|Preston North End 1 v 0 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 4th August 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Stiff south coast examination awaits unbeaten league leaders – full match preview
Monday, 8th Nov 2010 19:40 by Clive Whittingham
QPR’s unbeaten start to the season faces a serious test this week with trips to Nottingham Forest and, first, Portsmouth.
Portsmouth (13th) v QPR (1st)
Npower Championship >>> Tuesday, November 9 >>> Kick off 7.45pm >>> Fratton Park, Portsmouth
I learnt at a very early age that football simply isn’t fair. When I was growing up I would always go in goal in the garden or on the playground, but in the mindless situation of the time where children started playing competitive football at eight and were immediately flung into 11-a-side games on full sized pitches with full sized goals it was decreed, probably quite sensibly, that my 3ft 5in frame wasn’t going to provide much of a barrier to most shots and so I was dispatched to right full back pending a growth spurt.
The Hampton Rangers team that I played in was a shocker - that Sunday League side with the manager who doesn’t really care and only turns up as long as Tottenham aren’t playing, that regularly turns up with just eight men, and always gets annihilated by the thick end of 20 goals. I don’t ever remember hating it especially, or even realising that I was rubbish, but I was too slight, too nervous, and simply not good enough. My dad obviously realised this as well and was very supportive, which must have been incredibly difficult for him as he was a fine non-league player in his day and my brother has grown up to be a terrific footballer as well, but with no goalkeeping spot forthcoming I jacked it all in when I was about 14 and only started again when I got to university and they did let me play in goal – to great trophy winning success as it turned out.
The only time I can ever remember my dad really bollocking me was in the car home from a game at Osterley one weekend. There’d been an incident in the game where, quite out of character, I’d actually managed to successfully execute a decent tackle and emerge with the ball which, more than likely, I then kicked straight out for a throw in. Once the ball had been dispatched I returned to the player I’d hurt, helped him up from the ground and apologised to him. My dad was fuming with this, pointing out that for weeks and weeks it had been me face down in the mud as one boy after another who had developed more than me (not hard at that time) trampled all over me en route to scoring the sixteenth goal of the day and nobody had ever once helped me up or apologised or anything. “Never feel sorry for anybody in football son, because nobody will ever feel sorry for you,” was his advice, and that idea that football simply isn’t fair has stuck with me ever since.
On Sunday I sat and watched Swansea comfortably win at Cardiff in the South Wales derby. I was impressed. Swansea is a club that has been built on solid foundations, well run over a number of years, which finally looks to be reaping the rewards of all that hard work. They found a superb manager in Roberto Martinez who then walked out on them, did likewise with Paulo Sousa who did the same, but have maintained their progress under Brendan Rodgers. But they’re currently third in the league behind one side that has assembled a squad of Premiership players despite owing millions of pounds to everyone from Motherwell FC to the local florist and another that tops the table despite average crowds of just 13,000 and was heading for League One until three of the richest men in the world came calling looking for a new hobby on a Saturday afternoon.
It would be tempting to say that’s not fair on Swansea, but then they’re only where they are now because the council provided them with a shiny, steel plated way out of their old ramshackle home that was financially crippling them. That’s the advantage, as Hull City have also found, of being the only club in a city. QPR aren’t even the only club in their borough, never mind city, and the chances of the council providing us with a big new stadium for next to nothing simply doesn’t exist so clubs like Swansea and Hull have been able to come up from the bottom division and actually overtake us in recent seasons while we have stagnated which hardly seems fair in itself.
Why all this sudden talk of fairness? Well, on Tuesday night, QPR travel to Portsmouth…
Five minutes on Portsmouth
Recent History: Now let’s be clear about one point straight away - I have nothing against Portsmouth. I could have done without being caught up in a riot back in 1997 when the dregs of society travelled up from the south coast to tear Loftus Road apart, and I do get a little bit tired of hearing about their wonderful diehard fans who have supported them through thick and thin when I remember quite clearly Fratton Park in 1996 when Kevin Gallen ruptured his knee ligaments scoring the winning goal and the attendance was a paltry 7,501. But I like Harry Redknapp, I like the older atmospheric grounds as opposed to the new ones, and I like it when one of the trophies goes somewhere you perhaps wouldn’t expect so I’ve enjoyed Portsmouth’s existence over the past ten years.
Portsmouth were, in some ways, very lucky on two occasions with Harry Redknapp. They were fortunate to stumble across such a good manager in the first place after trying and failing with Alan Ball, Terry Fenwick, Tony Pulis, Steve Claridge and Graham Rix during the 1990s and early 2000s. Milan Mandaric bought the financially destitute club in 1999 and showed a willingness to pay for the likes of Peter Crouch and Robert Prosinecki but he was intolerant with his managers and progress couldn’t be made as the men in charge came and went so often.
Mandaric got very lucky again after Redknapp had memorably led Portsmouth into the Premiership for the first time with Jim Smith as his assistant in 2003. Having got there, and stayed there, Mandaric started to foist Director of Football appointments onto Redknapp and arguments ensued which led to his departure in the 2004/05 season. Having forced the best manager the club had appointed for years out Mandaric then replaced him with first Velimir Zajec and then Allain Perrin while Redknapp managed their bitter rivals Southampton. He was lucky because a year after his acrimonious departure Redknapp agreed to return, and kept Portsmouth in the Premiership against the odds after Zajec and Perrin undid all his previous good work.
Second time around, and backed by the millions of new owner Alexandre Gaydamak, Redknapp put together a superb Portsmouth side. Jermaine Defoe, Peter Crouch for a second time, Lassana Diarra, Pedro Mendes, Niko Kranjcar, David James, Sulley Muntari, Glen Johnson – the list goes on and on and on. Fine players, international standard players, all on colossal wages and mostly for huge transfer fees. According to Soccerbase Redknapp spent £67.2m on players in his second spell in charge. The results were very good – they became a top ten side, won the FA Cup and enjoyed a memorable run in Europe that included a home game with AC Milan that they were within seconds of winning.
But this was completely unsustainable. Fratton Park, and its 20,000 capacity, meant Portsmouth was a club punching well above their weight and quickly building a negative bank balance that it was never, ever going to be able to pay back. They were basically at the mercy of Gaydamak to support them and were he ever to get bored or decide he couldn’t afford it and pull out, they would be in trouble. That’s exactly what did happen. There’s no element of pot calling the kettle here before you write in because I fully accept and understand that we’re currently doing exactly the same thing on a smaller scale.
Redknapp saw what was coming, and decamped to Tottenham, before the fire sale began. Although Portsmouth actually then brought in £92.4m in transfer funds the debt had grown so large, and the interest payments were so crippling, that it barely enabled them to tread water. Returning to their previous trait of appointing notoriously awful managers they turned first to Tony Adams and then Paul Hart. Avram Grant did a decent job under impossible circumstances at the end of last season, I can’t imagine Jesus Christ himself would do much good following Adams and Hart into any job, and even took them back to the FA Cup final which they were unlucky to lose to Chelsea but they were relegated, plunged into administration and until a couple of weeks ago were said to be close to liquidation.
And here’s where the unfairness of it all comes in. Despite all of this, despite running up a colossal debt of close to £150m spending money they didn’t have on players they couldn’t afford to win them cups and take them into Europe ahead of clubs that were being run more responsibly, Portsmouth are suffering next to no consequences of that. There has been, for reasons known only to the Football League, no points deduction for Portsmouth this season. It seems that Pompey, and Crystal Palace, were lucky to start this season in admin just as Sir Brian Mawhinney left his position as league chairman. When he was in charge the league wasn’t afraid to penalise teams over, and over, and over again for failing to manage their finances correctly. Southampton were deducted 20 points over two seasons, Leeds 15 for failing to come out of administration properly, Luton lost 40 points over two seasons effectively condemning them to relegation from the Football League altogether having previously been in the Championship. Yet Palace and Portsmouth both began this season in administration without a word being said, or a point being taken.
Not only that but both sides, and Portsmouth have taken a more than unfair advantage of this, have been allowed to add to their squads. Other clubs have quickly been placed under horrendously strict transfer embargos during their periods in administration, a policy that began when a family of rich QPR fans bought Danny Shittu from Charlton while Rangers were in administration and Brentford, who had believed Shittu would sign for them, rightly kicked up a stink about it. Bournemouth’s embargo was left in place throughout last season despite administration being lifted and even when their squad dipped down to 19 members the league still wouldn’t even let them bring in a loan player to boost it up to 20.
Yet the Portsmouth team we will face on Tuesday is a very good one, not least because even when the administrator was laying off staff, trying to reach an agreement with creditors including the St John’s Ambulance, and threatening that the club could be liquidated at any moment they were still allowed to sign Dave Kitson and Liam Lawrence from Stoke on a combined wage of around £160,000 a month.
It’s not so much us that I feel aggrieved for in all of this, because we are doing exactly what Portsmouth did by spending money on players and wages and putting together a squad that a club of our size could never possibly support were it not for the wealth of board members who could up and leave tomorrow, waving us off with paddles in their hand as we disappear off down shit creek. But for teams like, for example, Scunthorpe, this must be very galling. Scunthorpe run themselves on a strict budget, never spending more than they receive in and setting out each season simply to stay in the league and find three teams worse than them to be relegated.
By rights Portsmouth should currently be 11 points and eight places behind Scunthorpe because they should have been deducted ten points for starting the season in administration as others had before them. Instead they’re one point and two places ahead of the Iron with Neil Warnock describing their starting 11 as “the best in the league” and others tipping them as dark horses for promotion now a takeover has finally been completed.
Still all’s fair in love and war, and nothing is fair in football.
Manager: Steve Cotterill has always struck me as a half decent manager first and foremost, but secondly never somebody I’d want in charge at Loftus Road. I say that because the success he has achieved in his career has been done playing pretty direct and ugly football, and whenever he has done alright with anybody he’s never been shy of just dropping everything and walking out at the first hint of a better offer coming along.
As a player Cotterill was dogged by bad knee injuries at a time when such things routinely ended careers. He was voted Bournemouth’s Player of the Year three times, and played in Wimbledon’s Crazy Gang in the top flight but twice ruptured his cruciate knee ligament and retired from playing professionally in 1995 aged 31.
Much of his playing career was spent in the non-league game prior to success with the Dons, and that’s where he cut his managerial teeth. After starting with Sligo Rovers it was at Cheltenham Town where he really made his name – winning promotion from the Southern League, the Conference and the Third Division as well. Throw in the FA Trophy in 1998 and it’s clear that Cotterill did a fine job, lifting the club into the Football League for the first time in its history and making the fifth round of the FA Cup in 2002.
I remember seeing that Cheltenham side playing at Scunthorpe United one afternoon in the Third Division (now League Two). It was an uncompromising set up, unashamedly long ball and gratuitously violent befitting of a manager who spent time with Wimbledon as a player. But it had some quality in there as well – Grant McCann has gone on to play for Northern Ireland and impress with Scunthorpe, Barnsley and now Peterborough, Martin Devaney played for the thick end of ten years with Barnsley and was once a transfer target for QPR, Michael Duff still plays in this league now for Burnley and was outstanding at Loftus Road last week.
The work Cotterill did to build this side didn’t escape the attentions of Stoke City who made him their manager in 2002. That seemed to be a good appointment for Cotterill – as we’ve seen since Stoke was a club with potential at that stage, and he had some money to spend for the first time in his career and quickly snapped up Mansfield hotshot Chris Greenacre as his first signing. Yet within 13 matches he decided to resign and throw it all away to go and work as an assistant manager to Howard Wilkinson at Sunderland. Hindsight is a wonderful thing, but even at the time I remember thinking he was completely mad. Sunderland had been on the wane for several seasons and were clearly the worst side in the Premiership that season – he would have been stupid to go there as number one, but to go as an assistant to a manager as dour and useless as Howard bloody Wilkinson was ludicrous.
Presumably Cotterill expected to take over from Wilkinson within a short time frame, in the same way Mickey Adams did from Dave Bassett at Leicester after initially going as an assistant, but Wilkinson was so awful (and again you didn’t need to by Mystic Meg to see that the set up was doomed to failure from the very beginning) that Sunderland sacked the pair of them after 20 matches and Cotterill was suddenly without a job and with a reputation as a manager who wasn’t afraid to shaft his employers if he thought there was some personal gain in it for him.
Luckily for him one of the teams his Cheltenham side had upset in the FA Cup, Burnley, had a vacancy and he returned to management at Turf Moor in 2004. Over the next four years Cotterill’s Burnley side settled into a pattern of starting and finishing seasons well but having dreadful runs of form in the middle restricting progress. This was because his squad was structured much like his Portsmouth one is now – with everybody fit the starting 11 was always very impressive and competitive, but whenever one or two players got injured or suspended the whole thing started to fall apart and it wasn’t until they started to come back towards the end of the season that things picked up again.
In 2007 the mid-season slump was too dramatic and after a run of one win from ten games he was fired and replaced by Owen Coyle. The rest is history in that part of the world.
Cotterill then became one of those Alan Pardew, Paul Hart type figures who would regularly appear on the front row of director’s boxes around the country, ostensibly to “keep his eye in” but always coincidently at a ground where a manager was under pressure. He became a regular in the South Africa Road stand at Loftus Road as Flavio Briatore worked through a succession of managers and his agent always ensured that his name was never too far away from a press story about this vacancy or that.
Last season he was able to boost his reputation by joining the circus at Notts County midway through the campaign. Despite the widespread farce over ownership and management of the team County spent almost as much as the rest of the league put together on their team last year and consequently Cotterill was able to add another promotion to his CV without really trying too hard and that was enough to catch the eye of Portsmouth in the summer.
Now had Portsmouth suffered the points deduction and transfer embargo that they should have done this season then his decision to move to Fratton Park at the absolute height of a financial crisis that threatened to swallow the club whole would appear to have been as sound as the one that saw him follow the original Mythical Figure of Death to Sunderland. But Cotterill has been able to keep hold of some of Pompey’s Premiership players, and add a couple of quality ones to that.
As at Burnley, any run of injuries and suspensions during the winter will hamstring Portsmouth badly but a team that can select David Nugent and David Kitson in attack with a midfield of John Utaka, Michael Brown, Liam Lawrence and Hayden Mullins is always going to be competitive and so it has proved so far. A nervy start to the season had given way to a run of seven wins from their last nine matches and a climb up the table.
Three to watch: Moderating a football message board for five years means I’ve seen some things online that my grandfather may have once described as “a bit rum”. I’ve never really been able to look at Kieran Dyer the same way since watching his questionable holiday video during which he stops mid romp to whisper sweetly in the lucky girl’s ear: “What’s wrong with you now bitch?” Or indeed Middlesbrough’s Matthew Bates who presumably thought his self shot photographs would be for his girlfriend’s eyes only. Or, for that matter, Portsmouth’s Liam Lawrence who was filmed with several of his Sunderland team mates of the time taking it in turns with a girl who, as it turned out, probably wasn’t really old enough to be engaging in such activities while Chris Brown (now Preston) gave a running commentary in the style of Jonathan Pearce. Lawrence doesn’t have much to be shy about in the trouser department as it turns out, but probably wished he’d spent less time fiddling about (literally) with Martin Woods (now Doncaster) during the whole sorry episode when the video made it onto the t’internet.
Lawrence, who played against QPR for Mansfield as a youngster eight years ago, is actually a very good player (football player) and I’m surprised he’s down at this level to be honest. He’s energetic and creative in the midfield and has an eye for a goal as well. Recently, despite being born in Retford near Nottingham, Lawrence has been capped by the Republic of Ireland and in keeping with recent Irish tradition has not looked out of place on the international scene despite being nothing more than a steady top flight league player. Why can players play above themselves for the two Irish sides but so far below their true ability for England? A debate for another day.
Lawrence is joined at Portsmouth by former Stoke team mate Dave Kitson. Now Lawrence and Kitson both made this move earlier in the season while Portsmouth were administration, as already discussed, but they did so to cement the move of defender Marc Wilson in the other direction. If the reported figures are correct that means Pompey got Lawrence, Kitson and £3m for a mediocre Championship defender. Players like Wilson are ten-a-penny as far as I’m concerned and the deal was an absolute masterstroke from Portsmouth. Rather than moaning about referees Tony Pulis might like to consider how much he weakened his own side this summer by allowing that deal to go through and then replacing Lawrence with the plodding Jon Walters.
In fairness to Pulis, Kitson was a disaster at Stoke. As a lanky, ginger youth he endured unmerciful abuse at Loftus Road when we were in the league below and he played for Cambridge, but he had the last laugh with a goal against us in a defeat at the Abbey Stadium in 2001. Kitson always looked like a player with potential and he fulfilled that and more with Reading where he scored 60 times between 2003 and 2008 across the top three divisions of English football. Stoke paid £5.5m for him and it looked like reasonable business but while his Reading partner Kevin Doyle has gone on to succeed with Wolves Kitson hardly got a look in at Stoke and has since spent time back at Reading and with Middlesbrough on loan prior to this move to Fratton Park. Four goals from 11 starts hints at a renaissance of which QPR must beware.
To complete a hat trick of players on loan from Stoke who QPR have faced in the lower divisions let’s also mention Ibrahima Sonko at this stage. A big, commanding, uncompromising centre half with whom Paul Furlong regularly did battle when we shared a division with Brentford. He’s not quite good enough for the Premiership, but a bit too good for this division when he’s playing well and well present a substantial obstacle to Rob Hulse on Tuesday night.
Recent Meetings: The last time these teams shared a league was in 2000/01 – QPR were about to be relegated to the third tier while Portsmouth were still arsing around giving idiots like Graham Rix millions to spend on players. Rix was the last of three Portsmouth managers that season, following Tony Pulis and Steve Claridge into the job, and was in charge for the April meeting at Fratton Park. QPR were all but doomed by then but had shown some fighting spirit under new boss Ian Holloway who added Marcus Bignot and Andy Thomson to an otherwise shambolic team. Thomson scored on the south coast midway through the second half to equalise a Lee Bradbury opener that had come in the opening minute of the game. But from a QPR point of view it was all to no avail.
Portsmouth: Flahavan, Crowe, Tiler, Hiley, Vincent, Harper, Panopoulos (Nightingale, 81 ) , Sharpe, Lovell (O'Neil, 64 ) , Mills, Bradbury
Subs not used: Tardif, Waterman, Miglioranzi
Goals: Bradbury 1
Bookings: Bradbury, Hiley
QPR: Harper, Bignot, Ready, Plummer, Baraclough (Darlington, 68) , Rose ( Wardley, 59 ) , Knight, Peacock, Bruce, Thomson, Crouch
Subs not used: Bull, Ngonge, Kulcsar
Goals: Thomson 56
Bookings: Baraclough , Ready , Rose
Gerry Francis had been in charge of Rangers, and Claridge Portsmouth, when the sides met at Loftus Road in November. With most of the country under several feet of water after weeks of torrential rain this was one of the few games that day which beat the weather and QPR were very glad it did after ten minutes when Paul Peschisolido, making his debut on loan from Fulham, opened the scoring. Sadly it wasn’t QPR’s season and two more points were dropped when Lee Bradbury, one of those players that always seemed to be rubbish against everybody except QPR, equalised in the second half.
QPR: Harper, Breacker, Warren, Carlisle, Broomes, Rose, Langley, Peacock, Connolly, Peschisolido, Crouch
Subs not used: Miklosko, Ready, Koejoe, Morrow
Goals: Peschisolido 10
Bookings: Breacker , Broomes , Crouch , Rose
Portsmouth: Hoult, Moore, Waterman, Hiley, Hughes, Thogersen, Awford, Panopoulos, Bradbury, Claridge, Miglioranzi
Subs not used: Flahavan, Nightingale, Whitbread, McNab, Pettefer,
Goals: Bradbury 50
Bookings: Bradbury , Claridge , Hoult , Panopoulos
Head to Head >>> Portsmouth wins 10 >>> Draws 10 >>> QPR wins 13
2000/01 Portsmouth 1 QPR 1 (Thomson)
2000/01 QPR 1 Portsmouth 1 (Peschisolido)
1999/00 Portsmouth 1 QPR 3 (Langley, Gallen, Myers og)
1999/00 QPR 0 Portsmouth 0
1998/99 QPR 1 Portsmouth 1 (Peacock)
1998/99 Portsmouth 3 QPR 0
1997/98 Portsmouth 3 QPR 1 (Sheron)
1997/98 QPR 1 Portsmouth 0 (Spencer)
1996/97 QPR 2 Portsmouth 1 (Murray, Spencer)
1996/97 Portsmouth 1 QPR 2 (Gallen 2)
Played for both teams >>> Peter Crouch
QPR 2000/01 >>> Portsmouth 2001/02 >>> 2008/09
As said, the last time these teams shared a division was in 2001 when QPR were relegated down to the third tier and plunged into administration. The previous year Rangers had launched an unlikely play off bid under Gerry Francis with the likes of Richard Langley, Stewart Wardley, Jermaine Darlington and others all bursting onto the scene and proving to be unlikely successes. That summer Francis added Clarke Carlisle and Peter Crouch to his line up and hopes were actually high at the start of the season that we would be successful again.
Sadly Rangers lost target man Rob Steiner to a career ending injury that summer and that meant that Crouch, a £60,000 buy from Tottenham’s youth team, was flung into the fray more than he should have been and asked to play a conventional target man role which, despite his height, is clearly not his forte even to this day. Francis tried to rectify the situation by first signing Paul Furlong to fill the Steiner role, but he got injured, and then bringing in Paul Peschisolido from Fulham and then Kevin Lisbie from Charlton to partner Crouch but neither gave much of a toss, or made any secret of that fact.
That was a vile QPR side. Packed with players who weren’t good enough, earning big money and making it blatantly obvious they couldn’t care less. Steve Morrow, Karl Ready, Chris Kiwomya, Sammy Koejoe, Tim Breaker, Karl Connolly – the names still haunt QPR fans to this day. A reprehensible squad of players and one of the worst in Rangers’ history. By the end of the campaign Ian Holloway had taken over and tried to inject some heart into the set up by adding Andy Thomson and Marcus Bignot, and Crouch was starting to show what he was all about. He scored 12 goals that season and won the club’s Player of the Year trophy by a million miles.
Administration brought the inevitable sale, Portsmouth picking him up for a bargain £1.5m after a potential move to Burnley was scuppered by race riots in the town on the day he was due at Turf Moor to discuss terms. Crouch will always be fondly remembered by the fans at Loftus Road, not least because when Portsmouth told him to put in a transfer request so they could get him cheaper he refused.
Graham Rix was the manager who brought him to Fratton Park, but despite Crouch scoring a whopping 19 goals by March Pompey were not in contention for promotion and Aston Villa took advantage by paying £5m for him. Graham Taylor was the Villa manager at that stage, and his love of a big man little man strike partnership made Crouch an obvious target.
Since then Crouch has played for five other top flight clubs, clocking up £32m in transfer fees paid. Harry Redknapp has bought him three times – at Southampton, Portsmouth again in 2008, and now Tottenham. He has matured into a fantastic player, one that Liverpool were foolish to get rid of and somebody who has been overlooked by sides like Man Utd who have bought people like Burbatov instead when in my opinion they should have gone for Crouch long ago. He’s a great all rounder, with a super touch and eye for goal. His 12 goals for QPR and 35 for Portsmouth over three spells form part of an overall hall of 131 including one against Inter Milan in the Champions League last week.
Few would ever believe the gangly youth who opened his QPR account in a 2-2 draw at home to Gillingham on a Tuesday night ten years ago would go on to enjoy such success. Continues to be under rated by many, notably Fabio Capello who will pick all sorts of tat like Emile Heskey, Carlton Cole and Kevin Davies ahead of him to absolutely no positive effect at all.
Team News: Having waited patiently for his chance of a recall Bradley Orr must now sit out three matches suspended after his sending off at the weekend. Clint Hill should return in his place, with Kyle Walker moving back to right back. Expect Mikele Leigertwood to fill in at right back if not. Tommy Smith seized his first start for the club with rather more effect, scoring his first goal for the club against Reading. Despite technically only being on loan from Portsmouth he is eligible to play here but has vowed not to celebrate if he’s lucky enough to score again. Lee Cook and Peter Ramage are the long term absentees and apart from Orr I don’t expect to see any changes from Saturday’s team. Gavin Mahon has a hamstring issue, as does new signing Georgas Tofas, and Martin Rowlands is still confined to the bench. Heidar Helguson had a steroid injection into his neck to help with his injury last week but didn’t even make the bench on Saturday so Hulse will start again.
Portsmouth were dealt a blow prior to Saturday’s game at Derby when striker David Nugent suffered a knee injury. Underlining the thinness of their squad Pompey were then forced to play midfielder John Utaka up front and may do so again against QPR.
Elsewhere: There is a full programme of midweek action in the Championship spread over Tuesday and Wednesday evening. As happened at the weekend, QPR have a chance to lay down a marker to Cardiff who don’t play until Wednesday when they face a tricky looking game at Reading. All QPR eyes will be on that, and Swansea’s home game with Bristol City on the same night. Elsewhere the game of the night on Tuesday is probably at Ipswich where the sixth placed Tractor Boys face Nigel Clough’s in form Derby side that climbed to fourth with a weekend win against Portsmouth. At the other end four teams getting increasingly nervous meet in vital games – Middlesbrough travel to Scunthorpe while Preston host Barnsley. Expect George Burley’s position to come under huge pressure if Palace don’t beat Watford at home.
Referee: Brace yourselves, Gavin Ward is back. Ward is still only 28 but has quickly progressed onto the league list after making his name initially as a Football League and Premier League linesman. His only QPR refereeing appointment to date was at Reading last season where the Royals’ technique of surrounding the referee with three players contesting every decision and demanding opponents be booked or sent off (in evidence again at the weekend) really seemed to get to him. QPR had Damion Stewart sent off and a late penalty awarded against them in a 1-0 defeat and Ward was awarded a record low mark for the season of one out of ten on LFW. Click here for more details.
Portsmouth: Whatever happens on Tuesday it would be reasonable to expect goals to be scored because QPR are the top scorers in the league with 29, while Portsmouth have only kept two clean sheets this season – Preston are the only team with a worse record. Pompey have scored 15 goals in seven home games compared to QPR’s 16 in eight – only Derby have a better home goal average. Their defeat at Derby at the weekend brought to an end an impressive run of seven wins and a draw from nine matches that has propelled them up the league. They have won their last four home league games (2-1, 3-2, 3-1, 6-1) but prior to that Reading, Cardiff and Ipswich all came here and took points.
QPR: Rangers are the league’s only unbeaten side after 15 matches and having already smashed the club record for an unbeaten start to a season (the previous best was in 1947) they now have the all time QPR record for unbeaten matches in their sight – that was 20 consecutive games from the 1966/67 season when they won the Third Division and League Cup double. QPR’s record of just four goals conceded on the road is the best in the league by some distance – Sheff Utd have shipped six, Cardiff and Norwich seven each, but the rest are back by five or more and Leicester have already conceded five times as many goals in away games as QPR this season, just a third of the way through the campaign. So far in seven away games this season QPR have won at Sheff Utd (3-0), Leicester (2-0), Ipswich (3-0) and Palace (2-1) and drawn at Swansea, Bristol City and Derby. Their win against Reading on Saturday lifted them back to the top of the table and brought to an end a frustrating run of five draws from their previous six matches. Rangers have a good recent record on this ground – winning four and drawing two of the last eight.
Prediction: I think the unbeaten run will come to an end at Forest on Saturday – because we never ever win at Forest regardless of circumstances. That means, by default, I think we’ll get something here and to be honest having written the preview I’m actually quite confident we might get a win, and I fancy Kaspars Gorkss for a goal. But in the interests of not jinxing it I’ll predict a high scoring draw as both teams love to attack. If you do fancy Rangers by the way, they are 9/5 against winning here which looks good value to me all things considered.
2-2, 14/1 with Sky Bet and various others, Kaspars Gorkss 28/1 for the first goal with Coral and Ladbrokes
Photo: Action Images
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Matches of Yesteryear - Cardiff v U's 11/4/98 by wessex_exile
Here we are then, after a reasonably solid but distinctly dull semi-final first leg lit up by a moment of sheer brilliance by Bramall, just one match away from a socially distanced Wembley play-off final. We may have a slight advantage, but there is of course still much to do, and I can’t imagine for a moment that Exeter will be that shot-shy again at t’other St James’ Park. It’s all about the result though, performance is irrelevant, so I’ll take an even duller 0-0 every day of the week and twice on Sundays. I hope you’re all keeping safe and well, and for those of you blessed with progeny – Happy Father’s Day!
Matches of Yesteryear - Reading v U's 11/11/2000 by wessex_exile
So, after months of uncertainty, here we finally are at the start of a well-deserved play-off campaign. I say well-deserved, though in truth the play-offs ought to have been our minimum aspiration back in August. But sometimes life throws you a curve ball – no one could have predicted back then what the world was going to become, that hundreds of thousands would perish, and that most clubs today are probably fighting for their very existence. In fact, as already mentioned by MFB and Durham, no one could have predicted that were it not for a stirring 3-0 victory at Carlisle in our last match back in March, we wouldn’t have even been in the play-offs. During lockdown, I have been reassured by the honest and stateman-like announcements from our Chairman keeping us all updated, and never more grateful that we have him looking after the club.
Matches of Yesteryear - Millwall v U's 14/4/99 by wessex_exile
And so here we are, at what would have been the last match of the domestic season, at home to FGR, and almost certainly still in with a shout of making the play-offs – maybe even already guaranteed by now. As I look out this morning, it’s a beautiful sunny day, and I would almost certainly already be on the first leg of a train journey to be amongst the faithful at the Jobserve Community Stadium. Given the location of our opponents, I’d probably be sharing the journey with a few hundred FGR supporters too, but they’ve always been a friendly bunch whenever I’ve met them, so I wouldn’t have been too concerned about that. Instead, we sit and wait to see how and when the season may (or may not) finish – strange times indeed…
Matches of Yesteryear - U's v Accrington Stanley 13/1/04 by wessex_exile
Happy Saturday everyone…well, less of the happy actually, with rain falling freely since yesterday afternoon. Still, good weather to be in lockdown for, takes away that feeling that you might be missing out on some quality time outside. In an open letter yesterday to all supporters of EFL clubs, chairman Rick Parry stated “…with or without spectators, delivering a successful conclusion to the 2019/20 season remains our goal to ensure the integrity of our competitions”. If that can be achieved, it appears almost certain these will be matches behind closed doors, streamed live to all supporters – which inevitably will break the long-held Saturday 3pm blackout for televised matches. We all know why that blackout was in place, but this is a difficult time, and it requires an innovative solution.
Matches of Yesteryear - Swansea v U's 7/3/06 by wessex_exile
Good afternoon everyone, I sincerely hope you’re all doing well, and hopefully not going too cabin-feverish! Today would have been a home match against Oldham Athletic, and after our surely guaranteed epic 3-2 victory at Sixfields on Good Friday, it would be just one more victory needed to guarantee a play-off place…think I might have been out in the sun a bit too much over the last few days 😊
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