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Fulham 4 v 1 Queens Park Rangers
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 16th October 2021 Kick-off 12:30
Lessons learned? - Preview
Friday, 15th Oct 2021 20:18 by Clive Whittingham

Start of work on a new training ground and the successful launch of a bond to fund it has QPR getting some rare positive press ahead of a trip to Fulham on Saturday.

Fulham (6-2-3 WLDDWL 5th) v QPR (5-3-3 LLDLWW 6th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday October 16, 2021 >>> Kick Off 12.30 >>> Weather – Grey but dry >>> Craven Cottage, Fulham, London, SW6

I’ve heard the term ‘lessons learned’ from the people at the top of Queens Park Rangers so much over the last couple of decades I’ve felt more like a bloody Ofsted inspector than a football supporter.

Chris Wright, Nick Blackburn, David Davies, Gerry Francis, Ian Holloway, Gianni Paladini, John Gregory, Flavio Briatore, Amit Bhatia, Tony Fernandes, Lee Hoos, Les Ferdinand, Ian Holloway again, Steve McClaren and probably plenty more besides have all, at one point or another, coughed to a mistake, a period of mismanagement, an incorrect choice at a fork in the road, and pledged to right the wrong(s). Sometimes this has been heartfelt, but more frequently it’s been little more than a PR move to quell a rising discontent among an exasperated fanbase.

Almost always, like the ruinous decisions they’ve been apologising for, it’s been a castle built on sand. The whole thing destined soon to have its knickers blown up and skeleton exposed by the slightest of ill-winds. Even under this current leadership - which as I will come on to say I rate highly - I remember sitting at a conveniently timed September fans’ forum watching the gentle breeze being shot with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink about whether his team - which had won at home to Leeds and away at Cardiff and Wigan in August – might contend for the play-offs. A fortnight later we’d been beaten 6-0 at home by Newcastle, the fourth time Rangers had shipped six in a game in almost as many years – one of those, ironically given tomorrow’s opposition, was at Fulham. A fortnight after that Hasselbaink was implicated in the Telegraph’s fairly flimsy but nevertheless damaging Pint Of Wine exposé on the mucky, underhand financial side of football management. And not much more than a fortnight after that, after two wins from 12 (again, ironically, one of those at Fulham, our only win here since the early 1980s), he was sacked and another abrupt turn into a completely different personality and style of manager was about to take place.

After the years of Paladini’s dodgy dealing and flagrant lies, followed by Flavio Briatore’s outright hostility to “people who come once a week and pay £20”, I felt Tony Fernandes’ initial openness and accessibility to the fanbase was a brilliant and welcome thing. He, and I, were wrong about this. Fairly swiftly it proved not to be the case. Madness lies in ‘QPR Twitter’ – no different at any other club, by the way – and silly decisions, rash calls, wildly fluctuating moods, and a lack of coherent strategy resulted, in part from placing too much stock in the aggressively rabid and wilfully stupid mentions poured into his phone. Taking a step back as the lead man, offering up the more popular but also more considered Amit Bhatia as a nominal figurehead (his shareholding is about as big as mine or yours), and the steady transfer of majority shareholding towards the publicity shy Ruben Gnanalingam has been a good thing. That may not always be the case, there may be times when Gnanalingam could and should come out and speak to us frankly about what is going on. But Les Ferdinand and Lee Hoos, two men who know what they’re doing, run the club day to day and can be interviewed as often as you like. They’ll answer your question. You might not agree with or enjoy that answer, but it’s a better quality of answer than we’ve had before here, probably in my lifetime following the club. This is much better than what was occurring before.

That Tony and Ruben have been back out in front of microphones and Dictaphones this week, promising lessons have indeed been learned, makes me slightly nervous. There are glowing pieces in the Guardian, Telegraph and Athletic. My God, even the Sub-Standard has taken some time out from following Cara Delevigne into the bathroom and cut a couple of columns off Paul Scholes’ musings on Manchester United to afford us some coverage. A cliff edge usually follows shortly after but the reason for this latest press round is a brilliant one. Construction is underway on a new QPR training ground – not a planning application, not a legal victory, not a hurdle overcome, but an actual big fuck-off digger moving earth around. With the freehold to the site secured and paid for, even while a global pandemic was raging against many of the owners’ business interests, this is arguably the single biggest piece of investment in the club in a generation. Whatever they got wrong before, get this right and it’s all they’ll be remembered for. The club’s present base at Harlington is clearly and obviously a joke to anybody that has ever been there – an outdated school sports facility rented from a college, sandwiched between a motorway and a runway. That it was still the club’s training ground even after three Premier League seasons, in which all the riches Sky could provide were pissed into the bank accounts of wankstains like Joey Barton, Jose Bosingwa and Kia Joorabchian, was for me the single biggest failure of this ownership. We went up, we came back, we went up, we came back, and to look around the stadium, and the training facilities, you’d never have known any of it had ever happened. The importance of this infrastructure investment, and it must be said the faith the fans retain in owners who have, for all their faults, always paid for their mistakes themselves rather than leveraging it against the club or walking away, is shown in £6.2m of private investment in the first week of the training ground bond.

That faith has been born from the last six years of QPR cleaning house. Fernandes described QPR fans in his Guardian interview this week as “one of the most financially aware” in the country and that has come through bitter experience. Losing our previous training ground, having our stadium used as security on the dodgiest of dodgy loans, going into administration, all while Wasps escaped without a scrape on them from the Chris Wright debacle, hardened noses. There have been bucket collections, gun heists, favoured agents, boom and bust, soaring ticket prices, boutiques, Naomi Campbell, £120k a week goalkeepers, Harry Redknapp and other disasters since. We’ve seen it all, nothing gets past us now, and while the “sign a fucking striker” brigade still prevail on social media, the vast majority of the match-going QPR fans now seem most concerned about having a functioning, competitive, sustainable and secure football club to go and support each week. You’ll see this happen at Derby now. Watch how suspicious and scrupulous the same fan base that happily clapped, cheered, encouraged and drew hilarious ‘Mel’s got the Championship on strings’ memes through their years of deliberate rule breaking and excess become now it’s potentially cost them their club’s existence.

As well as a competent DOF and excellent CEO being left to run the club day to day, and the owners not only paying the money to keep the lights on (a cool £1.5m a month even at our current slimmed down selves) but also swallowing that debt in the form of equity, there have been signs amidst the last gruelling five years. The introduction of a director of football system, and departure from ‘what manager wants manager gets’, has been a positive. Appointing a CEO with a good track record at other similar clubs likewise, and whether you like Lee Hoos or not I think history will judge him as one of our best signings in the modern era. The training ground development, finally, obviously a big tick. Going from a squad full of players we were either paying to leave or waiting for contracts to end, through a period where it had one or two (Smithies, Freeman) sellable assets a season, to now where a good half dozen of the first teamers would attract interest and serious money on the open market. We’re now desperate for contracts to be renewed rather than torn up, getting good money for players when they do leave, and investing that wisely in their replacements to continue the cycle. Not always – blips like Macauley Bonne, Bright Osayi-Samuel and Ryan Manning still occur – but way better than it was. Likewise the progression from junior ranks to first team, trodden successfully by Seny Dieng, Ilias Chair, Ebere Eze and Osman Kakay after an enormous fallow period which produced Richard Langley, Marcus Bean, Ray Jones and Darnell Furlong over the course of 20 years. The overhaul of the club’s recruitment, and sports science. All of that has been accomplished while dragging the wage bill from £80m p/a to £18m p/a.

There have been specific incidents, too, where I’ve sensed some genuine change for the better. Any other QPR board, hell this QPR board at any other time, would have sacked Mark Warburton after the Swansea home defeat last Christmas. Sacking a manager who would be his own best replacement (Pochettino at Spurs, Wilder at Sheff Utd) is always a mistake, and the un-QPR-like decision to stick with on that occasion has yielded positive results. I still think not bowing to supporter pressure, and what the club clearly wanted to do themselves, and caving on the Nahki Wells deal was a great moment. It stung at the time, and it hurts every time the little Lego man comes back and scores against us, but every QPR board and management for the last 30 years would have broken the wage structure and budget to match Bristol City and give a 30-year-old with no sell-on value a three-and-a-half year contract and transfer fee cumulatively worth more than £7m. That perceived lack of ambition is actually long overdue discipline that will stand us in better stead than spending that amount of money on that one player.

But ‘Lessons learned’ isn’t realty something you get to say, it’s something you need other people to be saying about you. A cynic might suggest that much of the belt tightening, cost cutting, sensible management, and decisions that have been made have been driven by the FFP/P&S rules of the league, that they previously completely ignored to get promoted in 2014 but then got caught up with after relegation. Even recently they abandoned one approach, went for a big name manager in Steve McClaren, tore up their summer transfer plans and gave him everything he wanted, and ended up staying up only by borrowing a whole load of expensive players you’d heard of before. Like I say, I think Lee Hoos has done a splendid job, I've loved watching the criticism Ferdinand got early into what was obviously a long term task melt away, the ongoing debt-to-equity loyalty of the owners even in difficult financial times is to be lauded, and I like the direction the club has gone in. I think we’re very nicely set up now just at a point when chickens are coming home to roost elsewhere. But did they have much of a choice? Hoos said in his recent interview with this site that were promotion to be achieved during his time here, he’d be fully advocating Burnley’s carefully managed approach. It’ll be a nice problem to have, I’ve got more faith than I had previously that they’d do it the right way, but whether a sudden injection of Premier League cash and freedom from the shackles of the EFL’s spending rules will send Fernandes back to his PlayStation to network with the next bright, shiny £20m French thing will only be known in time. Shorter term than that, what happens if Mark Warburton loses the next five matches?

Get promoted, build the training ground, run a debt free club, improve the stadium, spend money cautiously and sensibly in the transfer market, set the club up for the next 20 years, then we’ll talk.

Harsh?

Like I say, us QPR fans have been hurt before.

On the pitch tomorrow we’ll see what QPR have learned from their defeats away from home so far this season. Were they to lose at Fulham it would be a third loss on the road, and likely against the top three teams in the division with the uplift the three points would give the Whites. QPR were well in the games at West Brom and Bournemouth, losing through a combination of individual mistakes in front of both goals. You won’t get away with much against Ultimate Championship Striker Mitrovic prowling around, but equally Fulham’s results since Tete and particularly young Carvalho got injured shows there’s nothing to be feared here, and Rangers needn’t abandon their usual approach to the extent they (erroneously in my unlearned opinion) did at The Hawthorns.

Hefty defeats at Fulham have dogged QPR teams and managers throughout the Tune Group reign. Get a positive result tomorrow and maybe we’ll allow another small tick in the ‘lessons learned’ column after all.

Links >>> Reading/Bournemouth - Awaydays >>> Unhappy hunting ground – History >>> Electric August, shaky September – Interview >>> Langford in charge – Referee >>> Andy Belk – Patreon >>> Training ground bond – Podcast >>> The View from the Pu – September >>> Fulham official website >>> West London Sport Fulham – Local Press >>> Fulham Focus - Fan Blog >>> Friends of Fulham – Message Board >>> Fulham Web – Blog and Forum >>> Fulhamish – Podcast

Below the fold

Team News: After a bit of a squeeze through September, QPR may have some troops back for a hectic October and November. Sam Field, Lee Wallace and Sam McCallum are all back out training with the rest of the team, although only the latter is likely to be involved here. Luke Amos also has another month under his belt and some very impressive substitute appearances as he gears up for a first start in a year. Ilias Chair, Lyndon Dykes, Seny Dieng, Osman Kakay and Andre Gray have all been away on international duties of varying stresses and differences, which often plays a big part in Mark Warburton’s selection for the first game back after the break. Warbs himself has been isolating having tested positive for Covid and John Eustace has been leading training and media duties, although the manager was tipped to be back on the touchline in time for this televised game.

Fabio Carvalho, a 19-year-old Portuguese (via Balham) wunderkind, has a record of W4 D1 L0 for Fulham this season, and has scored goals in three of those victories. Since he dropped out injured in late August the Whites have won only two of seven. His injury, along with the serious hamstring injury suffered by right wing back Kenny Tete (W3 D1 L0) have been pinpointed as a reason for the decline in results through September and unless Marco Silva has gone all Jonathan Woodgate on us, both are still going to be missing tomorrow according to his Friday press conference. There’s some idle Twitter chat that Carvalho has actually been ostracised for refusing to sign a new contract. Bobby Reid and handsome, muscular, athletic, piano-playing, underachieving left wing back Antonee Robinson have both been away on long distance international duty with Jamaica and the US so may miss out. Terence ‘Terry’ Kongolo will be given an outing in the U23s before making his comeback from a pathological fear of the unknown.

Elsewhere: It’s Friiiiiiiiiiday night and that can only mean one thing – a West Bromwich Albion match to enjoy/endure. Watching the Baggies run around at a million miles and hour shouting “AAAGGGGGGGGGGGGHHHHHHHHHHHH” has been deemed so enthralling by the division’s host broadcaster that all Championship weekends must begin with a Friday night volley of their murderball right in the gob. Birmingham are the victims in tonight’s true crime special.

The Saturday list is headed up by a clash of two of the early surprise packages. Coventry City, newly promoted strugglers last season and not fancied by many this, head to the Mad Chicken Farmers who were lining up a relegation struggle after a dire end to last season. Mark Robins’ men are third, level on points with second-placed West Brom, while Blackburn sit two points shy of the play-offs in eighth. With QPR and Fulham playing each other that only leaves Stoke, at Sheffield Red Stripe, and the unbeaten leaders Bournemouth, at Bristol City, to mention from the nascent top six in action this weekend.

Bournemouth, as you’ve no doubt heard, rocked by the news that David Brooks’ illness that was picked up by the Welsh medical staff and saw him sent home from international duty last week, is in fact a form of cancer - a stage two Hodgkin Lymphoma to give it its less clickbaity title. Brooks is a player who caught the eye immediately at this level having wisely ditched the youth-hoarding practices of Manchester City for first team football in Chris Wilder’s enterprising and soon-to-be-promoted Sheffield United side. He’s a player we have frequently written about on this site, both as a boy to admire and fear as an opponent, but also somebody whose fragility and rotten misfortune with injury has held his career back. When the Premier League came circling for scraps to pick off Bournemouth’s relegated squad, it was surely only the latter that kept Brooks at Dean Court given his obvious outstanding ability, smooth and natural playing style, and effectiveness as an attacking player off either wing. A beautiful footballer to watch, but more importantly at the moment somebody’s son, somebody’s sibling, somebody’s friend. We wish him the best. Everybody no doubt on their feet in applause next time he turns out at Loftus Road, whenever that may be.

The show goes on. A 2-0 defeat at Allam Tigers just prior to the break hasn’t done much to assuage the idea that Neil Warnock may have gone on one farewell tour too long at Middlesbrough. If they fail to improve a record of three wins from 12 at home to lowly Peterborough tomorrow then it may be ticket refunds all round for the remaining dates. Nottingham Florist have already bitten that bullet with Chris Hughton and Steve Cooper’s “maybe we could try something slightly different” adjustments to his predecessor’s 4-4-2 and lump it up to Grabban and Taylor has brought ten points from 12 and three times that many deep dives in The Athletic about how the feel good factor is back, the whole club has been transformed, Cooper has the support and friendship of all 76 players in the squad, is already showing signs of being the new Cloughie, and this may just be their year after all. Watch out for flying cumshots as eminently beatable Blackpool hone into view by the Trent this weekend.

Wayne Rooney’s Derby County’s attempts to 0-0 their way back from their 12-point deduction continues at Preston Knob End, who one suspects will be more than willing to oblige. Does the ball even need to be in play at all? Huddersfield v Hull is this week’s lesser spotted exciting meeting between two teams beginning with H. If the Marxist Hunters find any extreme left wing leanings in their meeting of minds with Lutown then just give them the bloody league title now. And on the pile of things we can’t say pithy things or do running jokes about is Reading v Barnsley.

Sunday morning sees the Welsh derby between Swanselona, and Cardiff who are seven defeats from eight and have scored once in six matches.

Referee: Oliver Langford, who along with James Linington we see more than anybody else on our travels at this level, is the man in the middle for this one having already overseen our London derby with Millwall on day one. Details.

Form

Fulham: The Whites’ August looked ominous for the rest of the division with five wins and a draw from their first six league and cup games with 15 goals scored and just three conceded. However a surprise 1-0 loss at Blackpool at the start of September, the newly promoted team’s first win of the season, has sparked a run of two wins from seven which includes further defeats here against Reading (2-1) and last time out away to Coventry (4-1). This has coincided with an injury to influential 19-year-old Fabio Carvalho. They remain the division’s top scorers with 23, of which Mitrovic has ten in 11 games including a hat trick in a 3-1 win here against Swansea prior to the international break. QPR and Fulham went from 1983 to 1999 without meeting competitively at all, but since they were reunited in the 1999/00 season Rangers’ record at Craven Cottage has been biblically bad. They lost the first five meetings, have won one of eight and have twice been 3-0 down by half time resulting in losses of 6-0 in 2011/12 and 4-0 in 2015/16. Prior to all that Rangers were actually on an unbeaten league run of four games on this ground going all the way back to 1948, though there were numerous cup defeats at Craven Cottage in that time. Stefan Johansen made 117 starts and 19 sub appearances during a five-year spell with Fulham, scoring 21 times. Fulham’s play-off triumphs in 2018 and 2020, and semi-final defeat in 2017, mean that along with a loan move to West Brom in 2019 Johansen had been involved in a title win, promotion and/or play-off campaign in eight consecutive seasons for four different clubs prior to joining QPR in January.

QPR: Rangers came into this season on a run of away wins which they extended to five with August victories against Middlesbrough and Hull – their best sequence since 1928. However, they’re now winless in three on the road with a draw at Reading and defeats at West Brom and Bournemouth. They were unbeaten in eight to begin with, their best start to a season since 1976, but lost three and drew two of five through September before rallying with home wins against Birmingham and Preston prior to the international break. QPR have scored 27 goals already this season in league and cup, more than any other team in the country. Fulham, along with Sunderland who Rangers meet in the next round of the League Cup, are second with 25 apiece. Fulham remain the top scorers in the Championship on 23, one ahead of Rangers’ 22. Rangers have had 11 different scorers already this season. There are still only three teams in the league who’ve conceded more than our 16 however and the Birmingham result was just a third clean sheet in the league so far. There have been 38 goals in QPR league games this season, more than any other team in the league. Lyndon Dykes is the first player in 52 years to score in four straight matches for Scotland having netted against Israel and Faroe Islands in the latest international break. It leaves him with eight goals in his last 13 appearances for club and country. He is the first QPR player to score in four consecutive internationals, breaking Don Masson’s record of three from 1976. Although Warbs Warburton tends to rest first teamers who have been away post international break, Rangers are unbeaten since 2019/20 in the first game back after a break, drawing three and winning one over 2020/21 and 2021/22 so far. Their last loss after a fortnight off for internationals was Friday November 22, 2019 – a 2-1 defeat at…. Fulham.

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. Here’s last year’s champion Mick_S and his thoughts on Fulham…

“I haven’t got a clue about this one, the first of six televised Rangers matches between now and late November. Fulham’s last showing against a very decent Coventry side was defensively abject (sorry, Konk). Both teams score and concede, so I’ll have a go at 2-3 to Rangers, but any high scoring result is a possibility. Maybe we will know a little bit more about our team after this match?

Mick’s Prediction: Fulham 2-3 QPR. Scorer – Ilias Chair

LFW’s Prediction: Fulham 2-1 QPR. Scorer – Chris Willock

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062259 added 23:31 - Oct 15
That highest Home Nation scorer accolade for Dykes has been conveniently constructed to exclude the great Don Givens, who scored bunches for RoI while playing for QPR. But it looks good.
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gigiisourgod added 23:43 - Oct 15
Love it so much! Thanks Clive
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CliveWilsonSaid added 01:02 - Oct 16

Cara Delavigne and the Marxist Hunters.

Evil but funny.

C'mon u R's!
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Northernr added 07:37 - Oct 16
I’m not sure many in ROI would thank you for counting them among the home nations, particularly now, though I could be wrong.
2

thehat added 07:39 - Oct 16
Great preview Clive - We are very lucky to have the owners we do.

Yes they have made big mistakes but have taken them on the chin financially and dare I say it:

“Built back better”

Couldn’t get a ticket for the Cottage today but will be roaring the boys on shouting at a TV somewhere.
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francisbowles added 10:28 - Oct 16
Top stuff as always Clive. Well done for remembering the suffering David Brooks and his family and friends are currently experiencing.
2

TacticalR added 12:28 - Oct 16
Thanks for your preview.

I agree it looks like we are on the right road, but this being QPR...

Despite Fulham's recent slip up at Coventry I can't see them making this one easy.
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