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Queens Park Rangers 2 v 2 Birmingham City
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 29th February 2020 Kick-off 15:00
The right direction - Preview
Friday, 28th Feb 2020 20:05 by Clive Whittingham

QPR are at home to Birmingham City on Saturday, a game that produced a heartbreaking cliffhanger ending for the Hoops a year ago.

QPR (13-7-15, LLDWDW, 13th) v Brum (12-10-13, DWWDDD, 14th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday February 29, 2020 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Another chuffing storm >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12

This fixture last season broke even my stale, dark heart to such an extent that even catching a glimpse of the highlights earlier today (bloody Birmingham Twitter feed, that’s you unfollowed) gutted me all over again.

There aren’t many clubs who have two separate comebacks from 4-0 first half deficits among their historical results, but as the famous A Kick Up The R’s cover said, QPR are never more dangerous than when they’re 4-0 down before half time. Finding people who claim to have been at the 5-5 with Newcastle in 1984, when I was two days old, isn’t hard. Finding people who admit to leaving at the break certainly is.

Likewise the 1997 comeback at Port Vale, where Rangers were not only 4-0 down at the break but conceded a fifth that was so far over the line Rufus Brevett nearly got tangled up in the net hooking it away and the referee winked at the QPR defenders after waving away the appeals for a goal. Not only not only that, but they still trailed 4-1 with three minutes to go which was, I confess, when my father and I took our lead, and kept on going across the car park even as the noise and news of Andy Impey making it 4-2 met our ears.

To actually be there for one, all of one, when it had happened twice before already, would have been some reprieve, and we were so bloody close. Matt Smith scoring immediately before and after half time changed the whole complexion and atmosphere, and I’d had a score on at 33/1 after the first goal that we would indeed get a point from the game – just to add to the sickening feeling later. Then it was just a case of getting a third before the last ten minute to set up a grand stand finish for us, and a mass panic for them, which we duly did right on the 80 minute bell through Jordan Cousins. There’s been much said about the performance of referee Darren Bond that afternoon, and his failure to spot the most blatant encroachment you’ll ever see at a missed spot kick, but if we’re really honest Nahki Wells’ kick carried zero conviction, power, accuracy or anything else required to score. Later that season, in very marginally less cliffhanger circumstances, he took an equally lousy one late in a 1-0 defeat to Nottingham Forest and missed in similar circumstances.

God, this club, and what it does to me. That feeling of seeing him miss, which seemed to last for hours. Stomach lining of a 54-year-old air traffic controller.

If there is a silver lining to this dark cloud of a memory, then it is Nahki the Lego man and what’s transpired since. I say right at the start that I like Nahki, rate him as one of this league’s better strikers, enjoyed watching him at QPR, thought he was the best forward we’d had since Charlie Austin and wish he was still here. But, if we’re really honest, after his collapse in form (along with the team) at the end of last season I don’t think anybody was that arsed about him leaving at the end of the season, nor clamouring for him to come back. His loan was almost done as an afterthought, right at the end of the summer transfer window, when other failed quests to sign players (Scott McKenna) permanently had hit the rocks and left enough space in the budget to bring him back.

Wells talked about a point to prove, which he was not only right about but also then followed through with, but was really just media-training speak from a new signing – exactly the same sort of platitudes he quickly trotted, Tweeted and Instagrammed out the very second he joined Bristol City. As Ilias Chair said on Tuesday after bashing a ball past Ben Hamer for the winning goal against Derby, it’s “strictly business”. Let’s be honest a second time, if Bristol City had paid what they’ve paid for him, and given him the contract they’ve given him, on January 1 when he hadn’t scored for nine games and the form of both he and the team looked like they were diving off the side of a cliff all over again, as opposed to January 31st, when he’d hit a nice purple patch that coincided with Bright Osayi-Samuel, Ebere Eze and Ilias Chair all also hitting form, then we wouldn’t have been too fussed either.

QPR need to find a way of buying their own, permanent striker. Relying on the loan market leaves you waiting until late in the summer window, and that deadline is sadly being drawn back out to the end of August again next season by which time we’ll be five games deep. It also risks lumbering you with somebody who really can’t be arsed with it – Tomer Hemed – somebody who’s being loaned out for a reason - Jan Mlakar – or somebody who does a bit too well for you and is then immediately recalled and sent somewhere better or sold – Wells, Connor Gallagher. But chasing shiny things, approaching their 30s, who others are offering to pay a transfer fee for despite their contract expiring in six months’ time, who others are willing to offer seriously lucrative three and a half year deals to, is not the way to do that.

QPR have been chasing shiny things, really, since Mike Sheron. He was a 12 goal a season man, much like a Dexter Blackstock type, his whole career before, and after, one glorious season at Stoke where it all clicked for him, he was the main man, and he bagged 23 goals in 46 appearances. QPR paid a club record fee of nearly £2.5m to get him, while the better run and shrewder set up at Charlton paid under a million for Clive Mendonca, who’d been scoring prolifically for years in a Grimsby team punching miles above its weight in the second tier. We’ve repeated that mistake time and time and time again since, fans begging the club to “announce Ravel”, and the club desperate to oblige, even if they couldn’t afford the player, even if he didn’t fit into the team, even if the signing made no sense.

Wells was the first time I can recall a really high profile example of us wanting a player, but stepping away from a deal because it didn’t fit into the budget. The results of this sort of behaviour are seen in the accounts this week, expertly summarised by Simon Dorset for us earlier today. QPR are still propped up each year by an interest free hand out from the owners, though it’s down to just north of £10m this time. But the all important wage bill continues to come back to where it should be, from a high of £80m, and from a still exorbitant £30m in the last set of accounts to £22m this time. I had worried that Schteve’s late “team of men” trolley dash might have blown that, but it’s a significant and necessary drop. The average wage at QPR now is a much more manageable £11k a week, and the salaries account for only 69% of the turnover. That’s the third lowest in the Championship – Reading are at 198%. It will inevitably come down again this summer after another exodus of higher earners, and the £3.9m we got for player sales in this set of accounts (Smithies, Sylla) will be at least twice that next time thanks to the departure of Luke Freeman, Mass Luongo, Darnell Furlong and Matt Ingram.

There are still serious issues, problems and mistakes being made. The broadcast revenue (parachute payments) vanishes from the next set of accounts and was our biggest income in this set to the tune of £12m – hence they’ve spent the last few years working their way into £12m of FFP headroom.

In addition, unless Ebere Eze has one of Lee Hoos’ famous “options on the club’s side” in the contract he signed 18 months ago then he, Bright Osayi-Samuel and Ryan Manning are all coming into the last year of their contracts as of this summer. That’s a ticking timebomb. The only we way get out of our current situation is to regularly start getting £8m-£12m for players we’ve scouted and signed cheaply or developed from scratch and those three are the best we’ve had, got, or likely to have for sometime. You sell one, put some capital on the balance sheet, buy three more players with the money, and repeat. All of them coming out of contract at once is, kindly put, less than ideal.

Brentford have done it successfully, and Preston have as well, although their accounts last week for a season in which they didn’t sell a player show how precarious things can be if you’re reliant on sales and don’t make one, while also deciding to push the boat out slightly – wages to turnover ballooning to 143%, a £2m profit the previous year dropping to a £14m loss the chairman had to pick up, as ours would.

But overall this latest set of books show a club being run properly and recovering from a ruinous spell of mismanagement. To get the wage bill down from where it was to where it is, and where it will presumably be next time, without descending rapidly through the leagues is an achievement, and this season they’ve even managed to improve the team and the football being played. As I said a few weeks back this can’t be us forever, people won’t cheer a balance sheet, we have to have something to hope for, but doing this hard work and working ourselves back into a sustainable position does give us FFP headroom and the potential to push on while others who haven’t been so prudent suffer the consequences. That rather depends on the EFL actually enforcing those consequences, QPR scouting well and signing shrewdly, and all sorts of other stuff that probably won’t happen, but overall I took this week’s accounts as good news.

Wells, meanwhile, has one goal in six for a Bristol City team that’s lost four of its last five.

Links >>> Accounting for success – Column >>> Birmingham go long – Interview >>> Di Carmine in the snow – History >>> Play-offs here we come – Podcast >>> Linington in charge – Referee >>> Birmingham City official website >>> St Andrew’s – Ground Guide >>> Small Heath Alliance – Message Board >>> We Are Birmingham – Podcast >>> Birmingham Mail – Local Press

Geoff Cameron Facts No.92 In The Series – Geoff’s sweat is actually a cure for Coronavirus, he’s just been too busy monstering Minecraft to let anybody know about it.

Saturday

Team News: Bright Osayi-Samuel escaped the Keith Stroud show without a booking on Tuesday and is now just two games shy of the embargo for ten league bookings – a yellow here, or at Preston next week, would see him sit out two matches. Angel Rangel sat out the win against Derby, which is customary when we play Saturday Tuesday, but could return here at Todd Kane’s expense.

Elsewhere: There’s life in the bottom three yet. Lutown have gone from eight defeats and a draw to four wins from seven games, including a 2-1 win against the best side they’ve played all season, Spartak Hounslow, during the week. That victory even more remarkable considering they shipped seven in the first meeting at Griffin Park earlier this season.

Grimethorpe Miners Welfare have also won three in a row ahead of their trip to Hayes and Yeading, where third bottom Wigan Warriors were also able to win during the week – a second victory in a row and fourth match unbeaten. Wigan go to league leaders West Brom this weekend in an exciting fixture between two teams beginning with W.

All of that leaves Lutown on 33 (-28 GD), Barnsley on 34 (-16) and Wigan on 37 (-13). With that sudden burst of life, the attention turns to those in the queue immediately above them and at the head of that line is Middlesbrough. They’re above Wigan on goal difference alone after a run of nine without a win and three straight defeats – this following Jonathan Woodgate’s manager of the month award for December. Boro go last this weekend, a Monday Night Football (Keysie tells us we have to cap it up, in between hanging out the back of his daughter’s mate) at home to Nottingham Florist.

Fifth bottom, Poke City, 38 points (-10), two wins from six, and away at Lutown this weekend. God speed. Sixth bottom, The Cowley Sisters, 39 points (-15) ahead, three wins in 11, and at home to Charlton, who are next up, also on 39 points (-10). These teams playing each other is music to the ears of the Allam Tigers (41, -6) whose decision to cash in on stars Jarrod Bowen and Kamil Grosicki in January could land them in League One. Their midweek defeat at home to Barnsley was a tenth without a win, eight of which have been lost. Not likely to get a lot easier for them this weekend at home to the Champions of Europe in the Saturday lunchtime Sky Sports Leeds fixture, with Keith Stroud in charge and nine senior players out injured. The league bhave even banned accident prone Leeds keeper Kiko Casilla for eight games for racially abusing Charlton’s Jonathan Leko, so Tigers Tigers Rah Rah Rah can’t even rely on him for his obligatory goal-costing pisballing.

Hayes and Yeading loiter just above that whirlpool on with 42 points prior to that Barnsley fixture.

Up the top the only sides not mentioned are Sebastien and Tristan, third, and Preston Knob End, sixth, who meet at Craven Cottage. Despite the midweek set back, and four without a win, it’s hard to imagine Cardiff will have played anybody better than the Justice League leaders when they meet in South Wales.

Millwall Scholars v Bristol City is a game between two of those hoping to gatecrash, and Wazza and Wagga’s Luncheon Club are rushing up to Sheffield Owls having heard the country’s third largest Pizza Hut has just opened in South Yorkshire.

Referee: Back to normality this week with our regular Isle of Wight official James Linington. Details.

Form

QPR: Rangers have won five and lost two of their seven home games since Christmas, scoring 18 goals in those victories, following Tuesday’s first win in seven attempts against Derby. The R’s are now unbeaten in four, taking eight points from 12, having lost four in a row immediately prior to that. Having not drawn 0-0 all season, they have two stalemates in their last four games against Swansea and Forest away. Only West Brom (36) have scored more than QPR’s 35 goals at home this season but the 31 conceded is matched only by Barnsley. Rangers are only five points shy of their total for last season, with ten games of the current campaign still remaining. They’re also only one home win short of their 2018/19 total of nine. Yoann Barbet is unbeaten in four games (W2 D2) since returning from injury at the start of the month and has suffered defeat on just three of his 16 league appearances for the club since arriving from Brentford in the summer.

Birmingham Brum have won six away games already this season, same as third placed Fulham and sixth placed Preston. Three of those victories have come in a recent run of seven unbeaten on the road in all comps, although one of those was a draw with League One highflyers Coventry in a game that was away from home in name only. Since losing 3-0 at Hull on December 21, City have drawn at Blackburn, Middlesbrough (both 1-1), Coventry and Millwall (both 0-0) and won at Luton (2-1), Bristol City (3-1) and Barnsley (1-0) and top the Championship form table for away results. They’ve drawn five and lost seven of their other 12 away games this season. Overall they come into this one unbeaten in 12, although that includes two games with Coventry and seven have finished as draws, including the last three. Striker Lukas Jutkiewicz has seven goals in his last 13 appearances, and three in his last five, while on loan Scott Hogan has bagged four in six since arriving from bitter rivals Villa at the end of the transfer window. The Blues have never won two consecutive games at Loftus Road but can make history on Saturday after last year’s remarkable 4-3 encounter which they led 4-0 before half time.

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. I don’t know where our reigning champion WokingR pulled 2-1 and Hall to score from for Tuesday, but he was spot on and this week he says…

“Well, I had my ‘monkey with a typewriter’ moment on Tuesday and finally got one spot on, even predicting Grant Hall as first scorer. I’ve asked if I can retire, going out at the top, but apparently I am contractually obliged to see this out to the end of the season. Saturday’s game looks a toughy. We are top of the home form table and Birmingham are top for away games. Going with a very tight 1-1 with Hugill our scorer.”

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

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-1 Birmingham. Scorer – Jordan Hugill

The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords

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plasmahoop added 23:00 - Feb 28
It's still amazing really, we've cut our wage bill dramatically and it's still an average of 11 grand a week. Football is mental, if you don't pay it you do a Stockport and drop out the league. But normal market forces would imply the clubs can't afford to pay it. Not like most of them are particularly famous outside their clubs, or at the top of their profession. Staggering
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062259 added 23:45 - Feb 28
I was at the 5-5 and I didn’t leave at half time, let alone before the end.
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GloryHunter added 00:12 - Feb 29
I agree. 11 grand a week, getting free training and keep-fit from professional coaches. I was playing 5-a-side tonight with some young lads who have unbelievable ball skills, and they're working at Tescos, or as plumbers. At 17 and 18 years old it's probably too late for them to get picked up.
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DavieQPR added 02:02 - Feb 29
Have you forgotten Matt Smith the Taller already.
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snanker added 09:15 - Feb 29
I too was at the 5-5 and didn’t leave at half time, let alone before the end. 7-6 the scoreline R's favor if all goals had of stood !! The crowd noise was the loudest I ever heard at the old Loftus Rd. Oh the joy !
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TacticalR added 14:04 - Feb 29
Thanks for your preview.

Yes, that Wells miss was a choker, and completely derailed his season. At least his loss of form last season was compensated for by his much better form this season.

I am as surprised as anyone that we've managed to get the deficit down while preserving our position in the league.
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