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Friday, 6th May 2022 07:12 by Clive Whittingham

The deadest of dead rubbers for QPR at Swansea to end a season that promised so much and eventually turned to dust. How did it end up like this?

Swansea (16-13-16 WWDDDDL 15th) v QPR (18-9-18 LLDWLL 12th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday May 7, 2022 >>> Kick Off 12.30 >>> Weather — Light cloud, dry >>> Liberty Stadium, Swansea, Wales Isn’t It

Excuse the repetition, but it bears repeating… Even six games and three weeks into this monumental collapse Queens Park Rangers could have gone second in the table with a win away at Blackburn on February 26, and another three games and fortnight into it still they did rise back to fourth with a 2-1 win at fellow highflyers Luton Town on March 13. To have gone from the highs of 2021 and the position it worked us into, to taking a scratchy team of waifs and strays down to Swansea for the deadest of dead rubbers on the final day — the warm and familiar embrace of sixteenth still a distinct possibility — has been tough to take.

The collective feeling among the support base has long been that that something must, must, ‘have gone on’. Yes, there has been a glut of bad injuries to key players which our thin squad barely had to cope with at all throughout 2021 — and this problem has been particularly acute in goal where Seny Dieng’s command of the penalty box and distribution of the ball is absolutely vital to a team that plays like us in possession and defends as we do out of it. When you wonder how QPR have gone from the best team at defending set pieces in the league to the second worst, and then you watch poor young Murphy Mahoney having to wade through the land of the giants in that second half against Sheff Utd last week, you see what a difference Dieng makes. But QPR coped, and went unbeaten, through January without Dieng, and the collapse was two months and ten games old by the time Rob Dickie and Chris Willock picked up their season ending injuries. Still, departing manager Mark Warburton came close to losing his rag in the post Sheff Utd-press conference with a reporter who he didn’t feel was focusing enough on what is, now, undoubtedly, a crippling list of absentees for a non-parachute payment club to cope with. You’ve also had the not inconsiderable problem of senior players who starred in last season’s uptick failing to perform anywhere near those levels again. But it’s always felt like more than that, particularly in the games home and away against Peterborough and up at Barnsley, and with the season now over and the manager on his way out of the club after three, mostly very good, years in charge that picture is starting to be painted.

The scandalous vandalism of valuable local newspapers in this country — from community assets based on their patch to clickbait tripe on unusable websites processed from a centralised hub — is damaging for local justice and politics. There’s no dedicated reporter out there keeping a check on, and a flow of information to you about, your local council and what they’re up to. And they’re rarely up to anything good. It’s also dire for fans of clubs like ours, who once had sound, experienced, well-connected local journos like Dave McIntyre, Ben Kosky, Paul Warburton, Sean Gallagher, Yann Tear and others all working the QPR patch at once, and publishing into weekly papers. Trying to get decent, sound, worthwhile, revealing press coverage of a mid-range Championship team is now next to impossible amid the absolute avalanche of ‘five things we learned about Jack Grealish’s haircut’ bilge. The Athletic had a unique opportunity to fill this gap, but its Championship coverage currently consists of half a dozen boyhood Forest fans wrapped in a tight circle-jerk around Steve Cooper producing content that would shame the club’s matchday programme. Their Championship manager of the year debate considered two candidates — Cooper and Wayne Rooney. A February run down of the play-off contenders managed to produce a QPR section that didn’t mention Player of the Year Chris Willock once, and spelt Elias Chair with an E. We, along with Bristol City and a couple of other clubs, are singularly fortunate that some of those old school local journos have stuck around in new forms to cover QPR, because there’s all manner of stuff that goes on behind closed doors everyday, decisions made about the future of our football club by people who will come and go, and we’d hear about none of it without them. Sure enough, you knew it was coming, Dave Mc’s latest excoriating long read on just what exactly has ‘gone on’ dropped on Monday to open-mouthed response from supporters who’d dared to believe that, at least relative to what had gone on before, QPR were perhaps getting their act together a bit. If you haven’t read it yet go away and do so now, I’ll wait here until you get back.

I often feel like QPR plays rich club-poor club with itself, veering from behaving like an outfit with money, to one without a pot to piss in, sometimes within the same day, statement or fans forum. If you want to put a sign up on the front of Ellerslie Road to honour Stan Bowles you have to raise the £6,000 yourself, because we’re trying to be sustainable. We’re happy for 3,000 angry Millwall/Middlesbrough/Sheff Utd fans to take over one end of the stadium, and dominate the atmosphere, because we desperately need that 3,000x£35. We can’t paint, tidy, clean, maintain Loftus Road because we have to carve out a tiny bit of budget each summer to do capital works on one little bit at a time. All fine and frugal. But we can, for instance, book the whole team into a hotel for a midweek match at Millwall - 11 miles away. We can move a precious, rare Saturday 15.00 with Peterborough to a Sunday lunchtime, torching the attendance and atmosphere as we go, to give the poor loves an extra day to recover from a midweek away trip (lost both games as it turns out, very QPR indeed). We can sign and continue to renew the contract of Dillon Barnes, a 26-year-old goalkeeper so woefully shy of Championship standard we didn’t even include him in our 25-man-squad this season and so required not one but two 37-year-olds to effectively come out of retirement and fill in for Dieng and Archer when they got injured. Are we skint or not? Sometimes it’s difficult to tell.

On that theme, there are a lot of cooks around the broth pot at Loftus Road. I’ve been saying this since the garish green training kits highlighted the enormous amount of staff Steve McClaren was carting around with him. It’s not a lot for, say, Tottenham Hotspur, but again for a club of our size and supposed financial constraint, and even allowing for centralised academy funding, does it not feel a bit much to have an U23 manager (Paul Furlong) and a B Team manager (Paul Hall)? An academy manager (Alex Carroll) and a whatever Chris Ramsey’s title is these days (Chris Ramsey)? A manager, a director of football, a CEO, a head of recruitment… Even with them all, the goalkeeper signings are largely handled by the goalkeeper coach, who has the considerable Seny Dieng success on his CV, but some other really ropey ones besides. These multiple inputs shine through as you run your finger down the squad list. You can see the Warburton signings — Lee Wallace, Moses Odubajo, Dom Ball, Andre Gray. You can see the Gavin Ward signings, obviously. You can see the Les Ferdinand/Chris Ramsey/Paul Hall projects — Osman Kakay, Nico Hamailainen. You can see those that have come from the data and recruitment model led by Andy Belk — Chris Willock, Sam Field, Jimmy Dunne, Andre Dozzell. It’s clear from Dave Mc’s piece, and other things that have been told to LFW either first hand or through sources we trust, that these relationships have been creaking rather in year three of Warbs’ tenure.

Paul Hall and Chris Ramsey need to be graduating players from the academy to the first team to justify their positions, the work they’re doing and the system as a whole. Les Ferdinand and Lee Hoos need the club to be developing its own players to sell otherwise the financial sums don’t add up, so need both academy players and signings from Belk's team to be playing. Mark Warburton needs to win first team matches otherwise, as we’ve now seen, he gets the sack. This can put them at cross purposes — the manager is always going to want a player that gets him results now, whereas the others may want to see a worse player given pitch time to eventually develop into a better one. There’s lots of people taking sides at the moment - pro-Warbs, pro-Les — but it’s not cut and dried, there’s fault and merit on all sides. And, as ever, it all comes back to the accounts.

These cross-purposes were causing tension even before expectations were ratcheted up this season. Chris Ramsey aggressively pushed the merits of Osman Kakay for a long time, but Warburton wasn’t having him. When Warbs eventually relented, partly out of desperation and a shortage of players, and Kakay came in and initially played well that was a bit of an ‘I told you so’ moment. A bit like when Harry Redknapp slung Tom Hitchcock on against Ipswich to prove how vital it was he be allowed to sign another striker and the little shit scored a last minute winner. You could argue that Kakay has since proven Warburton’s point. Likewise, Conor Masterson, another the club had/have big hopes for but Warburton wasn’t keen on at all. He came in initially for a cup game and then kept his place due to injuries and did really quite well, which supported the Ramsey/Hall side of the argument, but since hasn’t impressed at Cambridge and Gillingham which Warburton would point to. I sit and watch the U23s and doubt whether any of them are good enough, but it has been shown with Ryan Manning and others that some kids will step up and do well if only given a chance. Note how hard Paul Hall pushed back on the idea that the gap between our U23s and the Championship is too big when we interviewed him recently. Stephen Duke-McKenna had surely shown enough in pre-season and the early cup games to suggest he was worth a place on a bench that at times this season didn’t even contain a full seven warm bodies.

As the top six became the be-all-and-end-all this season, those chances have dried up entirely. The young player of the year vote was a farce — Norwich loanee Sam McCallum basically won it by default which is not a good look at all for what is supposed to be a development club. When challenged, Warburton would simply repeat “with respect, they’ve got to be better than…” and reel off a list of first team names. Only Murphy Mahoney has ‘graduated’ this year, and that for three games at the end of a busted season and only after, like I say, two other keepers were dragged out of retirement to play first. Dave Mc points to the Stoke home game where only six subs were named, but there was also Bristol City away in December where Rangers went with just five on the bench rather than take a couple of kids with them, even just for the experience of a first team away game. At times this has been put down to separate Covid bubbles between first team and academy, but now it seems there’s far more to it than that. LFW has heard there was tension over the youth teams not using the same back three system as the firsts. Paul Hall told us he often didn’t have the players to play a back three. As a result players, Joe Gubbins for instance, the academy staff wanted involved were deemed unsuitable for Harlington and kept at Heston because Warbs felt they “didn’t know how to play the system”. Communication between Warburton, Ramsey and Hall, has been, by Dave Mc’s account and several others, limited to put it mildly. There’s confusion on one side over what exactly Ramsey’s role is, and resentment over the salary he pulls for it, again at a club that pleads poverty to its fans. On the other, a feeling that Warburton and his coaches are operating over, above and completely separate from an otherwise integrated system.

Even within the tight first team squad the model of developing players to sell for sustainability and squad building purposes has at times given way to the old QPR trick of piling in a load of populist big names people have heard of to push for a promotion immediately. There are few more egregious examples of this than the nonsense signing of Jeff Hendrick at the end of January.

QPR had spent their budget for the season, almost entirely, last summer. The additions of Charlie Austin, and Stefan Johansen on a three-year deal, were popular at the time — we were all delighted let’s be honest — but they were particularly expensive and along with the other business done it left almost zero wiggle room in January. There was some debate about whether it was a striker or a number ten that was required — fans have since seized on Les Ferdinand’s seemingly barbed February comments that “Mark didn’t want a striker” and used it to beat the manager because the three senior forwards have since been largely terrible, but the Chris Willock injury does add weight to the manager’s cause. Mostly, though, that row is beside the point — there wasn’t budget space for either. Rangers thought they might be able to take advantage of a financial collapse at Derby and get Tom Lawrence on the cheap, or a contract situation brewing with Jamie Paterson at Swansea, but as fees for both crept up towards the £1m mark that was the end of that. Supporters, as supporters are wont to do, particularly the transfer obsessed Twitterati, blamed this on the owners being tight, the club lacking ambition, and the usual haranguing to “sign a fucking striker” began. The simple fact was, and is, the space wasn’t there to do it, and demanding QPR go out and add more on top of more on top of more in a world where they’d already pushed the boat out in the summer and one Daryl Dike costs £8m (look how well that went for West Brom) was wilful ignorance of the club’s financial situation and the rules of the league they play in. The feeling from the decision makers at the club late deadline day afternoon was the 4-0 win against Reading really couldn’t have been better timed to calm everybody down a bit, and no further business would be done. Then, later that night, completely out of the blue and for no good reason at all — Jeff Hendrick. Neither a striker nor a ten.

Now, as I keep saying, the team only needed to fuck up marginally less than it did. Add back in wins against Barnsley, Peterborough and Cardiff and we’d make the top six and be seen to have had a successful season. Had that happened, had Jeff Hendrick come in and played even moderately ok, I doubt this would have become such an issue for people. The fact he, and we, have been complete crap from the moment he walked through the door exacerbates the situation. But even if we had made the six, even if he did play well, this is not what we’re supposed to be doing. Players we own, players we’ve bought, players we’re hoping to develop, being sidelined in favour of a big name, 30+, Premier League loan player we could never hope to afford, and would get zero sell-on value from if we did. Warburton absolutely loved Hendrick to the point of being in love with him, eulogising over the Premier League quality of his touch, positioning, passing, awareness. To a lot of fans he was a useful scapegoat — the grief he copped from a couple near us at Luton was fierce. But whether you rate Jeff Hendrick or not, or you rate Andre Dozzell or not, is not the point — one should not be playing in front of the other in this system. It can perhaps be tolerated as a means to a promotion end, but if you tank and finish sixteenth anyway, it’s disastrous to the model that’s meant to be getting us out of the shit.

Dion Sanderson is slightly different because given his age, the way he’d played for Birmingham, and the decreasing chance of him making it at Wolves, I suspect they might be eyeing that one up as a Jimmy Dunne-style potential pick up on a permanent. Despite his horrible time here so far I’d still be tempted by that if it’s ever a goer. But, still, it is a matter of fact that both Hendrick and Sanderson were repeatedly picked and put back in the team despite bad performances and personal errors when others were not — Sanderson being allowed to waltz straight back into the defence at the expense of Yoann Barbet away to Nottingham Forest after the Blackpool headbutt incident, and then losing Ryan Yates for the crucial goal eight minutes from time, particularly lousy. Other players we did own - Dom Ball, George Thomas, Dozzell — were punished far more harshly for their own mistakes or misfires and disappeared from the team. Dozzell, contrary to Sanderson, didn’t get a league start again until March 16 after getting stupidly sent off against Bournemouth on Boxing Day. I repeat, whatever you think of these players and their merits and abilities, this is not what we’re supposed to be doing. If all your goalkeepers do somehow get injured, you’re meant to pick Murphy Mahoney, not bring in David Marshall, and certainly not Keiren Westwood who arrived when we were obviously dead in the water and, with six defeats from seven, could have hardly have done any worse than the kids.

Tensions, again, over another of the senior loan players. There was disquiet, to put it mildly, above Warburton about the performances and, shall we say, availability of Andre Gray late in December when he didn’t travel to Bristol City on a night when QPR only named five subs. Obviously a Warbs man after their time together at Brentford, this always did look a highly dubious signing from the off and even the spectacular goal of the season at Derby couldn’t mask a poor return for the money of four goals in the first half of the season. The club were minded to send him back in January. Bristol City, as they’ve been trying to do almost from the moment they stole him from us on a ridiculous contract, were willing to do a much cheaper loan deal with us for Nahki Wells, but Warburton wasn’t keen. He wanted to stick with Gray and initially, after a personal rocket from Les, Gray bucked his ideas up in away wins at Birmingham and Coventry before drifting back into the 12-touch monstrosity of a performance at Barnsley. Conflict and tension between execs, managers and coaches supposedly working for a common cause.

The answer to so many questions and problems at QPR lie in the accounts. When I say “this is not what we’re meant to be doing” it’s not because I want to sit at Loftus Road on a Saturday afternoon with a warm glow inside that our whole first team is made up of kids off the White City Estate while losing 2-0 to Hull. It’s not because I think Dozzell is particularly good, or that Mahoney is ready for Championship football, or that we’ve got a whole load of U23s beating the door down (we ain’t). And it’s not because I enjoy seeing our best players walk out and join other clubs. It’s because QPR, in this stadium, and this parachute payment-dominated league, with these FFP rules, cannot afford to do anything other than frequently sell players for money. We don’t have a choice. We don’t have a choice.

We, rightly, harangued Steve McClaren for loaning in a “team of men” and flogging them to death, while prospects like Ryan Manning and Bright Osayi-Samuel went totally unused and under-developed, resulting in them both leaving for a pittance which, again, was disastrous to the model. Had promotion been achieved all bets are off, but if you’re tanking to sixteenth again anyway, what’s the difference in Warbs picking Hendrick over Dozzell? Gray over Kelman or Armstrong? Odubajo over Kakay? Again, try not to focus on Warbs’ “with respect, they’ve got to be better than…” thing, because I’m coming to that… this isn’t the model, because it cannot be the model. We cannot do it within the boundaries of the league’s P&S rules. The last set of accounts showed a £4m loss, which is brilliant relative to what went before, and in the Covid year as well, but without the Ebere Eze sale it’s nearer to £24m. With no meaningful sales, and some big contracts added, even with the gate receipts coming back, the next set of accounts covering the season we’ve just had will surely show a loss at least that big. Lose the same again this season coming and you’re really knocking on the door of the £39m rolling three-year limit at which point its transfer embargoes, points deductions, business plans, and another God-knows-how-long cleaning house.

This will now dictate who the next manager is. Its why Sean Dyche, Daniel Farke and the like are a pipe dream. The first thing they want to know is what sort of package can be put together for them and their staff, and the second is the budget to put a team together — both will be tight as a mouse’s ear here next season. There's long been an admiration, I believe led by Les, of Gary Rowett and we have tried to get him here several times before. We wanted him from Birmingham when Chris Ramsey was sacked, but he wouldn’t leave while they were sixth in the table so we went for Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink, who’d been trading off much of Rowett’s hard work at Burton, and no sooner had we done that than Birmingham had a brain explosion and sacked Rowett to get Gianfranco Zola in. His availability never quite coincides with our desperation, and a tentative enquiry last month about getting him here from Millwall was once again a complete non-starter. Newport’s James Rowberry, who’d fit right in here having just crashed out of the League Two promotion picture with one win and five defeats from seven games, has surfaced as a potential and it’s in that particular corner of Lidl that we’ll be shopping. Karl Robinson at Oxford, Liam Manning at MK Dons and Darren Moore at Sheff Wed were the three names doing the rounds last week, but all three come with compensation payments which would be “problematic”. When even League One managerial compensation is “problematic” then problems is certainly what you’ve got. Moore, whose style of play we so like that we kept loaning him our goalkeepers when he was at Doncaster, is in a strained relationship with the Sheff Wed board so that might become a firmer possibility if they don’t succeed in this week’s play-offs.

The job is not a particularly attractive one. I’ve seen it suggested that the mere presence of a director of football makes it even less so, but most clubs operate with this system in some form now and our owners have shown comprehensively in the past that you need that middle man who knows the sport better than they do otherwise you’ll inevitably get another Hughes/Redknapp situation where ‘what manager wants manager gets’ quickly turns into a fucking barn on fire. It doesn’t have to be this director of football, that’s increasingly up for debate as a live issue now we’ve seemingly gone along with what the manager wanted and worked ourselves into a state again regardless, but a director of football there really has to be in my opinion.

The bigger problem for prospective candidates is, once again, in the accounts. They show clearly that another big sale (at least one more) is going to be required in the short to medium term — so immediately you’re losing your best player(s). The mid-range market for £2m-£5m Championship signings, where I suspect most of our assets currently fall, has collapsed post-Covid making it doubly difficult — Bristol City have been burned this way, relying on sales to balance the books for several years but now with only players of a Championship standard to sell and nursing some silly contracts handed out trying to get promoted. The Charlie Austin contract clause is an absolute touch, he announced he would be leaving last night and having scored prolifically in a promoted QPR team and then returned to play a huge role in us avoiding relegation last year he can now shake hands and walk away with legacy firmly intact — which I don’t think it would have been if he’d tried to carry on through next season. Kudos to whoever negotiated that and amongst this clusterfuck it is reassuring to see that we are still operating more shrewdly than we did before in some respects. But you’ve still got wage and budget tied up in Stef Johansen and others.

The new man has also got a remit to push U23s into the first team who, as Warbs believed, may well not be good enough — both U23s and U18s prop up their leagues, which for all the “it’s not about results it’s about individuals at youth level” chat doesn’t bode well at all. Whereas Seny Dieng, Joe Lumley, Ilias Chair, Ebere Eze, Darnell Furlong and others all got good Football League loans under their belt, we’re now back to loaning our supposedly brightest youngsters into non-league, fans desperately clinging to Sinclair Armstrong goals scored against Maidenhead. The few, like Faysal Bettache and Charlie Kelman, who have got into League One or Two have not done well at all. We don't have a choice, like I say, but it's a big worry.

And you’ve got a support base expecting to “go again” for another tilt at a promotion push which went from “it would be nice” to “top six or bust” over the course of the last 12 months. As Marc Bircham said on a recent podcast, at this stage you’re either a development club or a club going for promotion, and it’s difficult to be both. So far in 2022 we’ve been neither. With season tickets still not released for next season amidst much faffing about over the safe standing, messaging from the top about what to expect next season and the direction of travel is going to be tricky, and a tough sell. Lee Hoos confirmed in a consultation meeting on rail seating last night that season ticket prices will be going up amidst spiralling inflation. The W12 branch of Pitchfork Warehouse is doing brisk business.

You’re also not inheriting a happy camp. Twice in recent weeks — Ilias Chair at Sheff Utd, Jimmy Dunne at Stoke — players have left the field at the end of games in actual tears, not something I can really recall seeing before. Along with the Hendrick signing, and Charlie Austin sulking in the Ellerslie Road stand post substitution against Rotherham, another warning sign that all was not quite right in the world for me was Les Ferdinand’s assertion at December’s fans forum that no contracts would be negotiated until the summer. In the case of Yoann Barbet in particular, this seems so dumb to me. All this talk about tight budgets and you have a 28-year-old left-sided centre back there, capable of playing 97 consecutive games, going on a free transfer. If we were picking him up for nothing from Coventry now you’d all be delighted, and you’d be right. This idea that “he wants to go back to France” is something somebody said on Twitter and became true. He was once again telling supporters at the kit sponsor event on Monday that he’s keen to stay. His wife’s Instagram, usually a happy mix of grifting robot hoovers and their adorable son doing forward rolls, is now used to put out messages in French for people to stop asking for information about Yoann’s contract - because he doesn’t have any — in a tone that implies eye-roll and eyebrow raise. Dave Mc says Les and co don’t rate Barbet nearly as much as Warburton does. If they think they can get better, at that age, on a free transfer, on our budget, I can’t wait to meet the new guy. That they deemed Nico Hamailainen worthy of a four-year deal, but apparently Barbet doesn’t get one at all, will come back to absolutely wreck them with the supporters if next season doesn’t go well. As I’ve said, this risks turning very toxic, very quickly.

That the out of contract players hadn’t even had a conversation with the club prior to this week is a poor way to treat staff in 2022. Albert Adomah told fans on Monday he had “no idea what was going on”. Dave Mc says one of them has got most of his furniture in storage, awaiting a conversation. Those conversations started this week, with some players finding out via Zoom meetings if they were getting an offer or not. This is abysmal. Of all the bits of Moneyball we could be taking, the ‘how to cut a player’ scenes are not the one. Fair enough for a while we didn’t know what division we would be in, but we’ve known for some time now, and even so it’s not beyond the wit of man to say “if we go up this will happen, if we stay down it’s this”. Treat people like adults. You could argue that if they knew there was no deal upon promotion, or they’re being released regardless, or if somebody gets a deal and somebody else doesn’t, then their effort and output might decline or rifts might occur. To this I point at our results and say: keeping them in the dark hasn’t exactly worked wonders has it? This shabby treatment of players coming to the end of deals has been a theme of this regime — Nedum Onuoha and Ale Faurlin both told LFW's Patreon they were furious with how their departures were handled as well. For me, you treat people as you wish to be treated yourself. There was a good deal of sniping from the club about the way Ryan Manning and Bright Osayi-Samuel conducted themselves at the end of their deals and we now cannot say a single thing about any player behaving that way towards us again. Players already here — Rob Dickie, Chris Willock — will have seen and heard how their teammates have been treated and formed their own opinions. Other players potentially moving here the same. Usual disclaimer of I know nothing about football but… it looks fucking shit to me, and I suspect to them as well.

And so there it is. A season and team that promised so much, a club getting its act together finally, hope building among the support base… now, once more, a bin, on wheels, on fire, on an ever-steepening hill. Never change Rangers.

Links >>> Nice when it works — Interview >>> Robbie James — History >>> Martin in charge — Referee >>> Sheffield/Preston/Huddersfield - Awaydays >>> Official Website >>> Planet Swans — Blog and Forum >>> Swansea Independent - Forum >>> Wales Online — Local Paper >>> The Jack Army — Forum >>> SOS - Fanzine

The last preview of the season is usually a mixture of our choice for Player of the Season (Chris Willock) and Goal of the Season (Andre Gray at Derby, though the technique of Willock’s in the same game ran it close) and thank yous. The people that drag me through this each year know who they are, and what I think of them, and I’ve droned on enough already. What the regular readers (hello to both) perhaps don’t is that without them (you), and specifically the ones who subscribe to the Patreon, is LFW would have ceased publication at the start of the pandemic.

As a single income household with a London mortgage I was already combining my day job with a small income from LFW’s advertising, and freelance work at the Telegraph and elsewhere to make those ends meet — 14-16 hour working days are the norm, not an exception. With the pandemic went the advertising revenue, and the freelance work, leaving me in a bleak situation. The time spent doing LFW could not be justified, it would have to be used earning money somewhere else — even if that meant a bike and a Deliveroo backpack at 37. The idea to launch a Patreon, to include the audio we were already accumulating from our text interviews and hopefully some more bonus content besides, was cooked up over a summer barbecue. Wise Andy Hillman said it would work, I said it wouldn’t. The obvious thing to do would be to put all of this — the previews, the match reports, the interviews — behind a pay wall and ask anybody who wants to read it to pay. I was never comfortable doing that, particularly when there’s an article like the one above to publish, or an interview with a key club figure — you shouldn’t have to pay to find out what’s going on at QPR, I shouldn’t be profiting off that. But without it I worried there wouldn’t be enough content behind the pay wall to justify the subscriptions. The response was better than I ever hoped for, lifted a huge weight off my shoulders, and has kept the site running to this point.

It will continue to do so as long as you guys want it and are able to support it. It’s an absolute chore sometimes, turning my hobby into another day at work, and there are points over the winter when we play three times a week when I just get sick and tired of the bloody thing. I’ve poured my heart and soul into it this year like never before because if you guys are paying I feel like I owe you that much. The cost of doing the job — going to the games, the food and drink, the trains, the travel — is going up, but then so are all of your bills too. I know subscriptions to stuff like this is the first thing you put a line through when tightening a household budget, because we’re doing that at LFW Towers too. But if you are able to continue, or start, paying into our Patreon, even at the £2.50 a month tier level, you have no idea what an enormous difference it makes and how grateful I am to you. The interviews on there already are well worth a listen, and we'll keep adding as many as we can as often as time allows while effectively holding down two full time jobs.

Thankyou for any and all support received so far, enjoy all of your summers, and see you in July. It’s the hope that kills.

Below the fold

Team News: Well, we’re not going to be seeing any of the injured players we know about — Seny Dieng, David Marshall, Rob Dickie, Chris Willock, Moses Odubajo. I’d be massively surprised if we saw (m)any of the out of contract players, because why would they risk Moses’ fate befalling them and denying them a chance of a deal somewhere else next season — so that’s Lee Wallace, Charlie Austin, Yoann Barbet, Albert Adomah, Keiren Westwood, Dom Ball. Likewise the loans, for similar reasons, bar perhaps Sam McCallum, purely because there’s nobody else — so Andre Gray, Jeff Hendrick, Dion Sanderson. And if I’m right, then who the hell does that really leave us with? I’m looking forward to seeing what Jude the Cat is like in midfield. He wouldn’t because, you know, respect and all that, but how tempting for Mark Warburton to pick a team of kids, take a heavy defeat, and just drop the mic on the way out?

Elsewhere: Very strange goings on at Bournemouth in the week where the runaway Forest train we’ve heard so much about got into half time in the promotion-deciding game in hand at 0-0 and I settled back on my sofa awaiting a second off onslaught and the Cherries to go through their full repertoire of tactics for keeping the ball out of play and then… Forest barely got out of their own half. A surprisingly limp display that ensured Bournemouth went up automatically and they must now compete in the play-offs where, on that evidence, there must be that niggling doubt that yet another City Ground choke is just around the corner, flag parade or no flag parade. It also leaves nothing at all riding on their final day trip to Hull.

Precious little riding on anything really. Technically four clubs fight over the final two play-off spots and that’s it. Sheffield Red Stripe are basically there on 72 points with a +14 goal difference as they prepare to welcome champions Tarquin and Rupert to Bramall Lane. Lutown are in possession of the final spot on 72 points, but their goal difference took an absolute rinsing as Fulham scored seven for the third time this season on Bank Holiday Monday and now stands at just +7 ahead of a visit from Reading. Middlesbrough are two points further back, and +12, with a trip to Preston Knob End beckoning. Then come outsiders Millwall on 69 points and +9 heading down to take advantage of any potential Bournemouth hangover.

So… Sheff Utd and Luton are both in with a win. If Sheff Utd draw they can be usurped if both Luton and Boro win. If Sheff Utd lose they can be usurped if two of Luton, Boro and Millwall win, and in Millwall’s case also overcome a goal difference deficit of five. If Luton draw they drop out if Middlesbrough win. If they lose they drop out if either Middlesbrough or Millwall win. Boro have to win, a draw is no good, and if they do then they go past whichever one, or both, of Luton and Sheff Utd lose. Millwall also have to win, and then hope two of the three teams above them lose. If it’s Sheff Utd, they also have five goals to make up. Clear? Good.

Everything else is just to get us out of the house. Birmingham v Blackburn is not only this week’s exciting fixture between two clubs beginning with B, but also a battle of two outgoing managers — Tony Mowbray already confirmed, Lee Bowyer seemingly shortly to go the same way. The Little Engine That Could, Wayne Rooney’s Derby County, the bravest damn football club that ever did exist, have Cardiff for their celebration of life. Sporting Huddersfield, already qualified for the play-offs but still attracting zero attention, host Bristol City. Peterborough’s fairly pathetic attempt at this division ends with a home game against Blackpool, who have showed the promoted teams how it’s done. Stoke v Coventry is a bit meh. West Brom v Barnsley feels like something you should be able to get an ointment for.

Referee: In 1986, Steve Martin was in the movie musical film version of the hit Off-Broadway play Little Shop of Horrors (based on a famous B-movie), playing the sadistic dentist, Orin Scrivello. The film was the first of three films teaming Martin with Rick Moranis. In 1987, Martin joined comedian John Candy in the John Hughes movie Planes, Trains and Automobiles. More details.


Swansea: The Swans looked to be putting together an impressive end to their season prior to last week’s 5-1 shellacking at Nottingham Forest. That ended an unbeaten run of nine matches, which included a 4-0 win at Cardiff to complete a first ever South Wales derby double. The four games immediately prior to the City Ground massacre, however, had all been drawn, including a 3-3 at home to Birmingham and 4-4 at Reading in which the Welsh side had led by three goals on both occasions. Throw in a semi-recent 5-1 home loss to Fulham and Russell Martin’s side are running just shy of conceding two goals a game, with 23 shipped in their last 12 matches. Only six teams have conceded more than their 67 goals this season, and that includes five of the bottom six. Only three teams have drawn more than their 13. They have an unremarkable home record of 9-5-8 — every team from thirteenth upwards, and two of those below them, have won more than nine at home. The outstanding seasons of Alexander Mitrovic and Dominic Solanke have rather overshadowed Joel Piroe’s fantastic first campaign at this level — 20 league goals in a team sitting fifteenth. He has a 32-goal partnership with former Southampton junior Michael Obafemi.

QPR: Urgh, must we? QPR have won three of their last 18 games, have lost seven of the last nine, and nine of the last 13. They’ve taken one point from their last five away games, and conceded nine times in those. Wins for Stoke, Preston and Blackpool coupled with a defeat here would see Rangers finish sixteenth in the Championship table — for so long our seemingly permanent resting spot in this damned division, one we thought we’d left well behind. Rangers won 1-0 here almost exactly a year ago with a late Lyndon Dykes goal — he hasn’t scored in 12 games going back to the Reading win at the end of January. That was QPR’s first win in Swansea since 1981 — nine visits which included five defeats and just two goals scored. They had lost to nil in each of their prior three visits to the Liberty Stadium. Charlie Austin’s goal against Sheff Utd was his 63rd in QPR colours across two spells, 119 starts and 29 sub appearances. The defeat that followed took Rangers to 26 points surrendered from winning positions this season. Yoann Barbet has taken 17 shots at goal from free kicks in his time with the club without scoring.

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. It looks like a straight fight between Cheesy and SinceApril66 for the title this year, and for the final time we bid welcome and thanks to last season’s champion Mick_S…

“I’ve tried to remain optimistic during the downturn; not surprisingly, along with many others, that’s gone. Swansea are poor, we are too. Last game of the season and I can only hope that the team put the extra application in to see off MW in the way he deserves after his appalling treatment by Rangers. What a fuckin’ mess.”

Mick’s Prediction: Swansea 1-1 QPR. Scorer — Mark Warburton

LFW’s Prediction: Swansea 3-0 QPR. No scorer.

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Phildo added 07:58 - May 6
Well a hard read but bang on. Thanks for the enormous efforts this year. This time next year Rodney we will be millionaires....

JamieHastings added 10:37 - May 6
Thanks for your efforts all season, Clive. You are a superstar of great patience.

E15Hoop added 11:01 - May 6
Cheers, Clive. As always, you've done an amazing job making sense of the complete chaos that our beloved football club adopts as its standard default position.

Should make your new season preview easier, in that I think we all know already that we're nailed on to finish 24th. I'm not sure even the risen Lord Jesus Christ could rustle a big enough miracle out of this self-inflicted massacre for us to expect anything other than complete and utter disintegration. And you thought things were bad enough when Joey Barton and Jose Bosingwa were around..🤢

Thanks also for your note on the Patreon. I certainly hadn't appreciated exactly how tight things have been for you. I shall be adding my name to your sponsor's list later today..

E15Hoop added 11:20 - May 6
Update: the club has just announced that conversations are "ongoing" with Yoann Barbet, Uncle Albert, Moses Odubajo, Charlie Owens and Mide Shodipo (who I personally thought was great under Hasselbaink). Has someone at the top finally woken up??😮

extratimeR added 12:19 - May 6
Thank god for your comment and match reports Clive, the only diamond in a season end of horse manure.

Just reading your summary and time line of disaster, you just can't help feeling that something else is going on at the Club, It really feels like we are walking down the path to a change of ownership, I have absolutely no knowledge or information but the club seems to completely rudderless, with every major decision being ducked or pushed down the road, odd.

Thanks Clive, have a great summer!

THEBUSH added 14:06 - May 6
Hi Clive, I always enjoy your articles , and laugh sometimes, as the writing is great.

One thing though, as you normally try and give both sides to a story, I"m still not sure where you stand on the not renewing of MW contract?

I was a stick, but changed my mind after reading the West London Sports article.

Northernr added 14:33 - May 6
I'm very torn. Clearly, from what Dave has heard and reported, from what we've heard and reported, and the way the season has collapsed, the position is pretty untenable. Relationships fractured. So, it's very difficult to carry on in this circumstances. We're not just going to come back in July and be able to start again with the same people as if all is right in the world. So they've probably reached the only conclusion they could.

However... As I've said above, the job is not attractive, the budget is small, the challenge of building a competitive team next year will be very difficult, because even though we don't have a choice but to go with some of the kids I'm not convinced they're good enough, and the fan expectation will be 'go again' for another promotion push - could get very toxic very quickly. All that in mind, are you going to be able to attract a better manager than Warbs? I don't think so.

So, very torn. It's ok to say 'I don't know' once in a while right?

JPC added 18:09 - May 6
I see myself as a bit of a stalker on this site, but it’s articles like these that make my Patreon contribution seem like money well spent. Without articles such as this, and journalists such as Dave Mc, and opinions such as DaveB, I’d be completely in the dark. I confess to still being completely confused - I liked Warburton, I generally liked the style of football pre-collapse, but on the other hand realise that the disconnect with the direction of the club was never going to work. That said, I would love to understand the targets that Warburton was set if he was expected to work within the constraints we’re talking about. Using players like Kakay, Masterson etc and. Expecting a top six finish seem incompatible to me at the moment

B_Wad added 22:16 - May 6
Thank you for all the love and effort you put into the site and these articles. A brilliant blend of breaking down and explaining the situation we're in while reflecting emotions many of us feel. Well done.

ozexile added 05:31 - May 7
Thanks Clive brilliant writing again. You could have saved yourself some time though and just wrote" We're a Fu&$+_?g shambles'.enjoy the summer.

LeedsR added 07:06 - May 7
Thanks for another season of excellent, insightful, inspired and consistently on the mark writing. I don’t know how you do it and how long you can keep this up for, on top of earning a living in these increasingly tough times. It is much appreciated and a major part of my and I’m sure many other’s following of our crazy club. I know it’s a short turn around to the start of next season (ulp!), but I hope you get a break in between. Thanks again.

ARudd added 09:27 - May 7
Just a very simple but massive thank-you Clive for the commitment to the blog.

This remains my source for everything QPR and I am, and will be remain, a Patreon subscriber - and encourage everyone else to - so we can continue to reflect, laugh and cry along with you.

You rrrrr’s

Oxfordhoop added 10:28 - May 7
I have followed you on this site for a year or so now and I just wanted to say thank you for your devotion and to say the quality of your writing is outstanding. All creators are worthy of their hire for doing something most of us can’t and for making life just that bit better. So can I ask all of you who read Clive’s work to go over to Patreon and sign up for even the minimum monthly subscription. You won’t find writing of this quality in many places and you are getting a great bargain. Artist’s can’t create in a vacuum, so sign up. Thanks once again Clive. Not really looking forward to next season but I am looking forward to reading your thoughts on it.

Toast_R added 10:44 - May 7
Thanks for all the wonderful previews over the season. Absolutely brilliant as always.

johngdavis added 11:03 - May 7
An extended and totally accurate summing up of the position, bit depressing really.

The timing of supposed contract talks with Barbet, Adomah etc. before the appointment of the new manager suggests to me that they will appoint a coach, rather than a manager, who will coach the squad that he is given If he buys into that concept and, as you point out, works with Ramsey and Hall rather than against them they may have already decided on Eustace. if not a young coach who will.

TacticalR added 12:23 - May 7
Thanks for your preview.

I thought the problems were mostly due to objective factors (injuries), although that was prior to David McIntyre's revelations about internal problems at the club (point taken about the demise of local journalism). What was disappointing about those revelations was that it looked as though the very thing that had distinguished the club in recent times, namely everyone working together based on shared assumptions, was just a myth. But then again, if these relationships were the source of the problem, how did we previously achieve good results?

Looking back it was strange that the new 'sustainable' QPR suddenly had the money to buy both Johansen and Austin. The involvement of Fernandes in Austin's signing isn't a good sign, especially on top of the conflict between the manager and the youth coaches. The Hendrick and Sanderson loans just seem a mess and probably alienated our existing players.

'As Marc Bircham said on a recent podcast, at this stage you’re either a development club or a club going for promotion, and it’s difficult to be both.' This is the root of the problem.

The worrying thing about all this is that if we are going with the development model, a youth-orientated manager like Warburton should have been the ideal man to make it work. If Warburton couldn't make it work is another manager going to make it work? And is this the right time for the club to have chucked a brick in the existing system by getting rid of Warburton, especially as there is a short close season this year? The problems with renewing contracts make everything sound pretty chaotic.

Finally, thanks for all your reports this year. It must have been particularly difficult during the second half of the season when there were a lot of games where we hardly had a shot on goal. Patreons are definitely getting our money's worth.

Andybrat added 13:46 - May 7
Thanks Clive echo all the others. So if we don’t sell all the jewels we have ( and we do have some) surely we are in line for some good days in the Bush next season. A part of this is about player mentality and loyalty to Warbs who gambled on injury prone guys and gave them a chance. I look at Amos, Field and Moses as examples. Talk this week about Watford for Eustace so he should be available again by Christmas. Personally would give him the job, continuity without continuity, if u get what i mean. See u in C&S, is it me or is the food getting better? ( always the optimist)

062259 added 13:49 - May 7
If there exists a better preview of a football game this season, anywhere, I’d love to read it. Worth a month’s Patreon subscription on its own.

NayDaze added 19:14 - May 7
Outstanding work this season Clive!

Heskrover added 19:23 - May 7
Thank you Clive, reading your articles always brightens my week

Phil_i_P_Daddy added 12:48 - May 8

double_m added 14:53 - May 10
Thanks Clive.
The last report and this preview are true works of art.
Real deep dives into your creative well and I'm thankful for the end of season and hope it does that regenerative thing that ensures you can keep going, never mind reaching these ridiculously high standards.

Came away from this piece feeling slightly less in Warburton's corner over the whole of this. As if maybe he thought he'd be bringing the Academy/model around to his thinking on players and coaching staff.

Rest well in the off-season Clive and I'll see you on Patreon.

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