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Law of averages - Preview
Tuesday, 14th Feb 2023 08:16 by Clive Whittingham

I mean, we've got to beat somebody soon right? Even by accident. Right? Is this thing on?

QPR (10-9-12 LDDLDL 16th) v Sunderland (12-9-9 LWDDLW 7th)

Lancashire and District Senior League >>> Tuesday February 14, 2023 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather — Bright and crisp >>> Loftus Road, London, W12

There are QPR games that live long in the memory — not many of the recent ones, I’ll grant you, but come with me on this one.

For some, the reasons are obvious. You’re always going to remember and recall and reminisce about winning a play-off final with ten men in the last minute of the game in front of 90,000 people, for instance. The semi-final that got you there, the previous play-off knockout at home to Oldham, winning promotion at Hillsborough, Wayne Routledge streaking through against Reading, Michael Robinson from the halfway line, two own goals at Anfield, Clive Allen at Highbury… When your club historically achieves so little, the moments of triumph are carved into your psyche like lovers’ initials on an old oak. It’s one of the joys of supporting a club like QPR — success is so rare that the highs you get from them when they do occur are indescribable. ‘You don’t get this following Man U’ — indeed not, father.

Then there are others. Kenny Sansom driving through the rain on a Roy Wegerle-inspired night against Arsenal, or Clive Wilson scoring a last minute penalty at the Loft End against Millwall, I can perhaps understand — even though both FA Cup runs floundered in the quarter finals. But the amount of airtime still given over in the pubs of Shepherd’s Bush to a 1-0 Championship win against Birmingham City - ostensibly because we were total crap, they were top of the league, Sam Di Carmine scored from 30 yards, and it randomly snowed throughout the second half - is remarkable given its context. The 2-1 away win at Newcastle with Jan Stejskal’s injury time penalty save can still make grown men go all misty eyed 20 years on. The “your fat, and your bird’s a slag” afternoon out at Southampton… The Hartlepool deckchair incident…

QPR’s 3-2 win at home to Sunderland over Christmas 1990 was certainly one of those. I know as soon as I post it as the ‘Memorable Match’ in the history column that I’m going to get comments, Tweets, letters about it. People who were standing in the Paddock, who can still see the cross coming in, and were right behind Mark Falco when he crunched in the decisive volley. People who still wake up in the night traumatised by Gus Caesar. People who want to extoll the virtues of Don Howe, and lament with hindsight how harshly he was treated here that summer when they shuffled him aside for Gerry Francis — “making way for a younger man”, a surefire way to an expensive employment tribunal these days.

It’s a moment in time held up as a triumph of football recruitment. Beset by injuries, particularly at centre back where key men Alan McDonald and Paul Parker were missing long term, QPR had gone out into the market and signed Andy Tilson and Darren Peacock — lower league prospects, the latter would become a multi-million pound sale to Newcastle and near title-winner at St James’ Park. Bobby Gould has had ten stints managing nine different clubs, and a ridiculous spell in charge of Wales seemingly spent mostly trying to wrestle John Hartson in a makeshift circle in the middle of the dressing room, and has signed hundreds of players in his time. QPR have obviously bought, sold and loaned thousands of players themselves before during and after that time, and yet you mention that era and every 40-something year-old man in Shepherd’s Bush will put his pint down and immediately say words to the effect of “Bobby Gould’s little black book”. Gould was only with us about eight weeks, as an assistant manager, but it went down in folklore. Of course we repaid him three years on by bumming his Coventry side to death to such an extent he resigned in the tunnel after the game, but still.

It's a game held up as an example of how times have changed for managers, and how short termist clubs have become. QPR had taken two points from their previous ten games, at one point losing eight in a row. They’d lose the three immediately after it too — 11 defeats from 14 games. Howe was retained, when basically every manager, and certainly every top flight manager, would now certainly be sacked. It was recognised that the situation as not of Howe’s making. As players came back to fitness, so the form picked up. A young Les Ferdinand emerged, scoring twice in a 2-1 win at Luton. Rangers won for the first time in their history at Anfield, slaying Liverpool 3-1. The R’s lost only three of their last 16 games, winning eight to climb back into the middle of the First Division as was. These are remembered as happy times — the 6-1 against Luton (even Paul Parker scored) and the comeback from two down to win at Leeds with Roy Wegerle’s goal of the season are both in this campaign — despite there being a ten game losing run bitten out of the middle of the season.

We often look back to history for lessons, or hope, and to be fair there’s a degree of ’48 match previews a season don’t write themselves’ about it I admit, but normal football fans not cursed with a website like this do it as well. Keep faith with the manager because we kept faith with Don and it worked then, delve down into the lower leagues for signings because we found Darren Peacock at Hereford, we’ve got a chance tonight because it’s Sunderland and so it’s written — football fans do this stuff to themselves for comfort. It’s all bollocks, of course, not only because this was 33 years ago, but also look at the game itself.

Sunderland were relegated that year, three points shy of Luton, QPR beat them home and away. Rangers’ run into the home game was, indeed, dire, but the Mackems themselves had taken one point from five matches immediately prior. Darren Peacock had already joined the lengthy injury list with a ligament problem. Gus Caesar, widely and often stated as the club’s worst ever player, gave a penalty away straight out of the blocks, saved by Stejskal, and then took a total fresh air shot at another clearance allowing Colin Pascoe to draw the visitors level after Danny Maddix had scored first. More kamikaze defending to come — ball given away in midfield, challenges missed, David Rush tripped by David Bardsley, a second Sunderland penalty this time scored by Kevin Ball. At the other end, stupidity in equal measure, crashing through the back of Andy Sinton going nowhere for a third penalty of the game converted by Wegerle. Bardsley’s typically sumptuous cross for a trademark Falco volley to win the match was a rare bit of quality within it. Overall, an absolute chimp’s tea party, that could easily have gone either way.

Sometimes you just win because, however badly you’re playing, you’re going to end up beating somebody, somewhere, somehow, even by accident and if only because no team just loses every game forever and ever. Given how abysmally present day Rangers are playing — passing, heading, tackling, shooting, all the really complicated stuff, you know — the law of averages is probably their best friend and only hope again tonight. That it would be Sunderland the victims again little more than a nice irony.

Links >>> Shrewd recruitment — Interview >>> Good omen — History >>> Prem ref in charge — Referee >>> Sunderland official website >>> Sunderland Echo — Local Paper >>> Roker Report — Blog >>> Not606 — Forum >>> Ready to Go — Forum

Below the fold

Team News: Life on local newspapers could be a hard slog. Filling 36 pages a week/day exclusively on stuff that’s happened in Belper/Kettering is not an easy task. Finding something big enough to justify your page one with the turn to three was always the hardest, and many hours were spent sitting through council meetings or poring over financial reports from the local NHS Trust desperately hoping to find the local hospital had dropped six figures on a feng shui grand master to redesign the waiting room. Black humour ran rife: stories were told of the editor who kept a bell on his desk to ring if the court reporter phoned in to let us know the local nonse had been sentenced. "If it’s a paedo it’s a leado” went the cry, and the bell meant we were all good to go home for the day (and check on our kids). Sometimes though you’d get an absolute humdinger. A story so stunning you just knew was going to blow the socks off the place. “Too good to check” my first news editor would triumphantly declare as you pitched it for the first time. One you knew would see sold out newspaper stands across the town, and old people would risk losing their place in the pension queue to come and talk to you about while you waited for the bloke in the deli to make up your lunch sandwich. “Can it really be true?” the people would ask. And you’d nod sagely and say “I’m afraid so”, because knowledge is power, and at that point you were the most powerful boy in all of North Derbyshire/East Northants. They’d walk away and shake their head, not wanting to believe, but having no other choice. Extraordinary as it may seem, implausible as it may appear, as ridiculous as it sounds, it was true, because there it was in black and white on the front of the newspaper. Stunned people would stop their daily chores and have to take a minute alone, sitting quietly, reading and re-reading, to take it in, and process this new world they now lived in, forever altered from the one they lived in before. Shock, in its purest form.

In that spirit, I bring you the news that Jake Clarke-Salter has injured his calf, and will be out for “some time”.

He is joined on QPR’s injury list by Leon Balogun (pining for a lost love), Chris Willock (more hamstring injuries than goals), Tyler Roberts (arsed) and Taylor Richards (a fictional character who does not exist in the real world).

If you’ve been affected by any of the issues in today’s programme, there will be a helpline number provided at the end of the broadcast.

Sunderland were dealt a double blow in January when Everton recalled Ellis Simms from his loan deal, and top scorer Ross Stewart ended his season with an Achilles injury in the FA Cup draw at Fulham — 18 goals going out of the side from the first half of the season right there, and both scored in the 2-2 draw between these two at the Stadium of Light in August. Joe Gelhardt, 20-year-old on loan from Leeds, is in as the replacement up front and he’s started two games without a goal so far. Dennis Cirkin returns following concussion protocol after a bang to the noggin at Millwall, but the back four kept a clean sheet in his absence at the weekend — albeit against a Reading team that was wasting time on a 0-0 from the first minute — and will likely remain unchanged.

Elsewhere: A midweek round split across two nights is led, ostensibly, on the Tuesday by Champions Burnley v Watford, because they used to be in the Premier League and have the Premier League parachute payments and the Premier League is all that matters and so that’s the game of the night. Watford, surely gearing up for manager number three of the season, haven’t really looked bothered since the campaign began and come in with two wins in nine, while Burnley have won the league already. Get your calls in now, they’ll be going like hot cakes. Their fellow relegated side, Norwich, have responded well to the ditching of Dean Smith by rallying to the dizzying heights of tenth prior to tonight’s biggie at home to Hull.

If you’re getting twitchy about QPR drifting into relegation trouble this season let's begin the soothing with a note on Cardiff, away to Birmingham tonight, who have won none of their last 16 games. Yes, yes, I know we couldn’t beat Cardiff, but take the positives while I’m handing them out. Here’s another: Reading, on their annual slide, have one win in eight after failing to drill a nil nil out of Saturday’s trip to Sunderland. They’re at home to Rotherham, two places and five points further back but showing some signs of life after a January recruitment drive with a win and three draws in the last four. I’ll continue this theme after I’ve told you that Wawll will be Marxist hunting in Coventry tonight, rounding out the Tuesday fixtures.

Wednesday night sees the surprise return to the stage of the now Fifteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour. He’s had a word with Sharon, he’s got one more job in him, the least shocking news any of you have heard since I told you Jake Clarke-Salter was injured again. It’s been a week of stunning surprises. He inherits a Huddersfield team with no wins in its last six (yes, yes, I know couldn’t beat Huddersfield, but take the positives while I’m handing them out) and heading to Stoke.

If you are looking over your shoulder you’re also going to want to be keeping an eye on Wigan whose victory at the weekend was a first in 11 in all comps and nine in the league, albeit only against Huddersfield (yes, yes, I know we didn’t beat Huddersfield), ahead of tonight’s trip to Bristol City. The only other team they’ve beaten in their last 17 fixtures is Blackpool, who are also below us and have won none of their last 13 (yes, yes, I know we didn’t beat Blackpool) prior to tonight’s trip to Swanselona who are descending the league almost as rapidly as we are. If you’ve been keeping count then that’s Cardiff, Huddersfield, Blackpool and Wigan all below us in the table with two wins collectively (both of them Wigan’s) from a combined 52 games played.

Up the top end of the table, and certainly not bothered with idiot scum like us, Luton go to Preston Knob End, West Brom host Blackburn, and the game of the round is undoubtedly Middlesbrough’s last chance to pose a real threat to Sheffield Red Stripe in third with their trip to Bramall Lane. Should be a genuinely good watch that one — we should print it out for a frame.

Referee: After making rather the hash of Bristol City v Norwich at the weekend, Premier League referee Chris Kavanagh continues his comeback from a three month injury lay-off with a second Championship game of the week. Details.


QPR: Rangers are sixteenth again, at long last the warm embrace and familiarity of home.

Other than that, just keep adding one. It’s now one win in 16 games for QPR, one win in ten under Neil Critchley, no wins in seven at Loftus Road. We did at least score a goal against Milwall on Saturday’s — Chris Martin’s debut consolation was our first at the Loft End in eight games, only the fourth at that end of the ground all season, the first not scored by Lyndon Dykes since Easter Monday, the first not involving Lyndon Dykes since February 22, and the first from open play not involving Lyndon Dykes since February 18. Millwall’s victory was an eighth game without a clean sheet for our defence — dear God can’t you see why looking at the two goals — and Rangers have recorded just six shut outs in 33 games this term. Seny Dieng came closer than most to snatching an equaliser against the Lions — his injury time leveller against Sunderland at the Stadium of Light in August is the only time a goalkeeper has scored for QPR in the history of the club.

Sunderland: The Mackems have a half decent record at Loftus Road since this fixture was rekindled in 1997/98. They’ve won five and drawn two of ten visits here — though the most recent visit, which finished 0-0 and was subsequently won on penalties by the visitors in last year’s League Cup was of course decided by one of the worst pieces of referee and linesman combination play that it’s ever been any of our misfortune to witness and fall victim to. Probably not the team you’d pick to play then, and certainly not given their recent form. Despite the loss of Ellis Simms and Ross Stewart, Tony Mowbray’s side have climbed to seventh in the table and will likely enter the play-offs for the first time with a win here. They’ve done so losing just one of their last eight league games and three of the last fourteen. Away from home their unbeaten away record dates back to almost the exact point our collapse started — they have drawn five, won three and lost none of eight on the road since October 18 when they were beaten 2-0 at Blackburn. Only six teams, including all of the top four, have won more than their six away games, and only four sides in the division have conceded fewer than their 16 away goals. The loss of Simms and Stewart has indeed taken 18 goals out of the team from the first half of the season, but 13 different players have scored for the Mackems this season and their total of 43 to date is the highest in the league bar the top three teams.

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. Last year’s champion Cheesy has called both the Huddersfield and Millwall games correctly, let’s hope he’s not going 3/3 with his call on tomorrow…

“Its getting harder to watch with every match and harder to bear reading every tweet and match report. I just can't see where a win is going to come from. Sunderland, like Millwall will bring a big support and I think that will push them to the three points.”

Cheesy’s Prediction: QPR 1-2 Sunderland. Scorer — Ilias Chair

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 0-2 Sunderland. No scorer.

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ARudd added 09:08 - Feb 14
Thanks Clive, I have no idea how you maintain the motivation, enthusiasm and humour to crank these out, but they do at least bring some sanity and a few laughs to us long-suffering fools who dream of a blue and white win.

Like you I see no win coming soon, the only spark for me being in our new striker we at least have someone who knows where the goal is, how this league works and has the guile for these games. If we can just get him past the Pukka Pies stand….

thehat added 09:44 - Feb 14

Thanks Clive - Great trip down memory lane and I remember all those moments you mentioned. My old man would count many others (generally all with Rodney Marsh in them). It's what I tell my kids now and I think they get it.

As frustrating as it is we need to keep with the team and stick together and somehow claw our way to 50 points.

It's never been easy following Rangers and I guess it's not going to change any time soon.

Come on you R'rs

ozexile added 09:58 - Feb 14
I know it's bizarre but I genuinely was in line with Falco in the paddock when he volleyed it in.

Northernr added 10:27 - Feb 14
Ozexile - I am properly jealous.

OldPedro added 11:00 - Feb 14
"Life on local newspapers could be a hard slog................" I almost spat my coffee out when I got to the end of this paragraph and the line "In that spirit, I bring you the news that Jake Clarke-Salter has injured his calf, and will be out for “some time”. "


scheza added 17:31 - Feb 14
One of this learned parish has probably mentioned it before, but there is a lovely German football word, 'Aufbaugegner', literally a 'build up opponent' - someone who gives you a win when you need it.

Having been very aufbaugegnerisch ourselves over the years, a little Geschenk 🎁 from Sunderland would certainly be welcome. Dare I say appropriate.

loneranger1 added 18:16 - Feb 14
Thanks very much, Clive - here's hoping....

TacticalR added 18:34 - Feb 14
Thanks for your preview.

We need something from somewhere, but that's easier said than done when you have the kind of trouble scoring that we do. It means that if we let in a goal first we've probably lost.

We also need a new strategy, some way of making the best of a bad situation, otherwise Critchley is just going to be the poor man's Beale.

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