|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 3 Middlesbrough|
Saturday, 20th January 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Boro visit as much needed exodus continues - Preview
Friday, 19th Jan 2018 18:41 by Clive Whittingham
Amidst a slew of player departures, improving QPR host Tony Pulis' Middlesbrough at a frozen Loftus Road on Saturday.
QPR (8-9-10, DDLWLW, 14th) v Middlesbrough (12-5-10, WWLWWL, 9th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday January 20, 2017 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Heavy rain, freezing cold >>> Loftus Road, London, W12
For two teams that often pass like ships in the night, one going up just as the other is coming down (17 league meetings since 1983), it’s a game that has had its moments.
A 0-0 draw on this ground in April 1989 instantly forgettable, until a post-match public address announcement about the developing situation at that day’s FA Cup semi-final at Hillsborough. You couldn’t have had a more contrasting on pitch experience when the sides next met at Loftus Road in 1992, newly promoted Boro suffering at the hands of QPR’s brilliant midfield and attack but exposing the flaws in Gerry Francis’ defence and goalkeeper in a 3-3 draw sealed with a last minute penalty from Andy Sinton.
There was an eleven-year gap in games between the two from 1998 to 2009, bookended by a pair of remarkable fixtures. The first saw one of the worst QPR teams in living memory (Harper, Bardsley, Yates, Ready, Perry (Bruce), Quashie (Heinola) Kulscar, Morrow, Kennedy, Sheron, Gallen (Slade)) snap a run of one win in 15 with a ridiculous 5-0 win. Rangers were 4-0 up at half time, all the goals coming in the final ten minutes of the half, from Steve Vickers (og), Paul Bruce, Kevin Gallen and Mike Sheron. Sheron added a fifth before half time against a Boro side that would go onto win promotion to the Premier League with 91 points in second place (Dibble, Pearson (Maddison), Fleming, Vickers, Festa, Thomas (Beck), Townsend, Mustoe, Merson, Branca, Hignett (Armstrong)). Andy Townsend’s quickfire double yellow and on pitch meltdown only adding to the fun.
Fast forward a decade and roles were somewhat reversed. QPR, flush with the new money of Flavio Briatore’s takeover, had finally started to click into gear under Jim Magilton, including that memorable three week spell where they beat Barnsley 5-2, Derby 4-2, Preston 4-0, Reading 4-1 with ten men and Sheff Wed away 2-1. There’d been a defeat at Doncaster, when Magilton foolishly changed a winning team to accommodate a couple of gratuitous loan signings – Tommy Williams and Steven Reid picked, Adel Taarabt left out – but few could have seen a 5-1 home shellacking coming. Dave Kitson and Leroy Lita ran amok, sharing three goals with Gary O’Neil and Mark Yeates the others.
QPR played again two days later at Watford live on Sky, losing 3-1, which was followed by Magilton’s nadir in the dressing room, sticking the nut on Akos Buszaky, getting the sack, and bringing an end to a period of glorious, free-scoring football that went away as quickly and randomly as it arrived. Few games summed up the strengths of the team Neil Warnock subsequently salvaged from those ashes than the two 3-0 wins against Gordon Strachan’s abysmal SPL-lite Boro side the following season.
The teams meet again in West London tomorrow, again in weird positions. Middlesbrough were red hot title favourites this season with the purists’ favourite manager Garry Monk installed and a veritable fortune spent on players including Britt Assombalonga (£15m), Ashley Fletcher (£6.5m, ludicrous), Darren Randolph (£5m), and a whole host of undisclosed fees for proven Championship players like Jonny Howson, Cyrus Christie and Ryan Shotton; French league marksman Martin Braithwaite and lower league prospects Marvin Johnson and George Miller. Boro chairman Steve Gibson is often misquoted as saying Boro would “smash” the Championship this year, he actually said they “wanted to smash” it. There’s been no smashing of any sorts, Boro are ninth, nine points off the automatic spots and Monk has gone.
He’s an odd one Garry Monk. Talks a good game, and if you read about his training and methods in Michael Calvin’s excellent Living on the Volcano book he’d be top of anybody’s list for a managerial vacancy. You could say Swansea have never been as good since he left, Leeds only dropped out of the promotion race after a decade of being nowhere near it when Cellino started messing about with his contract, and he was sacked after an away win with Boro in touch with the play offs. But you could also say he’s failed and been sacked by the club that considers him a local hero, bottled out of the play-off picture altogether at Leeds having been pushing for automatic promotion at one stage, and then spent a fortune at Boro with meagre returns. His next move, and how he does there, interesting to casual observers, and crucial to his lofty reputation.
Boro have since turned to Tony Pulis, who’s already left Assombalonga out in favour of the more physical Rudy Gestede in a 1-0 loss at home to Fulham last week. From Aitor Karanka, and his flat back nine, to Tony Pulis, inside a year – not sure what the good people of Teeside have done to deserve that.
They arrive at a QPR side in unusual transfer window action. Rangers have been like a giant demented gnat plunged into an episode of Supermarket Sweep after some bad acid whenever the transfer window has been open during Tony Fernandes’ reign. But now, with Financial Fair Play wrenching their arm up their back, some sanity has been restored. Yeni Ngbakoto, Steven Caulker, Reece Grego Cox, Michael Petrasso, Brandon Comley, Sean Goss and shortly Dan Darbyshire, Axel Prohouly and Dan Rowe have all departed already. If they can be shifted, Jay Emmanuel Thomas, Ariel Borysiuk and several others besides will also swing through the exit door.
All of these departures have had absolutely zero impact on the first team. When you can release ten players without touching your matchday squad, that tells you something. For all the “shocking” and “disgusting” insta-reactions to the Grego-Cox and Petrasso moves in particular, none of these players were anywhere close to the first team. QPR have used 62 players in their Under 23s this season and while that does include several triallists, it also includes four goalkeepers. Chelsea may be able to rack and stack footballers they have no intention of using, perpetually loaning them out to non-threatening clubs so as to avoid them turning up at Tottenham and being the new Dele Alli, but a club in QPR’s tightening financial situation cannot. Rangers could bomb another ten players out and still not even nibble the sides of even their first team bench.
Grego-Cox looked a good prospect, and spoke very well when we interviewed him a few years ago, but a knee injury while on loan at Newport did him few favours and he’s 21 now – he needs to be playing regular football. Woking have picked him up. Michael Petrasso, kept on but never used by a succession of QPR managers, has never looked a Championship standard player to me (albeit with limited opportunities to prove us otherwise) and has signed for Montreal Impact. There is a feeling, and I had this with Michael Doherty as well, that QPR have kept players around for fear of them going somewhere else and tearing up trees. They’ve now been forced to admit that if you’ve decided Aramide Oteh and Paul Smyth are you best striking prospects from the youth set up, you can’t keep half a dozen other young strikers hanging around playing no proper football just in case. Nothing “shocking” or “disgusting” about it.
Three wins over Christmas has lessened the need to add significantly to the team, if at all. Spending what little money we have to try and move from fourteenth to tenth (surely that’s all it would be?) doesn’t really make sense so it could be a month entirely of departures. Something the squad has needed for a long time to clear space on a diminishing wage bill for a few more Freeman and Scowen types next summer. Amongst a clutch of out of contract players perhaps the most intriguing are Nedum Onouha and Jack Robinson (both playing well, both expensive) and Joe Lumley, who’s already in flying form on loan at Blackpool just as he was at Bristol Rovers last season.
Meantime, let’s hope renewed confidence from improved form over Christmas sees us claim another reasonably sized scalp at Loftus Road tomorrow. Judging by the weather, we’ll need it just to live through the afternoon.
Highlights from a bizarre meeting between these two sides on this ground in 1997/98 when one of the worst QPR teams in living memory suddenly beat promotion chasing Boro 5-0. Features footage of Paul Bruce playing like Roberto Carlos and a meltdown and red card for Andy Townsend, as if the scoreline wasn’t funny enough already.
Team News: Alex Baptiste missed the win at Burton with the back injury sustained against MK Dons and will be checked late – Joel Lynch the most likely to make way if he is passed fit and selected. Darnell Furlong was excellent on his long overdue return to the side last week and with Jordan Cousins still has hamstring problems so he should retain his spot unless Holloway decides to recall Pawel Wszolek. Paul Smyth has a thigh issue and Jamie Mackie is out long term with back surgery so the strikers will be any two from Sylla, Smith, Washington, Oteh and whoever else Holloway finds kicking around. David Wheeler, subject of fairly thin press speculation this week, has an ankle problem.
Boro have a had a flu bug in the squad this week but aren’t expected to be missing anybody for this game. Top scorer Britt Assombalonga was only on the bench for the 1-0 home defeat to Fulham last weekend – pure Pulis – but may be back to start against the team he scored against in September.
Elsewhere: Strap yourselves in for another exciting weekend of Mercantile Credit Trophy fun and games. Actually, don’t, as a previous editor of mine said when banning the term in copy, we want people to be excited, but it’s not a fucking roller-coaster.
Still, Derby Sheep have crept quietly into second in pure Gary Rowett style and will fancy their chances against an over stretched Bristol City side in the TV game this evening. Uncle Neil has set sail on another January recharge operation for his Eighth Annual Farewell Tour, although such is Cardiff’s position after four straight league defeats they’ve agreed to a loan deal for Liverpool’s Marko Grujic that includes financial penalties if he doesn’t start at least 14 games between now and May – another indication of how expensive and tricky the loan market is getting for teams at our level looking to add Premier League talent to their ranks. They’re on the box against Sheffield Owls tomorrow night.
In between, a feast of mediocrity, and in the case of Sunderland against the Allam Tigers, not even that.
The Champions of Europe at home to the Millwall Scholars is always a fun-filled, family affair. Bolton v Ipswich Blue Sox likely to be somewhat less intense.
West Ham’s Norwegian youngster Martin Samuelsen looks a shrewd loan signing for Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion as they attempt to make it four away wins in a row at Tarquin and Rupert’s riverside retreat. Fellow struggles Birmingham are away at Preston Knob End.
At the other end of the spectrum, Sporting Wolverhampton continue their relentless charge to the title with a home game against Nottingham Trees, Sheffield Red Stripes will hope Borussia Norwich are tired after their hilarious trolling of Big Racist John’s Old Boys in the FA Cup during the week. Big Racist John’s New Boys are at home to Barnsley.
I don’t think I’ve mentioned Reading v Brentford yet. So there it is.
QPR: There’s a weird symmetry to a lot of what’s happening to QPR this season when compared to what happened last. A six game winless run through December has given way to three wins, two draws and one defeat from the last six. The run is spoiled somewhat by the home loss to MK Dons in the FA Cup but when QPR lost at that stage of the competition last season, to Blackburn, they won the three games either side of it (Ipswich H, Wolves A, Reading A) and can replicate that again with a win on Saturday having beaten Cardiff and Burton before and after the cup exit. Rangers have won six, drawn four and lost three at home this season which is exactly the same record as seventh-placed Leeds. Rangers are currently nine points away from the relegation zone and ten away from the play-offs.
Middlesbrough: Since dismissing Garry Monk in the wake of an away win at Sheffield Wednesday, Middlesbrough have alternated wins and defeats, with victories against Bolton (2-0) and away to Preston (3-2), and 1-0 home defeats to Villa and Fulham. That’s in keeping with their season to date which has seen 12 wins, five draws and ten defeats. Away from home they’re similarly balanced with five wins (Bolton, Reading, Hull, Sheff Wed, Preston), three draws (Villa, Fulham, Barnsley) and five defeats (Wolves, Forest, Leeds, Bristol City, Millwall). Boro are the only team in the league not to drop a point a winning position this season – they’ve won all 12 games they’ve lead in.
Prediction: The winner of this year’s Prediction League (and the person top at the end of February) 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.
I fancy us. No idea why. Probably turn out to be wrong. Things just feel like they’re on a slightly upward curve at the moment.
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-1 Middlesbrough. Scorer – Luke Freeman
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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