|Preston North End v Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 4th August 2018 Kick-off 15:00
QPR fighting the demon optimism as Millwall visit - Preview
Tuesday, 12th Sep 2017 12:38 by Clive Whittingham
Things are going worryingly ok for QPR at the start of the 2017/18 season, sparking widespread confusion, panic and pessimism.
Queens Park Rangers (3-1-2, DLWLLW, 8th) v Millwall (1-2-3, DLDDWL, 19th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Tuesday September 12, 2017 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Fine during day, heavy rain by full time >>> Loftus Road, London, W12
September has been something of a manager killer for Queens Park Rangers’ bosses in recent years.
Despite a 5-0 loss to Swansea on the opening day, Mark Hughes probably just about retained the faith of the church as the month began with a 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea that could easily have been a win in 2012. By the time it had finished through, with Rangers winless in seven and outplayed by West Ham and West Brom, the die had been cast.
Chris Ramsey was already, harshly, on thin ice with supporters when September 2015 rolled around, despite winning three matches in August and topping the Championship scoring charts. The expected exodus of the team’s star names, most notably Charlie Austin, did not materialise on transfer deadline day which sent expectations sky-rocketing. The team went winless throughout September, starting with Robert Green turning a 1-0 win against Nottingham Forest into a 2-1 defeat, and ending with a 4-0 humiliation at Fulham that really was the final straw as far as Ramsey’s critics were concerned.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, meanwhile, was a dead man walking once Newcastle had turned up at Loftus Road and won 6-0 – a year ago tomorrow.
So to see Ian Holloway get the club’s first September win in four years and 13 attempts in such fine style against Ipswich at the weekend was a reassuring relief. He too can ill-afford a collapse in the coming games, with many still keen to hark back to the results at the end of last season and perceived failings in the summer transfer window despite obvious improvements with the team in the games so far.
This remains a month that can go either way though. Millwall are in town tonight and while they’re newly promoted, fancied by many for a relegation struggle, and only have one win to their name so far, this is a game that may not suit QPR at all. Neil Harris’ team is unashamedly direct, with two very physical and handy strikers, and QPR have big injury problems at centre half. Nedum Onuoha, Alex Baptiste and Jack Robinson looked very accomplished against the Munchkins from the Wizard of Oz that Ipswich play up front, but will they be quite so comfortable on the other end of Lee Gregory’s elbows tonight? I have my big, big concerns - particularly with 'Wall keen to stick it to Ian Holloway who did a poor job when in charge at The Den.
Next up in W12 it’s Burton Albion, another short-odds relegation favourite who are really likely to struggle now they’ve lost talismanic midfielder Jackson Irvine on the cheap to Hull City. Beat Millwall, beat Burton, get something at Barnsley and it won’t really matter what happens at Middlesbrough, where few would expect Rangers to snap a nine-match winless run on the road on Saturday, nor against a very handy Fulham side on TV at the end of the month. Fail to beat either of them, and get what we expect at the Riverside, and you can expect the knives to be back out for Ollie if that Fulham game goes the way several other fixtures with the Cottagers have in recent times. Rangers, remember, haven't won against Burton in four attempts (two league, one cup, one friendly) over the past couple of seasons. That’s the way football, and QPR, sadly, works these days.
There are, however, plenty of reasons for optimism. The style of play, as much as the results, has given great cause for delight so far, with QPR playing through an excellent midfield trio, with the ball on the ground, to great effect. The arrival of Josh Scowen has negated the loss of Grant Hall, and freed Massimo Luongo and Luke Freeman to do more damage up the pitch. Throw Pawel Wszolek into that mix and it’s a difficult one for opposition teams to deal with. I’d be tempted to put Matt Smith in tonight, if only to defend against their corners, but QPR must not get sucked into a direct contest if that does happen, because Millwall are far more adept at that sort of thing than we are.
And just the general feel around the club at the moment is a lot better than it has been. The youth teams, under Chris Ramsey’s expert and sadly often underestimated and unfairly criticised guidance, are knocking off wins for fun with half a dozen names being tipped as first team potential – to go with Ryan Manning and Darnell Furlong who’ve already broken through. The signings of David Wheeler and Bright Osayi-Samuel, along with Scowen, felt much more like what QPR should be doing, and lo and behold as the spending has decreased and the signings have returned to such players so results and performances have improved. The new crest, the Forever R’s club, the work Andy Sinton is doing, the PR around the place. It all feels like it’s coming together, and coming together in a much more humble, low-key, understated, honest, QPR way rather than the bombastic Bertie Big Potatoes routine we embarrassed ourselves with in recent years gone by.
But it’s not time for the bunting to go up just yet. We’re six games in, it can all easily go south from here, particularly in a division where four defeats can be clocked up in ten days, possibly starting tonight. The team hasn’t won away since February. Lose tonight, and to Fulham, following the Brentford cup defeat, and all the stuff about lacking heart, lacking spine, disrespecting the fans, losing London derbies will come flooding back.
It’s on a knife-edge, and we're accustomed to it going wrong whenever there's an opportunity for it to do so. But it’s a rather different knife-edge from the one we expected to be teetering on by this point six weeks ago.
Highlights of QPR’s 2-1 win against Millwall on this ground in 1987 in the League Cup second round first leg. Gary Bannister and Alan McDonald got the goals and the second leg finished goalless allowing Rangers to progress to round three where they… lost 1-0 at Bury.
Team News: The news that Clint Hill is back training with Rangers, awaiting the offer of a short term deal as a free agent outside the window should Rangers suffer any more injuries in defence, has been greeted with much joy by the faithful. However, it somewhat masks the bad news that Grant Hall’s knee tendonitis simply isn’t improving and his spell on the sidelines looks like being extended further. Throw in the dislocated knee James Perch suffered against Hull and Joel Lynch’s ongoing hamstring problems and Rangers are light at the back – it’ll be interesting/terrifying to see whether Baptiste, Onuoha and Robinson cope quite as well with Millwall’s direct style as they did with Ipswich’s more considered approach at the weekend.
Millwall winger Aidan O’Brien is on the naughty step after a sending off at Sporting Wolverhampton over the weekend. Striker Tom Elliott has gout.
Elsewhere: Thanks to a typical August evening in Grimsby putting paid to the Derby Sheep’s League Cup first round match at Blundell Park, they’re playing their second-round tie with Barnsley this evening. That means those two, and the teams they were meant to be playing in the league this midweek (Ipswich Blue Sox, Reading) will have games rearranged for later in the year.
That leaves just the ten fixtures to take place in double quick time after the last load – nine tonight, and then Tarquin and Rupert v the Allam Tigers tomorrow – presumably because the police didn’t fancy adding them to the heady West London mix of QPR, Millwall and Chelsea all in the same place at the same time we have tonight.
Game of the day today, probably at Villa Park as Big Racist John and the Boys prepare to welcome Champions Middlesbrough. Their cross city rivals the Birmingham Bad Knees are at the Champions of Europe with manager Barry Redchapp adjusting his “it’s not my team” excuse to “there’s a long way to go yet” after signing 15 new players and fielding a team at the weekend with ten of his buys in it and still losing.
Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion look a different beast without Jackson Irvine and after a heavy weekend defeat they look like lambs to the slaughter at Borussia Norwich tonight. Can Brentford finally get that first win of the league season at the Sheffield Owls? Will Sunderland continue to head south with a fourth straight defeat at home to the Nottingham Trees? Will Sheffield Red Stripes’ great start to life back at this level continue at Relegated Bolton?
The answers to all these questions and more coming your way tonight, with Sporting Wolverhampton v Bristol City and the Eighth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour rolling into Preston Knob End for good measure.
Referee: After what must be an unprecedented run of excellent refereeing displays from Championship officials to start the season, QPR now get their first Premier League referee of the campaign with Roger East dropping down to keep an eye on the London derby. He was last in W12 for a 2-0 win against Birmingham under Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink and you can check his stats and QPR history here.
QPR: The win against Ipswich on Saturday was QPR’s first in the month of September for four years and 13 attempts (D6 L7). They have a similarly poor record in London derbies, with last season’s spawny 2-1 win at Fulham their only success in five, including this season’s League Cup exit against Brentford. In the league QPR have won their last four matches: 2-0, 2-0, 2-1, 2-1. The last time Rangers failed to score in a home game, in all competitions, was 17 matches ago in a 1-0 loss to Aston Villa last December. Rangers have only lost one of their last 17 Tuesday night home games (W11 D5) but the defeat was a bad one – 6-0 to Newcastle almost exactly a year ago to the day.
Millwall: The Lions haven’t won at Loftus Road in seven attempts, dating back to the 1988/89 season when a Mark Falco penalty wasn’t enough to stop the R’s slipping to a 2-1 loss thanks to goals from Jimmy Carter and Tony Cascarino. Rangers were also beaten 3-2 at The Den that season – a game you may remember for Trevor Francis’ one-step penalty miss. Neil Harris’ side are 19th and have only won one game out of six since winning promotion (4-0 at home to Norwich) but the stats suggest they’re in a false position. They’ve had 85 shots on goal so far this season, the second most in the division behind Brentford’s 95 and ahead of league-leading Cardiff’s 84. Steve Morison has had 18 of those alone, without scoring once. So far on their travels they’ve lost 1-0 at Forest and Wolves and drawn 0-0 at Bristol City. If you include their previous stint in the Championship they haven’t won an away game at this level in 11 attempts.
Prediction: We’re two for two after calling Cardiff and Ipswich exactly right. If you think you can do better you’re in with a chance of winning prizes from the sponsor of this year’s Prediction League, The Art of Football. We’ll be handing out prizes from their QPR Collection at the end of October, January and to the overall winner. Last year’s winner Southend_Rss tells us…
"It was great to see a fantastic team performance, to which I felt everyone gave 100%, against Ipswich on Saturday. Typical QPR at the end allowing a late bit of pressure, but we could and pretty much should have scored a couple more. That midfield three is looking more and more comfortable with every game. Everything just seemed to work and the dressing room seems a great place to be right now. Long may that continue.
“Millwall Tuesday night then. A derby match under the lights. A game that should have probably been more suited to a 12:30 kick off on a Saturday or Sunday. The atmosphere will be noisy and our Holloway will no doubt get loads of abuse from the away end. It will be a fun night to which I feel we should continue the performance we gave against Ipswich.”
Craig’s Prediction: QPR 2-0 Millwall. Scorer – Matt Smith
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Millwall. Scorer – Matt Smith
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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