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Friday, 15th Dec 2017 18:20 by Clive Whittingham

QPR return to the scene of their last away win, 17 road trips ago, on Saturday, and boy do Ian Holloway and his team need to find another from somewhere against an equally awful Birmingham side.

Birmingham City (4-4-13, LWLDLL, 22nd) v QPR (5-7-9, LLLDLL, 19th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday February 16, 2017 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Freezing, wet >>> St Andrew’s, Birmingham

It was Aaron Sorkin who said the problem with writing for network television, as opposed to films and plays, is the deadlines force you to write when you’re not writing well. Should have tried this job, try a Championship fixture list and a shit team on for size mate.

Dawn, I’m fed up. Not because QPR are losing, because they’ve been losing for most of my 25 years following them around the place (I still maintain the ongoing decline of the club started with the decision to stop running out to Tina Turner and could be reversed immediately if it was restored – played before Ipswich at home this year, won 2-1, prosecution rests). Nor because the fans are at each other’s throats, because it’s been a divided fan base for years and the new trend for being massively unpleasant and aggressive towards people with a different point of view is just the way the country’s gone in general.

No, it’s the lack of an immediate solution to the problem that’s getting me I think.

Sacking Ian Holloway, and his coaching staff, and getting another new manager is the preferred option for a growing section of the support. That Brentford game, and the comments after it, the final straw in the same way the Newcastle 6-0 was for many fans with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, the 1-0 loss at Brentford was for Chris Ramsey and so on.

That could well be right. I’ve no idea. About anything, about any of it. Contract stipulates I’ve got to produce a preview and match report though.

I do know the current situation QPR are in means there is no money to spend in January, the squad is overstocked to the tune of about a dozen players, the main job of any manager currently is to shift bodies and work with what they have. Given that, I have my suspicions that the only managers you’d find keen to take the job are the likes of Gary Megson i.e. the bad, mad, sad and desperate who will just take anything. There’s a reason they’re available and like that. Yes, there is a possibility that a lower league manager would take it and seize it by the scruff of the neck, Chris Wilder style. There’s also a whole world out there, full of coaches unheard of in this country waiting to make a big impact somewhere, David Wagner style. So it’s not fair or right, in fact it’s borderline Paul Merson, to suggest there is nobody else out there who would want to coach QPR than Ian Holloway and Marc Bircham. Most pertinent question is, would you back QPR to find them?

Here are QPR’s managers since the last time we sacked Ian Holloway, a decade ago give or take: Gary Waddock, John Gregory, Luigi De Canio, Iain Dowie, Paulo Sousa, Jim Magilton, Paul Hart, Mick Harford, Neil Warnock, Mark Hughes, Harry Redknapp, Chris Ramsey, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Ian Holloway. How many of those changes improved things, even a little bit? De Canio, Warnock and for a very short period Gregory. It tells me the manager probably isn’t the problem, or if he is then QPR aren’t very good at picking an alternative, or if neither of those apply then perhaps QPR just make the change at the wrong time – 12 of those 14 men arrived mid-season. None of that really gives me a lot of faith that we should change now, or that we’d get it right if we did. The time for that, as I said at the time, was in May after the Norwich debacle – for me, that ship has sailed, a change now would potentially make it even worse.

Over the course of those 14 stints QPR have made 125 permanent, senior signings – not including loans and additions to the youth team. Back of a fag packet maths says that the average spell in charge for a QPR manager is just under a year, and in those 10 months or so they average nine permanent signings. QPR’s present, horribly bloated, squad contains players signed by five different managers, all with vastly different levels of experience, styles of play and ideals. Some were signed without a director of football, some were signed when Les Ferdinand seemed to be front and centre of transfer policy, and some were signed under the current arrangement where he seems to be a contract and fees negotiator, with Gary Penrice leading recruitment, and Ian Holloway coaching the side.

And how many of those 125 have been successful? How many have improved things? A dozen? Again, Neil Warnock is the anomaly here – excellent success rate in his first summer. Again, like the changing of managers, it’s something QPR do a lot, never get right, and yet something everybody thinks more of would help. I wonder whether this week’s quiet warning from Dave Mc that Rangers are perilously close to breaching FFP again registered with those who demand the club signs a striker in this inflated market, or believes that a club carrying seven senior contracted centre backs left itself short of cover in that position in the summer?

So, like I say, pretty glum. The best case scenario, and that’s said like “oooh, best case scenario, maybe the syphilis won’t spread”, for me is somehow crawling to the end of this season as a Championship club and then using the unique opportunity we have next summer when a whole host of players, including my estimated guess at the three top earners (Caulker, Onuoha, Robinson) and another one drawing a huge wage while returning fuck all (JET), come out of contract. That creates a chance to get the squad down from it’s present level of 34 to somewhere nearer the 22 mark it should be, it also creates wiggle room in the transfer market in the final year of parachute payment. Maybe a loan of a proper striker, maybe a couple more like Scowen or Freeman on frees. We need to cobble together ten wins in 25 games to achieve that crawl. Ian Holloway and Gary Penrice have shown, with Scowen and Freeman, that even given that chance to bring in a couple of out of contract players, they can improve the team and if we can just crawl to next summer they’ll get that chance. Another new manager is going to want his nine signings, plastering another layer on top of what’ already congealing here.

So how do we get there? Because at the moment it feels like we’re never going to win again, to all intents and purposes a third six match losing run inside 12 months having only suffered that a handful of times in the club’s history previously. Well, again, everybody has a theory, and talk is rife on the message board about how systems could change, how formations might alter, to try and pull us out of this nosedive. Perhaps the answer lies within, it’s football, everybody has an opinion. Personally, and again sorry for the misery, but I’m not convinced we’re only one move of Pawel Wszolek to right wing, or one recall for Darnell Furlong, or one change of formation away from suddenly being brilliant. But then, we don’t need to be brilliant, we just need the ten wins.

For what it’s worth (nothing, but again, terms of contract mate, pay my mortgage for me I’ll shut up), my view is Ian Holloway needs to calm down a bit with his team selections.

In this latest six game spell QPR have not kept the same starting 11 once. They have used 22 different players – in six matches. Yes, there have been injuries to people like Joel Lynch, players returning from injuries like Nedum Onuoha, and suspensions, to Jamie Mackie and Alex Baptiste. But 22 players in six matches is manifestly excessive. A club with an Ebola outbreak wouldn’t have to make that many.

And there’s often little pattern or logic to the changes. Let’s look at David Wheeler for example, a particular bug bear of mine. He stepping up from League Two but is also 26 years old and was clearly bought as ‘somebody for now’ rather than one for the future. His time at QPR so far reads – 13 minutes wide attack (such as it is in our team) v Ipswich, unused sub, starts wide and scores at Middlesbrough, not selected, unused sub, six minutes up front v Fulham, unused sub, five minutes widein a hurricane at Bolton, unused sub, starts at wing back v Sheff Utd and plays well in a win, 45 mins in the same position v Forest (the only time he’s been selected two games running in the same position, taken off at half time), unused sub, starts as lone striker at Derby, unused sub, starts wide at Preston, unused sub.

I’m sorry. I know there have been injuries, I know he’s new to the club and the level and finding his way, I know you have to plan for the opposition, but that’s fucking nuts. What is the poor bastard meant to do with that? How’s he meant to come up to the level, learn a position, gather some confidence, play into some form? Anything, really, with that? Wheeler starting up front alone at Derby, then sitting on the bench against Brentford while Kazenga Lua Lua comes on in his position and plays appallingly (the day after Holloway criticised him in the press, the day before Holloway sent him back to Brighton) is indefensible. Indefensible.

That Lua Lua selection reminded me very much of Ravel Morrison’s random outing against Brighton last season – something Holloway said himself in an interview with this website was a mistake that lost him a portion of the dressing room last season. The sudden appearances and equally rapid disappearances of people like, for instance, Bright Samuel – for very brief periods of time, often out of position, giving the player absolutely no chance – go back to the last six game losing run when people like Sean Goss and Michael Petrasso suddenly made cameos to no benefit for anybody except the opposition.

Matt Smith – starts, on at half time, unused sub, off the bench and scores, off the bench for 17 minutes with ten men, starts. That’s just his last six games. Idrissa Sylla – starts but off at half time, 18 minutes as a sub, unused sub while losing 1-0 with a midfielder playing lone striker, starts but off after an hour, on in the last minute while losing 1-0 with ten men, on for last 19 minutes. You can do this with a lot of them. I’m not a big fan of Yeni Ngbakoto, but six weeks of not playing at all (and never featuring in any of the second string games) followed by sudden starts in away games, doesn’t sound like a recipe for success. Again, it’s nuts. So random and wild. Ryan Manning, so key to turning around the first of these six match spells, now seems to have fallen behind Ilias Chair in the reckoning.

Holloway’s quote this week about maybe finding a few players who haven’t been involved, haven’t had the confidence drained out of them by the run, filled me with dread and horror. With the manager, with the signings, and with the team selections, I feel like we need fewer changes, not more. I’d be tempted to do bits and pieces, anything to get some width into the team, but most of all I want to see something tried and left for a few games. The way we’ve selected and used Wheeler in particular is disgusting, to me, frankly. Absolutely ruining somebody we’ve spent what little money we have on. Would it kill us to just give him three starts in his proper position and see what happens? Could we do any worse?

But what the fuck do I know? I’m just fulfilling my contract obligations.

Links >>> Cup semi-final – History >>> Reasons to be fearful – Podcast >>> Jones in charge – Referee

QPR’s last away win, 17 attempts ago, on this ground.

Saturday

Team News: We’ll wait to see what the tombola machine spews out for us on Saturday but Nedum Onuoha came through his return unscathed against Leeds and Grant Hall also got 15 minutes under his belt. Alex Baptiste is back from suspension leaving only Joel Lynch (tart) and James Perch (exploded knee) out from the back line – injury crisis seemingly easing there, touch wood. Steven Caulker would come, but it’s office Christmas party season which is an opportunity to get sloshed off your chops and lob stuff at commuters at Clapham Junction station too good to turn down. Jamie Mackie is still suspended according to the BBC but I thought that was only a one match ban personally.

Birmingham have Harlee Dean back from the naughty step after their blatant, flagrant and obvious attempt to belt Jota out of their match with Wolves ended with a defeat and a red card. Marc Roberts, who should also have been sent off that night, has been struck down by karma. Che Adams and Maxime Colin can’t be arsed.

Elsewhere: We begin this week with Sheffield Owls against Sporting Wolverhampton, taking place about an hour and 15 minutes from now in The Sheaf in London Bridge (could you sense I was in a hurry?).

All sorts of excitement tomorrow including not one but two (the number after one) games between two teams beginning with B as Relegated Bolton host Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion and award-winning car dealership Brent Ford welcome Barnsley.

Bristol City (toldja, toldja, see we got something right) will continue their relentless pursuit of making LFW’s pre-season dark horse prediction come true with a thumping win at home to Nottingham Trees. Derby Sheep v Big Racist John and the Boys looks fun, Ipswich Blue Sox against Reading does not.

The Champions of Europe are at home to Borussia Norwich while the Millwall Scholars meet Middlesbrough in the lesser-spotted clash of two teams beginning with M. Preston Knob End host a faltering Sheffield Red Stripes while Tarquin and Rupert are popping into Sunderland to find out what all the hoopla and bally hoo is up there.

Televised date on the Eighth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour tomorrow night as the Allam Tigers limp into town.

Referee: Mike Jones, a Premier League referee who holds himself with all the authority of a sexually repressed supply teacher, has been sent down for this one. Details of previous wetness here.

Form

God bless Opta editor and QPR fan Jack Supple for writing this bit for me this week…

Birmingham: The Blues have lost two of their last three home league matches against QPR, more than they lost in their previous 22 (one). Birmingham have won only two of their 10 Championship games since Steve Cotterill took charge in October (W2 D2 L6) – only Burton (5) have won fewer points than the Blues in this period (8). The Blues have used more players than any other Championship side this season (30).

QPR: QPR are on the current longest away winless run in the top four tiers of English football (17 league games) – the R’s haven’t won on the road since beating Birmingham 4-1 back in February. QPR’s 17-game run is their longest away winless run outside of the top-flight since September 1998 (24 matches). Since going on a 14-match winless league run against Birmingham between 1986 and early October 2008, QPR have won five of their last seven against the Blues (D1 L1), including a 4-1 win at St. Andrew’s last season. QPR striker Matt Smith has scored four goals and provided two assists in six previous league appearances against Birmingham. QPR have embarked upon four separate winless runs of 6+ league games since Ian Holloway took charge in November 2016 – the joint-most in the top four tiers in this period (also Bury and Chesterfield). QPR have kept just two clean sheets in their last 30 Championship away games (vs Leeds and Reading). The R’s have failed to score in their last three away league games – they last went four in a row without scoring on the road back in February 2010 under Mick Harford.

Prediction: The winner of this year’s Prediction League will be furnished with goodies from The Art of Football, but if you don’t fancy your chances then you can browse their QPR Collection here and purchase something instead. Reigning champion Southend Rsss tells us…

“Well I came away from the Leeds game all doom and gloom to be honest. Leeds had more about themselves than us and the last goal was just that kick in the teeth after believing that we could have snuck a late draw.. What really annoyed me was that Pav was getting himself in so much space on the wing, especially getting up the pitch and the holy trio in the middle of the park hardly played to him. It was infuriating to watch and when a bloke near me gave him abuse when he ventured into the middle of the park to look for the ball, I just lost it. The tactical side of our team game is complete shite right now. I hate to say it, but the last bloke that got us drilled, playing with tactical nous and discipline was Steve McLaren..

“There’s good players in that team, regardless of injuries and going so many away games without a win is somewhat embarrassing. Players and management need to take a bloody hard look at the Birmingham game, do their homework Get the win! I’m sick of work colleagues constantly giving me abuse and stick about always backing against us getting a payout. Atmosphere at home games is flat and at least with away games there’s a bit more oomph from the away end. Our traveling hardcore fans deserve this first away win this term.. Let’s pray the players/management deliver. Or cue a complete QPR festive meltdown if we lose and also lose to those wurzel types next wee.

Craig’s Call: Birmingham 1-2 QPR. Scorer – Luke Freeman. Come on Rss for fuck’s sake

LFW’s Prediction: Birmingham 1-1 QPR. Peronis – 23. Scorer – Matt Smith

The Twitter @loftforwords

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terryb added 19:31 - Dec 15
One of the best posts I can recall from you Clive.

It summed up my feelings towards Queens Park Rangers at the moment, but I will be there next Saturday!

It has to be a three match ban for Mackie as he was sent off for Serious Foul Play.

I do hope that all of you going tomorrow have a worthwhile trip. I can't envisage it myself, but you certainly deserve to cheer after eleven long months.
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Superhoop83 added 20:13 - Dec 15
Spot on, especially about Wheeler.

Maybe Ollie needs to move things around in the middle to accommodate wingers. I'd try Luongo and Scowen in midfield with Freeman wide left and Wheeler wide right. Sylla and Conor up front and Smithy ready for the second half.

See, it's easy.
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SimonJames added 22:10 - Dec 15
Until now I've been in the "keep Olly" camp.
But I'm beginning to think that scraping through to the end of the season will still lead to his departure. And then we will have another manager that spends another season tinkering around, hoping to start things off with a mid-table finish. So perhaps it's time to let someone have the second half of the season to see if they can get a bit more momentum.

Also I notice that Polter has 17 goals from 30 games, and El Khayati has 6 from 11.
We got rid of them and we still struggle to score goals. I think that says more about us than it does about those players' abilities.
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Geoff78 added 22:55 - Dec 15
The question with Holloway was always that his skill set as a manager is limited. He has strengths and early in the season there were definite hopeful signs, esp in the midfield trio of Scowen, Luongo and Freeman. But when things don't go well (results, injuries, suspensions, etc) team selection (and substitutions) are very iffy.

Clive has summarised the dilemma, and Holloway's failings in selection, very well. He is a manic character (Holloway, I don't know about Clive) and it's perhaps not surprising that his team selections reveal more than a touch of ADHD. The idea of giving Sylla, Wheeler or whoever a run in the team just doesn't compute for Holloway.

But then we ask what is Les' role? His work on signings, etc seems pretty good, but should he be offering a more directive role with Holloway? I know managers think that team selection, formation, etc are their responsibility, but surely Les can say "we need to give X a decent run", or "I really think we need to use a proper winger"?

I'd stick with Holloway for now for the reasons Clive has set out, but I'm fearful! On the other hand I've supported Rs for 40+ years and it feels like this is what I signed up for: heartache, mood swings and occasional moments of ecstasy!

Fingers crossed.

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TacticalR added 23:16 - Dec 15
Thanks for your preview, even if it's a contractual obligation.

I agree that the lack of immediate solutions is a problem - we are going round in circles and it's hard to see a way out (and that's without getting into the subject of managerial Groundhog Day). Even some of our better performers like Scowen and Luongo seem to have faded in recent games.

It would be great if Wheeler could give us the spark we're missing up front, but I guess Holloway keeps changing things hoping to get quick results (not that that is working).

I can see tomorrow's game being a tight, nervy affair as Birmingham are another club with all sorts of problems.

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thehat added 07:29 - Dec 16
As always top article Clive.

I’d see where we are after the Christmas fixtures before making a change.

The one manager who I believe would be the right fit is Gareth Ainsworth I said it after JFH he continues to build fantastic squads at Wycombe with the leagues smallest budget.
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enfieldargh added 11:56 - Dec 16
WE are currently walking a tight rope of a deep precipice whilst juggling and learning to play the tuba.

In the past there have been seasons when we all felt relegation was nailed on 1977/78 1990/1991 4 wins in our first 22 matches and we turned things around.

Sadly Birmingham posses 3 recently acquired at great expense ex Brentford players 2 of which in Dean and Jota have been a thorn in our sides.

Expect us to concede the only goal of the game
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snanker added 12:14 - Dec 16
Clive certainly 1 of your better contractual obligations filed. Our soap opera rolls on with it feels like a cast of 000's to choose from. !! Lose this game and Ollie will be lucky to survive the new year. Anyone's guess who the starting 11 will be and to be honest nothing would surprise me. I am with the hat give Ainsworth a go if Ollie's carded and we may stay up that's may.
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extratimeR added 13:02 - Dec 16
Agree with every word Clive.

Changing the manager ill do nothing to stabilise the club, yes if we can somehow make it to the end f the season and start again.
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