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A movie I made called Big Night - Preview
Wednesday, 14th Feb 2024 09:24 by Clive Whittingham

QPR once again have a chance to move out of the bottom three, and plunge hapless Stoke City into it in their stead, if they can continue their recent positive form and good run of results in Staffordshire this evening.

Stoke (8-8-15 LWLLLL 20th) v QPR (7-8-16 LLWDWD 22nd)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Wednesday February 14, 2024 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – It gonna rain >>> High hill, somewhere near Stoke-On-Trent, Staffordshire

With the Championship’s transfer market taking a post-Covid hammering, the propensity of parachute payments to skew the division in favour of those with and against those without has rarely been more stark. Leicester are top, 12 points clear of third, with 68 goals scored in 31 matches – they’ve won their last five games straight and lost one of 18. Then it’s Leeds, unbeaten in ten with seven consecutive league wins after last night’s cakewalk at Swansea. And finally Southampton, beaten at Bristol City on Tuesday but unbeaten in a club record run of 24 prior to that.

On Wednesday night, atop a windy hill in Staffordshire, you see what can happen to clubs who have parachute payments but don’t use that advantage to return to the Premier League.

Stoke has been, weirdly, quite a good place to go for QPR in the modern era. It’s a fixture best remembered for the Marc Bircham v Gerry Taggert saga, and the ridiculous situation where QPR were fined for having the temerity to not let their goalkeeper get beaten up by a supporter on the field without some sort of response, but Rangers won both of those games and the one before in the Second Division. More recently Mark Warburton announced his arrival with a 2-1 win, and a goal for the ages from Ebere Eze. While considerably less enjoyable/watchable, last season’s 1-0 win here kept Gareth Ainsworth’s team in the Championship.

It's that Heidar Helguson goal that I always see in my mind’s eye when thinking of this fixture though. Armand Traore scooting down the wing, wrapping his left foot around the ball for one of those delicious arcing crosses he occasionally provided to remind you he was a professional footballer after all (see also the assist for Jamie Mackie’s flying tattooed goose routine at Man City). Then, from the away end behind that goal, as you panned your face across the pitch from right to left following the trajectory of the delivery, a flash of blue and white in the corner of your left eye as Helguson stormed into the field of vision. A cross so perfectly placed and angled the Icelandic striker didn’t need to break stride in his immaculately timed run. A header carrying more power than you’ve ever kicked a football with. Devon White style, back from whence it came, across the goal and goalkeeper, majestically soaring into the far top corner of the net. Everything about it was beautiful.

The 3-2 win that goal helped provide moved QPR into eighth place in the Premier League. With the backing we had it should have been the start of a ten-year cycle at the top – cup runs and European football – of exactly the sort Stoke were enjoying at that moment under Tony Pulis. While I’ll always hold Pulis picking a weakened team (and only four subs) for the second leg of a European tie away at Valencia (can you imagine?) up as the very worst example of managers going to ridiculous lengths to protect their seventeenth placed finish in the Premier League, they undoubtedly had a terrific run through those years, with an FA Cup final in 2011, and regular bloodying of the division’s toffy nosed elite at the Britannia Stadium.

Stoke, like ourselves, have rather crashed and burned since. They were relegated to the Championship for the 2018/19 season and have finished, with remarkable consistency, in the bottom half of it every year since – 16th, 15th, 14th, 14th, 16th. Last year they were the only team in the division with a home record as lousy as ours – that Albert Adomah winner was their twelfth home defeat at what used to be something of a fortress.

There was something approaching a degree of optimism for their 23/24 after a dramatic summer overhaul that saw 17 new signings made, including striker Wesley Moraes (Wilson) who’d once cost Aston Villa £22m, Luke McNally who’d been promoted with Burnley, and winger Andre Vidigal who started with five goals in his first six games. Could they finally be getting their act together? Answer, no. In fact things are worse than ever. QPR can go above them with a win tonight, potentially plunging the Potters into the bottom three for the first time. They haven’t been a third tier team since 2002.

It shouldn’t really come as a surprise, nor that the appointment of Stephen Schumacher is yet to arrest the slide. Since returning to this league Stoke have repeated the same actions over and over again – hiring and firing managers and, more to the point, signing players by the absolute truck load – to no great avail. This is their sixth season back in the Championship and to achieve that lower half finish every year they’ve signed a whopping 87 players on permanent or loan deals. Declared expenditure on those players is £82m but there are several undisclosed fees among them. The benevolence of the Coates family who own the club mean that doesn’t necessarily have to be a problem – like our owners they do not ledge the debt from their ‘investment’ against the club, and therefore where’s the harm in a rich owner trying to compete with the parachute payment clubs of this world if they’re using/ losing their own money? As it is they’ve had to dodge FFP by doing the classic ground sale to the owners before that was outlawed, they’ve made some big sales (Shakiri, Nathan Collins, Harry Souttar), and they declare approaching £10m in sponsorship deals in their accounts each year (nearly ten times what QPR have been banking) by slapping the Coates’ Bet365 business on everything from the hand dryers up.

The bigger problem for Stoke is it just isn’t working. They started off by letting Gary Rowett do north of £50m on cloggers like Benik Afobe, Sam Vokes and Sam Clucas who seemed to hate playing for Stoke almost as much as Stoke hated them playing for Stoke. Later Nathan Jones was allowed to makeover the squad in his own image with disastrous consequences. Michael O’Neill spent his time mostly muddling through while these years of excess rolled out of the three-year P&S calculations but they very second they got another chance to give a manager carte blanche to do as he pleased they did exactly that with Alex Neil this summer. How on earth do you sign now 24 players in a season and end up coming to Loftus Road with a back four that includes Enda Stevens (33) and Ciaran Clark (34)? Stoke have been calling it a “manager lead approach” to make it sound like a plan, but it’s no kind of plan at all. We say “what manager wants manager gets” doesn’t work at QPR because our owners are benevolent but clueless, in truth it doesn’t really work anywhere any more. In an age of data and analytics, letting your manager just go out and sign Ben Pearson and Daniel Johnson because he worked with Ben Pearson and Daniel Johnson before is prehistoric. All that ends up happening, when you work through managers as quickly as these two clubs, is a new guy inheriting a whole load of players that suited the old guy and his methods but don’t necessarily suit yours – so it has proved with Schumacher, trying to unleash the sort of creative freedom that was so good in his Plymouth team onto Neil’s more rigid system and finding himself losing four games straight and conceding 13 goals doing it.

Of course so much of this will chime so horribly with QPR fans who’ve watched their own club work through a parade of disparate managers and a glut of mostly dire signings for Championship finishes of 12th, 18th, 16th, 19th, 13th, 9th, 11th and 20th. There was some semblance of plan here for a while, but like Stoke the first hint that there might be some headroom and a chance to splash out again and Rangers were off doing what they love to do so much – signing players and letting the manager have his head with Mark Warburton allowed all the Moses Odubajo, Lee Wallace and Andre Gray types he’d worked with before into the bargain. They then doubled down on that again by letting Honest Mick Beale bring in all of his special academy boys to disastrous effect, and with director of football Les Ferdinand falling on his sword as a result it was left to Gareth Ainsworth to lead the recruitment last summer with the horrifying season we’re now experiencing a fairly predictable result. As the great Earl Bassett said, running’s not a plan, running’s what you do when a plan fails.

A season in which both Stoke and QPR survive from this point would be, one would presume, very bad news for Huddersfield. The likes of Birmingham and Blackburn keep annoyingly putting a result on the board every now and again to stay tantalisingly out of reach. It feels like one from these three plus possibly Millwall who are consistently the worst team I watch in this division at the moment. Marti Cifuentes will receive, and deserve, enormous praise if he pulls off that miraculous escape in W12. He is, undoubtedly, the best thing about QPR at the moment and it’s only because of him that Rangers are in with a shout at all. There’s some degree of excitement about what he might be able to do in this division next season with an improved FFP situation as the 21/22 overspend rolls out of the three year calculations. But that must only ever be part of a more coherent, overall strategy of which the manager is just a constituent part, not the be-all and end-all, writing the theme tune and singing the theme tune.

Both QPR and Stoke have found to their cost what happens when you do that in the modern game. That cost may yet be a trip back into the third tier, where they contested the opening game of the 2001/02 season the last time we dropped that low. If they’re lucky enough to avoid that fate, and tonight’s result could give us a clue as to how likely that is, they’ve got to come up with a better plan than this.

Links >>> Schumacher’s start turns sour – Interview >>> Helguson masterclass – History >>> Kitchen in charge – Referee >>> Preston/Sheff Wed/Ipswich – Awaydays >>> Stoke City official website >>> Stoke Sentinel — Local press >>> The Oatcake — Message Board >>> The Wizards of Drivel — Podcast >>> Every Step Along The Way — Podcast

90’s Footballer Conspiracy Theories No.29 In The Series – Gary Pallister believes chem trails from commercial aircraft blanketing Europe are spreading a form of the Woke Mind Virus (WMV) which compels Gareth Southgate to continue selecting Jordan Henderson.

Below the fold

Team News: QPR’s recent uptick in form has coincided with being able to get the strongest starting 11 you can pick from this threadbare and limited squad on the pitch more often than that. That has itself been driven by the end of the hectic Christmas programme and a relatively calm period of one game a week. However we now face a three-game week, and another to come at the start of March when West Brom have a midweek visit to Loftus Road, to not only overcome but – given the form of the opposition – really try and put some points on the board. To do that we’ll need players like Steve Cook and Jake Clarke-Salter, who have been key to recent performances but have always struggled to do three games in a week for QPR, and new signings Isaac Hayden and Lucas Andersen, who have poor recent injury records, to play frequently, and well.

Reggie Cannon continues to be nursed through games with the groin injury he’s carried really from the moment he arrived – though there is enough confidence in his condition (or lack of belief in his understudies) to have both Osman Kakay and Aaron Drewe playing for the development squad on Tuesday night rather than travelling to Stoke with the firsts. Rayan Kolli remains the only officially declared injury absence. Sam Field returns from a two match ban, Jack Colback remains one yellow away from two of his own. We’re offering two tickets on the Ched Evans bus tour of London’s historical landmarks for any sighting of Taylor Richards.

Stoke have held the traditional clear-the-air meeting at their training ground in the run up to this game in an attempt to improve their form – no indication whether or not it involved a haka. Despite four successive defeats, with 13 goals conceded in the process, Stoke’s team selection is unlikely to be a great deal different to Saturday at Blackburn when Stephen Schumacher made eight changes. Former QPR junior Josh Laurent, and centre back Michael Rose, who scored an own goal in our favour in Coventry colours at Loftus Road during the Covid-19 lockdown, are both back in contention. After his hilariously abject display in the 4-2 QPR win at Loftus Road, it’s with some distress we learn that Enda Stevens likely won’t be involved.

Ryan Mmaee, who scored in the first meeting, is not being considered for selection due to him being a bit of a twat. Manager Stephen Schumacher says: “We had an internal disciplinary issue with Ryan. A few issues that have happened. I won't go into the details, but there were a few things that weren't the behaviour we expect from one of our players.We spoke to him after the Sunderland game and told him that this was the situation and that, for the time being he wouldn't be considered for selection. That's what happened and that's still the case. He wasn't involved in the week leading up to the Leicester game and for now he isn't available. This week he has been training with the fitness coaches and he will continue training at the back end of the week with the Under-21s."

Elsewhere: If it is to be a good midweek for QPR, then it’s one which has started with Andre Dozzell scoring an actual goal to move Birmingham six points away from us with a 1-0 home win against Blackburn, and Rob Dickie scoring for Bristol City as they finally end Southampton’s unbeaten run at 24 games. There was some good news for the R’s on Tuesday night with Sheff Wed predictably beaten at Champions Leicester and now three points behind having played a game more, and Rotherham blowing a 1-0 lead at home to Hull to continue their relentless charge to League One with a 2-1 loss. Swansea are seven points ahead but continue to drop like a rock after a 4-0 home shellacking by Leeds. West Brom beat Cardiff 2-0 and Norwich did Watford 4-2 in the play-off push.

Five fixtures on Wednesday including our own. Rangers are in the unfortunate position of needing a favour from Honest Mick as his Sunderland team head to Huddersfield, who we can move above with a win as long as they don’t match it. Millwall, four points ahead and can’t buy a win, are at home to Ipswich. Stoke, the other catchable team, are our opponent. The other games are Plymouth at home to Coventry and Preston Knob End v Boro.

So, teams to bury, and teams to bring into the fight, but QPR need wins. Wins plural.

Referee: Andrew Kitchen has looked exactly what he is in both his QPR appointments so far – a young referee, new to the level, finding his feet. You will of course remember him missing Swansea punching their opening goal into the net at Loftus Road in September. This is a big game to be giving him. Details.


Stoke: Stoke’s form is abysmal. They have lost their last four matches, conceding 13 goals in the process – 2-1 and 5-0 defeats here against Birmingham and Leicester, consecutive 3-1 away defeats at Sunderland and Blackburn. That extends a dreadful run of two wins from 18 games that goes all the way back to the start of November, includes the 4-2 QPR win at Loftus Road, and counted for the sacking of Alex Neil. Stephen Schumacher actually started quite well after taking this job just before Christmas – four unbeaten, three draws with Millwall, Watford and Ipswich and a 3-1 victory at Birmingham – but it’s collapsed since then. The Potters have taken 13 points from the last 51 available.

Stoke are particularly bad at home. They’re without a win in nine attempts on their own patch (D4 L5) and by the time we kick off tonight it will be 112 days without a home win. Their total of 11 goals is easily the worst in the Championship, trailing Millwall (14) and four teams including ourselves on 17. Their 20 goals conceded at home is the same as Rotherham and Sheff Wed, the bottom two. Only QPR and Rotherham (three each) have won fewer home games than Stoke’s four, and only QPR (eight) have lost more on their own patch than City’s seven. That continues a trend from last season where QPR’s unwanted club record of 12 home defeats in a season was matched every defeat of the way by Stoke. They have won just ten of their last 38 games on this ground.

It's also a surprisingly good place for QPR to visit. The R’s won 1-0 here in the penultimate game of last season to secure their own Championship status and bring up that twelfth home loss for the Potters. Since the move from the Victoria Ground we’ve played here 14 times, winning seven and drawing one. Rangers have won three of the last four meetings here.

Disaster written all over it.

QPR: Rangers have once again improved their form to the point where a victory can carry them out of the bottom three. Unfortunately, they’ve already blown four opportunities to do that since they sunk below the dotted line in the last week of September. They come into this one unbeaten in four – WDWD.

Without a midweek game since Ipswich on December 29, Marti Cifuentes has had the benefit of naming a settled team. Asmir Begovic, Reggie Cannon, Jake Clarke-Salter, Kenneth Paal, Jack Colback, Chris Willock, Ilias Chair and Sinclair Armstrong have all started five games in a row. For Cannon, Colback and Armstrong they’re the best run of consecutive starts they’ve made for the club, while Clarke-Salter has only played more than five games in a row for the club once since joining. Steve Cook has started the last four and if he’s in the team again it’s his best run of appearances since September. The presence of these two centre backs is particularly key to QPR’s chances. Cook is unbeaten in eight starts going back to the defeat at Norwich in November, has played in six of our seven wins this season, and only lost six of his 21 outings for the club so far (one of those, at Sheff Wed, he only played the last seven minutes).

Several of those players do not cope well with three game weeks. Nor, really, does the team as a whole. QPR have won only four of 21 games played in three game weeks this season and lost 13. Their record in the second and third games in those weeks is identical – W1 D2 L4. Last season their record was also identically poor in games two and three of three game weeks – W3 D3 L5. Going back to Mark Warburton’s last season (2021/22) QPR have a record of W29 D26 L47 in three game weeks.

QPR have lost only two of the last 11 meetings with Stoke and won 4-2 at Loftus Road at the start of December. That’s the only time Rangers have scored more than three goals in a game in 100 attempts, and the only time we’ve scored more than two goals in a game in our last 66 matches.

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 newly extended QPR collection here. Reigning champion Aston says.

“This feels like the first time in an eternity that we might be going into a game as the actual favourites, so much so that we all know what happens when this is the case. But I don't know, I so want this to be different. 1-0 to the Rs, Frey to score.”

Aston’s Prediction: Stoke 0-1 QPR. Scorer – Michael Frey

LFW’s Prediction: Stoke 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Ilias Chair

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Hastings_Hoops added 10:35 - Feb 14
Start cook against sjoke and rest him against Brizzle if needed to keep him for for Rotherham - Shirley?

Possibly play a back three with Field and Dunne vs Brizzle.

TacticalR added 14:35 - Feb 14
Thanks for your preview.

Parachute payments can induce schizophrenia. You have three year's worth of payments, so do you try and consolidate in case you can't go up in three years, or do you just blow the cash trying to get up within three years, come what may?

A couple of paradoxes:

1. How is it that the owners of Bet365, who must have access to all sorts of analytics, hasn't been able to do a Brighton or a Brentford? (I knew that there was something very wrong with Stoke's recruitment when they brought in Jordan Cousins.)

2. Although 'manager gets what manager wants' has caused us all sorts of problems, haven't we effectively been forced back into that model in the last transfer window as there is no DoF, the owners are absent, and everyone is desperate to avoid relegation?

'They’ve already blown four opportunities to do that [get out of the bottom three] since they sunk below the dotted line in the last week of September.' Not a good statistic. The only thing that has changed is that we now have some (potential) goals in the team. In the oppo interview potterlytics said that, despite their run of form, Stoke do have some good players, so we can't take anything for granted.

Benny121 added 18:18 - Feb 18
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Benny121 added 18:19 - Feb 18

A movie I made called Big Night - Preview 14th Feb 2024 09:24
QPR once again have a chance to move out of the bottom three, and plunge hapless Stoke City into it in their stead, if they can continue their recent positive form and good run of results in Staffordshire this evening. 5


Benny121 added 18:19 - Feb 18

A movie I made called Big Night - Preview 14th Feb 2024 09:24
QPR once again have a chance to move out of the bottom three, and plunge hapless Stoke City into it in their stead, if they can continue their recent positive form and good run of results in Staffordshire this evening. 5


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