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Birmingham City 2 v 1 Queens Park Rangers
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 27th February 2021 Kick-off 15:00
Coming out of our cage - Preview
Friday, 26th Feb 2021 17:26 by Clive Whittingham

A game that looked like a relegation six-pointer just a few short weeks ago is now a clash between the division's most in and out of form teams, as QPR look to extend their unbeaten run away to struggling Birmingham.

Brum (7-10-15, DLLLWL, 22nd) v QPR (10-10-10, LWWWWD, 13th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday February 26, 2020 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Sunshoine >>> St Andrew’s Million Trillion Tin Pot, Birmingham

At one point, even after this recent good run of form had started, I was eyeing this fixture with dread.

Sure, the win at Luton was great. A dominant performance, a long winless run broken, Charlie Austin back and scoring on his second debut – big relief. To follow that up at Cardiff was huge, but at that point Cardiff were losing to everybody as Neil Harris circled the drain. Derby came to Loftus Road and did a number on us that Saturday, and even the two victories hadn’t lifted us clear of the bottom three with all the other sides down there with us winning as well.

Coming up, a Monday night game away at Watford which didn’t exactly scream points, a game against a Blackburn side that comprehensively outplayed us earlier in the season arriving at a time when we hadn’t even scored a goal in five home games, Brentford who would almost certainly be the best team we’d played all season, Bournemouth who have a midfielder who cost four times the total outlay for our entire squad, and then a midweeker at Preston, and frankly you’re more likely to extract a positive result from phoning the HMRC call centre than QPR are from travelling to Deepdale.

This was all set up for an absolute goat rodeo. Fourth bottom plays third bottom, three wins between them in half a millennium, Aitor Karanka still firmly of the belief that he can nil nil his way out of this, Warbs Warburton still chuntering on about first contacts and second balls, QPR Twitter ablaze, dogs and cats living together, mass hysteria.

Instead, QPR have kicked on. And how. Whoever would have thought, when we allowed Kyle McFadzean to pile in over the top of us at corners as often as he liked in a 3-2 loss on this ground to Coventry back in September, that by February we’d be talking about defensive solidity, the shrewdness of the Rob Dickie acquisition, the great form of Yoann Barbet, the best-in-division goalkeeping of Seny Dieng, the return of Charlie Austin to our colours. Who would have even thought it eight weeks ago? We’ve gone from treating opposition corners like penalties to calmly seeing our way through 54 of the bloody things in the first half on Wednesday night (though do keep an eye on how often Captain Geoff still loses his man). From four wins in half a season and shitting a brick the size of a snooker table about the prospect of relegation and what it would do to the club, to working out exactly how far we are from sixth and what it would take to get us there.

What it’s left us with, by comparison, is footballing first world problems. The nil nil at Preston in the week extends an unbeaten run to five, an unbeaten run away from home to seven, and means it’s now just one defeat in nine league games. Knot in stomach untied, relegation whirlpool left behind, if you’d offered me that result, and this situation, at the start of January I’d have snatched your arm off and beaten you to death with the soggy end of it for being so stupid as to ask the question. But without sounding ungrateful, given their home form, the players they lost in January, the general mood around their place compared to our form, the players we got in January and how we’re feeling, there was a degree of frustration about the chances we missed, and how sloppy we were in our work. Ambition.

There’s certainly no getting ahead of ourselves here. A draw away at Preston, in those conditions, in this congested period of fixtures, with all that midweek travelling – great result. And I’m labouring under no misapprehension that our good run of form came during a period of spaced-out fixtures, and our thin squad now has an immense amount of games to get through in a short period of time. One injury to Dieng, Dickie, Barbet, Johansen or Austin and it’s right back to square one and very grateful for the 40 points we’ve put on the board. But it is good to hear the noises coming out of the camp about how determined they were to make sure we didn’t lose the game when the players recognised we weren’t at our best, and how generally disappointed everybody was at the end not to have won the game. We shouldn’t just be here to make up numbers, get to 52 points and get ourselves off to Mykonos. It was a winnable game, we should be disappointed.

Which brings us back to Birmingham, a team with a worse home record even than Preston. Contrary to our record at Deepdale, we win at St Andrew’s more than we win at Loftus Road. There’s all sorts that can, and probably will, go wrong. The pitch looks like they’ve been hosting weekly monster truck rallies, for instance. Birmingham played at home on Tuesday while we had our second longest distance away trip of the year on Wednesday and have basically spent all the time since on the motorway - QPR’s record post midweek game vs fixture break this year is stark, as we’ll come onto. Rangers have generally been better against teams that want to come out and attack us and we’ve tended to play in front of teams that don’t without hurting them – all the wins in this sequence have been against teams above us in the league, while Preston and Derby took four points off us from lower league positions. You won’t find a less ambitious, more entrenched team than one managed by Aitor Karanka, for whom possession, attacking, strikers, goals, fun, joy, life and sunshine are forces of evil to be suppressed in favour of grind, and torture, and multiple banks of multiple men. He’s a force of evil this bloke, and watching QPR fanny around in front of his flat back 14 for an hour and then lose 1-0 (Hogan, 68) leaving Karanka free to spend the rest of the night teasing his arsehole with his Jose Mourinho voodoo doll is a distinct possibility.

There’s also that ‘typical QPR’ thing, of whenever we’re playing a team that hasn’t won for months, or a striker that hasn’t scored since the late cretaceous period, you just know we’re going to turn up bearing gifts. We could be absolutely perfect for Birmingham tomorrow – pretty safe, pretty tired, long week, bit slack… But I want to see us push on now. We finished thirteenth with 58 points last season, and are currently tracking marginally ahead of that. To improve on that points total, and that finish, having lost Ebere Eze, Bright Osayi-Samuel, Ryan Manning, Nahki Wells and Jordan Hugill from that team, would be a phenomenal achievement, and a real feather in the cap of the manager. And, it must be said, the recruitment team we’ve spent all season bashing over the head on this website. Let’s go for that, at the very least. All those worries about Austin coming back here and sullying his legacy, imagine how he’ll be remembered if this next couple of months keeps going like the last six weeks.

The relegation worries have eased, the fixture list is congested but favourable, let’s see how far we can go. I’d hate us to get safe and then tail off, as has been the pattern in recent seasons. Let’s keep this going, build on this momentum, stoke this optimism and feel-good factor as season ticket renewals come around and we start contemplating returning to our spiritual home. People will have got used to not going to Rangers, they’ll have noticed how much it benefits their bank account, they’ll have tired of watching shit performances and bad results on a patchy stream, they’ll perhaps be worried about using public transport and sitting in crowded stadiums. Let’s give them something to get the blood pumping for August. Let’s not do the ‘typical QPR’ tomorrow, nor just blindly accept that 0-0 away to Preston is a good result because it’s far away and wet. Let’s aspire.

Or, you know, let’s lose 1-0.

Links >>> Flirting with disaster – Interview >>> Birmingham semi-final – History >>> Happy birthday Anthony – Podcast >>> Webb in charge – Referee >>> Birmingham City official website >>> St Andrew’s – Ground Guide >>> Small Heath Alliance – Message Board >>> We Are Birmingham – Podcast >>> Birmingham Mail – Local Press

Geoff Cameron Facts No.133 In The Series – Geoff wouldn’t give you a gun if it was World War Three.

Below the fold

Team News: QPR remain relatively injury free, touch wood, with only Big Bad Luke Amos, Little Tom Carroll and Charlie Owens on the long term absentee list. The mythical Jordy De Wijs and fragile George Thomas both played for the U23s on Tuesday so, in theory, come into contention here. Warbs Warburton has kept an unchanged team for the last four games as the unbeaten run has built, but the team looked to be noticeably flagging in the latter stages of Wednesday night’s draw at PNE and with nothing but motorway between then and now the temptation will be to freshen things up here. Sam Field, Chrissy Willock and Albert Adomah have all impressed from the bench in recent games and push for starts.

Sanchez is a doubt,
Jon Toral in contention,
Sam Cosgrove still out.

Yes, we’re doing the away team news as haikus* now.**

(*May not technically be a haiku, we got bored reading the Wikipedia page.)
(**May be a one week only thing.)

Elsewhere: The Mercantile Credit Trophy bursts back into insane life this evening after its 20-minute hiatus with the Derby derby between Wayne Rooney’s Derby County and Nottingham Florist’s cast of a thousand footballers in Derby. As ever, we wish the visitors the best of luck on the journey.

Bournemouth’s insistence that an experienced manager from outside the club would be brought in to freshen things up post Jason Tindall departure has predictably dissolved into Jonathan Woodgate being thrown the keys until the end of the season, and two defeats to QPR and Cardiff have swiftly followed. Barry Redchapp has smelt some easy money close to home, and his cosy advisory role has predictably resulted in the arrival of 84-year-old Joe Jordan as coach ahead of the Saturday lunchtime TV clash with fellow relegatees Watford. Bondy Bond no doubt stretching out his pedal foot as we speak.

That win at Dean Court during the week was remarkably Cardiff’s fifth in a row under new manager Mick McCarthy and has seen them go from lower midtable to sixth spot ahead of their date on the Thirteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour tomorrow. Boro have quietly lost of the last 13 by the way. It makes Cardiff the form team in the league, along with ourselves and, equally surprisingly, Barnsley who have won four in a row and have a great chance to make that five at home to Miwlwllwlwaawwwwlll (fackin’ ‘ell Wawll) tomorrow.

Sliding the other way, the Mad Chicken Farmers, with pressure growing on Tony Mowbray after five straight losses ahead of tomorrow’s home game with struggling Cov. Rotherham’s survival chances haven’t been done much good by four league defeats in a row ahead of high flying Reading’s visit tomorrow – though Reading did lose a game of two missed penalties at basement dwellers Wycombe during the week so could be vulnerable. If Wycombe are to follow that up with another win it’ll be the upset of the season so far as they face Borussia Norwich in a bottom v top clash for Sky Sports Leeds on Sunday lunchtime. Sheffield Blue Stripe’s mini revival looks to be over after three straight losses without scoring, and they’re useful cannon fodder for Lutown at Kenilworth Road.

That just leaves the north-off between Huddersfield and Preston Knob End, Swanselona wondering just how much of a difference Nigel Pearson has made at Bristol City after a 3-1 midweek away win at Boro, and Justice League leaders Spartak Hounslow back on the horse and ready to run the rounds of the kitchen through Stoke – probably, the best team, Stoke have played, all season.

Referee: David Webb awarded QPR an equalising penalty at Derby last season, but it’s six without a win with this official with plenty of complaints along the way.Details.

Form

Birmingham: Brum’s 1-0 win at fellow strugglers Sheff Wed last week was their first in seven games and was followed up with a midweek home loss to league leaders Norwich. They have one win in eight and two in 16 since back-to-back wins away at Bristol City and Reading in the first week of December. Their last five wins have all come away from home. They haven’t won at St Andrew’s since beating Huddersfield 2-1 at the end of October and have lost ten and drawn two of the 12 games here since. Cambridge, Sheff Wed, Wycombe, Bournemouth, Barnsley, Watford, Middlesbrough, Derby, Blackburn, Preston, Luton and Norwich have all beaten Birmingham on their own patch this season, seven of them winning to nil. Birmingham have won fewer home games (two), lost more home games (11), scored fewer home goals (ten), and conceded more home goals (27) than any other team in the league. In a couple of those cases the gaps are big as well – Preston with nine are the closest on home defeats, Rotherham on 21 on home goals conceded. They are currently fourth bottom on 31 points, two points ahead of Rotherham, but the Millers have two games in hand, including a home match against QPR. Scott Hogan is top scorer with six but Birmingham haven’t scored more than two goals in a game all season, and they’ve only managed two on five occasions. They’ve failed to score a goal at all in eight of their last 13 matches in all comps.

QPR: The draw at Preston in the week interrupted a sequence of four straight wins but extends QPR’s run to no defeats in five, one defeat in nine and two defeats in 12 in the league. Since the diabolical performance and 2-0 loss at Huddersfield they’ve been unbeaten in seven away games, winning three, the best record since the 2010/11 promotion season. The R’s have won four away games this season, at Derby, Cardiff, Luton and Watford, with three clean sheets among them contributing to nine shut outs overall – already more than last season’s total of six. Rangers were beaten on this ground by Coventry back at the start of the season but it’s been a happy hunting ground for the R’s in recent times, four unbeaten and one loss in six with four wins including the Bright Osayi-Samuel-inspired 2-0 here in 2019/20. Of our starting 11 in that game, only four remain with the club and only two (Todd Kane, Geoff Cameron) are likely to start tomorrow. Rangers have W4 D1 L1 of their last six visits, scoring 11 and conceding four with three clean sheets including the last two. Two of those victories (17/18, 13/14) have been won with braces from single players (Jack Robinson, Ravel Morrison) and if that’s repeated tomorrow it’ll be the first time this season a QPR player has scored more than one goal in a game. Lyndon Dykes remains top scorer on just five, four of them penalties, but is now without a goal in 16 after his two misses at Deepdale on Wednesday. The 2-1 home win against Bournemouth last weekend was the first time QPR have followed a midweek game with a win at the weekend since the 3-2 home success against Cardiff which followed the Tuesday defeat at Barnsley at the end of October. Rangers have lost to Blackburn (3-1), Brentford (2-1), Huddersfield (2-0), Reading (1-0) and Derby (1-0) and drawn with Birmingham (0-0) and Wycombe (1-1) when backing up from a midweek game this season. By contrast, their only defeat when coming into a game after a break this year was against Premier League Fulham in the FA Cup, and that was 0-0 after 90 minutes. Following a break of eight days or more this season Rangers have beaten Cardiff (1-0), Watford (2-1) and Brentford (2-1) and drawn with Bournemouth (0-0), Watford (1-1) and Fulham (0-0). The recent run of six wins all came against teams above QPR in the table at the time of the game – the two blots in the sequence, a 1-0 loss to Derby and 0-0 at Preston, were both against sides lower than us. Birmingham are 22nd to our 13th.

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…

“This is going to hurt, because Birmingham are awful, but a long week on the motorway will do us no favours and with our small squad this fixture pile up is going to test us massively. We were a bit ragged at Preston and with some changes to the starting XI promised we will need to strike a balance between freshness and familiarity on Saturday and in the coming weeks. Although we really should be winning this with something to spare, I think Hogan will score, and end our great run. Sigh.”

Mase’s Prediction: Birmingham 1-0 QPR. No scorer.

LFW’s Prediction: Birmingham 0-0 QPR. No scorer.

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plasmahoop added 19:35 - Feb 26
I find it strange that karanka has become so negative. I went to Brighton v Middlesbrough in late 2014 I think, in a fancy box, and Middlesbrough were excellent. Lee tomlin pulling the strings. Following promotion to the prem, they didn't venture over the halfway line and that has set the tone for his teams subsequently. Very strange!
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Burnleyhoop added 22:10 - Feb 26
Comprehensive, accurate and funny as usual Clive, good stuff.

I’m with you all the way when it comes to pushing on, but fully agree and accept it will be difficult to maintain. It’s the hope kicking in again. We have been spoiled during February but need to appreciate our limitations as a squad.

If we lose tomorrow, particularly with the potential need to rotate, it needs to be taken in good spirit. We surely cannot maintain current form until the end of the season....or can we?
1

TacticalR added 22:55 - Feb 26
Thanks for your preview.

We have proven that we can beat the top teams, now we need to prove we can beat the bottom teams. On paper, tomorrow is a good time to be playing Birmingham. However, this is a very strange season in a very strange league with some very strange results. Maybe Preston was a warning that Austin can't carry us by himself.
2

062259 added 04:34 - Feb 27
Is that what you do with a Jose Mourinho voodoo doll? I’ve always wondered.
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thehat added 07:18 - Feb 27
Brilliant and so true as always Clive - I really hope the players read this pre match report.
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kensalriser added 14:31 - Feb 27
What an intriguing photo of McCarthy - his nose is pointing straight at the camera yet the rest of his face is at an angle of 10 degrees or so. It’s like a Picasso.
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