|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 2 Bolton Wanderers|
Saturday, 30th March 2019 Kick-off 15:00
The home straight - Preview
Friday, 29th Mar 2019 18:01 by Clive Whittingham
QPR emerge from the final international break of the season hoping to capitalise on a late comeback at Hull and secure a relieving home win against a Bolton side in a state of complete freefall.
QPR (12-8-18, LWLDLD, 17th) v Bolton (7-8-23, LLLLWL, 23rd)
Lancashire and District Senior League >>> Saturday March 30, 2019 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Scorchio >>> Loftus Road, London, W12
Here we go then, round the final bend, onto the home straight, more Sad Ken than Red Rum, just wishing it was over.
Eight games to go: four away defeats to nil, two home wins, a draw slung in there somewhere, probably against Blackburn, and then done. Sixteenth again in all likelihood, but only courtesy of another club having points off – default, once again, the two greatest words in the English language. Lose tomorrow and even this will feel like a beautiful pipe dream, but otherwise it’ll soon be the summer, the sand will soon be between our toes, the breeze will soon be gently drifting in off the sea, the sun will be glistening off the bare chested Mediterranean torsos, and for a few glorious moments at least we’ll be able to lie there and scarcely believe we were ever so invested in Queens Park Rangers against Bolton fucking Wanderers.
These are, by some considerable distance, the teams with the worst records in the EFL since the turn of the year. QPR have taken six points, Bolton seven, from 15 games apiece. Even Ipswich, even Ipswich, (even Ipswich), have taken nine. Nine. Ipswich. QPR’s pre-Christmas play-off pushing form means that despite that one win from 15 games, despite even losing at home to Rotherham, safety is not only well within their hands but also still almost certain to be achieved. The bottom three’s crass incompetence, of which Bolton with 23 defeats already this season form a meaty part, means the gap between us and oblivion remains eight points with eight to play. Bolton’s financial collapse, malicious mismanagement, numerous failed takeovers and rank bad squad means there will almost certainly be no great escape for them this season as last. If only this had happened 12 months ago, they’d be rebuilding now and we’d still have an away trip to Burton, where every second building is a pub, or a brewery, or a pub and brewery in one.
It’s been soul destroying really, seeing such a promising season slip away in quite such dramatic fashion at Loftus Road. Those autumn nights against Millwall, Sheff Wed, Villa, Brentford. That win at Nottingham Forest and then at home to Boro. Even in the first week of January we were drawing at Villa and beating Leeds in the FA Cup and optimism and praise for Steve McClaren was coursing through the place. Rarely has a team dropped off the metaphorical cliff edge quite as severely as Queens Park Rangers’ class of 2019. A second half rally against a poor Hull side with Liam Ridgwell arsing about at centre half felt like a gift from the Gods, when really it was just one more point, another missed opportunity against limited opposition, a defensive horror show and a first hour spent mostly passing the ball sideways and backwards. Sideways and backwards. Sideways and backwards. Lumley’s on, Lumely’s always on.
The hope is the final half hour there, with Pawel Wszolek attacking down one wing, Bright Osayi-Samuel down the other, Ebere Eze actually taking players on and trying a few things around the box, the midfield engaging opponents high up the field and the ball being passed forwards, to team mates, with a purpose might have shone the way for the remaining games. People talk about what a difficult league this is, but it’s only difficult because there’s a game every other day. The quality of it is beyond abysmal, it doesn’t take much to crack it, as Josh Scowen showed so conclusively on Humberside last week.
For those who loved Ian Holloway and/or hate Steve McClaren, recent results have been a vindication. They say he has been allowed to sign four senior players in August the likes of which Olly could only have dreamed of when he was making do with Matt Smith, Idrissa Sylla and Conor Washington up front and he’s done no better. For those who hated Ian Holloway and/or love Steve McClaren, the change is vindicated regardless because he’s taken a team that lost an outstanding goalkeeper and its two first choice centre backs last season and turned it into one that has kept more clean sheets, won more away games, played better football (pre-Christmas) and really only faltered during a run of difficult fixtures coinciding with injuries and some rotten luck.
Pointless Twitter bollocks. What it all amounts to is we’re in almost exactly the same position we were a year ago. This season we have 12 wins, eight draws and 18 defeats from 38 games for 44 points. Last season we had 12 wins, 11 draws and 15 defeats for 47 points. We finished sixteenth last season, we’re seventeenth now, the season before that we were eighteenth. This is how good we are. Whoever the manager is, and whichever trench you’ve dug yourself into over that, this is what we are. And what we need to do, apart from making double sure we’re not going down this season, is work out, with a declining budget and the end of the parachute payments, how we get better than this because as good as that run pre-Christmas was, this run post-festivities has been dire and unacceptable and there are few signs that it won’t recur again next season. Our last four managers have all found themselves stuck in prolonged losing runs from which there is apparently no escape.
QPR have half a dozen senior players out of contract this summer, over which they hold options to extend for a year: Pawel Wszolek, Jordan Cousins, Grant Hall, Jake Bidwell, Joel Lynch and Angel Rangel. A further three senior loans – Geoff Cameron, Nahki Wells and Tomer Hemed – will return to their parents. The end of the parachutes, slightly offset by a “Premier League solidarity” payment mean we’re £12m down next season on this before we even begin. When you consider their form, their injury records, their wage, and the younger players they’re keeping out of the team in their positions, you honestly wouldn’t be in a rush to keep many/any of those. Only Jake Bidwell can tick all three boxes of consistent/acceptable form, lack of injuries, and no promising youngster ready to take his place.
Exactly how promising those youngsters are, how many of them are capable of stepping in full time next season, is a pressing question but apparently not one McClaren is in a hurry to have answered. Even Bright Osayi-Samuel, the one player we have left who is both fit and in form, has to beg and steal a start. QPR’s wage bill remains way too high. The £30m posted in the latest accounts (covering last season) should come down in the next set (for 2018/19) after the departures of Perch, Smithies, Mackie, Robinson and Onuoha – hopefully not offset too much by that late August trolley dash around the loan market. But it must still come down further. We keep harping on about Preston, but they are pushing for the play-offs again this season on an annual wage bill of £13m despite having half a dozen of their best players injured for the whole of the first half of the season, and two of them missing the entire campaign. Their recruitment of players like Daniel Johnson, Callum Robinson, Ben Pearson and Josh Harrup from bigger clubs’ reserve teams, or Sean Maguire and Alan Browne from the League of Ireland, sadly, remains streets and streets and streets ahead of our own.
Our recruitment has improved – led by Luke Freeman – but it’s not where it needs to be. We still, by and large, bring in players you’ve heard of and overpay to get them here. Millwall being unable to afford Matt Smith’s wage in January still niggles me in quiet moments – a Championship target man signed in a January transfer window from Fulham’s reserves on money that puts him out of reach of a club we're literally in direct competition with. In a league where teams are spending vast sums on wages, where we can no longer do that, we need to bat smarter if we’re ever to aspire to better than sixteenth again. Having nine senior players who've pretty much all flattered to deceive, earning good money, all out of contract should be an opportunity for a club that's smart about its recruitment. That line from Moneyball, if we think like the Yankees in here, we will lose to the Yankees out there, comes back to me again and again.
It could, of course, always have been worse. Saturday’s visitors another timely reminder that merely stabilising at this level, given the state we came down in, is no mean feat in itself. We could easily have become another Sunderland. But that won’t butter people’s parsnips for much longer, and after shelling out £539 this afternoon for what I think, at best, will be more of the same next season, mine are feeling particularly dry this evening.
Nice weather though.
It’s the tenth annual Tiger Cubs walk this weekend, with the intrepid QPR fans trekking from the Harlington Training Ground to Loftus Road prior to the game. The walk raises funds for the Community Trust’s Downs Syndrome team and has already raised in excess of £7,000 again this time. Please give generously by clicking here.
Team News: QPR, for the first time since the autumn, are fully fit and injury free. Luke ‘Lukey’ Freeman has recovered sufficiently from the hip flexor problem that recurred in the first half at Hull, Matt Smith is back against the team he was man of the match against here last season after three weeks out with a training ground ankle injury, Geoff Cameron has another two weeks of training under his belt and Spanish full back Angel Rangel returns after four months out with a torn thigh. Bright Osayi-Samuel and Josh Scowen both pushed for first team starts with impressive showings off the bench at Hull while a third sub, Tomer Hemed, scored the crucial equaliser.
Jason Lowe is hiding in the cupboard under the stairs and refusing to come out until the grown ups stop talking about Brexit so his season for Bolton is now over. The Trotters also have major doubts over Jack Hobbs who has said he “can’t be arsed any more” and Luke Murphy who has missed training this week because “it’s a bit far to travel”.
Elsewhere:So there we go then, now we know. Under the EFL’s new and improved “profit and sustainability” rules (FFP to you and I) a precedent has finally been set, albeit almost two years since the offence was committed. For going on the Harry Redknapp-bender to end them all, for paying out more than £2 in wages for every £1 that came in, for paying in excess of £4m just to borrow Sam Gallagher from Southampton for a bit, for signing 14 players in one summer transfer window, and then for ignoring the transfer embargo the EFL imposed on them and spending another £2.3m on a Danish full back from Germany, Birmingham City have been docked… nine points.
This takes them from midtable to lower midtable, still five points north of a dreadful incompetent bottom three. It is no punishment at all, and it gives carte blanche to any club seeking to “do a Wolves” safe in the knowledge that if a massive breach plus an aggravating factor is nine points, then the absolute most they can possibly face for a simple breaking of the rules is eight, and probably less. Hell, the committee even knocked a point off the ten they were going to dock Brum because the club admitted the offence – as if you need to admit it, when it’s a crime and punishment judged on a black and white set of financial accounts.
All that said, with West Brom away tonight followed by games with the Champions of Europe and Sheffield Red Stripes, it might be worth backing the Blues to go down at the current price of 12/1 even if only to cash out in three games time when that price will almost certainly have come in a touch. They have lost their last four games prior to tonight’s tellybox encounter without scoring a goal.
Harry Redknapp has, of course, quickly distanced himself from yet another financial catastrophe occurring at yet another one of the clubs he’s just left. Martin Samuel stopped using ‘Arry’s arse as a hat long enough to mooch onto breakfast television last Sunday clutching a can of full fat Coca Cola at ten in the morning to put his case for him. As he always does. As usual, it was all about the people above Redknapp, not the actual manager, who knew nothing of any of the 14 players that were signed apparently completely against his will. “They were all good players but they weren’t on my shopping list. I’d never even see any of them play, they were brought in by other people above my head,” said Harry, completely forgetting that on transfer deadline day last August he’d said: “I just identify them, then it’s up to other people to get them in.” That is the problem with lying, it can be difficult to keep up.
So, again, curse these foolish “people over my head” who’ve once again forced Redknapp to sign another shed load of players he’d never heard of that the club couldn’t afford and driven it to the brink of collapse. Just as at Bournemouth, and Portsmouth, and Southampton, and QPR, and now Birmingham. It really is just a horrible coincidence that these same bad things keep happening to the same good person, and that all these different owners at all these different clubs insist on using the same few agents to complete the deals. Still, when he’s not trying to pick the journalists out of his anal thicket, he’s got a TV career to think of now, playing the loveable “I can’t fucking read or write” character that gets away with having a Monaco bank account in the name of his dog because the sort of mouth breathers who watch the sort of programmes ITV are currently trying to pack into their schedule with him fronting think he’s “just so funny innit”.
So that’s the Friday game.
That leaves 11 games for the Saturday including the evening game on Sky Sports Leeds which this week is Pulisball against Borussia Norwich. The Champions of Europe get a go at 15.00 for a change with a friendly encounter at home to the Millwall Scholars. Sheffield Red Stripes host play-off chasing Bristol City and Big Racist John and the Boys are at home to the Mad Chicken Farmers.
Down at the bottom end Ipswich Down are at home to the Allam Tigers, Bolton come to us and Rotherham go to Frank Lampard’s Derby County. Wigan Warriors are at home to Justice League Leaders Spartak Hounslow, who only have two away wins to their name this season but will almost certainly be the best team Wigan have faced so far. Reading host Preston Knob End.
There’s a midtable clash between Stoke and Sheffield Owls notable only as a game between two teams beginning with S, and Nottingham Trees v Swanselona which doesn’t even have that going for it.
Eight games to go, eight games to go, chant it with me.
Referee: Geoff Eltringham’s LFW ratings to date read 8, 9, 8, 8, 8, 7, 8, 7. What could ever possibly go wrong here? Full details.
QPR: Only three Championship teams have lost more games than QPR’s 18 this season, and Bolton (23) are one of them – Ipswich (20) and Wigan (19) are the others. QPR came back from two goals down to draw at Hull a year to the day since they did exactly the same thing to salvage a draw at Fulham. Last season QPR scored nine goals in the final five minutes of matches, including six in injury time, to rescue five points. This season they have conceded eight goals in that time period, six of them in injury time, to surrender four points. They’ve conceded four injury time goals in their last nine matches. The Hull game was the first time the R’s have scored more than one goal in a game in six matches, and in three of those they failed to score at all. At Loftus Road they’ve won just two of the last eight in all comps having previously lost only one of nine and won six.
Bolton: Nobody has lost as many games in the league this season as Bolton (23) – even bottom-placed whipping boys Ipswich have only been beaten 20 times. Barnsley and Sunderland were relegated from this league last season after losing 23 games and Burton 25 – Bolton still have eight games to play. Wanderers have taken seven points since the turn of the year which is the worst record in the Championship bar one – QPR, who’ve taken just six. Bolton weirdly won both their opening away games to the season – 2-1 at West Brom and 1-0 at Reading – but have only won one of 17 since and come into this game with a road record of three wins, four draws and 12 defeats. They’ve scored just 14 goals in those 17 matches, and conceded 35. Since beating Rotherham 2-1 on Boxing Day they have won two of 14 league games and lost ten. They have lost 11 of their last 13 away games – a run which includes a 6-0 loss at Hull and a 5-2 defeat at relegation rivals Wigan last time out. Nobody has conceded more than Bolton’s 63, although having said that only the bottom three and Blackburn (60) have conceded more than QPR’s 59.
Prediction: The winner of our Prediction League this year gets goodies from our generous sponsor Art of Football. Get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Reigning champion Elliott reckons…
“Back to reality then. I quite enjoyed two weeks of being pain free. On paper, this looks an absolute banker home win. However, we don’t normally do things like that. Can’t help but worry that Bolton announcing they’re set to be taken over may just give the whole club a lift. That being said, surely we’ll have too much for them. Surely.”
Elliott’s Prediction: QPR 2-0 Bolton. Scorer – Nahki Wells
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-0 Bolton. Scorer – Tomer Hemed
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Pictures – Action Images
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