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End game – Preview
Friday, 26th Apr 2024 08:21 by Clive Whittingham

QPR need one result, in any one of a multitude of the remaining games, to secure their Championship safety - they get first swing at getting it for themselves tonight at home to Massive Leeds United.

QPR (13-11-20 WWLDLW 18th) v Leeds (27-9-8 DWLDLW 2nd)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Friday April 26, 2024 >>> Kick Off 20.00 >>> Weather – Grey >>> Loftus Road, London, W12

Okeydokey, here we go. The moment we go over the top, the moment the rollercoaster reaches the summit of its climb and starts to topple you over the edge, the moment the screen door goes back on Blind Date. Whatever your coping mechanism to now – saying everything’s going to be fine to try and calm yourself down, saying the whole thing will end in disaster so as to dull the pain of the blow when it’s finally delivered – it’s going to be no good to you very shortly. You’re about to find out what lies beyond. Death or glory? Thrills or spills? Jennifer Lawrence or Laurence Fox? The time for conjecture, speculation and hypothesising; begging, pleading and denial; staring at league tables and convoluting theories… it’s all about to be over. Shit is, indeed, about to get real.

Leeds United, almost always clad in yellow, in front of a sold-out Loftus Road under floodlights, is one of the great, evocative fixtures for Queens Park Rangers. If your vintage of choice is the 1970s, if your heroes are Francis and Masson and Givens, then how frequently your mind must drift back to that Saturday afternoon in 1976 when a conservatively estimated 31,002 packed into this place to see Dave Thomas and Stan Bowles (who else) make our football club champions of England – for a week or so at least. Perhaps you were there, and can still hear the old Loft End hum. I don’t know how any of you ever sat through Zesh Rehman.

If you’re the generation hence, if it’s about Clive Wilson and David Bardsley and Alan McDonald for you, Leeds will always be cutting through the smoke that hung in the W12 air on midweek nights with their Howard Wilkinson-led team on the cusp of a league title of their own. The late Gary Speed, heading down beautifully, to open the scoring, before the very best combination of Don Howe’s and Gerry Francis’ Queens Park Rangers absolutely let rip and ran a large sword through the champions elect. It’ll be Les Ferdinand, of course. It’ll be Brian Moore, on commentary, confusing Bradley Allen with Clive, as he runs in behind onto a Ray Wilkins pass for the ages, “and Lukic has lost it a moment…”. A euphoria so intense and infective QPR scored again immediately from the kick off. Sinton with the shot. Lukic a beaten fellow there. Leeds. Are. Rocking. There was a fourth to follow, because that’s how it was in those times. Man City had already been pumped 4-0 on the Saturday just prior. A celebration so throaty and raucous it carried on right to the following weekend and a win at Villa Park. You can fuck off as well.

If you’re modern era, shunning the shiny lights of Keysie’s Best League In The World, and all the assorted mega clubs Rangers used to beat regularly but now shiver in the shadow of, well there’s some sugar for you too. Perhaps, for you, it’ll always be Bright’s blinding pace frightening the life out of them. Or Nahki Wells scoring deliciously with both his hands at once, unseen by the officials. Or Liam Kelly’s penalty save. More likely it’s Ebere Eze, gliding around the place, delivering a footballing lesson to Kalvin Phillips so utterly humiliating the Leeds man lost himself in his own shortcomings and frustration and was sent off for a second attempt on Geoff Cameron’s life in as many games. Nick London screaming “dirty Leeds” from the commentary gantry, Phillips trudging off, Eze beautifully captured in background shot chuckling into his chest. Pep, you didn’t need to loan Phillips to West Ham, or see what Ebs got up to at Palace, to know you bought the wrong trousers Gromit. It was there all along.

Leeds Leeds Leeds. Yorkshire Yorkshire Yorkshire. One of those where people are always banging on about place. What you’ll notice, though, despite their inherent and inescapable massiveness, is little old QPR tend to win this fixture.

Wilkinson’s team got their title over the line, returned to Shepherd’s Bush a year later, and got their arse handed to them all over again – once more they took the lead, this time through Gordon Strachan, once more Rangers came back to win, with Bardsley and Ferdinand scoring. Ray Wilkins’ first game as manager here finished 3-2 in Rangers’ favour – Ferdinand, as per, unplayable. Those were good QPR teams, but even the shit ones have done okay. Steve McClaren’s rabble, in the midst of a run of one win from 15 games, got that victory against Leeds thanks to one man. Luke Freeman, emperor penguin, dragging a tired, downbeat QPR side across the line kicking and screaming, writing the theme tune and signing the theme tune, covering every blade and scoring the only goal himself with a backheel. One of the modern day great individual performances at Loftus Road. Such a shame his career went on the wane through so many failed transfers after us, he was terrific. Loftus Road remains the only away ground Marcelo Bielsa has lost three games on.

It is, nevertheless, not the fixture you’d choose. This Daniel Farke iteration of Leeds have already won 27 of their 44 games and amassed 90 points with two games left to play. That total would have been good enough for automatic promotion from this league in every season back to 1997/98 when Sunderland finished third behind Forest and Boro on 90, and would have won you the title in 16 of the 25 campaigns since then. Leeds have scored 80 goals, just about double QPR’s total of 41. They have three players in double figures for goals, led by Crysencio Summerville on 19, and a further two on eight – QPR’s top scorer is Lyndon Dykes on a paltry six. In a parachute payment-dominated league of haves and have nots, Leeds have every ingredient you could ever possibly need for a cakewalk. You'll recall QPR spent their own parachute payments on cheese.

Then it’s onto Coventry next week where, quite apart from Mark Robins’ side taking great delight in repeatedly picking Rangers apart over the last 18 months, fans who followed QPR in the 1990s will tell you we’ve already been effectively relegated once before. Eoin Jess, rated as one of Cov’s worst ever signings, scored his only goal for the club, Kevin Gallen had one disallowed, Andy Impey killed a guy, and that was basically that for QPR in the Premier League. Oh what fun the walk back to the station was that afternoon. If the steps we take to avoid our fate are indeed the ones that lead us directly to it, the thought of finishing a relegation battle season away at Coventry feels like bad juju.

For so long we’ve looked at a fixture list ending with Leeds at home and Coventry away and said we wouldn’t want to be going into those games needing much. The job would need to be done before then. So, have QPR done enough? The answer loitering somewhere between maybe and probably. Marti Cifuentes’ side currently need one result – win tonight, or win next Saturday, it’s over. If they do lose both, the first time this team will have lost two games in a row since January, then that one result needn’t even be their own. Hefty goal difference deficits at Sheff Wed and Huddersfield mean that if West Brom win at Hillsborough tomorrow, or the Terriers win their own six pointer at home to Birmingham, then the R’s are effectively safe by the two greatest words in the English language – de-fault. If none of that happens, if we have another weekend like Hull away where literally everything goes against us, then it’s all the same again next week – if Sheff Wed lose at Sunderland, if Birmingham lose at home to Norwich, then we’re home and dry. And even if all of that goes against Rangers, there are still two other clubs (Blackburn and Plymouth) ahead in the queue to drop. But then somebody says something stupid like “QPR lose two, Birmingham win two and it’s all over” and it all just seems too possible.

The last time Rangers were relegated from this division they deserved to go. The club was on its knees financially, the transfer business (the odd Peter Crouch-shaped bit of stuff notwithstanding) was abysmal, the injury list was gargantuan, swapping managers from one club hero to another moved the needle not a jot. The team was rubbish, conceding five goals on there separate occasions and winning away only once. Still, the manner of it when it was finally confirmed, four games out from the end, stung like hell. A 1-1 draw at fellow strugglers Huddersfield that would have technically kept the thing going for another week was snatched away with the last kick of injury time by Delroy Facey. I was standing near the front of the away end, pandemonium all around, with my hands on my head. As I turned around to walk away, several dozen QPR fans were steaming down the steps the other way towards me to get at the home fans and engage in the time honoured ritual of aggressively attacking those who’ve just relegated you and are now keen to take the piss a bit – thank God for that thunder storm after the Jamie Pollock game at Maine Road, eh?

It's not that bit niggling me though. Huddersfield, at that point five wins, three draws and three defeats from 11 games, thought the result put them safe. They celebrated… well they celebrated like we did against Preston last week (QPR currently five wins, three draws and three defeats from 11 games). I don’t want to go all Matt Le Tissier, “Johann Cruyff will come back and speak truth” on us here, but I remember that day, I remember those Huddersfield fans, and I remember the convoluted set of results it would have taken to relegate them from there. And then I remember it happening. Palace winning their last two games of the season, both away from home, 4-2 at Portsmouth and then 1-0 at Stockport on the last day. I remember Huddersfield, who drew two games after playing us and were then 2-1 down at home to Birmingham in the last one, were still safe with three minutes of the season left, then Dougie Freedman scored at Edgeley Park and that was that. A relegation so unlikely and unforeseen that they’d already cued up M-People’s Moving On Up for the full time whistle in West Yorkshire and blasted it out as their players stood, hands on hips, punch drunk in the centre circle, wondering what had just happened to them. Their descent from there would quickly reach Division Three.

These are the mental hoops and loops you put yourself through until it’s mathematically certain. QPR are only one result from that being so, and that can occur in any number of matches over the next week – both ones which involve us and ones that don’t. But every golfer, every distance runner, every boxer will always tell you that last putt is the hardest one to sink, that last mile the most difficult, that final knockout punch impossible to find. Look at some of the ways the Boston Red Sox convoluted to blow World Series deciders down the years. Is it worse to get relegated having been dreadful all season and cut well adrift, Rotherham style? Or to come so close to saving yourself, only to fall at the final fence? One only hopes we’re not about to find out.

All we know for certain, is we’ll certainly soon know. Now, let us pray.

Links >>> So near yet so far – History >>> Three into two – Oppo profile >>> Bond in charge – Referee >>> Leeds United official website >>> Yorkshire Evening Post — Local Paper >>> Yorkshire Post — Local Paper >>> The Square Ball — Fanzine >>> WACCOE — Forum >>> Marching on Together — Forum >>> Not 606 — Forum >>> SB Nation — Blog

90s Footballer Conspiracy Theories No.42 In The Series – Peter Beagrie claims he played so little for Grimsby Town because he was locked up by the deep state for having the audacity to celebrate St George’s Day.

Below the fold

Team News: What little bits of team news we were getting seem to have dried up entirely on the run in so we’re left to assume it’s much the same as last week with Michy Frey still having a new diesel generator fitted and the usual dilemmas between Paal and Fox on the left side of defence, two from Field, Hayden and Colback in midfield, and three from Chair, Andersen, Willock and Smyth up top. Cliff’s offering two weeks in his Tuscan villa for a sighting of Taylor Richards. Rayan Kolli remains sidelined.

Leeds have been on Sky 33 times this season and the shifting of both their trip to Middlesbrough and this game in London took a week when they were meant to be playing Saturday-Saturday and turned it into one with two midweek aways. That’s certainly taken its toll with second top scorer Dan James suffering a cartilage injury which rules him out, joining Welsh team mate Conor Roberts on the sideline, while The Joe Rodon Experience got a knock to his calf in that dramatic 4-3 win. Patrick Bamford is a major doubt with a broken cello string, Pascal Struijk hasn’t played since Boxing Day and won’t feature again this season.

Elsewhere: QPR go first this weekend giving them a chance to secure their Championship status without even playing. If they lose to Leeds, and let’s be honest that’s the likelier outcome (the bookies have the visitors at 1/2), it’ll be a nervous Saturday in front of the television as we await other results.

The two key games at Sheff Wed at a sold-out Hillsborough against West Brom, and the goat rodeo between second bottom Huddersfield and third bottom Birmingham. Huddersfield’s significantly worse goal difference than Rangers (-27 to -16) means the six-point gap between us and them should be insurmountable, even if they do win two games in a row having only won two of the last 12. As a result, if Huddersfield beat Birmingham then that’s QPR all but mathematically safe with the Terriers three points and a dozen-ish goals behind, and Birmingham four points adrift with one to play. Sheff Wed are three points back, but also have significantly worse goal difference (-29) so need at least four points from their last two games to go past us. You’d probably fancy them to get what they need at lousy Sunderland next week, but if West Brom beat them in South Yorkshire they, too, will surely, finally, be out of reach after QPR have missed so many opportunities to achieve that gap between us and them ourselves. Rangers only need one of those two results to be effectively safe.

Should Birmingham and Sheff Wed both win, or Birmingham win and Sheff Wed get a point, then it all becomes a bit more complicated. Sheff Wed, like I say, a very kind game at Sunderland next weekend. Birmingham host Norwich, who are currently in a three-way battle with West Brom and Hull for the final play-off spot. Hull’s game-in-hand win at Coventry during the week should be good news, with West Brom and Norwich both now needing at least one more win from somewhere rather than resting players for the play-offs. West Brom beating Sheff Wed looks our best hope there, with Norwich at home to Swansea and Hull facing Ipswich in the Saturday late game. Not unfeasible that Norwich could still, indeed, be going to St Andrew’s next week with nothing to play for and players to rest.

There are, of course, other teams in play. Blackburn need at least a point to go above us and not get relegated themselves. They start at home to Coventry and finish away at Leicester, which looks incredibly difficult until you take into account Coventry’s week of heartbreak, clogged fixture list and mounting injury list – that could, hopefully, play into our hands next weekend. Leicester may also have spent all week getting pissed up round Jamie Vardy’s gaff after their midweek 5-0 thumping of Southampton (67% possession, 721 passes to 361, another triumph Russell) put them within touching distance of the title. They go last this weekend, at Preston on Monday. Plymouth need a win, or perhaps two draws, from their remaining games – they start away at Millwall (three wins in a row to secure their own safety) this weekend and finish at home to Hull. Stoke have to basically match our results to survive – they’re away at Southampton then at home to Bristol City.

Bristol City v Rotherham, Watford v Sunderland and Cardiff v Rotherham are this weekend’s meaningless fixtures.

Referee: Pretty inevitable it would be a Premier League referee for this one. A first QPR appointment of the season, and first Leeds game since 2019/20, for Darren Bond. Details.


QPR: QPR have been very up and down of late but it would likely need them to lose both their remaining matches to be relegated from the position they’re in. While Leeds and Coventry are difficult games to have, Rangers haven’t lost two matches in a row for three months since they were beaten by Watford, Cardiff and Bournemouth in mid-January. They’ve only lost four of 17 matches since then, and followed those with two wins and two draws. Admittedly two of those losses have come in the last four games

Lyndon Dykes finally got his first goal in 16 games against Preston to win Rangers a crucial three points. It was the first time one of the strikers had scored in eight games since Sinclair Armstrong struck at Leicester – QPR failed to score at all in four of those games. Rangers are still to score more than two goals in a game more than once this season (Stoke at home) and have only done so once in 78 games going back to October 2022 at home to Cardiff. By contrast they’ve also only conceded more than two in a game once under Marti Cifuentes (Hull A). Another clean sheet for the team v PNE helped enormously. Jake Clarke-Salter gave his best performance in Hoops and if he starts tonight it will equal the most amount of games he’s started in a season in his career (29 for Coventry in 21/22) – a total he can surpass next week at Cov. Steve Cook added another clean sheet to his impressive personal stats. With him Rangers concede goals at a rate of 1.033 a game, without him it doubles to 2.083. He has played in 11 of the team’s 12 clean sheets this season, and the team has only won one game without him – Preston away is the anomaly in both cases.

QPR lost the first meeting 1-0 at Elland Road in October, the fourth consecutive occasion this team has been won to nil by the home team. QPR’s 1-0 win here in January 2020, secured with a pretty obvious handball goal by Nahki Wells, was Rangers’ third home win in a row against Leeds and we remain the only ground on which Marcelo Bielsa has lost three times as an away manager. QPR have won five of the last six and lost only one of the last seven meetings between the sides in W12.

Leeds: Daniel Farke’s team started the calendar year with nine consecutive wins in the Championship as they threatened to steamroller their way to the league title. They went 15 league games unbeaten from December 29 when they lost to West Brom, and April 6 when they were beaten 2-1 at Coventry. Things have been a little shakier of late though. Leeds have only won two of their last six (QPR have three) and they have been beaten at Cov and 1-0 at home by Blackburn. They drew 2-2 at Watford and 0-0 at home to Sunderland, poor sides with little to play for. The thrilling 4-3 win at Middlesbrough on Monday ended a run of three without a win in which they’d played 180 minutes at home to Sunderland and Blackburn without scoring.

Overall, though, their record is pretty ridiculous for a side that might not even make the automatic promotion places. The 90 points they’ve achieved so far would have been enough for promotion in each of the last 26 seasons, and the title in 16 of the intervening 25. They have won 27 of their 44 games (only Leicester have more) and lost only eight of the others (only Ipswich have fewer). They have scored 85 goals, which was the best in the league until Leicester banged in five during the week to move to 86. Away from home they’ve won 11, joint with Ipswich and Hull and behind only Leicester’s 13. They have lost seven though, which is more than three of the four teams in the play-off picture, and the same as Watford in 15th. They come into this on a run of two wins from five away games, with dropped points at Huddersfield, Watford and Coventry.

Crysencio Summerville is the top scorer here with 19 league goals, but Leeds have three players in double figures – Dan James (13) and Joel Piroe (12) – while Patrick Bamford and Wilfried Gnonto both have eight. QPR’s top scorer is Lyndon Dykes with six. Summerville’s penalty in Monday night’s 4-3 win at Middlesbrough was Leeds’ seventh conversion from the spot this season. QPR have had two penalties, scoring one.

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. This year’s title is shaping up as a two way fight between perennial contender WestonsuperR and SimplyNico who are two points apart with two to play. Reigning champion Aston says.

“We will want to be going all out for the 0-0 draw as we nudge towards securing safety for real. I think we'll play for it, frustrate Leeds and get it.”

Aston’s Prediction: QPR 0-0 Leeds. No scorer.

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 0-2 Leeds. No scorer.

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enfieldargh added 13:52 - Apr 26
Cello string!,!,!

TacticalR added 19:54 - Apr 26
Thanks for your preview.

The difference in scoring statistics between Leeds and QPR is a gulf. I am just glad that we managed to get a win against Preston last week, as the last two games would have been truly nerve-wracking otherwise.

Heridan added 07:55 - May 26
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