Game 38 - Preview
Thursday, 1st Apr 2021 20:17 by Clive Whittingham
For game 38 of season 2020/21 QPR have a home fixture with a relegation-haunted, newly-promoted side, just as they did for game 38 of 2019/20. It's imperative, for all sorts of reasons, the team takes a different fork in the road this time.
QPR (13-12-13 LWWLWD 12th) v Coventry (9-12-16 LDLWLD 20th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Friday April 2, 2021 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Do we think that’s the end of the sun for this year? >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12
In game 37 of the 2019/20 season, QPR, with ten men, won 3-1 at Preston. It moved them to 50 points, six shy of the play-off places, on an unbeaten run of six games, and sent optimism coursing through the club for the first time in literally years.
Then the world fell apart. By the time Rangers returned to action some three and a half months later it was behind closed doors. The players, along with the rest of the country, had spent most of the intervening period locked in their own homes. Hands were shaken with Marc Pugh, who’d been a useful utility substitute, while captain and centre half Grant Hall felt his sideways move to Middlesbrough was too important to imperil by playing the games he was contracted for after sitting out vast swathes of the previous four seasons on full pay. Well, I guess the bar staff and professional camera crews at those gender reveal parties don’t pay for themselves. Ryan Manning and Bright Osayi-Samuel, in particular, came back with eyes apparently firmly fixed on potential close-season moves, rather than what QPR might be able to achieve over the remaining games. The performances were abject, the body language little short of appalling.
Warbs Warburton blamed none of this for the resulting slump. He, and the club, complained bitterly at being asked to return to action at short notice with just three weeks of socially segregated preparation time. He talked in depth about the weird experience of playing in closed stadiums, changing in hospitality suites and executive boxes, travelling in separate coaches, not being allowed to stay over at long distance away games. Everything was different, all of it was strange, and QPR’s young team didn’t cope well with it. I can buy that.
Whatever the reason, any optimism Rangers fans took into those final nine games rapidly drained away through meek defeats to Barnsley, Charlton, Wigan, and most shambolically of all Sheffield Wednesday. One of the worst performances I’ve seen from a modern day QPR team that one, and believe me I’ve seen and written about some festering shite in that time.
Although there were sweeping extenuating circumstances in 2019/20, that end of season malaise wasn’t particularly new.
There was a good deal of positivity around the place at the turn of the year in 2018/19, as Steve ‘Schteve’ McClaren had the team within arm’s length of the play off places at Christmas after consecutive wins against Middlesbrough, Ipswich and, most famously, away at Nottingham Forest. He also succeeded where so many had failed in getting the team motoring through a couple of awkward FA Cup ties. But a combination of having to play the top eight in the division consecutively, in a very congested fixture list, with a starting 11 he’d flogged to death through the early games, and a set of unusually unfairly weighted refereeing calamities, saw all that hope and optimism drain away into four wins from the final 24 games – two of those after McClaren had been sacked.
It was a similar story in 2016/17. Ian Holloway had taken over from Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink on a tidal wave of nostalgia and goodwill, immediately lost seven of his first eight games, and then revamped the team in January after New Year wins against Wolves and Ipswich bought time. Out went the carefully scouted European bargain buys – Tjaronn Chery, Seb Polter, Ariel Borysiuk. Holloway spoke about wanting “the French lads to run around a bit more”. In came Big Posh Matt Smith, Luke Freeman from Bristol City on Gary Penrice’s recommendation. Lee Hoos hailed it as a sparkling January at a fans forum, and QPR set off through five wins and a draw from seven matches in March including a 4-1 at Birmingham and a 5-1 home success against Rotherham. Again, it felt like we were getting somewhere, like next year might be our year, like there was light at the end of the tunnel, and again it turned out to just be another train heading towards us in the opposite direction. Rangers played like they thought it was all done and dusted, lost another six games in a row, and ended up relying on a nervy 2-0 at home to a crap Nottingham Forest side in the final match at Loftus Road to stay up at all. They lost 4-0 at Norwich on the last day, just to make you really fucking glad it was finally all over.
Here we are again now, nine games to go. I can hear the mitigating circumstances already. It has been a horrendously tall order to get through an already unworkable Championship fixture list in an even shorter period of time than normal. Even on the few international breaks we have had players like Lyndon Dykes have often (ridiculously, outrageously, unfairly, unnecessarily) been asked to play three matches in seven days with international flights during a time of global pandemic. QPR have done remarkably well with injuries and Covid tests, something Les Ferdinand was keen to namecheck the doctors for in the recent fans forum, but must be running on fumes at this point. What look like favourable games on paper – at home to Coventry, Sheff Wed, away to Rotherham – are actually fixtures with teams fighting for their survival. Were QPR to finish midtable again, pretty much on par with the thirteenth place and 58 points they managed in 2019/20, having lost Mass Luongo, Darnell Furlong, Luke Freeman, Pawel Wzsolek and others one summer and then Grant Hall, Toni Leistner, Ryan Manning, Nahki Wells, Jordan Hugill, Marc Pugh, essentially Bright Osayi-Samuel and most damagingly Ebere Eze the next, you could make a case for that being wonderful progress regardless of how the next nine games go.
But, equally, you could also say a team with Ebere Eze, Bright Osayi-Samuel, Jordan Hugill, Nahki Wells and others in it should probably have done a good deal better than it did last term – hamstrung by a horrendous defensive record of 76 conceded, almost all of them from set pieces. Significant improvements, like going from 62 goals conceded at 37 games last year to 43 now, seven clean sheets overall last season to 11 already now, Rob Dickie, Seny Dieng, to be celebrated. But marginal improvements in points, league position, wins and losses, when we’ve again needed a couple of Premier League loans to do it… probably much of a muchness in the hurly burley of the Championship, useful only to people like me trying to craft 48 match previews a season.
Charlie Austin has obviously made a transformative impact in attack, even when not playing that well. Stefan Johansen has been an even bigger surprise – never once, when he was at Fulham, did I look at him and see anything other than a run-of-the-mill upper-Championship midfielder, now nearer the end of his career than the beginning, but he is magnificent. Everything you want at this level – equal parts cynical shithouse and beautiful left foot. I’d crawl on bare hands and knees over broken glass for 500 miles to put a contract in his hand. A player like that, at a Premier League club, isn’t on less than £25k a week, probably a good deal more, and our best hope of getting him back is Fulham stay up, want to loan him out again, and none of the other 18/19 Championship teams with better wage budgets than us have noticed. Likewise Austin, out of contract at West Brom but on easily north of £40k a week. All this talk of having a purpose, loving the club, money not being the most important thing… we’ll see. From what he’s on at West Brom, to what we can pay at QPR, in what would almost certainly be the last big pay day of his career… fair play if he goes for that but I don’t see it. That leaves us back at square one, with the decent nucleus of a team, and some great young players, but still needing to cash in on an asset – Seny Dieng? – fairly soon, and relying on Premier League loans, Austin and Johansen equivalents, to move us from might go down to might trouble sixth.
That’s a pretty bleak assessment. Lee Hoos, and LFW in our write up to be fair, rather took the piss out of the ranty fans forum question about “treading water financially”. Hoos said the club aspires to tread water financially, a quote he’ll no doubt be beaten over the head with for years to come, but is nevertheless absolutely correct.
Fans who haven’t been to Rangers for more than a year - have fallen out of the habit, have noticed how much extra money is now in their bank account when you’re not getting the 08.00 from Euston to Preston Knob End every week, are perhaps a little bit reticent about being on public transport or in crowds again – need something to get excited and optimistic about, need a reason to renew again, need some hope, need some optimism. This team playing as it has over the last nine games in the next nine, with the results to match, could provide exactly that. Keep this new-year feel-good factor going, show real and genuine progress from last season to this, even though we had to sell the best player and reinvest, get people optimistic and looking forward to coming back to W12 and cheering on what looks like a potentially very exciting, progressive, well managed, well coached young team.
And you couldn’t really pick a better game to start with.
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
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Geoff Cameron Facts No.139 In The Series – Geoff’s contract renewal hangs on finding somebody who can not only fly a plane, but didn’t have fish for dinner.
Below the fold
Team News: Reading’s early second half onslaught on the QPR goal coincided with Jordy De Wijs crying off with another injury – big tart, I’ll let you tell him. Dom Ball was subsequently introduced from the bench and played a big part in swinging the balance of play back towards Rangers in the closing stages but he, too, also left the field late in the game injured. Ball has featured in this week’s training ground pictures, De Wijs has not. Geoff Cameron would be the obvious switch in the middle of the back three. Lyndon Dykes started twice for Scotland, including against the Faroe Islands two days ago, and Warbs Warburton has tended to bench him when that has been the case before. Chris Willock would probably get the nod off Charlie Austin if that’s the case, given recent selections, with Mac Bonne the other option. Niko Hämäläinen started once and came off the bench in the other Finland game but has fallen behind Player of the Month Lee Wallace in the reckoning anyway, Seny Dieng made his full international debut for Senegal so that could be an interesting one with travel arrangements and Covid-restrictions – may a farewell Joe Lumley appearance be on the cards versus the club he last started against for Rangers back in September? Osman Kakay started ahead of Todd Kane, despite Toddy knowing the game inside out, at Reading – further clues as to what the club and the manager really thought of his interview comments available in this team selection.
Kyle McFadzean, who you may remember from such films as Coventry 3-2 QPR in the first meeting this season, serves the second game of a harsh two match ban for an adjudged deliberate handball in the area in the first half of their recent defeat at Luton. Fankaty Dabo, who we liked a lot in the first meeting, is injured, along with Arsenal loanee Ben Sheaf.
Elsewhere: A fortnight of rest and vital games against the Faroe Islands must immediately be punished by two league matches in four days, and the vast majority of the first clump will be played on Good Friday.
Bournemouth posting a £60m loss in their latest set of accounts lays the importance of getting back to the Premier League money – and not spaffing quite so much of it on wanker footballers and their wages and agents this time – out fairly starkly. They sit seventh, three points adrift of Reading, with a game in hand, and start their final straight with a home date on the Thirteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour – six points back, you’d think Boro need to be posting runs of wins double lively to be involved too.
Stoke are midtable and miles adrift, making their rumoured Championship record loss of £87m for 2019/20 a clear indication that clubs at this level are assuming/hoping FFP simply won’t be a thing going forwards post-pandemic. They’re at Bristol City, whose new manager boost under Nigel Pearson so far stretched to three wins in seven and a home defeat to Rotherham last time out. Nottingham Florist, posting a £32m loss, head to Cardiff.
Every other game on the coupon has football stuff at stake. League leaders Borussia Norwich have bitched and moaned about player welfare all week having been forced to come back from an international break into a Friday game away at Preston Knob End, but eight points clear of Watford and 14 away from Swanselona that really is first world problems. Watford, though, do have a bit of a gimme at home to dead-on-arrival Sheffield Blue Stripe, and you’d probably fancy Swanselona away at hapless Birmingham as well. Barnsley blotted their incredible run with a shock defeat to Wednesday at the end of the last set of games, and now face a big top-six battle with Reading in a Friday evening TV game.
Down at the other end, it’s probably getting to the stage where lockdown restrictions need to be relaxed for a priest to attend Wycombe’s game at home to the Mad Chicken Farmers. Rotherham are away to Miwallwawwllll (fack’s‘sake’‘wawll) and have 35 points from 34 games played. They’re three shy of Birmingham, with four games in hand, four away from Coventry having played three games fewer, and five shy of Derby who’ve played 38. Rotherham still have to play Coventry, though it is in a Saturday-Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday week of which we form the Tuesday part as the Millers attempt to cram their Covid-afflicted fixture list into the time remaining. There’s a school of thought that says Wayne Rooney’s Derby – no win in seven, failing to score in five – might be the most vulnerable if Paul Warne’s side can gain momentum through this hectic run. What they do with a home game with Lutown, exactly what you’d want at this point, will tell us a lot.
That just leaves the Saturday lunchtime televised fixture at Huddersfield where Justice League leaders Spartak Hounslow, fresh from their self-assessed 4-1 home win against Nottingham Florist, will almost certainly be the best team the Terriers have played all season. FiveThirtyEight.com says there is a 485% chance of an away win there.
Referee: Jeremy Simpson, not with us since October 2019 and not missed much in the meantime, is in charge of this one, with Keithy baby looming on the horizon for Forest on Monday. Details.
QPR: QPR have an unbeaten record on the line here - W3 D3 L0 when coming back off a break of eight days or more this season. The Huddersfield defeat and Reading draw made it W2 D3 L7 when following Tuesday/Wednesday games on a Saturday. Having won just four of their first 24 league and cup games this season, Rangers have now won nine and drawn two of 15. At Loftus Road QPR started with three wins from their first 13 games, failed to score in seven of those and scored just 11 in total. Since then they’ve won five of seven in W12, scoring ten. There are a lot of obvious comparisons with this point last season when QPR won game 37 3-1 at Preston to move to within six points of the play offs, with 50 points exactly as we have now. At that point Rangers had scored 58 compared to 39 now, and conceded 62 compared to 43 now. We’ve already surpassed last season’s clean sheet total of six with the 11 we have to this point. Optimism quickly dissipated over the remaining nine games, all played in lockdown, starting with a 1-0 loss at home to Barnsley, who were 22nd compared to Coventry’s 20th, and continuing through just two wins and two draws from the remaining games. QPR finished 13th (currently 12th), with 16 wins (currently 13), seven away wins (currently five), ten draws (currently 11), 20 defeats (currently 13), 67 scored (currently 39), 76 conceded (currently 43). QPR have hit the woodwork 12 times in the Championship this season. The only team that has done so more often is… Coventry, with 17. Coventry have also stolen QPR’s long held crown as king of the penalty concession. Nobody in this league has given away as many pens as them (ten, all of which have been scored) although we’re not far behind on seven (Preston and Birmingham sit between us and Cov on eight) with six of those converted – the one that Seny Dieng did save went straight in on the rebound. Rangers lost three home games in a row to Coventry between 2005 and 2008 but are now unbeaten in three, drawing two.
Coventry Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone, prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone, silence the pianos and with muffled drum, bring out the coffin, let the mourners come – itttttttttttttttttttt’sssssssssssss the team with the fewest away wins in the Championship this year. Whatever might QPR do with a side that has won only twice on its travels this year? Wycombe match them on two away wins, and beat them for defeats with 13 to the Sky Blues’ 11. Sheff Wed have also been beaten 13 times away from Hillsborough and, oh my, look who we have at home after this. Only Luton, with a pitiful nine, have scored fewer away goals this year than Coventry’s 13. The two wins they have managed came over Christmas as Wycombe and Millwall were both vanquished on their own patches 2-1. Since then it’s played seven, lost six, and the draw was against Birmingham in that weird ‘who lives in a house like this?’ meeting with the landlords. City have scored just three goals across those seven fixtures. Overall Cov come into this one with two wins (both at home to nil against Brentford, massive lol, and Derby, likewise) from their last 12 matches and haven’t scored in the last two. Their 3-1 home win against Rotherham in the first week of December was the third time they’d scored three goals in a game in their first 16 games back at this level, all of which resulted in wins, including our defeat there back in September. They haven’t managed it since though, failing to score at all in 12 of the last 22 and managing just a single goal in six of the other ten. Tyler Walker is their top scorer with just five, two of those against Brentford in that shock home win last month (stop it).
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. We nailed the Reading prediction, let’s see what last season’s champion Mase offers us this week…
“Coventry are putting up a decent show this year, and have enough about them to be the right side of the dotted line come May. However, we should be too strong for them after a couple of weeks on the training pitch. Let's crash through that 52-point barrier. Happy Easter to all of you!
Mase’s Prediction: QPR 2-1 Coventry. Scorer – Charlie Austin
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-0 Coventry. Scorer – Charlie Austin
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When Saturday Comes #11 by wessex_exile
This blog is a little earlier than usual, to give me and Alfie time to load up the car and sally forth for our first awayday of the season together, on the road to Vale Park – “He who would valiant be, 'gainst all disaster, let him in constancy follow the Master”. Not quite sure who the master is in that analogy, but let’s hope it’s Hayden Mullins on Saturday. All being well, I’m looking forward to catching up with fellow U’sual boarders (Noah, Durham maybe?, anyone else) when I get there. I won’t be meeting up with Clampin (Covid) or Judge (calf injury) who will miss out on making the trip, nor of course Tchamadeu (see below).
When Saturday Comes #10 by wessex_exile
So here we are again, still looking for that elusive first home league win of the season, only this time against high-flying (and recently non-league) Harrogate Town. That isn’t meant to be in any way disrespectful for Harrogate Town, they should be applauded for what they have achieved so far, but it is nevertheless a measure of how far our stock has fallen in recent years that we find ourselves in this situation. I have no doubt that today will be a difficult game, but it’ll be even more so if Hayden Mullins doesn’t take anything from recent performances and realise that what he’s trying just doesn’t seem to be working – he simply has to change things around. Whether he will or not remains to be seen – maybe he will, maybe won’t and the old guard will finally come good? I guess we’ll know one way or another by 5pm.
When Saturday Comes #9 by wessex_exile
After the complete horror-show that was U’s v Salford last Saturday, we find ourselves desperately clinging on to our away form like a drowning man to a lifebuoy…and I have no doubt Tranmere will be seriously stamping on our fingers in that regard. As a Friday night kick-off, I can look forward to the live match stream, which I was fortunately spared for the Salford game (it sounded bad enough). Swings and roundabouts though, if this hadn’t been rearranged to a Friday night, I may well have joined my Tranmere mate Chris and his family for the weekend – Prenton Park is always a good visit for an awayday, so safe travelling and good luck to Durham and the rest of the U’s faithful who make the trip.
When Saturday Comes #8 by wessex_exile
I’ve gone back through my archive, and the last football match I attended before last Saturday at the County Ground was U’s at Cheltenham on 29th February 2020 (and covered in LfW11) – In other words a 574 day wait. Others have mentioned about finding other things to do, losing their love for live football, things like that, and certainly my bank balance has appreciated the break from costly awaydays for the best (worst) part of 18 months. If I’m honest, I was slightly worried that I would go the same way, that the attraction would fade after so long, but I needn’t have been. As a result, it’ll be a slightly different format to this When Saturday Comes blog.
When Saturday Comes #7 by wessex_exile
Well that didn’t go as planned at all – after a stirring battling performance full of grit, character and togetherness with the small band of travelling supporters at Barrow, the U’s then finally returned back to the JobServe and completely failed to turn up against bogey side Crawley. They weren’t the only ones either, Hayden Mullins was absent as well, and we have since learned he has Covid-19 and will also miss tomorrow’s game at Swindon too – I know we all wish Hayden a speedy recovery. Fortunately, I won’t be missing the match, with tickets arriving last weekend – first live game for best part of 18 months, and I can’t bloody wait!
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