And then a hero comes along? Preview
Tuesday, 12th Jan 2021 12:41 by Clive Whittingham
QPR go into a crucial week of league fixtures with Luton and Wycombe buoyed by the return of their former goal scoring extraordinaire Charlie Austin.
Luton (8-6-8, WLDLWW, 14th) v QPR (4-9-9, LDDLDD, 20th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Tuesday January 12, 2021 >>> Kick Off 19.00 >>> Weather – Wet and windy >>> Kenilworth Road, Luton
In November 2001, Queens Park Rangers decided it would make a nice change from going out of the FA Cup at the third round stage every year if they instead crashed out in the first. Already on a run of one win in seven which had included tankings at Yeovil in the EFL Trophy and Peterborough in the league, they travelled to perennial League Two strugglers Swansea City for a televised tie and were promptly beaten 4-0. Mamady Sidibe made to look like Hephaistos God of Fire.
By the end of the evening it had all been forgotten. The news that local hero Kevin Gallen would be returning to Loftus Road was leaked, and the fanbase rejoiced at better times to come. They weren’t wrong either, by that Wednesday Rangers were aggressively stuffing four goals of their own through Swindon Town at Loftus Road (Gallen scoring the third with just 37 minutes played) and over the remaining 28 matches of the campaign Rangers lost as many games (six) as they had in the eight fixtures immediately before Gallen arrived. A near miss in a play-off final followed in 2002/03 before a memorable promotion season in 2003/04. Over the course of two and a half seasons post Gallen return QPR lost just 23 league games out of 120 played. From a club in administration and circling the drain, a team to be genuinely proud of was put together and promoted by Ian Holloway, led by Gallen and Marc Bircham, with a whole host of cult heroes and good pros like Chris Day, Steve Palmer, Danny Shittu, Paul Furlong, Martin Rowlands, Gareth Ainsworth and Lee Cook thrown into the bargain.
They were happier times, and you only need look at the enormous overkill on the QPR official website and social feeds over the past couple of days to know the club is gagging for another returning hero, Charlie Austin, to have anything like that impact at the club having returned in similar circumstances at the weekend. The extra time defeat to Fulham at the weekend, brought about like defeats to Bristol City and Brentford before it by rank bad finishing letting down a decent all round display, was QPR’s fiftieth exit at the FA Cup third round stage, more than any other club. More pressingly for the 2020/21 campaign, and Warbs Warburton’s position as manager, it was a tenth match in all competitions since our last win, 3-2 at home for Rotherham getting on for two months ago. And they nearly bollocksed that up too.
Unlike Gallen, which really was a no brainer, this is not a signing without problem or risk. Gallen was just 26 when he returned while Austin is 31. He’s only made one start and six sub appearances without scoring this season, he got 11 goals from 22 starts and 16 sub appearances in a Championship promotion side last year, and three in 12 and 15 for Southampton the year before. He is not, by any stretch of the imagination or waistline, the player he was when he left Loftus Road in 2016. QPR fetishize the return of former stars as the answer to their desperate prayers like few other clubs but rarely does it work as well as it did with Kevin Gallen, or Wayne Routledge as another smaller success story. Lee Cook, Richard Langley, Jamie Mackie and Danny Shittu have all returned in the relatively recent past to great hype and ceremony and then come nowhere near the levels they reached at the club before, for all the same reasons Austin may struggle in his second spell – advancing age, declining fitness. He may find the expectation and adoration a driver, or a millstone.
It also represents a significant failure in last summer’s recruitment. A combination of Covid-19 biting into finances, three weak promoted teams, and pigeons coming home to roost at established Championship sides like Sheff Wed, Derby and Birmingham make this the weakest Championship in recent memory. All three relegated teams are in the top six without yet playing well between them – Watford are already onto manager number two. Barnsley are ninth. To have gone ten without a win, sunk so low and become so desperate you’re having to carpet bomb the Premier League with loan offers for strikers over the age of 30 (Glenn Murray was also assessed as an option) represents a failure of whatever the strategy was last summer.
We’ve spoken many a time about the struggles QPR have in the striker market as it currently stands, and obviously Lyndon Dykes and Macauley Bonne were a long way from being the club’s first choices last summer, turned to only after Cardiff had scuppered a deal Rangers thought they had done and dusted for Kieffer Moore, and Norwich doing likewise with Jordan Hugill only to find they have no use for him. But having pocketed serious money for the first time in many a transfer window by selling Ebere Eze and then finally being able to take ownership of our own forwards, to be returning to the dead money loan market within six months means serious questions of scouting and recruitment have to be asked. All this worthy stuff about pathways and obstructing the progress of players we own has to be put on the backburner for six months while we cobble together enough points to stay up, but as we found with Hugill and Wells the issue with relying on loans to get you there is we can’t afford to keep them and all the problems they’re covering for will be waiting for us again in 2021/22 when they’re gone. The idea that part of Austin’s job over the next half season is to mentor Dykes, Bonne and Kelman is rather fanciful. He’s here on a rescue mission.
It won’t be an easy one. Saturday against Fulham was a clear and obvious example of a game we win with a striker like Charlie Austin up front. Chance after chance coming and going. There have been others – first half against Brentford and Bristol City, two bad Bonne misses at Bournemouth, that late Dykes howler against Watford. Even that accounts for eight or nine points which would have QPR comfortably in midtable. Ilias Chair is seventh in the league for “key passes” and fifth for crosses per match. But there have been many more examples of games where either Bonne or Dykes, and occasionally both, have been standing up there waiting even for scraps which never came. Bright is fortieth in the Championship for “key passes”, and 138 in the league for crosses per game. Austin didn’t have a terrific back-to-goal game when he was here in his prime, he’s not a massively mobile striker who’s going to charge around and make things happen. He’s pure goals, put it in the penalty box and chances are he’ll get you one, but QPR need to service him as they did Bonne and Dykes on Saturday, rather than as they had done in any of the seven matches that preceded it. Play as we did at Huddersfield, or at home to Stoke, or away to Wycombe, or at home to Reading, and Charlie Austin will look every bit as isolated and fed up as Dykes did. He will though, you suspect, have rather sterner words with the supply chain if that good, early ball doesn’t come in.
His arrival doesn’t solve problems elsewhere in the team. QPR are woefully inadequate at full/wing back this season, and in the centre of midfield. Luton’s star midfield man Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall, on loan from Leicester, was looked at in the summer but went elsewhere. Ryan Woods leaving Stoke on loan twice in the last calendar year, on neither occasion were we mentioned in passing. Alex Mowatt, who I bang on about all the time, has turned down a contract at Barnsley and is now going for a cut price transfer fee. Blackburn are sniffing a half million deal for Crewe left back Harry Pickering. With our wage structure we’ll be outbid nine times out of ten, as happened with Moore, and is happening this week with Stoke nabbing Charlton’s Alfie Doughty who we were interested in. And there have been some successes, like Rob Dickie. But it still feels like we’re not playing this recruitment game well enough. Still buying Bonne for bigg-ish money from Charlton, rather than taking a punt on him the year before for buttons when he was at Orient. Still seeing players who would be very reasonable prospects for us go to places like Blackburn and Preston, who we’re meant to be competing with. If we try and stay up with this midfield and full back situation we’ll be fortunate to survive, Charlie Austin or no Charlie Austin.
That’s my head making the Marge Simpson noise bit of the preview out of the way. All is not right with the world and the team because Charlie Austin is back on loan, whatever the official website may have you believe. But if you didn’t get at least a little pang, a small flutter, a stirring down below when you saw him in our colours again at the weekend, I think you might be too far gone.
There is zero pleasure in following Queens Park Rangers at the moment. Zero. We always joked that the best bits were the pubs, the ground, the people, the atmosphere and the awaydays anyway, and the bit out there on the grass between 15.00 and 17.00 rather spoiled the day out. Now all the good has been taken away, and we’re just left with the bad, which we’re invited to pay £10 to watch across a grainy stream which may or may not show us the full 90 minutes depending on the mood of the ISDN. Everything we enjoyed about following QPR has been taken from us, everything that was good about this team last season has gone. We get up, we watch Saturday fucking Kitchen, we stream a team patently not good enough, we lose, we drink, we go back to bed (though rarely to sleep). Around us, a world in a death spiral. The only thing worse than waking up at the moment is waking up and realising it’s a matchday. Just when this fanbase needs its club to throw it a bone, possibly more than every before, it’s going out of its way to make our life even worse. It is an utter chore to watch them.
So yeh, judge me if you wish, but I am a bit excited about Charlie Austin being back, and I am looking forward to seeing us play with him back in the team. In the land of the bald, those three hairs count for something at least.
Links >>> Hatters improving – Interview >>> Big Barker goal – History >>> Who’s laughing now – Referee >>> Luton Town official website >>> Hatters News – Blog >>> Luton Outlaws – Message Board >>> Luton Supporters Trust
Geoff Cameron Facts No.125 In The Series - Andie McDowell once bought Geoff Cameron for $338.98 in a blind auction.
Below the fold
Team News: Luke Amos, Charlie Owens, Osman Kakay and the Captain of Glasgow Rangers remain on the medium to long term absentee list. A loan deal for Hull City’s 26-year-old Dutch centre back Jordy de Wijs had not been signed off in time for this game – expect Conor Masterson to get a long talked about loan move elsewhere once it is. Faysal Bettache got his first minutes of the season off the bench against Fulham but is also being lined up for football elsewhere in the second half of the season. I hope you’re all as excited as me about the prospect of Charlie Austin being given the final five minutes of a three one loss followed by a post-match lecture in sports science and “time on the training ground”.
Luton played the loan market well last summer, adding Conservative MP Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall from Leicester, who QPR also had a sniff around and has been outstanding in their midfield, and flying Sheff Utd full back Rhys Norrington-Davis. The drawback with this, as Charlton found when Connor Gallagher tore up the first half of the season at The Valley in 2019/20, is Premier League clubs are rather prone to hauling them back in January and sending them out to a supposedly bigger club. As Gallagher went to Swansea (a big part of the reasons Charlton went down), so Norrington-Davis is now set to be recalled by the Blades to be sent out to Stoke City instead. Less than ideal on the morning of the match. Problems on the opposite side of the defence as well where James Bree was signed permanently from Aston Villa in the summer after an impressive loan spell last season, but has been injured for much of the campaign and replaced by an out-of-position one-time-QPR-loanee Martin Cranie. Bree did come back for 58 minutes of the weekend cup win against Reading, his first start in more than a month. Luke Jerry the Berry Perry has missed the last two after all his clothes were sold on the jumble and he was forced to dress as a gay Satan.
Elsewhere: It’s a Covid catch up midweek for the teams that lost fixtures over the Christmas period. Two fixtures including our own, with Miwllwawlll (fackin’ ‘ell Wawll) heading down to Bournemouth tonight. Bristol City were due to head to LegoLand Kew for their toughest game of the season so far away to Spartak Hounslow, but the Bees’ next two games have now been postponed because of a plague outbreak in the camp. To be fair, it’ll almost certainly be the most virulent strain of Covid-19 we’ve seen all season.
Referee: Turn the lights off, keep quiet, maybe he’ll go away. Details.
Luton: Either side of their positive Covid-19 tests Luton have beaten two of the Championship’s high flyers at Kenilworth Road, Bristol City 2-1 in the league and Reading 1-0 in the FA Cup at the weekend. That extends an unbeaten run on this ground to seven matches which includes a 3-1 home win against league leaders Norwich, a 3-0 against PNE, and draws with Birmingham and Blackburn (1-1), Coventry and Bournemouth (0-0). The last team to win here was Brentford, probably the best team they’ve played all season, who won 3-0 on the last Saturday of October. Stoke (2-0) are the only other side to win here this season in 11 Championship league games. The Hatters started the season with four consecutive league and cup wins, but then only won five of the next 20 prior to the Bristol City/Reading double. James Collins is their top scorer with six this season, though three of those came in a single game against Preston. Sonny Bradley’s own goal for Bristol City in the Hatters’ 2-1 league win last week was the third time Luton have scored for their opposition this year following Martin Cranie’s own goal in a 2-0 loss at Millwall, and Glen Rea cancelling out his own opener in a 1-1 homer with Nottingham Forest.
QPR: Ten without a win now for QPR, although five of the last seven have been draws (Fulham a loss after extra time). This is now the longest run without a victory QPR have embarked on since the 15 league and cup games (D6 L9) that ended Mark Hughes’ reign and began Harry Redknapp’s between September 1 and December 8, 2012. Rangers have drawn their last three away games 1-1 (Norwich, Wycombe, Millwall) but have only won once in 12 away matches so far this season and twice in 17 since we returned to football under lockdown conditions in June. Mark Warburton’s side have won four of 23 league and cup games this season, six of 32 under lockdown, and go into this game just two points and two places outside the relegation zone. Charlie Austin’s last appearance for QPR was December 15, 2015, when he scored twice in the second half of a 2-2 draw at home to Brighton. The Hoops have lost only two of their last 11 trips to Kenilworth Road going back to 1988/89, winning here in 90/91 (2-1), 91/92 (1-0), 06/07 (3-2) and drawing here in 88/89 (0-0), 89/90 (1-1), 00/01 (3-3), 02/03 (0-0), 03/04 (1-1) and 19/20 (1-1).
Prediction: We’re indebted to The Art of Football for once again agreeing to sponsor our Prediction League and provide prizes. You can get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Congratulations OxheyR for leading the league at Christmas, qualifying him for our first prize give away of the season. Last season’s champion Mase offers us this…
“Happy new year to everyone reading this far down. I think we will be set up pretty defensively to aim for a point in a goalless or 1-1 draw, and not be quite good enough in either box to come away with it. Still - with a difficult month ahead, my kingdom for three points here.”
Mase’s Prediction: Luton 1-0 QPR. No scorer
LFW’s Prediction: Luton 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Charlie Austin
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Letters from Wiltshire #48 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #47 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #46 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
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Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
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