The S*n is shining – Preview
Friday, 23rd Apr 2021 18:06 by Clive Whittingham
Warbs Warburton is set for the QPR exit door, or about to sign a contract for a longer stay, depending on which edition of this week’s S*n you choose to believe ahead of the Saturday visit of champions-elect Norwich.
QPR (17-11-15 WLWLWW 8th) v Norwich (27-9-7 DDWWLL 1st)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday April 24, 2021 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Glorious >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12
If you’re a QPR fan who still reads The S*n, despite the manipulative effect it has on our society and politics, despite its role in the cover up of the sort of inept and callous policing we’ve all experienced at football games that led to the deaths of 96 people at Hillsborough, despite it demonising football fans like us as the sort who would pick the pockets and defecate on the bodies of their own while they were dying, despite the page dedicated to “phwoar look at that 16-year-old's tits”, despite the phone hacking, despite the Katie Hopkins column, and despite them trying to wreck one of the best weeks of our sporting lives with its “GUILTY – 15 POINT DEDUCTION” bollocks at the climax of our 2010/11 title triumph… it’s been a rollercoaster of a week.
On Tuesday, moments after our fantastic and richly deserved 1-0 win away at promotion chasing Swansea, The S*n sought to prove that we’re really not allowed nice things by telling us “exclusively” that Warbs Warburton would be leaving at the end of the season for a desk job at the FA. Strange on the one hand, to have left a previous career in investment banking to instead strive to make it in football and now walk away from a relatively safe first team management job in the Championship to sit in front of another computer screen. Makes sense on the other, with Warbs’ background not only in his previous job, and the brilliant work he did at Brentford, Rangers and now QPR, but also his work with the NextGen player development programme, in the academy at Watford surrounded by coaches who’ve gone onto brilliant things, as a director of football at Griffin Park and so on. He's perfect for it, and John McDermott - ex-Spurs academy, who is stepping out of the job Warbs is a shoo-in for, according to The S*n - and Mark are tight as arse cheeks, according to The S*n. So he’s as good as gone.
QPR, knowing years of trauma have turned us into a right pant pissy lot under the slightest threat of danger/change, rushed out a statement late Tuesday saying this story categorically wasn’t true, at which point The S*n removed the story from its website. Because that’s how we do a journalism in 2021 – splash a story over the socials of a national newspaper that will attract a load of clicks, but do so with so little confidence in the sourcing and checking of it that we take it down as soon as one of the parties involved asks "are you sure?". No standing behind the reporter and his sources, nor apology for publishing something factually incorrect – just remove it, and pretend it never happened. Internet publishing, easy come, easy go, onto the next click-bait flyer. Maybe they could borrow the drum Keith Stroud draws his decisions out of as a story generator.
Anyway, a new day dawned on Wednesday and with it a new S*n QPR “exclusive”, this time stating that Warbs Warburton, FA-bound not 24-hours previous, is actually, in fact, staying at QPR. Staying at QPR so emphatically he’s on the verge of signing a new contract. Something the club, and the manager, said was possible, and desired, but a long way from the truth.
I mean, apart from all the moral and ethical reasons why you shouldn’t even be using the thing to soak up the liquified shit of a dying elderly relative, do people who still read The S*n not care that so much of it so often turns out not to be true? Guys, there are boobs on the internet now you know. If you’re QPR and you’re still among that number, even after the 15-point thing, have a word with yourself. You're enabling this shitstorm.
The whole thing, and the arrival of champions-elect Norwich into Shepherd’s Bush tomorrow, did get me wondering about Warbs though.
An opinion column that said Clint Hill was a “jobs for the boys” signing and we should have gone for Dusko Tosic instead, that Shaun Derry was past it, that “even QPR” couldn’t fail to make a success of a bargain £8m move for Steven Caulker, that Jordan Cousins was pound-for-pound the best Championship signing of the summer, that Jordan Mutch was “exactly the sort of player we should be going for”, that Harry Redknapp and Mark Hughes were probably “no brainer” choices after Neil Warnock had obviously lost the dressing room, that Tony Fernandes communicating directly with fans on Twitter after years of Flavio’s “just because you turn up once a week for £20 doesn’t mean you get a say” was a welcome change… doesn’t get many chances to crow about being right. We did, nevertheless, stay on the ‘stick’ side of the Warburton debate leading into Norwich away in December.
As, it should be said, did 60% of the message board posters who voted in a poll on his future that week. Pretty remarkable given QPR were about to go ten without a win, had won four of 24 games all season, and had finished the previous year so dreadfully in lockdown that actually his record was by this point six wins in 33, nine wins in 43, 14 wins in 60. I think it’s testament to how the demographics differ between our message board, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and so on – I’m not sure you’d have got even a tenth of that support for him on the other platforms. We were ‘stick’ too, though by the point of Norwich away it was largely based around apathy that we continue to change the manager without improving so the manager probably isn’t the problem, and the list of alternatives looked like somebody had set up a Tindr-style app designed to match you with recently released inmates from the nonses’ wing of Wakefield prison. I dare say whichever side of that 60-40 divide you were on at the end of December, and I include myself in this, the idea of shaking hands with Warbs and him moving onto a youth development role at the FA probably would have felt like a good idea all round.
There are still some I see around the online world we now live in who so deeply entrenched themselves in the idea that Warburton is terrible, must go, and we’ll be opening the season at Morecambe in 2021/22, who cannot now bring themselves to even begrudgingly rate the job he’s doing. The form has, after all, only picked up having spent precious funds loaning in an exceptional Championship midfielder in Stefan Johansen, and one of the division’s outstanding goalscorers over the last ten years who came in with a point to prove. And if we’re going to say changing the manager all the time for no improvement means the manager isn’t the problem, it is only fair if it does start to go well to say the manager wasn’t the only solution. QPR’s recruitment, recruitment anywhere, is a success of many parents or an orphan failure. Some, like Lee Wallace, Dom Ball or Liam Kelly, you can see the stamp of Warburton all over the contract. Others, like George Thomas, Chris Willock and Sam Field bear more the mark of recruitment head Andy Belk. In truth it’s a collaborative effort, and we shouldn’t be lording Warbs for it any more than we should have been hammering him for it six months ago.
You’d struggle to convince me he’s not doing a good job here though. I hear the criticism that a team with Nahki Wells, Ebere Eze, Bright Osayi-Samuel, Jordan Hugill and Ilias Chair in it should have done a lot better last season, and dream of what might have been possible had that attack been paired with this year’s defence – Rob Dickie and Seny Dieng neck and neck for this year’s Player of the Year trophy. But don’t also forget the absolute state of a team he inherited from Steve McClaren, one that had won just three matches in the whole second half of the previous campaign and had what few outstanding players, particularly Luke Freeman, it had left ripped away that pre-season. Immediately after walking through the door Warbs had to ship 16 players out, and replace them on a lower budget. Having a built an attractive, if incredibly leaky, team for the first season he then lost all his outstanding attackers and had to do another summer of a dozen out and a dozen in, again on a lower budget. What money we’ve spent has been spent on punts and projects, like Lyndon Dykes, and Chris Willock, who were always going to take time to settle and succeed if they were to settle and succeed at all.
To do all of that while improving incrementally year on year, is superb. Just think, a year ago, if I’d said as well as Wells going to Bristol City we’re going to lose Eze, Manning, Hall, Osayi-Samuel, Hugill, and in a year’s time we’ll be higher in the league, more wins, better defence… you’d have said I was mad. We’re seeing the obvious progress of players. Ebere Eze grew into a £20m player in his last season with us, you certainly wouldn’t have paid that for him in the summer of 2019. Osayi-Samuel got a move to Fenerbahce, McClaren couldn’t even find a place for him in his team. In Dykes and Willock you’re seeing, starkly, the progression of young players from the point they were at in September, to that destruction of Swansea we saw on Tuesday. And it’s all being done in a style of football, on the ground with width, that QPR fans aspire to seeing their team play.
There are faults, sure. This incredible run of results carrying us to the brink of the play-offs will also raise expectations of a top six push next season which may well be possible, but also may be hamstrung when it turns out we can’t afford Johansen and Austin permanently after all, and I’m sure people will lose their shit all over again if and when that transpires. But there are other things Warburton does that I really like, that stand us in good stead long term. The picking of a strong team in that meaningless game at West Brom last year when most of us wanted to lose for the Brentford hilarity spoke of respect and integrity, not only for the competition but of putting the QPR shirt on for a game. The whole Todd Kane thing, again all about respect. As well as the faith and development of young players, one thing we’ve been crying out for during the years of Paladini and his agent friends, Briatore and his “boutique football club”, Hughes/Joorabchian/Rigg and their “business of winning Premier League football games”, ‘Arry and his “bonus games”… is that respect and reverence for the club, the shirt, and what it means to play for it and represent it. Be that for the first game of the season, a title decider, or an end of season dead rubber - it hurts us as fans when we lose, and Warburton treats eahc opportunity to pull the shirt on and play for the club the same way.
In amongst it all I think I said if we could come through a storm without immediately changing the manager we’d be better for it, and the longer Warburton can keep preaching his steadfast values the healthier we’ll become as a team, club and support base. I can at least chalk that up in the ‘right’ column, which is one more mark than The S*n has ever managed to achieve in its QPR coverage.
Links >>> Seamless return – Interview >>> Swinging 60s – History >>> Linington in charge – Referee >>> Norwich Official Website >>> The Pink ‘Un – Local Press and Forum >>> Eastern Daily Press – Local Press >>> My Football Writer - Norwich City >>> Along Come Norwich - Blog
Geoff Cameron Facts No.144 In The Series – Geoff wonders whether Bryan Adams wasn’t a bit young for a six string and a serious relationship in 1969.
Below the fold
Team News: Jordy De Wijs is likely to return from the broken nose he suffered in a nasty clash at Rotherham, but Geoff Cameron misses out again and now has just two games of his current QPR contract remaining. QPR had an option to trigger a permanent move for De Wijs and fellow loanee Sam Field should they make 12 appearances in the second half of the season, according to West London Sport, but neither can reach that target now. De Wijs is unbeaten in the five and a half games he has managed since joining from Hull, but his injury problems since the turn of the year would appear to cast that move into some doubt. Field should still go through, barring a change of heart/manager at West Brom or late interest from elsewhere. Charlie Austin, also on loan from West Brom, returned from a three match ban off the bench at the Liberty Stadium during the week. Seny Dieng missed that game with a one match ban for his Middlesbrough red card, opening the door for Joe Lumley to keep a fourth clean sheet in five appearances. He should be good to return here, despite breaking his nose prior to the red card a week ago, but there’s a choice to be made there. Lee Wallace didn’t make the Tuesday trip but should return. The season is over for Luke Amos, Little Tom Carroll and Charlie Owens.
Ben Gibson (ankle), Christoph Zimmermann (lost at sea), Lukas Rupp (poor banter), Sam Byram (finally entered puberty), Dimitris Giannoulis (consonant please Rachel) are all missing for the visitors.
Elsewhere: As is so often the case, it’s at the bottom of the league where the real intrigue lies as the Mercantile Credit Trophy reaches its final three rounds.
Borussia Norwich, as we know, are up, and Udinese B are all but certain to follow them with an eight point gap to third – they’re at home to Millllllllllllllllllllll this weekend. It’s actually Bournemouth - who looked out of it a few weeks ago but have now won seven straight, including three away from home in a week, scoring 21 goals in the process – who are now third. However, Justice League-leaders Racing Club de Syon House head to Dean Court this weekend in the Saturday lunchtime game, almost certainly the best team they’ll have faced all season and FiveThirtyEight.com make the Bees 238% likely to win that fixture following their latest thumping xG victory against Cardiff last time out. Swanselona sit between those two in fourth, but didn’t look to have much left in the tank during the week, and they head to Reading on Sunday.
Reading have to win that to keep play-off hopes alive, but as they’re six points shy of Grimley Miner’s Welfare in sixth it could be basically all over before they even play. Barnsley are at home to luckless near neighbours Rotherham on Saturday. The Millers, of course, need points for different reasons. They maintain two games in hand (away at Brentford and Luton) over Wayne Rooney’s Derby County and are only four points back, but contrived to lose to Coventry, Birmingham and Middlesbrough at home last week – three better home games you could hardly have picked.
It’s actually starting to look like Sheffield Blue Stripe might be the ones to escape that bottom three after all, if anybody is going to. They’re also four points back from “Mel Morris has got the Championship on strings” and play the Rams on the final day of the season. They have the Thirteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour away tomorrow – a must win, one would think. Based on first half results across the season, Wednesday would currently be seventh. Bayo Akinfenwa’s injury time penalty against Bristol City in the week, awarded for handball off a shot from goalkeeper David Stockdale, was his first Championship goal and technically keeps Wycombe’s hopes going for another week, though nothing but a win for them at Cardiff will do now.
If the Assassin-faced Baby (hat tip @Goddardinho) is to keep Derby in the league it doesn’t look like it’ll have much to do with him or his team. They’ve now lost four in a row, including defeats at poor Preston and Blackburn sides that have long since given up, and face Birmingham at home this weekend with a final day showdown with Sheff Wed looming large.
The collection of games with nothing riding on them but nothing better do with our time grows by the week – the north off between Blackburn and Sporting Huddersfield, Coventry’s ‘home’ game with Preston Knob End, Nottingham Florist’s cast of a thousand footballers against Stoke, and the Sunday game between a Bristol City side praying to be put out of its misery and Lutown, are all here to make up the numbers.
Referee: Championship veteran and regular at QPR games for several years now, James Linington from the Isle of Wight is in charge of this one. Case history.
QPR: Rangers have won three of their last four, seven of their last 11 and 13 of their last 21 to rise to eighth in the league which is as high as they’ve been since the opening day when they won 2-0 at home to Nottingham Forest. Only Watford (48) and Norwich (46) have taken more points than QPR (41) in the Championship since the turn of the year. All this followed a run of four wins from their first 24 league and cup fixtures of the season, six wins out of 33 games if you included the lockdown fixtures last season, and nine wins from 43 going back to last January. QPR have already won more games in 2021 (13/22) than they did in the whole of 2020 (12/46). The R’s come into this game on the back of consecutive away wins at Middlesbrough and Swansea which lifted them to seven away victories overall, equal with last year’s total with a trip to fellow midtable dwellers Stoke still to come. They haven’t won more than that on the road since the 2013/14 promotion season when they managed eight. The 1-0 at Swansea was also the thirteenth clean sheet of the season, one shy of the 14 managed in 2018/19 and two away from the 15 managed in 2015/17 which is our best total since the last relegation. Joe Lumley has been involved in four of those, one as a sub, despite only making five appearances. QPR have conceded 51 goals this season, 19 fewer then they had after 43 games in 2019/20 and this will be the first season in four attempts that we haven’t shipped 70+ goals over the course of a campaign. The win at the Liberty Stadium was our first without Lee Wallace in the side since January 20 when we won at Swansea’s South Wales-rivals Cardiff. Yoann Barbet remains the only outfield player in the Championship to have played every minute of league action for his club this season. At Loftus Road Rangers have won their last three matches scoring ten goals in the process. Mark Warbuton’s win percentage of 35.8 from 95 games is the best since Neil Warnock, 39.2 between 2010 and 2012 – that includes Harry Redknapp (35%) whose spell in charge included a promotion season. Lyndon Dykes now has six goals in seven QPR games after none in his previous 21 and has 11 for the season overall. Rangers are unbeaten against the three relegated Premier League teams who currently make up the top three - with two wins and three draws from five games with Norwich, Watford and Bournemouth.
Norwich: Norwich finished their Premier League season losing their last ten matches, conceding 24 goals and scoring one. They started their return to the Championship with a win, a draw and two defeats in the first four, but any perceived hangover did not last long. They have won 27 of their 42 league and cup games since then, with eight draws and just seven defeats in the remaining fixtures. That includes a run of nine straight victories, with six clean sheets, between February 13 and March 17, part of a 13-game unbeaten sequence which included 11 victories and only ended in the last two matches against fellow promotion chasers Bournemouth and Watford which were both lost after promotion had been secured anyway. Five points clear with nine to play for, they can follow an illustrious trail of clubs in sealing a title at Loftus Road if they win and Watford lose at home to Millwall. Nobody has won more than their 27 league games this year, nor lost fewer than their seven defeats. They have the second best defensive record in the division (32 conceded bettered only by Watford’s 28). Nobody has won as many away (14) or lost as few (four). The away losses came at Bournemouth, Luton, Watford and Swansea but they are now unbeaten in seven road trips, winning six. Over their last two seasons at this level Norwich have taken 184 points from 89 matches, losing only 13 times in two years. In Teemu Pukki’s two Championship seasons since joining on a free from Brondby he has scored 54 goals in 80 starts and two sub appearances. Emi Buendia is second top scorer this campaign with 13, but is also one of only three players to be sent off twice in the Championship this season. Prior to the two defeats they bring into this match, Norwich had kept clean sheets in 13 of their previous 21 games. QPR held the league leaders to a 1-1 draw in the first meeting at Carrow Road at the end of December but haven’t beaten Norwich in their last three meetings since Ian Holloway’s side destroyed them 4-1 on this ground three years ago almost to the day. QPR have played Norwich more than any other club but don’t have a great recent record – one win from six, two wins from 14, three wins from 17 and four from 20. Rangers have failed to score in five of the last eight meetings.
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. Let’s see what last season’s champion Mase offers us this week…
“Norwich have been partying hard in the past few games, suffering several defeats that will stand them in good stead for the regular humpings and inevitable unsuccessful relegation scrap coming their way next year. I think we can continue our upswing and get a result but I am playing it cautious a going for the draw this time. We've had a lot of games recently, and Warbs' casual mention in the post mortem at Swansea drums home how well we did to cope with the late/unexpected unavailability of three senior players in De Wijs, Wallace and Cameron there. I hope it won't all catch up with us come Saturday.”
Mase’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Norwich. Scorer – Charlie Austin
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-2 Norwich. Scorer – Charlie Austin
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Letters from Wiltshire #48 by wessex_exile
“And now the end is near, and so we face the final curtain…regrets, we’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention”. Not quite right Paul Anka, probably more than a few, but otherwise a fair assessment of where the U’s are today. It’ll be interesting to see how we perform with the relegation monkey finally off their back – I’m not expecting miracles, particularly with Tranmere needing at least a point to guarantee making the play-offs, but they’ll certainly be more nervous than we will be, so can we make that count? This will be my last blog of the season, and not yet sure what I may or may not do for next season, but suggestions are always welcome.
Letters from Wiltshire #47 by wessex_exile
Here we are, at the penultimate game of the season, and our last game in front of the cardboard U’s faithful at the JobServe. It has been a long, difficult, and definitely strange season, which frankly I’ll be glad to see the back of. That’ll we’ll be here again in August is definitely going to be something to celebrate, but I suspect we’re facing a summer of significant rebuilding both on the pitch, and possibly off it too. I won’t be the only one, but the biggest oddity for me has been being able to watch every single game – not always easy viewing, but something I’ve never done before, and probably never will again. But it doesn’t really make up for not being there in person, the long train journey away-days, meeting fellow U’s and other supporters, and of course sharing a beer or three. Fingers-crossed we can return to the terraces in 2021/22.
Letters from Wiltshire #46 by wessex_exile
That was quite a week for us all then. In the space of four short but remarkably tense days we have gone from having to take shoes and socks off to check how many more points we need to guarantee survival, or whether we would even achieve it, to breathing a huge sigh of relief knowing we’re almost there. But close of play this afternoon, whether by our own actions or the failure of others, I am sure survival will be confirmed. Of course, Tuesday night not only all but guaranteed it, it also virtually condemned local rivals Southend United to non-league football for the foreseeable. Looking at the host of fully professional former football league sides currently battling it out for the two promotion slots out of the National league (including Hartlepool, Torquay, Stockport, Wrexham, Chesterfield and Notts County), it is not going to be a walk in the park for Southend to return any day soon.
Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
Tonight, Colchester United face Southend United in what may not necessarily be the most important game of our respective histories (though it’s certainly very close), but is almost certainly the most important Essex derby ever. However this season pans out, by the end of it there’ll either be only one team in Essex, or worst case scenario, none at all. If the U’s win, then Southend will be 9pts behind with just three games to go, and a minimum of a -12 goal difference to overturn if they want to overtake us. Certainly mathematically possible, but that would rely on a remarkable turnaround in their form, form that they’ve shown precious little sign of achieving so far this season. The stalking horse is Grimsby, with their game in hand, who have rather belatedly shown an improvement in form, so their match against automatic promotion chasing Morecambe tonight is equally important, particularly if we want to avoid the unthinkable, with both Essex clubs dropping out of the league.
Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
So here we are, as the nation mourns the passing of His Royal Highness, Duke of Edinburgh, the U’s face the first of two season-defining moments, with our late kick-off match at home to Walsall. Before then, no doubt many will have been focused on events elsewhere, not least the early kick-offs for Grimsby (at home to promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers), and particularly Essex rivals Southend United, who faced a tricky visit to Exeter City – still very much in the hunt for at least a play-off spot. As I finalise this blog, I know that Grimsby have beaten Bolton 2-1, and Southend earned a credible 0-0 draw in the West Country. More to the point, the U’s will know this too. Whilst I can’t help but feel that will ought to be to our advantage, it surely must also put additional pressure on a squad whose confidence is paper-thin. We must hope that Hayden Mullins, assisted by Paul Tisdale, get their heads right, and send the lads out this evening fired up with self-belief.
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