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Great comedy duos of our time – Preview
Friday, 15th Mar 2024 10:54 by Clive Whittingham

QPR and Sunderland, who have spent two decades trying to outdo each other in farce, now bring their own respective attempts to recover from being charmed by Mick Beale together for a crunch Championship clash.

Sunderland (14-5-18 LLLLLL 12th) v QPR (10-9-18 LWWWDL 18th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday March 16, 2024 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Bright and Breezy, cold of course >>> Stadium of Light, Sunderland

Sunderland is geographically closer to Aberdeen than it is to Shepherd’s Bush. These are two clubs which, on the face of it, do not have much in common. Mackems with their 50,000 megadome, easily the biggest outside the Premier League; Rangers with their dilapidated blue shed, loved by supporters as long as they’re under 5ft 8ins tall and hated by anybody charged with balancing the club's books.

These are two clubs, however, with more that unites them than divides, and it’s not just existing in the long shadow of a neighbour they used to regularly beat. Having to watch as the club they hate the most pulls off into the distance using blood money from Russia/Saudi Arabia, locals stopping only to say ‘no, actually, I’ve been following them all my life’ and insist your recollections of being inside St James’ Park with 16,000 people in the early 80s and 90s, or 8,000 at “The Bridge” for Premier League games with Coventry, are just a figment of your imagination.

You may recall Reidy Reid’s Quinn and Phillips-led Black Cats storming past our Rangers just as we decided the explosion of Premier League television money was a good time to flog Les Ferdinand, replace him with Mark Hateley, and get some character building away trips to Port Vale and Grimsby Town into us. Chris Wright, like Ellis Short, trying to arrest decline by heaving good money after bad, never actually putting together a coherent set of accounts until it was too late, appointing Stewart Houston when Alan Curbishley wanted to come, signing Mike Sheron when Clive Mendonca was available at half the price, putting youth teamers like Mario Lusardi and Michael Graham on Premier League first teamer money, believing Ray Harford when he said he’d get them promoted with those strikers and then watching as he returned home early from a pre-season tour of Ireland to “go racing”. But, let’s not forget, Sunderland were also a club appointing Howard Wilkinson as their manager as late as 2002 (!!) and trying to mitigate the crazy in that by poaching Steve Cotterill and his gold chain from Stoke to be his assistant. Yeh, that’ll do it lads. Just the 19 points and four wins they got that season, 25 adrift of safety – and, oh look, here’s 2012/13 QPR with just four wins and 25 Premier League points of their own, relegated 14 adrift.

You see, these are two clubs united in their penchant for farce, and chaos. Sunderland once lost 3-1 to Charlton by conceding three own goals in seven minutes, and you think three goals is mental Jeremy until you remember we lost 6-0 to Arsenal in the FA Cup and did exactly the same. They just cannot help themselves, and neither can we. Absolutely fine, and lucid, for very long periods of time, but each day of normality only bringing you closer to the next disaster. For every time Darron Gibson decided he was probably fine to drive home at the end of St Patrick’s Day (what harm can come?), there’s Ilias Chair’s kayaking weekend with the girl in the green bikini. To be the head of press and PR at these clubs is to live in fear of your phone. Every time it rings, my God, what have they done now? “Hi… yeh… Adam Johnson… right… schoolgirl… mmm hmmmm… STD medication… and we’re still going to be playing him are we? …. Ok… statement for the website, yeh… right, bye.”

Will there be managers? Oh, you bet. These two go through ‘em faster than the Tuesday night king prawn jalfrezi special at a suburban Indian restaurant. Sunderland have done 20 in 20 years; QPR have done… 21. There’s some real belters among them as well. Paul Hart, five games in charge across 29 days, three of them against Sheff Utd, booed off after his only win, saying “I don’t know the place, I don’t know the people here”. Mark Hughes and his “we’ll never be in this position again while I’m here” after a spawny survival on the final day of 2011/12 (I guess he was right, we never did survive at that level again). Harry Redknapp referring to away matches as “bonus games”. Schteve McClaren and his Quality Professional Relentless PowerPoint presentation. Goofy’s my favourite.

Sunderland, bless them, made Paolo Di Canio their manager While In The Premier League, with due diligence that apparently never stretched as far as checking he wasn’t a fully badged up Nazi-supporting fascist. I mean, you’d have thought that might come up in conversation at some point, right? ‘Wor Paolo, where are you on Mussolini lad? Just so we know what to tell the Sunderland Echo like’. “Hi… yeh… David Miliband… okay… The Durham Miners' Association... of course... statement for the website, yeh… right, bye.” West Ham’s finest lasted 13 games and three wins, sacked for “brutal and vitriolic” treatment of his players.

Di Canio, on 23.1%, one of seven among those 20 most recent gaffers whose win percentage barely touches 20% which seems… a lot. Wilkinson 14.8% (obviously), Niall Quinn 16.7% (briefly), Ricky Spragia 23.1% (uphill paper round), Dick Advocaat 21.1% (and they liked him), David Moyes 18.6% (him less so), Simon Grayson 16.7% (I know, you forget don’t you?), and Chris Coleman 17.2% (he’s a married man with six kids, who you calling a prick?).

Do you want to talk about the signings? Sunderland have signed 137 players in ten years at a cost of around £130m. QPR have signed 115 and, while the outlay has been considerably less, that timeframe does not include the worst excesses of the Hughes/Rigg and Redknapp eras. Go back further and just think of the long winter nights we could wile away together in a pub with a view of the North Sea, and a roaring log fire, batting names back and forth. Because, sure, we paid a club record £12m for a fat bloke who vaguely resembled that Chris Samba lad who used to play for Blackburn, five months later returned him to sender for the same fee and a week later they sold him to another Russian club and apparently that was all absolutely fine and above board, but then Sunderland spent exactly the same, almost to the pound, for Jack Rodwell to come and gently pedal a little exercise bike at their training ground. We spent £8m on Steven Caulker without spotting he was drunk, they spent £7m on Torre Andre Flo without realising he was a carthorse. We spent £4m on Matt Phillips without realising he pulls out of everything, they spent £10m on Adam Johnson without knowing he never pulls out of anything.

You look at things like Asamoah Gyan £14m, Steven Fletcher £12m, Connor Wickham £8m, Jozy Altidore £8m, Wahbi Khazri (??) £10m, Didier Ndong £20m (!!) and you think ‘steady on vicar, we’ve all had a drink.’ And then you remember we replaced Paddy Kenny (£15k a week) with Robert Green (£50k a week) and then replaced Green with Julio Cesar (120k a week) in the same transfer window – taking our weekly outlay on goalkeepers from £20k to a quarter of a million quid, without any discernible improvement in the quality of goalkeeping. I would urge you to go and have a look at Sunderland’s £60m outlay for 2015/16, what they got for it and how much each of them cost (Younes Kaboul, always a harbinger of doom, hi Younes). Overall though this is probably one we should sit out. Jordon Mutch, Leroy Fer, 76-year-old Sandro and Big Drunk Caulks, with his bi-annual Guardian puff piece about how he’s turned it all around this time for real, set us back north of thirty million quid. Stephane Mbia only ended up here in the first place because he misheard his agent and thought he was heading to Glasgow Rangers.

The only surprise really is you look through some of these names – the fragile porcelain knees of Jonny Williams/Benjamin Button, the many non-scoring seasons of Ashley Fletcher, “wild Irishman” of Palermo Kyle Lafferty – and think it’s a miracle we haven’t actually shared more players. Some of these feel right up our street. A brief and unsuccessful loan of Adnan Januzaj from Man Utd? Come on, that’s a bit of us, isn’t it? Luke O’Nien must be the most QPR player never to have played for QPR – or is that Yann M’Vila? (Who, incidentally, has also played for Sunderland).

The ones we have both been tempted by are instructive though: Brett Angell, ostensibly a striker, played ten league games for Sunderland without scoring, then repeated the feat for QPR; Anton Ferdinand was every bit the switched on and alert defensive presence in red and white as he was in Hoops; Richard Ord might have been quite good for us, but his knee exploded into a thousand pieces in a pre-season friendly at Aylesbury and he never did get round to making a senior appearance. Jake Clarke-Salter, we will discover tomorrow, is remembered with some degree of terror in these parts – a red card against Middlesbrough the sum total of his achievements on Wearside. Jack Clarke, now one of the best players in this division, couldn’t get in Mark Warburton’s QPR team.

The comedy potential in both clubs inevitably drew the eye of television producers. The Four Year Plan remains the greatest sports documentary of all time, Flavio Briatore perched on high ordering Gareth Ainsworth to bring on Gavin Mahon to chase a home game with Cardiff, but at least QPR did accidentally get promoted at the end of it. Sunderland got Netflix in to film their attempt to bounce back to the Premier League and ended up getting relegated to League One. Parts of Sunderland Till I Die run even Flavio slapstick close. Be that a transfer target list including Zlatan Ibrahimovic and the long-since retired Peter Crouch, the chief executive composing his own Ibiza trance mix for the team to run out to, or the new owner bidding against himself for a part-used Will Grigg his manager has specifically and repeatedly told him he didn’t want. Look out for the bald pate of one Richard Hill in the background of that scene, who you may recall as manager of the QPR B Team that sparked an international diplomatic incident with a running pitch battle and near riot in a friendly game with the Chinese U21s. See, I told you, farce - it follows us both around, we like the same people for the same reasons. On the riverrrrrrrrr where we used to build the boats, and daaaaaad wor saaaaaad.

That’s been much the case in recent months too. While Gareth Ainsworth was lining his QPR players up for a Haka, Sunderland were decorating their main supporters’ bar in Newcastle colours. While we were 4-0 down on the opening day at Watford and Ainsworth was tipping the Hornets as champions, Sunderland were sacking Tony Mowbray while well in touch with the play-offs and are now on a run of six straight defeats including a loss at Tony Mowbray’s Birmingham. We just can’t help ourselves. Neither of us. I’m amazed we’re left alone near electrical sockets.

We have, of course, got this far without mentioning our most recent joint enterprise into hot nonsense… Honest Mick Beale. He who told QPR they’d been ridiculously profligate in signing 30+ year olds to “hold Rob Dickie’s hand”, and then signed Leon Balogun. He who told QPR he didn’t want to do loans because in the heat of a Championship season they wouldn’t be committed and would be looking around elsewhere (oh, the irony), and then a week later made four loan signings, three of whom lo and behold turned out to be right problematic little twats the second Beale himself buggered off. He who told QPR loyalty and integrity was important to him, and that Wolves had just offered him their job randomly out of the blue without ever even meeting him, then headed off to Rangers a month later. More recently he could be found telling Sunderland fans they hated him because of his Cockney accent despite him “not working in London for ten years”. Mick, they know you were the QPR manager. There were pictures of it. It was on the television.

Short of Edna Krabappel turning over the keys to her apartment and ATM card, I guess if anybody was ever going to be taken in by the chat and PowerPoint presentation of a career bullshitter then it would be Queens Park Rangers and Sunderland.

All you can do is accept they’re both beyond help, and love them unconditionally anyway.

Links >>> Easter resurrection – History >>> Six straight – Interview >>> Langford in charge – Referee >>> Sunderland official website >>> Sunderland Echo — Local Paper >>> Roker Report — Blog >>> Not606 — Forum >>> Ready to Go — Forum >>> Wise Men Say – Podcast >>> What The Falk – Podcast >>> A Love Supreme – Fanzine

90s Footballer Conspiracy Theories No.33 In The Series - The CE, recyclable, and registered trademark signs are Satanic magic symbols the EU uses to control us, says former Port Vale and Leicester wing man Steve Guppy.

Below the fold

Team News: QPR, it would seem, are still only missing fringe members Rayan Kolli and Aaron Drewe from their travelling party. For all the eyebrows raised about our approach to the early part of the season fitness wise under new sports science guru Ben Williams – who you’ll recall said the squad was deliberately left underdone in August and September as part of a plan to steadily build up greater robustness – it does seem to have worked so far, touch wood. Certainly the injury situation now compared to this time last year is absolutely night and day – although I still think there are giant question marks over whether some of those absences back there were altogether genuine. Steve Cook and Jake Clarke-Salter average just 0.82 goals conceded a game when they play together, the Championship’s third best record, and being able to get consistent selection out of fitness problem children like that has been a big part of the improvement under Cifuentes. Can it sustain through nine more games, though?

Sunderland are the exact opposite. An already chaotic season has cratered of late amidst a chunky injury list. No real surprise to find angelic shithouse Luke O’Nien suspended, nor physio-botherer Bradley Dack out injured, but they’re just two of 12 possible first team absentees for this one. Dan Ballard really seems to have taken against QPR since his Sunderland home debut was ruined by Uncle Albert treading on his ankle while getting up in the night for a piss so his absence with an injury sustained at Southampton last week would not only be welcome news, it would also leave the Mackems without a proper centre back to choose from with Jenson Seelt also apparently out. Expect midfielder-cum-full-back Trai Hume to be pressed into action there alongside left back Leo Hjelde. Another who seems to have a wonderful time against us, Jack Clarke, is a long term absentee along with fellow playmaker Patrick Roberts. The last of the recognised strikers Nazarii Rusyn, pulled up on Friday morning. Niall Huggins, Dennis Cirkin, Aji Alese, Corry Evans and Elliott Embleton are all also somewhere on the scale between injured and not arsed.

Speaking of which, Marti Cifuentes has been pressed into a comment on the ongoing Taylor Richards bullshit. QPR’s resident waste is apparently suffering with “a calf problem” according to the manager’s comments to West London Sport. Interesting that if you drew up a league table of the biggest arseholes QPR have inflicted on themselves over the last few seasons, how many of those near the top also coincidentally missed months at a time with one of these vague “calf problems”. To be fair, this one must be a serious knock, as Rangers didn’t even include Richards in their 25-man squad for the second half of the season, something Cifuentes decided not to mention.

Elsewhere: Eyes down look in for another terrifying round of Mercantile Credit Trophy Action this weekend, which starts with two teams on 38 points, two on 39, three on 41 and two on 43 at the bottom of this ridiculous division.

Rotherham are obviously down already, with nine straight defeats, consecutive 5-0 losses and a 20 point gap to safety. Them chucking the towel in and handing out gimmes for the rest of the season isn’t great news for us though as their remaining five home fixtures include visits from Birmingham, Plymouth, Millwall and tomorrow afternoon Huddersfield Town.

Sheff Wed had their four-match winning sequence broken by Leeds last weekend and now face another tough task away at Ipswich who have similar designs on promotion. Birmingham remain fourth bottom having missed a golden game-in-hand chance to move clear by losing at home to Boro during the week. With four defeats and a draw to their name since Tony Mowbray went into hospital they’re in dire need of this weekend’s visit from Watford who’ve long since been on the beach, won one game from the last 12, and have now sacked manager Valerien Ismael.

Stoke’s incredibly fortunate and entirely unintended winner at Preston last weekend has lifted them to nineteenth ahead of a visit from Norwich. With two wins from three games the Potters appear to be upwardly mobile again, which is more than can be said for Blackburn who now have two wins in 19 games prior to their awayday at Middlesbrough. Rovers’ remaining fixtures include Boro, Leeds and Leicester away, while Ipswich, Southampton, Sheff Wed and Cov are their last four games at Ewood Park. John Eustace’s side look pretty ripe for the catching at the moment, and likewise Plymouth who now have one win in nine prior to their home game with Preston Knob End.

Millwall, away at Leeds on Sunday, and Swansea, Welsh derby with Cardiff Saturday lunchtime, have seemed desperate to get involved in all this for sometime now but remain steadfastly out of reach on 43 points each. Watford, Sunderland and Bristol City (away at West Brom) just above are all chronically out of form but probably fine with another couple of wins each.

It’s a truncated programme this weekend because Coventry and Leicester are both playing in something it says here is called the FA Cup sixth round. I know, I was surprised too.

Referee: It’s experienced Championship mainstay Oliver Langford for this one – he has done one of QPR’s away wins already this season, at Cardiff in August. Details.


Sunderland As outlined in the team news, you’d do well to be playing a Championship team with more absentees than Sunderland at the moment. Their average age of exactly 21 at Southampton last weekend was the youngest ever in this division. You’d also struggle to find one in worse form because only Rotherham, with nine straight defeats, are in a worse run than the Mackems who arrive into this one having lost six in a row – 1-0s at Huddersfield, Norwich and at home to Leicester, 2-1s at Birmingham and home to Swansea, and a 4-2 at Southampton.

Among the many weird things the Championship is doing this season, with its one whipping boy at the bottom and four runaways at the top, is the teams able to maintain midtable positions with record low points totals and high numbers of defeats. Sunderland are currently twelfth, top half of the table, despite losing their last six games, having only 47 points and losing 18 games overall. That’s the same number of defeats as Blackburn, Stoke, QPR and Birmingham. Huddersfield, third bottom, have only lost 15. At the Stadium of Light Sunderland have already lost eight games – only QPR, Millwall and Rotherham (all nine) have lost more at home. The reason they’ve been able to maintain a high league position regardless is a lack of draws – only Leicester (four) have drawn fewer than their five, and they’re yet to draw a single game at home (10-0-8). That total of ten home wins is the best outside the top six.

Ellis Simms and Ross Stewart both scored in the last meeting here – a 2-2 draw in which Seny Dieng became the first goalkeeper in the history of the club to score for QPR. Simms (seven), Stewart (ten) and Amad Diallo (13) were three of Sunderland’s four top scorers last year and all are elsewhere this (Coventry, Southampton, Man Utd respectively). The other, Jack Clarke (nine), has 15 goals this season but is now injured. After him the second top league scorer is defensive midfielder Dan Neill and Pierre Ekwah both with four.

QPR: The chastening 2-0 home loss to Middlesbrough last week leaves QPR two places and one point outside the bottom three with nine to play. If the next nine go as well as the last then Rangers will be fine – that was only their second defeat in ten matches, with five wins. The R’s have won three of their last four away from home (Blackburn, Bristol City, Leicester) after just one of their previous ten (Preston). Likewise if they respond to this defeat as they have others recently then we’ve got good things to look forward to – the home loss to Watford was followed by two wins and two draws, and the bad night at Stoke was proceeded by three straight wins and a draw.

Sunderland, along with Coventry and Blackburn, were one of those teams who had two wins at Loftus Road in 2023 while we were nursing just the one. QPR have won just one of the last seven meetings – Ebere Eze’s first professional goal sealing a 1-0 for Ian Holloway’s team in 2018 when Jason Steele went walkabout. Rangers are, however, unbeaten in four trips to the Stadium of Light – three draws including last season’s Seny Dieng heroics, and one Premier League win sealed in part by a spectacular Bobby Zamora goal. That was in our 2014/15 relegation from the top flight and was one of only two wins and one draw we managed in 19 away games all season #bonusgames.

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. Reigning champion Aston says.

“Let’s face it, we all wish this was us putting the final nail in Mick Beale's managerial coffin, but it’s not to be. The one positive being we at least get to play against the burning remains of his dreadful side. Last weekend they fielded the youngest side the Championship has ever seen, a big game for our experienced heads coming up. Still a tough game when you look at some of the players they have available to them though. I'll go with 1-1 and Michi Frey to pop up with one.”

Aston’s Prediction: Sunderland 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Michy Frey

LFW’s Prediction: Sunderland 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Lyndon Dykes

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FrankRightguard added 12:49 - Mar 15
That Phillips/Johnson line *chefs kiss*

GroveR added 10:43 - Mar 16
The only thing that could ever make this fixture any more farcical would be Chuckles Woolmer, cutting around the pitch in a little red and yellow car, stopping occasionally to squirt someone with his colourful lapel flower or honk loudly on an oversized horn.

TacticalR added 14:57 - Mar 16
Thanks for your preview.

QPR and Sunderland. There should be a scheme for twinning asylums.

I really hope that this is not another one of those 'oppo in crisis' situations that we can't make the best of.

religionchoke added 04:17 - Mar 25
QPR have long-standing rivalries with several other clubs due to the club's location in West London.

ramseymorgan690 added 20:57 - Mar 29
You may recall Reidy Reid’s Quinn and Phillips-led Black Cats storming past our Rangers

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sarausa added 07:57 - May 29
This duo's performance made football fans go from surprise to surprise and proved their talent.

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