|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 2 Preston North End|
Wednesday, 21st October 2020 Kick-off 19:00
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Wednesday, 21st Oct 2020 13:24 by Clive Whittingham
A busier than anticipated transfer window leaves QPR with a new-look squad of 'assets' prior to tonight's home game with Preston.
QPR (1-3-1, LWLDDD, 15th) v Preston (1-1-3, WDLLWL, 19th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Wednesday October 21, 2020 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Where did we leave the keys to the ark? >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12
Another transfer window has slammed shut™ and all that’s left to do now is wonder what on earth Sky Sports News and Nottingham Forest are going to do with themselves over the long, drawn out, insufferable period of *checks notes* ten weeks until it creeks open again and the real quiz of selling mediocre players and replacing them with ones that aren’t really a great deal better can recommence. In Sky’s case, it’s to behave as though Virgil Van Dyke has been killed to death – expecting an urgent question in the Commons on this later today. In Forest’s, after last night’s home draw with Rotherham, don’t be surprised to find them scouring the free agent pages for that crucial, season-transforming, fifteenth new arrival.
QPR’s main aim for the summer transfer window was to sell their best player, and if that sounds counter intuitive you only need look at what we’ve been able to do since, and the state of several other clubs in our league as the Covid-19 lockout starts to bite hard, to see why Ebere Eze had to go, and go for good money. With Premier League money wasted and parachute money dried up, we’ve long been prattling on about the need for QPR to be scouting well, buying low, selling high, and doing that over and over and over again if they’re to trade their way out of this hole in the same way clubs of similar size and restrictions – Brentford, Norwich, Burnley – have in the past. Alex Smithies and Luke Freeman were moderate successes, but getting a fee rising to £20m for a player you picked up on a free four years ago is serious business. The first trick was to get good money for him, the second is to be able to repeat it with somebody else next summer and the summer after and the summer after. As more money comes in, so more money can be invested in better prospects, building the club’s reputation and league position, leading to bigger and better transfer fees. Brentford, selling Scott Hogan for £10m a couple of years ago, and Neal Maupay for £20m last summer, now get north of £25m for Benrahma and Watkins.
When September’s attempts to return small crowds to stadiums were abandoned I feared the ‘trade to victory’ strategy might be scuppered, that the Eze money would simply be used to keep the club alive until fans come back. To a certain extent, that’s going to be true, and most Championship clubs would kill for a £20m cash injection right now. Nevertheless, QPR have done business in this window, far more than I thought they would.
Of those newcomers Rob Dickie, while clearly not the quickest thing on two legs, has settled well, adding height and physicality to our defence while not sacrificing Warbs Warburton’s values of playing out from the back. Many more performances like the one he turned in at Bournemouth at the weekend and people will soon be talking about him as the next potential profit. Chris Willock, too, while looking a bit light and ‘academy’, addresses a specific problem in the team – threat from a player cutting in field from wide left – caused by Eze’s departure. One that’s been very prevalent in the early games with Ilias Chair not quite making it happen in that position so far. Lyndon Dykes, Macauley Bonne, Charlie Kelman and now Everton youngster Manasse Mampala we’ve rather done to death – money coming in gives Rangers a chance to own strikers themselves rather than loaning them, and we now need at least a couple of those to establish themselves and succeed at Championship level, rather than repeat the Conor Washington failure.
Albert Adomah looks a bit gratuitous – old, presumably not that cheap, and certainly not in a position we’re short in – but Rangers have done well recently sprinkling veterans like Geoff Cameron and Angel Rangel through a young squad, and one who can clearly still play to the level Adomah can, and a QPR fan to boot bringing extra commitment and a contract that suits our budget, would have been silly to sniff at. Likewise Tom Carroll, whose free transfer status just at the moment 1,500 others like him were left looking for clubs, mean we’ve potentially picked up quite a tidy squad player for a small wage – he’s looked a good deal better than many expected in his early outings.
George Thomas is potentially my favourite of all of them, but his early Matthew Rose-like tendency to be out more than he’s in is a bit Marge Simpson grumbling noise at this point.
We’re short on the left side of the defence after the Ryan Manning debacle ended with a cut price (£250,000, at most) move to Swansea on deadline day. This, to me, felt like one of those classic modern football transfers, made for the sake of making a transfer, to the benefit of nobody really except the agent. Swansea don’t need Manning, they have players in his position already. Manning is making a move to the other side of the country, to join a team in the same division as us. QPR are losing a good player, and leaving themselves with only Captain of Glasgow Rangers and the untried and untested Niko Hamalainen to cover at left back.
Of course, there is an alternate point of view. Swansea were in the play-offs last year and have started well this in a weak Championship, so Manning probably has more chance of getting promoted there than he does with us, and certainly stands more chance of gametime with them than he would if the rumoured interest from West Ham had been any more than that. Swansea, meanwhile, pick up a good 24-year-old, proven Championship player for a pittance, while QPR get some money for somebody they would have lost for free a year from now.
For me though, a deal that doesn’t really suit anybody. By refusing point blank to renew his contract Manning had painted himself into one corner, and by saying he wouldn’t be picked unless he did QPR did the same on the other side of the room. Neither able to reach the door, when at least one of them certainly should have tried once things patently weren't panning out as either expected.
When Premier League interest didn’t materialise, Manning would have been better swallowing his pride, signing the deal, and ripping into this season – interest far higher up the ladder would have been there next summer if he had, as Eze proved. Instead, a sideways move, and a bad taste in the mouth, with veiled Instagram posts about “decisions that weren’t in my hands”, as if somebody else had turned the contract down for him, and highly questionable body language and performances in the lockdown games, at least until David Moyes turned up to watch. Should be said, however, any barbs about disloyalty must be weighed against QPR shoving him out on loan to Rotherham when McClaren was meant to be developing him, and the fact he was about to be released back to Ireland until Ian Holloway and Marc Bircham came in – the club has not always been sweetness and light when it comes to Ryan. QPR, meanwhile, get less money than they even paid for Southend child Charlie Kelman, for a good, valuable, first team player. Subject to Lee Wallace’s form and fitness Rangers may reflect they’d have been better off just keeping Manning another year.
We wait and see what happens now with Bright Osayi-Samuel, although his age means we’d be entitled to some compensation next summer, which wasn’t the case with Ryan.
That’s an assessment of the transfers done on the basis of the first team. We’ve lost Eze so we need a left sided attacker – Chris Willock. We’ve been loaning strikers, so we need to try and own them after what happened with Nahki Wells and Jordan Hugill – Dykes, Bonne. We’re weak at the back, and have lost Grant Hall – Rob Dickie.
What isn’t spoken about quite so often, but is important in our current strategy, is how we’ve increased the “asset base” of the squad. It’s why I look at a club like Stoke committing big wages to players like Steven Fletcher and John Obi Mikel, or Forest to Lyle Taylor, and indeed QPR fans who think we should be competing with them for those players, and raise an eyebrow or two. Every penny committed to those players is dead money unless they get you up, and that doesn’t look likely in either case. The signing on fee, agent fee, and high wages will not be recouped three years down the line when the contract ends and the player is thick into his thirties with no sell-on value.
QPR have only really added Albert Adomah (32), and perhaps Tom Carroll (28) in that category. Rangers have signed Dykes (25), Bonne (24), Kelman (18), Willock (22), Thomas (23), Amos (23) and Dickie (24) while also extending contracts of Kakay (23), Masterson (22), Ball (25), Shodipo (23), Hamalainen (23) and Dieng (25). That’s a big chunk of players who aren’t unproven kids, but have loads of improvement in them and years of development ahead with the potential of being sold for profit when they’re in their late 20s. It’s a deliberate strategy, one you see at other well run clubs, and it perhaps gets lost when we’re wondering why on earth we’re signing more and more and more wingers and ‘tens’ when there are weaknesses elsewhere in the team. Brighton, for example, have an enormous collection of talented centre backs in their early and mid-20s, but aren’t shy of signing more if they fit into that ‘asset building’ plan.
The proof of the pudding is in the eating. Fail to get a win either tonight or against Birmingham on Saturday, and watch how the knives come out for Warburton again on Monday. QPR have only won one league game this season, only six of their last 25 in all comps, only two of their last 17 away from home. They need to start winning games, in addition to looking good as they did at Bournemouth, against Forest and first half against Coventry. And just because this collection of ‘assets’ could develop into more buy-low-sell-high success stories, doesn’t mean they actually will. It’s been a good window on paper, far better than it looked like it would be halfway through, and I’m surprised at how much of the Eze money was reinvested in players given everything that’s going on. But now we need wins, and we need some of these assets to develop and fulfil their potential if we’re to keep progressing.
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Geoff Cameron Facts No.109 In the Series – News that Kalvin Phillips could miss three months of Premier League action with Leeds after picking up an injury against Wolves on Monday and rumours of a lockdown-busting celebratory barbecue pit smokeout and ho-down for all Geoff’s friends and family this Sunday are unrelated, a spokesman for Cameron said today.
Team News: Dire news for Luke Amos whose slip and knee jar on a wet pitch at Bournemouth at the weekend, just as he seemed to be finding good form at last, has indeed ruptured the ACL in his left knee – the opposite side to the one he did two years ago at Spurs. Welcome to the Ale Faurlin club kid, and best of luck with your recovery which rules him out for the rest of the season. Charlie Owens is the other long termer on staff at the moment. Lyndon Dykes played three games in a week for Scotland and was left out at the weekend with a minor knock but should be fit to return tonight. With Amos out Warbs Warburton could drop Bonne back into the ‘ten’ role to accommodate Dykes, or choose from any of Saturday’s three subs used – Albert Adomah, Chris Willock or Little Tom Carroll.
Preston right back Darnell Fisher, who won a penalty when these sides met at Deepdale in lockdown, has been keenly missed with a hamstring injury and is still out tonight. Likewise influential midfielder Daniel Johnson who has figured only once, in a League Cup win at Derby, since a summer move to Rangers fell through – he may feature tonight. Ben Pearson pulled up lame with either cramp or a groin injury at the end of the weekend home defeat to Cardiff but he’s been out scavenging for raw meat in the cold dark nights since so should be fine to play. No chance for Louis Moult though who is out with a feeling of fear and dread.
Elsewhere: Birmingham’s flat, narrow, unwatchable back nine came within three minutes of getting the 0-0 Aitor Karanka desperately desired from Borussia Norwich last night before losing Adam Clayton to a red card and conceding a late Vrancic goal to lose 1-0. That will happen if you make zero attempt to win a game, and unfortunately it dropped the Blues back below QPR in the table and narrowly denied us our coveted sixteenth spot in the Championship.
Elsewhere the mysteriously brilliant start to the season from Reading continued apace, though you’d have expected them to win at home to ailing Wycombe, probably by more than the 1-0 they managed. Still five wins and a draw to begin with is scary form and they’re already three points clear of Bristol City in second after they lost 1-0 at home to the Thirteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour, and five clear of third-placed Bournemouth who play tonight at Cardiff.
Millwall Scholars continue to fulfil pre-season predictions of a play-off run with a third win of the season, comfortably 2-0 at home to Lutown who played them off the park at the same stage last season. Keen viewers of the Quest highlights will even notice that Big Posh Matt was finally awarded a penalty in their weekend win at Wycombe.
Rumours that Wayne Rooney may be prised away from his Ladybird books and placed in charge of the 24 Hour Beer and Brass will only gather pace after Phillip Cocu’s side slipped to a meek 2-0 loss at Huddersfield Town. The Rams have won one and lost five of their games to begin with. IF WAYNE IN CHARGE WAYNE TELL PEOPLE WHAT TO DO.
Coventry and Swansea drew 1-1, whole it’s further commiserations to Nottingham Forest as their 14 new signings were only able to muster a late equaliser and 1-1 home draw against mighty Rotherham United. Still, don’t sweat lads, you’re still able to pick up free agents…
Games not mentioned on tonight’s list include The Mad Chicken Farmers, who responded to our fulsome praise of their transfer window activity by losing 1-0 at home to Florist at the weekend, heading to Watford, who should be posing a serious threat this year having held onto Ismaila Sarr, Etienne Capoue and others through the transfer window. Stoke face the Grimley Colliery Band while Sheffield Owls’ quest to claw back their 12 point deduction (currently -4) will probably have to wait another few days as they’re at home to Justice League leaders Spartak Hounslow who are probably the best team they’ll face all season.
Referee: Premier League official Kevin Friend drops down to the Championship for the first time this season tonight, his first QPR game since Steve McClaren’s rabble were drubbed 3-0 at Swansea the season before last. He did three Championship games last season but, weirdly, two of them featured Preston – a 2-0 loss at West Brom when Darnell Fisher was sent off on the hour and a 1-1 home draw with Leeds in October. Details.
QPR: It took QPR 21 attempts to register a clean sheet last season, in this fixture at Loftus Road in December. They quickly followed it up with another 2-0 win in the following game at Birmingham, but have already reached that total of shut-outs in the league this year with the opening day win against Forest and weekend 0-0 at Bournemouth. No shots on target for Bournemouth at the weekend means QPR have still only had to save nine shots all season, a division low, although five of those have gone in. Despite that, and the fine performance at Dean Court, the R’s are finding wins hard to come by. The 2-0 against Forest on day one remains their only success in six league and cup games this season while a poor period in summer lockdown means it’s just six wins from the last 25 in all comps and two from the last 17 away games.
PNE: It’s been a strange old start to the season for Alex Neil’s side. The 1-0 televised loss to Cardiff on Sunday, which bumped this game back 24 hours to Wednesday, was the third 1-0 home defeat in a row to start the season and Brighton won 2-0 at Deepdale in the cup as well to make it four home games without a goal so far. Away from home, by contrast, they won 2-1 at Derby in the cup, drew 2-2 at fancied Norwich, and blitzed play-off final losers Brentford 4-2 when last in London. Like QPR, though, PNE were poor in the summer lockdown games and that Brentford win is one of only four they’ve managed in the last 19 league games going back to mid-February. Scott Sinclair had a brief and unsuccessful loan spell at Loftus Road earlier in his career – mostly spent jumping out of tackles to stay fit for a Chelsea v Liverpool League Cup tie he’d been promised minutes in at the end of the deal – and Preston are his fourteenth club in sixteen seasons as a pro.
Prediction: We’re indebted to The Art of Football for once again agreeing to sponsor our Prediction League and provide prizes. The squad is updated and you can get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Last season’s champion Mase offers us this…
“I am hoping we will be able to build on the promising performance at Dean Court and win against one of our recent bogey teams. Preston have had a mixed start this season, with good results followed by disappointments in fixtures they would have probably been expecting to win. Let's cross fingers for another clean sheet, even though Amos isn't there to lead the high press.”
Mase’s Prediction: QPR 1-0 Preston. Scorer – Macauley Bonne
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-1 Preston. Scorer – Lyndon Dykes
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