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Cardiff City 1 v 2 Queens Park Rangers
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 12th August 2023 Kick-off 15:00
A reason to be cheerful – Preview
Friday, 11th Aug 2023 15:04 by Clive Whittingham

It’s been a predictably dire start to 2023/24 for Queens Park Rangers, thrashed at Watford on day one and now staring down the barrel of another difficult away game at Cardiff.

Cardiff (0-1-0 DD 10th) v QPR (0-0-1 L 24th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday August 12, 2023 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Thunder storms >>> Cardiff City Stadium, Cardiff, South Wales

Gareth Ainsworth has promised the hardy few QPR fans still intending to make the trip to Cardiff tomorrow a surprise when they get there. Is he going for the full Kiss look on the touchline? Jude the Cat up front in full outfit? Three passes completed in succession? Difficult to guess/contain ourselves really isn’t it? My bet’s a new drone video of the training ground, set to music, played out on the big screen. Cardiff would think it a bit weird at their home game, but then that’s the surprise isn’t it?

What wasn’t a surprise, to anybody who’s been paying attention, was the capitulation at Watford. A whopping 17 of you had 4-0 to the Hornets in our Prediction League, the most correct answers we’ve ever recorded for a single game. The home team available at odds against at the start of the week, and still almost evens at kick off, really was like buying money.

It wasn’t a surprise that having started the pitch repairs too late and had to switch the opening game to an away fixture that it was subsequently lost – QPR have won only one of 16 fixtures when asked to begin on the road. Given everything that Gareth Ainsworth is already facing here, I still cannot believe we allowed Loftus Road to continue to be used for this and that all through May and didn’t start digging the field up the second the Bristol City game was over. If the manager isn’t seething he’s a better person than me, I’m angry on his behalf.

It wasn’t a surprise that we lost, full stop. We’ve been losing for 18 months - now 36 defeats from 68 games under four managers and nine defeats in Ainsworth’s 14 matches in charge. Nor that we conceded a lot of goals, because we’ve shipped 17 in his eight away matches to this point, and even in pre-season conceded three to Slavia Prague and five to Oxford United – Oxford subsequently lost their opening league game to Cambridge, Watford meanwhile were knocked out of the League Cup by Stevenage having fielded much the same side that beat us. No shock, either, that we conceded in the first 30 seconds – going behind is something we’ve done in ten of Gareth’s games so far, we’ve recovered only one point from a losing position, and in eight of those games the opening goal has come in the first quarter of an hour with four of them in the first five minutes.

And it was no surprise once you’d seen the two teams on paper. There’s always meant to be at least that faint flicker of hope on opening day. Perhaps the bookies are wrong, perhaps all the season previews are rubbish, perhaps everybody writing us off will be motivation and galvanise us, perhaps we’ll catch them a bit cold. There wasn’t much optimism around Neil Warnock’s 2010/11 R’s after a summer bringing all his old mates like Clint Hill, Sean Derry and Paddy Kenny back together and ponsing about beating non-league teams in Cornwall, while Mark Hughes’ moneyed outfit of superstars were tipped for reasonably big things in 2012/13 – one won its first game 4-0 on, the other lost 5-0, and both continued on that steep trajectory for the next nine months. But I can rarely recall the mood around QPR, both internally among the fans and externally among other clubs and pundits, being as deeply negative and pessimistic as it was prior to last Saturday and when the team sheet landed the difference between the two sides on paper was every bit as stark as it turned out to be on grass. If Watford hadn’t called the dogs off at half time that score could have been anything. The mismatch so total even losing 4-0 felt like a bit of an escape – our biggest day one loss in a decade, and biggest outside the top flight since the 1960s.

I would never go down the Harry Redknapp route of simply shrugging and saying “they’ve got good players, we haven’t got good players, good players win football games, you win football games with good players”. It’s a lazy, old fashioned attitude to football management and coaching, and basically renders the job of managing more than three quarters of the clubs in the Football League utterly pointless. Good coaches and managers get the most out of what they’ve got, be it through tactics, fitness, style, motivation, or whatever. Gareth, to be fair to him, has held his hands up to his plan, whatever that may have been, not working at Vicarage Road. Having spent all summer pitching a tough, backs-to-the-wall, battle against relegation to the fans, it seemed mad to me to go into that game as open as we were, particularly through midfield where Andre Dozzell was at fault for that opening goal and may as well not have been there, and Sam Field kept journeying out onto the left side leaving the makeshift defence badly exposed when surely what was required was as much protection in front of Fox and Gubbins as we could possibly muster. It looked a mad set up, and proved so.

Music to kill yourself to, so where do we find any hope at all in this darkness?

Well, Steve Cook’s arrival from Nottingham Forest this week will help. We’ve painted ourselves into a horrible corner where we’re now having to offer two and even three-year deals to mid-30s players to try and persuade them to come here and plug gaps, spending next year’s headroom which is meant to be used for rebuilding this squad this year on short term measures. We’re also, as we do, kidding ourselves that these players are desperate to come here and put things right, and will help and develop the young players around them. They’re coming here because the contract is better than what’s on offer elsewhere, and we’re signing them because we’re shit and desperate. It’s nothing more than that, and the PR and hype from both club and fans making out like it’s all part of some grand masterplan grates.

That team last week, though, was the worst I’ve ever seen QPR put out, and was woefully short of Championship standards. Steve Cook cannot help but improve it. Likewise Jack Colback, in that deep midfield role which was one of the primary problems at Vicarage Road. Both come with glowing references from Nottingham Forest, another club known for nonsense decision making and toxic cultures that turned around during their stints. We’ve been crying out for leadership and voice long before Ainsworth got here and, with several players pretty obviously not buying into a style that’s wholly unsuited to what strengths they do have, getting people who are coming here willing to muck in could be a big boost. That’s two. Jimmy Dunne, frustratingly, it sounds like we’ll be lucky to see this side of Christmas. But Jake Clarke-Salter – stop it, this is meant to be the optimistic bit – would be three.

There’ll be more. Depending on whether you listen to Wednesday Gareth in the Metro, or Thursday Gareth on the BBC, that could be as many as seven or as few as two. Might be worth letting Dobbo do the press next week lads. But there will still be signings. An attacker, probably on loan, probably late in the window once Premier League squads are sorted. A right back, again probably a loan. Another permanent or two? Ainsworth’s said for weeks there will be another out, or outs,. With zero interest in the benched Chris Willock, and nothing concrete yet in Ilias Chair, sadly (though predictably, I called this back in June to some degree of message board derision) that looks now like it might be Sam Field. That might clear enough headroom for another one or two. Looking at it as optimistically as I can – Cook, Colback, Clarke-Salter, two other perms, two loans – that’s seven changes from last week’s woefully inadequate starting line up between now and the end of the month.

We are, essentially, back in summer 2018 again when Schteve McClaren arrived to supposedly use his fabled coaching ability to develop the Smyth, Manning, Osayi-Samuel, Eze clutch which Ian Holloway had got into the team the year before, only to jettison all but Ebs the moment he got his feet under the desk, rip up all the summer recruitment plans from the lower divisions into the bargain, send the team into the campaign horrendously short of the required standard, and lose the first four games including a 7-1 at West Brom. He then demanded, and got, four senior players in on loan and people like Geoff Cameron, Nahki Wells and Angel Rangel, along with the emergence of Eze as a genuine worldie, were enough to just about keep us in the league that year. McClaren had no excuse, the players were here he just couldn’t be arsed with it and it cost us the services of, or decent money for, Manning and Osayi-Samuel further down the track. He also had enough budget headroom to do loans for Tomer Hemed types. Ainsworth has neither – there’s nothing coming through from the B Team, and no headroom to do big, expensive loans like that.

The hope remains the same, though. That the team we put out last week is substantially different from the one we’re fielding by the first week of September. Otherwise it’s going to be a longer and harder winter than even we were imagining.

In the meantime, Cardiff.

Links >>> Cardiff impress at Leeds – Interview >>> Ray Jones’ last minute winner – History >>> Langford in charge – Referee >>> Steve Cook – Signing >>> 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: Steve Cook hasn’t featured in a competitive game since Forest’s FA Cup thrashing at Blackpool on the same day we lost at Fleetwood, but has apparently done a pre-season with their U23s and that’s enough to go straight in tomorrow. Jack Colback on the other hand had been training alone, and they’re saying Ipswich at the earliest for him, along with Jake Clarke Salter for whom we can sound the first “back on the grass” klaxon of the year but apparently not enough to see until this time next week. Jimmy Dunne, sadly, it seems is going to miss much of the first half of the season.

There will be eyes on Taylor Richards and Chris Willock, whose input at Oxford was deemed so risible they were benched at Vicarage Road. Surely the acute personal and professional embarrassment of not being able to get in that QPR team must trigger something in one of them at some point? Also, for more positive reasons, Sinclair Armstrong and Stephen Duke McKenna. Their second half cameos (admittedly against a Watford side who’d kicked off their shoes and headed back to the beach) were the only positives of day one and could push them into starting contention.

Rayan Kolli has been getting some attention among the socials this week after R Insights clipped up his FA Youth Cup performance against Spurs from last season. I was disappointed not to see the 18-year-old Algerian in some of the pre-season action this summer – carrying an injury apparently, and perhaps he’s not as close as the clips make him look - but maybe that’s the big out-of-the-cake surprise? He’s certainly got the hair for it.

Despite being under an embargo on paying money for players until January as part of the disgusting Emiliano Sala affair, Cardiff have signed six players this summer including the big name third coming of Aaron Ramsey. One of those, Reading’s Yakou Meite, will miss the next two games at least and he’s joined on the sideline by Joe Ralls who was forced off in the first half of the game against Leeds although there’s some suggestion he may still be involved depending how he trains today. First choice keeper Ryan Allsopp injured himself in the final friendly against Wycombe and won’t play in August. Cardiff still hope to add two or three more this window, but are currently also trying to shift three or four players who have been told they’re no longer required by new manager Erol Bulut. Enormous man child Rubin Colwill has had a frustrating time with form and fitness since bursting onto the scene a couple of seasons back, but the Welsh international was back with a goal in a second string line up against Colchester in the League Cup on Tuesday. Expect him to make the bench.

Elsewhere: Southampton completing the thick end of a thousand passes for an xG of nearly half a goal and a late 2-1 win against the second worst team in the league has had the Russell Martin acolytes in full throaty song this week. They were subsequently beaten by Gillingham in the cup and now begin life back at St Mary’s with game against Borussia Norwich as the Mercantile Credit Trophy does a full round of fixtures on the Saturday for once.

Best League In The World (c Keysie) is back this weekend you see so the EFL’s official broadcast partner don’t really need us, apart from to try and cockblock TNT Sports’ Saturday lunchtime offering with Coventry v Boro. The Sky Blues were extremely unfortunate to lose at Leicester last weekend having dominated the game, but the outstanding Gus Hamer is now heading to Sheff Utd which, having lost Gyokeres to Sporting, is a significant blow – albeit, at £15m, an extremely lucrative one. Leicester, meanwhile, get their date on the Sixteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour.

Ipswich and Stoke fulfilled their obligations as divisional dark horses by starting with a pair of impressive wins, and they now meet at Portman Road. Andre Vidigal has made quite the start. Their victims Sunderland, who are badly missing Ross Stewart, and Rotherham are away to Preston Knob End and at home to Blackburn respectively.

It was Liam Rosenior’s turn for the Keith Stroud treatment this week. Stroud was looking at his watch when a foul was committed on a Hull player in the box, and Norwich scored in the ensuing scramble. Rosenior was sent off and will serve a touchline ban for his comments. Hull, meanwhile, host Sheff Wed with Scott Twine apparently incoming from Burnley which would be a hell of a signing.

We were feeling very smug about being the only season preview to fancy Millwall for another play-off push when they began with a 1-0 win at fancied Boro. Less so when they were subsequently beaten 4-0 at home by Reading in the cup despite fielding a strong side, and an already weakened defence now faces losing soon-to-be-out-of-contract Jake Cooper to Rangers. Still it all pales into insignificance alongside the revelation that Southern Rail are now refusing to stop trains at South Bermondsey for two hours before and after Millwall matches this season, starting with tomorrow’s clash against Bristol City. So now it’s 45 minutes held in a cage to go… nowhere really.

Three of the other stand outs from the first week complete our round up: Birmingham got a point at Swanselona and return home to face Leeds while the Swans go to West Brom; Plymouth looked every bit as good as we thought they might against Huddersfield, the mystery over why you’d let Bali Mumba and Morgan Whittaker go there cheaply only deepened, and they now travel to Watford who have the benefit of an extra pre-season friendly last Saturday by way of preparation.

Referee: Championship omnipresence Oliver Langford, on the EFL list since 2008, starts a fourteenth year of refereeing QPR games with this trip. His first game with us was August 2009, a 1-1 home draw with Peterborough with Wayne Routledge scoring. Details.


Cardiff: The Bluebirds have started the year with a pair of 2-2 draws, and led 2-0 in both games. At Leeds on day one they surged into a two goal lead before half time before being pegged back with an equaliser deep into added on time at the end of the game. Against League Two Colchester in the cup they got it all out of the way before half time, scoring on 19 and 35, conceding on 40 and 44, and eventually winning 3-0 on penalties. New manager Erol Bulut made ten outfield changes for the two games. Half a dozen pre-season friendlies included wins against The New Saints (3-1), Penybont (2-0), Bristol Rovers (2-1), draws with Cambridge (1-1) and Wycombe (0-0), and defeats to Braga (1-0) and Porto (4-0).

Cardiff stayed in the division last year only courtesy of Reading’s points deduction. Without it they’d have been third bottom. They worked through three managers, won just 13 games, and even when Sabri Lamouchi got them going enough to keep their heads above water they still lost seven of their final 13 games when supposedly battling for survival. At home they won only six times – same as our lousy total and the lowest in the league bar relegated Wigan. Only Stoke and QPR (both 12) lost more home games than Cardiff’s ten. They scored 20 goals in 23 games at home, again only Wigan (17) scored fewer. They haven’t won a home game in seven attempts dating back to the first week of March and have won only two of their last 18 games on this ground – a run that includes our 0-0 draw here last Christmas, more of a war crime than a football match that one.

This is one of those grounds notoriously travelsick QPR have a weirdly decent record on. They’re unbeaten in their last three visits, winning two, without conceding a goal. Rangers have only lost two of nine since the switch of stadiums winning four of those. There was a 20 year gap in league meetings between these two, 1980/81-2001/02, with three separate cup ties in between which either went to a replay or were two legged anyway. Since the fixture was regularly rekindled with a League Cup game in 1999/00 QPR have been to either Ninian Park or the Cardiff City Stadium 17 times, winning seven, drawing six and losing only four.

Josh Bowler's winner for Blackpool at Loftus Road last August was one of nine goals the R's conceded to former players in 2022/23.

QPR: The capitulation at Watford broke a few records, but also continued some existing trends.

Rangers had never conceded four goals in the first half of their opening fixture before. It was the heaviest defeat in the first game since they lost 5-0 at home to Swansea in the Premier League in 2012 – Asmir Begovic the first goalkeeper since Rob Green that day to concede four on his QPR debut, but with nine saves still made the divisional team of the week. Outside of the top flight it was the heaviest opening day defeat since the R’s lost 6-1 at Brentford in August 1965. When asked to start a campaign away from Loftus Road the club has one win in 16 attempts – that the Ebere Eze masterclass at Stoke in Mark Warburton’s first match.

Gareth Ainsworth has been in charge for 14 competitive games now and in that time Rangers have conceded the opening goal on ten occasions, and in eight of those games it’s come in the first quarter of an hour. Ainsworth’s side has gone 1-0 down after one minute against Watford, two at Blackpool, three at home to Birmingham, five at Wigan, ten at West Brom and at home to Coventry, 14 at home to Blackburn and 15 away at Rotherham. The 2-2 draw at The Hawthorns is then the only point they have been able to salvage from a losing position under this manager. It was the second time already in his reign that we’ve conceded four before half time after the 6-1 at Bloomfield Road. Keep it tight lads, eh?

The 3-0 win against Cardiff at Loftus Road on October 19 was the last time Rangers scored more than two goals in a game – 33 matches and ten months ago. They’ve only scored twice in a match four times since then. At the other end goals are flowing freely. In Ainsworth’s seven away matches his team has shipped 17 goals including six at Blackpool, four at Watford and three at Rotherham. The clean sheet at Stoke in the final away game of last season is our only shut out in 12 away games dating back to Christmas.

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. Last year’s title was a straight shoot-out between Aston Hoop and WestonSuperR with Aston prevailing on the final day. Victory comes with the double-edged sword of writing this bit of the preview each game and that could be a particularly bleak task in 23/24, so let’s see what he thinks of our chances on Saturday…

“I really wanted to be positive about this one. Fellow relegation candidates potentially and with a rookie manager for the division coming in having never worked in England, they had all the ingredients to be one of the three who could be worse than us this season. But having watched our opening game and seen just how much work we have to do, plus having watched their opening game and seeing them looking a lot better than I imagined, I am back to being worried again. Hopefully a new centre back is ready in time to partner Fox, hopefully Colback is fit to start instead of Dozzell, Sinclair Armstrong simply has to start with Dykes. I think all of these changes will make us more competitive but also I am sure Josh Bowler will have another excellent game against us and probably score.”

Aston’s Prediction: Cardiff 2-1 QPR. Scorer – Lyndon Dykes

LFW’s Prediction: Cardiff 3-0 QPR. Scorer - Josh Bowler

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062259 added 18:01 - Aug 11
Don’t think Armstrong and Dykes can both start, especially as Ainsworth has alluded to less of the route one approach

probbo added 21:10 - Aug 11
It's putting a lot on Cook and Colback to lift the team and the question is can they do it before they too fall in to the swamp of malaise that is QPR, one that has consumed so many before them?. Jake Bidwell was brilliant at Brentford before he came here. The problem is even if they excel, if the other 8 outfield players don't do the basics and/or follow Gareth's seemingly inept tactics to a T, we'll continue to lose.

It's tragic we can't build a team around Willock. We all know what he can do. If him and Chair want away best let them go.

TacticalR added 14:44 - Aug 12
Thanks for your preview.

'Andre Dozzell...may as well not have been there'. I think that will go on his gravestone.

I can't see any sense in getting rid of Sam Field. He's one of the people who held the team together last year when Beale's players disappeared and the form of some our existing players crumbled.

The reasons to be cheerful seem few and far between. Hopefully something has been learnt from what happened at Watford, although the worry is that if you don't have the players then what you learn doesn't make much difference.

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