|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 4 Preston North End|
Saturday, 19th January 2019 Kick-off 15:00
Monster’s ball – Preview
Friday, 18th Jan 2019 19:31 by Clive Whittingham
In recent years a visit from Preston North End to Loftus Road has meant only one thing, so Saturday’s fixture is another interesting test of just how far this ‘new QPR’ has come.
QPR (11-6-10, WWDDWL, 11th) v Preston (7-9-11, LLDLLD, 18th)
Lancashire and District Senior League >>> Saturday January 19, 2019 >>> Kick off 15.00 >>> Weather – Bitterly cold, damp morning >>> Loftus Road, London, W12
Back in the early 1990s, when I had stack of hair and QPR had Jan Stejskal in goal, we used to draw 0-0 with Arsenal a lot. Four times in a row in fact, followed by a 1-1 at Loftus Road towards the end of 1993/94. As well as tedium, these games also did a nice line in referees failing to award blatant penalties, first for an attempt on Andy Sinton’s life down at the School End in September 1992, and then for an almost identical hack on David Bardsley in front of the Loft the year after.
My eight and nine-year-old brain couldn’t really compute the injustice of either decision and until very recently they remained the most obviously wrong refereeing calls I’d seen at a QPR game – bar, perhaps, Tim Sherwood trying to kill Les Ferdinand to death through his knee cap at Ewood Park and only getting a yellow for it. That was until this fixture last season when Ben Pearson - from similar Goblin stock to Josh Scowen but with a more difficult childhood - decided to stop Ebere Eze crossing the halfway line to seek an equaliser four minutes from time by running 10 yards across the field, lowering his head to initiate contact with the helmet, and taking the youngster clean out. Unnecessary roughness, defence, 15-yard penalty, automatic first down… except referee Rob Jones gave nothing at all and waved play on. If you were in the Paddocks that day and struck by flying bookies’ pens I apologise.
If you had to draw a picture of what Preston have done to Queens Park Rangers since we returned to this division three and a bit seasons ago it would be Pearson, standing over whatever tippy tappy footballer he’d just belted 20 yards back down the pitch, feigning innocence. There have been seven meetings. Rangers have won none of them. Preston have kept a clean sheet on four occasions and only conceded once in each of the other three. These games have, almost every one of them, followed the same pattern of PNE taking the lead – usually from about half a yard out – and then spending whatever time is left in the game coming up with innovative and creative ways of getting the ball out of play and keeping it there.
It has, without fail, been an excoriating experience for the eyeballs of anybody unfortunate enough to be there for them. Once released from the clutches of the infuriating ennui QPR fans have been very prone to throwing their arms around in the air and talking about how this just isn’t cricket, and something must be done about this, and down with this sort of thing. The sort of embittered, entitled, whiny bullshit we now hear on a weekly basis from Dean Smith when somebody else has dared to tackle one of his excellent young boys while they were trying to execute a Cruyff turn in their own six-yard box.
As we said at the time, and again on the opening day back in August when Preston scored after 50 minutes and then saw the final 40 out with 37 separate injuries requiring physio attention, don’t moan about it, don’t have a go at them for it, learn from it. Preston had the division’s fifth smallest average gate in 2017/18 (13,774) and have never received a single Premier League parachute payment. They’re competing in a division where Stoke City, Swansea City and West Brom were given £138m to split between them this year as a reward for getting themselves relegated from the top flight. And compete they do – pushing the play-off places right to the death of 2017/18 and only sliding away lately amidst a catalogue of injury problems. Ask not why they occasionally resort to the dark arts, ask why your club can’t beat them on a bigger budget. Ask why your players fall into the same traps against them every season. Ask why their scouts are able to go and get a player of the ability of Alan Browne for a pittance from Cork City while you’re spending twelve million quid on Benik Afobe. And don’t pretend they haven’t completely outplayed us for the majority of those seven games either. Out played, out thought, out fought – this season, last season and the season before.
Yeh, being horrible to play against is part of their modus operandi, and Pearson’s part in that as troll in chief is underlined by their record without him during a recent four match suspension (ridiculously and frivolously appealed despite him chopping Sheff Wed’s Marco Matias down just below the knee) – three defeats and a draw including an FA Cup exit to Doncaster Rovers. But, to quote one of our recent match reports, this is a hard, gritty, attritional, unbalanced division made up of haves and have nots in which some very well resourced but nevertheless spineless clubs have sunk below the waves. It is not an episode of Watercolour Challenge.
Preston have done a number on us every time we’ve played them since Adel Taarabt stopped making Andy Lonergan look like a keeper who could do with a ball with a bell in it. There have been signs under Steve McClaren this season, however, that QPR have become a little more streetwise. Aston Villa were fuming at the clock running we engaged in at Villa Park on New Year’s Day and while they could have helped themselves in that regard by not booting our goalkeeper square in the face, there were certainly some antics from Darnell Furlong and Pawel Wszolek in the second half which were somewhere on the spectrum between shithousery and out and out cheating.
We’ve had it done to us, and we’ve done it to other teams. Time wasting, play acting, injury feigning and gamesmanship seems to have infested the division this year to the point where as soon as teams have what they want from a game (even if that’s 0-0 after 15 minutes of it) they set about trying to kill it. This needs clamping down on, but until it is we can’t just wave a fucking lace doily in the air and say we’re above all of it while losing to teams that aren’t.
At times of late we’ve perhaps taken this 'new, hard QPR' stuff too far – wasting time early in first halves at Leeds and Sheff Utd when the score is 0-0 smacks of a lack of ambition and once the Blades had scored last weekend we didn’t really seem to have a plan B. The first performance we’ve turned in for a while that suggested a promising season may yet just drift away into a dull midtable finish.
We’ve talked a lot about ‘tests of how far Rangers have come’ on here, and while that’s probably just a product of having to churn these previews out so often it is also because none of us are really sure. Keeping clean sheets, winning away, winning away at Forest, winning in the FA Cup, looking like we know what we’re doing – these are all signs that we have indeed progressed on a year ago. But it wouldn’t take much for it to slip away into a lower midtable finish. Rearranging the West Brom game for February 19 leaves us with a fearsome month when we play three of the top six and five of the top eight. Go out of the FA Cup at Portsmouth and struggle in those games and we could be left with a collection of games across the last two months with nothing much riding on them and loan players eyeing up their next move. “Do we all agree McClaren needs three years at least?” asked one message board thread this week, to which one wise sage replied “three years? You see the mood change if we lose three games”. That’s eminently possible with the fixtures we have coming up.
So yeh, Preston is a test. A test of whether we are going to push on up the table through the spring – for surely we’ll need positive results here and against Wigan in the next league games to set us up for that given what comes after it. And a test of whether we are a little bit brighter, a little bit harder, a littler bit cuter than we have been against them in the past few seasons.
Not getting beaten up would be half a start.
Geoff Cameron Facts #22 - Geoff is able to watch all of Leeds United’s training from the comfort of the living room in his eight-bedroom mansion after picking up one of the world’s most powerful electromagnetic telescopes off eBay. He told a reporter from the Sacramento Times this week that he didn’t feel the sessions being laid on by the decorated former coach of Bilbao, Marseille, Argentina and Chile were “all that”.
Team News: QPR are still without Tomer Hemed, Angel Rangel and Geoff Cameron who are all out long term, although Hemed is back in light training, Rangel is back out on the grass and all three are expected to be back in some sort of contention for that nightmare run in February. Australia made the knock outs of the Asia Cup so Massimo Luongo is still away which means it’s almost certainly going to be the same team again despite last week’s lacklustre showing at Bramall Lane. Paul Smyth signed an extended contract to 2021 today but is now likely to spend the second half of the season out on loan. We’re offering two tickets on a 45-minute aerial tour of Chippenham in a hot air balloon shaped like Iain Dowie’s head for any sighting of Sean Goss.
Preston have had dire luck with injuries with former Man Utd man Josh Harrop among those missing some or all of the campaign. Those absences are compounded this weekend by Josh Earl spending a game on the naughty step after getting the full Keith Stroud treatment last weekend. Tom Clarke (who doesn’t like leaving the north) and Paul Huntingdon (recovering from a disappointing middle-class holiday) are both doubts. They have managed to strengthen this January signing Exeter striker Jayden Stockley and Barnsley midfielder Brad Potts who both made debuts in the draw with Swansea last weekend.
Elsewhere: Having taken up residency inside Frank Lampard’s head prior to last weekend’s comprehensive hammering of Frank Lampard’s Derby County at Elland Road, this week Marcelo Bielsa responded to increasingly over-the-top criticism (Martin Keown lecturing on sportsmanship? Really?) of his so-called “spying” operation by revealing every intricate detail of what they know about the Rams to the rest of the division to prove just how little he needed to watch their poxy training session. It’s a shame he’s at Leeds, you’ve got love footballing genius and trolling on this sort of level. The Champions of Europe are at Stoke City this weekend, dumped out of the FA Cup by Shrewsbury (and our old youth team prospect Josh Laurent) during the week despite leading 2-0.
It must be hard being Frank at the moment, navigating the choppy waters of football management with a moral compass that tells you watching training sessions through a fence with a pair of binoculars is very bad but responding when a team mate calls an opponent a “fucking black cunt” is a bit of a grey area. While wrestling that one around in his mind he’s suddenly remembered his old mate Cashley Cole is out of work and negotiations are underway for a short-term deal to bolster the Sheep’s promotion charge ahead of a home game with Reading. One hopes Mel Morris makes him an offer he deems worthy of his stature, wouldn’t want Cash having to pull his customised Range Rover over to the side of the road in a towering rage again. Perhaps Derby could pay for it by investing in some shares in Imperial Tobacco UK – they went through the roof in early trading today as news that not only Cole but also his frequently pregnant girlfriend Sharon Canu might be billowing back to these shores soon. You really plough through them when you're smoking for two.
Three of the other promotion contenders make up this weekend’s tellybox games with Borussia Norwich going first against Birmingham tonight, followed by Sheffield Red Stripes’ trip to Swanselona tomorrow evening in an exciting fixture between two teams beginning with S, and then West Brom at Basket Case Bolton on Monday.
Big Racist John will be pleased about Cashley’s return anyway. Always good to have somebody who’s willing to stand up in court and corroborate your story despite what the video evidence says close at hand. Cash’s return couldn’t really be better timed for one of football’s big thinkers either, with Villa taking on board his coaching tips to such an extent they’ve recorded back-to-back 3-0 defeats and conceded eight goals in three games including three at Wigan Warriors last weekend. Allam Tigers, who’ve won six in a row to surge into the top half of the table, are the awkward visitors to Villa Park this weekend. Wigan, meanwhile, are at Sheffield Owls, who are still waiting for Steve Bruce to get back from the cricket.
Martin O’Neil is the new man in charge at Nottingham Trees, restarting the cycle of spend money-get results-start comparing manager to Brian Clough-declare the good times returned-go on losing run-sack manager for another 12 months. He starts with a home match against Bristol City on Saturday.
A win, and a goal for Will Keane, last weekend for the Ipswich Blue Sox – do not adjust your sets. James Collins has been added to their defence and Alan Judge looks a handy signing for the wide midfield role if he can keep his nose clean. They’ll have to go some to stay up from where they are now though, with just three wins so far, and they’re away at the Mad Chicken Farmers this weekend.
Middlesbrough v Millwall is this round’s exciting fixture between two teams beginning with M and it’s hard to imagine that Spartak Hounslow won’t be the best team that Rotherham have played all season.
If I’ve missed anything it wasn’t worth bothering with anyway.
Referee: Andy Madley is in charge of a QPR game for the first time since Brentford away last April when he awarded a penalty against, albeit a blatant one, that The Bees subsequently missed despite being probably the best takers of penalties that we’d faced all season. He’s had two Preston fixtures so far and you can find details of that, his past QPR games, and his recent stats here.
QPR: Rangers have a dreadful recent record against Preston with no wins in the last eight meetings and only four goals scored in that time. PNE have won their last two visits to Loftus Road and kept clean sheets in four of the last seven meetings between the two clubs. Not ideal opponents, therefore, to be facing after last weekend’s oddly lacklustre 1-0 loss at Sheffield United where QPR failed to have a shot on goal from inside the penalty box in the entire game and didn’t really register a serious effort on target across the 90 minutes. That brought to an end the latest unbeaten run this season - four wins and two draws in six games this time – that has lifted the R’s to within four points of the play-off places. Positive results against Preston here and Wigan the other side of the FA Cup match are needed to maintain that with a frightening looking February on the horizon in which Rangers play three of the top six and five of the top eight. Rangers have registered just one goal from a substitute this season, reinforcing criticism of the way Steve McClaren uses his bench – Preston, by contrast, have scored eight, the most in the league.
Preston: It’s been a season in three parts for Preston. One win in their first 11 league games, against us naturally, had them deep in the relegation dog fight but a subsequent run of one defeat in 12 which included four goal hauls against Brentford, Wigan and Blackburn lifted them clear. It’s been a dire winter so far though and they arrive into this game bottom of the division’s form table with four defeats and two draws in their last six games and nursing an FA Cup exit at the hands of Doncaster Rovers. They lost 2-1 at Rotherham in their last away game and overall on the road this season have won two, drawn three and lost eight with the wins coming at Bristol City and Nottingham Forest (both 1-0). Only Ipswich (46) and Sheff Wed (45) have conceded more than their 44 goals against this season. Despite all of this, Preston haven’t conceded a goal in the first 15 minutes of a game – the only side in the league not to do so.
Prediction: A new leader of our Prediction League following last week’s narrow loss at Sheff Utd, with WokingR now two points ahead of DanRangers despite having predicted one game fewer. The winner gets goodies from our generous sponsor Art of Football. Get involved here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Reigning champion Elliott tells us…
“Preston sit rock bottom of the current form table so you’ve got to fancy us against them at the moment. They have signed a couple of new players so we’ll have to be weary of them but I think we’ll have enough to win here.”
Elliott’s Predicition: QPR 2-1 Preston. Scorer – Nahkiiiiiiiiiiii Wells
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-0 Preston. Scorer – Nahkiiiiiiiiiiiii Wells
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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