|Queens Park Rangers 3 v 2 Middlesbrough|
Saturday, 6th August 2022 Kick-off 15:00
How’s the hangover? Preview
Friday, 5th Aug 2022 19:32 by Clive Whittingham
No goals, no shots on target, no corners, no points – after the annual damp squib at Blackburn, QPR have a second crack at getting the Michael Beale era up and running at home to Middlesbrough on Saturday.
QPR (19-9-18 DWLLWL 11th) v Middlesbrough (20-10-16 LDWWLD 7th)
Lancashire and District Senior League >>> Saturday August 6, 2022 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Beautiful >>> Loftus Road, London, W12
Confidence is a preference for the habitual voyeur of what is known as… You can see a confident footballer, a confident football team, a mile away. You can smell them, advancing up the table, flying down the fixture list, accelerating across the motorway network towards you. Here comes Chris Wilder’s Middlesbrough, Steve Cooper’s Nottingham Forest, Marco Silva’s Fulham. Seven games, eight games, nine games… one defeat. All the wins. Brennan Johnson, Isaiah Jones, Fatty Mitrovic. What you going to stop them with? That soggy end of David Marshall’s career? Good fucking luck mate. Like turning up at an orgy and only realising later into the evening you’re the cum sponge.
This time a year ago, it was QPR turning up dick in hand. Yes, the defence was ropey; yes, it all hung on the crispy hamstrings of Lee Wallace; but God it was going well. QPR scored in 31 consecutive league games, and 21 consecutive away games; they won five and drew two of seven away games spanning seasons, they then won five and drew one of their Christmas road trips. Club records were pushed, equalled and broken. We conceded a lot, but it didn’t matter because you knew there were goals in the team, and the team was confident of scoring them. No side in the Championship recovered as many points from losing positions as QPR under Mark Warburton during his three years here. It got to the point where it didn’t matter, and Middlesbrough away where we got annihilated for the first 20 minutes and had a man sent off straight after half time but won 3-2 anyway was the primest of prime examples. If you’ve got goals in your team, and your team is confident, it covers a multitude of sins. Yes, I've hit the odd copper, enjoyed the odd doobie, but will you piss off and leave me alone, I’m recovering a two-goal deficit against Barnsley here.
Can you imagine us being 2-0 down at home to Barnsley and getting a point out of it now? Can you imagine us doing at the Riverside this season what we did last? I can’t, and the stupid thing is, as Michael Beale rightly points out, it’s the crux of the same team. From Boro away we’ve replaced Lee Wallace with Kenneth Paal which everybody is very happy about, similarly Jake Clarke-Salter for Yoann Barbet, Jordy De Wijs and Jimmy Dunne are interchangeable, most fans think Sam Field is an upgrade on Dom Ball, and everybody else is still here. But that steadfast belief, that outright brashness, that almost Keegan-like attitude that it didn’t fucking matter if we’ve only got ten men and Wally Dom has just passed them the ball to equalise, we’re going to win anyway because that’s just what we do and how we are, has gone. That’s confidence, and momentum. We came windmilling out of 2020/21 with bucket loads of it, ran all over the top of Man Utd and Leicester in pre-season scoring seven times, and then monstered the Championship to such an extent that even while not playing that well, and obviously waning, we had enough momentum to carry us through right to the end of January. It was like turning an electric train off at 125 miles per hour - the stopping distance was about four months long. Once it’s stopped, though, it takes a hell of a lot of restarting. Gary, it’s really burning, what we gonna do?
You saw it last week at Blackburn. I was actually really impressed with us in the first 30 minutes at Ewood Park. You could see what steps had been taken to address the problems of last season’s collapse – much better shape, much tighter and compact in front of our area, much more difficult to play through, and also able to play out when we had the ball which was a big thing given how biblically awful we were in that fixture last season. I thought we looked well coached. Clearly defined roles, firm ideas and ethos. I take a lot of hope from that because if you add Tyler Roberts into that ‘ten’ space where we kept playing forced, direct balls into people incapable of doing anything with them last week, and you add Chris Willock instead of Shodpio, and you add anybody with any ambition to pass the ball forwards and move beyond it instead of Dozzell (Richards, Amos), and you extrapolate that 30 minutes over 65-70-75 minutes, then that’s going to win you games at this level. It just is. Michael Beale is six weeks and one competitive game into the job.
But the way one goal – one flukey goal that you’ll see once a season if you’re very unlucky – punctured all of that told you, and our new manager, everything you needed to know. We did nothing, whatsoever, of any note, in the entire game, after we’d fallen behind. Heads were down, passing was slow and safe and cautious. We offered no threat at all, and again compare Dykes, Chair and Adomah’s input to that last half an hour to their influece when they, and we, were confident in ourselves. Even with a new manager, we stuck with his new ideas only as long as it took us to concede the first goal, at which point we just slumped our shoulders and reverted to 2022 type. Lots of backwards and sideways passing. Lots of Illy trying to write the theme tune and sing the theme tune. We wouldn’t have scored if we were still in Blackburn now, and to be honest such is the standard of service on Avanti’s West Coast Mainline at the moment I’m surprised we’re not. Don’t forget, either, that Blackburn had the same collapse, the same managerial change, the same flakey summer, as we had. All the same excuses trotted out for our failure there last week applies to them, right down to us both desperately needing Ben Brereton Diaz/Chris Willock to get fit, stay fit and fire them/us this season, but also aware he’s their/our best chance of providing some budget for players through a sale and terrified that he’s running his contract down to a free transfer. We’ll have many harder away games than Blackburn this year, and few easier. A one nil defeat with no goals, no shots on target, and no corners, doth not bode well.
This is the ‘hangover’ I spoke about as one of my concerns in last week’s preview. You don’t just go from the scale of last season’s collapse, to a mentally sound team capable of recovering from set backs, by having a couple of weeks in Mykonos. For all the bland, trite, media-trained bullsht about ‘being stronger for those lessons learned’, there are ghosts and demons from last season haunting this team, and anybody who disputes that wasn’t in Lancashire with the rest of us last week. Just look at us after that goal went in. Just look at us. This is now a side that crumples in adversity, rather than revelling in it.
This applies to the fan base as well. A mate messaged me a little after half time last week asking how it was going and I said to him then “we’re not going to score”. Because we weren’t. I’ll be honest, I’m fed up, and pissed off with it at the moment. I allowed myself, foolishly perhaps, to get my hopes up and believe in this team last season, and right up until February (when I cancelled all my May travel plans so as not to miss the play-offs) I was vindicated. Had we been pipped at the post on the last day I’m sure I could have saluted a brave effort and pointed to our budget compared to the teams that made it, but to collapse in the manner we did, and for all the bullshit about arguments, egos and fuck ups behind the scenes to come spilling into my inbox (some published, some not) the way it did, just wore me down to a nub. I was a costume of a man by Swansea away.
We spent all that Eze money, all that FFP headroom, on that team, and finished eleventh, like that. Now we start the rebuild and medicine taking all over again. Desperate for one of these twats we used to be able to compete with to come and give us £20m for Willock so we can have another crack. Fearful that Willock will, in fact, like Bright before him, now run our main sellable asset down into a free transfer two years from now. Away matches in a league now seemingly exclusively based in Lancashire and the North East are to be reached by extortionate trains, not even guaranteed to run on the day and time you book them – getting to and from Blackburn last week was an absolute arse, at a cost of £360 for the six of us, and Sunderland next week is already shaping up the same. All to see a substandard team we don’t believe capable of getting a result. These are the fucking hard yards we’re treading now. When it’s going well and you want to go to a local away game and you’re bitching about loyalty points let me tell you: this is where you get them, and this is why. Doubt I’ll be seeing many of the Reading masses at The Stadium of Light next week.
This website means there’s no escape for me, if we get beaten at Barnsley I can’t just go off and do something else, I have to sit here and write about it, because it’s my job. But I can tell loads and loads of QPR fans are having similar feelings at the moment. From missing it so, so much during that lockdown period, there’s a real deflation coming off last season. Neither the team, nor the support base, has that feel of new season, new manager, new start about them. Of all the summers, this was not the one to be cut short so we can have a horrific, corrupt, bent World Cup in Qatar. We all, players included, needed a thick three months of no QPR at all. Everything – everything – QPR do at the moment pisses me off. In my defence, they’re doing a lot of stuff to be pissed off about. Already a dirty, mismanaged state, Loftus Road is now missing seats from the Lower Loft which have been ripped out before the safe standing kit arrives – and that’s stuck in the North Sea somewhere. They’ve done the same trick on a toilet block in the Stan Bowles Stand, ripping it out before the parts are here, and they haven’t turned up, so enjoy your Portaloos tomorrow ladies. They’ve dispensed with the ticket app from last season, but the new one doesn’t work yet. They took your bottled water off you at the turnstile before the Palace game, and then the refreshment kiosks inside were closed. The ticketing website is an ever-manifesting labyrinth of log-ins and insistence that ‘no events are available’ until you eventually master it to the payment screen at which point a countdown starts from 90 seconds for you to get the transaction approved otherwise Cillet Bang the ticket is gone. Nice away kit – when can we buy one? Even allowing for supply chain issues, labour shortages, stewarding and staffing problems, which we’re all sympathetic to, the place feels badly run. The stadium feels badly run. It just does. I took a couple of non-QPR mates to the Palace game and they were… alarmed. I can feel myself being irritable and grumpy about everything QPR do at the moment, and I'm not alone.
That’s a difficult momentum and feeling to turn around. Mick Beale, after some pretty brash and confident early interviews, including the one he kindly granted to us, is now starting to make the noises I’ve been pumping out all summer – there is no space under FFP for us to do surgery on this squad this season. We’re short up front and at right back but that’s going to have to be covered with loans, we are going predominantly with what we’ve got. What he needs is the Lyndon Dykes who was running in behind and smashing that crisp goal in at Swansea, or double flicking himself into his own volleyed goal against Rotherham. Not the lethargic lump we see now. There’s that confidence thing again. But that’s not going to be achieved, or certainly it’s not going to help to achieve it, if the supporters are all firmly of the belief that he’s total crap, and already on his back. Beale has takent his week to pleading with supporters to get behind what we have, because this is just about it. That goes for the whole team. Our grumpy misery with them (fully justified though it is), is not going to help. Even last year when things were going well, the effect of that away end being packed with 3,000 angry Millwall fans while we sat there expectantly in the sun was there for all to see and hear. Beale has talked about weaponizing Loftus Road, but the mood around the support base at the moment, and the state the ground has been left in to start the new season, risks doing exactly that but in favour of the opposition. QPR Twitter, a cesspit in good times, is now like that river of slime running under New York in Ghostbusters II.
The whole thing needs a moment to shift the momentum. One result could just lift the mood entirely. A game, a goal, a player, a tackle. It needs one of those nights in the snow against Birmingham, man unfairly sent off, crowd right into it, Sam Di Carmine from 30 yards, dog having a day – to show that we are QPR, and we are in it together, and it isn’t all doom and gloom, and the players do care, and the supporters haven’t given up hope. We can do our bit, however pissed off you/I/we feel at the moment.
If Michael Beale didn’t know what he was walking into here I suspect he’s got a better idea now, but it’s amazing how quickly all this stuff about expensive trains and confiscated water gets forgotten when you bodger some Championship Herberts straight up the bum three nil.
Trust Clarke and Dawe, nothing succeeds like winning.
Links >>> 90s cliffhanger – History >>> Wilder factor – Interview >>> Smith in charge – Referee >>> Middlesbrough Official Website >>> Teeside Gazette – Local Paper >>> FMTTM – Message Board >>> One Boro – Forum >>> Bonkers for Boro – Blog >>> Boropolis – Podcast
Below the fold
Team News: Given that Michael Beale said Luke Amos and Chris Willock were in contention for last week’s trip to Blackburn when in fact neither even travelled, it doesn’t seem we’re going to be able to trust his pre-match team news any more than we were Mark Warburton’s – all in the name of ‘keeping cards close to his chest’ of course. Apparently Willock was in line to play until struck down with a sickness bug so you’d expect him to feature this week, particularly with the team looking so poor going forwards without him. Andre Dozzell looks most vulnerable to a start for either Amos or Taylor Richards. Tyler Roberts remains out but might get some minutes at Charlton in the cup during the week. Same team with Willock for Shodipo and Richards for Dozzell is my bet.
Middlesbrough started the week hopeful of including three new signings in their team for this trip having begun with a 1-1 home draw against fancied West Brom. However, since adding Marcus Forss to their squad from Brentford for £3.2m a week ago they’ve been frustrated in their attempts to bolster their attack further so it’ll be much the same side, probably with Forss starting for Akpom who he replaced from the bench v the Baggies.
Elsewhere: Just 16 goals, and only one away win, from the first round of fixtures in the Lancashire and District Senior League make it the lowest scoring opening ‘day’ in the competition’s history.
Of those that impressed, Vincent Kompany’s Burnley – in the first half at least – blew away any notion that his 4-2-2-2 total football style may be too much of a departure from Sean Dyche too soon with a performance far more dominant over Huddersfield than the 2-1 scoreline suggested. As called in our pre-season preview, Josh Cullen for little over £2m looks ridiculous value in midfield, and I’m actually looking forward to seeing more of them – who would have thought I’d ever be writing that about Burnley? A home game against a Luton team we strongly fancy looks the pick of the Saturday fixtures to me.
Sheff Utd were missing both Tommy Doyle and Anel Ahmedhodzic for their Monday night trip to Watford, two of the prime reasons I had a heavy liking for them pre-season, so judgement reserved there even more than it already is given we’re 90 minutes deep into a season that lasts for a billion years. You don’t need to watch much more of Watford, however, to know that if they retain that -Pedro-Dennis-Sarr front three they’re going to be a big problem for everybody at this level. The thought of us going there in little over a fortnight with those three swanning around the gaff is terrifying. Meantime, Watford go Monday night again at West Brom, and Sheffield Red Stripe are at home to the Marxist Hunters.
Cardiff’s summer of throwing all the cards up in the air and seeing where they land paid immediate dividends with a surprise opening day win over a sluggish looking Norwich. Early days of course, but I wonder if we got the three relegated teams the wrong way around in our preview and it’s going to be Burnley or Watford in the Fulham role while the tired Canaries are this year’s West Brom? Steve Morison is about to make a thirteenth signing of a ridiculous summer with giant Spurs youth striker Kion Etete bolstering their attack, and you certainly wouldn’t back against them going two-from-two with an away game at obviously hapless Reading this week who started, predictably, with a loss to nil at Blackpool. Norwich, meanwhile, will surely get off the mark at home to Wigan Warriors in the televised lunchtime kick off on Saturday.
We wondered what on earth we’d get from Hull’s foreign legion and they started with a win at home to Bristol City. That is heavily caveated though, because the equaliser they got from a second half penalty would have been a scandalously inept piece of refereeing last season, but this year when they’re supposed to be only looking for “contact with consequences” defies belief. Dean Whitestone, the plonker that gave it, drops to League One this weekend. The winning goal was a long range speculator that deflected horribly, so few clues really, and we await more info on the Tigers (we’re going to start calling them that now, just to fuck the Allams off a bit) from their Saturday trip to Preston Knob End. Having confidently predicted Bristol City wouldn’t hamstring themselves with 77 goals conceded and 14 points lost in injury time again this year they promptly blew a 1-0 lead on Humberside with another 90+ goal in the against column, and they now return home to a packed Ashton Gate for an attractive and eye-catching visit from Sunderland. There’s some good games on the coupon this weekend, by the standards of this footballing swamp.
Swanselona nonsing around at the back all afternoon at home to Blackburn is not one of those, nor Stoke at home to Blackpool. I wondered which way Michael O’Neill might go this year, and an absolute battering at Millwall (told you about Charlie Cresswell guys) on day one does not bode well. Away win in that one and he’s going to be under pressure super early doors.
Birmingham, who blocked, niggled and clock ran their way to a creditable 0-0 draw at Lutown on day one (Nathan Jones took it in tremendous spirit as you can imagine) play Huddersfield at home tonight and Coventry are supposedly at home to Rotherham on Sunday – one presumes because Montserrat are playing the Cook Islands at discus or something. I say ‘supposedly’, the decision to play 60-odd games of “rugby sevens” on the same pitch in a completely empty stadium in Coventry a week ago has, hold onto your drink you won’t ruddy believe it… not gone well.
Referee: Bourne Grammar School student Josh Smith is one of the EFL’s younger officials at 29, but is clearly on the fast track to the Premier League judging by his appointments since joining the list three seasons back. He was last seen at Loftus Road for our 1-0 Easter victory over Wayne Rooney’s Derby County last season and was in eccentric form in the season opener between Watford and Sheff Utd on Monday evening. Stats and history.
QPR: Rangers’ 1-0 loss at Blackburn on day one was their twelfth trip to Ewood Park without a win dating back to 1999 – ten of those 12 have been lost, including the last six, and we’ve failed to score in eight of them, including the last two. It was QPR’s first defeat on the opening day of the season since 2018/19 when Steve McClaren’s side also lost 1-0 in Lancashire, at Preston – that of course a season in which they lost the first four league games, conceding 13 goals including seven at West Bromwich Albion. It included a 2-1 loss to Sheff Utd which is the last time we were beaten in our first home game of a new campaign. Strapped to the back end of last season it’s now unfortunately four wins from 20 matches for this QPR team, and 13 defeats. They’ve failed to score in eight of those 20 games, and scored one goal or fewer in 16 of them – the 2-2 at home to Boro last time we met here one of the four where we managed to get two. QPR haven’t scored more than two in a game since the 4-0 rout of Reading in January and have only scored three or more goals in a game five times in their last 59 games. Rangers have won just four of their last 14 games at Loftus Road and their best total of home wins in a season since our most recent relegation is 12 in 2017/18. They have lost four of their last five matches on this ground. The news is, at least, better against Middlesbrough. Rangers took four points and scored five goals from this opponent last season, extending an unbeaten run against them to six matches (W3 D3) in which we’ve scored 11 times. Boro haven’t won any of their last four visits to W12.
Middlesbrough: The proverbial game of two halves for Middlesbrough’s opener as Isaiah Jones sent them flying out of the traps against West Brom only to be pegged back to an acceptable draw by debutant John Swift in the second half. That’s part of an awkward, pre-transfer window closure, start to their season which continues with Sheff Utd at the Riverside next week but games at home to Swansea, Sunderland, Cardiff and Rotherham and away to Stoke, Reading and Blackpool lie immediately beyond. Since Chris Wilder took over here at the start of November Boro have only lost nine of 30 league games. Four of those did come in the final eight matches of last season, however, including a surprise 4-1 loss at Mykonos-bound Preston on the final day to end their play-off hopes, which means they’ve won just two of nine games bridging the summer coming into this one. Only midfielder Matt Crooks, with ten, got into double figures for goals for Boro last season – Andraz Sporar, now with Panathinaikos, was next with eight. Boro finished with an away record of 6-8-9 – 15 teams won more than six away games in the Mercantile Credit Trophy last season, including Bristol City in seventeenth, Cardiff in eighteenth and Hull in nineteenth. They, clearly, did their heavy lifting at home with 14 victories bettered by nobody, and equalled only by Fulham. Marcus Forss goal for Hull City in a 1-1 draw at Loftus Road in February was the only one he scored in five starts and six sub appearances on loan for City last season.
Prediction: We’re once again indebted to The Art of Football for 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. LFW is one for one having, sadly, called the Blackburn defeat correctly, let’s see what last year’s champion Cheesy thinks this week…
“I’m expecting some changes from last weekend’s loss, but I feel we won't get going until we have dipped into the transfer market again. That could be as long as three weeks away and I am hoping that heads don't start dropping before then. Boro look good for me this year and I'm expecting a narrow loss.”
Cheesy’s Prediction: QPR 0-1 Middlesbrough. No scorer.
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 0-2 Middlesbrough. No scorer.
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The U'sual Ramblings #2 by wessex_exile
The U’sual Ramblings #2, and the U’s first home match of the season. Much has been written on our narrow defeat away at Northampton Town last Saturday, not least that if they are the yard-stick for promotion contenders, we can take plenty of credit (and hope) from most of our performance, which really should have earned a point. However, we’ve seen these false dawns before – remember away at Notts County, and at Bradford, in recent years, where we thought we were playing contenders, and they turned out to be whipping boys for most of the season. Still, I don’t expect that of Northampton, so stout hearts faithful…and wasn’t it great seeing Nouble bombing down the wing doing what he does best again!
The U'sual Rambling #1 by wessex_exile
Here we go folks, are we ready for another rollercoaster of joy and dismay? Right now, I’ll probably take an even mix of both if it guarantees a solid midtable finish, but why stop at that. I agree with Durham in his excellent match review, given how well we finished the second half of the season, ignore the bookies perennial struggler tag – we can do this! For the new season, the blog has slightly metamorphosed into The U’sual Rambling, though largely the same format as last season, albeit perhaps less labour-intensive in content. In my case, pertinent for Saturday given I am missing the opener at Sixfields to dog-sit the beautiful (and high maintenance, super ridiculous, energetic etc.) border collie Reggie.
When Monday Comes #37 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes and we reach the end of a topsy-turvy season, much of which hasn’t been that much fun if I’m honest, though latterly considerably improved under Wayne Brown. If I can, I always like to do the first and last game of the season, but sadly a trip to Hartlepool just wasn’t on the cards, not if I actually wanted to get home again tonight, so I had to console myself with a pretty enjoyable trip to the JobServe last weekend – not quite the victory the U’s deserved over Walsall, but a great day out anyway. I know it’ll be too late for the Player of the Year awards, but wouldn’t it be nice to see a Freddie Sears hat-trick this afternoon to round off the season.
When Saturday Comes #36 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes tomorrow, and I will be on a train heading over to God’s own county for my last U’s game of the season. That should have been last Friday’s trip to the Principality, but as posted elsewhere I was more than happy to be pre-booked to dog-sit Emma’s collie Reggie that night and had to be content with one of Nadine’s ‘downstreams’ on iFollow. Given both the performance and the result, whilst I was sorry to miss it in person, I was more than happy with how Friday night turned out in the end. Tomorrow will be a gathering of the clans for us, with at the last count at least 8, possibly more, of the family gathering for the match. Ironically, I’ll see them all again on Bank Holiday Monday for a family birthday, but I’ll be driving over for that one.
When Saturday Comes #35 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes and the U’s have already given us a fantastic start to the weekend, with a stirring and well-deserved 2-1 victory at promotion-chasing Newport County. Yes, the Exiles had lost the previous three at home and are looking like they are going to bottle their chance for the play-offs, and yes with the U’s now safe technically we had little to play for, but don’t take anything away from this performance. If Wayne Brown is still being ‘interviewed’ for the full-time role as Colchester United manager, then last night was the equivalent of having an excellent incisive question of your own lined up for the interview panel.
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