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Queens Park Rangers 0 v 2 Stoke City
SkyBet Championship
Sunday, 5th December 2021 Kick-off 14:30
Some of these people have come from Stoke - Preview
Friday, 3rd Dec 2021 18:09 by Clive Whittingham

It's three wins on the spin and third in the league for QPR, just threatening to start really kicking into gear ahead of a televised Sunday clash with fellow contenders, but injury-ravaged, Stoke City.

QPR (10-5-5 DWDWWW 3rd) v Stoke (9-4-7 DWWWLL 7th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Sunday December 4, 2021 >>> Kick Off 14.30 >>> Weather – Grey, cold >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12

Peterborough away, last minute of the match, QPR are in the attacking third of the field. Chris Willock has been brought on from a surprise benching to bolster the attack, but he’s away from his left wing station as the attack develops. Yoann Barbet, no second invitation required, moves into the space Willock should be in to try and fashion a crossing opportunity. It’s butchered, the ball is lost, Siriki Dembele is away into the space Barbet vacated, and his pace is enough to carry him away into the clear space beyond Rangers’ last man and win the game for the struggling Posh.

The critics call an emergency board meeting. This is bloody typical, of QPR and Mark Warburton, woefully neglecting the defensive side of the sport, showing a total disregard for the management of the game, and a naïve lack of pragmatism. When you’ve played as poorly as the R’s undoubtedly did at London Road, when you’ve already got out of jail a couple of times, and when there’s only the stoppage time left to play, you take your medicine, and your point, and you head back down the A1 home. A point, remember, is always a good result away from home in the Championship. So all the medieval wisdom goes anyway.

It’s the remarkable skill and finish from Andre Gray that couldn’t help but catch the eye and claim the headlines at Derby on Monday (Andre’s got flix and trix, and he’s shagging Little Mix?) but look where the move began. Derby were pressing for a late winner of their own as they continue to toil against the impossible task of overhauling a 21-point deduction. Albert Adomah not only won the ball back from Tom Lawrence (clock his reaction and ‘tracking back’ having been comprehensively schooled) but turned on it and then set off on the attack again. No thought of playing safe and simply tackling Lawrence into touch and getting back in shape, nor any dream in Chris Willock’s mind of heading to the corner, or settling for maintained possession in midfield with the scores deadlocked and the time essentially up. Men in the box as well, Ilias Chair’s movement and probing constant, Gray’s eventual spin and win magnificent.

It’s a thing I mention a lot in the match reports – QPR play to win the game. Their unwillingness to settle for a point under almost any circumstances would gladden the heart of one Flavio Briatore, whose haranguing of Paolo Sousa for the amount of 0-0 draws on his watch was a bleak highlight of The Four Year Plan. There is, of course, such a thing as a ‘good point’, but you don’t go far with draws – Millwall have only lost five times this season, same as three of the sides on the play-off places including ourselves, but they’re only tenth because of nine draws. Warburton has said before he doesn’t even really like or want his players keeping the ball in the corner to protect a lead, because it statistically results in possession concession and a dangerous counter with the players who tried to execute it out of the game more often than not. Sometimes you get a Siriki Dembele, or a Nahki Wells, moment as you commit forward to win – only Derby (nine) and Bristol City (eight) have lost more than QPR’s five points in the last ten minutes of games this season. When it happens you’re open to all the accusations of idealism over practicalities, naivety over realism.

No team in the league, though, has won more than the eight points QPR have secured with goals in the final ten minutes this season. They also continue to lead the league in points won from losing positions – now a remarkable 46 since Warburton took over as manager, which includes three from a 2-0 deficit in this home fixture against Stoke in 2019/20. To experience moments like Gray’s at Pride Park, you have to buy a ticket for that raffle. Your number won’t come up every time, but it’ll come up a whole lot more often than if you’re nonsing around by the corner flag trying to run the clock and protect your precious draw.

We’ve seen against Blackburn and Huddersfield what can happen when teams sit in and try for a 0-0. Against QPR your absolute best case scenario is you become the first team in now 31 attempts to prevent us scoring, and even if you accomplish that the best you get is a point. Quite apart from the league table consequences of all this, it’s absolutely dire to watch. Blackburn’s soar up the table and rising feel-good factor since defeat at Loftus Road only makes Tony Mowbray’s dourness that night even more unfathomable.

In one of his rare moments to speak at Thursday’s at times farcical fans forum, Warbs Warburton said of the slightly ropey defensive record: “We ask our defenders to play, get the ball, take the ball in tight areas and make quick decisions. If they do that, and they look superb doing that, and they’re also outstanding defensively, they wouldn’t be in the Championship, they’d cost £50m and they’d be John Stones. Our defenders are asked to be really brave, get on the ball, play the game in an attractive way. We could put ten behind the ball, be hard to break down, and try to nick a goal from a set piece, but I certainly wouldn’t want to watch it and I’m sure you wouldn’t either. I hope very much over the course of the season the record will improve.”

This is exactly the attitude I want from a manager of a team I'm paying to watch, and exactly the approach any club that has openly stated its business plan is to develop young players for lucrative sale needs. How many Premier League clubs are going to be bringing what Lee Hoos would call “a serious chunk of change” for centre backs whose job at their current Championship club is to form part of a deep, tight, narrow two banks of four, win headers and boot the ball away when it comes near them? Burnley, maybe. Sure it might go wrong, as it did for Rob Dickie at Bournemouth, but it’s gone right more often than not for QPR in 2021 – now more victories this calendar year than the previous two put together – and even when it doesn’t, this is an exciting and entertaining QPR team. All those years of dire football when people chucked around comments like "I don't mind about the result so much if the football is good" - well, here it is, and the results a fairly brilliant into the bargain.

Quite apart from the league table context of this latest game with Stoke, I’m looking forward to getting down there on Sunday just to watch them play in this way again. Even when it goes wrong, you'd rather watch this QPR playing this way than some of the sludge we've faced in recent weeks right?

Links >>> Injuries biting Stoke again – Interview >>> Five from 75 – History >>> Harrington in charge – Referee >>> Stoke City official website >>> Stoke Sentinel – Local press >>> The Oatcake – Message Board >>> The Wizards of Drivel – Podcast

Below the fold

Team News: Lee Wallace was the big disappointment of the Derby game, leaving the field at the start of the second half with a tightening of his troublesome hamstring. He and Lyndon Dykes are likely to be missing here with Charlie Austin also nursing a knock from Monday as he competes for the lone striking spot with goalscoring hero Andre Gray. Moses Odubajo will deputise for Wallace on the left side of the defence. QPR have been unchanged for the three consecutive victories this side of the last international break but will be forced to alter a winning team here. Stefan Johansen is also a doubt with Luke Amos and Sam Field leading the queue to replace him. Jordy De Wijs is done until January.

As was the case for this fixture last season, almost a year ago to the day, Stoke have been beset by a series of bad injuries to key players. Giant centre half Harry Souttar suffered a knee explosion on his most recent international duty with Australia and is done for the season, which means his brother John Souttar’s busy agent can add Stoke to the list of clubs apparently chasing his signature from Hearts in January. Nick Powell is both Stoke’s best player, and most luckless individual – he has combined a cracked shin bone with a positive Covid test. Sam Clucas stood too close to the heat lamp in Greggs and may not live through the night. Sam Surridge was rather harshly sent off in the last minute of a win against Peterborough for a low key reaction to being smashed into the advertising hoardings, so he’s on the naughty step for three matches. Joe Allen, bravest man Brendan Rodgers ever met (so ruddy bloody brave) was also banned for last week’s loss to Blackburn, and is meant to be back this weekend, if he hadn’t also picked up a knock in the meantime. Tashan Oakley-Boothe and Abdallah Sima are back in training after a game of Monopoly came to blows, but this weekend probably comes too soon for both. Goalkeeper Joe Bursik is out until February so Frank Fielding has arrived on an emergency loan to cover Adam Davies. Jordan Thompson is out for two months with FOMO. Defenders Ben Wilmot and Josh Tyman have permissions slips from mum for potential days out in midfield.

Elsewhere: A win for QPR on Sunday could open up a seven-point gap between them and the chasing pack outside the play-off places. If you’re looking up rather than down though, it’s all eyes on tonight’s Sky fixture between the top two Fulham and Bournemouth as Scott ‘proper sorry frown’ Parker returns to Craven Cottage for the first time. Fulham are one point clear at the top on 43 points, but have scored a frankly fairly ridiculous 49 goals in 20 games compared to Bournemouth’s 36.

By some weird quirk of the fixture list that clash between first and second, and our meeting of third and seventh, is also joined by a Saturday lunchtime Midlands-off between Coventry in sixth and West Brom in fourth. All that should present an ideal chance for one of the season’s surprise packages, Blackburn, who have roared into fifth and can go as high as third if they beat beleaguered rivals Preston at Ewood Park in a Lancashire derby on Saturday afternoon.

Beyond that top seven, though, several teams are faltering. Sporting Huddersfield, Swanselona, The Marxist Hunters, Blackpool and Middlesbrough have just five wins between them over the last five rounds of Championship fixtures. Huddersfield make the short trip to Barnsley looking to right a run of three defeats in four – the Tykes are growing increasingly desperate, now eight points adrift of safety having made the play-offs in 2020/21. Boro and Swanselona play each other, with a Duncan Watmore double giving Chris Wilder his first win as boss at the third attempt at Huddersfield last week. Wawll are at home to Birmingham, which should be thoroughly pleasant experience for all involved. Blackpool host Lutown, themselves now down to fifteenth with one point from a possible 12.

Exactly how many strings Mel Morris has the EFL on currently will get another examination at Bristol City. Never mind the EFL lads, it’s bloody HMRC breaking in through the window you want to be worried about. Two more lamb bhunas here. Sheff Utd are two for two after their bizarre managerial change, and head to Cardiff who three from four after a similar switch. If you think Nottingham Florist v Peterborough looks grim then you’re going to hate this next one – Reading are at home to Hull. I think I’d rather do a Captain Oates and take my chances out in the snow.

Referee: Tony Harrington, newly promoted to the Premier League list for this season but yet to referee there, is back in the Championship with us this weekend. Details.

Form

QPR: Rangers are starting to motor – unbeaten in seven, with four wins in the last five matches, including the last three. Third after 20 games is their best start to a league season since they were promoted in 2013/14. They’ve only conceded three times across those seven games and have six clean sheets from the last dozen fixtures. The R’s are unbeaten in eight at Loftus Road, winning five, and have only been beaten at home once in 13 league and cup games this season – the last minute heartbreak against Bristol City. The 2-1 win at Derby on Monday lifted Rangers to third, and extended Andre Dozzell’s personal run of one defeat in 17 appearances – and that match at West Brom he only played 12 minutes of. It also means the Rs have scored in 31 consecutive league games, the best such current record in the country and now only two shy of the club record of 33. The 19 consecutive away league games scored in is already the club’s best ever sequence. Only the top two and Blackburn have scored more than our 33 league goals this season, and they’ve been shared between 12 players with Luke Amos the latest newbie to bag, last week against Huddersfield. All four of Andre Gray’s have been scored away from home for a gain of five points. It took QPR’s total of points accrued from losing positions to 46 since Warbs was appointed manager, easily the best record in the league with Swansea next on 41 - 12 of those have come this season, only Coventry have more. QPR are yet to be awarded a penalty this season – Lyndon Dykes missed our last at home to Norwich in April, Bright Osayi-Samuel was our last player to score from the spot last Christmas at Carrow Road. Stoke are another of those teams that have suited Mark Warburton’s QPR so far – Rangers are unbeaten in four meetings since Warbs took over, winning both away games and registering four points from two home games. We are unbeaten in six meetings, three wins and three draws, since the Potters were relegated back into the Championship for 2018/19. In @HoopsDreams_QPR, @QPR_Stats and lovely @JTSupple QPR have three of the best club stats accounts around on social media, and all three are well worth your time and follow.

Stoke: The Potters were early big hitters in the Championship this season. They set early pace in the league with six wins and three draws from their first 11 league games, with the only defeats coming away at title favourites Fulham (3-0) and Derby (2-1). They also dispatched Fleetwood, Doncaster and Premier League Watford (away) from the League Cup. However, much like last season, the winter nights has brought a biblical plague of injuries down upon their heads. No Souttar, no Powell, no party in Stoke who lost four in a row against Sheff Utd, Bournemouth, Millwall and Brentford (probably the best team they’ve played all season) through early November. They then blew a three goal lead to draw at home to lowly Cardiff and although three quickfire wins against Blackpool, Luton and Peterborough followed they come into this game on the back of consecutive 1-0 defeats at Bristol City and home to Blackburn. Jacob Brown and Nick Powell are top scorers here with five apiece in the league.

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 Stoke…

“I really fancied us for this one especially after reading about their injury list; we then hear that we may be struggling a bit ourselves so the extra day off could possibly work to our favour in this respect. Nevertheless, I think and hope that we may have a bit too much for them, so I’ll have a go at 2-1, with Chair to score first. I’d have gone 3-1 if we were (mainly) fully fit. Which we might be!

Mick’s Prediction: QPR 2-1 Stoke. Scorer – Ilias Chair

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-0 Stoke. Scorer – Ilias Chair

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Noelmc added 21:39 - Dec 3
Totally agree with every word in your introduction, Clive. Win, lose or draw, I love watching this QPR team play. I want my Club to be brave and chase wins, rather than settle for draws, even if it does sometimes cost them points.

Can’t wait to watch them again on Sunday. Thanks for the great preview piece.
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M40R added 23:01 - Dec 3
Looking forward to this one. It's also a further test if whether it's the old QPR missing opportunities or the new one that takes them as per your last match report.

BTW, yes Reading and Hull looks grim but I think you mean Captain Oates rather than Shackleton?
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GloryHunter added 23:24 - Dec 3
Very good analysis, Clive. Two draws equals only two points, whereas one narrow defeat and one narrow win equals three points!
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Northernr added 09:44 - Dec 4
I don't get away with a lot do I? But yes, Oates.
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sinceApril66 added 12:16 - Dec 4
Hope you know how much joy and laughter your writing gives... Keep thinking this is my favourite and then updating! Intend to read the Derby report the next time I feel low... YES, haven't loved watching a QPR team as much since, maybe, 1967 or 1976! Or valued our manager.
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TacticalR added 13:29 - Dec 5
Thanks for your preview.

That's a very good point (no pun intended) about us scoring at the end of games as well as conceding. When things goes against us we get frustrated and lose sight of the advantages of the way we are playing.

On paper this looks a good time for us to be playing Stoke, but we always seem to be at a disadvantage when we're expected to win. The oppo interview warned us about Vrančić's set pieces - hopefully we won't give away too many free kicks around the box.
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