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Queens Park Rangers 1 v 3 Sunderland
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 16th September 2023 Kick-off 15:00
Seeking home comfort – Preview
Friday, 15th Sep 2023 18:31 by Clive Whittingham

The improved style and performances, and big win at Middlesbrough, have brought QPR back from the international break in a better mood than the club has collectively been in for many months – now, about that dreadful home form.

QPR (2-0-3 LWLLLW 17th) v Sunderland (2-1-2 LDLWDW 9th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday September 16, 2023 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Damp >>> Loftus Road, London, W12

When you’re top in October and almost end up getting relegated there are going to be plenty of moments to choose from on the long list of lowest ebbs, but this fixture at Loftus Road in February was certainly right up there.

Some of the things that went on in that game from a QPR point of view were unprofessional and unforgivable. Players crying off with trivial injuries, while others put in obvious red card tackles in the final ten minutes, with a long away trip to red hot Middlesbrough coincidentally just a few days away. Players who’d been out on the town after a home defeat to Millwall, making basic, fundamental errors that cost us goals and the game. Players in possession in tight spots, short of options further forward, just giving up, turning to the side, and walloping it into touch. A squad, collectively, throwing a manager under the bus because he had - ill-advisedly but factually - questioned their mentality and said the whole division knew they were soft as shite. Neil Critchley would last only one more game.

This is what Ainsworth inherited. And whenever we’re assessing how he’s doing, what he could be doing better, what mistakes we think he’s making, whether he’s the right man for the job, it should always be set in the context of the absolute fucktastrophe he walked into here in February. It’s important to look back for that reason, and many more. We are in the position we’re in now because of what we did, how we behaved and the decisions we took previously. The strategy and spend in the summer of 2021 directly correlates with the situation we’ve encountered in the summer of 2023 because of the FFP rules. When people are still screaming at the board to “sign a fucking striker”, “show some ambition” and “back the manager” it bears repeating, in my opinion. Both regular readers will tell you I probably repeat it a bit too much.

However, with the transfer window now, mercifully, closed it’s probably a good moment for us, and particularly me, to start looking forwards a little bit more than back. These previews don’t write themselves, 48 angles to find over nine months means you’ll inevitably be looking back a lot. But, this is out lot, and our squad, now. It’s about what we make of it.

I calm down and cheer up exponentially with how much talking Richard Dobson does, and if you haven’t yet taken the time I’d urge everybody to check out his hour on this week’s Open All R’s Podcast.

Specific points of interest - saying that, taking his coach's hat off and being a supporter, some of the stories he's heard about the disconnect between first team and academy and how the boys were treated has made him angry. That feels pretty blatantly pointed at the stuff that went on in Warburton's last year that led to him losing his job and I thought was a very strong remark. Similarly, talking about how the recruitment has been overhauled and we won't be having "managers bringing in players just because they've worked with them before and know their agent". No need to look too deeply into who that's referring to.

But overall it was a very forward-thinking and looking, positive interview. A lot of what we've said on here for years about working with what you've got, giving youth a bit more of a chance, not always looking for another signing or another quick fix or another loan. That's obviously perfect for now because we can't sign players even if we want to, but it's how we should go about our business anyway.

I hate the way the sport, the media that covers it and a large chunk of its supporter demographic has made the whole thing about signings, and spending money, and rumours, and ITK accounts. Obviously the quality of your recruitment is just about the most important thing you can get right, but increasingly it’s just about quantity and teams like Chelsea are said to have had a great window for spending £1bn when they get to the end of it with a team no better than the one they started with, Nottingham Forest already bombing out players by the half dozen they only signed last summer or in January. At QPR this “always be signing” culture is as rife as it is at any other club and any other support base, but it rarely works here. We don’t have the money to compete in the transfer market, and when you’re turning over 16 players in and out each summer is it any wonder you end up with a team that lacks identity, ethos, spirit, collectiveness, and is prone to downing tools the moment the going gets tough?

It's taken us to have our backs against the wall financially again, and all the credit cards being cut up, but how refreshing it was to not only hear Dobson talking about developing what we have and improving players already in the building, but to already be seeing that in guys like Sinclair Armstrong and Andre Dozzell. There were some pointed remarks about him enjoying working with players who want to “help themselves”, and the conversation quickly moved to Taylor Richards who, at the moment, does not, and so he’s not playing because we’re happy to pick a less experienced player, possibly a worse player on paper, who does. Certainly more tuneful music to my ears than having people like Mick Beale doing the maximum five loans, openly courting other clubs’ players by name, and constantly talking about wanting “five or six more” through the door – the sort of chat that, again, gets a modern football supporters all moistened up but, again, rarely works well at QPR and is a huge part of the reason we’re in this position in the first place.

We’ve already seen significant improvement above and beyond what I was expecting both in the timeframe and from this squad full stop in recent games. Good wins at Cardiff and Boro, very close to similarly excellent results against Ipswich and Southampton. Given the state we were in at Watford – and, to be honest, I didn’t entirely buy Dobson’s explanations for how the pre-season and opening day went down, but we’ll leave that aside – and the ridiculous position we put ourselves in starting with four out of five away, I think having six points on the board is a significant achievement.

What we need now is to really make the most out of having three of the next four and four of the next six at Loftus Road. Gareth wants the buy in from the supporters as much as the players and wants to get Loftus Road rocking like it did when he was charging up and down the right side. But, as Dobson says, the W12 regulars have been put through a lot by this team over the last year and there’s work to be done to get them back onside. He was particularly disappointed with what the team did with a free hit against Bristol City in May. QPR are currently on a ridiculous run of one win in 17 at home, including that dire Sunderland game which is one of ten in that run where we’ve failed to score. The last time we scored more than one in a home game was nearly a year ago, against Wigan. There’s a boatload more stats like that in the ‘form’ section still to come so I’ll stop scaring you with it now.

The new set up, system and style employed over the last four games has blessed relief on what we were trying before, and pretty effective too. The worry is, with its reliance on being solid and in shape around the D of our own penalty box, and then breaking with pace through the breakout pairing of Smyth and Armstrong, whether that possibly suits you more as an away team than a home one. By contrast to our form in the Bush, we’ve now won four and drawn one of our last seven away.

We’ll start finding out tomorrow against a Sunderland side buoyed by being the ones to give Russell Martin’s Southampton the slap they so sorely deserved. I’m a good deal happier and more confident about it than I thought I would be a month ago, and that will come from listening to Dobson talk. But it will also come from QPR players making the effort, playing as a team, trying to play some football, going at teams with some pace and width, picking a team with some local kids and prospects in it… at least trying to do the right thing, even if it doesn’t always come off and the result isn’t always the one we want. The team that took the field in this fixture in February wasn’t even doing that much, and got everything it deserved. Play as we have in the last four games again tomorrow and we’ll not only deserve a lot more, we’ll stand a really good chance of getting it too.

Links >>> Sunderland official website >>> Sunderland Echo — Local Paper >>> Roker Report — Blog >>> Not606 — Forum >>> Ready to Go — Forum >>> Wise Men Say – Podcast >>> What The Falk – Podcast

90s Footballer Conspiracy Theories #4 In The Series – Former Nottingham Forest full back Des Lyttle believes the Covid-19 vaccine is actually Ribena.

Below the fold

Team News: West London Sport is tipping Ziyad Larkeche for a first league start at left wing back, with Kenneth Paal coming back from a long international duty for Surinam v Grenada and Cuba (nice gig). The look of the rest of the defence will really depend on how bad Steve Cook’s injury at Middlesbrough really was, and whether it’s time for autumn start 1/3 for Jake Clarke-Salter. Jimmy Dunne remains sidelined with his shoulder explosion.

Lyndon Dykes got 30 largely ineffectual minutes for Scotland against England on his return from injury but if he’s to start it’ll mean somebody who’s been playing very well in his absence dropping out – Jack Colback was missing when he played with Chair, Dozzell, Smyth and Armstrong at Cardiff, but the experienced central midfielder will certainly start against his former side here. Armstrong, fresh from a full international debut with Ireland, and Smyth have both been key to the style of play. Andre Dozzell had his best performance for the club, and first goal, up at Boro where Chair was also excellent. It’s a nice headache to have, for once. Enjoy it while it lasts given the size of our squad.

With a 5-0 win under their belts and no fresh injuries you’d think Sunderland are highly likely to go same again – with midfielder Jobe Bellingham ostensibly playing as a striker in an attractive, fluid, and very difficult to play against system which proved far too much for Southampton. Patrick Roberts missed the last two with a hamstring issue and may return. Corry Evans is a medium term absentee, Ukranian Nazariy Rusyn awaits a visa, Chelsea loanee Mason Burstow is yet to feature.

Elsewhere: Two games in the Mercantile Credit Trophy this evening: Southampton v Leicester, so Sky can pretend they’ve got an extra Premier League game to show everybody; and Hull v Coventry, so the pitch is clear for Hull FC to continue their annual end of season disasterclass against Huddersfield Giants.

Tomorrow night the television game is Cardiff v Swanselona. Now, you may recall South Wales Police previously said there’s no way this fixture could ever be played later than 09.15 on a Sunday morning lest it turn into a bloodbath claiming hundreds of lives. Turns out all it needed was Sky to say “we quite fancy having that for a Saturday night primetime slot” and it was done immediately. The restrictions the Police have imposed on Swansea fans wishing to commit the heinous crime of going to support their team ran to a slim 1,031 words on the club’s official website and include mandatory coach travel leaving in the middle of the afternoon, forms of identification required to claim a ticket, no food or drink allowed, no bags bigger than an A4 piece of paper, arrive at the Swansea City Stadium at six in the morning and cross the palm of Cyril the Swan with three gold coins, a man will appear and ask three questions, the coach driver will not depart unless presented with a basket of rare fruits… I’m old enough to remember all that “football without fans is nothing” horseshit they fed us.

In similar news, Sunday morning it’s Millwall v Leeds and they’ve made this cutesy video for everybody planning to attend which basically boils down to “don’t bring Galatasaray flags with you slaaaaaaags”.

Another week, another 1,800 word official statement from barking mad Sheffield Blue Stripe owner Derek Chansiri about how Darren Moore had to be sacked for demanding the club make him one of the five richest kings of Europe for winning promotion. One point from five games and not about to get a lot easier for them at home to Ipswich.

Things are also tough down at Watford – crowned champions on day one by Gareth Ainsworth but not tasting victory since and presumably gearing up for managerial change number one if things go badly in an eminently losable game against fast starting Birmingham. Tyler Roberts and Ethan laird both sidelined by non-descript muscle injuries. Middlesbrough, too, have continued their weirdly awful beginning with the 2-0 loss to our goodselves and head to Blackburn looking to put a first win on the board.

The Sixteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour and Rotherham both got up and running with wins in the last weekend before the break – not a Saturday you’d have wanted a Championship coupon on – and they meet this weekend. Their victims, West Brom and Norwich, face Bristol City away and Stoke at home respectively.

That just leaves surprise early pace-setters Preston facing manager Ryan Lowe’s former club Plymouth and his former assistant Stephen Schumacher at Deepdale.

Referee: Touch wood, famous last words, we’re not doing too badly for refereeing appointments or performances so far. Keith Stroud looms large as fourth official on Tuesday night but we’ve been kept away from most of our problem children so far and Dean Whitestone is another steady appointment on paper for tomorrow (watch what happens now). Details.


QPR: Having started with four of their first five league games away from home, and three of those to sides fancied for promotion, QPR have done well to put two wins on the board at Cardiff and Middlesbrough, and were unlucky not to add to that against Ipswich and Southampton. They’ve now won four and drawn one of their last seven away matches going into last season, which is most unlike Rangers sides of recent years.

With three of the next four at home it’s now time to try and sort out the dire form at Loftus Road. QPR have won just one of their last 17 games on their own patch, and failed to score in ten of those including five of the last six. So far Ipswich and Norwich have both won 1-0 in W12 meaning it’s nearly four whole games since the R’s last scored at home – Lyndon Dykes’ ninth minute opener against Norwich on April 19. We’re just a month shy of the one year anniversary of both the last time we scored more than one goal in a home game (2-1 v Wigan, October 22) and the last time we scored more than two goals in any match (3-0 v Cardiff, October 19). Infamously, we scored only five goals at the Loft End in the whole of 22/23 (including two penalties) and the last goal at that end of the ground was Tim Iroegbunam’s in a 3-1 loss to Blackburn in Gareth Ainsworth’s first game, nine home games ago back on February 25. Since going third in the table with an unbeaten January 2022 which culminated in a 4-0 tanking of Reading on this ground, Rangers have won only seven home games from 33 played, failing to score in 13 and scoring more than one goal on only eight occasions. The Loft End goal count in that time is just nine in 33 games.

Andre Dozzell’s blockbuster at Middlesbrough was his first goal for the club in 48 starts and 29 sub appearances. Jack Colback has two in two full appearances since arriving from Nottingham Forest, and his game sealer at the Riverside continues a trend of all six QPR goals this season being scored with the left foot. What is new is two goals from the centre of midfield. It’s the first time since the 3-3 at Reading, two years ago this week, that two central midfielders have scored in the same QPR game – that day Stefan Johansen’s last minute equaliser joined one from Dom Ball initially credited as an own goal. Since then and prior to last week, bar a hot streak from Luke Amos which saw him score six times in the second half of 2021/22, QPR’s first choice central midfielders (Johansen, Field, Dozzell, Colback, Iroegbunam, Hendrick) have contributed eight goals between them in 265 collective appearances.

Sunderland: It had been a stuttering start to the season for Sunderland after last year’s play-off semi-final loss to Luton – a win, two draws and two defeats to begin with, and one goal or fewer scored in four of the first five matches. That all changed in the final round before the internationals when they swept Southampton 5-0 at the Stadium of Light – 2-0 up after seven minutes and 3-0 by half time. It’s their biggest win since they beat Sheff Wed by the same score in League One on December 30, 2021. They come into this one now with seven points from the last nine. Pierre Ekwah’s brace was his first goals for the club after 12 starts and 13 sub appearances, but there’s still no goal in five appearances for summer striker signing Luis Semedo so watch out for some typically charitable QPR defending on him this weekend.

Tony Mowbray’s side finished the last campaign unbeaten in ten before going down 2-0 in the play-off second leg at Kenilworth Road. Only Middlesbrough (26) won more points than them from losing positions (22) and no team scored more goals in injury time (six, level with Coventry and Stoke). They finished sixth, with 69 points, despite winning just seven home matches – only five teams in the league, including ourselves, won fewer in 22/23 and Reading were relegated with ten home wins. Ominously, this means they were very good away from home with 11 victories bettered only by Burnley (13) and Sheff Utd (12). They’ve started this term with a 2-1 loss at early surprise package Preston, and a 0-0 at Coventry.

Sunderland won this fixture 3-0 last time out and Loftus Road has been something of a lucky venue for the Mackems since the fixture was rekindled after a seven year absence in 1997/98. They’ve won six of their last 11 visits, losing only three and one of the two draws went their way on penalties after the disgraceful Keith Stroud-Mark Dwyer cock up in the League Cup tie here in 2021/22.

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. What’s our reigning champion Aston got for us this week…

“I thought Sunderland looked ominously good v Southampton and started to gel and find the goals in their team. This should be a much tougher fixture than Middlesbrough I think with their young team likely to at least match our energy. Plus, Jack Clarke is guaranteed to score against us isn't he? Grudgingly have to admit he's one of the best players outside the Premier League now. 2-1 defeat, Chair to score.”

Aston’s Prediction: QPR 1-2 Sunderland. Scorer – Ilias Chair

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Sunderland. Scorer – Sinclair Armstrong

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VancouverHoop added 23:21 - Sep 15
Absolutely agree with your comments on Dobson. It's so refreshing to hear someone from the club talk about our players as people, mostly young people. Instead of just names and positions on a line-up card framed by clichés.

TacticalR added 12:47 - Sep 16
Thanks for your preview.

It would be a great irony if, after everything, QPR are forced into doing the right thing. Sunderland have the advantage over us as they have been doing the right thing for longer than we have.

Although last season was hell, Ainsworth did at least manage to drag us over the line. The damage Beale left, particularly with some of the players he brought in, was significant and long-lasting.

Northolt_Rs added 10:14 - Sep 17
“Dean Whitestone is another steady appointment on paper for tomorrow (watch what happens now).”


Northolt_Rs added 10:14 - Sep 17
“Dean Whitestone is another steady appointment on paper for tomorrow (watch what happens now).”


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