This must be the place – Preview
Friday, 4th May 2018 13:35 by Clive Whittingham
The QPR rumour mill is turning at quite a pace, and manager Ian Holloway would be forgiven for feeling a sense of déjà vu as heads to Elland Road for Sunday’s season finale.
Leeds (16-9-20, LDLLWL, 14th) v QPR (15-11-19, WLWLLW, 15th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Sunday May 6, 2018 >>> Kick Off 12.30 >>> Weather – Warm, nice, I know I was surprised too >>> Elland Road, Leeds, Yorkshire, Yorkshire, Yorkshire
It may be a meaningless game on the league table, but Ian Holloway should probably have telegraphed that a trip to Elland Road would be no quiet, routine end to the season.
He came here twice as QPR boss in his initial spell in charge. The first, in 2004, when he dragged himself out of a hospital bed to attend the match and appease the rage of board member Gianni Paladini who had heard his manager was thinking of capitalising on his stock being high following a promotion and blistering autumn by moving to Wolves – Rangers took the lead and then, infamously, lost 6-1. The following season, with Paladini now chairman outright and the relationship completely fractured, Holloway was being linked with Leicester but was on his last legs at QPR regardless. He delivered a big fat ‘fuck you’ by fielding a completely random starting 11 made up almost entirely of the weird and wonderful players Paladini had lumbered him with through his favoured agents. Barnes, Bignot, Shittu, Lowe, Taylor, Ainsworth (Nygaard), Kus (Langley), Lomas, Cook (Youssouf), Moore and Clarke unsurprisingly lost 2-0 and Holloway was gone immediately afterwards.
And now here we are again, setting sail for the capital of mental foreign ownership and extortionate ticket prices with our own board, by their own public admission, considering the position of Ollie second time around. A week ago, looking tired at the end of a long season and bereaved by the loss of his mother and mentor in a horrible fortnight, Holloway gave the impression he may be considering taking a step back of his own accord. One short week later and the jungle drums suggest he’s actually being ushered in that direction by his bosses.
The rapidly rotating team selections, often volatile post-match comments, and an away record which has been appalling throughout Holloway’s second spell and shows no sign of improvement, have caused misgivings among QPR’s owners who are looking for a more consistent approach and better development of the club’s playing assets. The name of Steve McClaren, highly regarded behind the scenes at Loftus Road for the job he did here as coach when That Tosser Redknapp was phoning it in, has already done the message board rounds despite his failures elsewhere.
The first thing to say is that now is exactly the right time to be voicing these concerns and making these considerations. A year ago almost to the day I sat in this chair and wrote about the real and present danger of sticking with Holloway through the summer only to sack him two months into the following season. Having decided to stick, one of the enormous positives of 2017/18 is that we have broken the ruinous cycle of starting seasons with one manager, budget and plan only to abandon all three midway through and head off in a completely different direction, further bloating the squad and shelling out yet more compensation to fired bosses as we go. A job was laid down for the manager, a budget was spent, there was no mid-season change, there was no six-in-six-out January, and the team, squad and club are all much healthier for it. Now is precisely the time to start that process for next season.
Whether replacing Holloway is the correct outcome of it, if indeed that is the direction we’re now heading, is debatable.
The concerns at board level are not without foundation, and are shared by many of the supporters. The team selections have not been as wild and random as they were 12 months ago, when the likes of Michael Petrasso, Sean Goss and Big Fat Ravel Morrison were lobbed in totally at random and completely out of position before being hauled off at half time in poor defeats. But “Ian Holloway makes six changes for this afternoon’s…” is heard far too often, and poor results after multiple changes have often interrupted positive forward momentum – most recently at Reading, who may well survive purely on the basis of those gifted three points, and at home to Preston.
The quotes, rambles and outbursts, too, have often been, kindly put, unhelpful. I wondered at the time whether his post-Brentford tirade – albeit having had a camera shoved in his face immediately after the match with adrenalin still pumping – may be a similar ‘start the clock on the borrowed time’ moment to the one Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink had when he lost 6-0 to Newcastle. Calling out Idrissa Sylla (frequently) and Player of the Year candidate Josh Scowen (post Hull) didn’t sit comfortably with me or many of you. The weird attempts to stir up bitterness with Brentford have been irritating because firstly it’s simply never going exist among the QPR supporters and secondly it looks rather stupid when they keep outplaying us. His ability to turn positivity after a win into negativity with promises of sweeping changes for the next match grates, particularly as it rarely works and often gives the impression of a man over-thinking and over-complicating needlessly. He often looks and sounds like somebody trying to show what a brilliant, deep-thinking, tactical manager he is rather than just relaxing and letting results do the talking.
And most importantly of all, the away results show precious few signs of improvement. Six wins, eight draws and 23 defeats on the road since returning – two of those wins at a dire Birmingham side – is nowhere near good enough and bar one glorious week in March when we suddenly outplayed Villa and Fulham there’s no sign that he really knows how to cure it. Rangers have since lost at Reading, Hull and Brentford again scoring just once. A home record of 12-5-6 this season is better than Derby currently have sitting sixth, but only Birmingham and Bolton have a worse set of away results. A loss at Pride Park before Christmas, when we bizarrely started with David Wheeler up front alone, sticks out for the comment made by one club official in the hotel afterwards that Holloway “feels like he’s tried everything so may as well give this a go” – a kid of four Championship appearances, fresh from Exeter City, out of position alone up front, away at Derby against Curtis Davies? Come on.
But QPR have been burned before coveting supposedly greener grass elsewhere. Only last week co-chairman Tony Fernandes was talking to the QPR Podcast about his ongoing regret at the decision to sack Neil Warnock and replace him with Mark Hughes in January 2012. Changing managers when the one you have is doing badly is awkward, changing them when the one you have is doing what you asked him to do is very risky, doing it when you have QPR’s record of appointing bosses is borderline suicidal.
And Holloway has done what was asked of him this season, and more. The remit was to further hack into the wage bill, offload more of the big-earning senior players, blood some of the talented youngsters in the first team, and not get relegated doing it. He’s achieved that with bells on. Rangers have had five players aged 20 or under score goals for them this season, more than anybody else in the division. Darnell Furlong, Paul Smyth, Ebere Eze and Ryan Manning have all become first team regulars under Holloway and Bright Osayi-Samuel and Ilias Chair don’t look far behind with Osman Kakay and Aramide Oteh also in the wings. They have, particularly in the final weeks of the season, looked very good doing it as well, with five wins and two draws from the final 11 games, great performances at Villa and Fulham, two three-goal hauls and four goals scored on two other occasions. Admittedly Rangers did have an unusually favourable run of home fixtures in the second half of the season – Norwich, Sheff Wed and Birmingham particularly poor – but still.
This idea that somebody else is required to come in and develop the players doesn’t really ring true either. Massimo Luongo couldn’t buy a goal in his first two seasons at the club, and now scores regularly and has been voted Player of the Year. Luke Freeman was a bit part player at Bristol City, and has been superb for us since he arrived. Ebere Eze has been well managed, with a loan move to Wycombe to “knock a few edges off” aiding his seamless transition to first team player at Loftus Road. Paul Smyth has gone from Linfield to Championship regular. Darnell Furlong is flying at both full back and centre half. Jack Robinson has gone from permanently absent left back to coveted centre half. Grant Hall stepped into midfield with great aplomb prior to his injury. Matt Smith now compared to the Matt Smith we signed… There has been notable, undeniable, player development and improvement under Holloway.
Even if that wasn’t the case, you must also take into consideration the number of influential, senior professionals leaving Rangers this summer. Nedum Onuoha is front and centre among those as the captain they all look up to, but James Perch and Jamie Mackie are big dressing room figures as well. You want to lose all of that experience and influence, and potentially Jack Robinson as well, and the manager and his coaching staff at the same time? It’s a lot of upheaval and uncertainty for a young squad. While it’s wonderful that we beat Birmingham last week with an average age of little over 23, that game was slipping out of our grasp until Onuoha came off the bench.
Holloway was speaking as far back as last summer about the opportunity those contracts expiring offered him and Gary Penrice to replenish the squad with more Josh Scowen-type free transfers. While Penrice is set to stay as head of recruitment, would a new manager/head coach want his own raft of signings? In the current climate there aren’t many willing to allow their reputation to be staked on a bunch of kids learning their trade. Holloway has embraced that, and the budget cuts, and the challenges.
It feels to me like he’s shown enough and earned the right to try and meet the new aims and expectations of next season. But it seems increasingly like the board don’t agree, and if that is the case then better to twist now than start next season with somebody they’re not sure about and end up making one of those mid-season changes again.
You didn’t really think we were just going to have a quiet, uneventful end to the season did you?
Wegerle and Wilkins there. Happier times. Anyway, it’s that time of the year again where we bid our thanks to the collection of weirdos and loaners who’ve helped keep LFW going for 12 long, gruelling, strength sapping, confidence draining years. We’ll be back next year, we can’t afford not to be tell the truth, but there will be a summer hiatus through most of June while I sit in the garden and enjoy not having to think about how I’m going to start this week’s match preview.
Thank you to everybody who has contributed articles this year – particularly Lee McAlpine who is an absolute Godsend as somebody who not only goes to all the northern QPR away games but is also happy to write about them for us when I’m away with the day job. Lewis Jones, Colin Speller, Andy Hillman, Simon Dorset, Ram Chandra, Jordan Foster, Ron Norris, Dave Thomas and Charlie Skinner have all contributed pieces this year and I can’t thank them enough for that. We love guest submissions, and we pay for your ticket if you can do us match reports for games we don’t go to, so please get in touch if you want to write regularly, occasionally, or just have something to get off your chest firstname.lastname@example.org, @loftforwords on the Twitter, or just come and find me in the Crown – always at the same table, even when the rugby twats try and take it from us.
Thank you, as ever, to the group who travel around with me. Overworked HR officer Jasmine Sandalli, official photographer (not a salaried position) Neil Dejyothin, Andy Hillman who provides the Crown regulars with the live boxing and takes my phone away from me when I’m about to Tweet something I really shouldn’t, joke writer Alan Simpson (so blame him), Tracey and her miracle liver, LFW resident counsel (not a salaried position) Harriet, Peckham’s finest Small, Owain who once managed to take a full Jim Beam and coke with ice in a glass into Loftus Road while I had a deodorant confiscated out the bottom of my sports bag, Bill for the accountant recommendation, the Ferry’s for making us all feel relatively unsuccessful and unattractive and Julian for keeping us reasonably sober by spilling all of our drinks. We’ll always have Burton, even if we actually no longer have Burton.
Respect to Gary, Allen, Murph, Glenn, Dave, Dawn and Seann who, through no fault or choice of their own, have to sit next to me at matches. I am trying. Very trying. Thank you to Gerry, Catherine and Hurley at the Crown and Sceptre for their hospitality/taking all our money – good luck in your finals mate. And thanks to all of you who click on the site, read the articles, post comments, use the message board – that’s the lifeblood. If you read without getting involved, get involved - comment, use the message board, it keeps the site going.
Enjoy all your summers, God knows we need it.
Team News: With everything that’s going on, and nothing riding on the game, it would be a brave man to try and predict QPR’s starting 11 for this one. We know that Massimo Luongo has taken his annual leave early prior to heading off to the World Cup with Australia, and that David Wheeler is a long term absentee. But other than that, who knows? Joe Lumley is likely to be given another go in goal and if Holloway sticks with his policy from last week of only starting players who are going to be here next season then Jamie Mackie, Nedum Onuoha, James Perch and Jack Robinson are likely to also be benched or left out.
There’s a real end of season feeling to Leeds at the moment, with manager Paul Heckingbottom already seemingly heading towards the exit door just three months after arriving from Barnsley and a host of first team players not fit to play. Vurnon Anita (gluten intolerance), Conor Shaughnessy (gut rot) and Stuart Dallas…
…. are all definitely out. Lovely Luke Ayling is back in training along with Strictly’s Anton De Bock but I’m not sure either can be arsed for this one. Likewise Tyler Roberts who’s had a bad reaction to a dodgy clam.
Elsewhere: Final day of the season then, mercifully, which means we all have to kick off at the same time. That, of course, cannot possibly ever be Saturday at 15.00 so the whole division is upping sticks and moving to the anti-social, inaccessible, bleary-eyed nonsense of Sunday morning at 12.30 in order for our Sky Overlords to select as many games as they like. In return, they’ve picked one. ONE. The Eighth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour reaching its inevitable promotion crescendo with a mauling of Reading. Wankers.
Plenty at stake elsewhere though, not least at the bottom where four teams are fighting to avoid the two remaining relegation spots alongside Sunderland who finish at home to champions Sporting Wolverhampton. Bolton, second bottom on 40 points and -36 goal difference, need a win at home to Nottingham Trees. Nigel Clough’s Burton Albion, third bottom on 41 and -42, could survive with a draw at Preston Knob End if Bolton don’t win and Barnsley lose at Derby Sheep. The Tykes are fourth bottom on 41 and -21 but Derby still need a point to be sure of the final play-off spot ahead of Preston. If they all win, then that spells trouble for Birmingham who host Tarquin and Rupert – still holding out hopes of overhauling Cardiff in second – and/or Reading.
The Millwall Scholars, hosting Big Racist John and the Boys, could still make the play-offs if Preston and Derby lose, and they win with a nine goal swing. That’s your lot though so Bristol City v Sheffield Red Stripes, Ipswich Blue Sox v Middlesbrough and Sheffield Owls v Borussia Norwich are playing purely for the love of the game, bless em. Brentford will almost certainly be the best team Allam Tigers have played all season.
It’s over. It’s finally over. You wait all your life for this moment and then when it comes, you don’t know what to say.
Referee: It’s Darren England for this one, a Premier League lino who is rapidly ascending through the main refereeing ranks. He was last in charge of us when we lost to Aston Villa before Christmas, awarding a penalty to Villa for a Jack Robinson handball in first half stoppage time. Details here.
Leeds: It’s been a dire end to the season for Leeds who won only three times in all competitions since December 30 – a run that includes an FA Cup exit to League Two Newport County. Manager Paul Heckingbottom has only been in charge since February 6 but is already on his last legs with a record of three wins, four draws and eight defeats so far. The wins have all come at Elland Road – 2-1 against Barnsley and Bolton and 1-0 against Brentford – but they come into this one on a run of one win and four defeats from the last six matches. They’ve only kept one clean sheet in 16 matches. They’re 9-6-7 overall at home in the league this season.
QPR: The win against Birmingham in the final home game of the season last week continued a pattern that has dogged QPR all season – excellent home form held back by lousy away results. In Shepherd’s Bush they’ve won four of the last five and six of the last eight. On the road it’s just three wins all season and one in the last eight. Ian Holloway’s side have lost three in a row on their travels prior to this one, conceding seven and scoring only once. Only Bolton and Birmingham have a worse away record than Rangers this season.
Prediction: Barring a miracle, Elliott42 is going to be the winner of this year’s Prediction League sponsored by the Art of Football. You can view their QPR Collection by clicking this link. Bowing out as reigning champion, Southend_Rsss tells us…
“Well here we go then for the last game of the season. Nice to be writing the final piece after getting the outcome spot on against Birmingham and ending on a bit of a high. At the time of writing it looks like Elliott42 will be taking the title for this season, so well played there.
“Leeds away on the final day is as much of a dead rubber as you’re ever gonna get for both sides. I guess if we field youngsters and players who aren’t normally in the fold we may stand a better chance of getting the points as they could be more hungrier and eager to prove themselves. Could really be any outcome in all honesty. It seems a lot of people who have already made predictions agree too. I’ll go for a score draw for this and sit on the fence.
“Enjoy your summer... You Rss”
Craig’s Prediction: Leeds 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Matt Smith
LFW’s Prediction: Leeds 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Matt Smith
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Letters from Wiltshire #47 by wessex_exile
Here we are, at the penultimate game of the season, and our last game in front of the cardboard U’s faithful at the JobServe. It has been a long, difficult, and definitely strange season, which frankly I’ll be glad to see the back of. That’ll we’ll be here again in August is definitely going to be something to celebrate, but I suspect we’re facing a summer of significant rebuilding both on the pitch, and possibly off it too. I won’t be the only one, but the biggest oddity for me has been being able to watch every single game – not always easy viewing, but something I’ve never done before, and probably never will again. But it doesn’t really make up for not being there in person, the long train journey away-days, meeting fellow U’s and other supporters, and of course sharing a beer or three. Fingers-crossed we can return to the terraces in 2021/22.
Letters from Wiltshire #46 by wessex_exile
That was quite a week for us all then. In the space of four short but remarkably tense days we have gone from having to take shoes and socks off to check how many more points we need to guarantee survival, or whether we would even achieve it, to breathing a huge sigh of relief knowing we’re almost there. But close of play this afternoon, whether by our own actions or the failure of others, I am sure survival will be confirmed. Of course, Tuesday night not only all but guaranteed it, it also virtually condemned local rivals Southend United to non-league football for the foreseeable. Looking at the host of fully professional former football league sides currently battling it out for the two promotion slots out of the National league (including Hartlepool, Torquay, Stockport, Wrexham, Chesterfield and Notts County), it is not going to be a walk in the park for Southend to return any day soon.
Letters from Wiltshire #45 by wessex_exile
Tonight, Colchester United face Southend United in what may not necessarily be the most important game of our respective histories (though it’s certainly very close), but is almost certainly the most important Essex derby ever. However this season pans out, by the end of it there’ll either be only one team in Essex, or worst case scenario, none at all. If the U’s win, then Southend will be 9pts behind with just three games to go, and a minimum of a -12 goal difference to overturn if they want to overtake us. Certainly mathematically possible, but that would rely on a remarkable turnaround in their form, form that they’ve shown precious little sign of achieving so far this season. The stalking horse is Grimsby, with their game in hand, who have rather belatedly shown an improvement in form, so their match against automatic promotion chasing Morecambe tonight is equally important, particularly if we want to avoid the unthinkable, with both Essex clubs dropping out of the league.
Letters from Wiltshire #44 by wessex_exile
So here we are, as the nation mourns the passing of His Royal Highness, Duke of Edinburgh, the U’s face the first of two season-defining moments, with our late kick-off match at home to Walsall. Before then, no doubt many will have been focused on events elsewhere, not least the early kick-offs for Grimsby (at home to promotion-chasing Bolton Wanderers), and particularly Essex rivals Southend United, who faced a tricky visit to Exeter City – still very much in the hunt for at least a play-off spot. As I finalise this blog, I know that Grimsby have beaten Bolton 2-1, and Southend earned a credible 0-0 draw in the West Country. More to the point, the U’s will know this too. Whilst I can’t help but feel that will ought to be to our advantage, it surely must also put additional pressure on a squad whose confidence is paper-thin. We must hope that Hayden Mullins, assisted by Paul Tisdale, get their heads right, and send the lads out this evening fired up with self-belief.
Letters from Wiltshire #43 by wessex_exile
Well, that has been a lively week for Colchester United in the press, and not least for Robbie Cowling, with not one, or two, but kind of three club announcements in rapid succession to try and put the record straight. First, we had Tribunalgate, which certainly looked very poor according to the initial press reports, but which on closer inspection when some of the ‘fact gaps’ were filled in wasn’t anywhere near the story that some would have us believe. Then of course we had the ‘leak’ that the U’s were about to go into administration, despite all the reassurances we’d been given in previous statements from Robbie. Not so said Robbie again, and particularly angry at what he believed to be the source of the story. Hence statement #3, repeating his assurances, but this time after passing through the lawyer filter to remove his thoughts on the source. To paraphrase Robbie’s conclusion to that statement, let’s hope we can all have a day off from this sort of media shenanigans and enjoy our game at Oldham tonight!
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