|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 0 Stoke City|
Tuesday, 15th December 2020 Kick-off 19:45
It's that time of year again - Preview
Tuesday, 15th Dec 2020 11:08 by Clive Whittingham
QPR, one point from five, are under pressure to get a result in tonight's early evening televised home match against Stoke City.
QPR (4-6-8, WLLLDL, 19th) v Stoke (8-5-5, LDWWLD, 8th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Tuesday December 15, 2020 >>> Kick Off 17.30 >>> Weather – Bright and breezy >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12
If we didn’t know it already, and we did, this is now a season-long quest to get to 52 points, find three teams worse than ourselves, and get the hell out of here. Whether you think that’s because we’re incompetently run and/or managed, or are simply relying on a bunch of projects who need time to get up to speed, is besides this basic point. That’s the situation we’re in.
That quest is being boosted significantly by the form and results of two supposedly far bigger clubs, who have spent and are spending vast amounts more money on their squads, but are currently below us in the table. Nottingham Forest, who pay in excess of £100k a week in wages for Luke Freeman, Lewis Grabban and Loyal Taylor alone, were beaten comfortably again at the weekend while even without their points deduction Sheffield Wednesday would still be deep in the mire after a disastrous 2020 of just seven wins from 39 league games (QPR have 11).
I raise these two not just because they’re meeting tonight at The City Ground while we try for a first win in six against Stoke, not just because they’re shit and we are apparently increasingly reliant on them remaining so, but also because it’s that time of the year and season again when the W12 natives are getting restless and the pressure, from the fans at least, is ratchetting up on current QPR manager Mark ‘Warbs’ Warburton. We should have known when Tony Fernandes suddenly popped up on Instagram a couple of weeks back talking about a great young team, six points from the play-offs, and a proper culture at the club. Whenever Uncle Tony finishes a message with “let’s see” you know it’s all going to go to shit absolutely immediately – no wins in five, four defeats, since he hit send. It’s ok Tone, we curse things here as well.
Were Warbs to be shown the door, he’d have plenty of mitigation to flag up in his next job interview. He inherited a team that had won only three times in the entire second half of the previous season, one that was heavily reliant on loan players it couldn’t keep, and was immediately instructed to sell the two best players from that side. It was the second consecutive summer that multiple key players had either been sold, released or returned at the end of their loan spell. He was asked to rebuild with less money, and did a 16-in and 16-out summer which is less than ideal. For that, QPR finished higher in the league, scored more goals, won more games, won more away games, and played better football. They finally developed a young prospect into a £20m sale, protecting the club through the pandemic. From that team he lost the three top scorers, and was again asked over the summer to rebuild with less money, replacing proven Championship quality like Wells, Hugill and Eze with projects and cheap punts. QPR are not in the relegation zone, they’re not within one result of the relegation zone. He is fulfilling the remit he was given, and would no doubt point to that if sacked. Justifiably as well.
Of course, were he to go tomorrow, I’d sit here and tap up the usual post mortem, in which we’d discuss several things. The ongoing, repetitive failures in defence, for instance, where QPR have the second worst goals conceded record in the league, just as they did last season, and lead the division in concessions from crosses, headers, penalties, corners and set pieces, just as they did last season. When you’re still, 18 months and 112 goals later, conceding in the manner we did in the second half at Brentford, completely totally and utterly through simple rank bad defensive set up, fingers have to be pointed at the manager and the coaches. Warburton’s comments in interview to us about there not being much you can do if the opposition are taller, or better paid, than you doesn’t really wash when you’re setting up a one man wall and marking Ivan Toney with Niko Hämäläinen while your centre backs, presumably, are busy doing other things.
You could reasonably ask whether a team with Hugill, Wells, Eze, Hall, Manning, Pugh and Amos all available on top of what we’ve got now shouldn’t have done rather better, and was held back by the flaws in so-called ‘Warbs-ball’. If you wanted to be super harsh you could say most of his big success stories - Eze, Osayi-Samuel, Chair, Manning, Wells - were inherited.
The lack of variety in shape and tactics this season would probably get a mention, along with the substitutions which almost cost us the Rotherham win and did prevent us taking three points at Millwall last week. As ever, the recruitment waters are muddied at QPR, so it’s difficult to really know where to pin the blame for allowing this squad to go into the season with this central midfield and these full backs, how much of the Ryan Manning situation was him and how much of it was forced on him from above. That’s probably deliberate on the club’s part, given we’re now stuck with a target man striker completely unserviced while our left back from last season who, for all his many faults, could at least cross a ball, sits on the bench at Swansea for the sake of £150k and we have to suffer through Hämäläinen’s grim baptism of fire and the exhumation of Lee ‘Captain of Glasgow Rangers’ Wallace.
And while I’m a very firm believer in paying absolutely no attention whatsoever to anything managers say publicly in pre and post match press conferences, his constant repetition of a few trite, stock phrases counts against him to a certain extent with some too. It bores people, it winds people up, and it leaves him open to the accusation that if we’re bored of listening to him, are the players as well?
Where do Forest and Sheffield Wednesday come into this? Well, when we arrive at this point in the QPR cycle of doom, what we fans tend to demand, and the club often deliver, is a departure from what we’ve got. Something new, something different, change it up a bit. If we’ve got an old grifter we demand a bright young thing, if we’ve got an experienced Premier League manager we wonder whether somebody fresh from the lower leagues wouldn’t be better, if we’ve got English we look for foreign and vice versa, if we’re too attacking and conceding too many goals we demand pragmatism, and if we’ve got somebody trying to keep it tight at the back but not scoring enough we talk about how bored we are and how we wouldn’t even mind the losing if the football wasn’t so boring. Maybe it would be better if it was a neutral voice unconnected with the club, we muse as Ian Holloway melts down in front of our eyes. Maybe we should get Clint Hill back in here, at least he cares about the place and would show some pashun, we wonder as Mark Warburton talks to us about fine margins.
You look at it and wonder how a club can possibly go from Neil Warnock to Mark Hughes to Harry Redknapp to Chris Ramsey to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to Ian Holloway to Steve ‘Shteve’ McClaren to Mark Warburton. From old to young, from attacking to defensive, from calm and considered to outright mental. Well, this is how, and it’ll happen again if the beat of the jungle drums is to be believed, with outright long ball merchant Gareth Ainsworth and Romanian wolf wrestler Nigel Pearson the most-often touted names among the vaguely realistic potential alternatives. Eddie Howe is absolutely not going to shag you mate.
Were they still available, Chris Hughton and Tony Pulis would absolutely be copping attention from our blood lusting brethren as well, for exactly the same reason Pearson is. We’re sick of ideals and theories, we’re sick of conceding off corners, we’re sick of hearing that the players are young, and human, and learning. We want discipline. We want sternness. We want set piece training. We want two up front. We want crosses. We want 0-0 draws away from home and opponents pinned down to the touchline by their throat. Sheffield Wednesday and Nottingham Forest wanted that too. Christ, this isn’t going well at all is it, what we need here is some stodgy pragmatism, and they don’t come much more stodgy and more pragmatic than Chris Hughton and Tony Pulis.
Now, both of them could well keep their clubs up at the end of this season. Both of them could keep their clubs up at our expense. For the first time in six seasons I’m genuinely concerned. But the impact on both clubs for making the change that we’re now increasingly hankering over has been less than zero. In actual fact, in both cases, they’ve got worse. The Owls are yet to win under Pulis in eight attempts, have lost their last three, and have scored just four times in those games. Forest have lost six and drawn one of the last seven, scoring twice. Don’t get me wrong, I’m blaming neither manager for this. I wouldn’t want to watch either of their teams play on a regular basis, but that’s a question of taste and their records at various other clubs before this speak for themselves – promotions, Premier League consolidation, often in difficult circumstances. What I’m saying is the problems at both Sheff Wed and Nottingham Forest are well documented, we’ve addressed them countless times in this column over recent years. Next to none of those problems have anything to do with whichever manager happens to be rolling off the conveyor belt at this precise moment and so changing one for another makes no difference.
Warburton can be his own worst enemy. The substitutions at Millwall, in particular, blew my mind. But we complained about McClaren’s substitutions too, and his repetitive post match comments that seemed to bear no relation to the reality we were living through, and his inability to stop the defence conceding 70+ goals a season. We didn’t like Holloway’s madcap post match ramblings either, nor his randomly rotating team selections (though we didn’t think McClaren rotated enough), nor his substitutions. We didn’t like how Chris Ramsey was so focused on the attack and “playing on the front foot” to the detriment of the defence, and we didn’t like how Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was so cautious and defensive, only very occasionally opening up in the last 20 minutes of games only to return to the same ten men behind the ball approach the next week. Ramsey “talked bollocks” in his interviews, and if Hasselbaink had said “it is what it is” one more time I think somebody would have chucked him in the Regent’s Canal.
If you replace Warburton, some things might improve. It’s hard to believe a new man wouldn’t at least try and have a crack at tightening our approach to defensive set pieces. If he’s got any sense he’d likely demand at least a central midfielder of his choice from elsewhere as condition of him taking the job on. But the fundamental problem at QPR – tiny ground, tiny income, big overheads, zero infrastructure – and the smaller problems that feed off that – budget relative to the rest of the division, highly questionable scouting and recruitment that enables the likes of Barnsley, Preston and Millwall to do far better than us in a similar market – will remain.
Change now and the likelihood is we’ll get a short time lift for having a new voice in the building. While that’s not to be sniffed at necessarily given that, as I said at the start, we’re now in a race to 52 points and three worse teams, Hughton and Pulis didn’t even supply that. Maybe it'll reach a point where we get so desperate for that bounce we have to try. We’ll have to perform significant surgery in January to get a squad that’s been built very, very specifically with Warburton’s style in mind. Again, if you think the squad is horribly deficient, you may be in favour of this but, much like constantly changing the manager isn’t working for us, constantly doing half a dozen or more in and out each window doesn’t seem to be helping either. And then, somewhere nine to 18 months down the line, we’ll be moaning about the new guy’s tactics, the new guy’s substitutions, and the new guy’s insistence on trotting out the same bullshit excuses and trite phrases that bear no relation to the dross we’ve just watched with our own two eyes.
It could be that you just have to kiss a lot of frogs. We worked through a whole heap of absolute drek before we got to Neil Warnock. But he stands alone as a good QPR managerial appointment in the last 20 years. It's also absurdly defeatist to pretend there isn't possibly another better manager than Mark Warburton anywhere out there who would come here - look at how Barnsley have enjoyed great success with three, successive, left field appointments, all brought in with the same young team, progressive football, develop and sell, uber low budget remit that we have here. But if you didn’t like Ramsey, Hasselbaink, Holloway, McClaren or Warburton, why the faith the club would get it so differently right this time?
Warburton’s doing my head in as much as any of you. We’re all watching the same games. But it’s time for an oft-repeated trite line of my own – if you keep changing the manager and things keep flatlining, then the manager probably isn’t the issue.
Geoff Cameron Facts No.120 In The Series – Geoff had an extras role in The Bus That Couldn’t Slow Down.
Team News: Warbs Warburton remains without long term absentees Luke Amos and Charlie Owens, while Bright Osayi-Samuel was forced out of Saturday’s game with Reading with a muscle injury that you would think would render him highly doubtful for tonight. Perhaps of more concern should be the lack of any sort of form or impact being made by players coming into games from the bench and pushing for a start – Macauley Bonne, George Thomas, Albert Adomah all particularly ineffective when brought on in the last two games against Millwall and Reading.
Not to add to the gloom unduly, and obviously not forgetting the significant loss of Luke Amos for the season, but QPR have, touch wood, been relatively lucky with injuries during this busy spell of fixtures. Stoke follow Reading, Bristol City and Blackburn in arriving at a game with Rangers with a lengthy list of absentees – and we know how those previous three games wen. Tyrese Campbell, who looked so dangerous when these sides met here in the league last season, is the latest to be ruled out for the season with a knee injury, all the best to him in his recovery. One of his natural replacements, Lee Gregory, is also sidelined. Joe Allen may be the bravest man in the world, but he’s out too, while Jon Obi Mikel is in that vulnerable 75+ demographic and having to isolate. Youth team graduate keeper Josef Bursik has kept goal for the last seven matches with Angus Gunn, Niki Maenpaa and Adam Davies all out. Sam Clucas, Danny Batth, Tom Smith and James WHERE’S YOUR POPPY McLean are all doubtful.
Elsewhere: Several eye-catching fixtures on the card tonight, including second from top Bournemouth hosting second from bottom Wycombe. Keep an eye on Barnsley, with seven wins from the last 11 only league leaders Norwich have taken more points than them since Valerian Ismael took over, they’re at home to Preston Knob End tonight. Millwall are heading the opposite way, with no wins in ten and a 3-0 loss up at Middlesbrough at the weekend, prior to their difficult looking trip to Bristol City. The Robins had five wins and a draw in eight games prior to the weekend trip to Rotherham but were not only beaten 2-0 in South Yorkshire, they were fairly well pounded with the Millers managing 22 shots and eight on target to City’s four and two.
Justice League leaders Spartak Hounslow will almost certainly be the best team Watford have played all season when they meet in the late televised game while at the City Ground it’s the clash of two burgeoning revolutions from two proper, English managers, who know what the Championship’s about, won’t be dicking around in their own penalty areas, get results, and don’t go in for any of this namby, pamby, trendy, foreign muck – Chris Hughton’s Forest, one point from seven games, meet Tony Pulis’ Sheff Wed revolution, one win from 13 games, three defeats in a row.
Tomorrow’s list is…. less fun. Although there’s a meeting of early high flyers Reading and Borussia Norwich to get your chops around. Coventry v Huddersfield, Blackburn v Rotherham and Lutown’s date on the Thirteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour won’t be buttering many parsnips though. Cardiff’s 0-0 draw with Birmingham is an early kick off while Wayne ‘Wazza’ Rooney’s attempt to draw his way into permanent managerial employment at Derby reaches a home game with Swanselona.
Referee: Just you be ready with that holy water. Details.
QPR: Rangers have won just four of 19 games in all comps this season, and six of 28 since football restarted under lockdown in June. The R’s have lost their last two at home, to Reading and Bristol City, and Watford, Birmingham, Preston, Middlesbrough, Sheff Wed, Fulham and Barnsley have all left here with a point or better in the 13 games played in W12 since fans were locked out. The loss to Reading at the weekend was a fifth game without a win (four defeats), and an eighth game without a clean sheet after starting the season with four shut outs in ten. As per Jack Supple, QPR have had seven games since the sub rule change (won once), only used 4+ subs in three games (five v Hudds, four v Watford & B City), didn't win any. Only Coventry and Wycombe (27) have conceded more than QPR’s 26 this season.
Stoke: It’s been an entertaining start to the season at Stoke with 11 wins already, although three of those came in that clutch of early League Cup games setting up a quarter final with Spurs two days before Christmas. Away from home they’ve already won at Wolves, Preston, Villa, Luton, Reading and Wycombe in both cup and league and they come into this game unbeaten in four on the road with four clean sheets into the bargain – won 3-0 at Reading, drew 0-0 with Sheff Wed, won 1-0 at Wycome, drew 0-0 at Derby. They’ve lost just four and won ten of their last 18 fixtures in all competitions. Having rattled in 11 goals in four games through November, they’ve scored only three goals in the last five games as injuries have started to bite into their attack. Their record at Loftus Road is poor, three wins from 20 trips, and they were beaten 4-2 here last season having led 2-0 early. They’re the only remaining team that Mark Warburton has a perfect QPR record against following last week’s draw with Millwall.
Prediction: We’re indebted to The Art of Football for once again agreeing to sponsor our Prediction League and provide prizes. The squad is updated and you can get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Last season’s champion Mase, spot on with his Millwall call, offers us this…
“Another unfortunate/limp defeat at the weekend. Amid strong competition, one commenter on this site described it as the most disappointing result this season given Reading's injury list and reliance on players out of position, and I get their point. We just seem in a rut at the moment, and I can only see a strong Stoke side (much improved from the 2019-20 vintage) being anything other than comfortable winners this evening. Hopefully I can add this to my own growing list of inaccurate predictions.”
Mase’s Prediction: QPR 0-2 Stoke. No scorer.
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-0 Stoke. Scorer – Ilias Chair
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Letters from Wiltshire #26 by wessex_exile
Well, after a piss-poor Xmas period so far for the U’s, culminating in the Roots Hall horror show on Boxing Day, let’s hope the U’s have burned off those festive calories and are raring to go. They’ll certainly have to be at their best against a Cheltenham side aiming to force their way into the automatic promotion places. In other news, we now finally have confirmation that there will be a trade deal in place with the EU once Brexit arrives in 2021. It remains to be seen whether it’s a good deal or not, and more to the point, who for, but at least it’s not the economic uncertainty of no-deal.
Letters from Wiltshire #25 by wessex_exile
A little earlier than usual, but as we approach the end of what has been a most difficult year for everyone, I’ll keep the introductory editorial brief, as I’m sure you will all be very busy in the coming days rescuing what you can from this pandemic-ravaged festive period. I simply wish you all peace on earth, goodwill to all (yes, even our South Essex cousins), and here’s to a happy, prosperous and most importantly healthy 2021 for us all.
Letters from Wiltshire #24 by wessex_exile
Welcome to our last match before Christmas. With South Essex going into Tier 3, by the time we take to the pitch at Roots Hall, it’ll be another behind-closed-doors match. With the Tier 3 boundary creeping inexorably closer, one wonders how long the JobServe will hold out and still be able to allow fans to attend. Robbie is doing all he can to make it possible for supporters to attend, and I confess I’m seriously considering our January 2nd match against Tranmere. In other news, I’m relieved to read that the FA will not take disciplinary action against Colchester United after a shameful minority chose to boo players and officials taking the knee, in the words of the EFL “as they highlight the inequality and injustice experienced by the Black Community”. I noticed a tiny minority chose to boo at our mid-week match at the Abbey Stadium, but I was pleased to hear they were immediately drowned out by the remainder of the 2,000 cheering and applauding. I admit I’m a little anxious about today…
Letters from Wiltshire #23 by wessex_exile
As I’ve been providing updates on the ongoing US presidential election, it is worth mentioning that the Electoral College votes have now been cast, which formally confirms Biden as the new President-elect. Normally a formality, as the losing candidate has usually long-since conceded defeat, but these are far from normal times, and America has far from a normal lame-duck President. Still, at least the threat of members of the Electoral College ignoring the popular vote in favour of an outcome demanded by Trump has failed to materialise. In the UK, new Covid tiers were announced this week, with London going into Tier 3. Colchester stays in Tier 2, but only just, with as far north east as Maldon, Braintree and Chelmsford also moving into Tier 3 – and as if you need reminding, Tier 3 means no supporters at matches.
Letters from Wiltshire #22 by wessex_exile
Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat…hence I’m a bit late today, following the inevitable Christmas tree hunt – the decorating will have to wait until later I reckon. In the news, despite my confident assurance several weeks ago that Trump appeared to be grudgingly starting to accept that he had lost the US presidency election, he’s since doubled-down on his baseless accusations of election fraud – without obviously providing a single shred of evidence to back it up (and how could he, there isn’t any). His latest apoplectic tirade, just today, follows the Supreme Court telling Texas just where they can stick their egregious lawsuit demanding that Biden’s victories in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin and Georgia be thrown out in favour of Trump. From a global perspective, it is deeply troubling that no less than 126 republican congressional representatives signed an amicus brief supporting the challenge. Trump will leave the White House in January, but they will stay at the heart of the US government, and I don’t think that’s good news for democracy, nor even the rest of the world. Ho hum…
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