Goodnight Springton, there will be no encores - Preview
Friday, 5th May 2017 20:28 by Clive Whittingham
It’s finally, finally over. Here’s something masquerading as a preview of QPR’s fiftieth match of the season – a completely dead rubber at Norwich City.
Norwich City (19-10-16, LWLWWD, 9th) v QPR (15-8-22, LLLLLW, 18th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Sunday May 7, 2017 >>> Kick Off 12.00 >>> Weather – Cloudy, breezy >>> Carrow Road, Norwich
It was the “ruthless pre-season” line that moved QPR’s version of Groundhog Day from trying to shag Andie McDowell to trying to jump under passing modes of transport. Here we are again, promising the pre-season will be harder than ever before, the team will be fitter than all the other teams, just as we did last year under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink only to start the season with Karl Henry in midfield and teams running through the middle of us.
It’s the perfect football PR line this one, because you can’t possibly quantify it. If you come out and say you’ll win the first ten matches next season, or score more goals next season, or concede fewer goals next season, then that can very quickly be pointed at when it doesn’t happen. But fitness? A big pre-season? Unless you’ve got Bob Malcolm chugging around like an old tug boat who’s to say whether it’s happened or not?
It’s one of those things that sounds good, but actually means nothing. Unless, and I must confess I haven’t researched this, there are clubs out there in the barren Championship lands who are publicly stating their intention to take it easy over the summer. If Brentford, Norwich, Ipswich, Leeds and several others are currently plotting a summer of lounging around feasting on four cheese pizzas and lard then we might be onto something. But they’re not. And we’re not.
There is an element of “what can he say?” about all of this. Though I’d have liked to hear about how they’re going to look in depth at where the team has struggled since Ian Holloway came in, reading much into manager’s post and pre-match comments is where madness lies. They’re saying whatever they can to not create a story, to distract attention away from the actual story, or to get the interview over with.
But equally you’d like to think QPR are thinking a bit more carefully about what’s happened this season than simply “we need to be fitter”. The league table rarely lies, which is why clubs with rotten owners, poor squads and a collection of bad managers suddenly moaning about Huddersfield playing a weakened team last week, potentially jeopardising their survival chances, is such hot nonsense. You don’t get relegated because of a refereeing decision, or another team playing a weakened team, or bad luck in the last week of the season – you get relegated because you’re crap. It’s your fault.
The league table certainly doesn’t lie for eighteenth-placed QPR. We are, give or take, the eighteenth best side in this division. The fact that three of the same clubs were involved in our two separate six game losing runs – Derby, Villa, Brighton – is very telling for me. A clutch of fixtures came round twice this season that no amount of chopping, changing, planning, scheming or ruthless pre-seasons could help us do anything other than lose. This is simply how good we are.
This theory expands as you look down the league table. Brighton are top and beat us twice, Newcastle are second and would have beaten us twice but for a comedy last minute own goal in the fixture at St James’ Park, we’ve taken four points off third-placed Reading which is an anomaly but it took our performance of the season to win at theirs and I think they’re an anomaly all round this season anyway. Sheff Wed beat us twice, Huddersfield beat us twice, Fulham we took four points from but needed three missed penalties and two spurned open goals to do it. Leeds we caught cold on day one and played well against in the second game, we were lucky to beat Norwich who played the entire match with ten men, Derby beat us twice, Brentford beat us twice, Villa beat us twice. There’s then a little clutch of teams that I’d say we’re about as good as and in every case apart from Cardiff, we won one and lost one of the games against them. Of the six teams below us we won an above average five, drew four and lost just three of the 12 fixtures.
This, eighteenth, is how good we are. And you’re going to see this more and more as the Financial Fair Play/Know Your Place rules bed in over ten years or more: Rotherham and Burton down the bottom because they have the lowest incomes, Newcastle up the top because they have the biggest. Ongoing hope the league will abandon this unworkable rubbish and, instead, actually enforce and regulate an effective fit and proper owner test continue to be filed under ‘Pipe Dream’. QPR are lower than they should be, given their ongoing parachute payments, but as we know the club is going through a complete restructure following the ruinous Hughes/Redknapp years. Once those parachute payments end in two years’ time (and they’re ‘only’ £10m per season for the next two seasons) then this is about where we should be with our ground, income, history, average attendance and what not.
But we have to aspire to better. Firstly, in the short term, because two more years of parachute payments should give us an advantage over half the league and Steven Caulker is just about the last remaining verruca from those years of mismanagement. Brighton, Sheff Wed, Huddersfield, Leeds, Derby, Brentford, Preston, Barnsley, Wolves, Ipswich and Bristol City are all above us this season without that money. That bodes well for our chances after the end of the payments, but still you can’t help but think somebody giving us a free £20m for the next two seasons is something of an opportunity.
Secondly, because otherwise what’s the point? We just going to throw our hands up and say that while we’re at Loftus Road getting these crowds this is as good as we can ever be? People will quickly get bored of paying £400-£600 a season for that.
And thirdly because, while completely accepting and regularly preaching the limitations the club is under, and never in any way advocating a return to the good money after bad approach of before, it is possible. Burnley and Huddersfield are the absolute stand out examples of clubs succeeding on similar gates to ours (at much lower ticket prices) and similar incomes through innovative thinking and brilliant management and coaching. It can be done. It’s not easy, if it was everybody would be doing it, but this is what we have to aspire to. Slightly lower than those two clubs, look at the job Simon Grayson does year in year out at Preston, look at the resources and attendances he has to work with, and look at the quality of the football they play and the wonderful goals they score. Grayson’s teams frequently outthink and out play us and did so twice again this season on a tiny fraction of our budget. It. Can. Be. Done.
That Moneyball line “if we try to play like the Yankees in here we will lose to the Yankees out there” will become truer and truer for QPR with every passing year. I remain of the belief the club has made great strides over the past two years under Les Ferdinand and Lee Hoos from the situation it was in before which would only ever have resulted in bankruptcy and a plummet down the divisions. But we have to think, behave, buy, manage and coach smarter still. Smarter with every passing year.
The second last thing QPR need now is more change. Rangers change the manager all the time and it rarely makes any difference at all which should tell you something. I actually don’t think the team is far off being able to kick around in that top ten. Pawel Wszolek, Massimo Luongo, Luke Freeman, Ryan Manning, Grant Hall, Alex Smithies and, I don’t care what anybody says, Nedum Onuoha is a decent start. We need a better centre half than Lynch, I wonder if Manning might actually make us a good left wing back given his positional history at youth reserve level, I’d like to see Perch released and Furlong picked regularly, and we need better strikers though the market probably dictates they’d have to be loans – as Huddersfield’s mostly are. Despite the recent results, I am cautiously positive about what we’re putting together,
But the last thing they need is to repeat 2015/16 and 2016/17 in 2017/18. If we are, yet again, going to trot out this bullshit about the toughest ever pre-season and over-hype all the signings while allowing a manager to plan the season and spend the budget only to then sack him in October-time because we’ve had a bit of a bad September then I despair. To do so would to once again piss the rest of the season away in a hurricane of “learning about the players, got to get my players in in January, got to bed my players in, it’ll all be different next season” excrement.
Whether it’s to be Holloway or somebody else, and the time to decide that is now not in October, the approach has to be a good deal more innovative than “we’re going to have a ruthless pre-season”.
While you all enjoy big Devon striding through for that goal at Carrow Road in 1993/94 (what an afternoon by the river that was) it’s time for the usual end of season thank yous. It’s tough, and it’s getting tougher, as adblockers and apathy take their toll and the day job eats into more and more of my time and takes me further afield more often. But, on the other side of some r and r on a Spanish vineyard at the end of the month, LFW will be back next season. We’re working on a sponsorship for the Prediction League so we can offer prizes throughout the season, some new features and hopefully a return of some of the popular old ones (Awaydays, Oppo Profiles, Travel Guides) that went by the wayside this year in the name of time management.
Thank you to everybody who has contributed articles this year which includes, but is almost certainly not limited to (my memory is appalling), Lewis Jones, Colin Speller, Simon Dorset, Lee McAlpine, Jack Harry, Dylan Pressman, Ram Chandra, Jordan Foster, Ron Norris and Supporter of the Year Dave Thomas. We love guest submissions, and we pay for your ticket if you can do us match reports for games we don’t go to, so please get in touch if you want to write regularly, occasionally, or just have something to get off your chest firstname.lastname@example.org, @loftforwords on the Twitter, or just come and find me in the Crown – always at the same table, even when the rugby twats try and take it from us.
Thank you, as ever, to the group who travel around with me following this stupid football team and contributing to the site in their own way. Overworked HR officer Jasmine Sandalli, official photographer (not a salaried position) Neil Dejyothin (did we ever find out who owned that Idrissa Sylla pic with the hat mate? #attentionseeker), Andy Hillman who provides the Crown regulars with the live boxing and takes my phone away from me when I’m about to Tweet something I really shouldn’t, Alan Simpson who writes the jokes, Tracey Cann who has happily sat and listened to me prattle on and swear horrifically for a decade now, LFW resident counsel (not a salaried position) Harriet, Small for enforcing the law, Owain for managing to take a full Jim Beam and coke with ice in a glass into the Brighton match while I had a deodorant confiscated out the bottom of my sports bag, Bill for providing excellent reading material, the Ferry’s for making us all feel relatively unsuccessful and unattractive and Julian for protecting the tables/trying to keep us reasonably sober by spilling all of our drinks.
Respect to Gary, Allen, Murph, Glenn, Dave and Dawn who, through no fault or choice of their own, have to sit next to me at matches. Thanks from all of us to Seann, for his in depth knowledge and analysis of university rowing.
Thank you to Gerry, Catherine and Hurley at the Crown and Sceptre for their hospitality/taking all our money. And thanks to all of you who click on the site, read the articles, post comments, use the message board – that’s the lifeblood. If you read without getting involved, get involved - comment, use the message board, it keeps the site going.
To everybody, enjoy all your summers.
Team News: Given that QPR’s team selections were absolutely wild, regularly featuring half a dozen changes from match to match, when there was something riding on the game, God in Heaven alone knows what 11 names might come out of the hat at 11am on Sunday morning now there isn’t. Even the one constant, Alex Smithies, may sit out to give Matt Ingram a much needed run (what exactly we’re going to do with him next season one of a number of summer issues). Grant Hall and the forgotten man Jordan Cousins are out for Rangers while Steven Caulker hasn’t been seen since that 12 bottles of San Miguel for a tenner offer started at Feltham Tesco.
Steven Naismith punched his card in early with a sending off in the penultimate match (James Perch looking on enviously) so he’s suspended. John Ruddy will play his final game for the club having been named on the release list during the week.
Elsewhere: It’s here. It’s finally here. Game 9,500 of the Mercantile Credit Trophy after which we’re released into the wild to try and scavenge and forage enough work holiday and money together to do it all again next year – particularly looking forward to the inevitable placing of Sunderland and Fleetwood away on Tuesday nights while Reading and Fulham away remain on weekends. Such is life in a Football League controlled by an insufferable dickhead like Shaun Harvey, with not the first single clue what their main customers think or feel or behave like.
There is one place left to play for, and it’s the third relegation spot. The Mad Indian Chicken Farmers are in possession, and away to Brentford – a group of absolutely clueless, entirely absent pricks shoehorned into a club by a dodgy agent who wanted a dumping ground for toads from his client log and left to get on with it entirely unchecked by a league more bothered with making sure Leyton Orient v Colchester plays to a farcical conclusion. Nottingham Trees, whose shambolic Middle Eastern ownership strung an interested American consortium along through the Christmas period long enough for them to meet the December payroll only to then demand ongoing management positions post takeover leading to the deal’s collapse, should beat Ipswich at home. And Birmingham, whose owners sacked one of the division’s best managers Gary Rowett with the club on the cusp of the play offs so they could bring in Gianfranco Zola for their cuntish mates to have pictures taken with in the bar afterwards, and have now turned to everybody’s favourite chancer ‘Arry Redknapp to dig them out of the resulting catastrophe, are at Bristol City.
And Harvey talks about “preserving the integrity” of the competition.
That’s it really. Nothing else matters, but it’s all been shifted to Sunday breakfast time regardless. Leddersford at home to Champions Brighton, Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion against Reading, Borussia Huddersfield the final date on the Seventh Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour, Promoted Newcastle against Barnsley, Relegated Rotherham at home to the Derby Sheep and Wigan Warriors are the final stop in the hilarious collapse of the Champions of Europe’s promotion bid. Wolverhampton Wolves are playing Preston Knob End, and the hope that Sheffield Owls v Tarquin and Rupert would be some winner takes all summit has sadly turned out not to be true.
Done. Fifty of these fuckers. If anything I don’t drink enough.
Referee: Don’t be expecting many goals from corners in this one as Tim Robinson, who immediately awards a free kick to the defending team whenever anybody tries to deliver a wide set piece into the box, is in charge of Rangers for the fourth time this season. More details on his previous ball aching appointments with us here.
Norwich: You don’t have to look far to discover Norwich’s problem this season. Their total of 81 goals scored is bettered only by Newcastle and Fulham, with champions Brighton and the rest of the play-off sides all scoring fewer. They’ve beaten Reading 7-1, Blackburn 4-1, Brentford 5-0 and Forest 5-1 along the way. However, they’ve conceded 69, which is five more than relegated Wigan, and a total only surpassed by Rotherham and Forest, who could yet be the other two clubs relegated. With the third best attack in the league, they’re ninth with a goal difference of just +12. Their last match, where they surrendered a 3-0 lead at Leeds to draw the game, a neat microcosm. They’ve won four and drawn one of the eight matches leading into this weekend. They’ve only lost four times at home all season (Fulham, Huddersfield, Leeds, Preston) and have scored 51 goals at Carrow Road, five more than any other team in the league has managed at home this season.
QPR: The victory against Nottingham Forest last weekend snapped a run of six straight defeats and was the team’s first clean sheet at home in 17 attempts going back to the 1-0 win against Bristol City before Christmas. The 4-1 win at Birmingham in February was Rangers’ sixth on the road this season – as many as the two previous campaigns combined – but they’ve lost five and drawn one of six away from Loftus Road since. Rangers have only won one of their last 13 visits to this ground. Ian Holloway lost 6-1 here with Millwall last time he managed a side at Carrow Road. The R’s are chasing a first double over Norwich since 1984.
This will be the 24th QPR game of the season kicking off away from the Saturday 15.00 traditional start time. It is the fourteenth game that has been moved at the behest of Sky Sports and is the third of those (Cardiff A, Barnsley A, Norwich A) that has been moved by the broadcaster despite not actually being on the television.
Prediction: Norwich 4 QPR 4 Fucks Left To Give 0. Scorer - Alex Smithies.
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