Happy New Year my R's - Preview
Sunday, 31st Dec 2017 19:20 by Clive Whittingham
QPR start 2018 as they spent most of 2017, with yet another fixture, the manager under pressure, the bottom three looming. Still, we've got our health. Unless you haven't.
QPR (6-9-10, LLWDDL, 18th) v Cardiff (14-5-6, WDWLLL, 4th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Monday January 1, 2018 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Actually not bad >>> Loftus Road, London, W12
While the last thing any of us need, particularly on New Year’s Day (whose idea is this?), is more QPR, this might not be a bad time to play Cardiff. Neil Warnock says his squad, beset by injuries, has “hit a wall” after a superb first half of the campaign and he will be making additions in January. Six years ago he was preparing to bring Ishmael Miller, Danny Shittu and Wayne Routledge into a QPR squad that had suddenly lost three games after going unbeaten through the first 19, and we all know how wonderfully that turned out. You’d back Cardiff to see it through behind Wolves, but maybe not tomorrow with the window still closed and a litany of injuries to first team players. QPR can only hope that’s the case with the bottom three drawing ever closer after three wins from 19.
Warnock hasn’t won at Loftus Road since his harsh sacking here five years ago set the club away on a destructive nosedive from which it’s yet to recover. Ian Holloway hasn’t lost in six matches against Warnock either (winning five) but his presence on the touchline tomorrow, reminding fans of happier times, probably isn’t ideally timed for Holloway whose antics and tactics in the defeat at Millwall on Friday has burned off more of his already dangerously low credit reserves with even the staunchest of his supporters among the QPR fan base.
There are a lot of falsehoods and myths around Warnock’s near return to Rangers in 2015, initially as an ‘adviser’ to Chris Ramsey and then as a caretaker manager for four matches. Firstly, QPR didn’t win all of those four games, they won two against Leeds and Reading, the former with a goal from the division’s outstanding striker Charlie Austin and the latter only because Ali Al Habsi dropped the ball in the net. One of them, a defeat at Middlesbrough, Warnock didn’t even attend. Another, a 0-0 against Preston, QPR didn’t have a shot on target in 90 minutes. And in three of the four of them, Rangers started without a recognised striker on the pitch. It was not some glorious homecoming.
Nor was it harshly, unfairly, or abruptly interrupted by Les Ferdinand or anybody else, determined (for some reason) that the most successful manager of the modern era at this level should not be allowed to return. Warnock explicitly said he didn’t want the job - his wife was ill at the time and they were due to go away on safari that winter. He’d told QPR he could give them a few weeks and it was only in the tunnel after his last match at Reading, where Rangers had won in the last minute and the adrenalin was pumping, that he said he had the bug back – and by then the deal with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was done and he was appointed the following day.
Perhaps if QPR had begged, made an offer he couldn’t have refused, he would have taken it, but Warnock himself says publicly that’s not true. It’s also worth bearing in mind that a young, hard working, up and coming, forward thinking manager who’d done well in the lower leagues was the trendy thing at the time, and Hasselbaink was certainly the best of those in theory. It was only when Warnock subsequently reappeared several months later (after the winter and a heart to heart with his wife) at Rotherham and did a great job while QPR struggled that he became a stick to beat Rangers with. Harsh, in my opinion. There’s enough to slag them off about without making stuff up.
Still, it’s another potential problem for Holloway on a day when he really needs a win, for himself and his future here as much as the team. Even if, as I do, you believe that Warnock coming back was a non-starter at the time, there was a line in our recent interview with Kaspars Gorkss that really stuck out for a few of us at the time…
“He knew straight away what he wanted to do. He had been in that situation so many times that he knew one hundred percent what he needed to make a solid team in The Championship and that's what he came and did. For my game I was forbidden to take more than two touches and my obligation was to win every header in both penalty boxes! That was about it really, it was as simple as football can be but it produced results. We had a great squad there, a great bunch of boys with terrific team spirit and that led to good results.”
It does make you wonder a bit, with Ian Holloway’s style and constant stream of thoughts and words and anecdotes and metaphors, whether a bit of that simplicity wouldn’t go amiss. The Millwall fan who writes stuff for us when we play them described us as “oddly lacking in shape” on Friday, even before that mind bending last half hour where the whole thing went to shit. There are times when you just can’t really tell what system QPR are playing. There have been games this season where I’ve come away believing we played one system, usually a wing back set up, while other people whose opinions I really respect have been adamant it was more of a flat back four and then 4-3-3 or 4-4-2.
I mean there’s loads of this fortune cookie logic we can throw around at this point isn’t there? Everybody’s got their own ideas about where we’re going wrong and what might fix it. I’d like to see us go to a back four, I’d like to see us use Darnell Furlong more whether we do that or stick with wing backs, I’d like to see us try and get some width into the attack and some actual crosses for Matt Smith to attack. I wonder whether the concrete rule that the midfield three must start every game and must start in that shape is really so solid after all – they could easily fit into a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 and as good as they’ve been they’ve only yielded six wins from 25 games so far. Luongo looked tired to me at Millwall, and little wonder given the work he gets through.
The sudden emergence onto the free agent market of Garry Monk, Mark Warburton, Steve McClaren and others is certainly going to cool the “who else is there?” argument whatever you think of the available names, however likely or unlikely it is that they’d take on a difficult job like this, and however unlikely it is that QPR actually make the right appointment this time.
But, fundamentally, I think it’s a bit of a stretch to think that we’re a change of formation, a different team selection, or even a change of manager away from suddenly being a good side. Changes of manager haven’t made a significant difference to us since Warnock arrived first time, and the grasshopping from such vastly different personalities and footballing philosophies as Warnock, Mark Hughes, Harry Redknapp, Chris Ramsey, Hasselbaink and then Holloway has created this dysfunctional, bloated squad. Another similar change to another run of the mill Championship manager, almost certainly quite different to Holloway, could exacerbate that further.
It is still about crawling to the end of this season, releasing vast amounts of wage bill this summer, and then hopefully starting the long road back next term for me. A win against Cardiff, despite their lofty league position, is an attainable goal on that journey.
Happy New Year to all of you, and all of your loved ones. I randomly had three or four people come up to me on Friday night saying nice things and the messages I’ve had via phone, Twitter, Facebook and on here since the Millwall report have been reaffirming. I’m pleased we’re still useful and palatable to some of you. Some of the posts on here from Ashdown and Superhoopdownunder in particular might help you put the struggles of a mere football team in perspective. And massive respect for the huge 2017 win from our columnist Jordan Foster who I remember speaking to in hospital almost 12 months ago to the day in a pretty desperate situation, but who has since made a huge success of his recovery and career in such a short space of time. Check his Twitter feed @jordanjfoster for more. New year, new us, we shall be starting 2018 by getting properly tanked up with some of our favourite people in the Crown and Sceptre tomorrow. Bring us Peroni.
Team News: QPR will have to make a call on whether a second 90 minutes for Grant Hall in four days is too much to ask for a player that hadn’t started a game since March prior to Friday night at Millwall. Jack Robinson returning from illness and Josh Scowen coming back from a one game spell on the naughty step could make that decision easier. James Perch is still long term injured while Joel Lynch (tinselitis) has sat out nine of the last ten Christmas periods and has done so again this season.
Cardiff have an extensive injury list which has contributed heavily to a recent run of three successive defeats having only lost three in the whole of the season prior to that. One time QPR striker target Danny Ward (sprained gooch), Sean Morrison (too many West Indian Lilac berries), Kadeem Harris (hand stuck in a Pringles pipe), Aron Gunnarsson (trod on a Lego brick) and Jazz Richards (stabbed in the eye with a Capri-Sun straw) are all definitely out. Junior Hoilett (old fashioned laziness), Craig Bryson (radiation poisoning) and Joe Bennett (refuses to shave sideburns) all face late fitness tests.
Elsewhere: Back again, a day after the last lot, round 7,852 of the Mercantile Credit Trophy, a cruel mistress to football purists everywhere.
Nine games on the Monday, led by Big Racist John and the Boys against Bristol City on Sky in the evening.
Everybody below QPR took at least a point on Saturday, and there are relegation six pointers between Sunderland and Barnsley and Relegated Bolton against Allam Tigers to worry about tomorrow as well. Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion are at Sheffield Owls, Millwall Scholars are at Borussia Norwich. Then on Tuesday Birmingham are at Reading.
Sporting Wolverhampton seemingly tied promotion up with the win at Bristol City on Saturday night and they’re at home to Brent Ford Dealership this time. Elsewhere in the promotion race there’s a great looking game between Derby Sheep and Sheffield Red Stripes, and Nottingham Trees start life without Mark Warburton at the Champions of Europe.
Amongst the also rans Preston Knob End are at home to Middlesbrough who lost Tony Pulis’ first game in charge at the weekend, and then (just for you Phil) it’s Tarquin and Rupert against the Ipswich Blue Sox on Tuesday night.
Referee: Tim Robinson, considered one of the Championship’s top men by the authorities at least, is in charge of this one. His last QPR appointment was the 4-0 loss at Nottingham Forest which doesn’t bode well, but if he continues his form from last season and awards the defending team a free kick at every corner that will at least nullify the Sol Bamba threat. Details here.
QPR: One win in ten, three wins in 19, four wins in 22 – it has not been a good end to 2017 for Queens Park Rangers. It’s a year that has included just 15 league wins overall, but two of those did come in this weekend last year when Wolves and Ipswich were both beaten 2-1 in three days of the New Year holiday to seemingly kick start Ian Holloway’s second spell in charge. The 1-0 loss at Millwall on Friday means it’s two and a half games since QPR scored. At Loftus Road, three wins and two draws from the first five games this season has given way to three wins from nine with four draws. QPR are yet to score more than twice in any match this season but have won 12 of their last 16 home matches with Cardiff, including 2-1 here last season.
Cardiff: City’s season has so far mirrored the Neil Warnock promotion season at QPR in 2010/11 quite closely. Rangers, famously, went 19 matches unbeaten at the start of that season, while Cardiff lost only three of their first 22. In the end, QPR lost only five times all season, and three of those were over the Christmas period (Watford H 1-3, Leeds A 0-2, Norwich A 0-1) prior to the January arrivals of Wayne Routledge, Danny Shittu and others ready for a push in the second half of the campaign that included just two further losses at Millwall and Scunthorpe. Cardiff have lost three straight over Christmas at Bolton (0-2), home to Fulham (2-4) and home to Preston on Friday night (0-1) to drop back to fourth. Away from home overall they’ve won six, drawn two and lost four of their 12 road trips so far. Sol Bamba has scored from centre half in the last two games between these sides.
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. Our reigning champion Southend_Rsss tells us…
“A new year awaits, however Cardiff are in town and I really can’t see past anything than an away win. We just don’t score, Cardiff almost certainly will. Sorry to come across a bit doom and gloom, however I’m losing faith at the moment and QPR are just becoming a grind every other week. However this is where we find ourselves these days and for the next few seasons at least. It would be nice to try to solve the striker issues but we all know the financial restraints so we just have to accept that this is who we have and this is how it’s going to be. A new year, but the same outcome for me.”
Craig’s Prediction: QPR 0-2 Cardiff. No scorer.
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-0 Cardiff. Scorer – Matt Smith
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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