The final countdown - Preview
Friday, 16th Apr 2021 19:00 by Clive Whittingham
QPR and Middlesbrough, who could scarcely have less to play for between them, have a tired dead rubber to get through at the Riverside during Saturday Kitchen tomorrow.
Boro (16-9-16 WWLLDL 10th) v QPR (15-11-15 WDWLWL 11th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday April 17, 2021 >>> Kick Off 12.30 >>> Weather – 11° Middlesbrough’s hottest day since records began >>> Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough, The North
I was trying to explain to a friend this morning how and why QPR came to have a flag hanging up at their games proudly declaring “we never win away”. I mean, sure, we all know you’re more likely to get a straight, honest answer to a point made in Prime Minister’s Questions than you are to actually see QPR win an away game – just five this season, and not likely to increase far beyond that judging by the evidence on display at Nottingham Forest and Rotherham – but to actually stick it on a flag and hang it up at the games? Not exactly motivational incentive for the boys at the end of the long coach journey to Ewood Park is it? Alright lads, nice to see you, we think you’re shit but we bloody love ya anyways. To the rational, everyday, non-believer, it sounds a bit counter-productive.
The easy, lazy, answer is because we’re a bit shit, and have been a bit shit for so long that those who’ve stuck it out and retained their faith need to make a big joke out of it all otherwise they’d be jumping in front of the 08.00 Euston-Preston train rather than spending £70+ to sit on it and head up to Deepdale on a fool’s errand. But it’s not because we’re shit, as much as we joke about it and roll our eyes at “typical QPR” going up to relegation-haunted, Covid-affected, almost completely overwhelmed Rotherham United on Tuesday and lose quite comprehensively to the team with the worst home record in the league. Hur, hur, bloody QPR eh, same old same old, pointing and giggling like the two coppers at the back of the press conference in the Daisy Harris murder enquiry (if you know, you know, if you don’t…).
Grimsby are shit. Scunthorpe are shit. Southend are shit. Obviously different expectation levels for different clubs, Newcastle are behaving as if the world is ending while Bury fans wonder if they’ll ever care about a football team again, it’s all relative, but QPR aren’t shit, now or previously. QPR is a proud club, with a rich history, and has fielded some unbelievable teams in the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s. It’s a cool club, in a wonderful part of the city, graced not only by the ones you think of immediately like Rodney Marsh, Stan Bowles, Dave Thomas, Gerry Francis, Les Ferdinand and Adel Taarabt, and the ones who always get a mention after that like Mark Lazarus, Phil Parkes, Dave Clement, Tony Currie, Gary Bannister, John Byrne, Andy Sinton, Trevor Sinclair, David Bardsley, Clive Wilson… but also dozens more, literally dozens more, after that as well. When does Simon Stainrod ever get a mention these days? Fantastic centre forward. Tony Currie man.
And nor would we laugh, and joke and print flags about it if we were. On the occasions things have gone badly - most recently when we were relegated to the Second Division in 2001 amidst a financial collapse, and subsequently ended up getting punted out of the FA Cup by Vauxhall Motors among many horrors; or the Paladini years of dodgy signings from shady agents and dreadful onfield performances; or the whole boom and bust years of Flavio Briatore and then Tony Fernandes where the club mostly lost itself entirely and saddled itself with millionaire wankers like Chris Samba and Joey Barton – there’s been a lot of genuine anger. Don’t think we’re going to be giggling away and planning a funny flag making light of the Jose Bosingwa situation. The idea that QPR are shit, and thrilled to death about it, isn’t true, on either count. This is a club that has achieved, and should aspire to achieve again, not celebrate and belittle its ineptness whenever it strays north of the Watford Gap.
There’s a beautiful, complicated, fatalistic relationship between QPR and its fans. By and large I feel like we accept our place in this new world, as a club in a small, old stadium, trying to compete against not only more popular, better supported, monied rivals, but also the rules of the competition which forbid us from simply ignoring that and spending our owners’ wealth on shiny things anyway – not that this has ever worked for us when we have. But then at the same time you see a defeat away to a Rotherham team absolutely desperate and fighting for its life, when our already tired team has nothing ostensibly to play for, in a game we actually played pretty reasonably in for the best part of an hour and then fell in a hole with several key, experienced players off the pitch, treated like the end of the fucking world. The Twitter accounts that live to hammer QPR, the message board posters desperate to say they were right with their relegation predictions back in the summer, all suddenly resurface and attack, having barely been seen since January when Rangers turned their season around with 11 wins from 18 games. It’s always interesting to compare who’s on our message board and actively posting after a 3-1 loss at Rotherham compared to the 4-1 win against Sheff Wed the week before.
To some extent this is about how you consume QPR. I’ve been running this site for nigh on 20 years now, and two decades of message board moderation has taught me that the opinion online is much more extreme, much more cut and dried, far more black and white, than it is in the ground or at the pub. I’ve trudged into the house weary and drunk from a long away trip to a narrow 2-1 defeat we quickly put down to ‘one of those Championship games that could land either way’ and got stuck into the off licence haul on the train, and found the message board melting down into the ground while Dyatlov paces around at the side muttering about the feedwater. QPR Twitter is another level of extreme even beyond that. I can count probably on the fingers of one hand that the mood in the actual away end has turned on a manager or a player in the last 20 years or so. I haven’t got enough fingers to count the number of times it’s done that online in the last 11 games – heroes destined for promotion next season after the wins against Coventry and Sheff Wed, footballing dregs who should be expelled from the club forever after defeats to Birmingham, Barnsley, Huddersfield and now Rotherham. Posters who said we’d be relegated in 2017, and 2018, and 2019, and 2020, and 2021, who’ve been very quiet for weeks, cracking their knuckles and flexing ahead of a prediction for 2022, when we’ll hopefully be drowning our sorrows in the Premier Inn Blackburn, and they’ll be at home typing out their I-told-you-sos.
It’s not an exclusive thing, and it’s not meant as a slight at those who can’t or for whatever reason don’t go to QPR any more. But, generally speaking, the travelling QPR fans seem much more patient, much more willing to give benefit of the doubt, much more willing to see how things play out over time, than those who follow the club exclusively online, based on my duel experiences of QPR online and QPR in the flesh. I see far more calls for a manager sacking on the internet than I ever hear in the ground or the pub. In the ground that flag goes up because it's funny, and in this country we used to celebrate and revel in taking the piss out ourselves and everything else. Online... well, online, flags are a big deal.
Of course, Covid-19 has levelled this whole thing off over the last year. We’re now all the same, trapped in our homes, forced to watch QPR through the same stream with the same commentary. I’m sitting here trying to come up with 48 hot take match previews, 48 funny match reports, without any of the day in the pub, day on the train, day with the best people in my life colour that I usually pad them out with. I’ve found it incredibly difficult when you see a bright young team, shorn of all its best players, going up to Norwich and outplaying the league leaders regardless, or running four goals through Sheff Wed, not to get carried away. Likewise, when they fall in a hole at Rotherham, or concede two late goal at Birmingham, it’s equally hard not to cry myself to sleep. Having to write about it, while weighed down with those emotions, is really tough, because I pride myself in trying to look at the big picture, and the direction of travel, and the mitigating circumstances, and all of that, but at the same time watching us make Freddy fucking Ladapo look like Alan bastard Shearer for a night is tough, and I sometimes feel like I want to lash out and give them a bit of a kicking for it, because it shouldn’t happen, and we should aspire, and they’ve made me feel like shit for a couple of days.
The challenge for me writing this site is to do it from an emotional fan’s point of view, never ever pretend I know anything about the tactical fineries of what I’m talking about, but also not become some gobshite who always wants the manager sacked, has no working knowledge of the FFP rules or the club’s accounts, who demands Charlie Austin and Stefan Johansen be signed immediately and “at all costs”, who copies the players into my horrendous Tweets about how fucking useless they are, and so on. Where possible, I want to rise above the noise, assess the big picture, and draw measured, calm, long term conclusions. Certainly not accepting of mediocrity and failure, nor giving up on any hope of QPR competing for promotion from this league ever again and more, but also not sticking a knife into the club for not paying £5m and a three-and-a-half-year £30k a week contract for 30-year-old Nahki Wells because “ambishon”. Whatever happened to Nahki and Bristol City by the way?
With that in mind I turn back to my preview for Middlesbrough at home, when it had become clear that there would be no crowds at Loftus Road, or anywhere else in the Championship for that matter, for the season. At that point my assessment was that the season had become a matter of getting enough points not to go down and then getting the hell out of there, the Eze money less a windfall to spend on new trinkets and more a life support machine to keep a club already haemorrhaging money alive until some form of normality was restored. If you’d said to me then you’ll lose Bright and Manning for buttons as well as Eze, Wells, Hugill, Hall and all that went before, and you’ll still be top half, maybe top ten, with a number of very exciting young prospects emerging, and genuine optimism for 2021/22, I’d have snapped your hand off.
This is me snapping your hand off, feasting on the goo within, whatever happened at Rotherham, whatever happens tomorrow, and whatever I've said about anything else in the interim. We need to finish reasonably strongly, to maintain momentum, to boost much needed season ticket sales, to show progress, to keep faith in ‘the project’, to put smiles on people’s faces, to… be… QPR… who are absolutely not shit, however much we joke. But we also need to remember where we’ve been, and what the world still looks like outside our windows.
Go well tomorrow Rangers.
Links >>> Definitely Neil’s last season – Interview >>> QPR’s last visit to Ayresome Park – History >>> Donohue in charge – Referee >>> We got there in the end – Podcast >>> Middlesbrough Official Website >>> Teeside Gazette – Local Paper >>> FMTTM – Message Board >>> One Boro – Forum >>> Bonkers for Boro – Blog
Geoff Cameron Facts No.142 In The Series – When viewed in the correct order Geoff’s tattoos form the only reliable map in existence of the quickest way to street level from the Northern Line platforms at Bank Monument tube station.
Below the fold
Team News: Charlie Austin serves game three of three of his suspension and will return to the squad for the Tuesday night trek down to Swansea. Geoff Cameron hasn’t travelled and Jordy De Wijs is a big doubt after having his nose spread across his face right on half time of the midweek trip to Rotherham. One would presume Osman Kakay would go into the back three and Todd Kane would get a reprieve at right wing back given how badly the Sam Field experiment went at Forest, but it would be a brave man to call a QPR team selection at the moment after the Rotherham surprises. Chris Willock and Ilias Chair, though, you would expect, would come back in for George Thomas and Charlie Kelman. Luke Amos, Little Tom Carroll and Charlie Owens are done for the year.
Neil Warnock did nothing to dispel the impression that Middlesbrough have also put the cue on the rack for 2020/21 in his pre-match press conference this week. With Marcus Browne, Sam Morsy and walking spelling mistake Anfernee Dijksteel all out long term, the Boro boss says he’s also stood down Marcus Tavernier and player of the season-elect Dael Fry for the remaining games with more minor knocks. Uncle Neil mused: “Yesterday there were one or two not fully training and we ended up six-a-side. For Championship level we’re a bit thin on the ground. I spoke to the physios and medical staff yesterday, they think it’s highly unlikely that Tav would be available before the end of the season, and I don’t think Dael would be back until possibly Luton. I’ve said to forget all that, and make sure they’re right for July 1 and pre-season. Unless something happens I can’t see me using either player - why if there’s nothing at stake would I risk them. They’ve got a couple of months now to get back to full strength.”
Elsewhere: While QPR, as always, did their bit for comedy on Tuesday night by rolling over in one of Rotherham’s multiple games in hand and sparking mass shitting of the beds at Birmingham and, more hilariously still, Wayne Rooney’s Derby County, Coventry weren’t so obliging at New York Stadium on Thursday night. In truth only Millers keeper Viktor Johansson prevented a much more severe defeat than the 1-0 which lifts Mark Robins’ side all the way up to eighteenth with five to play and a six point cushion.
Paul Warne’s side have another six pointer with Birmingham at home on Sunday before playing a Boro side seemingly already on the beach next Wednesday and one would think four points is a minimum requirement for them from those. They’re presently four points back from the Derby disaster zone – funny how all those puff pieces about what a wonderful manager Rooney is going to make have dried up isn’t it? – with two games in hand, and the Rams go first tonight with as near as you get to a gimme in the Championship at the moment at home to a Blackburn side with one win from 15 matches. There’s yet another takeover in the offing as well with Mel “got the Championship on strings” Morris cutting and running, with ownership of the stadium naturally, and handing his dearly beloved Rams over to a 29-year-old Spanish Instagram model/boxer whose previous dabble in the Championship at Sheff Wed went brilliantly and reportedly included Charlton’s former Land Rover enthusiast Matt Southall. Fit and proper owner test to the fore again over at EFL Towers, and Mr Potato Head taking them into League One while the i’s and t’s are being dotted and crossed would only add to the farce.
Tonight’s other game features the two teams it now seems are likely to miss out on the play-offs. Reading, who set the pace early and have been in the top six all season, are now suddenly five points adrift of in form pair Barnsley and Bournemouth after one win in six. Just the £43m loss in their accounts this week as they prepare to host Cardiff, whose enormous run of wins under Mick McCarthy initially has now caved into a one in seven record and they’re done for the year.
The top six now looks all but settled. Borussia Norwich can tie up promotion this weekend in the Saturday evening game, though Bournemouth have won five in a row to gatecrash the play-off picture and shouldn’t be the pushovers other recent opponents have been. Watford, too, have a seven point cushion to second so they’ll almost certainly be making an immediate return to the Prem – salt in the wounds for bitter rivals Luton against whom they face off tomorrow. The Hatters haven’t beaten Watford at home since the opening day of the 93/94 season. Swanselona’s four game losing wobble seems to be over with two wins to nil last week, and a cosy final few games of the campaign starting tomorrow at home to Wycombe who are all but gone. Barnsley are away at Coventry on Sunday while Justice League leaders Spartak Hounslow will almost certainly be the best team Millllllllllllllll have faced all season – FiveThirtyEight.com makes it 834% likely that Brentford will take that game by three clear goals.
Chris Hughton’s attempts to draw Nottingham Florist’s cast of a thousand footballers to safety continues at home to a rather forlorn Sporting Huddersfield, Stoke v Preston Knob End is a horrible, horrible thing that shouldn’t be taking place, and we wish Darren Moore well in his escalating struggles with Covid-19 ahead of Sheff Wed’s home game with fellow disaster artists Bristol City.
Referee: Matt Donohue made rather a pig’s ear of his last QPR appointment away at Brentford before Christmas, so owes us numerous favours. Details.
Boro: Middlesbrough’s 10-4-6 home record so far is almost identical to QPR’s 10-4-7 at Loftus Road having played a game fewer. Bristol City, Rotherham, Blackburn, Brentford and Birmingham have all won at the Riverside since the turn of the year after Boro started the year with seven home wins, two draws, and one defeat to run away league leaders Norwich. They’ve only lost one of the last six games on this ground but come into this fixture in indifferent form overall, winless in four with three defeats away at Millwall, Bournemouth and Barnsley. They took 36 points from the first 23 fixtures this season the seventh best record in the league, but have taken just 21 from the last 18 games which is the league’s fifteenth best record. QPR meanwhile have gone from 24 points in 23 games (nineteenth) to 32 from 18 – only Norwich, Watford and Barnsley have taken more. Boro and Rangers have both scored 48 goals so far. Warnock’s side have kept 13 clean sheets this season but nine of those were prior to December 16. Duncan Watmore top scores for this lot in the league with just seven. Britt Assombalonga, Ashley Fletcher, Chuba Akpom and Watmore have 15 goals between them – fewer than Ivan Toney 29, Teemu Pukki 25, Adam Armstron 21, Lucas Joao 19 and Kieffer Moore 16 have managed individually. Currently tenth on 57 points with 48 scored and 45 conceded they are still well on course to better all of last season’s totals when they were seventeenth with 53 points, 48 scored and 61 conceded.
QPR: Rangers’ 11 wins in 18 games between January 12 and April 10 was as many as they managed in 46 fixtures in 2020. They come into this second of three long distance away trips in a week in rather haphazard form, however, with a recent record of WLWDWLWL and last four results 3-0, 1-3, 4-1, 1-3. They have gone from a run of one defeat, and four wins, from ten away trips, to consecutive defeats on the road at Forest and Rotherham and still need two victories from trips to Boro, Swansea and Stoke to match last season’s total of seven away wins. The defeat at The New York Stadium on Tuesday means that Luton at home on the final day of the season is now the final chance to add a second ‘double’ to our total – Cardiff is the only club we’ve beaten home and away this season. The R’s have lost the last three games Lee Wallace hasn’t started, have lost six of the eight games Geoff Cameron has missed this season, and are unbeaten in the five and a half games Jordy De Wijs has played for the club so far. Rangers have taken 28 points from the bottom 12 sides this season, with Luton still left to play at home. They have also taken 28 points from the top 12 (minus themselves) with games against Boro, Swansea, Norwich and Stoke to come. Reading down from the top of the table our points haul is ridiculously evenly split - 1, 4, 0, 3, 4, 0, 1, 6, 4, 1, 1, 3, 3, 3, 1, 3, 1, 0, 3, 3, 3, 4, 4. Only Barnsley and Huddersfield have doubled Rangers so far, with Swansea the only team that can join that club on Tuesday night. Since relegation in 2015 our best Championship finish has been twelfth, with 60 points, in 2015/16 – Rangers are currently eleventh on 56 with five to play. Lyndon Dykes has gone from no goals in 21 appearances, and one goal in open play in his first 33 QPR outings to five goals in six games, none of them penalties. Including games for Scotland and Livingston, he has already played 52 times this season in all comps. Yoann Barbet remains maintains his record of being the only Championship outfield player to play every minute of every league game.
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. Let’s see what last season’s champion Mase offers us this week…
"Up north, nothing to play for, no Charlie Austin, uncle Neil, fearing a tepid encounter and tired display, and how many more times can I be wrong?
Mase’s Prediction: Middlesbrough 2-0 QPR. No scorer.
LFW’s Prediction: Middlesbrough 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Ilias Chair
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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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