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Portsmouth 1 v 1 Queens Park Rangers
FA Cup
Saturday, 26th January 2019 Kick-off 15:00
Stern Pompey test awaits as QPR enter uncharted cup territory - Preview
Friday, 25th Jan 2019 19:44 by Clive Whittingham

QPR have a proper FA Cup tie on Saturday, down to the south coast to face League One leaders Portsmouth.

Portsmouth (17-6-5, WWWLLW, 1st) v QPR (11-6-11, WDDWLL, 14th)

Zenith Data Systems Centenary Trophy >>> Saturday January 26, 2019 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Wet and windy >>> Fratton Park, Portsmouth

Back in the Italia 90 World Cup a group of the more senior, grizzled sports journalists on the circuit hatched a plan to get from a game in Milan’s San Siro Stadium one evening down to Rome’s Stadio Olympico for another the following day by hiring a car and sharing the driving through the night. As they were loading up after the final whistle, Sheffield Wednesday manager Howard Wilkinson came haring across the car park looking for a lift. He was there scouting for Bobby Robson’s England set up, famously reporting back that Cameroon were “rubbish” before the African side gave the Three Lions the fright of their lives in the knockout.

Begrudgingly, he was allowed to take the spare seat in the car but as the journey began it became clear that while the hacks saw the trip as a chance to catch up on some sleep, he saw an opportunity to make it clear just how much more he knew about football than them and set sail on long, drawn out, tactical breakdown of what teams were doing at the World Cup. This was stomached for a small while before Hugh McIllvanney, without opening his eyes, asked: “Howard, if you know so much about football, why were your Sheffield Wednesday team so dreadful to watch?” Another prolonged reply came forth, basically saying that if Sheff Wed had the use of Ruud Gullit, Franz Beckenbauer, Roberto Baggio and others then they wouldn’t play football in the style they did. McIlvanney came back on this without missing a beat, saying: “Howard, if Ruud Gullit, Franz Beckenbauer and Roberto Baggio were playing for Sheffield Wednesday, you wouldn’t have been the fucking manager.” They slept in peace for the rest of the trip.

I throw that in here apropos of nothing, except that McIlvanney died this week aged 84 and he made a nervous kid from Grimsby want to be a sports journalist almost as much as Andy Sinton made me want to be a winger for Queens Park Rangers. He’d still been working at 81, which made him the only journalist still on the circuit who was working the last time QPR reached the FA Cup fifth round. There you go, there’s your segue.

Portsmouth away eh? That’s a cup tie with some chest hair. To be fair, it’s not a two and half hour trek out of Euston to a part of the country that’s frequently under water and has housing stock that costs less than a round of drinks on Shepherd’s Bush Green so that immediately elevates it above all the other away games we’ve had to endure this season. It’s a chance to get into the FA Cup fifth round, which would elevate it above anything we’ve done in this competition since 1997. It’s a chance to win away in the fourth round for the first time since 1972/73.

It’s QPR’s first trip to Fratton Park since 2010. Not so much an advert for the Championship in the way Shaun Harvey would like to think of his poxy league, but a pretty accurate reflection of the sort of nonsense that can occur at that level of football in the care of the right/wrong referee. QPR had Matt Connolly sent off and a penalty awarded against them, which Portsmouth were allowed to have another go at after Paddy Kenny saved the first one – just because. We then had several very decent appeals for a spot kick of our own turned down before, in injury time, Liam Lawrence was punished for handball in his own box when the ball looked to have struck his chest.

Lawrence was livid, confronting both officials with a look of rage on his face. By the time his dissent earned him a second yellow card and subsequent red he had torn the shirt from his back to show the telltale football print on his chest. With the shirt hanging loosely around his neck like some sort of sash and his peroxide blonde hair he looked like some crazed Miss Arizona, protesting at being stripped of her title.

God I come out with some nonsense sometimes. Tommy Smith, technically on loan from financially stricken Pompey at the time, slid home the penalty for a 1-1 draw which stretched Neil Warnock’s unbeaten start to the season to 16 games. Those really were the days. The authorities enjoyed it so much they’ve invited Gavin Ward back to referee Saturday’s game as well. They do have some weird and wonderful ideas.

Portsmouth have been all the way to the bottom and halfway back again since then. A succession of scandalously ruinous foreign ownership running one of the country’s more historic football clubs to the brink of extinction under the passive gaze of first the Premier League, then the Football League, and at all times the Football Association. No surprise, as at Wimbledon, when the authorities are caught in fragrant dereliction of duty that it’s the supporters who step in and sort the job out. Finances have been restored under the ownership of the Supporters Trust and while it seems rather a shame that they subsequently sold it on again to former Disney supremo Michael Eisner, he has so far proved a more sturdy custodian than the chancers who were allowed to wreak havoc here before him.

QPR have been all the way to the top and halfway back since then. A huge opportunity to consolidate in the Premier League just as the television money became potentially club transforming spurned amidst a catalogue of mismanagement that took the best season and team we’d had in a generation and sacrificed it on the altar of Mark Hughes, Mike Rigg, Harry Redknapp and Kia Joorabchian. The team that night at Fratton Park included talents like Kyle Walker, Adel Taarabt, Smith and Ale Faurlin, grit like Kaspars Gorkss, Shaun Derry and Clint Hill, characters like Jamie Mackie and Paddy Kenny. We went from that to Joey Barton Tweeting abuse to club legend Rodney Marsh from the comfort of a £10m pad next to Kew Gardens in double quick time.

Where the two clubs are now probably dictates their attitude to Saturday’s game. Portsmouth are a point clear of Luton Bastard Town with Sunderland in hot pursuit (please, guys, not Luton, anything but that) but have suddenly lost a couple of league games in a row for the first time this season amidst a combination of fixture congestion, injuries, loanees returning to parent clubs and stars from the first half of the season looking a little leggy. As we’ve often said on here, Pompey have found that a cup run has bred confidence and momentum rather than hindered league efforts. Their last minute winner at Norwich in round three brought all the usual sniffy Tweets and comments about “celebrating like they’ve won the World Cup” and “they were even celebrating in the press box” but frankly if you can’t go a bit mental with a last minute winner away from home against a team in a higher division then is there any point in being alive? With those two league defeats since though, do they need a replay or round five game beyond this one? To be fair, Kenny Jackett combined runs to the FA Cup final, and semi-final, with good league campaigns while at Millwall so I wouldn’t be expecting them to go too easy in front of a big, boisterous home crowd. They’d see this ias winnable, even without QPR’s dire cup record.

For Steve McClaren, it’s a game on which the season could pivot. The no-show at Sheff Utd and aberration against Preston has shifted QPR away from a play-off picture they were threatening to get involved in and without a positive result at Wigan next time out they’ll really have to go some through a difficult February to stay remotely in touch. This could very quickly drift away into a season of nothing to play for, with several loan players we can’t afford to sign permanently and a multitude of out of contract players going through the motions thinking about their next move. But as a mid-table team with plenty about it, and key players to return to the fold next month, we are absolutely prime material for a cup run, if only we were called something else and played in a different strip. Having derailed progress, optimism and mood around the place once already by crashing out of the League Cup to League One opposition amidst a couple of league defeats, let’s please not repeat the trick here.

Whatever happens, it is at least halfway exciting, and when you’re stuck in the middle of the Championship in a run of games against Preston, Wigan and Birmingham bloody City that’s something to clasp onto and treasure – which is exactly what 2,875 of you have done.

Links >>> Small blip in great season – Interview >>> Bobby Dazzler – Podcast >>> Ward back for reunion – Referee

Geoff Cameron Facts #23 – Geoff has attempted to speed up his recovery from injury by moving his family into a cryogenic chamber where they sit together and watch the montages from Rocky on a loop.

Saturday

Team News: QPR will take a check on Ebere Eze prior to travelling, although given that he’s looked a bit leggy in recent games anyway and Ilias Chair has caught the eye in his position off the bench a bit of a change and a rest there might not have been a bad idea anyway. David Wheeler returned from loan at Portsmouth just long enough to impart five months of knowledge on Kenny Jackett’s men and their team selection this weekend before heading back out again to MK Dons – take that Marcelo Bielsa, not amateur hour this. We’re offering 24,500 tickets to Wheeler’s home debut for any sighting of Sean Goss. Paul Smyth has also headed out to Accrington Stanley for the second half of the season though a rumoured move to Millwall for Matt Smith has not materialised so expect the 24th attempt to make him fit into this side to be attempted around the seventieth minute if things aren’t going well. Angel Rangel, Tomer Hemed and Geoff Cameron are the long termers but Massimo Luongo will be back for Wigan after Australia’s tragic elimination from the Mercantile Credit Trophy this afternoon.

The star of the first half of the season at Pompey, and the reason David Wheeler couldn’t get a game, Jamal Lowe is on the naughty step for this one. Midfielder Andy Cannon is cup tied.

Elsewhere: Loads and loads and loads of this to get through because while some of us titans of industry are flaunting our wares and bulgey muscles in the FA Cup, some of the punier waifs and strays of the sport are left to contemplate their own complete lack of self worth with a standard league game this weekend.

The grown ups start tonight with Arsenal Reserves v Man Utd Reserves – the former coming round to the realisation that they’re still soft as shit fam even having forced out Arsene Wenger blud, the latter going for their 378th consecutive win under Ole Gunnar Moldestaar. Bristol City v Basket Case Bolton is this round’s exciting fixture between two sides beginning with B and that’s tonight as well, because neither of them can really be arsed with it and they want it out of the way so they can get down to B&Q tomorrow and get that decking stuff sorted.

Tomorrow, Accrington v Frank Lampard’s Derby County. I love that tie so much I want to have sex with it. Brighton Reserves v West Brom Reserves, less so. Doncaster v Oldham guarantees a bye for somebody in the next round. Man City Reserves v Burnley Reserves guarantees a Man City for somebody in the next round. Newport’s reward for knocking out Leicester is a trip to Pulisball which probably makes them wish they hadn’t bloody bothered now.

The Saturday 15.00 kick offs are rounded off with Newcastle Reserves v Watford Reserves, Wolves Reserves away to Shrewsbury and Swansea at home to Cardiff’s conquerors Gillingham. Everton Reserves are probably looking forward to their Saturday night trip to Millwall Scholars as much as anybody can look forward to being kicked in the head in the car park of a flat roof pub and West Ham Reserves need to overcome Real Wimbledon away for the second time this season having had an earlier scare there in the Simod Cup before Christmas.

More on Sunday. Moooooorrrrreeeeeeee. Crystal Palace Reserves v Tottenham Reserves might be alright. Chelsea Reserves v Sheffield Owls has been moved to Sunday at 18.00 after a panel deemed it marginally more attractive than a trip to the clap clinic and therefore presumably in demand from whatever sex case thinks that’s something they want to watch on their tellybox.

A Championship team heading to Barnet on Monday night may ordinarily smell of a classic upset but, if we’re really honest, Spartak Hounslow will almost certainly be the best team they’ve played all season. Eight nil I reckon, assuming Barnet let them play properly, which they really should, in the interests of the sport as a whole.

League wankers in action include the Champions of Europe who became the first team to lose an FA Cup game to QPR at the first time of asking in 22 years in January and are rewarded for their charity with a trip to Rotherham. Big Racist John and the Boys are at home to Ipswich Down, the in form Allam Tigers go to the Mad Chicken Farmers in the Fit and Proper Owner derby, and Martin O’Neill goes in search of a first win as Nottingham Trees boss at home to Wigan Warriors. The mere thought of Stoke playing Preston Knob End should be enough to keep the children up at night, but fear not because there’s a spectacular promotion clash between Borussia Norwich and Sheffield Red Stripes to make up for it.

We rise at nine, for nine thirty.

Referee: Epic Bantz.

Form

Portsmouth: Pompey have 57 points from 28 games to top League One, one point ahead of Luton Bastard Town (please, guys, not Luton, anything but that) and have only lost five games in the league all season. They have, however, lost their last two at home to Blackpool and away to Oxford suggesting a bit of a wobble. Three of the five defeats have come at Fratton Park, where Gilliingham and Charlton have also won this season along with Wimbledon in the first round of the League Cup. Pompey beat Championship side Norwich 1-0 at Carrow Road in the third round of the FA Cup to set up this tie having knocked out Rochdale (1-0) and Maidenhead (4-0) in the previous rounds – this is their first home draw in the competition so far.

QPR: This is the first meeting with Portsmouth since the teams shared a division in 2010/11 – QPR drew 1-1 at Fratton Park and won the return fixture 2-0. They haven’t lost to Portsmouth in the last seven meetings going back to 1998/99 although five of those games have finished as draws, four of them 1-1. The win against Leeds in round three was the first time QPR have won an FA Cup game without the need for a replay since the Trevor Sinclair bicycle kick in 1997. They haven’t won an away match without a replay since beating Tranmere 2-0 the season before that and haven’t won away in the fourth round since beating Oxford in 1972/73. Their last fifth round game was away at Wimbledon in 1997 when they lost 2-1 despite a rare moment of quality from Mark Hateley and QPR fans filling three sides of Selhurst Park. On the off chance QPR were to win here would see our league game with Leeds United currently scheduled for Saturday February 16 rearranged.

Prediction: Impossible to call. More so than normal. This team seems to respond well when given the chance to end a jinx or make a bit of history – we’ve seen them win at Forest, win in the FA Cup, and win away games this season when their predecessors couldn’t. But, at the same time, after keeping the same starting 11 through the hectic Christmas period, and suffered injuries to key players, we’ve looked a little leggy and vulnerable in the last two matches. I can see us losing 2-0, I can see us winning 2-0, and if you nailed me to the wall and made me choose I’d end up going with…

LFW’s Prediction: Portsmouth 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Nahkiiiiiiiii Wells

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sipower added 20:10 - Jan 25
Right I don't post often but your McIlvanney words rang bells . The knack he had of knowing how to really write (not report) about sport in depth with heart and wit is all over your stuff - explains a lot.
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Paddyhoops added 21:03 - Jan 25
Hugh mcilvanney could spot a prick from 10 miles away!! RIP. A journalistic giant.
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extratimeR added 21:24 - Jan 25
Hugh McIlvanney was a giant, a marvellous journalist, ah Miss Arizona..... seems like yesterday, has it really gone than quick?, an awful lot of beers ago!
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terryb added 10:22 - Jan 26
I missed the sad news about the death of Hugh Mcilvanney.

Certainly one of the best football reporters I've read. RIP Hugh & thank you.

A wonderful story to be relayed to us Clive. Wilkinson's teams were awful to watch. I assume Pullis based his tactics on Howard!
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isawqpratwcity added 11:02 - Jan 26
Nice intro!
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PinnerPaul added 12:54 - Jan 27
Spot on prediction - you could have made some money on that!
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