|Preston North End 1 v 3 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 7th March 2020 Kick-off 15:00
Seeking contentment - Preview
Friday, 6th Mar 2020 08:01 by Clive Whittingham
Another tough away game for QPR this week as they head up to a Preston North End side defying the odds and their relatively small budget to launch an impressive play-off push - not that you'd know it to read their message boards.
Preston (16-8-12, WWLWLL, 6th) v QPR (13-8-15, LDWDWD, 14th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday March 7, 2020 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Grey and windy >>> Deepdale, Preston
The last time I listened to a football phone in on the radio was getting on for four years ago now when I moved house. Dragging my worldly possessions from one part of Whetstone to another required the renting of a large Transit van which in turn required me to listen to TalkSport at great volume while cutting other motorists up the inside at the traffic lights. I don't make the rules. SELCO – IT’S WHERE THE TRADE GO.
There are several factors behind my avoidance. It’s partly because having moved down south from my northern routes I’ve quickly become one of those “why do you need a car when you live in London?” wankers and got rid of mine, so the need to have something vaguely stimulating flooding my ears to stop me going to sleep and killing somebody on what used to be the hard shoulder of the M1 past Nottingham before they made it smart/a death trap isn’t there any more. Partly it’s because I’ve switched to podcasts when I do have the radio on, and yes, yes I admit I’m also one of those people that will recommend podcasts I’ve heard to people who don’t give a shit and are never going to follow up on my tip. God I’m making myself sound like a right dick here, I’m really a very kind and loving person, get to know me, give me a chance.
But the main reason is – why the fuck would you? I mean it was bad enough when Gary the Man Utd fan from Great Yarmouth would ring in to detail exactly where Sir Alex Ferguson was going so wrong. “Have you been to the game today Gary?” “No but I watched the result come through on Soccer Saturday.” “Great thanks for calling Gary, from your position of expertise what do you think the most successful club manager of the modern era could be doing differently?” Shooting Gary between the eyes with a sawn off shotgun at such point blank range it empties most of his brain out the back of his head onto the wall behind might be a start.
But to compound this, radio producers who’ve decided Five Live isn’t hip and cool and young and trendy enough to attract hip and cool and young and trendy people have also decided that football fans don’t want to be educated and informed, they want to be provoked. The TalkSport model has proliferated and won. Presenter number one, ostensibly the reasonable one and often a woman, sits on one side of the desk and makes a generally accepted point along the lines of ‘Tottenham aren’t quite the same without Harry Kane’. Presenter number two, ostensibly a gobshite and always a man, sits on the other side of the desk and swears blind until they’re blue in the face that Harry Kane is grossly overrated and actually him getting injured is the best thing that ever happened to Spurs. Some – Jason Cundy, Robbie Savage, Chris Sutton – have managed to forge an entire post playing career out of this – make a ridiculous, obviously wrong, entirely contrary point, very loudly and aggressively on national radio, triggering meatheads to pick up the phone and argue with you, then sell adverts for flatbed trucks against it. It is radio to purify your brain to and it is, in modern football parlance, not for me Clive.
But it was nevertheless my misfortune to be in a taxi during the week, skirting around the latest failure on my £2,000 a year commuter train (should have kept that bloody car), in the wake of Chelsea’s FA Cup victory against Liverpool. It’s Liverpool’s second defeat this week following the shock weekend loss at lowly Watford, but also only their fifth loss all season in 46 games across all comps. One of those, at Napoli, was in a Champions League group they qualified from anyway. Another, at Aston Villa, was in a League Cup tie they picked their youth team for because of a clash with some Middle Eastern jizzfest. The other three have come in the last fortnight or so – Jurgen Klopp’s long campaigned for midwinter break has, wouldn’t you just know it, stalled momentum, and whether you like Klopp and/or Liverpool or not that’s pretty hilarious.
And pretty irrelevant. They will win the Premier League this year regardless, the first time since that particular death star moved into our lives in 1992, and that was aim one, two and three at the start of the season. Not that you’d know it to listen to the radio in the week, as one plastic Scouser who hadn’t been to the game after another rang in to talk about wheels coming off, Klopp making terrible errors, the front three (36 league goals between them) being “found out” (a favourite that one from what I remember, along with “he’s lost the dressing room”) and so on. If that’s Liverpool, imagine how all the other clubs are feeling.
It struck me that football fans in this country live in a permanent state of moany frustration, never realising how good they’ve got it in the relatively good times, nor acknowledging how much better off they are than so many others – see the bitter, over the top outpourings emanating from Old Trafford since they rowed back approximately four league places into the sort of club they’d always been before Ferguson arrived, and Arsenal as they’ve returned to their pre-Wenger state of a good cup side with high top half finishes.
We’ve often held up our opposition this weekend, Preston North End, as a bit of a model for the new, financially restricted, QPR to follow. They have advantages over us – such as a stadium they’ve been able to modify (beautifully), and not renting two sub-standard training facilities in one of the most expensive parts of the country. But their average attendance (13,646) is almost identical to ours (13,721) and in the FFP era they too are facing the challenge of competing in a league against clubs with far bigger budgets, relying on handouts from their chairman or selling players for big money.
Their wage bill in 2018 was £15m, up to £19m in the 2019 accounts, which is where QPR (£24m down from £30m in the latest accounts) are trying to get theirs. And yet their league performance is far better than ours: they were eleventh in 2016/17 when we were eighteenth, seventh in 2017/18 while we were sixteenth, and fourteenth last year to our nineteenth. This season, so far, they’re sixth, in the play off positions, while we’re fourteenth.
They’ve done that by scouting better than us. They work better across the Irish Sea than we do – Sean Maguire and, particularly, the always impressive Alan Browne. They work the Premier League second strings better than we do, plundering Daniel Johnson, Callum Robinson (both Villa), Josh Harrup and Ben Pearson (both Man Utd). And they take bigger, better swings in the lower leagues than we do (Billy Bodin, Jayden Stockley, Patrick Bauer, Ryan Ledson, Jordan Hugill). They have a promising young manager, already with two unlikely promotions to the top flight north and south of the border at Hamilton and Norwich under his belt before the age of 40.
The size of their task was laid bear by the latest set of accounts. In recent times they’ve been able to receive big money for players they got on the cheap in a similar, less prolific way, to Brentford. Hugill, picked up for a pittance from Port Vale, sold to West Ham for £8m; Robinson, a cheapy from Villa’s reserves, went to Sheff Utd for £7m; Greg Cunningham went to Cardiff for £4m. When they don’t sell a player in the summer, as was the case in their latest set of accounts, even a slight increase in wage bill from £15m to £19m was enough to drive a loss of £14m, picked up entirely by the owner. That’s the situation they’re in, but they’re still in the play-off places, while clubs like Stoke, Birmingham, Reading, Middlesbrough, Sheff Wed and Cardiff flounder far below spending four and five times as much. Are they happy about it? Are they fuck.
This thread on their main message board, sparked by defeats last week to West Brom (first) and Fulham (third) was me with no little incredulity on our forum. “I think he is incompetent, I think the owner is not interested in the team going up.” “How can you ask people not to slag off the owner when he clearly hasn’t supported the team with much needed signings.” “TH puts the least amount of money into the club that he can get away with and is usually more interested in signing cheap players he can make a profit on rather than looking to strengthen the team.” “We do support the team. It doesn’t stop us being pissed off. Or should we just happy clap our way to the guillotine?” “If we miss out on play offs this year the blame has to go on our owner for completely ignoring the fact we are desperate for a striker.” “The manager is clueless, bereft of any idea and dragging us down and you want us to support him?” “We are clueless, we are not good enough.”
And that’s just from the first page. Of eight. I say again, this is a club operating on one of the division’s lowest budgets, which they can’t exceed because of the rules of the league, and who are sixth, with an outstanding home record this year bettered only by Fulham. The problem for club’s in our situations signing strikers in the current market, covered extensively on here before, doesn’t seem to have registered with their “#announceRavel” brigade any more than it has with ours.
It got me thinking about our own situation as the season end approaches. I could have focused this preview on how disappointing it is that the away form has tailed off from five wins by early December to no victories in seven road trips. After conceding another two sloppy goals from corners against Birmingham and Derby (and, let’s be honest, Forest as well but for a fluke of the wind) I could have gone deep on our shambolic set up at set pieces which has seen us concede a league-leading 24 times from dead ball situations this season. I could lament the ongoing lack of pragmatism, which could easily have cost us a Charlton-style late 2-2 against Derby and then did exactly that against Birmingham. I could ask how and why you expect people to keep forking out for season tickets to watch a club try to cut its wage bill without getting relegated for the sixth season in a row – an accounting exercise more than a football season. Why are our three most sellable assets coming out of contract altogether at the same time? What will we do next season with Ebere Eze and/or Bright Osayi-Samuel? Why on earth did we spend what little money is available loaning Jack Clarke? Who on earth sold Ilias Chair that coat?
There’s lots to go on, should you be so inclined, and of course I usually am, in this column. But with our financial situation and the rules of the league in mind, and relative to expectations at the start of the season, I think we’ve done bloody well to this point. Mark Warburton inherited a team that had won three of its last 23 games last season, was immediately told he had to sell or release what few good players there were from that side, and faced an enormous rebuilding task on a vastly reduced budget from the year before, which in turn was vastly reduced from the year before that. Bar a fee of £50,000 for Liam Kelly he spent nothing, making use of free transfers and the loan market.
With that he’s taken a team that has struggled to score goals for years and made it one of the three most prolific sides in the league. He’s taken a team that was utterly unwatchable under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, very direct and rudimentary under Ian Holloway, and a sloppy, turgid mess under Steve McClaren and made it attractive, attacking, and at times exhilarating. There have been 116 goals scored in QPR’s 37 league games this season and, sure, that’s because we concede too many, but it’s a campaign that has brought us a 6-1 win, a 5-1, two 4-2s and more. There have been noticeable, palpable improvements in players for the coaching of Warburton, Neil Banfield and John Eustace (who was again linked with a managerial role, this time at Blackpool, last week). Bright Osayi-Samuel, Ebere Eze, Ilias Chair, Dom Ball and Ryan Manning have all improved markedly from where they were before – exactly the sort of player development we need if we’re to get onto that buy low-sell high-reinvest treadmill that can claw us back out of this situation.
Happy with fourteenth? Never. Flawed? Certainly. But we’re fucking good to watch, and relative to our circumstance and expectation at the start of the season this has been a good and successful season for us so far.
Sometimes it’s ok to be content.
Links >>> Taarabt inspires comeback – History >>> Dissenting voices – Interview >>> Whitestone refereeing – Referee >>> The view from the Pu – February >>> Moneyball – Podcast >>> Preston Official Website >>> Lancashire Telegraph – Local Press >>> From The Finney – Blog >>> Deepdale Digest – Blog >>> PNE Online – Forum
Geoff Cameron Facts No.93 In The Series – Geoff thinks Ilias Chair’s coat looks rather snazzy.
Team News: Bright Osayi-Samuel must escape a yellow here for the third game in a row to avoid reaching ten and a two game ban before this weekend’s amnesty. Unless Mark Warburton decides to rest him to avoid that, and perhaps give Jack Clarke a first league start, it’s highly likely to be an unchanged team again. Mide Shodipo scored a banger for the U23s on Monday and Ilias Chair is constantly impressive from the bench and may push for a start.
Preston’s player of the season elect and troll in chief Ben Pearson is out for a month with a hamstring injury. It will come as no surprise that as we reach the thirty seventh league game of the season, the cut off for suspensions for ten yellow cards, Pearson was the only PNE player who was under threat, on nine. Tom Bayliss, inventor of the wind up radio, was rated as one of the coups of the summer transfer window when PNE snapped him up for just under £2m last summer but he’s only made four appearances all season (all in cup competitions) and is now out for the duration with a knee problem. Louis Moult (ACL) and Billy Bodin (ankle) are the other long termers.
Elsewhere: Wayne Rooney’s Derby County (thirteenth) picked fourth and fifth choice centre backs for their game at home to Manchester United in the week, rendering the result a forgone conclusion before the game had even begun, ending their season in the first week of March, and leaving the sycophantic broadcasters to turn an FA Cup fifth round tie into some sickening, gimmicky testimonial affair. Back to being too fat to move out of the centre circle and spraying wayward Hollywood balls to the opposition’s best player in the Championship for Wazza this weekend as the Rams host the Mad Chicken Farmers on Sunday.
They go last, their bitter rivals Nottingham Florist (one win in five since beating Leeds to draw level with the top two) go first with a televised Friday nightery at home to Millwall Scholars.
That leaves ten games for Saturday, starting with an early televised clash between two play-off chasers as Bristol City (fading fast with one win and four defeats from their last six) host Tarquin and Rupert. The top two go at 15.00 with the Champions of Europe having a Yorkshire-off against Huddersfield, and West Brom looking to rebound from a shock home loss to Wigan with an awkward away trip to Swanselona. Spartak Hounslow will almost certainly be the best team Sheffield Owls have played all season.
The real intrigue is coming down at the bottom. Wigan’s big win at The Hawthorns was their third in a row and they haven’t conceded a goal in any of them. From looking dead and buried they’re suddenly nineteenth ahead of this weekend’s home game with the division’s new basement side Lutown, who themselves have three wins and a draw from five. Grimethorpe Miner’s Welfare also won three in a row prior to last week’s loss at Reading, and they have Cardiff at home this weekend.
The big losers in this sudden resurgence from the bottom three are, first and foremost, Middlesbrough. Whoever would have thought that making Jonathan Woodgate manager with Robbie Keane as his assistant wouldn’t turn out to eb the shrewdest move for a club facing increasingly strangulating FFP issues and declining parachute payments? Boro now haven’t won in 12 and are into the bottom three on 38 points ahead of this weekend’s trip to fellow strugglers Charlton – just one point better off. Stoke are parked between the two of them but they’ll fancy their chances this weekend with a home game against the other side that’s dropping like a rock – Hull City have lost nine and drawn two of their last 11 and are just one point north of Wigan and three off the relegation places as it stands. Leeds were 8/1 on with some bookies ahead of their 4-0 win on Humberside last week – a record for an away team at this level.
Other stuff… Crikey, Birmingham v Reading. Rather you than me.
Referee: Dean Whitestone is in the middle for this one, a third QPR game of the season and fourth with Preston. Given his inability to tackle the timewasting in the Bristol City game in January, not convinced he’s the ideal choice for this one. Details.
Preston: It’s been an up and down start to 2020 for North End. First six games without a win, which included a defeat in the FA Cup to Premier League Norwich. The last of those was a draw with Blackburn which sparked a run of six unbeaten including four wins to lift them back into play off contention. But they’ve lost three of the last four, including the last two (albeit against top three sides West Brom and Fulham). Goals are starting to become an issue. PNE scored freely in the early weeks – 31 in their first 16 league games very nearly an average of two a match. But since a 1-0 loss at Derby on November 23 they’ve failed to score in ten league games, including the loss at Loftus Road in the corresponding fixture which was QPR’s first clean sheet of the season. They’ve scored one goal or fewer in 13 of their last 20 league games and have been shut out in three of the last four. Their home record remains formidable – only Fulham (12) have won more home games than Preston’s 11 and only West Brom, Leeds, Brentford, Blackburn and Millwall (all three) have lost fewer times on their own patch than North End’s four. But, again, it’s early season form rather propping that record up. Alex Neil’s men won seven and drew two of their first nine league games at Deepdale, going unbeaten through to the first Saturday in December. It means that all four home defeats have happened since then, with West Brom, Reading, Middlesbrough and Millwall all winning here since December 2, and Preston failing to score in any of those four games. They’ve won two of their last seven at home in all comps.
QPR: Not that this makes Deepdale, and sixth-placed Preston, any less daunting for QPR. Their away win total of five matches that of last season, with two months of football left to play, but we’ve been saying that for a while now. Mark Warburton’s side got to five with a 2-0 success at Birmingham on December 11 (Stoke, Sheff Wed, Millwall and Hull the teams beaten prior to that) but are without an away win since in seven attempts. The first five of those were lost but the rot has been stopped rather in the last few weeks with the team’s first two 0-0 draws of the season securing points at Swansea (should have won) and Forest (lucky not to lose). Those two stalemates contribute to a run of five unbeaten leading into this game at a ground where QPR haven’t won in 14 attempts going back to 1980. PNE have won the last three meetings here, all by a single goal. The headed goals conceded from corners in the Derby and Birmingham matches took us to 24 goals conceded from set pieces this season (if penalties are included) which is the most in the league. There have been 116 goals scored in QPR’s 36 league games so far this season. Only West Brom (61) and Brentford (59) have scored more than our 55, only Luton (71) have conceded more than our 61.
Prediction: This year’s Prediction League is sponsored by The Art of Football. Get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. A mixture of correct scorer and outcomes among the Birmingham predictions but nothing spot on. Our reigning champion WokingR tries again this week with…
“Let's hope this form and run can continue and with Preston's results being indifferent lately I can see us coming away with a point. It will be low scoring and either 0-0 or 1-1. Going with a hard fought 0-0.”
Woking’s Prediction: Preston 0-0 QPR. No scorer.
LFW’s Prediction: Preston 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Jordan Hugill
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