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Queens Park Rangers 0 v 2 Sheffield Wednesday
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 6th April 2024 Kick-off 15:00
Managers matter(?) – Preview
Friday, 5th Apr 2024 17:30 by Clive Whittingham

Two teams who looked absolutely dead and buried in the autumn meet at Loftus Road tomorrow with Marti Cifuentes’ QPR recovery on the cusp of completion, and Danny Rohl’s Sheff Wed rescue still in with a fighting chance.

QPR (12-10-18 WDLDWW 16th) v Sheff Wed (11-6-23 WWLLDL 23rd)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday April 6, 2024 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Bright but extremely windy >>> Loftus Road, London, W12

During the 1990 World Cup in Italy, Howard Wilkinson – who’d recently swapped South Yorkshire Sheff Wed for Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire Leeds United – was operating as an opposition scout for England manager Bobby Robson. You may recall his advice that drawing Cameroon was akin to having a bye to the next round, shortly before the break-out team of that tournament chased Robson’s brave Lions all around Naples (and all the way into extra time). Probably the sort of insight that got him the FA’s technical director role in the latter stages of his career.

I hesitate to tell the following story because a) I’ve no idea if it’s true (good start), b) I always attribute it to the grizzled but utterly brilliant head of my journalism degree, who was an arch Sheff Wed fan and may read this, and c) my recollection of it is so dimly fogged by all the beer consumed that night/since that I’m almost certainly remembering the thing and the people involved entirely wrong. Nevertheless, it’s filed firmly under what a former news editor of mine would have deemed “too good to check” and so I’m going with it. We’re playing Sheffield Wednesday tomorrow for goodness sake, shut up. LFW legal counsel (not a salaried position) will be thrilled.

After covering a night match at Milan’s glorious San Siro, said journalism professor (then northern correspondent of The Independent) and several of the other more experienced hacks were intending to take a rented car and share the overnight driving duties down to Rome for a game there the following day. What a life, take me there now. At the last minute, scurrying across the car park, to much moaning and grumbling from the passengers in the back seat, came Howard Wilkinson, who was on the same detail in his role and wondered if there might be space in the car for a lift. Which, it couldn’t be denied, there clearly and evidently was.

All of them soon wished they had anyway. For while the hacks’ plan was to sleep off the effects of covering a tournament in the baking Italian summer sun and in the finest old traditions of British journalism, Howard Wilkinson’s plan was to spend the night talking to them, ostensibly on the topic of how much he knew about football and how little they would ever understand about it. This continued for several hours down the motorway: Wilkinson holding court, journalists trying/pretending to sleep in the back seat, driver considering whether it might be worth handbrake turning the thing into a ravine.

It was, so my recollection of this potentially entirely fictitious story goes, the late and great Hugh McIlvanney who cracked first. Without opening his eyes he took advantage of a brief pause in the lecture to ask: “Howard, if you know so much about all of this, why did your Sheffield Wednesday team play such dreadful football?” Wilkinson, whose teams could never be said to be aesthetically pleasing whatever their occasional success, hit straight back with “if I had Maradona, Gullit, Mathaus… at Sheffield Wednesday, we wouldn’t have played in that manner at all …” Work with what you’ve got, horse for a course, yadda yadda yadda. Another pause. McIlvanney, again without lifting his eyelids, played a second card. “Howard, if Maradona, Gullit, Mathaus… did play for Sheffield Wednesday, you wouldn’t have been the fucking manager.” They got their kip in the end.

As both regular readers will attest to, exactly how important the football manager is in all of the football these days has been a source of near obsessive debate on these pages over the years. Don’t make me tap the ’48 previews and match reports a season don’t write themselves’ sign.

To look at football as an outsider with no real understanding or attraction to the sport, you’d think the manager is the be-all-and-end-all. They’re obligated to give multiple interviews and press conferences after every game. These days they’re obligated to give multiple interviews and press conferences before every game too – interviews and press conferences about something which hasn’t happened yet. When things go well they’re often lauded as some sort of sooth-saying miracle worker, and can be handed other jobs for years and years afterwards with minimal interview process at entirely different clubs in completely different situations based on that one brief bit of success they had that one time in that one specific set of circumstances. When things go badly – and by badly I can mean five defeats in a fortnight while you’ve got a dozen players injured or suspended – they are almost always the first to be blamed and fired.

It's often been our contention that this is fairly ridiculous. Perhaps Howard Wilkinson was right (fuck me, 20 years of LFW and still we’re coming up with things nobody has ever committed to print in the English language before) in saying his Sheff Wed would have been the most attractive team to watch in the world if only they weren’t picking Nigel Worthington and Mel Stirland either side of Nigel Pearson, and what exactly do you expect him to do about that?

Writing about QPR, certainly over the last ten years, has really given us pause for thought about exactly how much it matters who’s picking the team and taking the training. QPR have swiftly moved through managers as eclectic in mannerisms, mood and style as Chris Ramsey, Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink, Ian Holloway, Steve McClaren and Mark Warburton. For that they’ve remained in the Championship, never higher than ninth and never lower than 19th. If you can go from somebody as authentic but literally barmy as Ian Holloway, to somebody so completely over-PR’d and smarmy as Steve McClaren, and all it does to your league finishes is take you from 18th and 16th to 19th, then why are we wasting so much time and energy on who the manager is? This is soapbox derby racing, he’s essentially ballast, right?

When QPR get a particularly decent manager, like Mark Warburton, it can move the needle only as far as ninth, and when they get a particularly bad one, like Steve McClaren, it only dips them down ten places the other way. That’s because the manager is not your problem – or, so we’ve always said. QPR have been finishing where they’ve been finishing in the Championship because their owners are benevolent but incompetent, because the financial realities of being a club in a tiny old stadium in the FFP era are difficult, and because the people running the club day-to-day have not been good enough to counter those two factors with clever and astute enough retainment and recruitment. Sure, all of the managers had their faults and should take their share of the blame – Hasselbaink’s miserable negativity, Holloway’s wildly oscillating team selections and behaviour, McClaren’s ‘team of men’ and ignorance of Manning, Osayi-Samuel and the like – but if you keep changing the manager and nothing improves then the manager isn’t the problem and a new one isn’t the solution.

QPR have been where they’ve been for the last eight years primarily for economic reasons. Of the clubs that have faced down similar financial challenges and gone past us (Luton, Brighton, Brentford), none of them have done that because of their manager – in fact, all three have worked through similar amounts of bosses that we have. When people look at the success at Brighton, Luton and Brentford everybody talks about the model and the ownership. Clubs that have tried to poach people like Nathan Jones or Uwe Rosler looking for a bit of that success themselves have quickly found they ain’t up to much. Chelsea have basically poached Brighton’s manager, entire backroom team, and half their players, and still… look at Brighton, and look at Chelsea. Sheff Wed are where they are not because of managerial appointments, but because their chairman is Captain Whacky – later renamed Derek Chansiri.

While it’s an absolute privilege in this role to get to meet the QPR manager for an interview once a year, and I’m always exceptionally grateful to all of them for their time, it’s only ever Mark Warburton who I found genuinely impressive as a person. The two hours with Ian Holloway was wonderful, nostalgic, hilarious, I love him… but he was all over the map. McClaren was possibly the singularly least impressive person in a high powered job I’d ever met in my career – it took us ten minutes to get past why A Kick Up The R’s is called A Kick Up The R’s, and that was before we got to the ‘Quality Professional Relentless’ PowerPoint presentation.

If you get a chance, there’s a podcast on BBC Sounds called Moment of Truth, following Rotherham and Oxford through the final weeks of a League One promotion battle that ends well for the former and badly for the latter. Paul Warne and Karl Robinson, both reasonably highly rated managers at various points of their career, both competing at the top end of the league at that time, were mic’d up. The best bits were their quiet reflections on long drives home, or when sat down with their family. The worst bits, over and over again, were them in the dressing room. Just, so, much, nonsense. Screaming. Constantly screaming. And nothing of any use to anybody really. Just long, loud diatribes about “being the best version of yourself” and “that’s not acceptable at Oxford United Football Club”. No tactical insight, no useful last little bits of information, just… screams. Presumably motivating to a room full of 24-year-old boys feeling a little bit nervous about going out and playing in front of thousands of people in a big game. Wouldn’t do it for me, but then that’s why I’m sitting here typing this and not playing for Oxford. That, and the beer. And the shitness. And who'd want to play for fucking Oxford anyway?

These experiences and the progression of modern football have led me to believe you should actually take more and more power away from the manager. Make him de facto head coach and expendable to your project. You sack them every nine months anyway, and the odd one who does well ups and leaves for somebody else at the first possible opportunity – looking at you Honest Mick. Why are you investing a load of faith, strategy, stock and budget in that guy?

QPR’s current ownership have twice been burned by handing over the keys to an experienced football manager – Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp. They know they’re only ever five defeats from the sack, they know they’re closer to the end than the beginning of their lives and careers, and so they make purely selfish decisions designed to get them a result on Saturday and further engorge their own bank accounts. Given the choice between a 33-year-old who might get you a win this Saturday, and a 19-year-old who will take some bedding in, they take the 33-year-old every time – and if Willie McKay happens to be his agent then all the better. Modern football clubs have to take control away from these people, and have long-standing director of football, sporting director, CEO appointments who put in place a forward-thinking strategy into which every signing and managerial appointment is made.

And then we come to Danny Röhl and Marti Cifuentes. Neither, apparently, good enough to make the shortlist for this year’s Championship manager of the season award ahead of Kieran McKenna (fair enough), Daniel Farke (yawn) and Liam Rosenior (sorry, what now?) but, to my mind, doing utterly extraordinary work.

Röhl, whether he succeeds or not, will surely be high up on dozens and dozens of most wanted lists across Europe this summer. We had Sheff Wed dead last in our season preview. They’re a shambolically run organisation. Up to their tits in FFP issues, in a decaying stadium for which fans are being charged eye-watering ticket prices, with a 64-carat mental chairman who has – as they all do – gone through all the various stages of delinquent owner of historic British football club and ended up at the malignant, malicious, almost doing-it-on-purpose phase of aggressive mismanagement. Ever-more extortionate season tickets and memberships are put on sale, some stretching many years into the future, but to buy one requires you in Britain, in Sheffield, in 2024, to take a bag of cash you have lying around to the box office because no bank will countenance a credit card transaction with this lot. There’s a child’s school backpack on sale in the club shop for £55. They have no CEO, no director of football, no sporting director, no head of recruitment. It is 34-year-old Röhl, the league’s youngest boss, going it alone, right down to signing off on hotels for away games. The recruitment in the summer, and again in January, was amateur hour. Jeff Hendrick’s (just you be ready with that holy water) 14 minutes at Boro on Monday were his first league outing since a two minute cameo against Blackburn on December 2. They were so sure they had Connor Coventry to strengthen the middle of midfield from West Ham they briefed journalists it was done, and instead he went to League One basement dwellers Charlton. They loaned another central midfielder, George Byers, to Blackpool regardless. They won none of their first 15 league and cup games, and had just three points to their name at the start of November.

Röhl, though, is doing it. He has dragged 11 league wins, kicking and screaming, from this rag tag outfit. They recently won four in a row – crucially beating relegation rivals Rotherham, Millwall and Plymouth as well as Bristol City. They’ve only taken one point from the last four and they got done 6-0 at Ipswich in what Röhl would probably admit himself was a rookie managerial tactical mistake, but that included fixtures at home to Leeds and away to Ipswich and Middlesbrough, and an injury to star wingman Ian Poveda. They’re two points and two places off safety. Stoke are still to come to Hillsborough. Whatever happens from here, it’s been a formidable effort.

Marti Cifuentes inherited a not dissimilar clusterfuck on the field. QPR had eight points from two wins and two draws in their first 15 games. They added only two points in the next three, including a trip to Rotherham. Ten points from the first 18 games of the season, a distant six adrift of Huddersfield when Cifuentes took over that would quickly widen to eight.

It was a team that had already lost 4-0 to Watford and Blackburn, and on both occasions the score only remained at 4-0 because the opposition called the dogs off and rested their jaws – had Watford kept going the way they were on the opening day it’s not inconceivable that game could have finished in double figures. By the end Gareth Ainsworth had taken to stemming the bleeding by packing everybody behind the ball and abandoning all hope of even crossing the halfway line in a coherent way, never mind scoring a goal, having a shot or even winning a corner. The 2-0 loss at West Brom at the fag end of his tenure featured one shot off target and one QPR corner in the entire 90 minutes – ball-playing midfielder Andre Dozzell played eight passes on the night and gave two of those away. It was fucking hideous. I was embarrassed standing there and associating myself with it.

Cifuentes has taken on all of that. He’s taken on the defence that has to play with three centre backs and a defensive midfielder otherwise it’ll get horribly exposed, and he’s not only made it play in a back four but he’s made it work – only Ipswich and Leeds have more clean sheets away from home, only two clubs have a better centre back pairing on goals-per-game than Clarke-Salter and Cook. He’s made a right back of Jimmy Dunne. He’s found goals elsewhere in a team that doesn’t have a forward worthy of the level it’s playing at. He is essentially about to keep a team with no goalkeeper and no forwards in the league regardless – Steve Cook, no goals in four seasons, now two in a weekend. He has taken on all of the dire inheritance his predecessor had, plus the extra baggage weight Ainsworth added to that, he’s had no resources to do anything about any of it, and he’s succeeding regardless. His performance to date has been remarkable.

There is, of course, the distinct possibility that what was going on at these two clubs previously meant you couldn’t really help but do better. Ainsworth, much as it breaks my heart, was easily the most out-of-his-depth manager we’ve had here in my time covering the club. Some of the stuff he was trying in matches was laughable. That Blackburn home game will haunt me. Cifuentes, come in, put a few arms round people, get “Chrissy” Willock half interested, have a good run of fitness from Cook and Clarke-Salter, get a couple of nice January additions in Andersen and Hayden… how could things not improve? Similarly, Xisco Munoz was hysterically terrible at Sheff Wed. Röhl couldn’t fail to be a breath of fresh air in a dressing room more Dutch oven than changing facility, and their league position meant he had little choice but to just chuck everything at it and see where the cards landed. The flat front four and mega-high press that eventually got to QPR at Hillsborough in December has caught a few teams out before and since, because you just don’t see that and face it at all in a routine game. Sheff Wed are in an extraordinary situation and have come up with out-of-the-ordinary solutions to it. If Röhl went to, say, Sunderland, with whom he’s been linked this week, would we expect a flat front four and high press stationed on the opposition goalline in every game there next season? And would it work if he did that? Both have had the benefit of record low expectations and a desperation so bleak that you can basically try a few things and the fans are just grateful you’re trying at all.

Managers matter when your manager is so bad it serves as a millstone round the neck of the team, hauling it beneath the waves. Perhaps in the case of both Cifuentes and Röhl they were just lucky enough to follow people like that into the job and get a free hit – Ian Foster has just had the opposite experience at Plymouth. But, managers also matter when they’re so good at their job and inspirational in their leadership that they’re capable of lifting a team above all its baggage, noise, economic circumstances and problems and achieving with it regardless.

We’ll only know whether Röhl and Cifuentes are the real deal in time. Nevertheless, if you’d said the league table would look like it does today, ahead of this crucial second meeting between the sides, when they were both first appointed, most casual observers would have thought you quite mad. That it does, feels almost entirely down to the pair of them.

Most managers are much of a muchness. Get a really bad one, or a really good one, however, and you really know about it.

Links >>> Röhl’s remarkable rescue – Oppo Profile >>> Smith’s Rangers get off mark – History >>> Scott in charge – Referee >>> Sheff Wed Official Website >>> Sheffield Star — Local Paper >>> London Owls — Blog >>> Owls Talk — Message Board

90s Footballer Conspiracy Theories No.38 In The Series - Gordon Durie refuses to use vending machines because "there's a horrible wee ghoulie in there pushing oot the cans".

Below the fold

Team News: Luke Williams’ tactic of trying to cross teams to death brought a four centre back set up from Marti Cifuentes on Easter Monday, and 71% of aerial duels won in the game as a result. Morgan Fox’s first league start since the end of September went well at left back and although Cifuentes insists that was tactical he did also admit that Kenneth Paal was poorly – this bringing to an end Paal’s run of 47 consecutive starts going back to last March. If we’re to assume the alternating of Michy Frey and Lyndon Dykes in home and away games is to continue then again the debate will probably be around which two out of Colback, Hayden and Field will play midfield, and whether you put Paal back in for Fox at left back. Chair, Willock and Andersen will highly likely be restored as the front three behind the lone striker. Rayan Kolli is the only named injury absentee. Prize from the middle shelf for a sighting of Taylor Richards.

Danny Rohl was livid with his side’s efforts in a 2-0 defeat at Middlesbrough last time out. The German said: “There was nothing, honestly. One-nil, then nothing. Our supporters were massive until the end but our performance until the end wasn't good enough and in the end we were lucky we just conceded two goals. It was the basics. If you lose the ball, you have to show a reaction. There was not one guy on a good level today. You can think about Friday-Monday and not being fresh enough, but for me this is an excuse, and in our situation there is no time for excuses. We have to fight, and if you invest a lot and still lose then you say 'OK, the opponent was stronger' but if you don't invest enough you have to think about our attitude and mentality, and it was a long time ago that we last showed this face of our team. I'm a bit surprised because on Friday we showed that we wanted to win the game and fought until the end."

Josh Windass hasn’t played since January 31, at which point he had four goals in eight games, and Callum Paterson hasn’t been seen since Boxing Day, but both are in the squad for this one. Influential Leeds loanee Ian Poveda returned from his recent knock from the bench at Boro and will likely start. The best of the division’s second ropiest defence, Di’Shon Bernard, is likely out.

Elsewhere: Big old week this. Three sets of Championship fixtures over the next seven days.

Reading from the bottom up we start tonight with the televised clash between Rotherham and Plymouth. Not sure BARB will ever have seen ratings quite like it but it’s a crucial one for both clubs. Rotherham kept their survival hopes technically alive with a home win against Millwall on Monday and must repeat that tonight if they’re not to be relegated this weekend. Plymouth’s fifth scoreless home defeat in a row, this time to Bristol City, was enough to have even the notoriously tolerant Argyle board pull the trigger on rookie manager Ian Foster with the Greens now down to fourth from bottom and just a point outside the relegation zone. While it felt like Neil Warnock sliding into his local club for a Nineteenth Annual Farewell Tour seemed an absolute shoo in, and he’s said he would gladly have taken it on, Plymouth have said they’re going with caretaker pairing Neil Dewsnip and Kevin Nancekivell for the remaining six games. They’ll need to hit the ground running with Rotherham, QPR, Stoke and Millwall to come in their next five matches.

The big six pointer of the weekend features the teams either side of Argyle. Things are getting serious for third bottom Huddersfield who haven’t won in six games and dropped points away to Rotherham and Stoke last week. They’ve now got a homer with Millwall, three places and four points above them, whose initial revival under Neil Harris has turned into one point from three games and a defeat away to Rotherham. They’ve got reasonably favourable fixtures, but it’s Leicester at The Den on Tuesday so failure to win in West Yorkshire tomorrow could have the Lions right in it once more by the time next Saturday rolls around. Birmingham are two points north of the drop zone following that much needed first win in eight games at home to Preston Knob End last weekend but face a tough trip to Leicester tomorrow.

Stoke and Blackburn come next, both on 45 points. Stoke don’t seem to know what they want to be at the moment, following a fantastic Good Friday win at Hull with a dour home draw against Huddersfield on Monday. Blackburn finally got that first win in a dozen league games in spectacular fashion, winning 5-1 at Mykonos-bound Sunderland. Both have tough games this weekend, albeit at home, with West Brom going to the Potteries and Southampton at Ewood Park in the Egil Ostenstad grudge derby.

QPR are as high as they’ve been in more than a year, and if their upward trajectory dares to continue they’re one point behind Swanselona who are away at Middlesbrough, and four off Watford who host Preston.

At the top end of the table it is, hilariously, Ipswich Town roaring through with six games left to play as the parachute payment-guzzling behemoths falter. Their trademark last-second, thrilling 3-2 win at Southampton on Monday was achieved despite only having two or three half chances, being second best in the game, and Southampton scoring the better goals, according to the ever humble Russell Martin. Outrageously the EFL still seem to have awarded them a full three points for it which puts the Tractor Boys top, two points clear of second, and a full 13 ahead of the obviously superior Saints.

Southampton themselves are using the myriad financial and squad advantages available to them, and Russell’s scintillating death-by-a-thousand-passes football, to sit fourth, 12 points adrift of automatic promotion ahead of the trip to Blackburn tomorrow. They’ve won three of their last nine games, and Saints fans on social media are bemoaning the club’s failure to add a striker to cover £8m purchase Ross Stewart with only Che Adams and Adam Armstrong to call on. We should genuinely loan them Frey and Dykes for the rest of the season and force them to start both. Lack of strikers? Into the sea with you.

Top three sides have all won 85+ points. Only once in last five seasons have the top three had 85+ points at end of season, in 2020-21. All three have already won more points than Luton’s total of 80 last season. So, it’s all eyes on The Old Farm Derby between Norwich and Ipswich at lunchtime, followed by Leicester hosting Birmingham and a rare untelevised Leeds fixture with Coventry at 15.00.

Incidentally, in case you hadn’t noticed, the shifting of our final home game with Massive Leeds to Friday night has finally been confirmed with three weeks’ notice, a good six months after it became totally fucking obvious it was going to move to that slot. Leeds’ 33rd Sky pick of the season.

One from the LFW postbag this week, I’m sure you can hazard a guess at the reply we sent back to this…

”Hope all is well, I am currently working on a project for Sky Creative, where we’ll be attending some upcoming EFL games & looking to capture real & intimate fan content. We are currently looking for collaborators to join us for the next campaign centred around the passion and dedication of football fans. Here is an outline of some of the we’d look to capture:
“Pre-match Preparations: We would like to capture footage of fans arriving at the stadium, soaking in the atmosphere.
“Matchday Excitement: Our cameras will be on hand to document the energy and anticipation building up to kick-off, including fan interactions, chants, and displays of support
“In-Stadium Footage: We aim to film key moments during the match, focusing on the reactions and emotions of the fans as they cheer on their team from the stands.
“Like in the previous campaign, we might plan to mic up select fans to record their authentic reactions and possibly conversations pre-game, further immersing our audience in the matchday experience. I would love to know if you/or know any QPR fans who would be interested in this? Specifically for those attending the upcoming home game this Saturday."

Fuckety bye to you. And also Cardiff v Hull and Sunderland v Bristol City which feel pretty pointless.

Referee: Veteran Premier League official Graham Scott dips down to the Championship for this one. Scott has only refereed 17 games this season after 19 last, and has only been called upon in the top flight three times. QPR are 4-0-1 from five games. Details.


QPR: For the first time this season QPR have put the clear blue water of two victories between them and the bottom three. Consecutive Easter victories against Birmingham here and Swansea away have opened a six-point gap to the relegation zone and lifted Rangers to their natural home in sixteenth. Rangers have lost just two of the last 13 and only Leeds, Ipswich and Norwich have picked up more than QPR’s 25 points since the end of January. By contrast, despite the Birmingham victory, only Rotherham (19) have picked up fewer home points than QPR’s 21. Five, level with Watford (they might be champions come May you know), is the lowest total of home wins in the Championship bar the Millers. On a more positive note, it is now only one defeat from seven games at Loftus Road.

QPR’s wins have tended to come in threes this season – victory on Saturday would be the third occasion Rangers have won three on the trot, which is no mean feat for a team that has only won 12 games in total. The win in South Wales was a third clean sheet in four away games – QPR’s total of seven shutouts on the road is bettered only by Leeds and Ipswich who both have nine. Only Leeds (16) have conceded fewer goals than QPR (25) since Marti Cifuentes took over as manager, and the R’s overall goals against total of 51 is the same as league-leading Ipswich. It’s the best defensive record in the bottom half of the league bar Sunderland – this from a team beaten 4-0 twice in its opening dozen games.

It was a fantastic personal Easter for Steve Cook who scored in both narrow wins against Birmingham and Swansea – his first goals in 30 appearances for QPR, and first goals for anyone in four seasons going back to November 2019 when he scored in Bournemouth’s 2-1 home Premier League defeat by Wolves. He’d played 131 times for Bournemouth, Forest and QPR between drinks. At the other end, the two victories along with the clean sheet in South Wales continue his remarkable defensive numbers in his first season with the club. With Cook in the team QPR have won 11, drawn ten and lost only nine of 30 games. They’ve conceded 31 goals in those matches at a rate of 1.033 per game, and kept ten clean sheets. Without Cook Rangers have won only once (Preston away) and lost 11 out of 12. They’ve conceded 25 goals in those games at a rate of 2.083 per match and kept only one clean sheet (PNE A again). His in-form partner Jake Clarke-Salter isn’t far behind. With JCS in the team QPR have won 11, drawn five and lost 13 while without him they’ve won only once (Cardiff A), drawn five and lost seven. Rangers have kept nine clean sheets in 29 games with Clarke-Salter on the pitch (same ratio three in 13 without him) conceding 34 goals at a rate of 1.172 with him versus 17 at a rate of 1.307 without. Clarke-Salter’s needs to start five of the remaining six games to get to 30 starts in a season for the first time in his career. His current record of 25 starts and four sub appearances is the best he’s managed apart from 2020/21 at Coventry where he started 29 and came off the bench twice in league and cup.

Sheff Wed: It took the Owls until October 29 to win a game in league or cup this season – no wins from 15 and just three points posted in the Championship up to the 2-0 home win against Rotherham. Since then they’ve won 11 of 27 league games with three draws thrown in for good measure. Those 36 points from 27 games equate to 1.33 points a game which is almost exactly the rate Bristol City are currently going at in twelfth. The improvements have been enough to close a gap of 11 points to safety when Danny Rohl took over to just two now between them and Plymouth fourth bottom.

Much of the heavy lifting has been done at home though, where Wednesday are now 7-5-8 having started 0-2-4. Away from home it’s a far less impressive 4-1-15 record. They have by far the division’s worst goals scored total on the road (ten) and only Rotherham (56) have conceded more than the Owls’ 40 away goals. They come into this match on the back of a 6-0 loss at Ipswich and 2-0 at Middlesbrough after which Rohl let rip on his team, but they had won the two awayers just before that at Rotherham (1-0) and Millwall (2-0). Those are their only two wins in the last eight away trips mind, a run that has seen them concede four goals on three occasions and six once. They have lost 15 of their last 20 away games and have failed to score in 12 of their last 18 on the road.

A total of just 31 league goals scored is the lowest in the entire EFL bar Shrewsbury on 30. Anthony Musaba’s last-gasp scrambled effort won the first game for Wednesday 2-1 in South Yorkshire when QPR had led through to the 86th minute. He’s the joint top scorer here with six in all comps, along with January arrival Ike Ugbo whose six goals all arrived in a hot streak of five games in February. Bailey Cadamrteri, who also scored in the first meeting, is next with five. QPR won the last meeting here 4-1 during lockdown having drawn the corresponding fixture 1-1 at Hillsborough when last we shared a league in 2020/21. The season before that Wednesday won 3-0 at Loftus Road in the league and 2-1 in the FA Cup, but Jordan Hugill scored twice in a 2-1 win at Hillsborough.

Sheff Wed are the only team in the league yet to be awarded a penalty. Just leaving that one there to finish with.

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.

“This is going to be an interesting one. They've been almost neck and neck with us, Cifuentes and Röhl proving to be the gold standard in international recruitment at the bottom end of the Championship. But they’ve fallen away a bit in recent weeks despite a hot streak from striker Ike Ugbo. They'll be well up for it and I'd hope we would be. I think 1-1 and I'd take that result too. Obviously I'm going Steve Cook first goalscorer.”

Aston’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Sheff Wed. Scorer – Steve Cook

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Sheff Wed. Scorer – Jake Clarke-Salter

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HastingsRanger added 21:31 - Apr 5
Clive, the only reason I want a cup run any season is so I get more than the '48 previewd and match reports '. Another great read. Thanks as always. Can we hang on to Marti, is the burning question?

LLoydy added 00:00 - Apr 6
Far be it for me to criticise anything but that Sky Creative section should have come with a health warning, i feel physically sick

Loftgirl added 01:03 - Apr 6
"Old Farm Derby". 🤣

TacticalR added 13:59 - Apr 6
Thanks for your preview.

A very interesting reflection on the role of managers. You summed it up with this paradox: 'Most managers are much of a muchness. Get a really bad one, or a really good one, however, and you really know about it.' Everyone is obsessed with managers, but this is because of the outliers, and people judge everything by the outliers, longing for the day when the 'really good one' turns up.

I see that neither you or Aston has written off Sheffield Wednesday in your prediction. It has certainly felt (at least until recent weeks) that we were never able to shake them off as they always got a result whenever we got a result.

Pruchalk added 23:15 - Apr 10
Thank you for sharing personal reflections or an anecdote related to the author's experience during the 1990 World Cup, mixing humor, nostalgia and uncertainty about the details.

PaulGutirrez added 12:56 - May 17
Managers matter significantly in any organization as they are the linchpins of productivity and morale. Effective managers inspire, guide, and support their teams, leading to increased efficiency and job satisfaction. They cultivate a positive work environment where employees thrive. For valuable insights on managerial skills, visit

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