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Reading 1 v 0 Queens Park Rangers
SkyBet Championship
Thursday, 26th December 2019 Kick-off 19:30
Turning for home - Preview
Thursday, 26th Dec 2019 11:05 by Clive Whittingham

QPR play their first return fixture of the season tonight, travelling to play a Reading team they fought out an entertaining 2-2 draw with a couple of months back.

Reading (7-5-10, LWLDDW, 16th) v QPR (9-5-9, LDWWLD, 14th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Thursday December 26, 2019 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Damp, dark >>> M4, Junction 11, Nowhere Near Reading

For want of something better to do with my time, to try and learn a thing or two about this bloody sport we’re all so invested in, and because the remote control was all the way across the other side of the living room, I recently spent an hour in the company of Rafael Rafa Benitez during Sky’s excellent Monday Night Football programme.

For those who don’t want to fork over the debt of a small third world country for the privilege of having Blackburn 0 Wigan 0, or Cardiff 0 Preston 0, or every Reading v QPR fixture from now until the end of time, piped into your house via a big serving platter stuck to the outside of it, I should explain that Monday Night Football is a bit of an institution.

It used to be Andy Gray shoving video cassettes into machines, pulling levers and trying not to say horrendously misogynistic things live on air while Richard Keysie Keys took time out from knobbing his daughter's mates to tee up softball questions. Now you get Jamie Carra Carragher or Gary Nevs Neville arguing the toss over David De Gea for a prolonged period of time. Occasionally they open their big touchscreen up to a special guest who comes in to impart wisdom. That goes on for an hour or so, then West Ham’s collection of £30m signings you’ve never heard of get pumped 3/4/5-1 in that tragic monstrosity they call a home ground for 90 minutes, then we reconvene round the tactics board to explain where it all went so wrong for them. It’s a perfectly reasonable way to get rid of another three hours on the long, slow march to death.

Anyway, special guest the other week was Rafael Benitez, like I say, and from his hour of insight I was able to deduce that all the teams that are currently playing well in the “#EPL” are doing so because they are compact, and all the teams that are not currently playing well in the “#EPL” are struggling because they are not compact enough. Some coloured tokens were shifted around to explain to oafs like me what a compact team looks like compared to a non-compact team, and then there was a funny bit where it turns out in China - where Benitez is currently managing the Chingzen Super Chinchillas in an empty megadome for ten zillion Yen a month – there isn’t actually a word for compact. Or, at least, a word that makes them compact enough for Rafa Benitez’s liking, so he’s struggling rather, because as we know all the good teams are compact and all the bad teams are not compact. Compact good, not compact very bad.

As regular readers (hello to both) may have been able to deduce from my ramblings this season I’m rather conflicted about our own Queens Park Rangers’ approach to being compact – which could technically be described as “loose as a goose”. Because I quite like Rafa Benitez. He seems an amiable sort of chap, driving around the Wirral in a Mini Cooper with a Union Jack roof, managing teams well and getting them to achieve far more than they really should given the players they have. I’ve never really forgiven him for handing Man Utd the title that year by resting Fernando Torres and picking boyhood Liverpool fan Robbie Keane instead for a series of drawn home games with West Ham, Fulham and other no-mark sides like that, but he did a good job at Newcastle and deserved more for it than to be packed off to the land of deep fried owls with only Salomon Rondon for company.

I know he’s right really. If QPR could just be that little bit more compact, pragmatic, deeper, tighter and narrower then there are all kinds of possibilities for them in the weakest Championship there’s been for years with Jordan Hugill, Nahki Wells and Ebere Eze to select from in attack. Hell, but for a couple of refereeing decisions, some better goalkeeping, a less cavalier approach to tackling in our own penalty box, and/or a collection of missed sitters Dean Coney would blush at, we’d probably be in the top six anyway. We’d only be three points shy of it but for that bloody Naby Sarr goal last week and I do worry that when Wells and Hugill have inevitably gone to clubs that can afford them permanently, and Eze is doing flicks and tricks for Spurs’ reserves in exchange for injury prone Luke Amos and another right full back for us to throw on the pile with the others, that we’ll regret not making more of the opportunity we have this season.

But then, I’m kind of having fun. I keep coming back to what we expected of QPR this season which was, basically, a bin fire. Three wins from the final 23 games of last season, another change of manager, another fire sale of anybody half decent, a turnover in squad the likes of which I cannot remember since the administration days, another cut in the wage bill… coming out of the pre-season game at Boreham Wood I couldn’t see where 42 points were coming from this season. To be as high as we are, with as many points as we’ve got, with as many away wins as we’ve got, is a pleasant surprise, and should be warmly embraced as such, not used as fuel for expectation levels that we then chastise the team for not meeting.

We’re also bloody entertaining to watch. Second top scorers in the league with the third worst defence, it’s rarely been dull this season. I hear people coming out of 4-2 home wins against Blackburn pining for us to just grind out a 1-0 and I wonder why. We had enough grinding last year under Steve McClaren to start a gay dating app and it didn’t get us any further forward than we are now, while at the same time boring us rigid and rendering away games a pointless waste of money for the travelling fans.

Yes, dear God, I think we could do with being a bit more pragmatic. Not having strikers launch 30 yard pass backs into our own box when we’re 2-1 up at home to Middlesbrough, for instance. Not having a nervous, out of form goalkeeper attempting ambitious through balls during a period of pressure away to Fulham with the score 1-1, for example. We need to be more game smart, we need a better sense of when we’re in trouble and need to just hunker down and get through a period of play, and we need to stop doing really, really stupid things to ourselves.

But when you’re a midtable team, as it looks like we’re going to be, do I want to spend the next 23 games working on being more compact? I do not. I want to spend the next 23 games watching the footballing flamethrower that is Ebere Eze on one side and Bright Osayi-Samuel on the other and to hell with the consequences.

Links >>> Bowen’s eclectic start – Interview >>> Routledge wins it – History >>> Linington in charge – Referee >>> Reading Official website >>> Tilehurst End – Blog >>> Hob Nob Anyone? Forum >>> Reading Chronicle – Local Paper >>> Get Reading – Local Paper

Geoff Cameron Facts No.79 In The Series – Sports analytics firm OPTA credited Geoff’s stylish new man bun with the assist for Naby Sarr’s 95th minute equaliser for Charlton at Loftus Road on Saturday. It’s the bun’s first of the season.

Thursday

Team News: QPR continue to be without Yoann Barbet whose initial six/seven week recovery from a calf injury has been extended by a set back in training. Liam Kelly is fit again however so expect that debate about whether he or Joe Lumley should start to blow up again soon. Bright Osayi-Samuel was man of the match off the bench against Charlton but Warbs Warburton has been talking up his ability as an impact sub. There’s sure to be rotation over the next three or four games with the new QPR manager disparaging of the fixture list and its demand on players at this time of year. Expect most of the subs from Saturday to be involved from the start at some point either today or against Hull. This time last year QPR had five ever presents and a sixth player who’d missed just one game – this time around only Ebere Eze and Ryan Manning have started all 23 league games, with Hall, Leistner, Lumley and Cameron following on in joint second place on 17.

Reading’s top scorer George Puscas took one look at the festive fixture list and immediately pulled a Joel Lynch – out since December 11 and not playing today either. A bright start to life as Reading manager by Mark Bowen has been derailed rather by injuries to not only Puscas but also Ovie Ejaria and John Swift who were both superb in the first meeting between these sides this season. Ejaria has started the last three and Swift was back on the bench for last week’s 3-0 win at home to Derby. Matt Miazga, who could easily have been sent off by a less lenient referee in the Loftus Road fixture, is a doubt for this one with a chip on both shoulders.

Elsewhere: A capitalist economy relies on competition to drive standards up and prices down in the market, and there’s no finer example of this in action than televised football. Sky’s evil hold on the sport in this country, selfishly hoarding all the English leagues and top flights from around Europe in one place with one subscription, has thankfully now been broken up. A victory for the consumer, who can now enjoy the chance to fork over for Sky, BT Sport, Premier Sports and, as of this December, Amazon Prime, to get the same package of games they used to get for one monthly payment to Sky. And for the common or garden match attending football fan, who’s gone from losing four Premier League games and two Championship ones to late notice kick off changes a week, to this glorious new future where 12 matches are being shown today in six different kick off slots ranging from 12.30 to 20.00. Thank goodness that monopoly was broken up eh? I’m truly feeling like one of life’s winners today.

Sky have responded to the entire Boxing Day Premier League schedule being dumped on a shopping website to help it shovel products from its sale out to a shed/bin/shrub sort of near your house at a random day and time of its choosing from its warehouse of miserable zero-hour contractors, by shifting a load of second tier games around and about to try and cock block the viewing figures. Although trying to entice viewers away from Leicester v Liverpool by showing Reading v QPR for the ten billionth time is a bit like trying to tempt a red blooded male out of a loving embrace with a scantily clad Liz Hurley by wafting one of Pam St Clement’s used TENA pads in the air.

Still, to be fair, Spartak Hounslow’s home game with Swanselona looks a fair pick to show among the 15.00s. Six games without a win had seen the Swans fall away from their early pace setting start but Sloth from the Goonies has responded well and they come into this game with the Justice League leaders on the back of two consecutive wins. Brentford, however, are into the play offs of the actual division now, as opposed to their imaginary one, with nine wins and just four defeats from their last 15 games. They’ll probably be the best side Swansea have played all season.

The Champions of Europe are up after that. Marshmallow Bielsa’s men showed they still have a big choke in them by blowing a 3-0 lead at home to ten-man Cardiff last week, if only anybody could get up close enough to them in the league table to induce it in the closing weeks of the season. They’re getting very aggy this week about Spurs recalling Jack Clarke and Arsenal bringing back Eddie Nketiah from their respective loan spells – despite not picking either of them – and at Preston Knob End for not selling their allocation of very reasonably priced £42 tickets for today’s match on the day of the year when there’s no train services.

Among the non-televised games West Brom are away to Grimethorpe Miner’s Welfare, which is a trickier game than perhaps it looks on the table given Barnsley’s free-scoring recent form which has lifted them off the bottom of the table. They’ve been replaced there by Poke City, new manager bounce lasting barely a game for Michael O’Neill, desperate for something at home to Sheffield Owls today. Garry Monk’s side have climbed to third, which makes their status as second favourites in that match strange to say the least. You’ll never meet a poor bookie though – certainly not in the Stoke boardroom, where Bet365 CEO Denise Coates paid herself £265m last year. That’s a lot of people they’ve got listening to Ray Winstone there for themselves, and almost enough to take a family of four to the Leeds Preston game.

Fulham are the remaining play-off dweller we haven’t mentioned so far. Quite what Tarquin and Rupert will make of that away end at Lutown today goodness only knows. Frightful.

The Mad Chicken Farmers lost Bradley Dack for, almost certainly, the rest of the season with a nasty sounding knee injury in their thrilling Monday Night Football 0-0 at home to the Wigan Warriors. That was the only moment of note across those 90 minutes – rumour has it this was the thing that nearly shoved Prince Phillip over the edge – so Rovers will be hoping for better when they face Birmingham in today’s exciting game between two teams beginning with B, while Paul Cook’s Warriors return home to face Wayne Rooney’s Derby County who have lost their last six away games without conceding a goal.

Nottingham Florist haven’t looked back since their 4-0 win at QPR – W0 D2 L3 prior to today’s trip to Jarrod Bowen FC. There’s the Neil Harris derby between Cardiff and Millwall Scholars – take a neck brace and a good pair of binoculars my advice – and Charlton, winless in ten, are at home to Bristol City who’ve lost three in a row.

And all who sail in her.

Referee: James Linington from the Isle of Wight is a regular officiator of QPR games at this level, and until October we’d never lost a league game with him but sadly that record went out of the window with the 2-1 loss at Fulham. Details.

Form

Reading: It’s been one thing or the other for Reading at home this season with five wins, six defeats and no draws so far. Having won only two of their first 11 games of the season prior to Mark Bowen’s appointment as manager, the Royals have now won five and drawn three of the last 11. Birmingham (3-2) and Leeds (1-0) had both on here prior to a 3-0 shellacking of hapless Derby last time out. Reading’s soulless offshoot of a motorway junction is actually one of those rare away grounds that QPR have a decent recent record at. The 1-0 win here last year, thanks to Toni Leistner’s goal, was the fourth time Rangers had won here in seven visits back to 2010 – all four of the victories were 1-0 (2010/11 Routledge, 2015/16 Onuoha, 2016/17 Mackie, 2018/19 Leistner) and there were a couple of draws thrown in there for good measure. The only defeat came in 2017/18 when Jake Bidwell’s injury time penalty miss let Reading off the hook with a 1-0 victory that went a long way to helping them avoid relegation that season. Cheers Jake.

QPR: Rangers’ record this season was, until a couple of weeks ago at least, stark. They’d lost to the top ten and beaten the bottom ten, save for a few draws here and there. This has dissipated somewhat over the last couple of weeks with a win against play-off chasing Preston, a defeat at relegation haunted Barnsley, the last minute Charlton equaliser, and teams like Sheff Wed and Blackburn climbing into contention on good runs having previously been beaten by the R’s. The 2-0 win at Birmingham was Rangers fifth on the road this season, a sixth today would make it the best season to be following QPR away from Loftus Road since 2016/17 and they haven’t won more than six since the eight they manged in 2013/14 when they were promoted. The clean sheets against Preston and Birmingham were the first of the season for Mark Warburton’s men, the last team in the Football League to record a shut-out in 2019/20, but they’ve reverted to type since with seven goals shipped in two games. That leaves Rangers nursing the third worst defence in the league (44 conceded compared to Barnsley’s 46 and Luton’s 47) but only West Brom (46) have scored more than our 37.

Prediction: The 2-2 draw with Charlton sees both MancR and Simply Nico topping Our Prediction League at Christmas with 41 points each. They both wn goods from this year’s sponsor The Art of Football. Get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Last year’s champion WokingR says…

“A dull as dishwater 1-1 draw which will hopefully finally convince Sky to leave this fixture alone. Hugill with our goal.”

Woking’s Prediction: Reading 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Jordan Hugill.

LFW’s Prediction: Reading 2-2 QPR. Scorer – Ebere Eze

The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords

Pictures – Action Images

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BrisbaneR added 12:32 - Dec 26
‘We had enough grinding last year under Steve McClaren to start a gay dating app’
My wife has just come out to ask me why I’m crying at our kitchen table; the mans a comic for the ages 😁
Couldn’t agree more Clive, stuff compact - damn the torpedoes...full speed ahead!
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CliveWilsonSaid added 12:55 - Dec 26
I'm going for a wildly entertaining 3-3 with a golden hat-trick for Grant Hall. I'll be getting to the Madejski by hook or by crook and the thought of witnessing a regulation 2-0 win for a surely meticulously prepared Reading side doesn't bare thinking about...

Perhaps we should wait before criticising the ensuing transfer window too much. Who knows, maybe the club have a few tricks up their sleeves themselves. In Warbs we trust!
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TacticalR added 13:52 - Dec 26
Thanks for your preview.

Benítez was one of the ultra-defensive managers singled out by Valdano for dragging down football: 'Following the Champions League semi-final between Liverpool and Chelsea in 2005, former Real Madrid coach and World Cup winner Jorge Valdano attacked Rafael Benítez and Jose Mourinho, the respective managers, for ushering in a bleak future for football, likening the match to "a shit hanging from a stick".'

'I want to spend the next 23 games watching the footballing flamethrower that is Ebere Eze on one side and Bright Osayi-Samuel on the other and to hell with the consequences.'

While I agree there's nothing quite like watching Eze leaving opposition players in the dust, I do find the current situation anxiety-inducing, as every game I am waiting for the team to slip up and do something stupid.
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extratimeR added 15:08 - Dec 26
Excellent Clive!

Although heartbreaking sometimes, ( Charlton), I'm really enjoying the football, Exe performance's just adding a collector's item each week, before the departure, yes criminal if it's just the stiffs for 18 months .

I also watched the Rafa show and the bloke is very knowledgeable, I liked the comment that playing against Liverpool the oppo keeper has to play sweeper for 90 minutes, and showed the teams that don't, we should listen to his advice about go long if the press don't work!!!!

Thanks Clive!
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Wren67 added 18:15 - Dec 26
I want to spend the next 23 games watching the footballing flamethrower that is Ebere Eze on one side and Bright Osayi-Samuel on the other and to hell with the consequences.

Yeah.... and me too.
Going for a 2-2 tonight despite the pissing weather.
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GroveR added 19:50 - Dec 26
First ever Monday Night Football was a 1-1 draw between us and Man City in 1992. Andy "Sinners" Sinton scored with a 25yd howitzer that would still be accelerating today had the net not been in the way.
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GloryHunter added 20:31 - Dec 26
Dear Clive
I am constantly amazed that - devoted QPR fan as we all know you to be - you still manage to maintain such an independent, objective view of the team and the club. Thank you for this. We are lucky to have you, and lucky there is no chance of losing you to another club in the transfer window!
Very best wishes for the festive season and the rest of the football season.
All best, GloryHunter
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gigiisourgod added 10:31 - Dec 27
Thank you Clive. Enjoyed this read, more than the game.
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