I put a spell on you - Preview
Friday, 7th Jan 2022 18:50 by Clive Whittingham
Ahead of QPR's FA Cup third round tie with Rotherham at Loftus Road on Saturday, this is, as usual, not the place to come for your nostalgia driven, sycophantic, syrup-dripping 'magic of the cup' cliché-fest.
QPR (12-5-7 WWLLWW 5th) v Rotherham (15-5-4 WWWLWW 1st)
Zenith Data Systems Challenge Trophy >>> Saturday January 8, 2022 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Freezing cold, high winds, soaking wet >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12
Here we are again then, FA Cup third round day. Or, as they actually call it now, a weekend.
Another chance for the host broadcaster(s) to pin you to the ground and force feed looped footage of Ronnie Radford into your eyeballs until they haemorrhage and bleed out onto the cold concrete below – a blessed relief and welcome distraction from Dan Walker talking to Alex Scott about just how fucking magical this year’s magic truly is (answer: always more magical than any magic which has ever magicked before). I was going to say we get patronised to death but we don’t, which is a shame, because I’d honestly take death over seeing footage of that Sutton United goal against Coventry again, or Mark Clemmit rampaging around the suburban semi-detached house of whoever it is this year that’s combined a flukey second round winner for Dover Orient, or some other idiot scum, with his job as – wait for it, you won’t believe it, I couldn’t bloody believe it anyway so I’m sure you won’t be able to believe it of somebody who headed in from a corner against Oldham five weeks ago – a PE teacher.
All of it – the inevitable bit with the Morecambe fan going to Tottenham dressed as a fucking welk, the inevitable bit with some old cunt who was at the Chesterfield v Middlesbrough semi-final and has had to book two seats on the train to accommodate his David Ellery voodoo doll for this weekend’s trip to Chelsea, the inevitable bit where they realise Cambridge are taking 237 coach loads up to Newcastle so they send Lizzie Greenwood Hughes along to show middle England what it looks like inside a bus – unfailingly, always, mere filler before they show you the fucking Manchester United game you get to see every week anyway. In this case literally the Manchester United game they’re showing you all over again in the league in five days’ time.
In the case of our Queens Park Rangers, we’ve been so terrible in this competition for so long, the debate has now morphed from what you think the team or the score might be, to should we even bother trying? QPR’s answer to that, for a couple of decades now, has mostly been ‘no’, and one dire Rangers team after another has dunked out of this competition in often demoralising, and frequently embarrassing, fashion to concentrate on the important business of being complete dog shit in the league as well. What good did bowing out good and early to MK Dons do Ian Holloway or Harry Redknapp? A well-worn example on this website from the other cup competition – Steve McClaren making ten changes for a defeat at League One Blackpool in the League Cup, then losing 3-0 in the league at Swansea at the weekend regardless. That’s been QPR, for literally 20 years now – the cups are some sort of mortal threat to the vitally important business of being complete crap in the league.
Mark Warburton, amidst his brilliant turnaround job of the last three seasons, is not exempt from this. I will, to my dying day, never understand the logic behind resting Nahki Wells for a fourth rounder with Sheff Wed in the midst of his own personal flaming January run of form, so he was nice and fresh to play against us for Bristol City that weekend. Having been beaten by Wednesday (Wells came off the bench late, and scored) we then lost the subsequent league game at Blackburn, and then again to Wells’ City at the weekend – in fact, having won three of four, scored 12 goals doing it, including six against Cardiff, five against Swansea, and a win against title chasing Leeds, the Sheff Wed cup defeat sparked a run of four straight defeats in which we scored twice. To be fair I'm the one who now sits here writing "do you not think he wants to play Albert Adomah for more than 20 minutes against Bournemouth? He's going with the medical opinion you eejits", and he probably was there as well, but, still, it was part of a thick trend at QPR when we toss off cup games – the league form flatlines anyway.
However, in general, as with just about everything he’s done since he got here, I have liked Warburton’s approach to the cups. He was desperately unfortunate not to lead his team into a first League Cup quarter final since 1988 this season. Orient away, under Kenny Jackett, was a huge banana skin that just about every QPR team I’ve ever watched would have happily skidded on. Oxford were seen off at home, they’re one of only seven teams in the country with a better PPG than us in 2021, and the other six are the six you’d expect from the Premier League. Everton at home speaks for itself and Sunderland were beaten but for the standard Keith Stroud catastrophe we’ve long since come to expect. Warburton tends to pick strong, competitive teams in the cups, recognising that wins build momentum and confidence. He also slips in, every now and again, a line about building the image and perception of the club. That’s usually the sort of vague, unquantifiable shit that column writers like me dine out on in our quest to write 50-odd match previews a year, but I think he’s exactly right. QPR have been a joke for too long, and our dire FA Cup record, and the teams we tend to lose to in it, is a part of that. We’re trying to build an image here of a club you want to come and support, a club you want to come and play for, an academy you want your kids to be part of – strong, competitive, attractive football, well managed, going places. You don’t enhance any of that by getting bummed in the gob by MK Dons every January.
This year is particularly tricky. One of the things that devalues the cup competitions in this country the most isn’t the big teams putting out scratchy sides (look at the finalists of the League and FA Cup over the last 20 years and it’s almost exclusively all them), it’s middle of the road teams with nothing else to play for sacking the cups off regardless so they can focus on the important business of securing their midtable position and fucking off on the Joel Lynch special to Dubai or Mykonos as soon as possible. QPR have been guilty of that waaaaay too often, but this year we are competing for a promotion from the Championship which is potentially transformative for this club, with the people that are running it now in charge of what would happen with the money. Progression to the fourth round would leave us facing a midweek trip to Millwall somewhere else in our calendar, having already had the Swansea game re-arranged and with a tough trip to Sheff Utd still to place. Go to the fifth round, and that’s in another vacant midweek slot in March. A tight squad, now shorn of three more players for AFCON, can ill-afford injuries, particularly in that wing back area. In Rotherham we face not only a club who can speak to the perils of going into the Championship spring with a whole load of games in hand, but also a side that has other things on its mind. The yo part of their recent yo-yo existence is well on its way back up the string, with a recent defeat at Accrington their first in 22 games, and the League One leadership well in hand. Not only that, but they’re a couple of games off Wembley in the EFL Trophy. Sad as it might be, this really could be a battle of who wants to win the least.
The absence of replays is a good example of how QPR’s present situation tears me two ways on the FA Cup. A replay from tomorrow’s game would have been even worse than a defeat – imagine us all, and our team, having to trek up to Rotherham a week on Tuesday, in these Covid times. Apart from Tony Scully at Oxford, and Les Ferdinand against Swindon, I cannot recall a QPR goal bringing less celebration than Kieron Dyer’s late equaliser to force a replay with West Brom in 2013. But then I hate the way the cups are eroded in this country for the benefit of nobody other than the Premier League, and people like Jurgen Klopp who bitch and moan incessantly about having too many games for their 60-strong squad to cope with over Christmas, but will nevertheless be fucking off on lucrative foreign tours the moment the season is over, and would do so at this time of year too if they got their way and had a so-called mid-winter break. There are several ties in this round – Cambridge at Newcastle, Morecambe at Spurs, Shrewsbury at Liverpool – which would have been incredible the other way around, and when you do get one of them fluking a draw and getting that replay as Exeter did with Man Utd and Liverpool in recent times it can be absolutely transformative for that club. That, as much as anything else, is the FA Cup’s role in our game now, and all efforts by the super-rich to chip away at it must be resisted. Fifth round moving to midweek, replays being canned, these are profound shames. This year’s competition will do well to produce a better game than Stockport v Bolton, which was itself a replay in a packed out old stadium, as opposed to the original tie which was instantly forgettable and played in an empty space-ship out by a Pizza Hut.
I say this with all due respect for Rotherham - a club I like a lot, a rare example of a new ground done well, a great awayday, and one that I know for a fact feel every bit as underwhelmed about this tie as we do – but these days the most demoralising thing about QPR and the FA Cup, even more so than the results, is the draws. Let it not go unnoticed that Rangers are on a handsome run of home draws in cup competitions – Oxford, Everton, Sunderland and Rotherham make it 14 of the last 20 at Loftus Road – so I guess we shouldn’t complain too much, but it’s all just so… boring? I personally found the flurry of cup ties we got at Man Utd and Chelsea in the middle of the last decade hateful experiences and I’ve no desire to repeat that, but a new ground, something lower league, somebody we don’t play all the time anyway… Our FA Cup draws working backwards have been Rotherham H, Fulham H, Sheff Wed H, Swansea H, Watford H, Portsmouth A (ok, semi hard-on here), Leeds H, MK Dons H, Blackburn H, Forest A, MK Dons H (again), West Brom H (replay, cheers Kieron), Chelsea H, MK Dons A (a-fucking-gain), Blackburn A (again), Sheff Utd A (lost replay, Jesus), Burnley H (lost replay, kill me), Chelsea A (again), Luton H (lost replay, my God), Blackburn A (again), Forest H (again)… Honestly, has a support base anywhere in football ever wanted to draw bloody Morecambe, or Accrington, or bloody Harrogate away as much as us? Torquay in 2000 was a right laugh, but even that we had to force through by drawing with them at home first. One of the most annoying things about the Vauxhall Motors debacle was we’d been drawn at ground tickers’ paradise Macclesfield in the next round.
See you tomorrow in the Crown. I’ll be the one with the cape and the magic wand.
Links >>> Yo and indeed Yo – Interview >>> View from the Pu – December >>> Ainsworth scores on opening day – History >>> Whitestone in charge – Referee >>> Rotherham United official website >>> Sheffield Star – Local Press >>> Millers Banter – Forum
Below the fold
Team News: Things we know for sure – Ilias Chair, Seny Dieng and Osman Kakay are all now away at the African Cup of Nations. Sam McCallum is a long term injury absence. Faysal Bettache, Charlie Kelman and Conor Masterson are all back from their lower league loans but Masterson played (and scored) for Cambridge at Northampton in an earlier round and so is cup tied. Warbs Warburton says Moses Odubajo is back for the first time since his hamstring injury at Blackpool in November, and will be involved in some capacity. Jordan Archer will almost certainly start in goal for the third time this season, after previous outings against Orient and Oxford in the League Cup. I’d personally be surprised to see Lee Wallace and Albert Adomah risked here, given respective recent injury problems and a big game with West Brom next week. Dom Ball was out with a chest infection over Christmas but was back on the bench against Birmingham and could push for a first start since the 2-1 loss at Peterborough at the end of October.
Joe Mattock, who seems to have spent his career making comebacks from injury against QPR, played his first game in five weeks against Crewe in the EFL Trophy during the week. Angus MacDonald, who recovered from bowel cancer in 2019, hasn’t played since the final day of last season with an unspecified condition but was back on the bench for the first time against Crewe. Mickel Miller (cold), Ben Wiles (wet) and Dan Barlaser (fed up) are all doubts.
Elsewhere: Some absolutely brilliant, classic third round ties on the slate this weekend, so naturally the Monday Night Football slot is the Man Utd Reserves v Aston Villa Reserves game you’ve seen a thousand times before.
We kick off tonight with League Two play-off chasers Swindon Town (not sure if Glenn Hoddle is still mincing about at sweeper down there these days) at home to Covid-afflicted Man City. Fun for all the family tomorrow lunchtime with Miiiiiiiiillllllllllllllllllllll no doubt looking forward to welcoming Crippled Alice to The Den immensely. Championship sides Blackpool and Boro heading to awkward League Two appointments at Hartlepool and Mansfield looked to have all sorts of upset potential anyway, even before Keith Stroud got the Mansfield v Boro gig.
Among the 15.00 kick offs I’m sure Justice League leaders Spartak Hounslow will be the best team Port Vale have played all season. I’m not sure Barnsley, one win in 23, will be relishing a match with Barrow in front of more away fans than home. A big trip for Cambridge up to another clown car, Newcastle, would have been more fun the other way around. Speaking of which, Reading are at Kidderminster, and AFC Wimbledon are away to Boreham Wood.
Judging by Birmingham’s team selection and performance against us last weekend it’s all there for Plymouth in their early evening game at St Andrew’s – only two wins in seven league games for the Pilgrims since Ryan Lowe headed to Preston Knob End mind you. Premier League stragglers Everton and Southampton look ripe for a kicking at Hull and Swanselona respectively, while Championship leaders Bournemouth are away at perennial giant killers Yeovil. Big Racist John and the Boys welcome non-league Chesterfield.
Nine games on Sunday, including several that would have been a lot better if drawn the other way around – Spurs at home to Morecambe, Stoke at home to Orient, Wolves v Sheff Utd, and Liverpool being good enough to grace us with their presence for a whole actual football game against Shrewsbury. Nottingham Florist, already three signings deep into the January transfer window but “it’s different this time”, have The Athletic Deep Dive Derby with Arsenal in the early evening TV game.
Referee: Dean Whitestone, who was in charge of our 3-1 loss at Rotherham in the league last season, gets the gig this Saturday as well. Details.
QPR: Rangers have won six and lost only two of their last nine, winning five of the last seven. After no defeats in eight at Loftus Road, and just one loss in 13 on their own ground all season, they have however lost their last two against Stoke and Bournemouth. QPR had scored in 31 consecutive games prior to the Stoke match, but then laboured through two matches in a row without a goal. Only the top three teams in the Championship have scored more than QPR’s 37 league goals, but Bournemouth have Dom Solanke on 18, Blackburn ben Brereton on 20 and Fulham Mitrovic on 22 whereas Rangers’ top scorers in the league are Ilias Chair, Lyndon Dykes and Chris Willock who all have six. Thirteen different players have scored for QPR this season. Rangers’ trip to the fifth round of this competition in 2018/19 under Steve McClaren was the furthest they’d gone since Trevor Sinclair’s bicycle kick in 1997. The 2-1 round three home victory against Leeds that helped take them there was their first FA Cup win without the aid of a replay since that memorable day 23 years prior. In Mark Warburton’s first season they memorably defeated Swansea 5-1 in the third round only to rest players, including striker Nahki Wells, for a meek fourth round surrender at home to Sheff Wed. Wells subsequently left the club a day later and was nicely rested for the weekend league game at home to Bristol City when he played for the opposition. Last season they lost 2-0 at home to Fulham after extra time, with replays cancelled and the 90 minutes finishing 0-0. In the League Cup this year QPR knocked out Orient and Everton on penalties either side of a 2-0 home win against Oxford before being conned out of a first quarter final appearance since the 1980s in a controversial home loss to Sunderland. Rangers have been beaten in cup competitions by League One opposition in each of the last five seasons.
Rotherham: The Millers actually made a fairly ropey start to their season with four defeats and two draws in the first nine league and cup games, suggesting a hangover from their Championship relegation season of 2020/21. A whole clutch of Covid games in hand had appeared to give the Millers a fighting chance of survival but the task of getting them all played in April proved to be beyond them and they won only one of the final 12 games at this level – that a 3-1 win against QPR in South Yorkshire. A 4-2 defeat at home to Fleetwood on September 11 seems to have been a real turning point for them. It sparked a run of 21 unbeaten matches in League One and the EFL Trophy, which only came to an end with a 1-0 loss at Accrington on Boxing Day. They’ve followed that up quickly with two wins against Bolton and Crewe, so they come into this with one defeat in their last 24 games, and six victories in the last seven matches. They’re currently top of League One, five points clear of second, 9-2-2 at home and 6-3-2 away. They have only lost two away matches all season in all competitions, 13 games played – 1-0 at Wigan in August and the loss at Accrington over Christmas. The FA Cup for them so far has been about avoiding upsets rather than causing them – they beat Conference sides Bromley 3-0 and Stockport 1-0 at home in the first two rounds. There may be trouble ahead with their strikers: Michael Smith is top scorer by a street with 18 goals in all comps but is out of contract in the summer and attracting interest; Freddie Ladapo crawled all over QPR last season scoring three times and has eight in the league so far this, but he’s put in a transfer request; Will Grigg hasn’t quite been on fire, six goals so far and only two in the league, but he could be recalled by parent club Sunderland to dent their promotion rival’s chances. Despite the relegation last season, they did manage to post five away victories (Wycombe, Bristol City, Derby, Sheff Wed and Preston) which was a marked improvement on their previous stints in the second tier. Across two seasons, 2016/17 and 2018/19, they won just one of 46 away games in the Championship – that being at Loftus Road against Steve McClaren’s hapless QPR team. They only won 13 games in total across those two campaigns, and two of them were against Rangers with Ian Holloway’s side losing at the New York Stadium 1-0 early in his reign in 2016.
Prediction: In a game of who wants to win less, where team selections are wildly uncertain, who knows?
QPR 2-1 Rotherham. Scorer - Charlie Austin.
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The U'sual Ramblings #2 by wessex_exile
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The U'sual Rambling #1 by wessex_exile
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When Saturday Comes #36 by wessex_exile
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