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Friday, 4th Mar 2022 19:40 by Clive Whittingham

With a daunting set of away fixtures looming large on the horizon, the pressure is on QPR to recover from last week's narrow loss at Blackburn with a positive result at home to Cardiff.

QPR (16-8-10 DLLDWL 5th) v Cardiff (11-6-18 LWDLLW 18th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday March 5, 2022 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Grey, damp, dark >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12

I was, it’s fair to say, stewing on the way back from deepest Blackburn last Saturday, and that didn’t surprise me greatly. They’re long old days up to that part of the world at the best of times, on the country’s most expensive train line through some of its worst stations, to places where the most palatable pub is often a Wetherspoons. The vast majority of my mates have lost the will to traipse up to the northwest to watch QPR phone in a defeat long ago, and even the couple that did express an interest this time around were immediately ruled out by the Sky kick off change. I fully expected it would be long, lonely and boring when I stepped out of the door not long after five in the morning, I suspected it might be fruitless on the pitch, and I knew it would be a long slog back. It was one of those days I went so I can write for this website, and no other reason. Turning my greatest pleasure into a sixth day at work. Savage amusement.

What I therefore expected to happen was the “couldn’t you just throw me a fucking bone?” exasperated, tired rage at the team to subside with some sleep and perspective. Say, by Tuesday maybe. Or Wednesday surely. Blackburn are a good football team, regardless of the slop they turned out at Loftus Road, and evidently deserve to be where they are in the league. It was a tough game, they played well, and set up expertly to shut us off completely out wide and funnel the ball backwards and inside into three centre backs who lacked options to pass to further forwards – not that we need much encouragement to go backwards and inside at the moment. We lost only because of a soft free kick awarded by another piss poor Championship referee, and a fairly embarrassing goalkeeper error from that set piece. Even after that Jeff Hendrick and Andre Gray could/should both have scored twice. Had they done so I’d no doubt have written long flowery prose about the beauty of following your team, how enjoyable this season is, what that moment feels like when your lot snatch it late on in the game – as they did, and I did, post Bristol City and Coventry where we also turned in relatively ropey performances. We lost 1-0, against a good team, away, in a game we could easily have drawn, or potentially have won, in what was our sixth match inside three weeks leading to an understandably tired playing staff (and match reporter).

I’ll be honest though, it hasn’t really happened - I’m still pissed off with it now. Perhaps that’s the time of year. I remarked after Coventry away that it was the first time this season that it’s really felt like a big, important, promotion push game. We can’t say “there’s loads of games left” forever because, frankly, there aren’t. QPR still have to go to Luton, Forest, Sheff Utd, Preston and Huddersfield which doesn’t immediately scream a lot of points, so to have turned down the opportunities we had for points against Barnsley and Hull felt pretty important, and then to go and do that at Blackburn felt rather the harbinger of things to come. If we’re not promoted, if we’re beaten in the play-offs, if we don’t make the play-offs at all, I’d still make a case for this being a season of progress after ‘the sixteenth years’, continuing the steady advances we’ve been making since Mark Warburton came to the club. I think we could all now pinpoint two or three immediate things that need doing to the team to move it forwards, and if they do that and build on this season then - while it would certainly be annoying to not challenge at the back end of the season having been in promotion form for more than a year – I’d be ok with 2021/22 not working out as we all hope.

What I am going to struggle to stomach, looking at the calendar for the next couple of months, is for this lovely team that we’ve all enjoyed watching for the last 14 months to follow all its predecessors in turning watching QPR away into a horrible, boring, demoralising chore. We go to Euston, we fork over the debt of a third world country, we go to Wigan or Preston or Blackburn, we lose, we come home again surrounded by Man Utd/Liverpool cunts. I’ve so enjoyed going on the road with the team this year. The combination of lockdown lifting after a miserable two years, and actually being confident that we might go to these places and give a good account of ourselves and stand a good chance of winning the game, has been nourishing. Last Saturday started to feel like one of those soul-destroying days on the road we had under many of Warbs’ predecessors, and I didn’t enjoy reminiscing one bit. We’ve got time to spend in away ends at Luton where everybody will want to kill us, Forest and their fucking flag fettish twittering on about “the garibaldi that we wear…”, Preston and all the shithouse fun that they bring to every game they’re involved in, and more, in the next few weeks. I reckon there’s a grand’s worth of away travel/food/drink/hotels/tickets between now and the first week of May. I’m not sure I can take it if it’s all like last week.

It wasn’t us. Or, at least, it wasn’t what we say we’re all about. That’s, I think, why it stung me for as long as it did. Warbs has repeatedly said his success will be judged by how many people there are in the stadium on matchdays. He wants to play an attractive, attacking brand of football that people are happy to come to pay to see. He’s been criticised through his career for “no plan B” and while I don’t think that’s true at all (this three at the back formation we’re in now is the product of a previous about-turn mid-season) I also don’t think there’s anything wrong with fundamentally wanting to play an attacking style with the ball on the floor. It’s admirable. It’s what I want from my QPR manager. It’s one of the reasons I love him as much as I do. It’s also not what we did last week.

That the players were tired, and leggy, after so many games so close together, and a prolonged period on the Wednesday with ten men, was obvious, and an entirely legitimate reason for the underperformance - Warbs accepted responsibility for not changing the team. Blackburn played us very well, Mowbray’s set up was spot on, they had all of the best players on the day – it was a difficult game. But QPR playing all their football deep in their own half, constantly turning the ball backwards and inside, lacking options down the field, lacking pace, lacking a goal threat, isn’t particularly new. It’s exactly how we lost at Barnsley, who are not by any stretch of anybody’s imagination a good team. We've lost the last four away games without scoring - Millwall and Blackburn are decent, Peterborough and Bansley are not. At the start of the season we were going for games, and it was fun, but it also saw us leaking two goals a game and sporting the third worst defensive record in the league – which I’m sure Warbs would point out with a wry smile that supporters kept bringing up and hammering him for. Since the late Siriki Dembele winner against us at Peterborough, where Yoann Barbet was our furthest man forward trying to win the game in injury time and left a space behind in which the winning goal was scored, it feels like we’ve got more and more cautious, more and more conservative, more and more pragmatic.

The opposition get a say in this; they’ll all have watched the videos and seen how we play. Rob Dickie will have been red flagged by the whole league by the end of August, but the amount of surging runs out of defence from him and Yoann Barbet now compared to the start of last season is really stark. Too often they’re now trying to play a long ball to three isolated forwards in poor states of form and fitness – Barbet gave the ball away 21 times out of 60 passes last week, which if he’d been in blue and white halves would have put him above five of the home players for passes to Blackburn players and one shy of two others. They’ll also have picked out our wing backs, who were key to the success of the system earlier this season and at the end of last, and aimed to stop them motoring forward as much as they were doing. Allied to this, Lee Wallace and Albert Adomah are senior members of the squad and have been asked to slog up and down that line for big minutes. As @QPR_Analytics has pointed out this week (Tweet embedded below in the form section) we are asking more of a small squad than just about any other team in the league. Both are now struggling. Adomah has had his two worst games for the club (Blackburn and Millwall) in the last fortnight. Sam McCallum’s return could be super timely.

Chief among the change though is the midfield, which now sits painfully deep, right on top of the back three, frequently just turning the ball back to one of them, often automatically without checking to see if there’s a ball available forwards first. One of the best things about us at the end of last season, in tough games like Bournemouth and Brentford at home, was Field and Johansen breaking forwards beyond the strikers to arrive late in the box and pose a goal threat. The only person who’s done that recently from that position is Luke Amos, with goals against Reading, Blackpool and Huddersfield as well as a near miss against Swansea. Other than that the last time we scored a goal from central midfield was Johansen’s late equaliser at Reading on September 11 – 32 games ago. Watching him and Jeff Hendrick play as deep as they did last week, stepping on each other’s feet trying to do the same job, only added to the experience of the day. Ahead of them, 70 yards of pitch, one passing option, zero movement. That Hendrick got in the box and nearly scored twice in stoppage time, when Rangers had no choice but to go forwards, only exacerbated the frustration.

While Hendrick has clearly played well in the games he’s featured in, it does feel we are once again doing that QPR thing of going a bit starry eyed over a name you’ve heard of. Players we own, who we’re meant to be developing, are now out of the team. We’re trying to crowbar him and Johansen into the team, even if it means two people trying to do the same job in the same place last week. Warburton tells a story about his time at Rangers where a supporter got into an argument with him over team selection and he asked him to write down who he felt were undroppable “first name on the team sheet” types and laughed as he ended up with a team of 14 players on the whiteboard. It kind of feels like we’re now doing the same thing – we have to play a back three because it works for the players have back there, we therefore have to play wing backs, Hendrick apparently has to play, Johansen has to play, Field has to play… that’s eight straight away. It doesn’t leave a lot of space for some actual forwards unless we’re playing without a goalkeeper. If we are going to play like this, at the very least, it would be nice to see a couple of those midfielders getting up in support of, and breaking beyond, the main striker. We have four goals from central midfield all year, and Amos has three of those. Field, Johansen and Hendrick, who we asked to play without a recognised striker ahead of them last week, have one between them.

I’m hesitant these days to opine about the actual tactics of the team and how it performs. When I started LFW 20 years ago I was a Championship Manager addict who felt he knew it all because I’d taken Scunthorpe into the Champions League. I'd shout and scream at games. The older I’ve got, the more people from within the game I’ve spoken to on and off the record, the more my confidence and self esteem has drained away, the more I’ve realised I know fuck all. Fuck all. QPR are fifth, and third top scorers in the league, with a bottom-half wage bill. Exactly where we all wanted them back in August. I’ve consequently tried to take this website much more in the direction of just trying to articulate what it’s like, as a home-and-away fan-in-the-stand, supporting a middle-of-the-road football club in a system, division, country and economy set up to hammer me, us, and it. I’m wary of pouring my heart out about the team itself in the way I just have, because I think mostly this set up, this manager, this coaching staff, have done a magnificent job for us, I’m 110% behind them, and they’d drink me under the table for knowledge of tactics, methods, and the current state of our players. But, for that fan-in-the-stand, forking over in excess of 200 notes to go to Blackburn and watch the three centre backs attempt in excess of 180 passes between them last week, was seriously fucking boring.

If you want to know what I hope for tomorrow it’s that we go for it. Go for it. On the front foot, from the off, with energy, and bodies committed to the attack. Play without fear, play to score goals, play to win. That was this team’s strength throughout 2021. Do that and lose, personally I don’t have a problem with it. But – talking out of my arse or not - I do have a problem with what I saw last week. Sorry.

Links >>> January loan success – Interview >>> The View from the Pu – February >>> Givens and Bowles down Cardiff – History >>> Salisbury back in action – Referee >>> Official Website >>> Three Little Birds – Blog >>> CCMB – Message Board >>> Wales Online – Local Paper >>> Mauve and Yellow – Blog >>> View From The Ninian – Website and Podcast

Below the fold

Team News: QPR will be without first choice goalkeeper Seny Dieng following his run in with Sam Gallagher-Munos last week at Ewood Park, so David Marshall comes back into the line up with Football Manager regen Murphy Mahoney on the bench as Joe Walsh has to have his hand pinned and Jordan Archer’s shoulder is blown out. Lee Wallace is back available, though Sam McCallum was one of the few to come back from Lancashire with any credit in the bank last weekend on his first senior appearance since November. Lyndon Dykes will be checked late having returned to training this week. Dion Sanderson serves suspension game two of three.

Cardiff turn around from a midweek win at home to Wayne Rooney’s Derby County, secured five minutes from time by Boro Loanee Uche Ikpeazu who has already scored against QPR once this season, back in August. The Bluebirds welcome back Will Vaulks and James Collins who both missed that match with the same sickness bug that is now running through the club’s coaching staff. Sean Morrison, Curtis Nelson and Max Watters are medium term absentees.

Elsewhere: Four of the teams QPR fans are keeping a careful eye on will have played their games before we take to the field tomorrow. Sporting Huddersfield, unbeaten run now stretching to 16 games, have a gimme at home to Peterborough tonight but at least one of Sheffield Red Stripe and Nottingham Florist will be dropping points as they meet at Bramall Lane. The Saturday lunchtime game sees Tarquin and Rupert hosting Blackburn. Among the 15.00 kick offs there’s another clash of two of our most in form chasers with Lutown heading up to Middlesbrough. That leaves ourselves, and Coventry away at Swanselona, with the chance to make gains while the others are beating each other up, before we start our run of games against fellow promotion chasers at Kenilworth Road next week. Bournemouth have an awkward trip to Preston Knob End.

Even as somebody who didn’t fancy West Brom one bit this season in the first place, I’m surprised they’ve found a cliff edge quite this severe to tumble off through the spring. Their 3-0 home win against lowly Peterborough is their only maximum in 13 games. The decision to sack Valerian Ismael and bring in the “proven name” of Steve Bruce has seen them lose six and draw one of the last seven, and the 2-0 midweek loss at home to Swanselona means they’ve now scored one goal in ten and a half hours of football. Now in the bottom half of the table, with the fans in open revolt, they’re at Hull City this weekend.

Down at the bottom it’s Barnsley who are suddenly stirring. Having won just two of their first 29 games they’ve now won three of four including knocking over Chris Wilder’s much fancied Boro side at Oakwell. They travel to Wayne Rooney’s Derby County (one of the few teams they have already beaten) this weekend, whose resistance looks finally to be weakening after three successive league defeats including a late heartbreak from a dire midweek encounter at Cardiff. Barnsley (23) and Derby (21) are chasing Reading (29) and Reading alone. Paul Ince’s impact came to a shuddering halt in a 4-1 loss at Blackpool a week ago and I’m not sure I fancy them much at home to Wawll this weekend – they’ve won four in a row.

Eyeing up the express check-in lane for the Mykonos flight: Bristol City v Birmingham and Stoke v Blackpool.

A Tuesday round of games in hand include, from a QPR point of view, Sheffield Red Strip v Middlesbrough and Blackburn hosting Millwall.

Referee: Having refereed QPR’s recent dire defeat at Barnsley, it’s a swift return to hooped action for new Premier League referee Michael Salisbury. Details.

Form

QPR: A January of five wins and two draws from seven matches has given way to a February of just one win from seven played for Rangers. Still third top scorers in the league behind top two Fulham and Bournemouth, the R’s have now failed to score in five of their last nine matches. The picture is slightly better at Loftus Road where Mark Warburton’s team are unbeaten in seven, winning three, scoring 11 and conceding five. Seven of QPR’s remaining 12 games, and five of the next seven, are away including trips to the teams currently third, sixth, seventh and ninth. Rangers have now lost four in a row on the road without scoring a goal against the teams currently 24th, 22nd, 11th and fourth. Up to the Coventry match QPR had conceded just three goals from set pieces all season, the league’s best figure. Since then they’ve conceded from three in nine including last weekend’s winning goal at Blackburn. Having kept three clean sheets in four at the end of January, they’re now without a shutout in seven. Only Fulham (40) have scored more second half goals than QPR (34).

Cardiff: When QPR won 1-0 in South Wales in November it brought up a tenth match without a win for Cardiff of which they’d lost nine and failed to score in eight. It was followed immediately by three wins in four to revive their season and they arrive in W12 having won five, lost five and drawn one of the last 11. They have only won one of the last eight away matches and that at lowly Barnsley. It took the Bluebirds 20 matches to score a goal in the first half this season, and just eight of their 41 league goals have come before half time. Kieffer Moore, who left for Bournemouth in January, remains joint top scorer with five here, along with centre back Aden Flint. So far 37 players have made a first team appearance for Cardiff in league and cup this season. They have a 5-4-8 record away from home overall. Since Mark Warburton took over at Loftus Road they have won one and lost four of five meetings – Rangers have won four on the spin scoring 11 times and conceding three. The Welsh side haven’t won on this ground in six attempts going back to 2010, losing five.

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 year’s champion Mick_S got the Blackpool call right, and here’s what he says this week…

“I think it’s fair to say that we need this one to hopefully help us back to where we were at the start of the year. Two wins in five, for Cardiff, so their form isn’t too bad. A chance tomorrow to get things rolling again, and do we need it! I’m going for the usual 2-1 Rangers, with Chair to score our first.”

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

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

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Burnleyhoop added 22:08 - Mar 4
Another painfully honest report Clive and don’t disagree with any of it. Nothing new there.

I was reading an article about Warburton’s “risk v “reward” strategy the other day and what struck me was his constant insistence on resting some players and giving game time to those supposedly in need of it. Could it be that he has been preparing for the run in that doesn’t require two games per week all along?

We have now had a full week of preparation. I am hopeful of seeing a performance tomorrow that is something akin to what we saw in January. A renewed vigour and sense of belief. We need to start a run tomorrow and go into the next four games full of intent.

It’s definitely do or die time.
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062259 added 22:18 - Mar 4
With a brutal away run-in plus home games against Fulham and Sheffield United still to come, the other three home games against Cardiff tomorrow, Peterborough and Derby are non- negotiable.
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royinaus added 01:18 - Mar 5
I do worry that even before the dip in form we nicked a few games we didn't necessarily deserve to win. Happy to believe the adage that good teams win even when they don't play well, I fear it slipped under the radar. I know we say it a lot but I feel this game is maybe the most important yet in terms of seeing where we really are, as we cannot use the too many games mitigation this time.
All that said, I agree with you - I love this current team & manager and have enjoyed QPR more in the last two years than since Adel strutted his stuff - promotion or not.
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TacticalR added 14:46 - Mar 5
Thanks for your preview.

I found the Blackburn game hard to watch, and that was without making the trip. The worst thing was that we just didn't seem to have much in terms of creativity, which is frustrating when you've got players like Chair and Willock in the team.

The fact is that we haven't won some of the games we should have won (when meeting off-form opponents), so it's frustrating when we are not winning anything else much either. To put it another way, if you can't win the easy ones, are you going to win the hard ones? (although sometimes it does happen that way).

Cardiff are above us in the form table at the moment, so we can't take anything for granted. I just hope we are able to justice to ourselves.
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