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Queens Park Rangers 2 v 0 Hull City
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 9th December 2023 Kick-off 15:00
Are you having fun yet? - Preview
Friday, 8th Dec 2023 20:58 by Clive Whittingham

QPR have two wins in a row, a first home victory in six months, goals from the league's worst attack, and impact from the league's barest bench - more importantly still, after two of the bleakest years, at Preston a week ago they were worth watching again.

QPR (4-4-11 LDDLWW 22nd) v Hull City (8-6-5 WLWDWL 6th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday December 9, 2023 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Heavy rain >>> Loftus Road, London, W12

Sky Sports’ decision to show Preston North End v Queens Park Rangers last Friday night was a joke which became less funny with every telling.

Taking what is already a difficult and expensive 500-mile journey on the country’s worst and most extortionate train line and turning it into a Friday afternoon/peak time commute, or worse still six hours on the M6, with no way back other than to drive through the night or stay over at additional cost, is sick. If we had any sort of standard of press and media left in this country the CEO of both the host broadcaster and the league would be hauled over the coals and held to account for such heartless, thoughtless bullshit. Instead, Sky are allowed to make decisions like that, like Newcastle away on the south coast on a Monday night, like Southampton away at Sunderland in a lunch time kick off, and then pedal out self-congratulatory press releases about their first ever “net zero” game, or adverts themed around crowds and atmosphere and “football without fans is nothing”, without anybody ever turning around and saying “hang on a fucking minute here Comcast…” Just you wait until you see what they've got planned for the fixture list next season, by the way.

“Well, nobody forced you to go”… “it gave more QPR fans a chance to see the game than would have travelled on a Saturday”… into the sea with you. Football is now a television programme rather than a sport, built entirely around the broadcaster’s schedules, and catering completely to the global audience who get to hear what exactly the referee’s fucking problem is now during five-minute VAR reviews while everybody in the ground stands there with zero information and talk among themselves while we debate if somebody’s armpit hair has strayed offside. The fans who go to the games are increasingly forgotten, and rinsed financially, but still turn out in record numbers right the way down a dozen tiers and more of the English football pyramid and it is that, and us, that make the sport in this country what it is. Why do you think so many Americans, Japanese, Nigerians and South Koreans are so much more interested in British football than any other leagues in the first place? There is a culture of away fandom in Britain like literally nowhere else in the world, and yet we’re treated like shit.

I guess we should be grateful, because there’s no way in the world that game would have been played last week were it not on the television. In just the last couple of weeks we’ve seen games at Accrington, Hampton, Oldham and elsewhere called off, at ridiculously late notice, because the quote “referee is concerned about a small area of the pitch on the far side of the ground”. It was pretty easy to spot the area of concern at Deepdale last Friday, it was the giant skating rink in the middle of the field. As difficult to shake the notion it was only played to satisfy the TV company as it is the pick in the first place being made purely to tick two teams nobody cares about or wants to watch off Sky’s quota for the season so after Christmas they can get on with the important business of showing every Leeds match.

Their choice of commentary team only furthered this impression. Now, we’ve obviously had another one of those weeks where, unfortunately, our former parasite Joey Barton has been provided with the oxygen of publicity and attention he needs and craves to survive and grow like some enormous, terminal mould patch in the sport’s back bedroom. If we'd been able to buy Barton at his true valuation and sell him at what he thinks he's worth we'd have wiped out our FFP problems in one transfer. That walking, talking tumour was always going to struggle to be employed as a manager after his mediocre playing career finished because of his innate scumbagness. Having been given chances, at first Fleetwood and then Bristol Rovers, and failed on both occasions, that game is now, surely, well and truly up. As ever, the man who once used an appearance on a QPR fans’ podcast (expensively assembled personal PR team and all) to talk about Newcastle for 45 minutes knowing it would be picked up in the national press, is doing whatever his advisors think will help furnish his own lifestyle. There is a market in this country now for Katie Hopkins, Tommy Robinson, Lawrence Fox-types to spew offensive bile out into the public realm, wave hands around in the air in mock outrage at then being “cancelled” for it, and then get paid to appear in front of a national audience on GB News, or some pithily titled “No Bullshit Podcast” moaning about how they’ve got no platform. So that's what Barton's doing. Happy to dismiss his brother’s involvement in the racially-motivated embedding of an axe in a black lad’s skull as “a bit of a scrap” for clicks and megabantz. Spouting off opinions about women in football that, judging by his own previous Tweets on Emma Hayes, he doesn’t believe himself. You’ll have him, Rickie Lambert, Matt Le Tissier, David Cotterill et al starting their own show, hosting their own Soccer Saturday alternative on Talk TV, or some other such horror soon enough.

I’ve no real wish to further his latest “all female commentators are crap” attempt to feather his own nest by slating Courtney Sweetman-Kirk’s co-commentary last Friday. There are good pundits and bad pundits, male and female. It’s not misogynistic to say Sky Sports coverage in general – Soccer Saturday, Monday Night Football, particularly Sky Sports News – is far worse than it used to be. Often laughably bad these days. That’s as much Tim Sherwood’s fault as it is Sue Smith’s, Daniel Sturridge's as Karen Carney's. I’d far rather listen to Pien Meulensteen commentate on a game than have Gary Weaver screaming into the microphone about how Peterborough going 2-1 up against Stevenage late in a Pizza Trophy game is a moment that “this town, this club, these people” will remember forever more as football once again shows its ability to “change lives”. I’d take ten hours of Emma Hayes over ten minutes of the faux comedy stylings of Andy Hinchliffe, delivered past a nose with a bum the size of Alison Hammond’s parked on the end of it. But, having read the criticism online and watched the match back myself during the week, I did think the coverage was guilty of something that happens a lot in Sky’s EFL games from people who perhaps don’t know as much as they should about the teams and players involved: settling on a narrative in advance, and trying to make everything fit that.

The starkest example of that in games I’ve seen recently was another of our recent trips to Deepdale where Alan Parry noticed it was Everton loanee Anthony Gordon’s birthday early in the evening. And so, we wondered, what Gordon might do in the game to mark the occasion? Would it be a goal, an assist, a part in a win, a late equaliser? Actually, in the end, nothing at all. It was a deathly dull nil nil draw, instantly forgettable. Having gone early with the birthday thing, and been provided with nothing else, Parry ended up doubling down and down and down again on the fact that one of the players was turning 20, to the point where years later QPR fans still laugh and joke about Anthony Gordon’s bloody birthday. It became farcical.

I’ve some sympathy. Writing 48 match previews and 48 match reports a season, narrative is a big thing. Hours and hours are spent wandering around the open spaces of London trying to think of the line or angle of attack as I steadily tick these bloody things off one by one through to May when I vow it’s my last season and never again. Some I get right, lots I get wrong. That experience tells me narrative is a difficult thing to crowbar onto a game in advance. You do have to let it present itself, often right at the death, like the orgasm-inducing Ben Pearson own goal of a week ago. If it doesn’t then you just do a 1,500 word drop intro on an old episode of Air Crash Investigation. Too often Sky seem to settle on a manager under pressure, a player in form or, like last Friday, a surprise team selection, and then force-feed that narrative into the game regardless of what’s happening on the pitch which frequently then doesn’t suit what’s being said. Cifuentes’ team selection and decision to leave Ilias Chair on the bench paid amazing dividends, it was our best performance of the season and some of the surprise choices (dropping Stoke MOTM Steve Cook for the excellent Jake Clarke-Salter) were the best bits of it.

The result and the performance happily provided plenty of different angles for this weekend’s preview.

We could easily have gone in depth and tactical, because really for the first time at Deepdale I thought we saw that Cifuentes trademark of a super high, aggressive, three-man press in the seven seconds after the ball has been given away, and how effective that can be against stodgy Championship opposition. That enabled us to play right on the front foot, particularly in the second half, and Preston struggled to even get near our penalty box, let alone get away a meaningful shot on goal – this from a team that was conceding more goals, and more shots on its goal, than any side other than Sheff Wed prior to the Spaniard’s arrival. Elijah Dixon Bonner is a big beneficiary of this, Jack Colback looks a significant loser.

The big three takeaways we brought back from the 1-0 loss at Norwich was this team has no goals, no pace, and no impact from the bench. In the two games since then Cifuentes has crafted all three, with as many goals scored as we’d managed in the previous 12, and Willock, Larkeche, Kelman and Chair all making varying degrees of impact as subs. We said if Gareth Ainsworth was able to keep this squad up it would be worthy of a statue on Batman Close, here’s Cifuentes not only winning games but winning in some style too with the same group of players after just a month of work on the training ground in mostly terrible weather conditions.

There’s the reunion and revitalisation of Chris Willock and Ilias Chair’s combination. Willock with two goals in two games after none for a year, Chair with his first of the season at Rotherham and then two assists in a far more varied personal performance at Preston that made him much more difficult to play against than when he’s constantly looking to cut inside and shoot from range. Strictly business is back baby.

We could talk about how, as ever, people are getting ridiculously carried away. Stoke are a poor team in bad form, with a left side defence that would shame a pub team, and for 80 minutes of that game it looked like we were going to lose to their ten men. Preston, after a bright start to the season, have won two of their last dozen and the dismay with their desperately bad display was audible from the home crowd long before the end. That’s been enough for enough QPR fans to back us for a tilt at the play-offs that we were shorter odds for the top six on the BetFair Exchange than Sunderland last week (trading around 4/1), and some online bookies had suspended betting by the end of the week. Last season 69 points got Sunderland in, but basically it’s 70-72 points to give you a fighting chance of sixth. To get there from here QPR need 56 points from 27 games, more than two a game – or, for comparison, a better run rate than Neil Warnock’s title winners of 2010/11 had in a season in which they lost six times overall and had no defeats at all in their first 19 matches. You’re all stark raving mad, basically.

There’s a good chance that could be shown up tomorrow. Hull City are a different calibre side to Stoke and Preston. Birmingham’s all-the-gear-no-idea owners think Wayne Rooney is the answer to whatever problems they thought they had when they were sixth in the league, but what good work was done at Derby (a team he relegated, with eight straight defeats away from home to finish) was done by Liam Rosenior. He, and players like Jaden Philogene, would be getting far more coverage, press and hype if they played for a more fashionable club, with a bigger support. Look at the column inches Jack Clarke has generated at midtable Sunderland, for instance, versus the amount of times you hear about Hammersmith-born Philogene, a £5m summer signing who will give us all we want tomorrow. Maybe two similar styles will cancel each other out, like our recent game against Liam Manning’s Bristol City, but I’m expecting, by Championship standards, an entertaining, attractive game between two progressive sides with potentially great managers. We’ll have all on to win – Hull have never lost two league games in a row under Rosenior.

Then there’s the battle at the bottom of the table. For so long a four-horse race, but now drawing in other Swansea, Birmingham and Stoke types as QPR and Huddersfield start to pick up results.

Personally, not yet halfway through the season, I’m not overly fussed about that just yet. Firstly, because it’s 52 points to stay up, and usually a lot less. Every year the same. We need to win another ten games to get near that, so let’s focus on us doing that, and let the rest take care of itself. There’ll be a club that climbs out in good form, one who falls in unexpectedly, one that has a good change of manager, one that gets their switch wrong, one beset by injuries… and in the end 52 points keeps you up every year. All about us for now.

Secondly, because the line I’ve settled on to conclude, the line I’ve said all week when asked by people about Friday, the biggest takeaway of all from the frozen North West last weekend, was that I enjoyed watching us play. I enjoyed watching us play.

QPR were never going to win trophies, leagues or even games in great number anyway, even before the sport largely left clubs like us behind. I’m not labouring under any misapprehension that we could have, should have, would have swept all before us if only for a different manager, signing or refereeing decision. I’m very realistic about where we are, and the whole joy of following the club around the country for me is the travel, the matchday experience, the people, the friends, the pubs, the camaraderie. The football does matter though and I expect QPR to at least try and play a bit of it, try and attack, try and score goals, play to win the game. I hope we’ll at least try to get the ball down and play a bit of football. This isn’t always going to come off, any of it. Frequently it will end in disaster and farce, and we’ll go home disappointed and/or angry. Nevertheless, I don’t follow QPR to go up to shitholes like Leeds, or West Brom, stand there watching us give the ball away for 90 minutes in some miserable attempt to scrap a nil nil draw from the game, and then hear about what magnificent football clubs they are and how we’re just so lucky to even be on the same pitch as players like that. Wingers, men in the penalty box, ball on the floor, shots on the goal, width, a high press, aggression, big efforts, these are the bare minimums for me. Cifuentes football, if last Friday night is anything to go by, is QPR football, and the sort of football I don’t mind paying through the nose and travelling through the rush hour to go and watch. In the second half we saw it for the first time in a year, and if we can produce it more often than not then we’ll be fine. Maybe not tomorrow, against a good side, and almost certainly not enough for a play-off push, but fine all the same.

It's meant to be fun this. For 45 minutes at Preston last Friday I actually enjoyed myself.

Links >>> Gregory’s first game – History >>> Rosenior revolution – Interview >>> Bell in charge – Referee >>> Official Website >>> Hull Daily Mail — Local Paper >>> The Amber View — Blog >>> Tigerlink — Blog >>> Amber Nectar — Blog and Forum >>> Not606 — Forum >>> Ground Guide >>> Hull City Live — Blog

90’s Football Conspiracy Theories No.18 In The Series - Fraser Digby came to blows with Brian Kilcline in the Swindon dressing room with the veteran keeper refusing to accept his alibi for not being in Dallas in 1963. "You shot our Bobby", he was said to scream, "you long haired Castroist melt".

Below the fold

Team News: It’s a bold and interesting manager who looks at QPR’s 4-2 home win against Stoke and thinks Ilias Chair and Steve Cook need dropping, but the squad rotation worked a treat for Marti Cifuentes and two wins in four days have put Rangers right back in the mix at the bottom of the Championship having been well adrift. One would expect both layers to come back into the line up against Hull, with out-of-form Jimmy Dunne a pretty obvious candidate for a benching with Jake Clarke-Salter impressing so much at Deepdale, and a choice to be made in attack where both Chris Willock and Paul Smyth scored against North End playing behind a seemingly revitalised Lyndon Dykes. Sinclair Armstrong is back to bolster the attack after withdrawing in the warm up against the Potters but Jack Colback is a doubt after leaving the last game at half time, and Morgan Fox is a medium term absentee. Albert Adomah hasn’t featured since Cifuentes’ first game at Rotherham and is still a couple of weeks away with a muscle injury. Taylor Richards didn’t make the bench for either victory last week but apparently that’s because he was ill rather than, you know, all the stuff.

Summer signing Ruben Vinagre is definitely out for thew Tigers but while Regan Slater and Sean McLoughlin are pushing for recalls it’s highly likely Liam Rosenior will name an unchanged team for the third consecutive game having declared himself delighted with his team’s performance despite the 2-1 set back against Watford – a game in which the visitors scored a freak goal from the halfway line and Hull missed a penalty.

Elsewhere: For a while it looked like Sheff Wed, Rotherham, QPR and Huddersfield were pretty set in stone as the bottom four and the task was as simple as making sure you’re the one of the four above the dotted line in May. However, with Huddersfield sticking six points on the board in their last five games ahead of the weekend clash with Bristol City, QPR coughing into life under Marti Cifuentes, and even Sheff Wed winning a couple of matches, things are starting to bunch up at the bottom end of the Mercantile Credit Trophy and other hitherto apparently safe but stodgy lower half teams are now being brought into play.

Swanselona looked absolutely chief among the candidates to come crashing through the league table and get involved in the relegation whirlpool. There’s been a significant talent drain in South Wales over the last few years with the likes of Joel Piroe, Michael Obafemi, Flynn Downes, Ryan Manning and more all departing a squad that had already had to be severely hacked back after the big spending days of Steve Cooper’s failed play-off tilts. Michael Duff looked a reasonable stab at replacing Russell Martin this summer following success on tight budgets at Cheltenham and Barnsley but his style of play, poor start and loss at Cardiff meant things like him refusing to move to the city started to get blown up and grate on supporters, and after collapsing back to one win from eight games after a four-match winning streak in October the Swans have ended the uneasy relationship this week. Four places and five points north of the drop zone they’ve got a six pointer away at Rotherham this weekend, whose own decision to dispense with manager Matt Taylor looks more and more bizarre with each passing day they go without a new boss – Nathan Jones was at their game last weekend but has subsequently decided not to take up the role because he’s too busy marrying a nice Welsh girl and teaching PE to the big eared boys from the valleys or whatever such rambling nonsense he’s come out with this time. Leam Richardson, formerly of Wigan, is the slightly uninspiring new name in the frame at the New York Stadium.

Millwall looked like their own managerial change to up and coming Joe Edwards was a bit of a masterstroke when they broke loose and won his first match 4-0 but they’ve since taken one point from three games and conceded three goals on two occasions. They’re also on 21 points prior to this weekend’s trip to Cardiff. Stoke, meanwhile, are absolutely cratering with three straight losses, nine goals conceded and a series of crucial injury time disasters. Fail to win this weekend’s banker home game against rock bottom Sheff Wed and it’s difficult to see a way back for Alex Neil who was allowed to make 19 signings for significant spend in the summer under an ill-advised “manager led model” which will take some unravelling for any new man.

This little clutch of clubs QPR might hope to bring into play is concluded by two who face each other tonight. Coventry’s summer overhaul hasn’t been enough to cover the significant losses of Gus Hamer and Viktor Gyokeres but they’ve so far picked up a win every now and again which is enough to stay out of significant danger. Tonight they host Birmingham, whose journey from sixth in the table under John Eustace to relegation strife under Mr Potato Head continues apace with a dire 0-0 at home to Rotherham and Spud taking the always-successful tack of blaming the players for everything and saying they’ll be replaced in January: “I think some players in there need to grow a pair of balls, basically, because I'm watching what they do in training and the minute there are fans out there they become a different player, a different person… They won’t be at this football club. We will get different players in. The players are very aware of what I want from them and the expectations I have of them, my own expectations as well, so we are all aware of that.”

Higher up there’s been a managerial change at Sunderland where Moany Towbray’s time is up at the Stadium of Light. That’s more down to a disagreement over club strategy than any great distress at being ninth in the league: Mowbray wanting the sort of experienced, expensive, dead money signings that all managers want to get them results immediately; the club insisting on buying, loaning and playing only younger prospects with the potential to grow into sellable assets. They’re under caretaker charge for tomorrow’s lunchtime clash with West Brom, Plymouth manager Stephen Schumacher has been linked with the post ahead of their trip to Champions Leicester.

There are some really attractive ties between in form teams chasing the play-offs and promotion at the opposite end of the table – Blackburn v Leeds, Boro v Ipswich, Watford v Southampton. And, also, Norwich v Preston.

Referee: QPR have not had a happy start to life with new Championship referee James Bell, with two defeats in two games and a series of controversial decisions. Ths is his first outing at Loftus Road. Details.

Form

QPR: Having gone 12 games and nearly three months without a win, QPR have now won two consecutive games for the first time since April, 20 games ago. That sequence also involved a win against Stoke. Last week’s 4-2 victory against the Potters snapped a club-record run of 13 home games without victory dating back to March. That 1-0 victory against Watford was the only game the R’s had won at home in more than a year and a full season’s worth of 23 matches. Rangers shave now drawn level with Coventry, Sunderland and Blackburn with two Loftus Road wins in 2023. The victory at Deepdale was QPR’s first in a televised Friday night clash in 11 attempts – the 0-0 at Birmingham last month had snaped a run of nine successive losses.

Rangers have scored six goals in the last two games, as many as they’d managed in the previous 12. The win against Stoke was the first time they’d scored four goals since beating Reading here at the end of January 2022, 40 games ago. Lyndon Dykes also scored two goals in that game, and his brace against Alex Neil’s side were his first goals in ten appearances and as many as he’d managed in his previous 19 outings combined. It ended a dire goalscoring run in front of their own fans which had seen the R’s hadn’t scored more than once in a home game in 23 attempts, and failed to score at all in 12 of those. The three goals at the Loft End was the most at that end of the ground since a comeback 3-2 win against Millwall in March 2-21, 57 games ago. It was as many Loft End goals as the team has scored in its last 15 games here. Chris Willock has scored two goals in two games after none in his previous 32 going back to November 2 last year. QPR have still never lost any of the 18 games he’s scored in.

Marti Cifuentes’ eight points from five games is the best start by a new QPR manager since Neil Warnock posted identical numbers in 2010.

Hull: The Tigers are trucking along nicely in sixth despite last weekend’s home defeat to Watford, sealed by Wesley Hoedt’s remarkable long-range strike. They’d lost only one of six prior to that, winning four, to climb into the division’s play-off places. Two of their summer signings hitting goalscoring form has aided that – Burnley loanee Scott Twine has two in two after none in his first 15 appearances, while Jaden Philogene has six goals in eight games but missed a penalty against the Hornets. Liam Delap has scored five goals in 17 starts and two sub appearances since signing on loan from Man City – it’s one more than he managed across 38 games on loan at Stoke and Preston last season. Only Southampton, Ipswich and Leicester have won more than Hull’s four away victories so far, and they’re one of only two sides to have won at the league leaders so far. While Lyndon Dykes and Kenneth Paal are tied for QPR’s top scorer crown with a messily total of three, Hull have Ozan Tufan on four, Aaron Connolly and Liam Delap on five each, and Philogene on six. Three of Tufan’s goals did come in the same game mind – a hat trick in a 4-2 victory against Sheff Wed.

Hull have only lost 13 of Liam Rosenior’s 49 games in charge, although a draw is often a good result as there have been 20 of those. If QPR do triumph tomorrow, it’ll be the first time Rosenior has lost consecutive league games – the last time it happened to Hull were home defeats to Blackburn and Middlesbrough last November, the week before he took over.

Both meetings with Hull City last season went the way of the home side with QPR winning 3-1 here in August and Hull 3-0 in January. That ended a run of three seasons in which the game had either been drawn or won by the away side. Hull have a good recent record at Loftus Road with four victories and two draws from eight trips.

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 newly extended QPR collection here. Let’s see what our reigning champion Aston got for us this week…

“After two well-earned victories, I expect Hull to be a tougher ask. Well drilled under Rosenior and with arguably the league’s best player on current form in Jaden Philogene, this will be quite a fun match up I reckon. Hard fought 1-1 with Lyndon Dykes scoring.”

Aston’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Hull City. Scorer – Lyndon Dykes

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Hull City. Scorer – Ilias Chair

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HastingsRanger added 14:11 - Dec 9
I think Barton was the worst QPR signing ever. Of all people, signed by Warnock and later contributed to Warnock's sacking.

There are plenty of close runners in the 'topping up their pension' category but Barton was all round vile. IF only he was even as good as he thought he was.

I hope for a draw today and a win Wednesday. A bit of optimism for a change!
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TacticalR added 14:56 - Dec 9
Thanks for your preview.

That's true about the modus operandi of the GB News types: generate one round of publicity by trying to outrage and then generate another round of publicity by portraying themselves as the victims of cancel culture. It's been very instructive seeing the same free speech warriors calling for pro-Palestinian marches to be banned.

Anyway, winning games. I'd forgotten what that felt like.

Agree that Hull look a tougher proposition.
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