point deduction with the breach aggravated by their £2.3m signing of Kristian Pedersen from Union Berlin last summer when they were supposed to be under an embargo. Should clubs who tried to give it the full QPR 2014 approach and failed suddenly start having a dozen points lopped off left right and centre then those Sheff Utd/Huddersfield/Burnley/Preston types have a better chance still.

That’s exactly the long game QPR CEO Lee Hoos has been playing during the last few tough years at Loftus Road, as he outlined to us in November.

Playing devil’s advocate, why not gamble again? Are we to just resign ourselves to sitting in the middle of the Championship balancing the books forever more?

Two reasons. One, history has shown money doesn’t buy you everything. Look at what Huddersfield did, Burnley did, Sheffield United are doing. Money isn’t always the answer. Secondly, if you did decide to do it, what if 20 other teams all decide to gamble that year as well? There’s still only three going up, and the other 17 would be left to reflect on it not working out and then what?

Well, exactly, then what? Because we don’t know what the punishments are do we?

We’ll find out soon because there are clubs that are going to be in the dock for this soon and it’s been widely reported that the league will push for a 12-point deduction. Every March every club has to submit Future Financial Information (FFI) to the league, and you wouldn’t be able to lie on that because the league knows what player contracts you’re committed to and they’re your biggest source of expense. They can see how much you’re going to lose and can see if you’re going to breach at which point they step in and your only way out then is to sell a lot of players over the summer. They monitor it, they can see if you’re going to be in breach and if that’s the case then even before they’ve seen that third set of audited accounts they can take action. If you think you can slip under the radar and by the time they realise it you’re in the Premier League, it tends not to work that way.

I think it’s changed the way clubs are going to be run moving forwards. A manager can’t just come in and say ‘I want this player, this player and this player’ any more. You have to look at the future impact of committing to three- and four-year contracts. We’re constantly running future scenarios and not just worrying about the current season. We’ve used the loan market this season because if we’d gone out and tried to buy those three players, or their equivalent, that would have been at least a three-year commitment going forwards at a time when we’re about to lose our parachute payments. It’s trying to balance costs and revenues as best we can.

Meantime, QPR are handily placed for a decent end to this season. They’re not a soft touch away from home any more, and they’ll certainly need that character and toughness tomorrow in one of the most difficult away fixtures on the calendar this season. But we’re up there, we’re playing well, and East Midlands Trains have already taken my £53 (thankyou very much indeed please take me by the ankles and shake me to see if there’s anything left in there) so we’re on our way first thing in the morning.

On a scale of one to excited, I’m at six.

Links >>> Wilder’s Sheff Utd regen – Interview >>> Our reciprocal bit for them – Interview >>> Warnock gets Blackwell sacked – History >>> Chuckles Woolmer – Referee >>> Lovely, lovely Darnell Furlong – Podcast

Geoff Cameron Facts #21 - Geoff has 1,201 loyalty points.

Saturday

Team News: QPR made five changes for their FA Cup win against Leeds last week but are almost certain to recall Toni Leistner and Joel Lynch at centre half, with Darnell Furlong moving back to the right side of the defence. Pawel Wszolek and Nahki Wells will also return to the attack at the expense of Bright Osayi-Samuel and Aramide Oteh despite their impressive performances in the cup. Joe Lumley will be back in goal. Geoff Cameron, Tomer Hemed and Angel Rangel are long term absentees although Rangel Tweeted that he expects to be back on the grass running next week. Grant Hall got through his first 90 minutes since David Attenborough’s terrible twos against Leeds but is likely to return to the bench for this. Massimo Luongo is away with Australia. If you really did think Redknapp was funny in the jungle and you fancy listening to the old twat lie to you for an evening we’re offering one VIP pass to his forthcoming speaking tour for any sighting of Sean Goss. Second prize is two tickets etc etc.

Gary Madine fucking hates Sheffield United, and Billy Sharp in particular, but if you’re one of those compulsive types that just has to transfer players then, I don’t know… DENVER. He may debut here. Of more concern, Kieran Dowell, who tore QPR a new arse at Nottingham Forest last season, is also in line for a first start after arriving on loan from Everton. A year of therapy flushed down the toilet. Pesky little Scouse boy. Sharp, John Egan and all the rest of the first teamers rested for last weekend’s cup exit to Barnet will be recalled, with Chris Wilder essentially saying afterwards that he was so disgusted with the performance of their replacements that some of them will never play for the club again. Unsurprisingly, that includes our former charge Conor Washington who is ruled out of this one with sad eyes.

Elsewhere: Sky Sports Leeds are showing… Leeds tonight and as if the clash between the Champions of Europe and Frank Lampard’s Derby County needed any spicing up for a television company that’s stopped only just short of showing their U14 games this season, then today’s revelation that a Leeds employee was caught using binoculars to watch Derby’s training sessions through the fence has certainly done that anyway. Before having his collar felt, Marcelo Bielsa’s version of James Bond just had time to spot Lampard sending his team on an extra long run around the pitches at the far end so he could have the first crack at the breakfast buffet.

Once Leeds and Derby have played that’s basically the Championship weekend over with as we know, and nothing highlights that more than Sky’s Saturday night game being Millwall Scholars v the Mad Chicken Farmers. Good excuse to go and get that mould off the shower I reckon.

Alas, the rest of us have got to get out of the house at some point though so they’ve laid a few meaningless games on for us out of the kindness of their hearts. Resurgent Allam Tigers are so resurgent that Allam says he’s now going to stay after all – bloody hell Adkins now look what you’ve done. Sheffield Owls should be having their first game under a new manager there this weekend but Steve Bruce has tickets to the test in Barbados, and wants his first game to be against Ipswich (clever girl), so he’s sacking it off until February. That sounds like the sort of thing we often make up in this bit of the preview to release the pressure valve on the intense, excruciating boredom that builds up through nine months of this festering, pointless, mediocre, crap excuse for a football league. But, actually, on this occasion, it’s true. We’ll have to up our game.

The Karanka cycle outlined earlier has coincided perfectly with the annual cycle of Nottingham Trees – spend loads of money, give it the big un, start well and draw comparisons between the manager and Brian Clough, fall apart around Christmas, sack manager. Slavisa Jokanovic is tipped as the next man in there, for 12 months and no more, as they prepare to go to Reading. To be fair if I was Karanka I wouldn’t have wanted to go to Reading tomorrow/ever either.

Bristol City v Bolton Wanderers is this weekend’s exciting match between two teams beginning with B and, wouldn’t you just know it, Bolton are skint again. This has come to light now because the players they borrowed in the summer (when they were skint) and promised to pay for in January (when they were always still going to be skint) are now returning to their parent clubs, deals undone and wages unpaid. Particularly harsh on Forest Green’s Christian Doidge who thought he’d secured a three-year contract in the Championship but now finds himself back in League Two. Closing the transfer window but leaving it open for loans was always a nonsense anyway but Bolton have used that loophole to secure the use of several players for half a season by lying. It’s a sporting advantage that wouldn’t have been open to clubs playing by the rules. At the very least, if it doesn’t end in punishment for Wanderers and an end to the nonsense situation in August altogether, it should ensure that clubs now have to pay for those players up front.

Anyway, got all serious for a bit there. Ipswich Blue Sox v Rotherham United eh? Fuck me. Never mind the quality, feel the width.

Stoke City have a new manager, although quite what sin Nathan Jones committed in a previous life for his managerial career to start with stints in Luton and Stoke God only knows. I’d have left it a week before accepting, Steve Bruce-style, if I was him though because it’s Spartak Hounslow this weekend, fresh from a 1-0 battering of Oxford United and almost certainly set to be the best team Stoke have played all season.

Birmingham v Middlesbrough it says here. Those accounts show they lost three quarters of a million pounds a week and breached FFP by £11m. That’ll be 12 points please. Still, wasn’t ‘Arry funny in the Jungle? Wasn’t he though? Wasn’t he? Preston Knob End v Swanselona it says here, and Big Racist John and The Boys up at Wigan Warriors, but I’m too angry to care.

Obviously the game of the weekend is second placed Borussia Norwich travelling to third placed West Brom, who’ve just had excellent young boy Harvey Barnes recalled by Leicester. The Baggies’ executive VP of putting a brave face on things told the West Bromwich Bugle earlier today: “Bugger”.

Referee: Eighteen months ago Chuckles Woolmer had basically retired from refereeing. And this was a jolly good idea, because he wasn’t very good at it. His marks over a decade with QPR were 4, 4, 4, 5, 4, 4, 7, 2 and 3. He didn’t referee at all in the second half of 2016/17 and then in 2017/18 returned only for 23 appointments entirely in Leagues One and Two. Somehow though, he’s now deemed fit for an Indian summer in the Championship. Not only that, but he’s being given games like this, between two teams in play-off contention. If he stays true to form the whole thing is a complete lottery from here on in. History and stats.

Form

Sheff Utd: The Blades have won seven, drawn three and lost three at home this season with promotion chasers Leeds and West Brom the only victorious away teams at Bramall Lane since Swansea won here on the opening day of the season. They fielded a complete reserve team for last week’s home loss to Barnet in the FA Cup so effectively arrive into this game on a run of three straight league wins against Derby, Blackburn and Wigan in which they scored three goals on each occasion. Only Villa (49) and Norwich (48) have scored more than United’s 45 league goals this season.

QPR: Rangers are unbeaten in six matches since their last visit to Yorkshire ended in a narrow 2-1 reverse at Leeds before Christmas. Since then they’ve beaten Middlesbrough, Forest, Ipswich and Leeds and drawn with Reading and Villa. They kept three clean sheets in those six games after a run of seven games without one – they have recorded eight shutouts in the Championship so far this season. Away from home, having won only three games last season, Rangers have won four, drawn four and lost five. Their 14 goals scored away from home this season is, however, the lowest total in the top 15 of the Championship. Nahki Wells scored twice, for Bradford, in his only previous appearance against Sheff Utd.

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 (promise) 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.

I can’t raise our reigning champion Elliott so you’re stuck with me to say I think well give a good account of ourselves and come up just short, almost certainly with some sort of Woolmer breakdown along the way.

LFW’s Prediction; Sheff Utd 2-1 QPR. Scorer – Nahkiiiiiiiiiiiiii Wells.

The Twitter @loftforwords

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Myke added 22:20 - Jan 11
Cheers Clive, it would be very impressive to get something here but feel Sheffield carry too much fire-power. 3-1 (Pav)
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snanker added 04:13 - Jan 12
Ta Clive, we keep stepping up enjoying the physical challenge so reckon there is no reason we cant nick something here. Come on you Rr'sssssssssssss
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ShotKneesHoop added 09:46 - Jan 12
Clive, dear boy.

Top, top triffick preview, especially the many references to Pinocchio Wheleer-Dealer Camdleface Wide Boy Flash 'Arry.

He even fits the Flash Harry theme

I hope the League don't bottle it and they dish out 12 points to all and sundry.

May we continue to have a transfer embargo for the next five years. It's the gift that keeps on giving
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TacticalR added 14:58 - Jan 12
Thanks for your preview.

It's strange that cup fever has struck us after our long period in the wilderness. Perhaps it's because of our long period in the wilderness.

As for today's game, now our defence has stabilised it will be interesting to see how we handle Billy Sharp.

The stuff about Woolmer is quite worrying. He sounds like someone who can really mess up a game.
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