|West Bromwich Albion 2 v 2 Queens Park Rangers|
Wednesday, 22nd July 2020 Kick-off 19:30
One year on - Preview
Wednesday, 22nd Jul 2020 15:03 by Clive Whittingham
As the 2019/20 season finally draws to a close tonight at West Brom, we assess how manager Mark Warburton has done in his first 12 months as QPR manager.
WBA (22-16-7, WWWDDL, 2nd) v QPR (16-9-20, LWLLDW, 14th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Wednesday July 22, 2020 >>> Kick off 19.30 >>> Weather – Pleasant >>> The Hawthorns, West Bromwich
A year ago this week, Neil Dejyothin and I trekked across London at a time of the morning so unsociably early it was still dark, to interview our shiny new manager Mark Warburton at the Harlington training ground – got to get in early, before the markets open, as any good city trader will tell you.
We’re privileged to get that access to new managers, although sadly it’s become almost an annual thing given the frequency with which QPR swap and change the man picking their team. Ian Holloway went through the full Ian Holloway routine, with all your favourite old stories about losing to Swindon and shouting at Roy Wegerle, for a couple of hours, and then at a subsequent interview talked for even longer – completing the signing of one Bright Osayi-Samuel while we were sitting there in the room with him. He celebrated like we’d scored when the FA confirmed the registration had made the deadline, and having seen how Bright has developed since I understand why.
Steve McClaren was warm, welcoming, erudite, and very, very strange indeed. He became fixated for a while on why A Kick Up The R’s was called A Kick Up The R’s. The big memory of the day was watching the team repeatedly try, and fail, to run a simple pattern of play drill playing out from Joe Lumley through Toni Leistner and Joel Lynch, into the midfield and out again before involving one of the strikers. An hour they tried that for, against nobody, and scored four times. That, and the Quality Professional Relentless PowerPoint presentation. It felt like it might be a long season, and it was.
Mark Warburton gave the least away, he was guarded, professional and business-like in his responses to anything we asked. He was also the most impressive, by far, with more advanced, intense training than we’d seen on previous trips – though running a small sided defensive drill on a half pitch with full size goals and seeing a defence containing most of our first choice backline ship five goals in as many minutes was rather alarming. “Five goals in five minutes, it can’t happen, it can’t happen,” Warburton repeated, over and over, and has been repeating pretty much ever since.
Very rarely does Warburton ever drop that City of London-exterior in public. He’s extremely polite and professional, he’ll answer any question he’s asked, he’ll give up his time willingly and make sure he knows everybody in the room (or Zoom meeting) and address them by their name when speaking to them. He spoke more sense about how and when football should emerge from the lockdown than anybody else I saw or heard on television or radio during that four month hiatus. Not many managers will talk about amortisation of assets and market forces, but it's ideal for a club in QPR's tight spot to have somebody who understands that rather than the approach of his predecessors which was to just demand more signings to solve problems. But he rarely strays from the media-trained lines or gives too much away. There’s no ‘off the record’ chat after an interview or podcast, as you frequently get with other managers. He’ll defend his players to the hilt, even when they don’t deserve his protection. At one point during lockdown, asked to wish a fan of five a happy birthday on one of the club arranged Zoom calls, he included the line “make sure you’re following the government guidelines”.
Maybe this is him. I’d heard stories at Brentford about him having a pint and a chat after podcasts and things like that, but haven’t seen evidence yet. Maybe that stint in the ridiculous Glasgow goldfish bowl, with the press you get there as Rangers manager, followed by a spell at one of the Championship’s more mental clubs Nottingham Forest, has moulded him a different way.
Only thrice, that I can recall, has the exterior dropped. After Sheffield Wednesday, when the players let him down, and during the lockdown fans forum, when his frustration with questions about why we weren’t naming a full compliment of subs, why certain players weren’t involved, why we weren’t buying certain players and so on frustrated him enough to say “do you think if I had these players available to me that I’d deliberately leave them out and go without enough subs?” Occasionally in post match interviews that frustration at what he perceives a lack of understanding or empathy at the situation he’s working in shows through. His third slip was post-Fulham when he said words to the effect that “good fans will understand and bad fans won’t”, which as Ian Holloway found out post the 2-2 with Brentford, is always a rocky road to set off along.
His overall point was valid though. Let’s go back to that July morning at Harlington. QPR had already sold Luke Freeman, who’d been easily the player of the season the previous year and should have won it the year before only for a late run of form from Massimo Luongo to stick in fans’ minds. Luongo, himself, was not training that day ahead of his own move to Sheffield. Darnell Furlong had gone to West Brom. Jordan Hugill, Todd Kane and Marc Pugh were training with the team for the first time, and Jan Mlakar, but we were yet to sign Nahki Wells and in the end the thick end of 20 players would leave from a squad that was already only good enough to get three wins in the whole second half of the 2018/19 campaign. We’d lost 2-1 at Boreham Wood the previous week, during which first choice centre half pairing Grant Hall and Yoann Barbet had been fairly well battered by Kabongo Tshimanga. It was the week we signed Dillon Barnes from Colchester, and everybody was in full “what the actual fuck?” mode.
If you’d been offered then what’s been delivered since, would you have been happy with that?
The season since has exhilarated at times – two games against Stoke, two against Millwall, one each against Cardiff, Swansea, Blackburn, Wigan and Luton in particular. It has also been deeply frustrating, particularly with the overall club and team approach to the lockdown games, the ongoing defensive deficiencies, particularly from set pieces, and some of the recruitment, particularly Jack Clarke… You can see it going either way from here. Warburton’s idealist style of play, and failure to do anything about the leaky defence, leaves him more open than most managers to criticism when a bad run of results occurs. He’s likely to be taking on next season without Ebere Eze and Bright Osayi-Samuel. And having an apparently ready-made replacement performing miracles at Wycombe just up the road, a QPR fan favourite no less, is not ideal for him. It will take very little for the jungle drums to beat next season – hell, four or five lousy performances in strange circumstances over this summer was enough.
But when you think of what he inherited, what he had to work with, what he had to spend, and what’s happened since, you cannot conclude that he’s been anything other than a success in his first year in the job. Steve McClaren’s QPR, even when winning, were frequently dire to watch, particularly away from home. Now we’ve scored more goals than all but the top three, and won more games away than we have for six years. I no longer get on the train on Saturday morning to head north assuming we’ve lost before we even get there. Ebere Eze has gone from being a player people weren’t sure about to the hottest property in the Championship. Ryan Manning and Bright Osayi-Samuel aren’t far behind him and couldn’t even get in our team last season. Worth remembering that Steve McClaren was brought here for his fabled coaching abilities, to work with the young players Ian Holloway had started to introduce the previous year, and he exhausted Eze, could find no place for Bright, and sent Ilias Chair and Ryan Manning out on loan. All four have thrived and prospered under Warburton, though sadly that wasted year is now costing us in Manning’s and Osayi-Samuel’s contract situations. Conor Masterson, Osman Kakay and Mide Shodipo have all also been fed into the team in the second half of the season.
We’ve finished higher up the league, with more points, more wins, more away wins, better football. We’ve developed young players who we can now sell for money. At times I’ve been tearing my hair out, I have concerns over the recruitment and what we look like next season, we have to aspire to more than just staying in the Championship every year and there are currently clubs doing more with less money than even we have. Brentford’s success makes it harder to see the big picture, our tendency to collapse in the final quarter of the season riles people, some are particularly angry about our persistent failure in London derbies, I get as frustrated as everybody else at times. But as far as Mark Warburton’s performance goes in 2019/20 he’s done everything that’s been asked of him. Remember how fearful everybody was we’d get relegated this season, remember how many people claimed they’d “snap your hand off” for fourth bottom before a ball was kicked, and then look at what we’ve actually had instead.
Links >>> Bees give Baggies reprieve – Interview >>> Highbury semi-final – History >>> To Bees or not to Bees – Podcast >>> England takes final match – Referee >>> LFW interview with Express and Star – Interview >>> Official Website >>> Independent West Brom forum – Message Board >>> Boing – Blog >>> Express and Star – Local Paper >>> Birmingham Mail – Local Paper
Geoff Cameron Facts No.102 In The Series – Geoff is a Pokemon Go Throwback Challenge Champion.
Team News: QPR were down to six subs on the bench against Millwall at the weekend once Bright Osayi-Samuel had been withdrawn from the squad. With his move to Club Brugge now reportedly in doubt he’s apparently made himself available for tonight, though with QPR clearly keen on cashing in before his contract expires, and indeed already earmarking the money for Kieffer Moore, I think it unlikely he’ll be risked in this game. Likewise Jordan Hugill who is recovering from a hamstring injury picked up at Middlesbrough biut surely won’t want to risk that with his future for next season up in the air. Angel Rangel, who did play with his contract up, snapped his Achilles at Luton and is out for nine months. Lee Wallace is also coming back from a hamstring injury and has made only one brief substitute appearance in lockdown. Grant Hall and Marc Pugh were both released before the restart. Bring your boots and maybe you’ll get a game? No, not you Jack.
Elsewhere: Let’s start with what we know, because there’s so much we don’t. The Champions of Europe, deservedly, are now the Champions of the Championship, top with 90 points ahead of their final home game with Charlton. The Addicks, as we’ll come onto, could do with them all being out on the lash this week as they still need points to assist at the other end of the table.
West Brom are second with 82, followed by Justice League leaders Spartak Hounslow on 81. Despite being the best team that Stoke have played all season they lost 1-0 there at the weekend against a side that has lost more than any other in the division bar Luton and Hull. The Baggies now simply need to match the Bees’ result tonight to complete their reprieve, and the opposition at Griffin Park are Grimethorpe Miners’ Welfare who, like Charlton, need points themselves. If both were to lose then Tarquin and Rupert, on 82 points, can slip in with a win against Wigan Warriors away who, stop me if you’ve heard this one before, also need points to help their fight to stay in the league.
Nottingham Florist, at home to Stoke, and Cardiff City, at home to hapless Alam Tigers, both have 70 points and occupy the last play-off spots. Forest’s goal difference is +11, Cardiff’s is +7 despite their New Year’s Day hammering at Loftus Road. The only team that can catch them is Swanselona who have 67 points and a +6 goal difference ahead of a trip to Reading.
At the bottom, seven teams are still technically in the mix though Hull, 45 points and -27 goal difference, need quite a set of results if they’re to escape, starting with a win at Cardiff who need a result to guarantee their play-off spot. They’re down basically, and after years of flagrant mismanagement and asset stripping allowed to occur in full public view of the EFL it’s nothing more than the Allam family deserve.
Barnsley gave themselves hope with a last minute winner against Forest on Sunday but two points adrift with significantly worse (-21) goal difference they need two of Charlton, Lutown or Wigan Warriors to lose if they’re to stay up, and even then they need to get a win at Brentford to achieve it. Wigan conceded a last minute equaliser at Charlton at the weekend which, with points deduction factored in, leaves them third bottom on 46 points with +1 goal difference prior to a home game with Fulham. If they win then it brings first of all Lutown, 48 points and -29 goals, with a game against on the beach Blackburn to play at home. If Wigan win and Lutown get a result then Charlton, away at Leeds on 48 points and -11 goals, will be relegated if they lose.
In theory Birmingham on 50 points and -19 goals are safe ahead of their game with Wayne Rooney’s 24 Hour Beer and Brass. Likewise the Twelfth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour which has 50 points and -14 goals ahead of a trip to Sheffield Owls. However, with Wigan’s point deduction up for appeal then they can both still drop into the bottom three. Birmingham will be there at close of play if Luton and Charlton win and Wigan’s point deduction is overturned. If Luton, Charlton and Birmingham all win and Wigan don’t get docked points then Boro go down.
In fact, with points deduction court cases pending against Sheff Wed, Derby and Wigan and, ridiculously, not settled prior to the last games starting it’s possible that we end up with a bottom three of Hull, Luton and Charlton tonight only for it to actually turn out to be Wigan, Sheff Wed and Derby in a courtroom at some point over the next few weeks. With the new season just seven and a half weeks away, and pre-season beginning in three weeks’ time, as many as ten clubs will not know whether they’re planning, buying and spending for League One football or Championship football even after tonight is over.
Bristol City v Preston and Millwall v Huddersfield are the only games with definitely nothing on them.
Referee: Rangers won 6-1 against Cardiff the last time Darren England was in charge of their game, and the Barnsley official is back for this final game of the season tonight. Details.
West Brom: Too many draws have been the issue for the Baggies – only Millwall (17) have tied more often than their 16. Two of those have come in the last three games, 1-1 at Blackburn and 0-0 with Fulham, to open the door for Brentford prior to last week’s surprise 2-1 loss at Huddersfield that looked for a moment to have cost them automatic promotion. The Baggies had won three in a row before that but gone five without a win either side of the lockdown which means they’ve failed to win eight of their last 11 games, blowing an eight point gap to third in the process. At home this season they’ve won ten games (Leeds, Brentford have 14 and Fulham 15) which is only one more than QPR have managed at Loftus Road. Three defeats is the joint lowest total in the league though, and seven league defeats overall is easily the best total in the division with Leeds next closest on nine. They’ve also scored 75 times which is more than anybody else in the division bar Brentford who have 79.
QPR: Rangers have won seven away matches this year which is their best total since the eight they managed in the 2013/14 promotion season – win tonight to match that. Before that Neil Warnock won ten in 2010/11. Having gone into lockdown unbeaten in six with three wins, Rangers have won only two of nine since the restart including Saturday’s 4-3 return to form against Millwall at Loftus Road. That increased the number of home goals conceded this season to 42, a club record, but the four scored also lifted us to 65 goals scored overall which is more than all but the top three teams. Only Millwall (17) have drawn more than West Brom’s 16, only Stoke (eight) have drawn fewer than QPR’s nine.
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. Our reigning champion WokingR tells us…
“Almost over and good luck to those few of you still in with a chance of winning the prediction league. Think we’ll let them have this one, on the understanding that our Darnell Furlong cheque is ready before our coach leaves. They’ll want this and it suits us to keep Brentford and Fulham out. 3-1 to the Baggies with Chair getting our consolation.”
Woking’s Prediction: West Brom 3-1 QPR. Scorer – Ilias Chair
LFW’s Prediction: West Brom 3-0 QPR. No scorer.
The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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