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W12 braces for pivotal Preston clash - Preview
Friday, 19th Apr 2024 19:22 by Clive Whittingham

Three points above the drop zone with three to play, QPR likely need one more win to save their season and, in theory, their best chance of getting that is tomorrow night, at Loftus Road, against Preston North End. Hold me.

QPR (12-11-20 DWWLDL 19th) v Preston (18-9-16 WLDWLL 10th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday April 20, 2024 >>> Kick Off 17.15 >>> Weather – Sunny, windy >>> Loftus Road, London, W12

I am running out of lies for “what you thinking about?” My God, it’s been a long week.

I’m not going to dwell on the Hull game too much, partly because there wasn’t much to dwell on from a QPR point of view but mainly because I wasn’t there and Alex Perry covered the game for us (excellently, poor boy). One thing football internet does not need is another ‘content creator’ creating content about a game they weren’t at.

By almost every account we were simply done over by a better team and when you’ve got people like Philogene and Carvalho wandering about that can happen. Hull, in seventh, have probably underachieved for the talent they’ve got and the money they’ve spent in midfield and attack – Seri and Tufan, who scored a brilliant first goal last Saturday, have 121 caps for Ivory Coast and Turkey between them. Liam Rosenior said it had “been coming” from his side, and perhaps the same was true for QPR as well. Be it fatigue, or perhaps switching off thinking the job was done over Easter, that’s a second no-show in three games for the R’s and if you're not good enough to sustain a slight drop in intensity against Sheff Wed you'll certainly be in a lot of trouble against the Tigers.

There’s a feeling of sporting helplessness about where we are now. We’ve jumped off the edge, but cannot see our landing site. We know it’s getting closer as we hurtle through the air, but we know not whether it’s feathers or fire that await. You go through periods of extreme optimism and pessimism, you come up with reasons why it will and won’t be ok, you convince yourself of one thing one minute and another the next, and in the end all you’re doing is guessing. Nobody knows, and it’s the not knowing that is now the worst thing.

I’d actually intended not to pay very much attention at all to what was going on last Saturday while I was attending Handsome Rob's Handsome Wedding – phone on airplane mode and somewhere around 3pm just go and station myself with somebody who couldn’t care less and talk to them. All that happened, of course, was people kept walking past me ‘being helpful’ by asking if I’d heard that Huddersfield were winning now as well? Yes. Yes I have, thanks. That person over there just told me. And that person over there just before them. And half a dozen people have WhatsApped me to tell me how terribly it’s all going and how much worse they think it’s going to get.

While I certainly couldn’t have picked a better day to miss QPR, I couldn’t really have picked a worse one to try something like that – at one point every one of the fuckers was winning. I was starting to think they might find a way for Sheff Wed and Stoke to beat each other.

I just want it over with. I’m counting down the days, hours and minutes to the next game not because I’m looking forward to it – it’s going to be purgatory – or because I think we’ll win – doesn’t feel like a very us thing to do – but because I’m just sick of the not knowing. Sick of staring at that league table and convincing myself we’ll win one more and that’ll do for Sheff Wed and Huddersfield one minute, then deciding we’re probably done on 47 points and those two are both suddenly going to win two of their last three the next.

Others are coping in their own way. Social media, message board, WhatsApp groups are full of people at opposite ends of the spectrum. My brother thinks we’re absolutely doomed – holed below the waterline by our inability to beat the teams around us, the ridiculous six points we’ve given Sheff Wed, Asmir Begovic’s beer shit at Plymouth. Others are much more sanguine – three points and better goal difference ahead, even one win against Preston who have nothing to play for, Leeds who are choking, or a knackered Coventry side will mean Sheff Wed and Huddersfield require the sort of snookers neither has shown themselves remotely capable of playing so far. Huddersfield are at Ipswich on the final day, who are almost certainly going to need to win.

I've spun all this around and around in my mind to the point of exhaustion. I thought, as both regular readers will know, we were just about home and hosed after Swansea – perhaps the players did too, maybe that’s been the problem. For the sequence of results that’s occurred since to have dragged us back in this much, this quickly, does not bode well. Birmingham suddenly whopping Coventry 3-0, for instance. Into the sea with you for goodness sake. But, I don’t know. The round of games immediately before, while we were down at Home Park, everything else went our way, including Birmingham somehow managing to get beaten at home by Cardiff. A Nahki Wells penalty, ten minutes into five advertised minutes of stoppage time, never a spot kick in a month of Sundays, that’s got to bode well hasn’t it?

Aggggh. Sigh.

There are still those frantically playing Monday morning quarter back with the team selections. We should be picking Dykes and casting out Frey, or vice versa. Smyth has to play, regardless of the sitters, he makes things happen. Get rid of Andersen, although he is the only one with any consistent final ball. We’ve got to get Willock and Chair back together on the left. Or play Willock centre. Or not at all. We’ve got to get Colback in for that clogger Field/Hayden. We should go to 4-3-3. Is it time to end the Jimmy Dunne experiment? Why can’t Cifuentes see this?

Again, I’ve just, sort of, withdrawn? Is this the acceptance stage of grief?

This is the thing every time I read a Tweet or a post on here about what Cifuentes coulda, woulda, shoulda done. He sees them one week and thinks ‘fine, good, that worked, we'll keep that one in the pocket and try that again’. He tries it again... gets the complete opposite. Now, of course, different opposition - for instance you go with four centre backs v Swansea who you know cross a lot, maybe not such a surprise that the same thing didn't work against the wide players that Hull have and more mobile full backs might be required. I keep coming back to the Stoke game though. Everybody (bar the odd contrarian) thought he got the team right that night, and they fell in a hole. We were absolutely brilliant against West Brom. We try and do the same again against Middlesbrough, who unlike the Swansea/Hull comparison are quite similar teams, and we get done 2-0 with barely a whimper.

Hayden has offered up some of the best performances of any midfielder this season, and some of the worst, and it's often in the same week. Paul Smyth sometimes looks completely unplayable, so you use him again the next week and he looks... well, completely unplayable. It's wild really. I think I described us as borderline unmanageable a few weeks ago and we are. A bi-polar football team. Can anybody say with any degree of confidence what we're going to do this Saturday? And not in 'oh all football is unpredictable' and 'that's the Championship' way, I mean if I tell you now we win the game comfortably 2-0, or we get done 4-1, would either of those scorelines really surprise you?

Mark Warburton used to talk about trying to narrow the gap between QPR’s best and worst performances, and not only was he right but as I’ve just outlined that’s still a problem now. You don’t know what you’re getting from a lot of these players, or this team, from one game to the next. It’s capable of chucking out that West Brom performance and that Middlesbrough performance within four days. That opens us up to one of football’s most over-used, misunderstood words. You’ll often hear players and managers talk about the ever-lasting search for more “consistency”. Consistency isn’t necessarily what you want. Rotherham have been really consistent this season – four wins, 28 defeats, zero away wins, -58 goal difference, that’s consistent as hell right there.

Where we are, unfortunately, very consistent, is the extreme ends of the pitch. We’ve got the worst goalkeeper in the league, bar none, and the worst strikers, by far. Asmir Begovic is a walking liability who cost us a crucial goal at Plymouth, and may likely cost us again in the next three games. Our strikers have managed a paltry eight goals collectively this season, and haven’t scored between them in eight matches in which the team has failed to score four times. Lyndon Dykes is on a run of 16 without a goal, and one goal in 53 away games over two and a half years. He currently looks completely bereft. The last six goals we have scored are shared between Sam Field, Steve Cook and Jimmy Dunne.

That’s what I keep coming back to when we assess how Cifuentes has done so far, what he could improve, what he should be doing differently. You take over a team adrift in the bottom three, with two wins from its first 14 games, with this goalkeeper, and these strikers, and you get it three points and goal difference outside the relegation zone with three to play and everything in its hands – you’ll do for me mate. We are not one or two more twists of the cube away from solving this thing - if your goalkeeper and strikers are poor there's is no solution, only sticking plasters. If we are to be relegated it won’t be for anything he’s done wrong, it’ll be because, at the extreme ends of the pitch, we’re not good enough. That’s going to be the big problem against Preston, Leeds and Coventry over the next fortnight too.

So, what to do? Throw our hands up in the air? Get depressed about it? Give up? Well, no, because where we’re not helpless, where we can have an influence, where we can get involved, is at Loftus Road tomorrow night.

This could be a tense, horrible, nervous game. People could start getting on at the likes of Begovic and Dykes if things don’t go well. There could be all the moaning and groaning as we try to play out from the back. The terrified silences. All of that would be completely understandable and, look, may as well tell you now, Preston have won all ten games they’ve led at half time this season so one of our slow starts at home would be… less than ideal.

Or it could be the Oldham play-off semi-final. It's within our gift.

Under Gareth Ainsworth it really did feel like we’d given up – as a club, team and support base. The performances and results were as bad as many of us had ever seen, and came 18 months into a prolonged downturn and steep downward curve for the club. Flavio Briatore had people trying to smash the doors down on South Africa Road and his version of our Rangers never produced anything like whatever that was we slopped out at home to Blackburn in September, nor sunk as low in the Championship. Richard Thompson had people charging the piutch for selling Darren Peacock to Newcastle while we were midtable in the Premier League – it would be like Brighton fans protesting their club now for selling players to Chelsea. Many owners, execs and managers – even Gerry Francis – got it far worse for far less here. It felt like the supporters had just turned in their cards and walked away, too down beaten to do or say anything, perhaps unable to bring themselves to kick Gareth at his lowest ebb.

Since then, it’s felt like something has been building. Loftus Road is sold out every week, away allocations are being snapped up in double quick time – even for a Tuesday night in Plymouth. The crowd has bought into the team, and particularly the manager, again. There’s genuine excitement about what we might look like next season if only we can escape from this. That could climax and crescendo tomorrow night. As Oldham was the end of the beginning for Ian Holloway, so Preston could be for Marti Cifuentes. Crowd packed in, cheek by jowl, invested again, excited by their team again, proud of their club again. It can be so. We can make it so. Sky, for once being helpful, moving the game to the beer-friendly tea-time kick off. Come on you R’s. Preston a long away trip in midweek, now effectively done for the season. Come on you R’s. Loftus Road sold out again. Come. On. You. R’s. Scream the bloody place down.

We can do that bit. We can create that. We have to create that. This can be the best, or the worst, football ground to play in as a home team. It’s up to us, that bit. They can hear what you say. Bring it. Fucking bring it, all of us.

It’s all we can do. It’s all we’ve got left.

Links >>> Been here before – History >>> Same old, same old – Oppo Profile >>> Devil child – Referee >>> Official Website >>> Lancashire Telegraph — Local Press >>> From The Finney — Blog >>> Deepdale Digest — Blog >>> PNE Online — Forum

90s Footballer Conspiracy Theories No.41 In The Series – Kerry Dixon believes his penalty “will come back and share truth” in the future.

Below the fold

Team News: Jack Colback got 30 minutes in at Hull on his latest comeback and will be pushing for a start here. Michy Frey has missed the last three and is a doubt again with a muscle injury that will require a late fitness test (good luck finding any). Taylor Richards remains more of an idea than an actual, physical thing. Basically it’s the same three midfielders to be whittled down to two spots, the same four supporting attackers for three spots, and a choice between Morgan Fox and Kenneth Paal – unless Cifuentes has something drastic up his sleeve.

Preston were 3-0 down by half time at Southampton during the week and another first half showing like that would be very welcome here – mind you, bit different playing against all the Armstrongs and Che Adams as opposed to The Royal National Institute of Blind People. The decision to start Duane Holmes against Stuart Armstrong was a particular failure and the former Huddersfield man was withdrawn before half time in a game where Southampton had 78% of the ball and 23 shots to six. One time QPR transfer target Ben Whiteman injured his ankle at the start of March and is done for the season. Ali McCann and Brad Potts are other medium term absentees but Liam Millar could step back in for the first time since April 1. Ryan Ledson and Alan Browne both came off the bench at St Mary’s and push for starts.

Having spoken all season about QPR’s dire record in game three of a three game week, this time it’s our turn to face a team that’s coming off the back of just about their longest away game of the season on Tuesday night while we were rested. This thread from the Sheff Wed analytics account made for interesting reading last week, stating that in the Championship when teams play ‘away fatigued’ (that is an away game after another game within three or four days) their win percentage goes down 15% versus the baseline. When it’s a double away (an away game within four days of another away game) that ratio drops again from even that point. Preston couldn’t be much more ‘away fatigued’ than trekking down to London just days after their season was effectively ended after a nine hour coach journey to Southampton, surely? Surely. This thing on?

Elsewhere: At one terrifying point of last week, while QPR were getting soundly beaten up in Hull, every single other team south of 15th was winning bar Stoke, who were playing Sheff Wed. Two late equalisers from two former QPR players – Josh Laurent for Stoke at Hillsborough, and Nahki Wells with a highly dubious Bristol City penalty against Huddersfield ten minutes into injury time – salvaged something from the day and left Rangers three points north of the bottom three with nine left to play for.

Rotherham are obviously long since done, but their decision to ignore everything they’d previously said about appointing Leam Richardson for a League One rebuild and give their job immediately to the returning Steve Evans might work in our favour this weekend. The second coming of Ursula the Sea Witch might just pep up the hapless Millers into performance enough to take points from Birmingham, who surprisingly walloped Coventry last weekend and must have been looking forward to something of a gimme in South Yorkshire. QPR could move five clear of Brum with two to play if Rangers win and Blues don’t.

Stoke and Plymouth, who currently sit either side of QPR with Stoke one place lower on goal difference and the Pilgrims one place and point better off, meet each other in the Steven Schumacher derby in Staffordshire. I guess they can’t both win, but then neither can they both lose.

In all likelihood though it’s Huddersfield and Sheff Wed, second and third bottom and both on 44 points to Rangers’ 47, who we need to watch. The Terriers get to go before us this weekend, and have just about the most perfect game possible: Swansea, who weren’t much cop when they were supposed to be bothered, at home. If they can’t win that then we’ve got nothing to worry about, but they surely will. Sheff Wed have to watch everybody else take a swing before they head to Blackburn at noon on Sunday. A win for Marti Cifuentes’ team and anything other than a win for both of those and we’re surely, finally done.

Why do I get the feeling it’s not going to be that simple?

The division’s runaway leaders have all been wobbling lately as it comes to crunch time. Ipswich are top on 89 points but have no game this weekend as their opponents, Coventry, are playing in the FA Cup semi-final against Man Utd at Wembley. That game in hand will be played on the final Tuesday, which means an already overworked Sky Blues will come into their final match against our good selves on the end of another three-game week. Leicester, one point and place back but having lost the last two, are first to have a stab at taking over the top spot with a Saturday lunchtime home game with West Brom. Leeds, two points and places behind but with one point from three games, don’t go until Monday away at Middlesbrough. Southampton, fourth on 84 points, have won three in a row and will likely need to do that again to steal an automatic spot, starting tomorrow at Cardiff.

The final play-off spot is all but decided. Norwich, home to Bristol City, have a six point cushion back to Hull, away at Watford.

Sunderland v Millwall is as near as we come to a meaningless game this weekend.

Referee: Gavin Ward. Put a bullet in me. Details.


QPR: You can spin QPR’s form a few ways. Just one point from the last three games has come at the worst possible time, and seen the R’s drop points against two of the teams that were below them in the table: Plymouth, with seven points across the same period, have now jumped ahead; Sheff Wed would already be down and QPR safe if the results between the two were reversed this season. As you expand further out, however, Marti Cifuentes side have now only lost three of the last 11 and four of the last 16 with seven wins in that time. Similarly, at Loftus Road, Rangers have lost two of the last three and won only one of four, but zoom out further and it’s only two defeats from eight and Rangers were unbeaten in five on a ground where they have struggled over the last 18 months prior to the loss to Middlesbrough. Rangers have lost ten home games, joint worst in the league with Rotherham, and taken 21 points on their own patch, with only the Millers’ 19 a worse total. If Rangers lose both games this week they will equal a club record for 12 home losses in a season set… last season. The 3-0 defeat to Hull was dire, but it’s the first time QPR have conceded three in a game under Cifuentes. Rangers would be 12th if the league started when the Spaniard was appointed – winning 10 of 29 under him for 39 points.

What cannot be spun, however, is the lack of goals in this team (only the bottom two have scored fewer than QPR’s 40), and particularly this set of strikers. Ilias Chair and Lyndon Dykes remain joint top scorers on a pathetic five each. First choice forwards Dykes, Sinclair Armstrong and Michy Frey have a paltry eight league goals between them in 51 starts and 32 substitute appearances. Dykes hasn’t scored a goal in 16 appearances and hasn’t scored away from home since this time last year at West Brom, 23 away games ago. That is his only goal away from Loftus Road in 53 road trips going all the way back to a 4-1 loss at Fulham in October 2021, two and a half years ago. The last time a QPR striker scored anywhere, at all, was Sinclair Armstrong at Leicester, eight games ago. Rangers have failed to score in half their games since and the six goals they have managed have been shared between defensive trio Sam Field (three), Steve Cook (two) and Jimmy Dunne (one). The current scoreless runs among the strikers are Dykes (16 apps), Frey (seven) and Armstrong (seven). To make matters worse, the supporting cast isn’t chipping in either. QPR have still never lost on any of the 20 occasions Chris Willock has scored for them, but he has one goal in 21 appearances (that against whipping boys Rotherham at home) and none in his last nine. Ilias Chair is eight without a goal, king of the sitters Paul Smyth has none in nine and one in 17 (also against Rotherham), Lucas Andersen is yet to trouble the scorers in 13 apps. Rangers have still only scored more than two goals in a game once in 45 games this season - Stoke at home when the visitors played the second half with ten men – and once in 77 matches going all the way back to Cardiff at home in October 2022. Across that run they have failed to score at all on 32 occasions (18 of those this season) and scored only once in a further 28 games (14 this season).

The last three meetings between QPR and Preston have all been won to nil by the away team, with QPR coming out on top at Deepdale in December for the second season running. After 13 trips to that ground without a win dating all the way back to 1979/80 (admittedly with six draws thrown in there) Rangers have actually quite enjoyed their recent visits with three wins and just one loss in their last five trips. Similarly, PNE quite like coming to Loftus Road. Their win here last season was their fifth in eight visits in which QPR have only won twice.

Preston: It’s been a fairly typical season for Preston North End, currently tenth in the league after finishes of 12th, 13th, 13th, 9th, 14th, 7th, 11th, 11th in the eight years since they returned to this level from League One.

There have been significant peaks and troughs in their form. They began with a surprising six wins and two draws from their first eight games to top the fledgling Championship table. After that they won two of 13 games and lost seven, the final of which was QPR’s 2-0 win at Deepdale in December which, at that point, felt like something of a final act for manager Ryan Lowe. That run would eventually stretch to four wins in 23 games – half a season. But the Lilywhites have come home with a wet sail – eight wins, four draws and just three defeats from 15 games had put them back in with a shout of the play-off places. They went into last weekend’s crucial home game against Norwich, who occupy the final play-off spot they were aiming for, on a sequence of just two defeats from 13 games. However, they lost 1-0 at home to the Canaries and followed that up with a midweek loss in their game in hand against Southampton in which they were 3-0 down before half time. So now it’s one win and three defeats in five games, and they’ve failed to score in four of those, as Mykonos beckons. The capitulation at St Mary’s brought to a close a tidy run of away results and defensive performances. Prior to that they’d lost one and won three of six away games, conceding only twice and keeping four clean sheets. Now they’re winless, and scoreless, in three away games. Their overall away record of 7-5-9 is almost identical to our own 7-5-10 – let’s match em up tomorrow eh?

Preston are the lowest ranked team in the Championship this season bar Cardiff (one place below) not to sack their manager. Everybody from 12th down has made at least one change, Rotherham this week join Huddersfield, Plymouth, Millwall and Sunderland in making two changes while Birmingham are onto boss number six. The bottom nine teams have had 24 managers between them.

Former QPR loan flop Will Keane is the top scorer here with 13 goals with Milutin Osmajic second with eight – his total substantially boosted by a remarkable hat trick against Huddersfield recently when he came off the bench on 76 minutes and scored on 84, 87 and 90.

PNE have a perfect record when leading at half time this season – ten occasions, ten wins.

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.

“We'll find a way to make this as nervy as possible, I am sure of that. Regardless of Preston being on the beach, I think they'll find some freedom while we panic. 1-0 defeat, no scorer.”

Aston’s Prediction: QPR 0-1 Preston. No scorer.

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 0-0 Preston. No scorer.

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Myke added 23:28 - Apr 19
Cheers Clive.As you say any possible score would not be a surprise. I'm going for a 2-1 win and put this thing to bed

TacticalR added 15:45 - Apr 20
Thanks for your preview.

You can drive yourself mad with all the permutations of results of the teams around us.

Our goal-scoring statistics are absolutely terrible.

I know I keep saying it, but whatever happens, and given all the problems, at least Cifuentes has restored some respectability to our season.

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