Anything but a replay - Preview
Saturday, 4th Jan 2020 10:58 by Clive Whittingham
In a much-loved trophy horribly devalued by its broadcaster, sponsors and organisers, QPR have once again pulled a drab Third Round tie against a team we play all the time in the league.
QPR Reserves (10-5-11, WLDLLW, 15th) v Swansea Reserves (11-8-7, DWWLDW, 6th)
Zenith Data Systems Centenary Trophy >>> Sunday January 5, 2020 >>> Kick Off 14.01!! >>> Weather – Grey, dry >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12
While trying to piece together reasons the second half of this season will be different to the collapse of last year for Wednesday’s preview, I got to thinking about just how detrimental, or otherwise, our first run to the FA Cup fifth round since 1997 might have been to the squad.
Personally, I’d take cup results over league ones in most circumstances. I understood why Neil Warnock wanted out of this competition while chasing the title in 2010/11, and when you’re fighting for your lives at the bottom of a division you have to prioritise that, but nothing boils my piss more than seeing teams comfortable in midtable, with no chance of troubling the top or bottom end over the remaining months, slinging a scratchy team out in the cup and bailing out at the first opportunity. Newcastle, in particular, have been swines for it in the Premier League, but far too often over the last 25 years QPR have lost meekly, to poor opponents, at this stage of the FA Cup only to spend the next few months bobbing around the middle of the table in an instantly forgettable league season.
Last year’s cup run turned out to be the highlight of the season. Beating Leeds is always fun, the trip down to Portsmouth in round four felt like a proper old fashioned cup tie, and the full house against Watford on a Friday night brought life and atmosphere back to a tired crowd. Given that Toni Leistner missed a golden opportunity to equalise late on in that one, and Watford went onto a semi-final with Wolves via a home draw in the next round to Crystal Palace, you can’t help but think what might have been. These sorts of things can build confidence and momentum – Bournemouth, Leicester, Newcastle and Wolves all reached the quarter finals of the League Cup in the year they won promotion from the Championship, so the extra fixtures served as encouragement rather than a burden.
But it is absolutely true that the horrendous fixture congestion QPR suffered at the end of January and through February last season was a big factor in the complete collapse of the team’s form after Christmas. Partly that’s at the door of Steve McClaren, who didn’t manage his squad correctly, flogged them to death, got to Christmas with four ever presents and two who’d only missed a game each, and then found them dropping like nine pins with muscle injuries, hip flexor problems and hernias after the turn of the year. But it’s also down to the powers that be in this country, who not only think five matches over Christmas is acceptable, but then follow it up with seven fixtures in the shortest month of the year straight afterwards. QPR added a replay with Portsmouth and a tie with Watford into the mix and didn’t cope with it at all well, and as the February fixtures are just as batshit crazy as they were last season we’re only a win tomorrow and a draw in the next round away from having it all to do again.
So you’d expect Mark Warburton to rest whoever he can tomorrow, and while that upsets me I also completely understand. Wednesday’s remarkable 6-1 win against Cardiff City has given the whole place a much needed boost, and once again we’re seeing message board threads discussing exactly how far away from being a play-off team we really are in such a patently weak division. There’s lots of chat about how that result has been coming, how clever Warburton was for going with Cameron and Wallace at full back against a physical team, how much better we are than last season and so on, but you just watch. Brentford away, where we never get anything even when they’re not playing as well as they are now; Leeds at home, finally looking like they’re going to go up this season; Blackburn away, who are in good form and where our record is dire. There’s a really good chance we’ll win none of those, and then the jungle drums will be out again. The Twitter wanted Neil Warnock to replace Mark Warburton before Wednesday, and will do so again in a fortnight’s time. In that crazy environment, you can see why he’s probably willing to sack this one off in an effort to try and get a surprise win in one of the next three league games and just keep things ticking over.
And while it is sad that midtable clubs like ourselves see this famous old competition as a chance to do that, rather than say resting players against Cardiff or Brentford to try and pile everything into a cup run as I’d like to see us do, perhaps the competition could start doing itself a few favours. The broadcasters like to wank themselves into a frenzy about how bloody magical the whole thing is, interspersing patronising bullshit like Dan Walker talking to the tea lady at Hartlepool or Mark Clemmit putting his arm around the Warrington Town goalkeeper who’s also a postman with endless clips of Ronnie bloody Radford’s goal for Hereford against Newcastle, but they do more than most to wreck this competition. It was bad enough when five or six games were shifted all around the weekend for coverage, but now everything gets moved, for a combination of foreign broadcasters (fuck them, by the way. Fuck. Them.) and the BBC wanting to run a Jeff Stelling-style programme on a Sunday afternoon, but with some goal clips for Garth Crooks to talk insufferable bollocks over. Six games Saturday lunchtime, nine Saturday afternoon, six Saturday evening, nine Sunday lunchtime, one Sunday afternoon, one Sunday night, one Monday night. It makes the whole think look Mickey Mouse. And then BT Sport have the nerve to promote it under the catchline “don’t mug off the cup”. Don’t mug it off yourselves, pricks.
The custodians who are meant to be looking after it and promoting it just seem hell bent on damaging it further. This year the dreaded VAR is in place at the games being played at Premier League grounds, but not at the ones that aren’t. So, effectively, some of the Third Round games are being played to a different offside rule than the others. That’s just an obvious no isn’t it? No, we’re not doing that, it’s bloody stupid.
Can we move all the kick offs back a minute as some gimmick for a charity, so you have QPR v Swansea at 14.01, and Arsenal v Leeds at 19.56 and Gillingham v West ham at 18.16. No. Obviously no. No you can’t do that. Except, apparently, you can.
Can we rename your ancient competition with all its magnificent traditions to promote our Middle Eastern airline which fires its cabin crew if they dare to fall pregnant? No. Obviously no. No, you can’t do that either. Except, apparently, you can.
Can we take the fifth round off its traditional Saturday afternoon slot, plonk it into a midweek and get rid of the replays so that our precious Premier League darlings can have two weeks off their 38-game season in February? Hmmmmmmmmm, well ok, but you have to sign this agreement that says you won’t use the fortnight off to play lucrative friendly games in the Far East. Nah, we’re not signing that. Hmmmmmmmmmmm, ok, well we’ll do it anyway, but just you watch yourselves, if we catch you nonsing about with Bayern Munich in Doha we’ll probably give our fists a jolly good shake in the air.
When the organisers of the competition, the broadcasters of the competition, and the schedulers of the competition clearly give so little of a shit about the competition and what they’re doing to it, it’s a bit rich to accuse the clubs, the players and the managers of devaluing it.
Team News: Good God only knows. Certainties – Liam Kelly will replace Joe Lumley and have a chance to stake his claim for the forthcoming league games; Toni Leistner won’t play after leaving the field early against Cardiff with a tight calf; Grant Hall was also carrying an injury by the end of that game and is unlikely to start here given the dire last two years he’s had with his fitness; Josh Scowen will come back into the midfield. Other than that your guess is as good as mine. Jan Mlakar and Matt Smith would, in theory, be shoo ins for starts, but with both players likely to return to Man City and Brighton this month it’s a debate whether their parent clubs will allow them to be cup tied, making them less attractive to other potential loan destinations for the second half of the season. A much-needed slimming down of the squad over the past 18 months doesn’t leave that many fringe players to call on, but Conor Masterson and Mide Shodipo are two who haven’t played first team football this season but could get an opportunity here.
Mike van der Hoorn limped out of the midweek win against Charlton after aggravating an existing knee injury so won’t play here, and with ben Wilmot forbidden from playing in the cup under the terms of his loan from Watford (odd, given it’s a season-long deal) Steve Cooper has a headache in the middle of his defence. U23s centre half Brandon Cooper has travelled.
Elsewhere: The first clutch of half a dozen games takes place today at 12.31. Sigh. Headlining those are traditional cup shitouts Newcastle Reserves away at Rochdale, who’ve ploughed their pitch especially.
Nine matches have survived in the traditional Saturday 15.00 (well, 15.01) slot, and they include two Premier League strugglers – Aston Villa Reserves and Norwich Reserves – going to high flying Championship sides in Fulham Reserves and Preston Reserves respectively. Brentford Reserves will almost certainly be the best team Stoke Reserves have played all season.
Wolves Reserves v Man Utd Reserves headlines the Saturday teatime slots, with Port Vale enjoying their big day out away to Man City Reserves and Luton Reserves a potentially slippery customer for out of form Bournemouth Reserves as well.
Kicking off with us on the Sunday are Nottingham Forest Reserves away at Chelsea Reserves, and Tottenham Reserves up at Middlesbrough Reserves. Conference side Fylde are the lowest team left in the comp and they’re away to Sheff Utd Reserves. Wayne Rooney’s Derby County Reserves go to Crystal Palace Reserves.
There’s a Merseyside derby between Liverpool Reserves and Everton Reserves at 16.01, a Sunday evening clash between Gillingham and West Ham Reserves with David Moyes back in the Hammers’ dugout, and then a Monday night meeting between Arsenal Reserves and Leeds United Reserves.
Referee: Steve Martin controversially sent Lee Wallace from the field for his first red card of the season during QPR’s 4-0 home league defeat to Nottingham Forest in November, and he’s back in charge in W12 this weekend. Details.
QPR: Rangers’ thumping home win against Cardiff at the weekend was the first time they’ve scored six at home since the final day of the 1998/99 season against Crystal Palace. It lifted them onto 44 goals scored in the league this season, second only to West Brom’s 48, but the failure to keep a clean sheet means that only bottom two Luton (56) and Barnsley (49) have conceded more than our 48 goals this season. More importantly it broke a run of four matches without a win (three defeats) and registered just a second home win in eight games at Loftus Road, where Rangers have only won five times in the Championship this season. Last season’s 2-1 win against Leeds here at this stage of the FA Cup was the first time QPR had won a game in this competition without the aid of a replay since Trevor Sinclair’s bicycle kick knocked out Barnsley in the fourth round in 1997. Four ties have been won with replays in the 23 years in between – Torquay 2000, Luton 2001, MK Dons in 2012 and West Brom in 2015. The subsequent win in the fourth round against Portsmouth via a replay saw Rangers reach the fifth round for the first time since that season as well, they lost 2-1 at Wimbledon back then, and 1-0 at home to Watford this time around. Rangers have been punted out of this competition by Championship opposition or lower in 16 of the last 22 years, including a 4-0 loss to then Third Division Swansea at the old Vetch Field in 2001/02. Only Plymouth Argyle have been knocked out of the FA Cup at the Third Round stage as many times as QPR (49). Prior to last season Rangers exited the world's oldest knockout competition at the first possibly opportunity to the following opposition in this order: Middlesbrough H (97/98, Third Round replay), Huddersfield H (98/99, Third Round), Swansea A (01/02, First Round), Vauxhall Motors H (02/03, First Round replay), Grimsby A (03/04, First Round), Forest H (04/05, Third Round), Blackburn A (05/06, Third Round), Luton A (06/07, Third Round replay), Chelsea A (07/08, Third Round), Burnley A (08/09, Third Round replay), Sheff Utd H (09/10, Third Round replay), Blackburn A (10/11, Third Round), Everton A (13/14, Third Round), Sheff Utd H (14/15, Third Round), Forest A (15/16, Third Round), Blackburn H (16/17, Third Round) and MK Dons H (17/18, Third Round). A record of four wins out of 33 across 22 years, scoring just ten goals and conceding 56. Six of the defeats were to teams from at least one division lower.
Swansea: The Swans won seven and drew one of their first eight games this season to top the early Championship table and advance through two rounds of the League Cup. They’ve only won six of 21 since to drop down to sixth in the table. Away from home they were unbeaten in their first five league games, winning at QPR, Leeds and Charlton with a pair of 0-0 draws at Derby and Bristol City. Since then they’ve won twice, at Luton and Wigan, in seven road trips with a 3-1 loss at Brentford and 5-1 hammering at West Brom among their last three results away from the Liberty. They were impressive in last season’s FA Cup, winning 3-0 at Villa, 4-1 at home to Gillingham and 4-1 against Brentford before going 2-0 up in the sixth round against mighty Manchester City. They eventually lost that one 3-2. They reached the same stage the previous season via three replays with Wolves, Notts County and Sheff Wed before losing 3-0 to Spurs.
Of course the worst outcome from tomorrow’s game is a replay at Swansea a week on Tuesday, and it is now as traditional as QPR getting boring draws against teams they’ve played loads recently anyway and then losing to them in meek fashion that we predict that as the outcome.
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Swansea. Scorer - Lucifer
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