|Reading 1 v 1 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 20th March 2021 Kick-off 15:00
Hoop dreams - Preview
Friday, 19th Mar 2021 18:56 by Clive Whittingham
As QPR head to Reading on Saturday, we chart the progress Rangers have made since the first meeting, and dare to dream where that could take us into next season.
Reading (18-7-12 LWWWDL 6th) v QPR (13-10-13 LLWWLW 12th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday March 20, 2021 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Overcast >>> Mad Stad, vaguely near Reading, Berkshire
The 1-0 defeat to Reading at Loftus Road in December was one from which QPR optimists and QPR pessimists could extract plenty to suit their points of view.
If you felt that Rangers were playing well, that they weren’t far off, that they were a bit unlucky, or somehow hard done to, and it would eventually come right, then it was the perfect game for your argument. Against a team flying high in the table the R’s more than competed. They were, in fact, much the better side through a first half when Osman Kakay’s close ranger and Michael Morrison’s six-yard box mix up go in on other days, instead of falling plum into the goalkeeper’s arms. In a pretty dire overall second half Ilias Chair beat Rafael in the goal with a brilliant shot, it hit the inside of the post with a pace and angle that 99 times out of 100 see it nestle in the net anyway, but just had enough spin on it to see it skew back out into play with nobody on hand to bag the rebound. When Michael Olise tried an almost identical shot ten minutes later, 60 seconds from time, it kissed the base of the post on its way in – and there was an argument to say the ball had gone out for a throw in during the build up anyway.
However, if your glass was half empty, and you feared what 2020/21 had in store for our club, there was a substantial meal for you here as well. Reading were beset by injuries that day, missing influential strike pairing Lucas Joao and Yakou Meite - Sam Baldock pressed into action there – among many others, and still won the game. Even with the added boost of a small crowd back in the ground for the first time in eight months, Rangers created only a chance for Reading’s centre back and our right back in the first half, and crafted the square root of fuck all after half time bar Chair’s moment of genius, which itself came off Reading giving the ball away rather than anything we’d done to carve them apart. Even the obvious sliding doors comparison between Chair hitting the post and Olise finding the net only really served to hammer home the point of view that QPR weren’t quite good enough for this level this season – given identical chances from 20 yards, QPR miss, other Championship sides score.
I was lucky enough to spend that afternoon up on the camera gantry with Nick London and Andy Sinton and after the match, with the ground empty, and the camera crews cleared out, I recorded a piece for our Patreon with the former QPR winger where the topics of discussion were all about whether we service the strikers well enough, whether they’re good enough even if they do get good ball, how quiet our team is, and so on. It’s still worth a couple of quid of your money – though I would say that wouldn’t I?
Nick and Andy have seen their roles transformed this year, from broadcasting to a limited audience of expats and trying to bring some of that unique Loftus Road experience to them wherever they are in the world, to speaking to all of us as our eyes and ears on Earth. If you watch QPR now, you watch it with Nick and Andy, it’s the only way to see the game and it’s been that way for a year. Imagine that, for a moment. A year ago somebody comes to you and says “right, no QPR fans at QPR matches for the next 18 months. Apart from you. You can go, and you have to tell all the rest of them what’s happening.” That’s some weight of responsibility to not only read the mood of the room and get the tone right when we’re playing like we played against Huddersfield (either time), but also toe the party line as club employees. You cannot, I was told very firmly that day, lean over the gantry and call Todd Kane a cunt for a bad cross. Nick lost it once with Kalvin Phillips (included in said Patreon piece, go on give us a couple of quid) but this was strictly a one off. It’s a rule, apparently. They’re both QPR through and through, it hurts them when we fall in a hole every bit as much as it hurts us, and theirs comes with a good deal of tongue biting as well. Sinton has learned to say an astonishingly large amount with one exasperated, frustrated sigh. “Oooh, Sints is doing the teeth sucking thing, it must be bad.”
One of the nicest guys you could ever wish to meet, in or out of football, Andy didn’t dress the situation up too much after that game. When we played well, against Bristol City and Brentford, we lost. When we played badly, against Preston and Huddersfield, we lost more. Even Hoops as died-in-the-wool as he and I were getting to the point where you had to concede that too much quality had gone out of the side and we just weren’t good enough. It was a pretty sad, lonely moment, sitting there the two of us in a dark, empty football stadium. What QPR looks like - who’s still employed there, how we come back from a pandemic and a relegation double whammy, if we are indeed heading for Rochdale and Wimbledon next season - the elephant in that large, cold room. Thankfully the paramedics interrupted us, yelling at Andy about why Chris Willock doesn’t play more often. “This is basically my life on a Saturday,” he said, before spending five minutes with them, all of whom he knew by name, asking about their families and wishing them well for a tough Christmas ahead. I don’t know how he spends the weekdays, shuffling ducklings across dual carriageways I presume.
Well, just look at us now. QPR have won nine times already since the turn of the year, just two shy of the 11 victories we had in the whole of 2020. We’ve climbed into the top half of the table, with a game in hand on those around us. When we play well, at Watford and Bristol City, we win and look good doing it. Really good, friends from other clubs texting me good. When we play not so well, against Wycombe and Millwall, we win too. And far more of those ‘fine margins’ Championship games, which went against us before Christmas, now go our way – Bournemouth, Blackburn, Brentford.
The change of formation has been key to this: switching to a back three that suits our centre backs so much more than a four, and more importantly plays to the strengths and helps hide the weaknesses of our four full/wing backs. The difficulty of using up six of your 11 on defenders and a goalkeeper, and also playing two up front, is there’s not a lot left for midfield, and if you lose midfield you tend to lose the game – a persistent problem for QPR all season, and even during this good run as we saw in the first half against Millwall. The impact of Stefan Johansen in redressing that has been absolutely enormous. The taking of chances when you’re on top in games, and when you’re not and perhaps are only going to get one or two shots on the goal, likewise, and I can’t think of many other strikers in this league that score the header Charlie Austin did on Wednesday. From that distance, at that angle, with that pace on the ball, against a decent keeper… phenomenal. Just pure goals, even when he’s not playing particularly well. A finisher supreme.
I was critical in January – shock horror. The time it took to make signings, when it looked like we were bang in trouble and just spending January games waiting for the deadline to loom, while other Championship sides (particularly Preston) went out and got what they needed early, irritated me. Going hot and heavy for Ben Whiteman at Doncaster only to find midway through the month that he’s a Manchester lad who wants to stay up north and losing out on him (fucking Preston again) smacked of poor due diligence. Austin looked like another unwanted interjection from the owners when the people running the club day to day preferred Glenn Murray; the Fulham fans said Johansen’s legs had gone; I’d never once seen anything in Jordy De Wijs at Hull that attracted me to him; Sam Field was the only one I could make any sort of a case for. Every single one of them has worked brilliantly, while precious Preston have descended down the table and are teetering on the brink of binning the manager off. That’s rare – four January signings all of which work perfectly. We lost ostensibly our best player for a pittance the same month, and nobody has noticed. The team has got better.
Barring a collapse the likes of which we produced in the final ten games last season, we’re well set to better the final position, points total, goals conceded, clean sheets, wins and away wins record of 2019/20. That with Grant Hall, Ryan Manning, Marc Pugh, Ebere Eze, Bright Osayi-Samuel, Nahki Wells and Jordan Hugill all going out of the side. Again, just imagine that – I tell you a year ago Nahki, Jordan, Bright, Eze, Hall, Manning, Pugh, Hall are all going. Imagine your reaction and prediction. I bet you wouldn’t have had us twelfth now. It would be a phenomenal achievement, one for which Warbs Warburton and his staff deserve enormous credit having had to essentially turn over this team twice in 18 months already. It’s also one in the plus column for the much maligned Les Ferdinand-Lee Hoos combo above him.
This has eyes turning to next season’s squad. In typical style, Warbs shrugged off the idea that his two-year contract runs out this summer, two years since he was appointed, in an interview with Sean Gallagher recently, apparently suggesting that he’s on a two year rolling deal – always two years from its end, two years’ money when sacked. Even if that were not the case, I don’t see how there’s a debate about him staying. He took over a team that had won three times in six months, that had been conceding 70 goals a season, and he was told that even the good players in that team – Freeman, Luongo, Furlong – would have to go. He rebuilt, gave us entertaining football and an improved midtable position, and then had literally all of the talented players taken out of that side all over again. He rebuilt a second time, on a budget, shorn of a generational talent in Ebere Eze, and we’re tracking for an improved finish. Never mind contract renewal, a bigger concern should be other clubs in this league looking at the x and y axis on QPR’s wage bill to performance graph and wondering whether Warbs Warburton might quite suit their 2021/22 plan.
Yes, he makes mistakes, drives you mad, infuriates. And we cannot hide from the fact that loans have propped us up again. The Lyndon Dykes and Macauley Bonne signings have not, to this point, worked, and that’s valuable money wasted. There will be no £20m Ebere Eze sale this summer. But for Austin and Johansen, we’d be in all manner of difficulty right now, and as we look ahead to August the priority has to be securing Charlie, or his equivalent, and Johansen, or likewise. They’re both on massive money relative to what we’re paying and this hope that it’s Charlie’s destiny and Stef likes the way the manager plays and that’s enough to bridge the gap between £5k-10k a week and £30k-£50k a week is every bit as fanciful as the idea that Nahki Wells was going to turn down a three-and-a-half-year five figure a week contract at Bristol City because his kids liked living near London Zoo. If we cannot secure Austin and Johansen, and the money they're on makes it incredibly difficult, then next year seems to hang on who and what we can afford to get to play their roles.
There’s also an obvious spot to be filled at left wing back, where you’d expect Lee Wallace to be heading back up north at the end of his deal despite marked recent improvements. The big thing I’m hoping for is exactly this: Charlie, Stefan, a left wing back. Specific problems. Field and De Wijs are as good as done unless something goes very wrong, and you’d expect Geoff Cameron and Joe Lumley to be coming to the end of their time here. But there shouldn’t be a need to do a 12-16 in and out this summer. This squad, this team, this manager, have got something. There are inconsistencies, there are games like Huddersfield or the first half against Millwall where you just want to set your face on fire with them, but there’s something there: the spirit, the style of play, the formation. As Nedum Onuoha told us in another interview (sorry, I’m not that skint, but still), you can’t build identity, ethos, consistency doing a dozen in and out every summer. We’ve got a great opportunity now to stick with a manager and a staff and a squad and do pretty minor surgery in the transfer window and press on.
When I bang on about Perry Ng going to Cardiff and “why aren’t we in for him?” I’m not wrong, but equally we’re bringing in people like Chris Willock, Sam Field and even George Thomas (though that hasn’t worked out yet) where I suspect we’re getting the odd admiring glance from the sort of Preston/Barnsley/Blackburn recruitment departments we lord up so much on this website. 2021 has felt… pretty good so far.
Anyway, nice 3-0 defeat at Reading tomorrow and it’ll all be well ablaze again in 24 hours.
Links >>> John Spencer’s debut – History >>> Reading clinging on – History >>> A second De Wijs – Podcast >>> Whitestone in charge – Referee >>> Official website >>> Tilehurst End – Blog >>> Hob Nob Anyone? Forum >>> Reading Chronicle – Local Paper >>> Get Reading – Local Paper
Geoff Cameron Facts No.138 In The Series – Geoff wants to go to Wandsworth. The dodgy end.
Below the fold
Team News: QPR picked a much more physical team for the Millwall challenge on Wednesday night with Geoff Cameron, Jordy De Wijs and Lyndon Dykes all recalled, Sam Field, Ilias Chair and Osman Kakay all removed. I’d be amazed if Cameron is kept in midfield, given his performance, which would presumably mean a recall for Field, or Dom Ball who hasn’t appeared for three games now – the first time he’s missed consecutive QPR games since January 2020 (hat tip Hoops & Dreams). Lyndon Dykes gave a very effective man of the match performance against the Lions, but is now 21 without a goal. As Warbs nurtures his fragile confidence, he has tended to use him at home rather than away – eight of his last ten outings have been at Loftus Road. Luke Amos, Little Tom Carroll and Charlie Owens remain the long term absentees.
John Swift, who always seems to turn into a world beater at the mere sight of a QPR shirt, is a long term absentee for Reading this year along with Felipe Araruna. The Royals, like so many Championship sides, but not ourselves, have struggled badly with injuries in this truncated season. Ejaria and Rinomhota were both back in action off the bench at Birmingham in the week and will push for starts, but centre back Michael Morrison is likely to remain out having missed the last three. Simeon Pickup from our equivalent Reading site The Tilehurst End is always super helpful and responsive when we’re running up to games with the Royals and reckons they’ll go something like this…
Rafael; Yiadom, Holmes, Moore, Richards; McIntyre; Rinomhota, Ejaria; Olise; Joao, Meite (4-4-2 diamond).
Elsewhere: It’s a near full Championship Saturday tomorrow, with only Bournemouth’s progression to the FA Cup quarter final getting in the way of a full dozen games in one day – their match with Sporting Huddersfield to be crammed in at a later date.
The top end of the division really is becoming the 43rd World Stare Out Championships. Borussia Norwich have won nine in a row, Watford eight from nine, and Barnsley nine wins and a draw from ten. In their midst, Swanselona are checking along quite nicely but are developing a habit of falling in a big hole every three or four games at the moment – a 3-0 midweek defeat at Bournemouth goes with a 3-1 home loss to Bristol City and 4-1 at lowly Huddersfield among their last nine games. Spartak Hounslow, meanwhile, were monstoring Wayne Rooney’s Derby County to such a degree during the week that I put it off at half time and went to bed with a book, only to wake up and find they’d turned a 2-0 half time lead that should have been 4-0 into a 2-2 draw. Four defeats and a draw from eight, I’ve seen enough episodes of Casualty to know the guy with a niggly cough at this point doth not have happy times in store.
Norwich I think we can wave farewell to, they’re at home to Blackburn who’ve basically given up. Watford, too, look well set, after a very effective change of system post QPR defeat, and Birmingham at home this weekend – even allowing for the arrival of Lee Bowyer and a switch to four-four-fucking-two for a midweek win against Reading that looks eminently winnable. Swanselona have it tough, a Welsh derby with in form Cardiff in the evening Sky game. And as ever we wish Nottingham Florist all the luck in the world getting that cast of a thousand footballers across the country. Probably a wasted trip this week though, with Justice League leaders Spartak Hounslow lying in wait at LegoLand Kew, probably the best team Forest have played all season. FiveThirtyEight.com say there’s a 328% chance of a Bees win, so I’m not sure I’d even bother if I was Chris Hughton. Barnsley are at home to Sheffield Blue Stripe, circling the drain and as good as a gimme for the super soaraway Tykes – win that, with a two week rest for their incessant team on the other side of the game, and they could be anything they want to be in the final stanza of this season.
Realistic play-off chasers number three. Bournemouth aren’t in action but the Thirteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour is five points back from Reading ahead of a trip to Miiiiiiiiiiiiilllllllllllllllllll. Big Mick’s Cardiff are six points adrift with that Swansea game to play.
At the other end Wycombe, needing snookers, go to Coventry, which is as close to a must win as you’ll get at this point of the year with Wanderers 12 points adrift with ten to play. Wednesday are nine adrift and on a run of one point from nine matches – even with the six deducted points back you’d be saying they’re dead in the water. Rotherham are starting to find, as Billy Davies’ Nottingham Forest once did, that you’re better off with points on the board than games in hand. All 25 of the positive Covid-19 tests in the latest round of EFL testing were at the Millers, and a midweek shellacking by Watford leaves them six points adrift of Birmingham ahead of an away game at Bristol City. Aitor Karanka remaining in inexplicable employment at St Andrew’s felt like their best hope of a way out of this. Now, not so much.
Not mentioned, but taking place regardless: Preston Knob End, apparently thinking of sacking Alex Neil, at home to Lutown; Stoke City at home to Wayne Rooney’s Derby County. Good for them.
Referee: Dean Whitestone, who was supposed to be in charge of our postponed trip to Rotherham, and did make it to Reading’s surprise 1-0 loss at Wycombe, is the man in the middle here. Details.
Reading: The Royals’ play-off push has been largely built on the amazing start they made to the season, with seven wins and a draw from their first eight league games. They then lost four in a row and went 25 league and cup games without consecutive wins prior to the early March run of three straight wins to nil against Rotherham, Blackburn and Sheff Wed. They come into this one with one point from the previous six, a draw at Forest and 2-1 loss at struggling Birmingham midweek. At home they’ve won the last two, 1-0 v Blackburn and 3-0 v Sheff Wed, without conceding a goal but had lost the previous three matches on their own patch to Boro 2-0, Millwall 2-1 and Brentford 3-1. Preston, Stoke and Norwich are the other sides to have won on this ground this season. They are currently sixth on 61 points, two ahead of Bournemouth in seventh with 59. Their remaining nine fixtures include games with Cardiff (9th) and Swansea (4th), and away matches at Barnsley (5th), Watford (2nd) and Norwich (1st). In contrast to QPR, Reading have only won one game from behind this season.
QPR: The late 2-1 loss at Birmingham earlier this month was QPR’s first defeat on the road in eight games, and was immediately followed by the most complete performance the team has produced so far in a 2-0 win at Bristol City. Rangers have won five away games so far (Cardiff, Luton, Watford, Derby the others) which is two shy of last season’s total of seven with trips to Reading, Forest, Middlesbrough, Rotherham, Swansea and Stoke to come. Mark Warburton’s total of 12 away wins as manager from 41 games is more than John Eustace (caretaker), Steve McClaren and Ian Holloway combined (11 wins from 61 road trips). The R’s finished on 58 points last year and are now nine shy of that with ten games still to play. Warbs’ men come into this game on a run of three wins out of four, the exact opposite to when the sides met at Loftus Road in December when Rangers had lost three and drawn one of the four leading into it. That 1-0 loss, 18 games into the Championship season, left Rangers nineteenth, with 18 points, five points above the relegation zone. They’re now twelfth, with 49 points, and the gap is 17. Rangers have conceded 19 fewer goals than at this point last year (42:61) and already kept 11 clean sheets compared to last year’s six. They have, however, scored a lot fewer (38:55) and the midweek win against Millwall was just the third time this season that three goals have been scored by this Rangers team in a game – by this point last year they’d scored six against Cardiff, five against Swansea, four against Stoke and Blackburn and three against each of Wigan, Luton, Hull, Bristol City and Barnsley.
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. Last season’s champion Mase offers us this…
“Wednesday's thrillathon blindsided me, I switched over at halftime in frustration and was in the curious position of cheering on Luis Suarez in his pretty mere attempt to knock Chelsea out of the Champions League. Two goal alerts later and even Chelsea's progress couldn't put me in a bad mood. Still think we are due a defeat, you can't keep playing first halves like we did on Wednesday and expect to come up roses. This trip to a slightly emptier than usual Madejski Stadium will be tricky. Reading are circling the wagons to shore up their playoff position, and although we both might be groggy after the midweek games, there is more riding on it for them. Narrow defeat.”
Mase’s Prediction: Reading 2-1 QPR. Scorer – Ilias Chair
LFW’s Prediction: Reading 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Charlie Austin
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Letters from Wiltshire #48 by wessex_exile
“And now the end is near, and so we face the final curtain…regrets, we’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention”. Not quite right Paul Anka, probably more than a few, but otherwise a fair assessment of where the U’s are today. It’ll be interesting to see how we perform with the relegation monkey finally off their back – I’m not expecting miracles, particularly with Tranmere needing at least a point to guarantee making the play-offs, but they’ll certainly be more nervous than we will be, so can we make that count? This will be my last blog of the season, and not yet sure what I may or may not do for next season, but suggestions are always welcome.
Letters from Wiltshire #47 by wessex_exile
Here we are, at the penultimate game of the season, and our last game in front of the cardboard U’s faithful at the JobServe. It has been a long, difficult, and definitely strange season, which frankly I’ll be glad to see the back of. That’ll we’ll be here again in August is definitely going to be something to celebrate, but I suspect we’re facing a summer of significant rebuilding both on the pitch, and possibly off it too. I won’t be the only one, but the biggest oddity for me has been being able to watch every single game – not always easy viewing, but something I’ve never done before, and probably never will again. But it doesn’t really make up for not being there in person, the long train journey away-days, meeting fellow U’s and other supporters, and of course sharing a beer or three. Fingers-crossed we can return to the terraces in 2021/22.
Letters from Wiltshire #46 by wessex_exile
That was quite a week for us all then. In the space of four short but remarkably tense days we have gone from having to take shoes and socks off to check how many more points we need to guarantee survival, or whether we would even achieve it, to breathing a huge sigh of relief knowing we’re almost there. But close of play this afternoon, whether by our own actions or the failure of others, I am sure survival will be confirmed. Of course, Tuesday night not only all but guaranteed it, it also virtually condemned local rivals Southend United to non-league football for the foreseeable. Looking at the host of fully professional former football league sides currently battling it out for the two promotion slots out of the National league (including Hartlepool, Torquay, Stockport, Wrexham, Chesterfield and Notts County), it is not going to be a walk in the park for Southend to return any day soon.
Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
Tonight, Colchester United face Southend United in what may not necessarily be the most important game of our respective histories (though it’s certainly very close), but is almost certainly the most important Essex derby ever. However this season pans out, by the end of it there’ll either be only one team in Essex, or worst case scenario, none at all. If the U’s win, then Southend will be 9pts behind with just three games to go, and a minimum of a -12 goal difference to overturn if they want to overtake us. Certainly mathematically possible, but that would rely on a remarkable turnaround in their form, form that they’ve shown precious little sign of achieving so far this season. The stalking horse is Grimsby, with their game in hand, who have rather belatedly shown an improvement in form, so their match against automatic promotion chasing Morecambe tonight is equally important, particularly if we want to avoid the unthinkable, with both Essex clubs dropping out of the league.
Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
So here we are, as the nation mourns the passing of His Royal Highness, Duke of Edinburgh, the U’s face the first of two season-defining moments, with our late kick-off match at home to Walsall. Before then, no doubt many will have been focused on events elsewhere, not least the early kick-offs for Grimsby (at home to promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers), and particularly Essex rivals Southend United, who faced a tricky visit to Exeter City – still very much in the hunt for at least a play-off spot. As I finalise this blog, I know that Grimsby have beaten Bolton 2-1, and Southend earned a credible 0-0 draw in the West Country. More to the point, the U’s will know this too. Whilst I can’t help but feel that will ought to be to our advantage, it surely must also put additional pressure on a squad whose confidence is paper-thin. We must hope that Hayden Mullins, assisted by Paul Tisdale, get their heads right, and send the lads out this evening fired up with self-belief.
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