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The follow up - Preview
Friday, 8th Mar 2024 18:37 by Clive Whittingham

QPR really hit their straps on Wednesday night and showed what a Marti Cifuentes-led Rangers could do in the future, but they didn't win the game and a support base that's been burned many times before heads to W12 tomorrow desperately hoping for more of the same against Middlesbrough.

QPR (10-9-17 DLWWWD 19th) v Boro (14-5-16 LLWLLW 12th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday March 9, 2024 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Breezy, rain later >>> Loftus Road, London, W12

The draw that feels like a win. The draw that uplifts and exhilarates like a 3-0 victory. Absolutely not to be confused with the last-minute equaliser draw, which feels good because of the timing of the goals. Nor the draw you salvage from 2-0, 3-0 (4-0 in QPR’s case) down despite playing like proper dog shit for majority of the match, which feels good precisely because of how undeserved it was. No, this is a special kind of draw which is not only a pleasure to sit through but also soothes your worries about the future – play like that, and we’re not going to have a problem, are we?

The start of the 1991/92 season was not the beginning to life as QPR manager that Gerry Francis would have wanted. Brought in from Bristol Rovers, his status as a returning club hero only partially papered over the grubbiness of the way Don Howe was ushered aside to, as the club’s official VHS review of the season put it, “make way for a younger man”. That despite turning things around brilliantly post Trevor Francis debacle and building the beginnings of an excellent side which had made the FA Cup quarter finals through an epic run of replays and been unfortunate not to go further.

What Gerry needed was a fast start, and but for a horrible, scrambled equaliser in injury time at Arsenal he’d have beaten the reigning champions 1-0 on their own patch on day one. With Alan McDonald injured in pre-season, and Ray Wilkins doing his Achilles in that opening game at Highbury, things did not go well thereafter. Rangers won none of their first eight games and that sequence included a 4-1 defeat at Sheffield Wednesday where Carlton Palmer scored a first half hat trick (just, don’t).

Amongst it though, a 0-0 midweek draw in front of a packed Loftus Road against our friends from the east, West Ham. Rangers were absolutely insane. Clive Wilson piling down the left, David Bardsley doing likewise down the right, long before that sort of thing was trendy in the game, with Roy Wegerle so mesmerising through the middle that even Garry Thompson’s presence alongside him couldn’t spoil things. A young Les Ferdinand came on from the bench. It took time, and a returning cavalry from injury, but that was a team that went on to win 4-1 at Man Utd, beat champions Leeds by the same score at Loftus Road, wiped the floor with Man City 4-0 and then finished fifth in the inaugural Premier League the year after.

Fast forward a couple of decades, and QPR drew another early season game 0-0 under the lights at Loftus Road. The result, this time against Newcastle, was once more set against a troubled backdrop. The feel-good factor from the amazing promotion won by Neil Warnock’s side the year before had, to a large extent, dissipated over a complicated, political summer which Flavio Briatore had spent trying to sell the club rather than strengthen the team. A first wave of recruitment was done on a budget so tight stalwarts like Kaspars Gorkss had to be jettisoned to pay for incomings, and targets like Ashley Williams and Wayne Routledge slipped away elsewhere while cheap options like Jay Bothroyd and Bruno Perone came in instead. The pre-season friendlies were played out in bits of the previous season’s kit with parcel tape over the sponsorship logos and the opening day brought a 4-0 defeat at home to middling Bolton.

Tony Fernandes’ takeover came late in the window, and after the season had begun. The wave of relief it brought amplified by a surprise 1-0 success at Goodison Park where QPR beat an established Everton side with a team containing such luminaries as Patrick Agyemang, Danny Gabbidon and Fitz Hall. The subsequent trolley dash, and running of the club, we now know would prove to be fairly disastrous. But it’s worth remembering just how exciting it all felt at the time as proven Premier League names like Joey Barton and Shaun Wright-Phillips started coming through the door. Post international break Rangers returned to action with a Monday Night Football at home to Newcastle in which Barton, Wright-Phillips, Luke Young, Anton Ferdinand, Armand Traore, DJ Campbell and Jason Puncheon all made debuts.

Rangers absolutely battered the visitors, striking the crossbar on multiple occasions. Wright-Phillips was the best player on the pitch. A week later we went away and destroyed Wolves at Molineux, with Ale Faurlin pulling all kinds of strings. A famous win against Chelsea was to follow and when we then went up to Stoke in the prime of the Tony Pulis era and won 3-2 there as well it felt like we were back for good. Eighth in the league at that point. By January Warnock had been sacked, Mark Hughes had been appointed, and although the team did stay in the top flight that season, a ruinous period from which the club is yet to emerge was about to take deep root.

The West Ham result was a promise of better to come, the Newcastle one a false dawn. I guess that’s the danger in trying to read too much into any one football match, especially one where the result isn’t even a win. This special kind of draw, like the one we had here on Wednesday with West Brom, can be quite dangerous things. You played that well, probably as well as you can play at this moment, and you still didn’t win the game. That doesn’t bode well for the games to come when you’ll do well to come up to that level again.

Whether we’re looking back on that Baggies game come May as an enormous missed opportunity, or the start of something big, really depends on what this team does next. Play as they did on Wednesday and we won’t be having a problem, we’ll be winning games – starting tomorrow.

We’re wary because we’ve been burned before, so many times, in the recent past. You thought Mark Warburton’s team had cracked it when they were pushing for second in January 2021, we ended up midtable. You thought Mick Beale was our lord and saviour when we topped the league under him in October that year, we then took one point and scored one goal in five matches and he walked out. Neil Critchley’s first result and performance, away at Preston, was excellent – we never won another game under him. You wondered whether Gareth Ainsworth’s Amazing Shithouse Rangers might be a thing after they bullied Watford amidst a febrile atmosphere in W12 – then they lost 6-1 at Blackpool. Ainsworth got a good win from an altogether more attractive performance up at Middlesbrough in the first meeting this season – he, too, never won another game as manager after that. Marti Cifuentes won three in a row when he first arrived, and then won none of eight.

I agree it feels different this time. The January additions have made a world of difference – Lucas Andersen the other night was just beautiful to watch gliding around. QPR genuinely haven’t played like they did on Wednesday in many years, and they did it despite backing up from an altogether different task and significant physical effort at Leicester on Saturday. It is, as we said in another preview recently, not the same team letting you down again, because none of the players who bombed at Stoke the other week were in the team that lost on that fateful night at Bloomfield Road. We’ve lost only one of nine, and we’re playing well. He says he’s changed this time mum, and perhaps he has.

We wait with bated breath to find out more tomorrow. It is, of course, game three in a three game week. We have struggled with for a long time, and this one has been more strenuous than most. Rangers have won only two of eight in that circumstance this season after three from 11 last term. We did, however, win our most recent one, at Bristol City.

I’m not sure my heart could take another After The Lord Mayor’s Show-type performance from QPR after everything they’ve put us through over the last two years, and how joyful I was at one in the morning on Thursday despite ending up at Gatwick Airport rather than my home in Tooting following a difference of opinion with a train indicator board at Clapham Junction. Let’s be really clear, take all emotional baggage out of it and look at that league table, with only ten games to go, if we do fail to follow up on this and build then we’ll be going down, with all the rueful wonderings about just what Marti Cifuentes might have done with this team and a bigger budget in the Championship but for a couple more wins in March and April.

I am genuinely excited to go and see us tomorrow though, and I haven’t been able to say that since… well probably since about 1992.

Links >>> Difficult second album – Interview >>> A surprise 5-0 win – History >>> Doughty in charge – Referee >>> Middlesbrough Official Website >>> Teeside Gazette — Local Paper >>> FMTTM — Message Board >>> Boro Breakdown – Podcast >>> One Boro — Forum >>> Bonkers for Boro — Blog >>> Boropolis — Podcast

90s Footballer Conspiracy Theories No.32 In The Series - Gary Mabbutt thinks breakfast is a Quaker invention designed for keeping Big Cereal in profit. "There's no reason you can't have fish and chips first thing in the morning, but the deep state won't let you," he says.

Below the fold

Team News: Jack Colback returns from two matches on the naughty step to fight for his place in a midfield transformed. Colback’s red against Sunderland was one of four picked up by QPR in the first 14 games of the season, more than any other team in the league – they’re yet to have a player sent off under Marti Cifuentes (touch wood). It means the only absentees from this weekend’s squad are fringe members Rayan Kolli and Aaron Drewe. Cifuentes said in his pre-match the midweek decision to sub off Jake Clarke-Salter for Morgan Fox was tactical rather than anything to threaten his run of 15 consecutive league starts – his best for the club. QPR have been able to keep the same centre back pairing for nine straight games, and lost only once in that time.

In the wake of his goalscoring heroics during the week the club announced Friday that Sam Field had signed a new contract with the club for *redacted* years. I mentioned recently a conversation I’d had with a journalist in the US at the beginning of January who said Field had been close to making a move to the MLS, that they’d liked his numbers and personal references, but that it had fallen over around Christmas because quote “he’s signed a new four-year contract at QPR”. At the time I dismissed that as pretty far fetched but in this new era of openness and transparency with the supporters… who knows? Just got to wait now to see how long it takes the Instagrammed picture of Sinclair Armstrong with a pen emoji, posted by his agent a month ago, takes to make it into press release form.

Elsewhere: Dust of those Leeds scarves and hold your nose once more, we need another result from that lot tonight in the televised Yorkshire derby with Sheff Wed who’ve now won four games in a row to join an extraordinary pile of clubs on 38, 39 or 40 points. Essentially the whole bottom half of the Championship is now embroiled in this relegation battle with ten games to go and Peterborough’s record of being relegated on 54 points under some serious threat.

Inevitably, some of those teams are playing each other this weekend. Blackburn have won two of their last 18 games to sink into the mire, and having failed to knock over Millwall at home during the week have another similar opportunity at Ewood Park against Plymouth. Millwall are at home to Birmingham. We did call the Blues a few weeks ago seemed to be taking this whole thing very lightly, assuming they’d just be able to cruise through under caretaker charge while Tony Mowbray went into hospital – they can go into the bottom three for the first time this season with a defeat at The Den against Wawll who are unbeaten in three since the second coming of Neil Harris.

Stoke currently hold the third bottom bomb and they’re away to Preston Knob End this weekend. Ryan Lowe seemed certain for the chop when QPR won at Deepdale before Christmas but the Whites are now absolutely flying, four points off the play-offs with a game in hand and one defeat in nine games. Huddersfield could be as low as second bottom by the time they go last this weekend with a Sunday lunchtime homer against West Brom.

The three team on the upper cusp of all this are Watford, where Valerian Ismael continues to cling to his job ahead of a weekend meeting with Coventry, and then Bristol City and Swansea who play each other on Sunday.

Up at the irrelevant end of the league it’s difficult away trips for Ipswich to Cardiff in the Saturday lunchtime TV game, Leicester to play-off hopefuls Hull, and Leeds at Sheff Wed tonight as previously mentioned. That might give Southampton a chance to step in at home to Sunderland after their midweeker was postponed due to FIRE.

Any slip from the top six could open a door for Norwich who have their home gimme against Rotherham.

Referee: After the chaos here midweek let’s hope for an altogether more well-rounded refereeing display from fast tracked Blackpool official Leigh Doughty who LFW have rated 7-7-7-8-8 in his five QPR appointments so far. Details.


QPR: It’s now just one defeat in nine games (W5 D4) for Marti Cifuentes’ team as they desperately try to claw their way up the Championship table. Prior to this run they were winless in eight, and had won only three of their previous 23. At Loftus Road they’re unbeaten in five (W2 D3) having lost four in a row and not won in five prior.

Chris Willock’s goal against Rotherham was his first in 12 games after three in a row in December. QPR have still never lost on any of the 20 occasions he’s scored for the club in 95 starts and 38 sub appearances and three of those have been against Middlesbrough – he scored in this fixture last season and both home and away games in 21/22. Ilias Chair’s outrageous 45 yard free kick was sadly mere consolation in a 3-1 loss at Boro in the away game last season – all five of his goals in 22/23 and 10 of his last 12 goals had been from outside the area, but since his belter at Rotherham all four of the goals he’s scored have been from inside the box. Steve Cook’s impressive debut season at the club continues to stack the numbers – across 25 starts and one sub appearance he has played in nine of the team’s ten wins, and eight of its nine clean sheets (Preston away the anomaly in both cases, when he was on the bench). He’s lost only one of his last 13 starts and lost only seven of the 25 games he’s started.

QPR won the first meeting between the sides this season 2-0 at the Riverside with goals from Andre Dozzell and Jack Colback. It was one of only two victories Rangers managed in the first 14 games of 23/24 under Gareth Ainsworth. This continued a decent recent trend against this opposition – the 3-1 loss on Teesside in Neil Critchley’s last game was QPR’s only defeat in nine meetings with Boro. Rangers are unbeaten in the last five meetings at Loftus Road, although three of those were draws.

Boro: After starting 22/23 with one win from their first seven, two from their first 10 and three from their first 14, Boro subsequently went on the sought of run rarely seen in this division before under new manager Michael Carrick to make the play-offs – 16 wins, two draws and three defeats. They did, however, wane slightly towards the end with two wins from the last eight culminating in a play-off semi-final loss to Coventry. Despite this and the loss of some key players over the summer some (yes, ok, us) expected them to push strongly for promotion again, and when they once more followed a poor start of no wins from the first seven games with a sequence of seven straight victories it felt like history was to repeat. Not so. Amidst a hefty injury list and fixture list crammed by a run to the League Cup semi-final Boro have struggled for any consistency whatsoever, and their home form in particular is dire.

The midweek win against Norwich, who received a red card in the first half since quickly overturned on review, is their third victory in ten games and snapped a winless run of five at home that has seen Sunderland and Rotherham draw at the Riverside and Bristol City, Plymouth and Coventry all go there and win. Their home record of 7-3-8 is the worst in the top half of the table, and eight defeats on their own patch is the same total as Blackburn (17th), QPR (19th) and Stoke (22nd). They’ve also lost eight times away from home – more than Swansea and Millwall and the same as Huddersfield in 21st. They’re really only as high in the table as they are for the same reason Blackburn out-performed their metrics last season – draws don’t get you very far and Boro only have five, the second lowest total in the league behind Leicester’s three. Away from home their last two games have seen them win 2-1 at Leicester and lose 2-0 at Stoke which sums them up rather. Their away results also include a 1-0 defeat at Rotherham, one of only three wins all seasons for the Millers, a 1-1 at Sheff Wed and a 2-1 loss at Blackburn.

Boro got three players into double figures last season: Chuba Akpom (28), Cameron Archer (11) and Marcus Forss (10). Matt Crooks chipped in with seven of his own. Three of those are no longer with the club and the lack of an adequate replacement is clear. Top scorer this year is Forss and new boy Emmanuel Latte Lath who have just six league goals each (Morgan Rogers has seven but five were in the cup and he’s now at Villa anyway).

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.

“They've been playing poorly of late and we haven't. It’s strange to be saying this but after the blockbuster on Wednesday night, I think this might be a bit of a letdown. I'm going for a 1-1 with Lucas Andersen opening his account.”

Aston’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Middlesbrough. Scorer – Lucas Andersen

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Middlesbrough. Scorer – Chris Willock

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Myke added 23:45 - Mar 8
Yes I feel tomorrow may be a watershed moment in our fight to survive. It is unrealistic to expect us to hit the same heights as the second half v WBA. But it would not quite need to be as Boro are inferior to them. What cannot happen is a performance like the one v Stoke. We talked earlier about how we managed to just under-perform to the level of our opposition regardless of whether they were Leicester or Milwall. We seem to have shaken that off since our second half performance v Rotherham, We have a much stronger bench,now - Colback will be chomping at the bit for example - and Willock seems to be mentally stronger. Clarke-Slater's presence is vital of course and we still need more from Dykes in front of goal, but I am confident we will at least maintain our unbeaten run. Draws are frustrating when it's so tight, but I will take safety by instalments as long as we are fully paid up by the end of the season.

TacticalR added 10:11 - Mar 9
Thanks for your preview.

Time will tell whether not getting a win against West Brom was significant or not. It doesn't feel like it at the moment because of the quality of the game and our recent away wins at Bristol and Leicester.

We know that this team has had trouble performing against sides at the bottom of the table. On paper Boro look like a good opponent as they are a) off form and b) not a relegation side. However, things at QPR rarely work out as expected.

tsbains64 added 11:52 - Mar 9
So relived that the Sheff Weds game is not on Sky.....we need more of the WBA atmosphere-thats a worth a goal in itself

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