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Preston North End 1 v 0 Queens Park Rangers
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Saturday, 4th August 2018 Kick-off 15:00
QPR’s Villa Park prospects as bleak as the weather – Preview
Friday, 2nd Mar 2018 13:22 by Clive Whittingham

Unless the weather holds then QPR, two away wins all season, head to Aston Villa, one home defeat so far, on Saturday.

Aston Villa (18-9-7, WWWLDW, 3rd) v QPR (10-9-15, LWLWLL, 16th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday February 3, 2018 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – You’re kidding right? >>> Villa Park, Birmingham

With the wind blowing slightly stronger than it usually does at this time of year and the snow reaching nearly an inch in some rural areas, the country has gone into its usual frenzy of 24 hour rolling news coverage from the side of motorways, people being trapped in trains in the New Forest for three days with one working toilet and mass panic buying of Monster Munch and four packs of Tyskie Polish lager.

We’re running out of meat, bread, gas and time. Every old person you know will be dead in an hour in this continues. Every commuter must complete their journey today by 15.00 or risk exploding into a thousand pieces. We’re trapped in part tundra, part polar vortex, brought on by ‘The Beast from The East’ and ‘Storm Em Babes’ colliding violently over our fair island. Or, as it’s also known, winter.

Everything is cancelled. Trains, planes, road transport, new episodes of The Yorkshire Vet, theatre, cinema and church services. Football matches with unplayable pitches are off because the pitches are unplayable. Football matches with playable pitches are off because people apparently cannot be trusted to make their way over a bit of snow without slipping over and cracking their heads open sending the goo within slopping out onto the icy pavements. Managers, players, administrators, TV presenters, police, fire, clergymen and members of the royal family are queuing up to nod sagely into cameras and trot out trite old lines about people’s safety being the top priority and football being put into perspective “at times like these”. “Times like these” being, as I say, winter. Passing Canadians and Scandinavians think this is a fucking riot.

Everything, that is, except Aston Villa v QPR tomorrow which, at the time of writing, is still steadfastly determined to go ahead. A sourceof great disappointment to Rangers fans everywhere who were dearly looking forward to celebrating a P-P tomorrow afternoon with a nice glass of red and a roaring fire somewhere. It would, by some distance, be QPR’s best away result of the season.

If it does beat the “big freeze” (winter) then QPR are generally priced around 17/4 to win it and, frankly, that really is the final straw for me and the bookmakers. I point blankly refuse to sit there and listen to their various claims about how they’ve got the best odds on the Premier League 23 times out of 30, or might spin a wheel and quadruple my bet if I deposit £15 before half five, or will return 48% of my money in the form of a free bet if legs seven or eight of my mental acca let me down in the final six minutes of matches. I am now deaf to Ray Winstone and his community of gormless shitgibbons around the world, to Chris Kamara and his absolutely fucking hilarious ad hoc commentary on bits of old shit some ad sales wanker found on the internet, to that prick in the wheelchair and his bloody song and to those thundercunts that live ‘the Ladbrokes life’. A festering sore on the side of an already ethically questionable sporting behemoth, that goes without saying, but they’ve gone too far this time.

17/4? Have a day off. Grow some bloody chest hair and price it at what it should be - 20s, 25s maybe even 30/1. QPR, with two away wins all season (against two of the division’s three worst teams), and three away wins since the turn of last year (two of them at Birmingham City), away to Aston Villa who have lost fewer home games than any other team in the league and won more than everybody except the top two on their own patch. QPR, absolutely destroyed by Nottingham Forest (seventeenth at the time) at Loftus Road last week, against Villa who won 4-2 at Sheff Wed to make it one defeat and eight victories in their last ten games. QPR, who twice last season went on six-match losing runs, and were two last minute goals against Brentford away from adding a third such-run to their catalogue this season, against Aston Villa who have registered wins in all three of those sequences. 17/4 my arse.

We’re going. Of course we’re going. Train leaves at 09.40, so the game will probably be called off about 09.42 tomorrow. But I can rarely recall travelling to an away game with less hope of us winning it and the big problem is the team looks and plays like it feels the same these days.

There’s been much talk of the formation this week, with Ian Holloway’s favoured wing backs system coming under fire after Forest, for the second time this season, followed the lead of Sheff Utd and others in recent weeks by getting in behind the wide defenders and exposing the left and right centre backs to brutal effect. Forest have been particularly adept at doing this to us over 180 minutes this season, scoring nine times – more than 20% of the goals they’ve scored in total this season.

It certainly does have many problems, and the latest one may be that the three midfield players (Scowen, Luongo and Freeman) the system is designed to get into the team together in their favoured positions are running on fumes. No doubt had he switched them around and rested them over the past few months Holloway would have been berated for tinkering, messing about with the team, tombola machine and so on – just as he was last season. But when you look at Scowen and Luongo in particular against Forest, both absolute baggage, you do have to wonder whether flogging them through every single minute they’ve been available for this season while the likes of Ryan Manning have barely played is now coming back to bite us.

Holloway has said today, in amongst many other things, that it’s “not about formations” and while that sounds like the sort of fuckwittery Harry Redknapp usually comes out with when he’s tossing games away because “they’ve got the better players, it’s about players not systems and they’ve got better players than us” I do get what he’s saying. QPR fans always think the answer is just around the corner. If Sylla isn’t playing then he should be, and once he is we’ll be fine. If Manning isn’t playing then he should be and that will solve everything. Furlong, Wszolek, Smyth, I lose track in the end. At QPR your reputation and standing among the fans can be boosted tremendously by not playing – you very quickly become the answer to whatever problem is going on at the moment. If we’re playing 3-5-2 then we should be playing 4-3-3. If we’re playing 4-3-3 we should be playing 4-4-2 and so on.

If Eddie Howe can get Bournemouth to the Premier League and keep them there, and Nigel Clough do likewise in this league with Burton, then nobody will ever convince me that formations, tactics and management don’t matter if you haven’t got the players. But at the same time, if you think QPR are a switch to 4-4-2 (which would presumably necessitate moving Luke Freeman into the wide role he was ineffective in at Bristol City) away from suddenly flying up this table I have my doubts. We could be doing better, particularly away from home, and to say this group of players can only possibly play wing backs and anything else would see them torn apart and humiliated is a bit of a stretch. But it’s a limited squad, particularly up front. There’s no easy answer or quick fix.

A bigger problem than the system, away from home at least, is the belief, or lack of it. We just don’t look like we believe we’re going to get anything out of the games. We were unlucky, particularly at Sheff Wed and Sunderland, early in the season when the team was playing reasonably well, and if we’d won those and got the away win total up to four maybe it wouldn’t be weighing so heavily on them. But in the recent games we just look absolutely bereft from the start, only to then start playing once the game is lost and the pressure is off to an extent. We don’t play with enough tempo or aggression away from home. We don’t look nasty or determined enough to even keep goals out and dig in for a 0-0. We’re easy to score against and make it look painfully hard to score ourselves. We’re a soft touch. I’m reminded of that Hogan Ephraim speech in the Four Year Plan. And I’m not sure a change of formation solves much of that.

Which then leads to the next stage in the constant hunger for change – a new manager. Another quick fix, easy thing to call for, if you’re willing to ignore four issues. Firstly, QPR have one huge FFP fine hanging over their heads already and are frantically scrambling to avoid breaching the new rules as well. Any new manager would have to accept a smaller budget next year than we have this, and a smaller one the year after that again, as the parachute payments end. Battling away at a club with high expectations where the money has run out isn’t an attractive proposition, who would come? Secondly, a related point, Ian Holloway and his staff are under contract and would need paying off, which in turn would eat into the skinted budget further – keep Holloway and use the money to buy a better centre back, or spend money to sack him and start next season with Lynch and Baptiste as our partnership? Thirdly, since sacking Neil Warnock five permanent managers have been through this club and none of them have been able to do any good – old and young, experienced and inexperienced, QPR and non-QPR, money to spend and no money to spend, we’ve had it all and everything in between. Why would changing again suddenly work this time? Those five didn’t even get any new manager bounce to start with. And fourthly while it’s ridiculous to believe that there is absolutely nobody anywhere in world football who would come to QPR in its current circumstance who could possibly do better than Ian Holloway and Marc Bircham, where does this faith that our board would be able to find them come from? What’s that based on?

All of which paints a picture as bleak as the weather ahead of tomorrow’s trip to Villa Park, so sorry about that. If you’re looking for a positive, things are meant to improve by Tuesday – climatically that is, not on the pitch, when it’s fourth-placed Derby in town.

Links >>> Trevor Francis hat trick – History >>> On the home straight – Interview >>> Robinson in charge – Referee >>> Running up that Hill – Podcast

QPR actually inflicted a cup upset rather than suffering one when they travelled to Premier League Villa in September 2008 in the Third Round of the League Cup. Jamaican defender Damion Stewart headed in Dani Parejo’s cross for the only goal of the game to set up a fourth round trip to Man Utd. Typically of that time though, manager Iain Dowie didn’t live to see the Old Trafford game, sacked despite winning eight of his first 15 games of the season.

Saturday

Team News: All this snow seems to have fooled Joel Lynch into thinking it’s Christmas again because he’s out with a mixture of illness and a knock. Other than that it’s as you were for the Forest debacle with Idrissa Sylla still struggling with a calf complaint and Jamie Mackie, David Wheeler and Grant Hall all sidelined long term.

Bad news for Rangers from the Villa end – Albert Adomah is fit again after missing the last three. Adomah, a QPR fan, played for Harrow Borough down the road for years and has since punished Rangers for not picking him up by repeatedly playing well against us. He scored twice at Loftus Road in the first meeting this season. Gentleman Jack Grealish is out but hoping the ointment and antibiotics will have started to work by the time Villa are back in action on Tuesday. Alan Hutton is also sidelined by an Irn Bru overdose.

Elsewhere: With all the usual caveats about ‘time of writing’ and ‘weather permitting’ going without saying, the Mercantile Credit Trophy allegedly gets underway tonight with what is technically a Yorkshire derby between Middlesbrough and the Champions of Europe live on Sky Sports Leeds at 19.45.

Tomorrow we’ve already lost Barnsley v Borussia Norwich, Ipswich Blue Sox v Allam Tigers and Sheffield Red Stripes against Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion and more will surely follow.

If not, then the TV game in the evening is Sporting Wolverhampton against Reading, who drew less than 7,000 to their home game with Sheff Utd during the week and are looking a good bet for the drop if any of those already occupying the bottom three ever manage to get their arses in gear and string a run together.

Of those, there’s a tough game for Sunderland at in form Millwall Scholars. The Mackems are bottom on 27 points at the moment, five adrift of safety, and their 12 remaining fixtures include Villa, Preston and Wolves at home, Fulham, Derby and Leeds away. Games at QPR and Reading and at home to Burton, Norwich and Sheff Wed will surely have to be won at a bare minimum to escape.

Birmingham are third bottom two points behind Barnsley and away to Nottingham Trees this weekend. With the Burton, Barnsley and Hull games all off it’s a huge opportunity for them but they’ve lost their last four games without scoring a goal. They too face a run in that’s equally split between six pointers (Hull and Burton at home, QPR and Bolton away) and no hopers (Middlesbrough, Sheff Utd and Fulham home, Cardiff, Bristol City and Wolves away). Bolton are at home to Preston Knob End, similarly looking to take advantage of postponements and put some breathing space between them and what lies beneath.

Three more games to mention all involving teams at the top end – Derby Sheep v Tarquin and Rupert probably the game of the weekend, Brentford v the Eighth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour not far behind and Bristol City v Sheffield Owls crucial to the home team’s play-off hopes.

Then a full programme to come on Tuesday, naturally.

Referee: Tim Robinson is a regular at QPR games over the past couple of years, and is clearly being lined up for a promotion from this division given the amount of top Championship games and TV dates he’s been getting. But his pedantic nature, flurry of cards, complete aversion to any physical contact at corners and long, drawn out conversations with players can make him a bit of a pain and in our game with Cardiff on New Year’s Day he lost the plot entirely. Details here.

Form

Villa: A recent little blip with a home draw against Preston and away loss to Fulham, both fellow top six contenders, had been preceded by seven straight league wins and was recovered from with last weekend’s thumping 4-2 win at Sheffield Wednesday. Villa have scored 21 goals across those ten games and conceded just eight. They’ve won ten out of 17 games at home this season, only the top two Wolves and Cardiff have more with 12 each. No team in the league has lost as few at home as Villa who’ve only been beaten here once, 1-0 by Sheff Wed back in November.

QPR: Well let’s get this over with again then. QPR’s away form is abysmal. Only Birmingham (11) have lost more than Rangers’ ten on the road this season, only Bolton (one) have won fewer than our two. Since the turn of last year QPR have won three times on the road, twice at Birmingham City and once at Burton. Since Ian Holloway returned as manager the away record stands at five wins, seven draws and 20 defeats. Rangers have lost seven and won four of the last eleven, and have been beaten in three of the last four coming into this game including the last two. The home defeat to Aston Villa before Christmas was part of the latest six-match horror run that this time included five defeats and a lucky draw against Brentford. Rangers lost six in a row twice last season and Villa, along with Tuesday’s opponents Derby, were involved in both as well as this season’s pre-Christmas slump. Rangers have lost their last six games against the Villains and the Rams, scoring just once and conceding eight.

Prediction: Elliott42 held on to win The Art of Football Prediction League goodies for the second third of the season and will now set off down the home straight hoping to make it a clean sweep. If you’re not in the running you can still browse their QPR Collection here and purchase something instead. This week our reigning champion Southend_Rsss tells us…

“Moving on from last Saturday and just trying to put that showing out of mind, it leaves us now facing two tough fixtures. Fixtures that are easily loseable and, if so, would result in us mirroring where we found ourselves last year - on a potential slippery ‘losing run’ slope towards the end of another drab season. Then to top it off, a visit from almost certainly doomed Sunderland which could easily turn into one of those games where they manage to win for the first time in seven or something like that. Charity Park Rangers at its finest. Then looking at the game after that, Fulham away, live on the TV, oh fecking wonderful.

“I’m dreading Saturday and the only thing I’m latching onto, is that surely we can’t play as bad as how we played against Forest. Playing wise, tactical wise, coaching wise, team coherence wise… surely all those can’t collectively fail again when it comes to this weekend against Aston Villa. I do think we will score, but we are more than likely going to be on the receiving end of a potential battering. Yes we will no doubt give a certain arsewipe all the abuse under the sun, but you just know that it’ll all come back to hurt us by final whistle.

“I can’t see anything other than a defeat here I’m afraid. Sorry for the doom and gloom. That Forest game has just really got under my skin. I just hope we actually turn up and give them a bit of a game.”

Craig’s Prediction: Aston Villa 3-1 QPR. Scorer – Matt Smith

LFW’s Prediction: Aston Villa 3-0 QPR. No Scorer.

The Twitter @loftforwords

Pictures – Action Images

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cheeseydane added 15:08 - Mar 2
Passing Canadians and Scandinavians think this is a f.cking riot.

Made me chuckle. Colder here in Denmark yet the country just carries on as normal but with thermals on. Its the norm.
A very bleak yet entertaining preview.
Lol had to change your unacceptable grammar to post. :)
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Myke added 23:35 - Mar 2
Brilliant Clive. It was (is) exactly the same in Ireland. Because Dublin got a few flakes for a change, the country ground to a halt. All day they had a 'weather watch' programme. It reminded me of Jim White on Transfer deadline day, as the presenter desperately spoke to all her correspondents around the country looking for evidence of the snow and wind. The Government even tried to impose a 4pm curfew yesterday. I sent the station an email yesterday re all the above and said the only thing missing was that Colette (presenter) wasn't wearing yellow! Lo an behold she was wearing yellow today, my influence is far greater than I imagined!
On to more mundane football matters, it is difficult to see anything but a comfortable Villa win tomorrow, but I thought the same when we went to Newcastle last year, so you never know
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TacticalR added 23:57 - Mar 2
Thanks for your preview.

That's a very good point that the 'formation debate' is a subtle variation on the quick fix theme. We've got over the 'new player debate' because we can't afford any and we didn't buy any during the last transfer window. We've got over 'the new manager debate' because Holloway is still here and in case everyone is fed up to the back teeth with that debate.

The last time we met Villa I thought they were a physical but limited Steve Bruce team, and won the game through a bit of power up front with Adomah. Like a lot of teams in this division they are taller than us, so more comfortable playing head tennis, and more comfortable on corners. Corners have caused a lot of trouble for us recently because we are not very good at defending them and not very good at scoring from them. In most games the first goal is all important because we really need something to hold on to.
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ridethewave added 23:41 - Mar 3
“But at the same time, if you think QPR are a switch to 4-4-2 (which would presumably necessitate moving Luke Freeman into the wide role he was ineffective in at Bristol City)”

Why would it? Stick Freeman behind the striker in the number 10 role. Simple. That maintains the middle three in what we all agree to be their beat positions, allows for a flat back four with proper full backs, allows for two proper wingers playing higher up the pitch, and frees the team to play to their strengths. Football really is that simple.

Of course we’re all armchair managers though aren’t we...
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timcocking added 01:56 - Mar 5
Tiredness? No.

Professional athletes are easily capable of playing a game of football now and then. Tiredness is either complete nonsense, just media talk which isn't real, or if they are, it's down to incompetent over training by the management. Which is, i suspect, the reason. Recovery is the most vital part of fitness and if they've got them training all week, that's where the issues will be.

It's more likely they are struggling because the team is struggling. Freeman and Luongo are probably both aware they are better than this team and want away, and Scowen is too one dimensional to have any effect on his own.
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