|Sheffield United 2 v 1 Queens Park Rangers|
Tuesday, 20th February 2018 Kick-off 19:45
Travel sick QPR head north - Preview
Tuesday, 20th Feb 2018 13:19 by Dave Barton and Clive Whittingham
QPR's latest attempt to correct their appalling away form comes at play-off chasing Sheffield United this evening - Dave Barton looks ahead.
Sheff Utd (15-4-12, WWLLWL, 8th) v QPR (10-9-13, WLLWLW, 15th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Tuesday February 20, 2018 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Cold and cloudy >>> Bramall Lane, Sheffield
A midweek away trip to the far reaches of the north seems to be a regular fixture in the QPR calendar. These are not trips I’ve done for a few years now but I used to be a regular at these kind of games seeing some great wins at Wrexham, Barnsley and Sheffield United as well as some dire nights at Port Vale and Blackburn.
I remember one midweek trip to Port Vale saw Warren Barton make his QPR debut, a real thrill for me to see my surname on the back of a QPR shirt - the reality was less exciting as he produced a sprint which made Bob Malcolm look like Usain Bolt as for the first but not for the last time I sat in a QPR end full of fans screaming abuse at a Barton. At least Warren only stayed for a month and was quickly forgotten.
A more memorable trip was to Sheffield United in 2003 where Rangers managed to win 2-0 in the League Cup and I backed Martin Rowlands for first goalscorer at 16/1 which paid for the trip.
It takes a special kind of supporter to make these kind of trips, even more so when there is very little on the game. This week’s trip to Sheffield United is unlikely to have a massive impact on where we finish this season but it’s a good opportunity to build on another good home result and close the gap on those above us.
Saturday’s game won’t live long in the memory but it was an important win moving us further clear of the drop and closing the gap on the teams above us. Although most QPR fans will continue to look at the gap below us we should now be in a position to start looking up and trying to finish the season as high as we can.
Sheffield United will prove a tough test though, we managed to beat them earlier this season but they looked an impressive side that night and one who are still within touching distance of the playoffs which is an outstanding effort for their first season back at this level.
They even managed a cup run narrowly losing to Leicester on Friday but even in defeat they once again showed they are a more than capable side.
Rangers should travel north with some confidence though after Saturday's win moved us closer points wise to Sheffield United than we are from the bottom three. Four wins from the last seven games is a very good return and is something than we need to build on in the next few weeks rather than putting our feet up thinking job done for the season.
What worked so well against Bolton at the weekend isn’t necessarily what is required at Sheffield United on a big pitch where the team’s lack of pace has often been exposed this season. Also injuries are likely to play a part with Bidwell and Robinson both expected to miss out a change of formation is a possibility for this game.
That made the return of the original Messiah Paul Smyth a timely one, his pace on the break is something which could be a real benefit for the team in games like this one.
If he starts the game he is likely to replace Conor Washington who continues to struggle. He’s a very frustrating player to watch at the moment, he’s almost good in everything he does but it never quite happens for him. At least once a game he will control a ball in the air with a wonderful first touch before his second touch will take him either straight into a defender or out of play.
I also find it comical to watch his running off the ball, never have I seen a player make the wrong decision so often running early anticipating a flick on and almost every time picking the wrong side the run as the ball is flicked in the other direction. When he does read it correctly and gets onto the ball he is usually offside.
He certainly has the ability to kick on but it’s not quite happening for him still and he’s going to need to start taking the chances that come his way if he’s going to stay in the side. He’s on six goals so far this season so he is quite capable of reaching double figures this year which would be a good effort but whether he is the answer for QPR long term remains doubtful.
Rangers away form over the last few years has been pretty dire so a change in that starting at Sheffield United would give everyone at the club a real boost and give a bit more belief to supporters that things are changing for the better at the club.
Neil Warnock’s brilliant QPR team won 3-0 on the R’s last visit to Bramall Lane seven years ago – goals from Hogan Ephraim, Jamie Mackie and Adel Taarabt gave a hint of the title-winning season to come and got Blades boss Kevin Blackwell the sack.
Team News: While nothing like the crisis that tied Ian Holloway’s hands in the first half of the season, the injuries are starting to stack up again for QPR and – once more – it’s the defence that’s hardest hit. Jack Robinson and Jake Bidwell are both doubts tonight potentially leaving the R’s short of a left back, but James Perch is apparently available to slot in there and Joel Lynch’s improving form makes it less of a headache than it might have been. Ryan Manning serves game three of three on the naughty step while Grant Hall, Jamie Mackie and David Wheeler are all long term absentees. Idrissa Sylla is on his way back from a calf injury, Jordan Cousins is permanently absent with some sort of hamstring/illness concerns.
The Blades have problems in goal with Jamal Blackman injured and Simon Moore grounded which could see youngster Jake Eastwood between the sticks. John Fleck is also on the naughty step while striker James Wilson went off at half time in Friday’s FA Cup game with Leicester so is a doubt. Paul Coutts is on the long term list.
Elsewhere: Eight matches today and a further four tomorrow. Two big six-pointers at the bottom as relegation haunted Sunderland and Bolton clash in the North East while Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion meet Barnsley. Birmingham and Allam Tigers have a chance to move away from the losing two sides but have tough away games at Brentford and Middlesbrough.
Pretty much of a muchness elsewhere although Big Racist John and the Boys against Preston Knob End is a decent clash between two promotion contenders. Nottingham Trees v Reading and in-form Millwall Scholars v Sheffield Owls holds little interest.
Much more about the top end of the league tomorrow with leaders Sporting Wolverhampton at home to Borussia Norwich in an exciting European clash, Derby Sheep at home to the Champions of Europe and Ipswich Blue Sox welcoming the Eighth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour. Bristol City v Tarquin and Rupert another clash between two play-off contenders.
Referee: Oliver Langford, a regular and usually (touch wood) very sound figure on the Championship refereeing circuit, is in charge tonight. His extensive QOPR case history and recent stats are available here.
Sheff Utd: The Blades were league leaders when they were beaten by impressive QPR at Loftus Road in October – that week with the wins against Wolves and Sheff Utd the highlight of the season at Rangers so far – but have dropped off somewhat since and now sit eighth. That game was in the midst of a run of ten wins from 13 games but a remarkable 4-5 home reverse to Fulham has set in motion a run of three league wins in 14 games – disguised slightly by a couple of FA Cup wins. They’ve lost three of the last four without scoring prior to this one. Overall at home they’ve won nine, drawn two and lost five with Villa, Bolton, Bristol City, Fulham and Norwich victorious at Bramall Lane – they’ve won just two of their last eight league games at home.
QPR: Another win at home at the weekend further highlights the chronic problem with this QPR team. At Loftus Road they’ve won eight games – the same as Fulham in fifth and Bristol City in sixth have managed in their home games. But Rangers are fifteenth, because their away form is absolutely abysmal – just two wins all season at Birmingham and Bolton and only three on the road since the January last year. The defeat at Wolves, however unfortunate, made it three losses from four road trips.
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. This week our reigning champion Southend_Rsss, who was spot on with his Bolton call, tells us…
“Spot on prediction for me at the weekend in a game I couldn’t actually attend. Although feedback from my dad suggested that we could have scored a couple more from the balance of play, also that Bolton never really looked like scoring. However in true QPR fashion, we leave it until the death to seal the three points. However you saw the game and looked at it, it was a positive result against a team we should be beating. A confidence boosting result which will lead us nicely into the away fixture at Sheffield United on Tuesday.
“Sheffield United have looked decent all season. They’ve played well at home and even though recently have lost games to teams above them and dropped a few places in the league, they’ve done the business against teams below them when asked. I’m sure they will be looking at us as a real banana skin tomorow night. A game which they will need to win to keep the pressure on the teams around them, whilst chasing a playoff place themselves.
“To be honest this could go either way. Looking at it I’d be really happy with a draw as they look strong at home and it could have all the makings of a good game. I’d just love us to be that ‘pain in the arse’ team from now until the end of the season, who take points off sides who are up there that need them.
“Personally the main focus for me is on Saturday and Nottingham Forest and avenging the pathetic display we gave up there when I left before the end and heard the final goal hit the back of the net as I was fumingly walking across the Trent. I’d take a hard fought draw at Sheffield United if it meant we then put all our efforts into our home game against Forest on Saturday, stick it to them and get the 3 points to heal the wounds from their place back in November. Anyway enough about Forest. I’ll go for…
Craig’s Prediction: Sheff Utd 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Conor Washington
LFW’s Prediction: Sheff Utd 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Matt Smith
The Twitter @david_barton76, @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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