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Queens Park Rangers 1 v 2 Sheffield Wednesday
FA Cup
Friday, 24th January 2020 Kick-off 20:00
Striking conundrum - Preview
Friday, 24th Jan 2020 14:16 by Clive Whittingham

All the talk ahead of tonight's FA Cup fourth round tie with Sheff Wed surrounds the future of QPR's on loan top scorer Nahki Wells.

QPR (11-5-12, LLWWLW 14th) v Sheff Wed (12-6-10, LLLWWL, 10th)

Zenith Data Systems Centenary Trophy >>> Friday January 24, 2020 >>> Kick Off 20.00 >>> Weather – Cloudy, cold, dry >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12

Queens Park Rangers have been having problems with strikers since Charlie Austin left the club.

Years of reckless spending, a cavalier approach to handing out contracts and deliberate breaches of financial fair play have left the club with no choice but to embark on a lengthy period of cleaning house. This is year five of a project to bring the wage bill down from its ridiculous highs north of £80m a year to something more like the £10m-£15m clubs like Preston spend at this level. This is necessary, firstly, to comply with the rules of the league. QPR are in the bottom five in the Championship for ground size and attendances; Loftus Road is old, outdated, generates next to no non-matchday income and is expensive to upkeep; the club currently rents two training facilities in one of the most expensive parts of the country – the FFP/profit and sustainability laws stalk the club at every corner. And, secondly, to try and have the club on a sounder, sustainable footing moving forwards and not, as it is now, reliant on a big hand out from its owner each year just to continue to exist in its current form.

That unique set of circumstances exists in a climate of excess elsewhere, particularly for strikers. The Premier League television deal, parachute payments, and clubs of the size of Newcastle and Aston Villa finding themselves in the Championship, has driven the cost of forwards through the roof. Standard Championship marksman like Kenneth Zohore and Gary Madine have been moving for fees in the region of £8m. Scott Hogan, Jonathan Kodija, Ross McCormack and others even more than that. Not to slag off Jordan Hugill, who’s worked hard since joining QPR and scored important goals in reasonable numbers for us, but does he look like an £8m player to you? Because that’s what he cost West Ham to buy from Preston. Middlesbrough spent £30m on strikers in one summer and it got them Britt Assombalonga, Ashley Fletcher and Martin Braithwaite.

So QPR have tried to find work arounds. They looked for a promising lower league striker they could get for a more reasonable fee and hopefully train up, but picked the wrong one in Connor Washington. A later punt on David Wheeler, a prolific goalscorer from the wing at Exeter City, being able to come in and convert to a Championship striker, also fell flat. They looked to Europe, and had some moderate success with first Seb Polter and then Idrissa Sylla. And now, for the last season and a half, they’ve turned to the loan market.

This has been fraught with issues. Firstly, loaning players from the Premier League isn’t free, or even cheap, and it’s dead money because you don’t own the asset. Secondly, the deals tend to get done very late in the window, and so you have situations like last season where we went into the season woefully short and lost the first four games conceding 13 goals in the process, or this year where the clock ticked down to a week before the campaign began with no strikers at all on the books. Thirdly, clubs don’t loan out brilliant players, if they’re letting you borrow one he must be faulty in some way, be that an injury, or poor form, or youthful inexperience, or whatever. And whether they admit it or not, in the second half of the season there will be more than half an eye on where their next contract is coming from rather than concentrating on and committing to the task in hand. So you could just as easily end up with what we got from Tomer ‘the warrior’ Hemed for your money.

Now, an exciting new problem. What happens if they do too well? Nahki Wells’ handy winning goal against Leeds at the weekend was his fifth in three games and fourteenth of the season overall. He is the Championship’s most efficient striker in the goals to chances ratio. He’s also out of contract at parent club Burnley this summer and faced with the aforementioned ridiculous striker market the rest of the division has sniffed the potential to get a fit, in-form, 29-year-old, quality Championship forward at a knockdown price. Bristol City, Wigan and (of course) Nottingham Forest are all loitering and Burnley would, obviously, love to get some money now for a player that will otherwise go for free in six months’ time.

QPR would like to have Wells permanently themselves, and Wells himself would prefer to stay in W12 with his family now settled in London. Rangers do have some headroom under FFP thanks to Lee Hoos’ clean up mission, but given we weren’t able to go to more than £3m for Aberdeen’s Scott McKenna last summer it’s reasonable to assume that if the competing clubs drive the price for Wells beyond that then we’ll be out of the running. It’s terribly romantic to think that because Nahki likes Shepherd’s Bush he’ll stay regardless, and it is a fact that players love to move on free transfers when there are more options available and you can drive up the wage and signing on fee because of the lack of a transfer fee to be paid. But you would think, this being football and business, that he’ll go if a club tables a bid.

Couple of things to bear in mind if he does go – and these are from somebody who loves Wells and wants him to stay here. Three weeks ago if you’d said QPR would be spending that FFP headroom on a striker there’d have been a bloody riot. Three good performances from Conor Masterson later and apparently all our defensive ills and centre back woes have been solved. He’s just a kid, his form will drop at some point, the need to strengthen at the back still exists. Three weeks ago if you’d asked about Wells himself, I dare say a few people would have been a bit non-committal. No goals in eight games, the worry then was not whether he’d go somewhere else but whether he’d stay here and drop off the side of a cliff like he did 12 months ago. And with our set of circumstances outlined above, is committing money to a 29-year-old who’s unlikely to have much resell value unless he goes absolutely berserk for the next 12 months and then gets bought next January really a shrewd move?

Somehow, somewhere, be it with a permanent move for Nahki or not, QPR need to find a way to acquire a permanent striker who can score goals at this level within the financial constraints we’re operating in. That’s not impossible – Preston have shopped well in Ireland and lower divisions, Millwall got Tom Bradshaw, Barnsley got Cauley Woodrow, all within our price range – but it is difficult. Rangers have watched, extensively, Lawrence Shankland at Dundee United, 26 goals in 27 appearances this season including a hat trick against Partick Thistle last week and another in the cup against SPL side Hibs in front of watching QPR representatives. Buying in Scotland could be one way around this, though whether Shankland could transfer his form to the English Championship, and whether we can even still afford him given his electric form and recent Scotland call up, is up for debate.

Continuing to rely on borrowing your forward line from somebody else every year is a risky business, as we may well be about to find out.

Links >>> Gallen debut goal – History >>> Kelly’s Heroes – Podcast >>> Kill it before it lays eggs – Referee

Geoff Cameron Facts No.84 In The Series – Geoff has missed training this week after being granted a leave of absence by the club in order to set off on a quest to find Kalvin Phillips’ house.

Friday

Team News: QPR moved this game to the Friday to give them more time to prepare for Tuesday’s trip up to Blackburn, but with the fixtures not quite at the mental level they were prior to the third round there probably isn’t such a pressing need to tinker with the team selection for this game as there was against Swansea. Yoann Barbet is back training again and likely to be available by the end of the month. Jordan Hugill missed the Leeds win with a training knock but is available for this one. Joe Lumley was also not involved on Saturday with an unspecified injury that could well just be the club trying to save him a bit of face after a dire run of form. Liam Kelly was excellent against the Whites and you would think is now first choice, but whether that’s the case for the cup or not remains to be seen.

Massimo Luongo was sent off for Sheff Wed last week sparking a 5-0 collapse at home to Blackburn, but the red card has been rescinded and he is available to play against his former club at Loftus Road for the first time since leaving last summer. Liam Palmer is back after an ankle knock but it’s still a bit cold for Fernando Forestieri.

Elsewhere: QPR start the FA Cup fourth round weekend tonight along with HMRC’s Derby County who are away to Northampton. Another two hours of grown men wanking themselves into a frenzy over Mr Potato Head on subscription television again.

Ten games tomorrow, starting at Griffin Park where Justice League leaders Lokomotiv Gunnersbury will almost certainly be the best side Leicester Reserves have faced this season. A tough trip for Best League in the World’s Sheffield Red Stripes Reserves down at Millwall Scholars (another reason we have to play Friday), and for hapless West Ham Reserves who have Championship leaders West Brom at home.

There are all Premier League ties between Burnley Reserves and Borussia Norwich Reserves, and Southampton Reserves and Tottenham Reserves. Grimethorpe Miners’ Welfare travel all the way down to League One Portsmouth, Frank Lampard’s Chelsea Reserves are away to Jarrod Bowen FC in the televised evening game, and third tier highflyers Oxford United are away to Newcastle Reserves. Then there’s the Shaun Harvey derby at St Andrew’s where Birmingham will play as the away team in their own stadium against basket case Coventry City.

Three games on Sunday, starting with Man City Reserves v Fulham, which has been televised for reasons nobody can adequately explain. Tranmere have ploughed the pitch especially for Man Utd Reserves' arrival after that and Liverpool Reserves go to Shrewsbury Town in the early evening game. Monday Night Football is an all Prem affair between Bournemouth Reserves and Arsenal Reserves.

Referee: Run and get daddy’s exorcism tongs.

Form

QPR: Rangers are aiming to make it to the fifth round of this competition for the second year in a row having previously not made it there once since 1997. They beat Portsmouth 2-0 in a replay at this stage last season before losing narrowly to Watford at Loftus Road. Rangers had been in middling home form at the turn of the year with four wins, four draws and five losses in the league, but they’ve since put six through Cardiff, five through Swansea and then beaten title chasing Leeds in three consecutive games at Loftus Road to post six valuable league points and progress in the cup. They’re unbeaten in five games against the Owls, winning the last four and scoring 11 goals in the process.

Sheff Wed: That surprising 5-0 loss to Blackburn in the league last weekend continued a topsy turvy run of Wednesday form over the winter. Six unbeaten including four wins had lifted them into the heart of the promotion picture by mid-December but they conceded twice in injury time to lose 3-2 at lowly Stoke on Boxing Day and were subsequently beaten in consecutive home games by Cardiff and Hull. They then won twice on the road without conceding a goal, beating Premier League Brighton 1-0 in the Third Round of the cup and then triumphing 2-0 at Elland Road with a pair of late goals. Then the shellacking by Rovers meaning they’ve lost their last three at Hillsborough scoring once and conceding eight. Garry Monk’s side have won six away games in the league this season, more than anybody else in the league bar West Brom and Leeds (eight). They’ve also scored 25 goals on their travels this season, more than anybody else in the division.

Prediction: No Prediction League for the cup games of course but you can still sample the merch from our sponsor The Art of Football’s QPR collection here.

Maintaining the LFW FA Cup tradition by going for the dreaded replay…

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-2 Sheff Wed. Scorer – Nahki Wells

The Twitter @loftforwords

Pictures – Action Images

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TacticalR added 19:54 - Jan 24
Thanks for your preview.

Yes, it's pretty hard to get a striker when you haven't got any money, and as you point out we've tried pretty much everything. At least this season the loans have come good.

In terms of form Sheffield Wednesday seem to be one of the most schizophrenic teams in a schizophrenic division.
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