QPR try to halt slide at struggling Saints - full match preview Friday, 13th Mar 2009 12:17
QPR travel south on Saturday hoping to bring a halt to their alarming recent slump against a Southampton side desperate for points for altogether different reasons.
Southampton (23rd) v Queens Park Rangers (11th) Coca Cola Championship Saturday March 14, Kick Off 3pm St Mary’s, Southampton
Where did it all go wrong? We will finish midtable, as we were always going to do, but just what on earth has gone on in the last eight games to turns from a solid, competent and at times exciting team that we saw at Derby and Blackpool into the quivering nervous wreck that slipped quietly to defeat at Doncaster on Tuesday? The fact that everybody from Flavio Briatore through Paulo Sousa to individual players are being blamed by supporters hints that thee is no definite answer, and if there is then we have not found it yet.
Even the most optimistic supporters have given up on labelling every game as “make or break” and accepted our fate for the season. While our hopes of a play off place may have withered and died on the vine Paulo Sousa may be approaching make or break time with regards to his employment and it is important that whatever problems we have are quickly found and solved.
It would be all too easy to just write off the next nine matches and blame injuries to key players and insist that everything will be alright next season when people like Buzsaky and Vine are back and our club might finally have got their act together in the transfer market, stopped wasting money on players like Liam Miller and addressed the obvious deficiencies at full back and centre forward. The problem is it is never that easy. Losing becomes a habit, a tough one to kick.
Derby County bought a whole new team last summer but could not shift the malaise inflicted on the club by a one win season in the Premiership. Only now, nearly a year since they were relegated, are the green shoots starting to appear at Pride Park. Gary Waddock infamously took over permanently at QPR despite not winning in his last eleven matches as caretaker – he said it would all be alright when he got his own players in and it wasn’t. Warrington Wolves have lost their first four matches in Super League despite spending big on new players over the winter – they lost their last seven matches of last season.
Losing is a tough routine to get out of and at the moment the QPR players, bereft of confidence and commitment, look like a losing team from the moment they come out to warm up. We need to nip this in the bud now or risk it carrying into the start of next season. Still, it could be worse, we could be Southampton.
Five minutes on Southampton In a division where seventeen of the twenty four teams are former Premiership teams in various states of despair or recovery few would want to swap places with Southampton. Playing in a half full soulless bowl of a stadium with an unknown manager, a hated chairman, debts up to their eyeballs and with a team made up almost entirely of their senior academy graduates only a recent run of three wins and a draw in five matches has given the Saints any hope at all that Bury and Hartlepool does not beckon for them next season. Now second bottom of the Championship, it is just six years since Gordan Strachan led the then top flight saints to an FA Cup final.
As an outsider looking in the reasons for this swift and dramatic demise always seem to come back to the current chairman at St Mary’s Rupert Lowe. It was his decision to appoint Plymouth manager Paul Sturrock to replace Strachan in 2004 and then sack him ridiculously early in the following campaign. I still maintain that Sturrock would have kept Southampton up that season - they certainly would have stood a better chance than they did with Lowe’s next madcap scheme which saw Steve Wigley promoted horrendously out of his depth and then left in the job just long enough so there was not enough time for his successor, Harry Redknapp, to claw back the deficit. A remarkably similar farce to the one Charlton repeated three seasons ago.
Redknapp initially stayed on as Southampton embarked on their first season outside the top flight in twenty seven years but controversially returned to Portsmouth in December 2005 to be replaced at St Mary’s by George Burley. Lowe had also turned to former England Rugby World Cup winning coach Clive Woodward and everybody’s favourite football visionary Simon Clifford (must have had a big dressing room to get the egos in) to work in the background. Burley did what he always does with teams in this league - spent lots of money, built an attractive team, took it to the play offs, and lost. If you enjoy heartbreaking knockout defeats then George always has been and always will be the man for you.
Off the pitch Lowe left, and then returned, as Michael Wilde and then Leon Crouch had a go at running the club only to then step/be moved aside. Burley left to take over as Scottish national manager last season although in truth the budgeting restrictions being imposed on the playing staff was never likely to be Burley’s taste and the Saints were sinking alarmingly close to the relegation zone. Another harebrained scheme to appoint former player Jason Dodd and John Gorman as managers to the end of the season fell flat on its face when the pair failed to win a single match, QPR won 3-2 at St Mary’s, and so in February Nigel Pearson was given his first chance as a number one after years of being an assistant at clubs like Newcastle.
Pearson has never inspired me very much, I think it’s the voice, but he is showing now at Leicester what a good manager he has the potential to be and indeed at Southampton last season he kept them up with a last day of the season win at home to Sheffield United. So they sacked him. Naturally. Despite the Premiership parachute payments and transfer fees received for Theo Walcott, Gareth Bale and Kenwyne Jones topping £20m the Saints said they were skint - a bigger case of financial mismanagement you would struggle to find in the Football League - and as a consequence Pearson went as a cost cutting measure.
Lowe and the board then turned to another crazy plan - to run the first team and academy side as one under the guidance of a coach with a record for developing young talent. That man was Jan Poortvliet, a Dutchman whose knowledge of the Championship last summer could have been summed up on the back of a postage stamp with a thick pen. First team players like Marek Saganowski, Stern John, Grzegorz Rasiak, Nathan Dyer have all been sent out on loan while Poortvliet was left to struggle on with the kids. The idea is admirable but flawed. Even at a wonderful academy set up like Southampton’s you can only ever hope to bring through two or three first team ready players a season at the absolute most. To rely on it for the entire team is madness. Southampton could easily have won at Loftus Road earlier this season with the addition of just one or two senior players - they actually left Chris Perry and Stern John on the bench that day as Oliver Lancashire was sent off for a naive tackle on his debut. There’s little wonder Southampton fans have been marching on St Mary’s before games this season demanding answers and heads on sticks. I bloody would be to.
With the money that has come into this club since relegation, the facilities they have, the academy they have and the support they can potentially pull in it is absolutely criminal that they find themselves in their current position. Money lashed out with little forward planning, one poor managerial appointment after another, one harebrained scheme after another. Southampton make QPR look like a normal and well rounded club.
Poortvliet resigned six weeks ago and was replaced by his alarmingly orange assistant Mark Wotte. Southampton now have Saganowski back in the team, Jason Euell and Rudi Skacel are getting a game, as is Chris Perry. They have Adam Lallana and Andrew Surman, another two super products of their academy, and just lately they have looked capable of pulling off a miracle escape. Having only won one home match all season until last month they have now beaten Preston and Cardiff on their own patch and lifted themselves to within two points of safety. Their survival at this level both short and medium term remains highly doubtful though.
Men to watch The two latest hot properties to roll off the Southampton production line are Adam Lallana and Andrew Surman. South African born England youth international Surman has been around a little longer but both are highly regarded and sought after by clubs higher up the ladder. Lallana you may recall scored a wonderful goal at Loftus Road earlier this season, running from his own half via a one two to equalise for the ten man Saints. The goal and Lallana’s performance deserved more than the 4-1 result he eventually went home with.
Up front Southampton have been persevering with David McGoldrick for most of the season. Another youth team graduate and very, very raw. He’s quick, no doubt about that, and a foot race between him and Damion Stewart would be an interesting spectacle tomorrow, but he misses a lot of chances and has a long way to go before he could justify consistent selection in a Championship team. Southampton have recently turned to jason Euell who burst onto the scene in the premiership as a junior in the old Wimbledon side around the same time as Carl Cort but has since struggled to make an impact at Charlton and Middlesbrough while sturggling with injuries. He scored twice in a recent 3-0 win at Ipswich Town.
As previously stated the return of Marek Saganowski in January from a loan spell with Aalborg in Denmark has provided a much needed boost to the Saints forward line. The Pole burst onto the scene in this country when initially arriving on loan from Troyes in France. he scored ten goals in the final ten games of the 2006/07 season as George Burley’s side made a late run to the play offs. That unsurprisingly prompted the Saints to splash out on a permanent signing during the summer ahead of competition from, Burnley. Saganowski has never hit the same heights since though, and scored just three times in the whole of last season. Nevertheless he has returned refreshed in 2009 and has six goals to his name already including a brace in an impressive home win against play off chasing Preston.
Further back left footed midfielder Rudi Skacel has always looked prettyy good against QPR. he almopst joined Ipswich last summerand has suffered with injuries this season but is back in the team now and must be watched closely. Morgan Schneiderlin, another midfielder, was a £1m capture from Strasbourg in 2008 - Southampton’s last significant outlay.
At the back former Wimbledon and Tottenham defender Chris ‘the rash’ Perry needs no introduction. neither does goalkeeper Kelvin davis, superb in heavy defeat at Loftus Road earlier this season but normally good for a howler a game against us - the one against the back of Paul Furlong’s head at Portman Road springs to mind, as does Ray Jones’ wonderful goal at St Mary’s two seasons ago. Worryingly despite that Davis was linked with a January transfer window move to Loftus Road by some papers.
Previous Meetings Although a 4-1 scoreline may suggest a rout, Southampton’s performance with only ten men on the field at Loftus Road in September deserved plenty of credit. In a live Sky fixture Dexter Blackstock opened the scoring in the first minute when he lashed home a long throw from Hall from all of a yard out. Southampton then had debutant Lancashire sent off for a poor tackle on Ephraim but Saints battled back and scored a wonderful equalising goal through Lallana on the our mark. An obviously offside goal from Damion Stewart turned the tide back QPR’s way and late strikes from Blacstock again and Agyemang added a gloss to the scoreline. Southampton were well in the game for a long time but ultimately relied on goalkeeper Kelvin Davis to keep the score down.
At St Mary’s last season the R’s continued their excellent record in this part of the world despite falling behind in the opening minute to a header from Darren Powell. Martin Rowlands went close to an equaliser with a searing 25 yard drive and eventually did bring the teams level after sliding a Rowan Vine through ball under Kelvin Davis and when Patrick Agyemang slammed in a second before half time the R’s were in the driving seat. Stern John bagged the by now expected last minute goal against but in the meantime Agyemang had rolled in an easy second after a mixup between Davis and Jermaine Wright and Youssef Safri had been sent off to kill off Southampton’s hopes.
Southampton: Davis 5, Thomas 4 (Viafara 52, 6), Powell 5, Davies 6, Wright 3, Hammill 7 (Saganowski 46, 6), Safri 5, Euell 4, Surman 7, Wright-Phillips 5 (Lallana 68, 6), John 6 Subs Not Used: Bialkowski, Idiakez Sent Off: Safri (78) (violent conduct) Booked: Powell (foul) , Viafara (foul) Goals: Powell 1 (assisted Hammil), John 90 (assisted Viafara)
Team News Adam Lallana was a second half sub against Derby during the week following a leg injury but could be returned to the starting eleven for this match. Diminutive former Derby midfielder Lee Holmes is still several games away from returning after his knee injury. Southampton have a number of long term absentees - Michael Svensson and Kayne McLaggon (both Achilles), Anthony Pulis (foot), former Fulham defender Wayne Thomas (knee) and Jamie White (ankle) are all definitely out.
Who knows what is going on at QPR? Lee Cook and heidar helguson we presume are both still injured, Hogan Ephraim’s whereabouts and situation is anybody’s guess. One would think Ephraim has done enough since Sousa took over to warrant inclusion ahead of Matteo Alberti but apparently not. Rowan Vine is likely to travel but not play, he will turn out for the reserves against Charlton next week. Martin Rowlands, patrick Agyemang and Akos Buzsaky are the long termers. Injury List
Referee Cheshire official Mike Jones is in charge on Saturday, the second time he has refereed a QPR v Southampton fixture. In January 2006 he was in charge at Loftus Road as the R’s, managed by Ian Holloway, won 1-0 with a penalty from Richard Langley. Rangers have only won one of five matches with this referee and his last encounter with us we were beaten narrowly by soon to be promoted Sunderland two seasons ago. Details
Elsewhere All eyes on the top three again as Wolves, Reading and Birmingham continue their quest of all trying to blow it. Reading have Ipswich at home who held Wolves during he week, Wolves have bottom of the table Charlton at home while Birmingham have a very tough televised trip to Doncaster on Saturday evening. Bristol City v Cardiff is an attractive, if somewhat potentially violent, match on Sunday. Tony’s Championship Preview
Form Tuesday night’s dire defeat at Doncaster made it eight matches without a win for QPR since a 3-0 win at Blackpool in January had lifted us to within touching distance of the play offs. Rangers have also not scored a goal now for three and a half matches since Damien Delaney bagged in the 2-1 defeat at Barnsley a fortnight ago. QPR have two wins and a draw from three matches at St Mary’s – the last time they lost in this part of the world was back in 1996 at The Dell when the Saints won 2-0. A 3-0 victory for QPR at Loftus Road later in the season avenged that but was not enough to save us from relegation.
Southampton’s form is improving. They have lost only one of their last five matches and won three of the other four. Nevertheless a draw with Derby during the week left them second bottom of the table with 38 points trying to catch Barnsley with 40. Prior to the Derby match Southampton lost narrowly at Birmingham following three consecutive wins against Ipswich (3-0), Cardiff (1-0) and Preston (3-1). Their home form has been pretty abysmal all season though. They have won only three of nineteen matches at St Mary’s and two of those have come in the last three games. Away from home they have actually won six times which is three more than us and bettered only by Doncaster in the bottom half of the league. Cardiff in fifth have only won four away games, Birmingham and Reading have also won six. Norwich are the only other team they have beaten at home. Form Guide
Prediction A game we are well capable of winning but in our current state it’s impossible to see where the next maximum point haul is coming from. Southampton are desperate for points and I think a draw is probably the most likely outcome, though I’d back Southampton to win this before I would us. Southampton 1 QPR 1