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Preston North End 1 v 0 Queens Park Rangers
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 4th August 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Once more unto the mediocrity, dear friends - Preview
Friday, 3rd Aug 2018 18:21 by Clive Whittingham

It's back again. The Championship, QPR, the hope, the fear, all of it. Roughly 20 minutes after it all went away. Here's a sort of preview of Saturday's first of 19 trips to Lancashire this season.

Preston (19-16-11, 7th) v QPR (15-11-20, 16th)

Lancashire and District Senior League >>> Saturday August 4, 2018 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Dry, sunny, 21 degrees >>> Deepdale, Preston, Lancs

It has been noted that our rather excellent and not at all libellous season previews (read them, read them damn you) do not include a section on our own, beloved, accident-prone, errant child. That’s partly because it was supposed to be a look at the other 23 teams in the league – we write quite enough about QPR in our ongoing quest for attention – and also because we’re chicken. While it would have been fun to crack the “Outs >>> Jay Emmanuel Thomas, free, somewhere where there’s a lot to eat” gag, trying to call with any degree of accuracy what lies in store for Rangers this season is even more of a fool’s mission than usual.

Several of the established betting papers/mags in this country have named QPR this morning as their value bet for relegation which, typically, has seen the message board start to circle the wagons. We may not like it, but it is a fair call. Their job is to look for value in the market, and with the likes of Rotherham, Bolton and Wigan on super-short odds for the drop, QPR certainly represent that at 6/1ish.

The cold hard facts are this is a team that has been firmly ensconced in the bottom half of this league for two years now, conceding in the region of 70 goals in the last two seasons, and has now lost its two best defenders and outstanding goalkeeper. Throw in the potential departure of Luke Freeman, whose lacklustre end to last season and the hype around Ebere Eze suddenly sees him unfairly seen as expendable by a lot of our supporters, and you can see why they’ve gone for us. They don’t necessarily think we will go down, just as I don’t think that Shef Utd (25/1) and Preston (33/1) will necessarily go up – but all three represent value in the market.

There will be, almost certainly, another centre back in ahead of the transfer deadline. To rely on Joel Lynch, who’s too often unavailable and too easily turned when he is, and Alex Baptiste too heavily would be footballing suicide. Darnell Furlong’s injury is just about the worst news we could have had. Anything similar happening to Toni Leistner now doesn’t bear thinking about. The team we had last season, which finished sixteenth, has many of the same problems it had then and a few new ones besides.

The club hopes, not unreasonably, that the appointment of Steve McClaren may solve a few of those issues. The gap between QPR’s best performances last season (Villa A, Fulham A, Norwich H, Wolves H) and their worst (Hull A, Millwall A, Forest H and A) was vast and the inconsistency stark. But can you hope for consistency from a team when you’re chopping and changing it about as much as Ian Holloway was, and behaving as he did? Paul Smyth man of the match and a goal against Sheff Wed, dropped for the next game which we lost to Preston. Bright Osayi Samuel same and same v Birmingham, dropped for the next game which we lost to Leeds. Ebere Eze praised as an heir to Stan Bowles one week, criticised for his defending the next. We, rather unkindly, said that watching Steve McClaren run the same training drill 100 times last Tuesday was “how you teach thick boys to do things”. What isn’t unkind, and is certain, is you don’t get far with them with the wildly inconsistent messages and behaviour we saw last season.

But, as David Fraser said on this week’s excellent first podcast of the season (listen, listen to it damn you), Steve McClaren’s problem is everything he says sounds good, but he keeps failing. The previous time he spent here - for which he is well regarded to the extent that he already had a foot in the door when the board decided many, many months ago that Holloway wasn’t their man - was spent with a squad costing the club £100m and including experienced Premier League players, recent Champions League players, and some of the best Championship prospects. What value one Richard Dunne, Matt Phillips, Charlie Austin to the current team? QPR had a squad of about 36 of them. He’s got his work cut out this time.

Other than hoping that Holloway’s happy chaos was actually holding the team back and it’s ready to be so much better under a calmer, more methodical approach, there are other gains with more substance to them to be had. Bright Osayi-Samuel, Paul Smyth, Ilias Chair, Ryan Manning and, of course, this year’s great over-hyped hope Ebere Eze all finished last season strongly after careful, considered blooding into the first team by Holloway and Marc Bircham. It only needs a couple of them to fulfil their potential – Samuel and Eze were tremendous a week ago against Union Berlin – and we could be onto a winner. It’s a lot of pressure to heap on young shoulders, but most of them seem very even tempered and more than ready for it. They carry none of the baggage of what went before, they’ve played together for years, they’re well coached by our much maligned staff put in place by Evil Tottenham Les, and they’re keen for a chance to show it.

And the away results are not even a marginal gain to make. Three away wins in the whole of last season was abysmal – QPR’s home form was borderline play-off standard and yet we finished sixteenth. Ian Holloway persistently gave the impression of not knowing what to do about it, and then having seemingly stumbled on the answer at Villa and Fulham proceeded to chop and change all over again and lost the final four road trips of the season scoring just once. McClaren wouldn’t need to get it very right to achieve, even, say, six away wins this season, though QPR have been poor on the road for years under successive managers.

There are clubs in worse shape, and far worse teams on paper, than QPR this season. But the loss of Nedum Onuoha, Jack Robinson and Alex Smithies can’t fail to have an effect. We’ve basically been sixteenth for two years now, and chances are we’ll stay there, but along with Bristol City we’re one of two Championship clubs we just couldn’t form a firm opinion on.

Apart from tomorrow at Preston of course, we never win at Preston.

Links >>> Season preview – promotion contenders >>> Season preview – the strugglers >>> Open All R’s season preview – Podcast >>> Preston bogey – History >>> England back in charge – Referee >>> Defying the odds – Interview

Everybody at LFW was saddened to hear about the death of QPR fan Bill Cox after a battle with illness this week. Bill, a stalwart of the LSA, was an omnipresent member of the travelling faithful and an absolute gent to spend time with. He was an active volunteer in local youth football in his spare time and a regular face at QPR games, meetings and fans forums. He’d always start conversations with us “I love your website, but…” and we’re going to miss his presence terribly. Condolences to his son Dave and all of his family. Is a QPR away game really a QPR away game at all without Bill fast asleep at the side of it?

Saturday

Team News: Darnell Furlong may have extended his contract by three years today (great news) but a knee injury sustained in the friendly at Wimbledon rules him out of the first two months of the season. Osman Kakay has looked decent in pre-season as a replacement but will be targeted in the real quiz. Apart from Toni Leistner, who will debut tomorrow alongside Joel Lynch, I can’t think of any first team members I’d want to get injured less than Furlong. I suspect the rest of the team will be pretty much what we saw last week against Union Berlin though speculation around Luke Freeman’s future may affect his participation. Grant Hall is easing his way back, and McClaren likes him for the deep lying midfield position, but not yet.

Preston have been hit hard in pre-season by injuries to forwards, with ex-Bristol Rovers Billy Bodin and Ireland’s Sean Maguire both ruled out medium term leaving only former Motherwell man Louis Moult as an out and out fit striker. They do have tight shorts enthusiast Callum Robinson, who scored twice at Loftus Road in April, to play off him mind, and that midfield triumvirate of Pearson, Browne and Johnson that QPR haven’t coped with previously remains in situ.

Elsewhere: Roughly 20 minutes after it all finished, it’s back again. Like a fruit fly infestation in your kitchen sink overflow, or a wasps nest in your porch roof, or the voices in the head of the most paranoid of paranoid schizophrenics, you’re never rid of the Football League for long. There’s a game tonight, and loads tomorrow, and Sunday, and Monday, and Tuesday and then basically all day every day for the next nine months. The relief we felt that it was all over after Leeds in May is replaced all too quickly with… fear. Fear and loathing. We just want to be held, want to be loved, and instead, we’re wondering whether the shit pub next to the station in Preston (as opposed to the shit pub over the road from the station in Preston) might show us Sunderland v Charlton with no sound while we have our lunch.

Meanwhile, we’ve got Reading v Big Fat Frank’s Big Fat Derby tonight to break up the monotony of crying over PornHub videos. Now, Fat Frank went to a nice school, and actually turned up, and used to score loads of goals in a dominant Premier League team, often via a deflection when they were already 5-0 up against Stoke, and that makes him a multi-trophy winning manager in waiting. He’s already flipped through his contacts book to bring in Harry Wilson and Mason Mount on loan from the Best League in the World, and they’ve taken a punt on the latest Peterborough striker doing big tings at League One level (Jack Marriott) but has he cured the chronic lack of pace in Gary Rowett’s team, and Derby’s ongoing ability to shit out in the final third of the season? Reading, meanwhile, would have been relegated last season but for an intervention from Charity Park Rangers and despite an eye-catching addition of Coventry striker Marc McNulty have lost to everybody apart from their own reserve team in pre-season. The fun starts at 20.00.

Skipping forwards to Sunday, it’s Champions Stoke against the Champions of Europe. The surprise arrival of hipster uber coach Marcelo Bielsa - following Steve Evans, Garry Monk and Paul Heckingbottom as only Leeds could conjure – makes them the team to watch in the division this year, which is just as well as Sky show us all their games and half their training sessions anyway. Between Bielsa at Leeds, Lampard at Derby and whatever the fuck is going on at Aston Villa, it’s going to be entirely possible to read, watch and consume content on our division for months at a time without ever realising we’re in it.

As said Allam Tigers and QPR 2012 have to wait until Monday to kick off their season, and the newly minted Nottingham Trees go against West Brom on Tuesday. Pulis Ball are also already onto their second game by then, playing the Sheffield Red Stripes, but they start on Saturday at the Millwall Scholars. Should Luke Freeman’s proposed move to Teeside go through, taking his set piece delivery with him, Aden Flint might be worth an each way punt as the league’s top scorer. The Red Stripes, meanwhile, have done good business, and will likely show as much on Saturday night on the telly box against relegated Swansea, who have the hipster’s new favourite Graham Potter in charge and an ongoing attempt to assemble the world’s tiniest midfield with the arrival of Barry McKay from Trees this week.

Keeping track? Me neither. Ipswich Blue Sox are 70/1 for promotion in some quarters, and while we don’t expect that of them the arrival of the outstanding manager in the bottom two divisions, and a total overhaul of a tired squad (including the impending arrival of this league’s next breakout star Jon Nolan), makes them good value. While people who never watched Mick McCarthy’s increasingly turgid Tractor Boys are telling them to “be careful what they wish for” (how dare they object to 17 years at the same level and regular spells of five consecutive home matches without a goal?), Hurst has done a great job of reshaping a squad on a limited budget with the best of the two divisions below. They look an exciting prospect to me, and they start at home to the returning Mad Indian Chicken Farmers.

What else can we offer you on Saturday? Borussia Norwich, chronic underachievers last year, go to the Birmingham Basket Case, with money from the Murphy and Maddison sales to spend and no ‘new to the country’ excuses left for manager/80s porn star Daniel Farke. They’ll win at Birmingham I think, but then I suspect most teams will this year. Middlesex look set for a promotion push pending another deadline day pillaging, and as much as we’re pleased to see Rotherham Steelers back at this level I suspect that’s tantamount to a free hit on day one for Dean Smith’s men.

Still it comes. Wurzels have lost Bobby Reid and Aden Flint, but got good money for them and have signed well – Mohamed Eisa got 25 goals at League Two Cheltenham last season and steps up to the Championship just a year after turning out for Greenwich Borough. They start against the Trees, who have spent a fortune trying to do a Wolves, but have a manager who doesn’t believe in possession or attack in charge – will the two marry up? Relegated Bolton start at West Brom, who wait to see whether Darren Moore can continue the momentum created by not being Alan ‘Pards’ Pardew into a full season at a lower division. Wigan Warriors against Sheffield Owls is a battle of two teams who have struggled in the summer transfer market, but should both be just about ok.

See you in May. I’m not even sure the Belgravia Centre can save me now.

Referee: Like a gift from the Gods to over-worked fansite editors, Saturday’s referee is Darren England, exactly the same referee we had for Leeds away on the final day of last season. So here’s what we put together then, with the Leeds match report cut and shut onto the top of it. What a time to be alive.

Form

PNE: Preston only lost 11 games last season and finished seventh, just two points shy of the play-off places, but it was their home form that let them down. They lost only five times away from home, but just nine home wins to sixth-placed Derby’s 12 saw them miss out on the end of season shoot out. That was despite finishing with four wins and a draw in their last five games. Three defeats immediately prior to that, including a 1-0 loss at home to Derby, proved crucial. If you like to read things into pre-season results they’ve won 7-0 at Bamber Bridge and 6-1 at Fylde, the local non-league teams. They’ve also won 5-0 at Cobh Ramblers, drawn 2-2 at home to West Ham, lost 3-2 at home to Premier League neighbours Burnley and finished up with a 3-0 win at Oldham. Preston were the only team to gain more points from losing positions (19) last season than QPR (18).

QPR: As we know, QPR’s biggest unsolved problem from last season was the away form. They won just three out of 23, two of those at lowly Birmingham and Burton and one amazing night at Aston Villa. Ian Holloway won only four away games in his last 15 months in charge, two of them at Birmingham, and showed little to suggest he knew what he was going to do about it. Preston isn’t an ideal place for Steve McClaren to start showing that he can do better – Rangers haven’t beaten PNE in six attempts, and haven’t won at Deepdale in 12 attempts dating back to 1980. They’ve had three players sent off here in the last two visits as well, although one of those was after the final whistle (Freeman, Mackie, Baptiste). QPR usually start at home due to the Notting Hill Carnival at the end of the month, which goes partway to explaining a lack of wins away from home on day one since 1987.

Prediction: Given that QPR rarely scored more than two, and never kept a clean sheet, last season’s Prediction League should have been a doddle right? Right? Well, Elliott Cooke (@cookiee42, Elliott42) certainly thought so, leading from the front throughout despite brave chasing by JB007007 and ending up with more than 100 points. Lots of goodies from Art of Football for him then, and potentially for you this season. Everybody starts afresh now, you only need to be registered on the site to play, so here’s the link – get predicting. Meanwhile, here’s Art of Football’s QPR collection, ideal birthday present material, to peruse. They’ve kindly agreed to provide prizes to the overall winner AND whoever is top at Christmas. To help you pick, and with thanks to previous winner Southend Rsss who steadfastly helped us out in every preview last year, here is our reigning champ Elliott with his thoughts for this week…

“Here we go again then. Somehow I managed to fend off the competition and win the Prediction League. Clive has asked me to do a few lines for the preview each week, so here goes… A summer filled with so much hope and excitement only to be let down again. Sounds very similar to QPR’s transfer dealings this summer in a way.

“Onuoha and Robinson leaving was expected but I still feel slightly annoyed that we only managed to get £3m for Alex Smithies. You’ve only got to look at Angus Gunn (who had an absolute nightmare at Loftus Road last season) going to Southampton for £13m, Danny Ward going to Leicester for £12m and Sam Johnstone to West Brom for £6.5m to feel we’ve been short changed.

“Although I’m very excited about seeing our younger players having a good go at the Championship this season, I just hope we start the season well. With a tough start, fixture wise, I think we all need to have patience. The last thing our younger players need is our fans getting on their backs if we do start the season poorly. I’m going to start optimistically and go for a good away point to start the season, with Eze running the show. It all goes downhill from here…

Elliott’s Prediction: Preston 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Ebere Eze

LFW’s Prediction: Preston 0-0 QPR. No scorer.

The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords

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timcocking added 02:02 - Aug 4
The one consolation of losing Furlong is it gives Kakay a chance. He's looked really good on the ball.

Perhaps a year from now, it could be Osman at full back, Darnell centre back. That'd be sweet to have a team of bonafide homegrown players. I'd love that, whatever division it was.
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TacticalR added 22:38 - Aug 5
Thanks for your preview.

We seem to have pulled out quite a few pieces of our jigsaw, and you don't really want to pull out too many pieces at the same time.

I would have had more confidence about this season's changes if we had managed to hang on to Smithies. It felt like we could afford to experiment with the team if we could rely on the keeper.

Whether McClaren can do anything about our chronic away form remains to be seen.
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