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Dispatches from the model village - Column
Sunday, 23rd Aug 2020 15:45 by Clive Whittingham

QPR began their truncated 2020 pre-season campaign with an incredibly comfortable 3-0 home win against League One Wimbledon in front of an empty Loftus Road on Saturday.

W12 on the third Saturday in August. Sun in the sky, Queens Park Rangers at home, Peroni and Pride hencing forth from the taps at the Crown and Sceptre. All the smiling faces, walking down the Uxbridge Road. As Proud Mary’s plonks the Bush’s best breakfast on top of your Saturday newspaper supplements you could close your eyes and drink in the normality with your orange juice.

Sure, The Adelaide is boarded up and abandoned, but better pubs than that have fallen to soulless property developers in these parts since the local demographic changed. Hell, you can live in the back bar of The Goldhawk now if you fancy, and you’ve got £1.4m in your current account. “Only two customers in the shop at any one time” the sign says, but then, ‘twas ever thus. Tramps shuffle around the Green, checking the discarded McDonalds wrappers for scraps. Then somebody points a temperature gun at your forehead and you’re back in the hideous science fiction reality we’ve been landed in by people who think a live wild animal sounds like an acceptable option for Sunday lunch.

Walking around our manor now is like visiting a model village: it looks like Shepherd’s Bush but doesn’t feel like it, open but not open, real but not real. They have lifelike London buses running through it, but there’s nobody on them, and the traffic is stuck on an early Sunday morning setting. There’s a life-sized Loftus Road as the centre piece, but it’s like the house of your childhood best friend who suddenly and inexplicably moved away - all we have are memories and the vague sense that something terrible has happened. We can walk past, and peer at the windows, but we are absolutely not allowed inside.

It turns out you get one shot at shutting down a whole country and its economy, and Britain did as good a job with theirs as Stan Bowles did with his on Superstars. A lockdown that was fatally holed below the waterline from the second it was made clear to us that 270 mile trips to the other end of the country to look at the fucking bluebells were absolutely fine for the de facto prime minister has since become a tangled web of contradiction and confusion in an attempt to square the circle between killing the economy or all of the old folks.

Pubs and restaurants fine; theatres and cinemas not fine. Black Lives Matters protests and Tommy’s gammon army of statue protectors fine; attending Championship football games not fine. Train journey to the coast for a day on a packed beach fine; train journey to the coast for a sparsely attended League Cup first round game with Plymouth not fine. Indoor snooker final at The Crucible fine; pre-season friendly with Wimbledon not fine. Soon, it seems, non-league fine, League Two not fine. Sit on that bench in the park and we’ll send the police drone up; stick that bench in a Wimpy and we’ll subsidise the bill for you. Ten QPR fans huddled round an iPad in the Crown and Sceptre fine; ten QPR fans sitting together in the Lower Loft not fine. Ninety minutes of physical contact sport together fine; getting changed in separate dressing rooms on opposite sides of the same corridor not fine. Masks will be mandatory except for those for whom masks will not be mandatory – remember, people may have hidden disabilities, like being a selfish prick. You need to get back to the office, there’s no evidence that it’s transmitted there, says the man who caught it at the office. Go out, have fun, spend money, pack the pubs, eat out to help out (that’s what she said). But, also, disinfect the crossbar at half time, in case Joe Lumley spent some of the first half down time swinging from the thing by his tongue.

With each obvious contradiction and nonsense comes more frustration and less compliance. Into this atmosphere the Football League released a set of fixtures for the 2020/21 season this week, turning an annual day of geekery and hurried train bookings into one of mental niggle and mumbled grumbles. Here’s what we’ll be doing this season, you can watch on a stream if you like. Yeh, cheers. Like your ex running you through her holiday plans with her new fella, you forlornly remembering when we used to go to Sheffield Wednesday together. One after the other sectors of the economy have lobbied hard for dispensation, exemption and restarts – construction, car sales, hospitality, retail – and the time for football to start stamping its feet a little bit is surely drawing near. The future of the majority of the sport in this country away from the Premier League riches depends on it.

Said fixture list pits QPR against Nottingham Forest on day one in just three weeks’ time. Not a good time to be playing the Reds, who’ll still be at the stage where they’re flushed with the optimism of 27 new signings and certain a second coming of Cloughie is imminent before their inevitable managerial change and slump to ninth in the table in the spring. They’ve won their last three visits to Loftus Road scoring ten times and keeping two clean sheets.

The club’s hope of a Premier League opponent for a pre-season friendly between Oxford next week and the Forest match have been scuppered by hectic schedules at West Ham and elsewhere, and the decision to play the League Cup first round on the first Saturday of September. Bar the inexcusable collapse against Sheff Wed, Warbs Warburton was steadfast in his defence of both his players and preparation for the summer lockdown fixtures despite a succession of poor performances and results. Some explanations rang truer than others – lower in the league our opponents may have been but fighting for their lives they certainly were and we weren’t the only club to come a cropper against Barnsley, Wigan or Charlton. But one would hope some deeper analysis and soul searching went into the form of June and July behind closed doors than “there are no easy games in the Championship” lest we run the risk of repeating the failures again in September. With several gaps still to fill in the starting eleven, and only three games against League One opponents by way of preparation, a repeat feels like a worryingly distinct possibility.

The first of those, against Wimbledon, was four parts positive to one part caveat. Ilias Chair scored early from long range and caught the eye at ten, a position he’ll likely have to fill if Ebere Eze is indeed moved on this summer in what was already going to be a big season for the 22-year-old Moroccan as he likely ticks past the 100 senior appearances mark in the coming months. Eze not involved here as speculation continues to swirl. To his right in the 4-2-3-1 set up George Thomas, a new arrival from Leicester’s U23s, really impressed. I liked the signing at the time and I like it a whole lot more after this 45 minute show – one slab of lad please, on wheels, with an old Saab engine, perpetual motion up and down the right side, setting up a goal for Lyndon Dykes on his debut after succeeding with a high press one minute, clearing a Wimbledon shot from the line at the other end the next.

Even Parmomore would have struggled to sky the chance Dykes had for his first goal for the club after Thomas put it on a plate, but that was a nice reward for the Scottish Australian/Australian Scot and he certainly looked sharp and up for it, as you’d expect of somebody who’s already had three league appearances this season up at Livingston prior to his move south. With back to goal he drops off, picks up ball to feet or chest, and uses it intelligently. Facing the posts he doesn't give defenders time for thought in a high press. He's physical in the way UFC is physical. His good approach work had set up the Chair goal and really should have done likewise for Bright Osayi-Samuel but he badly fluffed his lines, taking too long over a sitter at the back post and allowing Conal Trueman to smother.

There were nice bits from Conor Masterson carrying the ball out of defence, and Faysal Bettache in two separate spells in deep lying midfield. Ody Alfa came on amidst whispers about what a bright prospect he is and did bits and pieces, but Rem Oteh was nowhere to be seen and it feels like his time is coming to an end.

Todd Kane made it 3-0 immediately after half time via a hefty deflection after purposeful approach work by fellow half time sub Paul Smyth – another player with a massive personal 2020/21 ahead. Free kicks in dangerous positions were wasted rather abjectly by first Manning and then Chair and Danish striker Marco Ramkilde first had a goalbound shot blocked by a defender in the six-yard box, then seemed rather caught by surprise when Dons second half keeper Nik Taznev came to meet him one on one some 40 yards out from goal and spurned the chance after being forced wide. Fair enough, I was shocked to see the keeper out there as well.

The stream in the first half was of the sort of quality you’d usually expect from a pair of yoghurt pots linked with a length of string. At one point it went down entirely, and we were returned to the desktop of whoever was in charge’s laptop. Sharp intake of breath from the HR department but there was, indeed, nae porn. It improved after half time. The new kit, which met a hostile reaction on release during the week, looked a whole lot better in person, with strong early-90s Influence vibes.

The game was as much about the players not selected as the ones that were. Neither Liam Kelly nor Joe Lumley were involved giving QPR fans a first real look at Senny Dieng, who has impressed on loan at Dundee and Doncaster and drawn interest from Birmingham without ever making a senior appearance for the R’s. He claimed one difficult catch well under pressure in the first half, saved another shot well away to his left, and could do nothing about Roscrow’s close range header into the net which was subsequently flagged offside.

“Joe and Liam both wanted to play, are desperate to be number one and they’re hungry for the shirt, which is the way it should be. But I needed to see Seny. We needed to see how Seny got on today so it was a very simple decision to give him the 90 minutes. I wanted to see his distribution, how he commands his box and how he communicates with the players. You need that level of competition,” Warbs Warburtoned.

Dieng, like his manager and team mates, could probably have done with a stiffer examination. Wimbledon were the main beneficiaries of Tranmere’s PPG relegation last season, three points and one place above them at lockdown in League One. Their last competitive game was March 7 and although friendlies have been played and won against Corinthian Casuals (5-0), Leatherhead (2-1) and Tonbridge (3-0) I thought they looked miles off even League One pace on this evidence. Still, naturally, able to expose QPR and Ryan Manning defensively down the left channel on more than one occasion, but not much of a test overall and all the positives about things Rangers did in this game have to be set in that context. Trueman, on loan from Birmingham, should have saved Chair’s goal and both the Dykes score and Osayi-Samuel miss came after their defenders were robbed of the ball while being sloppy in dangerous areas. You should rarely read anything into friendlies anyway, and this one was barely competitive.

The Dons start with cup games against Oxford and Charlton and league games with Plymouth and Northampton next month, and may yet be playing at Loftus Road again for their opening home games as their new home back at Plough Lane gets its finishing touches. After waiting 29 years to return to their spiritual home, what’s another few weeks? Manager Glyn Hodges has work to do to get this team fit to grace the new stadium though.

So too Mark Warburton, who’s already making the sort of concerning, repetitive noises about fixture congestion, short pre-season and lack of preparation time that we heard prior to the shambolic return from lockdown. The club remain desperate to shift Toni Leistner and get some serious wedge for Ebere Eze, which would open up options for further additions, but until then it’s looking like a bit of squeeze.

“There is a lot going on with Ebere,” Brent mused. “He has been lauded by many football people and did exceptionally well for us last season. But, being brutally honest, he’s an asset. Ebs knows that’s how football works. And that asset has a value. If that value is met then that asset moves on. But he is a QPR player, he is a very talented boy and a pleasure to have around the group. Today the right thing to do for Ebs, with lots going on, was to look after him. He is back in training on Monday morning.”

Fulham’s Alfie Mawson has been linked in part exchange but wages would presumably be a serious issue, while Charlton free agent Tom Lockyer is on the wanted list at half the clubs in the league including our own as we continue to search for a centre back partner for Yoann Barbet. Another striker will likely have to be loaned unless money comes into the club from sales, with Jordan Hugill still half a possibility as Norwich baulk at both his wages and West Ham’s asking price. Veteran midfielder Ben Watson continues to be linked.

Difficult to get too excited about any of it mind, while we’re stuck outside with our noses pressed to the glass.

The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords

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kingfisher6404 added 16:03 - Aug 23
Thanks for that Clive! Our record in past pre-season games has been poor, so I decided not to pay-to-view. If I thought the same result would happen each week I would sacrifice watching them for 3 points but.... Like the look of our two additions, both look strong in attack, plus Ramkilde & Bettache showing real promise; and I agree Chair has to grow into Eze's position (as Shodipo for BOS). Just need an extra CB....

CliveWilsonSaid added 21:30 - Aug 23

Thanks Clive.

Football's back with a whimper but football writing's back with a bang.

Myke added 23:31 - Aug 23
Cheers Clive. As a non-attendee I would have thought it would be difficult for me to empathise, but as usual the quality of your writing makes your sense of loss palpable. We have had similar 'one rule for us and another for you poor plebs' over here too, in the last few days which only adds to the frustration. As one parent put it: she can drop her eight year old son off at a match but is not allowed to watch him, yet next week she can have up to thirty, eight year olds in her classroom - madness!
As the first official report of the new season, when are you adding your subscription/donation button?

Myke added 23:31 - Aug 23
Cheers Clive. As a non-attendee I would have thought it would be difficult for me to empathise, but as usual the quality of your writing makes your sense of loss palpable. We have had similar 'one rule for us and another for you poor plebs' over here too, in the last few days which only adds to the frustration. As one parent put it: she can drop her eight year old son off at a match but is not allowed to watch him, yet next week she can have up to thirty, eight year olds in her classroom - madness!
As the first official report of the new season, when are you adding your subscription/donation button?

cranieboy added 18:12 - Aug 24
Thanks, great stuff and sadly true.

snanker added 09:01 - Aug 25
Back on the job Clive and a 1st up good read. Tanx

HastingsRanger added 18:21 - Aug 25
Totally agree about our model village, with a football game going on but not quite bothered about the score. Thankfully this column continues at its best. Great observations on the double standards. And if crossbars need wiping, does that mean the ball needs wiping after every throw in, hand ball or header? !!

timcocking added 03:30 - Aug 26
I was pleased to see Lyndon set up a goal for Bright (the worst attempted finish in history) when he might have been a greedy barstard and scored himself. Lots of strikers claim a striker needs to be greedy, but that's bollox. Two on one, should pass it for a tap in, as he did. Well done Lyndon, that bodes well.

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