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Blackburn Rovers 1 v 0 Queens Park Rangers
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 30th July 2022 Kick-off 15:00
Hoops and fears - Preview
Friday, 29th Jul 2022 18:01 by Clive Whittingham

Under new management, QPR head back to the scene of one of last season's nadirs with a trip to Blackburn on the opening day of 2022/23.

Blackburn (19-12-15 DLLWLW 8th) v QPR (19-9-18 LDWLLW 11th)

Lancashire and District Senior League >>> Saturday July 30, 2022 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Gray, drizzle, of course >>> Ewood Park, Blackburn, Lancashire

Happy New Season Eve to all who celebrate. Just one more nervous, restless sleep to go before we get to go downstairs and see whether it’s going to be like that time the Super Nintendo came into our lives for the first time, or that year of bitter recriminations and gratuitously violent fallout from dad buying mum a new breadbin. “It’s a good one to be fair, look…”

If you’re one of those “fuck off and support Chelsea then if you feel like that” types, there’s enough, I think, to make you think it’s going to be Mario Kart and chocolate oranges through until Boxing Day. QPR have some very good football players. Seny Dieng, Rob Dickie, Jimmy Dunne, Jake Clarke-Salter, Sam Field, Stefan Johansen, Chris Willock and Ilias Chair would get in most teams in this league, and all bar Johansen are under 30. Chair and Willock, in particular, are among the very best players there are at this level. For two thirds of last season they were part of a team that looked a play-off certainty, and at one point at the end of January well capable of pushing Bournemouth for second spot.

To that add Kenneth Paal, who the analytics crowd are all gooey over, Jake Clarke-Salter who was excellent for Coventry last season, Tyler Roberts who has been promoted from this league before as a regular starter regardless of his goals record, and Taylor Richards. With Lee Wallace, unable to reproduce his 2020/21 form thanks to age and injury, and Yoann Barbet, very good but slightly erratic, replaced with Paal and Clarke-Salter, you’d be hard pressed to say the whole left side of our defence hasn’t been improved, and its age brought down substantially. That’s a net gain on last season, at least in theory and on paper. Hopefully it turns out that way.

There will be more to come. If you’re needy/unhinged enough to reply to the club’s official social media feeds with “SIGNINGS NOW” and “THIS ISN’T MITROVIC” every time they Tweet the box office opening hours for the week, then it can feel like the club is spiralling into crisis through every transfer window, that the deadline is only ten minutes away, and we’ve currently only got eight players signed up. None of it is true. It may be far from ideal, but that fact is there is more than a month of window left and the bulk of the Premier League loan deals will be done in the final fortnight of that. Outside of Cardiff and Hull, it’s been a slow summer across the league, with the market for mid-range Championship buys for actual money completely non-existent. Be interesting to see whether Boro and Glasgow Rangers getting some readies in this week and looking to spend might kick start that a bit. But QPR have signed four players, and will sign more. We’re not going to play Osman Kakay at right back all season. If it’s not Danny McNamara it’ll be Dujon Sterling and if it’s not him it’ll be somebody else. It’s QPR, they love signing players. Give me that razor blade here and let’s sit down and have a nice cold beer while we wait.

The collapse of last season can be explained at least in part by injuries to key players. Chris Willock and Rob Dickie are back, as is Seny Dieng, crocked in this fixture in February, and perhaps the biggest miss of all in what transpired. Hopefully whatever persistent niggle it was that hampered Johansen so obviously has also now cleared up across the summer break. Sam Field has a fresh set of downs – back from 14 yellow cards to nought, for now at least. Pre-season performances have been ropey, but we’re settling into a new system with a new manager, we’re a couple of players short, and pre-season is fitness first focus anyway. We had one of our worst, results and performance wise, in 2010 when Neil Warnock then went unbeaten through the first 19 games last season. We were absolutely flying this time a year ago, and while it was difficult to walk away from last week’s insipid loss to half a Palace team and not reflect on how far short we look of this time a year ago when we were cleaning out Leicester and Man Utd, all that did was ensure we peaked in game three at Middlesbrough. We never replicated the performance levels of the Man Utd/Leicester/Boro game all season. Michael Beale has spoken about building to a peak in March, and that sounds much better to me in theory.

There’s a lot to be said for Beale’s appointment in general as well. Whenever I prattle on about budget restraints, wage bills, FFP headroom, there’s often a whataboutery reply pointing at Barnsley in 2020/21, or Luton and Huddersfield in 21/22, and asking why they can do it and we can’t. It’s fair criticism, I jealously see signings like Adebayo going there while we’re begging a loan of Andre Gray, and feel like we need to be better. But they’re not doing it by grabbing some fat old soak everybody has heard of off the Keys and Gray show to be their manager. Graham Potter, Steve Cooper, Carlos Corberan, Nathan Jones, Liam Manning, Rob Edwards – these are the managers who are doing less with more in the modern game, not Steve Bruce and Pards Pardew. Michael Beale may not work out at QPR, but at least we’re having a go at that. Mark Warburton laid a good platform here, he inherits a far better squad and situation than Warbs did when he came in after Steve McClaren – like following Bernard Manning into the toilet at a suburban Indian restaurant – and I’m intrigued and excited to see what he does with it.

If, however, you’re one of those who likes to support QPR through the medium of expecting they’re going to burst into flames at any moment, and have got us down for a twenty fifth-place finish in your pre-season predictions, well there’s plenty of fuel for that fire as well.

The hangover, for one, risks being substantial. That wasn’t your standard end of season choke and near miss for us in 21/22. That wasn’t, oooh, unlucky lads, few tough breaks at the end, slipped out of the six at the death. It wasn’t, one too many on a week night, probably a bit groggy to be doing the school run if we’re really honest. We got up on the bar and danced, we swigged tequila from the bottle, we mistook the restaurant for a karaoke bar and sang Mr Brightside until the police were called, we sent dick pics to the boss’ daughter. We went big. It was a total collapse. Stuff went on. We’ll be talking about it in ten years’ time. For all the talk of learning from it and being stronger, I cannot ever recall seeing a team go from that, to that, in that time frame since Kevin Keegan was Newcastle manager. I can’t recall seeing players walking off the pitch at the end of away games in tears – and that happened more than once. QPR did not need a short summer this year. They needed the longest summer there’s ever been. They needed a six-week trek in a rain forest, apart from each other, and football. I’m nervous about how fragile this group might be if things don’t go well immediately, and with Blackburn A, Boro H and Sunderland A first up it would be a brave man to predict things going well immediately. Prediction League is open and accepting traffic, by the way. Follow us down then.

Even allowing for my ‘there will be signings’ assurance, three things are undoubtedly true of our squad and team on the eve of kick off. We don’t have a Championship standard right back as it stands – I’m sorry, I don’t want to be harsh, maybe Osman Kakay will blossom into one thrown in at the deep end here, but at the moment that’s a statement of fact. The squad also lacks depth. The starting eleven, on paper, is good. There are good footballers there. It doesn’t even have a surface as thick as a standard scratchcard though. One liberty bell, two liberty bells aaaaand… a cherry. Oh, Mr Homer. We’ve seen that as the second team has replaced the firsts in the pre-season games – most starkly at Crawley where 3-0 turned into 3-3 double lively. Kenneth Paal is, indeed, an exciting prospect at left back, but behind him we’re straight into picking Travelman Hamalainen again, and he didn’t even look up to the standard of the Wealdstone players last Wednesday night. You’re asking a technical full back, all of 5ft 4ins tall, to come out of the Eredivisie and do a 46 game Championship season, and covering him with somebody who’s treating their career like Holiday with Jill Dando. That’s true across the board. Michael Beale wants two good players for every position, I think the only spot that’s true of at the moment is centre half.

Slightly more arguable point, but still the case in my view, we also don’t have a Championship standard forward line. I’m scarred, admittedly, by the first half of the 2020/21 season, which we began with Lyndon Dykes and Macauley Bonne’s Offside as our main strikers, and Kakay and Hamailenen as our full back cover, and won four times in 25 matches through to January – three of those deeply traumatic experiences. Again, I’m not overly worried yet, because I’m leaning back on that month of transfer window, but it’s certainly do or die time for Big Lyndon this year. A third full season at Championship level, 27 in October, it’s really getting towards piss or get off the pot time. I hear the argument about lack of appropriate service, it’s true, and Michael Beale seems determined to put more crosses in this year for him to go at – I’m sure Charlie Austin would have enjoyed the same last season - but people said this stuff about Conor Washington for a long time and in the end you just had to accept the thing that looked like a duck and quacked like a duck was a fucking duck. I’m open minded, we have seen it from him, against Preston and Reading at home last year in particular. If he played like that across 46 games he’d be worth £30m and certainly not wasting his time playing for us. He’s late to the game, late bloomer, fine, I get this. I’m not a harsh man. But I feel like we do need to see it more than twice a season. And if he continues to amble about on his heels for us for the next six weeks, and then goes all Robert the Bruce and smashes some cunt up in a poxy Nations League game at the end of September again, then I’m afraid it’s going to be less bitey tongue and more pointy finger from there on in. Big, big season for him and the team. History not on his side, nor Bonne’s, who’s having a weird and wonderful in-and-out-of-favour pre-season the latest twist of which was Beale pointedly avoiding mentioning his name when talking about his forward options to West London Sport this week, and hinting heavily that one of them would be leaving.

We’re hoping the signings of Taylor/Tyler Richards/Roberts might inject some much needed pace. Sinclair Armstrong looked lightning at Wealdstone, didn't get a squad number, but is travelling - again, like Bonne, a bit topsy turvy. But the team still looks slow to me overall, a big issue last year. There’s more to goals than strikers and with Luke Amos injured through pre-season the three midfielders we’ve used through the summer – Sam Field, Stefan Johansen and Andre Dozzell – got one goal between them from the middle of the park last year. That’s a lot to heap on Illy and Willy, however brilliant they are, if that total doesn’t improve ten fold. While injuries have cleared up, we are already sucking our teeth and pinning our predictions tomorrow on whether two or three (Amos, Willock, Roberts in this case) are fit, which comes back to the depth point.

And there isn't budget, or more accurately FFP headroom, to do a lot about any of this. We haven't sold anybody for money since Ebere Eze, we spent the headroom that created on last season's push and it didn't quite work out. That cap space is gone now until we sell somebody else for big money. Again, that's a simple fact. There was near 100% clamour for Austin and Johansen last summer, we signed them and several more, none of it was cheap by our standards and budget. Those same people saying "sign Austin or we riot" may have quickly moved on to "Austin's shit", but the money/space was still spent and isn't coming back until we sell somebody. Breach FFP again and as well as the deducted points you get an 'agreed business plan' which means what sellable assets you have go cheap and quickly, and your "SIGNINGS NOW" are the Jeff Hendrick and Joe Lumley types Reading have been left with this summer.

At this point, who knows? This time a year ago I was certain we would make the top six, and perhaps the disappointment of not doing that is what’s getting me down ahead of the “big kick off” (cliché klaxon). The only certainty at this point is that after a week of planning around rail strikes, amended timetables, potential car pooling, trying to find a seven seater to hire in London for less than a grand, talking to railway companies and finally just crossing our fingers and ploughing towards that dreaded 09.30 from Euston tomorrow come what may, is that nobody in the history of the United Kingdom has ever, ever, tried this hard to get to Blackburn.

Links >>> Mirror image – Interview >>> Not our first rodeo – History >>> First timer – Referee >>> Rovers official website >>> Official website >>> Lancashire Telegraph – Local Paper >>> BRFCS message board and podcast >>> Rovers Chat – Blog

Below the fold

Team News: Tyler Roberts must wait for his QPR debut after signing on loan from Leeds this summer – the injury which has kept him out for much of the pre-season has not cleared up in time for this trip. Luke Amos, Chris Willock and another new boy Taylor Richards have also missed the majority/all of the summer but are training and travelling and, in theory, available for this one. Michael Beale will know the importance for him personally to get off to a good start, and the team to banish the memories of last season by giving the fans positive results and performances to lift them – we all know what the discourse will look like if QPR don’t win any of their first, very difficult, three games. He’ll also be acutely aware already of how much better the team is with, particularly, Chris Willock in it. That must be balanced against a long season of 48 games, and not wanting risk the medium and long term status of key squad members for short term gain at the beginning. A nice early test of Beale’s early mission to reverse last season where we peaked in August and troughed in March. Kenneth Paal and Jake Clarke-Salter will both debut as part of a back four, with Jimmy Dunne looking to have all on to win his starting place back as it stands despite a good debut season in W12. Eyebrows were raised at Sinclair Armstrong not getting a squad number on Tuesday – but he is apparently in the travelling party and may be used from the bench.

Rescuing defensive right sided player Callum Brittain from Barnsley’s relegation is the sum total of Blackburn’s summer transfer business to this point – presumably a direct replacement for Ryan Nyambe who has left for newly promoted Wigan. Of the team who played here against QPR in the league in February, Nyambe, Darragh Lenihan (Boro) and Bradley Johnson (MK Dons) have left, loanee player of the year John Paul Van Hecke and Reda Khadra have both gone back to parent club Brighton and not returned, and Ryan Giles is now out on loan again but at Cardiff this time. Joe Rothwell has also been released. A variety of formations, including three, four and five at the back, have been trialled through pre-season by new manager Jon Dahl Tomasson. Our Ewood Park correspondent Ian Herbert says: “I’d expect Kaminski to be in goal, Ayala, Wharton, Brittain to be in defence; the law firm of Travis, Buckley in midfield; Diaz and Gallagher up front - that’s eight…so pick a left back from Pickering or Edun; probably add Hedges in there somewhere and…oh what the hell…let’s say Markanday.”

Elsewhere: Four television games this weekend as the newly rebranded Lancashire and District Senior League creaks back into action with an earlier start than ever before – and the eight teams involved were among the more intriguing cases for our annual season preview this week (Contenders - Mid-table - Strugglers)

We start tonight with a north-off between Huddersfield and Burnley. Town rudely interrupted Jon Moss’ retirement party with a couple of blatant penalty appeals in May and will be paying for their non-award for sometime to come with the promotion they deserved replaced with the departure of manager Carlos Corberan and star men Harry Toffolo and Lewis O’Brien. Watch out for a potential Barnsley-style slide down the league from here. After ten years of Sean Dyche’s four-four-fucking-two, Burnley are attempting to really rip things up and start again with Vincent Kompany, and an entirely new back four and goalkeeper about half the age of the one they’re replacing. Posh Scott Twine will be pulling the violin strings in Kompany’s 4-2-2-2 monstrosity – at least as long as it takes new assistant manager Craig Bellamy to take as golf club to his accent – but is this too much change too soon for a club that’s only a couple of further missteps away from a financial catastrophe? Gary Weaver will be screaming bullshit hyperbole at them from 19.45 tonight.

Tomorrow dinner time it’s two sides who may struggle to fulfil a lot of pre-season prophecies of success and titles. Middlesbrough, many people’s tips, probably due to Chris Wilder’s presence, have lost Marcus Tavernier on the eve of the season and although that tops their transfer kitty up towards £30m after the sale of Djed Spence, they’re struggling to find people to spend it on with only perennially promising Marcus Forss through the door so far to strengthen the attack. West Brom meanwhile have gone down the path of handing out once-in-a-lifetime contracts to Championship players in their late 20s in an attempt to avoid a repeat of last season’s nonsense. The fitness and form of new boys John Swift and Jed Wallace, along with January buy Daryl Dike, looks to be key to them shaking off the 20 stone Steve Bruce-shaped millstone that hangs around their promotion prospects. David Button replacing Sam Johnstone in goal represents a significant downgrade.

Then on Sunday its newly promoted Sunderland, for whom a crash down two divisions from the Premier League, three-year stay in League One, and humiliating behind-the-scenes Netflix documentary, has seemingly done nothing to dispel the local notion that they’re massive and therefore going all the way this year. 40,000 are expected for the opening day visit of Coventry, and if you’re wondering why we haven’t had our tickets for a visit there now just a fortnight away, they’ve tried to process that while only opening the ticket office for three hours a day and got themselves in rather the pickle. Coventry could be a decent outside bet if they retain the Gyokeres-O’Hare-Hamer combination, or spend the money they’ll get for any of those three wisely.

The weekend is rounded off with a Monday night game between Watford, who will surely go close if they retain the bulk of their team through this transfer window, and Sheff Utd, who need to get a misfiring collection of strikers in gear and find a replacement for departed loanee Morgan Gibbs White.

Eight games in the traditional kick off slot on Saturday and in the interests of brevity let’s just say that if Reading, away at Blackpool, and Birmingham, away at Luton, aren’t relegated this season then they never will be. May as well grant them immunity. Rotherham, at home to Swanselona, are everybody else’s favourites for the drop. Wigan, the third of the newly promoted teams, have added just Ryan Nyambe to their squad so are trusting the lads that got them here to do the business – welcome to the sixth coming of Will Keane. They start at home to Preston Knob End.

Legend in his own lunch hour Steve Morison’s latest great idea is to sign more new players than he’s got places in his team for, and there’s still another round of Track That Aircraft to come if Aaron Ramsey gets his release from Juventus, so who knows what to expect from Cardiff as they start at home to Norwich on their biennial gracing of us with their presence. Likewise Hull, who’ve signed half the population of Turkey, and begin at home to Bristol City. That only leaves Millwall v Stoke, and they’ve sent Keith Stroud to that one to liven it up a bit.

Referee: Thomas Bramall only stepped onto the EFL list in 2018/19 and this is his first QPR career fixture. Despite that short time frame, a Covid break, and a personal battle with a bad ACL rupture, he was the only EFL referee promoted to the Premier League list this summer. Few brief stats and career details here.

Form

Blackburn: Rovers’ 1-0 win against QPR here in February was the only one they managed in a sequence of nine matches. Red Khadra’s late winner, messed up horribly by David Marshall, was the only goal they scored in that run too. Having won 11 and drawn two of 15 league games through the autumn to climb into serious promotion contention, Rovers then suffered a mirror image collapse to ourselves. They, too, only won four of their remaining 18 fixtures. They failed to score in 11 of those, and scored one goal or fewer in 14 of them. They finished eighth in the end, 19-12-15 overall, 12-5-6 at home and 7-7-9 away. Their 3-1 win against Derby at Ewood Park in March was their only victory from their final six home games, having initially lost only three of the first 17. Jon Dahl Tomasson’s team drew 1-1 at Dundee and 2-2 at Celtic on a pre-season tour of Scotland, and have since won 1-0 at Hartlepool United and Lincoln City upon their return. Gallagher, Brereton-Diaz and Dack have a goal each among that lot. Brereton-Diaz top scored here last season with 24 club and country goals, but 21 of those came in the first 29 fixtures and with an ankle injury hampering him and the team he scored just three in 15 on the run in, including one for Chile.

QPR: Rangers would have gone second in the table with a win in that fixture in February, but the 1-0 loss was part of a run of one win from eight games, and that run eventually bled out into four wins and 11 defeats over the final 19 fixtures of last season. They won only two of their final ten away matches, losing eight including the one at Ewood Park. It was one of seven matches in that sequence of 19 that the R’s failed to score in, and one of 15/19 in which they scored one goal or fewer. With Luke Amos and Chris Willock injured, Andre Gray and Charlie Austin departed, goals could be a key issue in these early matches. Sam Field, Stefan Johansen and Andre Dozzell scored a single goal between them from central midfield last season – Lyndon Dykes and Ilias Chair with nine each were the best of the rest in terms of goalscoring. Overall QPR won nine away matches last season (9-3-11) which was better than or equal to the five teams immediately above them in the table, their best haul of wins on the road since the 2010/11 promotion season when they managed ten but actually one point fewer than the 31 they managed from an 8-7-8 away record in 2020/21. On the opening day QPR won two and drew one of Mark Warburton’s first games of the season. Steve McClaren lost his 1-0 at Preston, Ian Holloway won 2-0 against Reading, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink won 3-0 against Leeds and Chris Ramsey lost 2-0 at Charlton.

Blackburn is notoriously not a place that yields great results for QPR through history. It’s approaching 23 years since Gerry Francis’ team won here 2-0 in October 1999 thanks to goals from Stuart Wardley and Kevin Gallen. Since then it’s played 11, drawn two, lost nine, scoring just five goals in the process. QPR have conceded goals in the last ten minutes of matches on six occasions in that run for a loss of five points. In fact that Euston to Preston early Saturday morning journey has become something of a train of doom for QPR fans since we came out of the Premier League in 1996. Our record since then at Preston, Blackburn and Burnley is 38 visits and three wins, one at each ground. Three out of 38, with nine draws.

Prediction: We’re once again indebted to The Art of Football for 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. And we welcome last year’s winner Cheesy to this year’s match previews and his first thoughts on the opener at Blackburn…

“Well, here we go again. It’s one of those seasons where I have no idea where we are going to end up. With a tough opening few fixtures, let’s hope the locals don’t start throwing their toys out of the pram by the middle of August. Blackburn has never been easy for us, but I am going to start positive and go for a 1-1 draw with Chair being the scorer.”

Cheesy’s Prediction: Blackburn 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Ilias Chair

LFW’s Prediction: Blackburn 1-0 QPR. No scorer.

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QPRski added 09:02 - Jul 30
A great read and very accurate analysis. It is the time of the football year that is full of anxiety and “hope”.
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gazza1 added 09:10 - Jul 30
Some interesting points Norf, you wouldn't expect me to agree with all of them, surely Norf!!! The key imho in 'up front'....yes we are lacking a bit in other areas, not massively but slightly but the forward line is 'not good' at all. It is all very well saying that Dykes does not get much service but he has to help himself, make good runs to find space, anticipate balls into the box far better and get in front of his defender - he fails far too often with these skills unfortunately. Lets hope our new manager has started to address these issues but it may be too late for a 27 year old LD who has been in the Championship for a couple of seasons.

A point about the Manager......we have made 'text book' signings and on the face of it they look proper but when he arrived from Villa I thought that he will be judged, by me anyway, on his forward signings - I am currently not impressed, we will see very soon.
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Burnleyhoop added 10:25 - Jul 30
I think the first two months will be a struggle as we do indeed look very squad light. It will take some time to bed the new boys in, along with anymore that may arrive. Beale surely has is eye on a few Premiership loaners and is waiting the for nod from Gerrard and co to pick them off.

Burnley looked hugely impressive last night with a great blend of the old heads and youthful energy of their new boys. The left back, Mateson, was particularly impressive and is just 19 years old. The high press and ball retention was in complete contrast to the tactics employed by Dyche and Kompany must have been delighted with what he saw.

Hoping to see a similar performance from our lot today, but as you say, our midfield still looks too plodding with Johansen, dozy Dozzell and Field in there.

More trepidation than belief come 14:55 for me.

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TacticalR added 13:56 - Jul 30
Thanks for your preview.

I think you are right to be cautious as, for the most part, this is the team that collapsed at the end of last season. Resources are thin, so I guess it's all about what Beale can make out of what he's got.

I feel the comparison of Dykes with Washington is unfair. Dykes has shown flashes, Washington never showed anything. We are certainly in need of goals.
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