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Huddersfield Town 2 v 1 Queens Park Rangers
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 21st October 2023 Kick-off 15:00
The week in QPR – Preview
Friday, 20th Oct 2023 14:49 by Clive Whittingham

A 4-0 thrashing breaking the club record for home games without a win, a deep dive on how generally screwed we are in The Athletic, and Tony Fernandes parading around topless in a business meeting – all in all, it’s been another very QPR week indeed.

Huddersfield (2-5-4 WDDDLD 19th) v QPR (2-2-7 LDDLLL 22nd)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday October 21, 2023 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Calm after the storm >>> Huddersfield, West Yorkshire

The October international break: big coats out of the wardrobe, rows brewing over the thermostat, and sacking season in the Mercantile Credit Trophy.

With 11 league games played your campaign is still easily salvageable, however far up the tits have gone to this point, and there are still a good two months for any new guy to assess what he’s got and get some ducks in a row for the January transfer window. Throw in another fortnight off just a month away and many clubs are starting to see this as an ideal time to pull the trigger however anti-gun they may be.

The near five-year relationship between Wawwlll and Gary Rowett reached its “we’ve just grown apart” stage this week. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the scale, Sheff Wed called time on the short-in-every-sense-of-the-word farce that was Xisco Munoz's reign. Our opponents this Saturday, Huddersfield, had already blinked and brought previous Wednesday boss Darren Moore in after the Sixteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour had its Christmas dates canned. John Eustace can probably count himself unfortunate to be the victim of a tiresome rebranding that will surely see our Sky overlords now insist on persistently referring to Wayne Rooney’s Birmingham City. After a substantial summer spend and 17 new arrivals Alex Neil must be getting mighty twitchy over at the football annex of Bet365, currently fourth bottom on a top six budget. Further down the divisions Lincoln, Cheltenham, MK Dons, Bradford (grow up), Tranmere, Fleetwood, Gillingham and Charlton have all had the cardboard box out for the desk sundries. That’s before we get into Honest Mick’s demise north of the border (seriously, stop it).

That QPR are not on this list has come as something of a surprise, even to the ‘normals’ who don’t spend all their time screaming into the void of the club’s social media channels demanding ever greater quantities of blood and fucking strikers. There’s Millwall making a change, three points shy of the play-offs, and here we are, merrily picking up speed on the downhill stretch of the World Binfire Derby Championship, apparently happy as pigs in shit and wondering if anybody on board can remember the words to Smile Darn Ya Smile.

The Blackburn result in and of itself was merely a continuation of what’s been going on for nearly two years under four different managers. Since we beat Reading 4-0 at Loftus Road at the end of January 2021 to push into the Championship’s automatic promotion picture we have won just 19 out of 79 matches and lost 43. At home we’ve won just eight of 38, losing 21 (Ipswich have won seven home games in the last eight weeks). Since we topped the Championship exactly a year ago by beating Wigan 2-1 at home we’ve won just six times in 43 games, losing 27; at home we’ve lost 16 out of our last 22 and won only once in a calendar year. Since Gareth Ainsworth assumed “control” we’ve won five and lost 16 of 25 games; at home it’s one win and ten defeats from 13. This season it’s two wins from 12 overall, and five defeats and a draw from six at home. This team has been losing, persistently, consistently, for two years now, under four managers. Hell, Blackburn have beaten us four times themselves in amongst all of that, have already chalked up two comfortable wins against us since Ainsworth took over, and are now one of three teams to have won more games in W12 in 2023 than we have. We are pretty used to this shit by now.

Nevertheless, it felt like the sort of performance managers struggle to come back from. For the second time in just 11 league games QPR were beaten 4-0 and, as at Watford on the opening day, the only reason it was only 4-0 is because the opposition called the dogs off and spent the closing stages of the game pissing about. Had Blackburn and/or Watford finished as they’d started we’d not unfeasibly have a couple of 6-0, 7-0 defeats on our slate already – to teams currently 17th and 20th.

Those two games also have the kamikaze team selections in common. Successive QPR managers have come to realise our centre halves and full backs are so inexcusably crap that none of them can cope unless you go safety in numbers with three in the middle and protection in front. To go back to the four for the first time since the disasterclass at Vicarage Road, on the day your best defensive central midfielder was suspended, with (very) left back Ziyad Larkeche asked to make a full Championship debut on the right of that with only another newbie Stephen Duke-McKenna to protect in front… well it was more resignation letter than team sheet, and more suicide note than resignation letter. Gareth started with a 3-1 loss at Loftus Road against Blackburn, and six months and 25 games on he’s now got a 4-0. Even two of the sodding goals were absolutely identical, right down to the identity of the Blackburn player being allowed to escape along the byline and set them up. What was that about “if you’re not winning you’re learning?” We’re shitting the bed, that’s what we’re doing.

The club has basically gone into radio silence since. When you look at the replies they get to things as mundane as tickets to Rotherham going on sale you can understand why. Some had hoped it meant a change was in the offing and waited for the white smoke, but it was always more likely to be a case of ‘well, what can they really say?’. Look, everything Ainsworth does here has to be set against the absolute fucktastrophe he inherited: a broken, disinterested and incompetent team, incoherently assembled, on a year-long losing streak, three managers deep into a 20-place slide down the league table, in need of surgery in every area, with no budget left to do that with, and absolutely nothing coming through from a bloated and ineffective academy system. Nevertheless, to have him re-emerge, blinking into the sunlight, for his pre-Huddersfield obligations on Thursday, and still be emphasising things like “lack of intensity” is profoundly depressing. Like, bang my head on the desk until the skull cracks and then just lay here waiting for Tooting’s urban fox population to find a way through the patio doors and feast on the goo within levels of depressing.

We are not being out-fought; we are being out-thought. You can read the deep dive analysis we’ve published this week from Dan Lambert out of possession or Andrew Scherer with the ball, or you can just watch us play. He’s being outcoached. Jon Dahl Tomasson, a proper progressive manager in every regard who you’d love at your club, has calmly swatted aside two of our last three bosses tactically, and the only reason it’s not three from three is he never got the chance to take a swing at Neil Critchley. Running harder is not the solution. The buy-in and hard yards Gareth’s entire approach relies on will not cover up tactical set ups like that Blackburn game, and nor will the players be willing to still do it while sent out to fail like that.

I looked at those players against Blackburn and Leeds and wondered whether their will had already been drained. Colback, Cook, Begovic… they’ve been good players, they’ve achieved, they’ve played for some great managers, Begovic has been to a World Cup. Set them up as they were at Leeds, ask them to just knock channel balls for Sinclair Armstrong all night and try to keep the deficit respectable until the last ten minutes so we can maybe nick something… they’re not going to enjoy that. They’re not going to keep doing it. The set up against Blackburn was insane. It hung several of them – particularly a half fit Colback - out to dry. Compare Colback screaming the place down when a throw in went astray late in the first half while leading 1-0 at Middlesbrough, with his utterly forlorn and checked out contribution to the Blackburn defeat. Cook’s pre-match video for Huddersfield was bleak, punctuated throughout with pregnant pauses where you can see his brain dismissing what he wants to say and replaces it with the PR friendly comment instead – and, as many have noticed, not one mention of the manager/gaffer/Gaz.

So, why is the manager still here?

Well, perhaps, the club genuinely think this is eventually going to turn around. Or, if not turn around, then improve just enough to get us to fourth bottom and straight out of Dodge which we all accept (I think?) counts as a success this season.

There were signs through late August and early September that perhaps we might just about be ok, with good wins at Cardiff and Boro and unlucky near misses against good Ipswich and Southampton teams. With hindsight it looks like we caught Cardiff completely by surprise with a wholesale ditching of everything we’d done over the summer, and then met Middlesbrough at a really nice time. Still, let’s not forget it was less than a month ago those results bred some semblance of positivity and feel-good, allowed Ainsworth to tubthump about “something special building here” and led to the (as I said at the time) ridiculously tame fans forum. Since then, we’ve had a number of weirdly bad – even by Championship standards – refereeing decisions go against us. More damagingly we’ve also missed some of the key players Ainsworth has hung his hat on to get him out of this mess – Jack Colback, Steve Cook, Morgan Fox and Sam Field.

If you’re just hoping to finish fourth bottom and stay up then you are going to lose a lot of games while achieving that. Although certain Development Squad players get hyped to death in corners of the internet, most are now well aware if you scratch our surface away, even to the tune of two or three first teamers, there is absolutely nothing there at all by way of squad depth (see the drowning of Stephen Duke-McKenna last time out). So, no surprise we’ve underperformed in a period where exactly that has happened. The hope, reasonable or otherwise, may be our fabled new sport science department gets the starting 11 out there more often than not; Reggie Cannon solves the obvious problem of teams targeting the Kakay-Smyth right side defensively; and we have… enough. You may think that fanciful bollocks, and I’d be with you, but when your chairman (fresh from insisting at the fans forum he is at the games, in his exec box, even if you cannot see him) not only misses the Blackburn debacle to play in the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in Scotland but then, having seen the result and presumably the hail of outrage from W12, doubles down and Instagrams a picture of him with rent-a-gob Chelsea supporter Kevin Pietersen captioned “the best day with the best people”, you have to appreciate self-awareness is not a strong suit anywhere within the current QPR set up.

Maybe they acknowledge the situation is now so bad that nobody could realistically save it, and in Ainsworth they’ve got somebody who they think ideal for a rebuild in League One. Big call to think you can ride the tide of public opinion all the way through until May the way it’s rising now but it’s one theory.

More likely, they can’t really afford to do it. We know we’re tight on the FFP line, and we know why. Paying another chunk of managerial compensation to Ainsworth, presumably Richard Dobson, and who-knows-who of the others they’ve been allowed to bring in, added to the cost of hiring another boss and all his coaches is a stretch we perhaps cannot afford. It’ll either put us over the line, or burn off the last of the fumes we were hoping to use in the next window. The second question any potential new manager is going to have, after his own salary, will be about a budget for January – ours is zero, and sell Ilias Chair if you can. Not a good answer. It’ll immediately set the calibre and quality of candidate at a point far below what we need, and what the fan base expects. I suspect it would leave your plan A, B and C as trying to persuade Neil Warnock out on a Seventeenth Annual Farewell Tour for pure romance.

More worryingly, having already taken the keys off Les Ferdinand and his project and parachuted in Gareth Ainsworth (who Les could have appointed at multiple points over his eight years and pointedly chose not to) over his head, what ideas do our current board have beyond a second nostalgia play with Warnock?

Remember, the board responded to last season’s brush with death with absolutely zero change. Much mealy-mouthed talk of reviews of every department and inward reflection, but not one significant change. We burned off a month of the summer, and then Les Ferdinand resigned. Everybody who oversaw and was responsible for last season is still here overseeing this one bar Les, and he had to walk away of his own accord. Let’s put Dyatlov back in the control room at the nuclear power station, what harm can come?

We’ve now got Lee Hoos – in whose early meetings I sat and listened as he explained he was a numbers and figures man who left the football decisions to the football people – making football decisions. I’ve always said QPR needs a director of football more than just about any other club in the country because the owners are benevolent but incompetent, and every time they hand the keys over to a manager he spends a lot of their/our money making short term decisions to shore up his own position (and bank balance) that are detrimental to our long term. Now, apparently, that role is being filled by Hoos who, whatever you think of him and his performance here, was happy to admit, as a fresh-faced new arrival at our circus from a professional operation at Burnley, he absolutely was not the guy for that. In a damning deep dive on the current malaise The Athletic quote Hoos saying he can do the job with the manager and the head of recruitment.

Even before we get to the head of recruitment’s fondness for players like Chris Willock, Kenneth Paal and Andre Dozzell, and the manager preferring Morgan Fox, Leon Balogun and Chris Martin, and this therefore being a partnership comparable to Tony Pulis planning Russell Martin’s wedding, why is our CEO saying we don’t need a director of football at all when QPR are spending money getting US-based Retexo Intelligence to analyse and identify candidates for the role? They’re perhaps reluctant to remove Ainsworth because he is literally the football bit of the operation now. You may not have liked Les, and thought he did a bad job - spending eight years preaching ‘development club’ and then having to bring in Chris Martin because there isn’t a boy in the building capable of donning a Lyndon Dykes costume and pretending for eight weeks means you’ve probably got a point - but somebody needs to be in that role. Without it you get what we’ve got now - Gareth Ainsworth FC, like Harry Redknapp FC and Mark Hughes FC before it.

That wasn’t the only bit that alarmed me in that piece, nor the only throwback to Hughes' and Redknapp’s time. Tom Burrows, the journalist who wrote it, has done similar work on QPR before. I knew I’d be in there because through the haze of my existence I remembered speaking to him. Kevin Gallen is always a pretty safe bet as well. But this time Tom had “unnamed sources close to the first team” speaking on condition of anonymity. “We’ve worked ourselves into a position where we need a bit of a miracle to stay in the league,” one of several quotes with a red flashing light on it. Now you can dismiss that if you like - could technically be the cleaning lady after all - but for me it’s not a good sign, and runs in stark contrast to the picture Richard Dobson sought to paint on the Open All R’s Podcast last month of a renewed unity and happiness around the camp. A real call back to 2012-2015 when the club leaked like a sieve as pissed-off players and employees queued up to brief the media left right and centre. Something which stopped happening on Ferdinand’s watch, for all his faults and failures.

It shouldn’t come as any great surprise there are disgruntled people at QPR, and not just because of the crap results. When Ferdinand gave a farewell speech at the opening of the new training ground some of the staff were in tears – he was well liked, and he’s carried the can while others have escaped. As just one example, don’t forget that amidst last season’s ridiculous efforts to protect Leon Balogun from accusations he was just phoning it in at QPR waiting to go back to Rangers with Mick Beale (shortly before he walked out on QPR to go back to Rangers with Mick Beale), Ainsworth sat in a minuted meeting with supporters and chucked the medical and sport science department at the club under the bus for misdiagnosing the centre back, and overseeing a dire physical fitness and injury recovery regime. He’s subsequently been allowed to bring in Ben Williams and ex-Wycombe man David Waites among others, but several of those who were here before remain. You’ve got staff tripping over each other down there, several of whom were blamed for the failings of the players and managers last season and then de-facto demoted over the summer. Last season you had medical and fitness staff, earning a normal person’s salary, running onto a football pitch to be greeted by a Manchester United loanee earning £2m+ a year who says his hamstring is “tight”. What can you do with that? The club and manager have then basically blamed those guys for all the absences and what happened here in 22/23 while going out of their way to protect Laird, Balogun and co. I’ve got to be clear that I’ve no idea whether that is the source of The Athletic’s quotes on this occasion, but I’m also not surprised journos are now finding people at QPR with things to get off their chest.

Stick all of that in with Tony Fernandes going viral for whipping his top off in Air Asia’s fortnightly Teams meeting and you’ve got the sort of pure QPR week that can surely only end with a 1-0 victory. It’s probably going to have to. With blink-and-you-miss-it subtlety Ainsworth had already flicked from “something special is building here” to “we always knew it was going to be tough, maybe we can win this mini-league at the bottom” and now, incredibly, “better to be in the relegation places and escape than drop in on the final day”. And he’s the positive one, remember. Like so much of his chat, it only lasts as long as it takes for our team to go on the pitch and prove it wrong. Huddersfield are definitely within that mini-league whichever way he slices or spins it. With Leicester looming large as an absolute hiding to nothing (or simply a hiding) next Saturday the importance of this one increases still further.

The fourth Blackburn goal, much like the Albert Adomah “long throw” at Leeds, was something of a breaking point for many of us. I sat there last week with my mate Lovely Jon who at one point said “Jesus mate I expected you to be bad but this is horrific” – and he supports Sheffield Wednesday. I’m somebody who always says don’t change a manager mid-season, stick with and give the guy more time, if you keep changing manager and results don’t improve the manager is not the problem… But chucking in long throws whether you’ve got a player with a long throw or not is medieval. It’s not something a serious football team does and that final Blackburn goal was not a goal a serious football team concedes. It’s not a goal a professional football team, serious or otherwise, should concede. And we cannot go on like this. We cannot go on like this.

Links >>> Moore’s influence – Interview >>> Macca’s late winner – History >>> Goblin child – Referee >>> Out of possession – Analysis >>> Destroying optimism – Analysis >>> Official website >>> Ground Guide >>> Down at the Mac — Forum >>> And he Takes That Chance — Podcast

90’s Footballer Conspiracy Theories No.10 In The Series – Winger Terry Cooke, who infamously swapped the red half of Manchester for blue, believes the government is using aerosols to play God with the weather, blocking out our life-giving sun.

Below the fold

Team News: Sam Field is back from the naughty step, ready to commence the ascent to a two-game ban for ten yellow cards the amnesty for which isn’t until round 37. Sinclair Armstrong is one booking away from a ban of his own and will have to walk that tightrope for another eight matches to avoid it. Morgan Fox’s knee injury suffered in the first minute of the Coventry game has required a minor op so he’s out. Steve Cook’s hamstring injury means he’s a doubt. Reggie Cannon came through an hour of development team action during the week and will hopefully step in and instantly be one of the best defenders in the competition to solve the problems we’re having down the right side of the back line – one would not expect the Ziyad Larkeche experiment to continue there. Paul Smyth scored a spectacular goal for Northern Ireland against San Marino on international duty and will likely be recalled having been left on the bench for the Blackburn debacle. This week’s prize for a sighting of Taylor Richards is a mystery shopper experience at Bicester Village with Yoann Barbet’s missus.

For Huddersfield, Ollie Turton is making tentative steps back into training after missing out since February. Striker Danny Ward hasn’t scored in five appearances this season so could have done with a run against notoriously charitable QPR, but an Achilles injury will keep him out until December. Ruffels The Gentleman Fullback, who scored twice in a smash and grab win for Town at Loftus Road last autumn, is also likely sidelined with a groin injury. Yuta Nakayama has been on the other side of the world playing for Japan against Canada and Tunisia during the international break. Midfielder David Kasumu has only made three appearances this season and will likely not feature again until December.

Elsewhere: A win for Ipswich tonight at Rotherham (storm permitting) would be the first time a newly promoted team in any division in England has won ten of its first 12 games. It would also be the biggest points haul after 12 games in Championship history and, remarkably, that record can then be beaten again tomorrow if Leicester make it 11 wins from 12 away to Swanselona. Those two already have an eight point cushion back to Preston Knob End in third, and given Ryan Lowe’s side have lost their last three games prior to the lunchtime visit of managerless Millwall it feels like a fairly predictable descent down the table after a surprise start is now underway in Lancashire.

The current play-off picture is completed by Sunderland, away to now fourth-bottom Stoke; Leeds, away to Borussia Norwich in the Daniel Farke derby; and Wayne Rooney’s Birmingham City who travel to a Middlesbrough side finally kicking into gear and backing its underlying numbers up with some actual victories (four in succession). As said in the intro though, Millwall in fifteenth are only three points away from the top six themselves at this early, bunched-up stage.

Down among the reeds with us the big game of the weekend is Sheff Wed at home to fifth-bottom Watford. German Danny Rohl is the new Owls boss having previously assisted at RB Leipzig, Southampton, Bayern Munich and the German national team. He’s the youngest boss in the EFL at 34 and takes over a team that has made the worst start to a league campaign in its history. Everybody else down at the bottom we’ve covered apart from Plymouth, one win in five and three points above us, heading to West Brom. One place further up Blackburn host in form and play-off chasing Cardiff.

Elsewhere it’s Bristol City v Coventry and Southampton trying to condemn Hull City to death by a thousand sideways passes.

Referee: Keith Stroud’s mogwai, and he’s fed the fucking thing after midnight again. Details.


Huddersfield: The Terriers, like ourselves, have won only twice in 11 league games so far – 2-1 at West Brom and 2-0 at home to Rotherham. They come into this on a winless run of five games, though four of those have been draws which means they’ve actually only lost one of the last seven and two of the last nine. They’re unbeaten in three at home, drawing the last two, but have only won once on their own patch in seven games. Boro (2-3), Leicester (0-1) and Norwich (0-4) won the first three games of the season on this ground but since then Rotherham have been beaten (2-0) and there have been draws with Stoke (2-2) and Ipswich (1-1). Darren Moore has been in charge for four games now and overseen draws at Coventry (1-1), Sheff Wed (0-0) and that Ipswich game as well as a 4-1 shellacking at Birmingham.

Also in common with QPR, this team struggles to score goals. Like our own Kenneth Paal, defender Michal Helik is the top scorer here this season with three. Last season in the league three players shared the top scorer prize - Jordan Rhodes, Danny Ward and Matty Pearson all with just five goals all year. Rhodes is now at Blackpool, Ward hasn’t scored in five appearances this term, or played since September 2, and Pearson is a centre half. Town have scored one goal or fewer in eight of the 11 league games this term, and you have to go back 19 games to the start of April away at Watford for the last time they netted three.

The last two games between the sides here have finished as draws but it’s six visits since QPR last won – Tjaronn Chery scoring late in a 1-0 in August 2015. That the only win in seven visits since the fixture was rekindled after a decade away in 2013/14.

QPR: After the latest horrors at Loftus Road, where QPR have won one match out of 20 over the course of a year and now none of the last 11, perhaps the kindest thing you can say is an away game might suit this team better. Never thought we’d be saying that about QPR on a wet and windy day in the north but here we are. Both of Rangers’ wins so far have been away, at Cardiff and Boro, and they’ve won four and drawn two of their last nine on the road which is in stark contrast to two draws and nine defeats since the 1-0 victory against Watford at Loftus Road.

Gareth Ainsworth’s side have scored three goals in the last six games, and none in three of the last four including the last two. One of those was Kenneth Paal’s injury time consolation in the 3-1 home loss to Coventry, and the left back remains our top scorer on three. Rangers have failed to score in half their games so far, and scored one goal or fewer in ten of the 12 played. Since topping the table a year ago this week they have failed to score in 20 of the 43 games played, and scored two goals in a game on just five occasions. It’s 45 games and a full calendar year since they last scored three in a game - at home to Cardiff on October 19.

The 11 game winless run at Loftus Road is a club record, and in that time Rangers have scored just four goals – it took Blackburn little more than an hour to match that last week, and they’re now one of three teams (Sunderland, Coventry, Blackburn) to have won more games at Loftus Road in 2023 than we have.

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. What’s our reigning champion Aston got for us this week…

“One of the teams we really need to be beating to get out of this mess. But with a couple of weeks on the training ground, I trust Darren Moore to have been able to put together a team to beat us in the potential pouring rain in Huddersfield. It will be a scrappy, horrible match, devoid of entertainment and excitement and they will beat us 2-0.”

Aston’s Prediction: Huddersfield 2-0 QPR. No scorer.

LFW’s Prediction: Huddersfield 0-1 QPR. Scorer – I don’t know, some cunt.

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TacticalR added 14:43 - Oct 21
Thanks for your preview.

Things are pretty dire whichever way you look at them. Last season we were already in free fall when Ainsworth came in, so I didn't feel he had much alternative to being relentless positive and trying to marshal whichever players were prepared to play. This season we have looked a mess on a number of occasions, and it doesn't seem to take much in a game before we start crumbling.

I am guessing your win prediction is based on the theory that things are so bad they're good?

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