|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 1 Watford|
Friday, 15th February 2019 Kick-off 19:45
It's been a while - Preview
Thursday, 14th Feb 2019 22:30 by Clive Whittingham
Queens Park Rangers have a fifth round FA Cup tie on Friday night, 22 years to the day since their last. Then it was Wimbledon, and now Watford stand between the R's and the quarter final.
QPR (11-6-14, LDLWLL, 18th) v Watford (10-7-9, WDWLDW, 8th)
Zenith Data Systems Centenary Trophy >>> Friday February 15, 2019 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – It’s gonna be a bright, bright, bright sunshiney day >>> Loftus Road, London, W12
Queens Park Rangers are in the fifth round of the FA Cup. It bears repeating, we’ve waited long enough.
To contextualise exactly how long, here’s the QPR side for our last game at this stage of the competition: Sommer; Yates, McDonald, Ready, Brevett; Peacock, Murray, Barker, Sinclair; Hateley and Spencer. QPR had beaten Huddersfield after a replay in round three, a last minute header from the late Alan McDonald up in West Yorkshire. Barnsley were knocked out in round four thanks to the Trevor Sinclair bicycle kick, and then there we were at Selhurst Park to face Premier League Wimbledon in round five.
The sun shone and optimism coursed. Stewart Houston’s side, relegated the previous year, had stormed through December and January, buoyed by the signings of Gavin Peacock and, particularly, John Spencer from the swamp down the road. A cup tie with a Premier League team was a great opportunity to prove we wouldn’t be gone from the top flight for long and of the 22,395 listed in attendance that day at least 14,000 were QPR fans, packing three sides of Selhurst. The place was alive, the pubs abuzz. In Clapham Junction’s Falcon watchers of the reserves told tales of a mysterious Costa Rican trialist who’d stuck four through Chelsea’s second string during the week. I sat there with my dad and all was right in the world. So much so that when Mark Hateley powered us ahead before half time we even forgave the useless, fat, expensive, arrogant, injury-prone, waste-of-space his ear-cupping celebration, as if one goal against Wimbledon made up for the 18 months of cataclysmic dogshit he’d served up before it because, to be honest, in that moment, it did. We lost 2-1, crucially unable to hold the 1-0 lead until half time without shipping to Marcus Gayle with a minute left, but it didn’t matter that much. There would be others. Other Premier League campaigns, other trips to Wimbledon, other FA Cup runs.
Hell, it had only been two years before that we made the quarter bloody final. Non-league Aylesbury vanquished in round three on an afternoon when I was the mascot. Trevor Sinclair, not playing, gave me Les Ferdinand’s shirt for “safe keeping” before the kick off. Les, bare chested, rampaged around the tunnel at ten to three wanting to know who’d stolen it. Not that you’ll have noticed, or remembered if you did, but the teams were late out that day because the mascot was nipping upstairs to get the star striker’s kit out of his Thunderbirds backpack. West Ham were swatted aside in round four and then came Millwall.
Good Millwall. Mick McCarthy Millwall. Millwall who’d already knocked out Arsenal and Chelsea in the previous rounds and laid waste to most of their stadiums in the process. Millwall of Kasey Keller’s supreme goalkeeping and Alex Rae’s midfield generalness. The Goldhawk was shuttered up, closed unless you knocked at the back door and Tony the Potman knew your face. Tony the Potman knew our faces, my grandad spent many an afternoon in there telling Margaret the Landlady she should marry him so he could show her how to run the pub properly. I suspect this involved him consuming rather a lot of the Best bitter and pork scratchings. Not a sound business plan. Rangers got a last minute penalty for a senseless handball in the days when we used to score last minute penalties. Clive Wilson did the business and took the roof off.
Later that weekend I stood with my dad in the kitchen for the quarter final draw. Why do I think it was on breakfast television? There weren’t many teams left in that a QPR side of Les Ferdinand and co would fear. Only one in fact, and even that was only if we drew Manchester United away. At Loftus Road, in that mood, with that team, in that form, with that crowd, and that atmosphere, we’d even have quite fancied that. Of course, it came down to the last two balls in the velvet bag and United came out first. We travelled in hope anyway, thousands of us. A dozen of my dad's mates crammed onto PE benches in the back of carpet van with a poster of Kevin Gallen in the back window to hide the people trafficking operation from any motorway police patrols. Ray Wilkins blinked, dropping Sinclair to double up on Kanchelskis with Brevett and Wilson, and Rangers rather listlessly and routinely lost 2-0. A 50 minute round of “Paul Ince is a wanker” from 8,000 travelling supporters that, somehow, made it all the way through the halftime break and out the other side all we had to show for it. But don’t worry, there would be others.
That’s a theme throughout QPR’s slow and steady decline from the highs of the 1980s and 1990s to what we have left now. The natural complacency that however heartbreaking each set back was, there was always the hope that another chance wold come along. I listened to Mel Huckridge talking with FourFourTwo in the Crown and Sceptre prior to the Leeds game about what it was like to lose the 1982 final replay to Spurs at Wembley. “I thought our name was on it. Even though we were in the Second Division, in all my time growing up QPR were a decent team. I was only 18 so expected things like that to keep happening,” he said. There hasn’t been an FA Cup final appearance since.
Four years later, after beating Chelsea in the quarters and a mighty Liverpool team in the semis, QPR did a pure QPR thing and lost to Oxford 3-0 in the League Cup final – Jim Smith, who’d defected from the Manor Ground to Loftus Road the previous summer, almost more delighted for Oxford than Oxford were. Typical bloody Rangers, grandad only wears that hat for gardening now, game never happened, we don’t talk about it… we’ve all trotted the lines out. There hasn’t been a League Cup final appearance since.
When we think about the 1984 UEFA Cup run we tell the story about beating Partizan 6-2 at home only to lose 4-0 away and go out on away goals with a darkly comic tone. Those that were there tell of the blue and white balloons and streamers the airline had decorated the plane in for the triumphant flight home. Peter Hucker had to be stopped from beating manager Alan Mullery, who’d run after the team at full time telling them to come back for a period of extra time that didn’t exist, to a bloody pulp. Snigger, typical bloody Rangers… There hasn’t been a European campaign since.
And nor has there been another FA Cup run after that Wimbledon defeat. Administration and numerous other financial debacles besides, the threat of a merger with Wimbledon and a move to Milton Keynes, a relegation and league matches at Hartlepool, two takeovers by billionaires and a brief botched return to the Premier League, meningitis outbreaks, guns in the boardroom, courtcases, boardroom coups, a few brilliant players, several dozen unbelievably awful ones, a play-off win at Wembley, a play-off defeat at Cardiff, 17 permanent managers, but never another FA Cup fifth round appearance. Houston’s team botched their play-off run and Paulo Wanchope was sent to Derby to fire them to four successful seasons in the top flight instead. Houston said he could find you a dozen strikers like that in non-league but then, presumably bored of looking, spent £2.3m on Mike Sheron instead. The club suffered a financial collapse. There have been cup losses to Grimsby, Vauxhall Motors, MK Dons and Blackburn. Many, many times to Blackburn.
Until now. Until tomorrow night. Suddenly we’re back in the fifth round, with a home draw against Premier League Watford. You know it’s big, because Sky have sent the SkyBot3000 down and demanded a press-conference on the hair island in which Schteve once again, for the third or fourth time in recent weeks, made a rather barbed comment about the supporters demanding this cup run and putting pressure on the players. He’s trotted out an old story about how Steve Gibson drummed the importance of cups into him at Middlesbrough as if we’ve all just gone and clean forgotten about how he made ten changes and lost at League One Blackpool in the League Cup before Christmas, but it was the raw anger from the away end that night and a subsequent stern fans forum more than anything Steve Gibson may or may not have said 15 years ago that has woken the manager up to just how hungry we all are for this.
Too fucking right as well. McClaren may well wish he had a few fewer games this month, with the players obviously tired and the league form dropping off a cliff, but this is bloody important. Ditching out of cup competitions in the manner we have done for the last two decades is like going out in a torn coat or shoes with holes in. It speaks to how you see yourself as a club, what your priorities are, how much pride you have in yourself, how you carry yourself. It suggests, frankly, that you’re not very good, and you don’t give much of a shit about it. It sets a tone for the players, it sends a message to the supporters, and it projects an image of a slapdash, careless, lazy, under committed football club. Look at the state and the public perception of the other two who boast similarly dire knockout records to our own over the last 20 years – Newcastle and Sheff Wed. Queens Park Rangers should not be losing to Milton Keynes Dons once, never mind on more than one occasion, and never mind 4-2 at home when ostensibly a Premier League side. Queens Park Rangers should not be losing to a fucking team from the assembly line at a car plant, annoyed that it went to extra time and penalties because some of them had early shifts on the Wednesday.
And lo, look what a little bit of extra effort against Leeds and Portsmouth has got us. A home tie. A full house. A very handy pot of extra prize, broadcast and ticket money to chuck on the FFP pile in next year’s accounts. A Friday night game with a Premier League team with the floodlights streaming down, the atmosphere jumping, the Bush alive, alcohol hanging in the air, every seat with a body in it and Loftus Road looking, sounding, smelling and rocking like we know it can, like we know it used to, like we hope it will again. It’ll need a complete reversal of recent form, it’ll need a herculean team performance, it’ll need all the luck that has deserted us in recent weeks to come flooding back, but most of all it’s going to need effort. Whether we’re going to try and attack them, or we’re going to try and dig in to keep it tight and take advantage of the lack of a replay, this is going to need a bloody, sweaty, belligerent, stubborn, 64-gun-salute of a performance from every man in hoops to stand us a chance of getting a result. Not because Watford are good, which they certainly are. Nor because the way this competition has gone there’s a whole load of very presentable quarter final opponents waiting on the other side, though that’s certainly the case. But because we don’t know when this chance will ever come around again. History has told us that if you expect another bus to be along soon after missing this one, you’re going to be left disappointed.
That game at Selhurst Park, that day in the sun, that day Mark Hateley cupped his sodding ear at us was 22 years ago. Twenty-two years ago on Friday.
Come on you R’s.
Geoff Cameron Facts #28 – Geoff was just 28-years-old and captaining the Baltimore Bigfoots when QPR last made the fifth round of the FA Cup in 1997.
Team News: QPR seem likely to start with much the same team that lost narrowly and controversially at Bristol City on Tuesday night, in the same 3-5-2 wing back set up that Ian Holloway was driven out of the village by an angry mob for using. Joel Lynch managed to strain his back trying to kill a Birmingham player to death last week and is “a doubt” (colour me shocked) leaving Grant Hall and Toni Leistner as the main centre backs for a four, and Darnell Furlong the most likely option to join them in a three. Ryan Manning and Josh Scowen are the alternate midfield options to Jordan Cousins alongside Mass Luongo. Matt Smith has four goals in three games and four man of the match performances in a row making him, you would think, undroppable despite the return to fitness, if not form, of Tomer Hemed. Geoff Cameron and Angel Rangel remain out.
Watford made wholesale changes to their team for round three at Woking and round four at Newcastle, but have a week either side of this game and stand a great chance of winning the competition this year given how the results have gone in the FA Cup so far. Injury wise, Sebastian Prodl is being assessed for a missing vowel and Roberto Pereyra usually has bridge club on a Friday and has already defrosted a side of bacon. Isaac Success is too big to cope with the narrow tunnel at Loftus Road and Kiko Femenia is having a new fridge freezer delivered so both are definitely out.
Elsewhere: Just look how few teams are left in this cup now. And look how rubbish most of them are. We’re going all the way I’m telling you. FFP worries? Not when we’re tipping Europa League billions into the pot we won’t have.
It’s scattered here there and everywhere of course, because when a competition is as magical as the magic of the FA Cup you want to share that magic around with loads of people sat on their fat arses at home. Frank Lampard’s Derby County, for instance, have to make the short hop down to Brighton Reserves by 12.30 tomorrow. Real Wimbledon and Millwall Scholars are the lucky ones left with the one Saturday 15.00 kick off, and that’s only because the visitors threatened to raze Kingston-Upon-Thames to the ground if they’d stuck it any later. Newport Gwent Dragons host Man City Reserves in the evening.
Sunday sees Bristol City going for a tenth straight win at home to Sporting Wolverhampton in the early game while Crippled Alice will be wary of an upset at Donny Rovers and Spartak Hounslow will almost certainly be the best side Swanselona have played all season in the 16.00 kick offs. The latest hilarious meltdown of the original Big Racist John and the Boys continues on Monday against the Torquay Reds.
For those waifs and strays that aren’t as ruddy bloody brave as we are in cup competitions, there are half a dozen games in the Lancashire and District Senior League this weekend as well. If you’re with Chicken Little and you think QPR are asleep on their sky reinforcement job, you’ll be hoping for a Sheffield Owls result at Rotherham, a return to form after a midweek blip for Borussia Norwich at Bolton, a Stoke City win at Ipswich Down and no repeat of Reading’s midweek heroics when they go to Sheffield Red Stripes.
The game of the day is the new Big Racist John and the Boys, looking like the Cleethorpes and District Arthritis Care group at Brentford last night, at home to West Brom, for whom Dwight Gayle has picked up a timely two match ban for diving ahead of Tuesday night’s trip to Loftus Road. Maybe that luck is starting to turn after all? Not for the poor souls condemned to Preston Knob End v Nottingham Trees, or the Mad Chicken Farmers at home to Pulisball on Sunday mind.
Referee: Following a succession of recent refereeing catastrophes in QPR games the PGMOL has bitten the bullet and sent in big referee boss man Michael Oliver for this one. He’s got history with Watford of course. Details here.
QPR: Ah yes, form, I remember that. QPR have lost five consecutive games in the Championship to plummet from ninth to eighteenth since beating Ipswich here on Boxing Day. They’ve conceded four goals in each of their last two home league games against Preston and Birmingham and haven’t kept a clean sheet in six Championship matches. Having missed a last minute penalty to draw with Birmingham having trailed 4-0 on Saturday, they then conceded a very harsh one in stoppage time to turn a 1-1 into a 1-2 at Bristol City on Tuesday. The FA Cup has, unusually, been a bright spot in this with wins here against Leeds (2-1) and Portsmouth (2-0) either side of a 1-1 draw at Fratton Park in round four.
Watford: The Hornets have had a fantastic Premier League season, with the tone set by four straight league wins and a fifth in the League Cup to begin the season while QPR were losing their first four games and conceding 13 goals. They are currently eighth, two points off Wolves in seventh, and come into this game on the back of a 1-0 home win against Everton and 0-0 draw at Brighton. They have kept five clean sheets in their last seven games which include the two wins they’ve had in this competition so far – 2-0 at non-league Woking and Premier League Newcastle. Away from home this season they’ve won four, drawn five and lost only four, with the wins coming at Burnley, Wolves, West Ham and Palace and the losses at Spurs, Leicester, Newcastle and Arsenal. Watford won the only previous FA Cup meeting between these sides 2-1 in 1980 but QPR beat them at Vicarage Road on the way to the 1986 League Cup final. Which we don’t talk about.
Prediction: What do you want from me? We’re probably going to lose aren’t we? That’s what’s meant to happen. I cling to the niggling feeling that QPR, trendsetters to the last, might just be the ones to test out this lack of fifth round replays. Buckle in for a long night and try not to think too much about our recent penalty horrors because I wouldn’t be surprised to see it get that far, and then we’ve just got to find five people who can score past Heurelho Gomes - the spider trapped under the glass.
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-2 Watford. Scorer – Matt Smith. Watford win on penalties.
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Pictures – Action Images
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