|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 1 Bristol City|
Saturday, 1st February 2020 Kick-off 15:00
Could the last one out... - Preview
Friday, 31st Jan 2020 19:39 by Clive Whittingham
Bristol City, with Nahki Wells leading the line, come to Loftus Road on Saturday to face a QPR side that appears to have taken a depressingly pragmatic approach to the second half of the season.
QPR (11-5-13, WWLWLL, 14th) v Bristol City (13-8-8, LDWLWW, 6th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday February 1, 2020 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Sovereign >>> Home Bargains Outlet, London, W12
If you’d told me when I jumped on the plane on the morning of the Leeds game for two weeks in America that by the time I flew back we’d have been knocked out of the FA Cup and Nahki Wells, Matt Smith, Jan Mlakar, Josh Scowen and Toni Leistner would all have permanently left the club I’d have said I’ll be needing something stronger to drink than this in that case.
Individually, the deals make sense.
Nahki Wells was always likely to leave, for all the reasons I gave a fortnight ago. Even if QPR had decided they wanted to spend money and wage on a player about to turn 30 with little sell on value, which they obviously did on this occasion despite it being contradictory to what they’re meant to be doing, they simply couldn’t. It’s not the case of the board not being able to afford it or not wanting to do it (they can and did), it’s a simple matter of maths and FFP. Where’s the money from Freeman, Luongo, Smithies et al gone? Onto the fire. Even with it we’re still losing north of £10m a season, that money is just reducing losses to keep us compliant. This is where we are. If we had bought Wells and breached the rules, then it would have been a transfer embargo until we sold enough players to get back into a compliant position again. Would you want a summer fire sale of Bright and Eze at knockdown prices just so we can keep Wells for our quest for sixteenth now? No.
There was a school of thought Wells might stay anyway. That because he likes living down south and @wells_twins look super cute in their QPR tops at London Zoo he might forgo an enormous, multi-year, multi-million pound contract that takes him well into his thirties to stick around and earn less in W12. That because Warburton used to work with Sean Dyche at Watford and Lee Hoos used to work for Burnley the Clarets might decide to leave him on loan with us and lose him for nothing at the end of his contract, rather than recall a player they have no use for and get some decent money now for a player they previously thought would go for free. Romantic stuff guys, heartwarming, but this is football, and footballers, and football clubs and business. Come on. Don’t get caught all lovesick like that again.
And while I’m at it, I know the Football League’s assorted media teams seem to be locked in a fight to the death to be anointed as The Arch Bishop of Banterberry and it’s all a bit of fun and don’t take it so seriously and old man shouts at cloud and all the rest of it… but Tweeting “just happy to be here” about a player you know stands a really good chance of not only leaving but leaving to join the club we’re playing next? It’s hard enough suffering his smile, and wink, and Lego hair, and ridiculous voice in another club’s colours without us making ourselves look like fucking mugs into the bargain. Rants over.
Toni Leistner would have left in the summer had Scott McKenna been secured from Aberdeen. Going from club captain and first choice to not even wanted in the squad in one fell swoop of managerial change clearly, rightly, had the German casting glances for a move back home and he now has a move to a Bundesliga club. QPR, meanwhile, get somewhere in the reported region of £500,000 off their wage bill for the second half of the season depending on how much of it Cologne are swallowing. I liked Leistner. Good, honest professional. He tended to play three decent games and then have a horror show but there were some notable highlights among his time here, the hoodoo-breaking goal and outstanding performance at Nottingham Forest chief among them, and I was really impressed with how he won his place back in the team this year despite the manager’s misgivings. Magnificent at Millwall in September. Conor Masterson was going to go on loan this month but has won his place in the team, so Leister has gone instead – a better move financially for the club, and the same number of centre halves we thought we were going to be working with.
Josh Scowen is another I liked. Superb under Ian Holloway as part of a midfield three, he suffered first under Steve McClaren and Mark Warburton for not being able to be that deep lying midfielder who can pick a ball up from the defence in tight areas and distribute it creatively. A brief spike in form when used further forwards by John Eustace at the end of last season wasn’t carried into this, with several good chances missed in the early games, and he too has fallen out of favour. Bit of money now and a wage off the bill for a player we weren’t picking and didn’t have in our plans… again makes sense.
You could never fault his effort, commitment or work rate, and I felt he was unfairly targeted by the angry element of our support that hunts our own players for sport – amazing how quickly “as long as they try their best for the shirt that’s all you can ask” turns into sending “he’s fucking shit” to the player’s dad. I also worry that losing both Rainier Wolfcastle and The Rat at once leaves us looking a terribly meek team. I’ve heard anecdotally via a referee that QPR are already easily the quietest, nicest team he’s had this season, and that’s not a particularly good trait in this dog league. Scowen and Leistner were at least some form of backbone, kicking what needed to be kicked.
Smith looked utterly lightweight and ineffective on the rare occasions he was used. It’s players like that, mollycoddled and paid a fortune through an academy system that exists purely as a storage facility for big clubs to keep talented kids away from rivals with no intention of ever using them in the first team, that annoy me. Smith, 20 years old, four senior starts and six sub appearances in his entire life. Ebere Eze, same age, 95 starts and 22 sub appearances. One looks like a child lost in a man’s world, the other looks every muscly inch a professional footballer. If you want a car and a watch and a pay packet that lets you tease Scunthorpe United players in Leasing.Com Trophy games about how much you’re on then piss about in Premier League academies. If you want to be a footballer, play some fucking football games. It’s why Warbs Warburton winds me up slightly when he talks about Bright’s lack of academy education – I’ll have streetsmart Bright (155 senior appearances aged 22) every day of the fucking week thanks. I sense Jack Clarke may wind me up similarly – moving from a club where he was playing to one where he never will with all the results we saw in the Sheff Wed cup game.
Collectively, the deals make sense, financially at least.
It all fits with the FFP pattern that we’ve absolutely done to death on here over the years. With 38 points we’re not going up, and we’re not going down*. It’s pretty clear the strategy now is to get through the rest of this season as best we can, saving as much money and creating as much FFP headroom as we can for the summer and 2020/21. The squad is unquestionably light in key areas now, and we’re going to be very reliant on Jordan Hugill and Conor Masterson in particular to maintain form and fitness through to May. But they’re pragmatically looking at us needing three or four more wins, and as long as we don’t do exactly what we did last season that’s a sensible move. Worth saying, that even with three wins from 23 in the second half of the last campaign, we still didn’t go down, and wouldn’t have gone down even if we’d also lost to Swansea and Sheff Wed.
(*Morgan Freeman voiceover – they were not not going down.)
The problem with all this is how you keep selling it to an expectant, irritable, weary fanbase. You can’t plead poverty and pass up £250,000 FA Cup windfall ties at home to Man City, as we did last Friday. You can’t say we’ve learned lessons and are doing things right and then sign Massimo Luongo on a contract you can’t afford to renew when it’s up, or bring Toni Leistner from the second tier in Germany on a deal so dear you’re glad to be rid of it on loan in 18 months. You can’t preach sound thinking and good values and then bring in a kid on loan from Spurs in the position of the field we’re strongest in. We’re doing lots right, I'm broadly supportive of the direction of travel, but we’re still doing plenty wrong, and when we have weeks like this fans who pay their hard earned have a right to call you on that.
More broadly speaking, we don’t give up that hard-earned, and our time, and our emotional investment, to be involved in an accounting exercise. Football is meant to be about excitement, ambition, winning, medals, achievement. The highs and the lows. The hope that kills you. The inkling it might be your year, the bitter disappointment when it’s not, and the orgasmic euphoria on the rare occasions it is. QPR have taken a pragmatic decision to basically sack off the second half of this season in the hope it’ll put them in a better position for next, but they’re not sacking off the £30+ tickets for home games, they’re not sacking off the booking fee, Avanti West Coast aren’t sacking off the 50 notes they want for me to get to Huddersfield next week, 292 people didn’t sack off going to Blackburn to see us concede another fucking free header at the back post from a set piece. There was no small print in my season ticket renewal last year that said “* If we’re midtable in January we’re going to toss anything that’s not tied down overboard and just try and muddle through the last five months of the season.”
The deadline for season tickets for next year is end of April, they want £535 for mine, and in the last fortnight they’ve given me a pathetic surrender in the FA Cup and an open admission that we’re happy to just tread water through months and months and games and games that I’ve paid for and will continue to pay for. I count myself as one of the ones who gets it, I understand the FFP stuff and know that it's the rules of the competition not the club causing this, I support Lee Hoos and Les Ferdinand in what they’re trying to achieve, I’m totally on board with this idea that if we keep our house in order the division will crumble around us with chickens coming home to roost in overstretched clubs and transfer fees heading back towards reasonable. I despair at some of the stuff I see directed at the club on social media. But, at the same time, I’m not paying a thick three figures to go to Middlesbrough in April to cheer at a balance sheet. QPR fans angry and clueless, resigned and pragmatic, and everything in between need to know that it’s not always going to be like this. This isn’t just us forever now.
Without trapping themselves in another Four Year Plan cliché, if there’s one thing the club could communicate slightly better during this trying time it’s the end goal. What is it, and when?
Links >>> City staffing up – Interview >>> Tommy the Strangler – History >>> Whitestone in charge – Referee >>> Bristol City official website >>> The Exiled Robin – Blog >>> One Team In Bristol – Message Board >>> Bristol Post – Local Paper
Geoff Cameron Facts No.86 In The Series – Geoff will be using his two match ban to get extra practice sessions in up at the Cockfosters Lawn Bowls Club where he is rated as one of the league’s top five most promising young stars.
Team News: Bring your boots get a game. Toni Leistner, Matt Smith, Jan Mlakar, Nahki Wells and Josh Scowen have all left the club in the last week and Geoff Cameron is serving a two match ban for rattling his way through to ten bookings. Angel Rangel is available for selection, Yoann Barbet is due a run in the Under 23s before he returns after three months out. Unless we’re taking care of Bright again this weekend the team basically picks itself bar the Kane/Rangel issue. Aramideh Oteh has been recalled from a loan at Bradford.
Nahki Wells goes straight into the squad to face his former team mates. What a pisser. Out of favour Hull midfielder Marcus Henriksen was also on the cusp of sealing a loan move to Ashton Gate at press time along with Leicester defender Filip Benkovic. Bennick Afobe is among the long term absentees with an exploded knee.
Elsewhere: Getting in the way of the real business of buying and selling footballers (and remember, you can bet on whether the Sky Sports News drones are lying to you via dedicated markets on SkyBet) are two actual football matches tonight. Wayne Rooney is playing Stoke City assuming the thought of him being able to face Manchester United Reserves in the next round of the FA Cup hasn’t rendered the pitch at Pride Park semen-logged. Neil Harris’ Cardiff are at home to Mark Bowen’s Hayes and Yeading and if that’s your choice of Friday night viewing then please do seek medical help.
Intriguing game at lunchtime tomorrow as Jarrod Bowen FC start life without Jarrod Bowen at home to Justice League leaders Lokomotiv Gunnersbury. Already arguably the toughest game the Allam Tigers will face all season, the loss of both Bowen and Grosicki on the transfer deadline (slightly offset by the capture of Peterborough’s much sought after Marcus Maddison) is compounded by another really smart piece of business from the Bees who’ve snared Oxford pair Tarique Fosu-Henry and Shandon Baptiste for a ridiculously low £3m.
Nine games in the traditional slot then including our own. Birmingham, who added Scot Hogan to their ranks late doors, are at home to Nottingham Florist, who’ve signed another couple of bodies just because they hadn’t bought anybody for 20 minutes or so. Charlton, who looked set to add QPR’s unused Man City loan matt Smith right on the deadline, are at home to Grimethorpe Miners’ Welfare. Cowley sisters Danni and Nikki are heading down to see John-Paul and Ajay at the Cottage while Wigan Warriors back up from last night’s win against the Warrington Wolves with a tough game at the Leeds Rhinos.
Middlesbrough and Blackburn are having a north-off while Swanselona head to Preston Knob End. Millwall have added Mason Bennett, great news for the Uber drivers of Bermondsey, ahead of their trip to Sheffield Owls. Lutown go to West Brom in a battle of bottom versus top. Keep a clean sheet there and I’ll give them the money myself.
Referee: Dean Whitestone is in the middle for this one. He last refereed these two teams in August, QPR in a 1-1 home draw with Huddersfield and City in a 3-1 away win at Hull where he awarded them a second half penalty. History and stats available here.
QPR: One thing or the other for QPR through January with three wins and 12 goals scored in the process, three defeats with seven conceded during those, and only one game from six where both teams didn’t score. Of course, six of the 15 goals we’ve managed this month were scored by Nahki Wells who will be playing against us tomorrow. The Sheff Wed defeat in the FA Cup interrupted a run of three consecutive home victories that included 6-1 and 5-1 wins against the two Welsh sides in the Championship. Rangers’ overall home record in the league is now 6-4-5. Wells departs Loftus Road with 15 goals to his name in all comps this season – the last time a QPR player had scored that many by this point it was Andy Thomson with 18 in 2001/02.
Bristol City: Just a month ago this looked like a bit of a banker home win. City lost four fairly middle of the road games in a row through December at home to Millwall (1-2), Blackburn (0-2) and away to Sheff Wed (1-0) and Charlton (3-2). They rallied with a 3-0 against basement side Luton but were then beaten 4-0 at home by Brentford, probably the best team they’ve played all season. They’ve also contrived to lose an FA Cup replay to League One Shrewsbury. But they now come to Loftus Road on a run of three straight league wins without conceding a goal – Wigan A (2-0), Barnsley H (1-0) and Reading A (1-0). Only the top two Leeds and West Brom (eight) have won more away games than Lee Johnson’s men (seven) this season. The victories have come at Derby (2-1), Hull (3-1), Stoke (2-1), Cardiff (1-0), Fulham (2-1) and those recent trips to Wigan and Reading.
Prediction: This year’s Prediction League is sponsored by The Art of Football. Get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Spot on at Blackburn, which wasn’t hard. Last year’s champion WokingR reckons…
“Bristol are showing good form away from home at the moment and I think will be just too strong for us. They are not usually high scorers but they've probably not come up against anything like our defence before so predicting a 1-2 defeat with Chair grabbing our consolation.”
Woking’s Prediction: QPR 1-2 Bristol City. Scorer – Ilias Chair
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-3 Bristol City. Scorer – Nahki Wells
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