History repeating? Preview
Wednesday, 24th Feb 2021 09:41 by Clive Whittingham
QPR head to Preston North End tonight hoping to continue a red hot run of form that came right out of the blue, just as they did back in 2004.
Preston (12-3-16, DLLWLL, 14th) v QPR (10-9-10, WLWWWW, 13th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Wednesday February 24, 2021 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Torrential rain >>> Deepdale, Preston, Lancs
Make that now six wins from seven for Queens Park Rangers, all against teams above them in the table, three of them against sides in the top six, and what remains of the faithful at The Coliseum asking with some justification just what the hell is going on?
When Rangers were comprehensively outplayed and easily beaten by a Swansea side in second gear at Christmas it looked like curtains for Warbs Warburton. Director of football Les Ferdinand and CEO Lee Hoos pointedly hung back in the director’s box at the end of the game, in full view of the cameras which they’d have been fully aware of, for a prolonged conversation. The pork sword of Damocles, Tactical Tim Sherwood, dribbled over our heads once more. It takes a lot for a manager to survive ten without a win in the modern game, and 3,500 words of Warbs ‘obit’ were diligently researched, written and pored over that week ready for publishing.
That piece joins the Kieffer Moore and Ben Whiteman signing articles in the Darren Ambrose Memorial Recycling Bin after a quickfire blast of 18 points which has put clear country miles between Rangers and a relegation zone that seemed to be drawing them inextricably towards it at one point, and now has people measuring the gap between the R’s and the final play-off spot without immediately being carted off to the funny farm for a swift beating.
Remarkable it may be – if you’d told me that team which laboured to a 1-1 at Wycombe the week before Christmas would win six games in the rest of the season I’d not have believed you, hell if you’d told me it was capable of putting its own shoes on unassisted I’d have had my doubts – but it is not unprecedented.
When QPR were promoted back to this level after a spell in the Second Division back in 2004 it initially looked like it was all going to be a bit much for them. Injuries to key players, particularly domineering centre back pair Clarke Carlisle and Danny Shittu, was set against a background of boardroom wrangling. The opening home game after promotion turned into a damp squib as Rotherham, who’d turn out to be the division’s whipping boys that year, left with a 1-1 draw and the R’s were then outclassed at Watford live on Sky. They were unfortunate to concede a last minute equaliser at Sunderland after fabulous goals from Martin Rowlands and Paul Furlong but Derby and Sheff Utd both won comfortably at Loftus Road without conceding and a League Cup win against Swansea and Hand of Bean success at Gillingham in a televised Friday night game did little to quell the rising tide of doubt.
Behind the scenes, new Italian investor Gianni Paladini was making plans. He’d put £600,000 from a re-mortgage of his wife’s house into the club towards the end of the previous season, first attending a QPR game in the gale force wind at Wycombe, and celebrating on the pitch at Hillsborough with the other directors when promotion was assured. Already at odds with QPR supporters Bill Power and Mark Devlin, and Chris Wright hangovers Nick Blackburn and Ross Jones, Paladini was keen to replace popular manager Ian Holloway with Argentinean Ramon Diaz. His fellow countryman, Gino Padula, was sounded out as a conduit for the new man, who’d have trouble not only with the language but also a dressing room of QPR and Holloway loyalists such as Marc Bircham, Kevin Gallen, Martin Rowlands and Gareth Ainsworth. Padula was promised a new contract for his part in the transition, something which came back to bite the club to the tune of six figures when Holloway subsequently tried to release him at the end of the season only to find he’d been offered a renewal behind his back. Paladini claimed the offer to Padula was just an example of what an offer might look like, should it be made, for him to show his mortgage lender. An arbitration hearing found QPR in breach, ordered a payment north of £100,000, Paladini said he’d pay it himself, and that never happened either.
The turning point came in September at home to Plymouth. Rangers and the Greens had fought out the promotion race against each other the previous year, and actually built up a good deal of mutual respect and camaraderie between the fans, united in the hilarity of Bristol City’s remarkable POP. The story was that if QPR didn’t win, Holloway would be fired. Paul Furlong scored twice in a thrilling 3-2 success. Rangers then won 2-0 up at Crewe and 3-2 again at Brighton, with a last minute stunner from Matthew Rose doing the damage. They went 2-0 down at home to Leicester but roared back to win 3-2 again, Furlong beautifully angling in an injury time headed winner on a day when new boy Lee Cook really announced himself as a Championship player at Loftus Road. And the wins kept coming: a Jamie Cureton hat trick, one of them channelling Marco Van Basten, at home to Coventry; a 1-0 at Stoke on a day when Bircham showed how to win friends and influence people; a 1-0 at home to high flying, promotion-favourites West Ham in front of a capacity crowd. Seven victories in a row to climb to fourth, each one more memorable than the last and still talked about to this day. Diaz subsequently turned up at Oxford in December, but was gone by May with the U’s finishing fifteenth in League Two.
The run came to an end against Preston at Deepdale. Injuries were starting to bite again, and a young Frankie Simek had been loaned in from Arsenal to make his debut at the back. Georges Santos’ early goal was quickly cancelled out by David Healy and a draw looked likely until our old chum Andy Hall got involved, awarding two controversial penalties to the hosts, the second converted by Richard Cresswell. You got the impression that had PNE missed that one as well, the useless fat prick would have just continued awarding spot kicks until the scored, such was his rabid persecution of Rangers whenever he refereed them.
There’s no reason that should happen again tonight. Preston have had a poor season, particularly at home where they’ve only won four games. Like QPR they’ve suffered for having a number of players they’ve been developing bumping up against their wage ceiling and contract expiry all at once, and January saw key men Darnell Fisher, Ben Davies and Ben Pearson The Goblin Boy (nobody knows how he was born) all departing the club for a pittance relative to their ability and value to the team. Defeat has also been admitted on long term projects Jayden Stockley and Josh Harrup and while they, irritatingly, beat QPR to the signature of Doncaster’s impressive midfielder Ben Whiteman, much of the cover-up job has been done with loans – Daniel Iverson, Jayson Molumby, Ched Evans, Sepp van den Berg, Liam Lindsay and Anthony Gordon more than they’re actually allowed to pick in a matchday squad. A 4-0 loss at Cardiff at the weekend was a seventh in ten, and just two wins in that spell is inflaming calls for Alex Neil’s four-year spell in charge to come to a close.
It’s all there for us, but it is funny how history has a habit of repeating itself.
Links >>> Warnock’s epiphany – History >>> Home woes – Interview >>> England in charge – Referee >>> Preston Official Website >>> Lancashire Telegraph – Local Press >>> From The Finney – Blog >>> Deepdale Digest – Blog >>> PNE Online – Forum
Geoff Cameron Facts No.132 In The Series – Todd Kane’s celebration on Saturday was, in fact, a heartfelt plea to Geoff Cameron to stop performing his motivational karaoke version of 'Cotton Eyed Joe' at the end of every halftime team talk.
Below the fold
Team News: The rumour of Jordy de Wijs’ existence gathered momentum on Tuesday afternoon with an apparent run out for the U23s, alongside George Thomas on his comeback from his 37th injury of the season. Martell Taylor-Crossdale, once a star of the Chelsea and England youth set ups and tipped for big things when he moved to Fulham, scored Rangers’ goal in a 1-1 draw with Ipswich as part of a trial, according to West London Sport. Stefan Johansen, Lee Wallace and Charlie Austin were all removed on the hour in the weekend win against Bournemouth as part of squad management but don’t expect the starting 11 to deviate too much from the one we’ve become accustomed to recently, despite Chris Willock and Sam Field impressing from the bench in each of the last two games.
Scott Sinclair was an unused sub in the defeat at Cardiff on Saturday, and Everton loanee came on for the final half hour of that 4-0 defeat in which PNE contrived to miss two penalties in as many minutes through Paul Gallagher and the feminists’ champion Ched Evans. Expect both Sinclair and Gordon to start here. Ryan Ledson is out and Tom Bayliss hasn’t even made the bench for the last four matches as he performs another of the disappearing acts that have come to haunt his disastrous move from Coventry 18 months ago. Stoke centre back Liam Lindsay, signed on loan in January and maker of just four senior appearances all season, is “mentally tired” according to his manager. Bless.
Elsewhere: Wolf strangler and deep thinker Nigel Pearson is back with a bang, snapping Bristol City’s seven-match losing streak with a 3-0 half time lead which they converted into a 3-1 win on the Thirteenth Annual Neil Warnock farewell tour. That was the most eye-catching result on Tuesday night, with Nottingham Florist’s cast of a thousand footballers winning 1-0 at Rotherham and Wayne Rooney’s Derby County cruising to a 2-0 at home to Huddersfield as they continue their grind away from the relegation zone.
Some quite significant gaps starting to open up down at the bottom now after a bizarre January in which everything closed up. Wycombe are just about in touch, but just barely on 23 points, after a 1-0 home win against local rivals and promotion chasing Reading – a game of two missed penalties. Next it’s Sheffield Blue Stripe on 28 but they’ll do well to improve on that tonight away to Spartak Hounslow who, despite three successive defeats and medium term injuries to Ivan Toney and Rico Henry, will still almost certainly be the best team they’ve played all season. Rotherham have now lost four league games in a row and sit third bottom on 29, but they do have two games in hand on hapless Birmingham who were beaten 3-1 at home by Borussia Norwich last night to make it two wins from 16 games.
One place, three points and a chunk of goal difference higher it’s Coventry, fresh from a weekend shock against Thomas Frank’s army of footballing purity, but facing another tough assignment tonight away at Swanselona. They’re best poised to take advantage of Brentford’s slip, currently fourth on 56 points but with two games in hand on the Bees who are second with 57. Watford are between the two ahead of tonight’s trip to chronically out of form Blackburn. Bournemouth occupy the final play-off spot but are being chased down hard by Cardiff who have won five in a row ahead of tonight’s meeting at Dean Court. Barnsley, three league wins in a row, and Stoke, who’ve won their last two, are four points back ahead of tonight’s match at Oakwell.
Luton and Millwall drew 1-1, just for the hell of it.
Referee: Darren England, making his debut on the Premier League list in 2020/21, drops down to the Championship for his first QPR game since the 2-2 draw at West Brom on the final day of the last campaign. He was also in charge for our 6-1 home win against Cardiff. Details.
Preston: The difference between PNE’s home and away form this season has been stark. Their comfortable 2-0 win at Loftus Road before Christmas is one of eight they’ve managed on the road this season, a record bettered only by league leaders Norwich with nine. At home they’ve only won four, which is better than only Birmingham and Wycombe with two, and lost nine which, again, is only worse than Birmingham with ten. They’ve lost three and drawn one of their last four games here, including defeats to strugglers Rotherham and Forest. Only Birmingham, Wycombe and Derby have scored fewer than their 11 home goals this season, while only Brentford (27) have scored more than their 23 on their travels. Overall – home and away, league and cup – they arrive into this game having lost seven of the last ten, and four of the last five. They’ve been beaten to nil by Watford H (1-0) and Cardiff A (4-0) in their last two matches, missing two penalties in the defeat in South Wales. QPR’s 3-1 win here last year was the first time they’d won at Deepdale in 13 visits dating back to a 3-0 win in February 1980, though none of the three goalscorers (Ebere Eze, Ryan Manning, Grant Hall) are still with Rangers.
QPR: Saturday’s win against Bournemouth made it six in seven for QPR having only won six in their previous 31 league games. Their run of six consecutive away games without defeat is their longest since November 2010, during the Neil Warnock promotion season, when they began the campaign with nine unbeaten on the road as part of an unbeaten record of 19 overall. The last time we won four games in a row was also that season – victories to nil against Middlesbrough, Ipswich, Leicester and Doncaster in September. There were, however, four straight league wins at the start of the 2013/14 promotion season – all of them 1-0 against Ipswich, Bolton, Leeds and Birmingham –separated by a League Cup loss to Swindon, and another four in Mark Warburton’s first season in charge – against Wigan, Sheff Wed, Luton and Millwall – again separated by a League Cup loss, this time to Portsmouth. At the turn of the year QPR hadn’t beaten a single team in the top half of the table, now they’ve vanquished three from the top six (Watford, Brentford and Bournemouth) in little more than a fortnight. All six of the wins in this sequence have come against teams above them in the table at the time with the only blemish coming at home to Derby who were 21st to our 17th when they won at Loftus Road in January. Stefan Johansen was the first Norwegian to score a goal for QPR when he notched at the weekend. He and Todd Kane were also the seventh and eighth different goalscorers in this current seven-match, ten-goal sequence, with only Charlie Austin (Luton A, Watford A, Brentford H) scoring more than once. QPR’s 3-1 win here last season was also part of an unbeaten sequence of six, and completed a rare double against North End having also won 2-0 at Loftus Road in the corresponding game. The last time QPR managed that against North End was 1967/68 when they won both league games 2-0, but lost at home in the FA Cup. Rangers doubled only Preston, Stoke and Millwall last season and can only double Forest, Rotherham and Luton of their remaining fixtures having already completed one against Cardiff.
Prediction: We’re indebted to The Art of Football for once again agreeing to sponsor our Prediction League and provide prizes. You can get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Last season’s champion Mase offers us this…
“Not wanting to predict a second straight Rangers away win at Deepdale, for fear of putting my mockers on our great recent run. I think though that we are playing them at a good time, so hopefully we can capitalise and take more than a point. Forza!”
Mase’s Prediction: Preston 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Charlie Austin
LFW’s Prediction: Preston 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Charlie Austin
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