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Preston North End 1 v 0 Queens Park Rangers
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 4th August 2018 Kick-off 15:00
No accounting for excitement – Preview
Friday, 9th Mar 2018 19:24 by Clive Whittingham

Some improvements on the pitch against Derby, and on the balance sheet in the latest accounts, now can QPR step it up again against bottom-placed Sunderland?

QPR (10-10-15, WLWLLD, 16th) v Sunderland (5-13-18, DLLDDL, 24th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday March 10, 2018 >>> Kick off 15.00 >>> Weather – Getting warmer, light rain round kick off >>> Travel – No Hammersmith/Circle between Hammersmith and Baker Street, no Overground north of the Bush >>> Loftus Road, London, W12

QPR’s latest set of accounts, released this week, are, as we’ve come to expect, pretty grim reading. But there are different shades of grim, and we’re into a much more beige phase these days after the deep black, burning money early Tony Fernandes days of Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp which caused the mess we now find ourselves in.

The club is still wholly reliant on money being loaned into the business by the owners – interest on this is currently accumulating but, at the moment, being converted into shares for Ruben Gnanalingam rather than having to be paid to him by the club. More than £7m in interest on loans in excess of £40m was due this time and all converted to stock, further diluting Tony Fernandes’ ownership of the club. Without that money, and the ongoing parachute payments which were just under £20m for last season (the period the accounts cover) and drop to just under £10m this season and again next before disappearing forever, we’d be up the creek. Ticket revenues dropped by almost a quarter of a million pounds to £5.4m, which as previously discussed doesn’t even cover the running of the stadium and training ground before a single salary is paid to any of the 111 employees on the club’s books last season.

Positive news - the wage bill came down £10m, from around £40m to around £30m, for 2016/17, and the losses were reduced from £11m to £6m – reminder that from next season QPR will only be allowed to lose £39m over a rolling three year period to qualify for the current FFP regulations. I’d expect that wage bill to drop again in the next set of accounts, and then significantly again in the one after that with the likes of Steven Caulker (who accounted for £2m of the wage bill each year by himself) gone and Nedum Onuoha, Jack Robinson and others falling out of contract this summer.

They do at least show that all this mediocrity we’re currently having to sit through is for something, we are getting there, it’s a necessary process and one that CEO Lee Hoos and his staff seem to be doing well with. What happens in 18 months’ time when the parachute payments end altogether, God only knows.

Why don’t we simply ignore the FFP rules and let our owners chuck cash at a promotion push, as several other clubs (Bournemouth, Leicester, Wolves) have done? Well, quite apart from the fact that they’ve (through their own fault and mistakes) already lost the thick end of £300m doing just that and probably aren’t too keen to do so again, you only have to look at what happened post Bobby Zamora Wembley moment to see that it doesn’t work and it leaves you with a hell of a mess and a legacy to deal with. Do that and don’t go up, come under a transfer embargo, and then you’ll see just how bad things could get here as what few decent players we do still have at the club get flogged off super cheap and super quick with no way of replacing them – Blackburn went from a front three of Gestede, Rhodes and Cairney to League One, as one example.

But none of this is particularly quick, nor particularly exciting. It doesn’t sell tickets, as the rapidly declining attendance at Loftus Road culminating in Tuesday night’s League Cup-style crowd for Derby stands testament to. There are fans who don’t understand, don’t want to understand, think that some sort of miracle should be being worked on the field while the wage bill is hacked into, or are simply bored, who are staying away. But even for those who are still coming, and do understand, and do sympathise, it’s not very thrilling is it? When you’re sitting through the Leeds home game, the Boro home game, the Forest home game, or any of our away games for the past two years, looking at a steadily improving balance sheet doesn’t quite do it for you does it?

Tuesday night against Derby was better, much more entertaining in the style of the home games at the start of the season when QPR looked half decent and good to watch. A lot of that was down to Paul Smyth and that progression of youngsters is one way to alleviate some of the apathy/tedium that has infested the place over a tough winter. Smyth combines the tearing about and niggling of opponents with genuine ability, directness and a final ball. We’ll get carried away with him I’m sure, over hype him, ruin him perhaps, but at the moment he’s good to watch and makes me look forward to going tomorrow in the hope of seeing a bit more of him.

Now’s probably a good time to double down on that and give a start to Ebere Eze. Not because he’s the answer, not because he’s definitely going to make it, not because he’s the Messiah, but because he’s probably done enough to earn that chance now and looks a better bet than Conor Washington who wasn’t that effective even before the confidence and self belief visibly drained away from him. The last 20 minutes against the Rams, in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Smyth, Eze and Freeman behind the striker was genuinely exciting and while it may fall in a hole tomorrow against the bottom-placed side, while we may see the return of Charity Park Rangers and their hand outs to teams in need, even the possibility of it working as well as it did on Tuesday is exciting and worth pursuing.

We need to know, as season ticket renewal deadline comes round, that this isn’t just us forever – scrapping our way to safety while cutting our losses on the balance sheet. There has to be more for us medium and long term. Short term, the sight of a couple of kids being positive and effective in attack could be a tiny reward for the long suffering support.

Links >>> An ongoing nightmare – Interview >>> Falco wins six pointer – History >>> Newbie official – Referee

Rarer clean, on time train built the right side of 1985 running through Finsbury Park, it’s a happy memory from QPR’s most recent spell in the Premier League as Jermaine The Friendly Ghost and Andros Townsend run their own Goal of the Season competition at Sunderland’s expense.

Saturday

Team News: Don’t rush them, don’t hype them, don’t expect too much, don’t do what we always do with them… fine, but one would think that if Ebere Eze doesn’t get a start here, against the worst team in the league, after his performance vs Conor Washington’s against Derby there’s something slightly amiss. We shall see, maybe Joel Lynchinio will get a go up top from the start this time? Jamie Mackie, Grant Hall and David Wheeler are the long termers, a reward has been offered for a sighting of Bright Osayi-Samuel, the weather may have improved sufficiently for Idrissa Sylla to return from the world’s longest ever lay off for a calf strain. Ian Holloway must also decide whether to stick with the back four that worked a lot better during the week, or troll everybody by returning to the back three which Forest ripped into the week before.

Sunderland have barely any defenders to select from at all. Tyias Browning is now out for the season because “fuck that”, while John O’Shea is also a doubt with gout. Jake Clarke-Salter (this week’s Chelsea loanee) is on the naughty step for a red card in the 3-3 draw with Middlesbrough and Marc Wilson is back in training but says it’s “a bit far to go” for this one. Brendan Galloway has been with the U23s since December 9 but may travel.

Elsewhere: It’s “derby weekend” this weekend, that time of year when the completely random fixtures completely randomly place a load of matches between rivals together in the same weekend to the absolute joy of the television paymasters who have had absolutely nothing to do with this whatsoever – because, remember what we’re told whenever we point out that some of our fixtures (Blackburn away on a Tuesday, Newcastle away on a Wednesday) are an absolute scandalous joke, the fixtures are completely at random.

The Championship is contributing Big Racist John and the Boys against Sporting Wolverhampton to the Sky cause on Saturday night, and then the Brian Clough derby between the derby Sheep and Nottingham Trees on Sunday lunchtime.

No Friday night or Saturday lunchtime games though, which leaves a whopping ten fixtures at 15.00 tomorrow. That includes the freefalling Sheffield Owls, who’ve lost six in a row conceding 12 in the process, at home to Bolton – away win there and nervous shoulder glancing will turn into looting shops and setting fire to overturned parked cars.

Of the other strugglers… Nigel Cloughs’ Burton Albion are at home to Bristol City in this week’s exciting game between two teams beginning with B, Allam Tigers are at home to Borussia Norwich, Barnsley travel up to Middlesbrough, and Reading host the Champions of Europe. Garry Monk’s unlikely rescue attempt at Birmingham is the latest date on the Eighth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour – 16 points from 18 have brought Uncle Neil a Manager of the Month award to throw on the pile with the rest.

Millwall Scholars at home to Brentford looks like an entertaining battle between two of the division’s in form teams, who may yet push the play-offs if their current runs continue and would have been there anyway but for appalling starts to the campaign. Stuart Attwell is in charge there as well so that sounds like a banterous afternoon.

Preston Knob End will hopefully knock a few of the rampaging members of Tarquin and Rupert’s Gentlemen’s Club out of next weekend’s game at the Cottage. Ipswich Blue Sox against Sheffield Red Stripes is the only game we haven’t mentioned so far, so here it is now.

What a time to be alive.

Referee: New referee for us this weekend, Robert Jones is in his second season on the Football league list and has been doing Championship games regularly since the middle of November. Stats, but obviously no history, here.

Form

QPR: Oooooh a draw. Exciting stuff. The first time we’ve finished level in 12 games after seven defeats and four wins. It leaves Rangers with a home record of eight wins, five draws and five defeats this season – Derby in fifth and Bristol City in seventh are at 9-5-4. QPR’s 86th minute equaliser against Derby was their twelfth goal this season (out of 39 in total) scored after the 81st minute – six of which have been in injury time (81, 83, 85, 86, 87, 87, 90, 90, 90, 90, 90, 90). Conversely, Weimann’s opener in the 38th minute was the 22nd time (out of 52 in total) that Rangers have conceded between 35 and 55 minutes, four of which have come in first half injury time (35, 36, 37, 38, 41, 43, 44, 45, 45, 45, 45, 47, 48, 48, 50, 50, 51, 52, 52, 54, 55, 55). Luke Freeman’s assist moved him back to the top of the table for Championship players with 11. Massimo Luongo’s goal was his third in seven matches after scoring just two in his previous 93.

Sunderland: The Mackems have only won five times all season and arrive at Loftus Road rock bottom with 28 points from 36 games played. Not that the total will be as high this season, but to get to last season’s survival mark of 51 points they’d need to win eight (or seven and two draws) of their last ten matches. They arrive in W12 with five defeats, four draws and no wins from their last nine games, although that run did include a comeback from 3-0 down to draw at high flying Bristol City and a point on their last road trip to in form Millwall. They have, naturally, won more away games than we have – three wins, seven draws and eight defeats away from the Stadium of Light compared to just two victories on their own patch. The wins came at Forest, Burton and Norwich. Nobody in the Championship has conceded as many as Sunderland’s 65 goals against.

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…

“How refreshing it was to see a young player, playing without fear and so direct from the off against Derby. Paul Smyth really does look promising and was without question MOTM for me. The way he got back and put that tackle in on the wing, winning the ball and taking the man too. He was excellent and it was also great to see Eze playing strongly and direct when he came on. Pretty much doing what Palmer was doing for Derby most of the game. Running at defenders knowing that the closer he got to goal the more he just couldn’t be touched. At the same time it’s raises the crowd and, although the crowd was sparse, in pockets the atmosphere was really good and Keogh of course was at the receiving end of friendly banter. It made for a very good game and was just a shame Lynch at the death just couldn’t stick the ball in the net when through on goal.

“Promising then that we now play at home, against a side who are rock bottom and have not won in eight. QPR have previously been very charitable to teams in this situation when they need points most. But if we field the youngsters, who look so refreshing and full of life, hungry to prove themselves, then I see no reason for us not to come away with all the points on Saturday. It’ll be interesting to see if any of our midfield three are rested. Maybe a chance for Manning to show some worth? I’d imagine he’ll be up making amends after getting sent off so soon after coming on against Barnsley.

“If we score first then I think it’ll be a straight forward afternoon. Although picking who to score first seems a lottery. I’m gonna go for…”

Craig’s Prediction: QPR 2-0 Sunderland. Scorer – Luke Freeman

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-0 Sunderland. Scorer – Little Smyth

The Twitter @loftforwords

Pictures – Action Images

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TacticalR added 12:20 - Mar 10
Thanks for your preview.

'But even for those who are still coming, and do understand, and do sympathise, it’s not very thrilling is it?'

We've still got a hangover from our Premiership years, and it's not just a financial hangover. In the Premiership we saw better players and better teams. However, I think the problem now is not simply that we are seeing players of a lower quality than we did in the Premiership era, but that we have been able to offer very little going forward from our Plan B strikers (to use Gallen's phrase). Even when we have played well (e.g. at home Sheffield United) there has been very little flair up front (in fact Sheffield United presented us with a goal). At least Smyth gives a touch of the unexpected.
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