I just want to tell you good luck, we're all counting on you - Preview
Tuesday, 5th Feb 2019 12:09 by Clive Whittingham
QPR are back at Loftus Road tonight for an FA Cup fourth round replay with Portsmouth on which their entire season hangs.
QPR (11-6-12, DWLLDL, 14th) v Portsmouth (17-7-6, LLWDLD, 3rd)
Zeneth Data Systems Centenary Trophy >>> Tuesday February 5, 2019 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Cloudy, damp later >>> Loftus Road, London, W12
Steve McClaren has won the QPR fans over twice before.
In 2013 when he came to the club as a coach it looked like one of Harry Redknapp’s classic jobs for the boys routine, spending some more money on another big name to come in and go through the motions so he could sit in his portacabin and read the Racing Post rather than doing any of the actual work he was being paid a fortune for. But McClaren took to the task well, putting the team through a pre-season that set them up to go unbeaten through the first 11 matches and keeping a club record eight consecutive clean sheets. Rangers were never as good once he’d left, dropping out of the automatic promotion picture once Charlie Austin was injured and scraping up in the play-off final against McClaren’s new Derby side. The former England manager stood on the pitch at the end of the game and applauded his old team up the steps, which was a nice touch that didn’t go unnoticed or forgotten in W12.
At the start of this season when he returned as manager in his own right, it very quickly looked like a massive mistake. Ian Holloway had been far from perfect, his wildly fluctuating team selections infuriating the supporters and confusing the players, but he knew the restrictions of the job and was working well within them, he loved the club and by the end of last season he had the likes of Ebere Eze, Paul Smyth, Bright Osayi-Samuel, Ilias Chair, Darnell Furlong and Ryan Manning all in and around the team and, at home at least, was getting some eye catching results from them. When McClaren came in, bombed all but one (Eze) of the kids out of the team and demanded experienced loan signings while losing his first four games and conceding 13 goals it looked like we’d made another one of the missteps that have come to define the Tony Fernandes-era at Loftus Road.
But despite losing both the first choice centre backs and an excellent goalkeeper from last year’s side, McClaren has been able to craft a very watchable team from meagre raw materials at Loftus Road this season. Sure, Holloway would have killed to have strikers of the quality of Nahki Wells and Tomer Hemed to use when he was milking a midtable finish out of Matt Smith, Conor Washington and Idrissa Sylla. But then would Holloway have coped as well as McClaren has with the loss of Nedum Onuoha, Jack Robinson and Alex Smithies? Would players of the calibre of Wells, Hemed, Cameron and Rangel have signed for him?
All irrelevant ifs, buts and maybes but was is certain is that QPR were very good indeed through October and early November, and then again through December. Far better than they’d been last season in every department, defending strongly, attacking creatively, playing with purpose, looking as if they knew what they were doing. Not only that, but for the first time in a generation Rangers have been doing it with three youth team graduates in the starting 11. Believe in Schteve and all that.
Now though, McClaren needs to prove some doubters wrong again. While his consistent team selections have been welcome after the nonsense of last season when we’d beat Sheff Wed 4-2 on the Tuesday and then drop all the goalscorers from it for a home defeat to Preston on the Saturday, it has put a very concentrated group of players through a huge amount of minutes this season. It has also made Rangers very easy to predict – everybody knows how we’re going to line up and how we’re going to play and are combatting it effectively. Preston completely took us apart. Three consecutive league defeats for the first time since August, and three poor performances into the bargain, have people pointing out that McClaren’s team faded away from a good start three times in two separate spells at Derby. Tired, predictable and shot by the end of the season, they lost to us at Wembley one year and then bombed out of the top six picture right at the death on two other occasions.
The mass loaning out of players who could have come into the side with something to prove as the season winds down leaves us with a small pool of first teamers to select from, several of whom are going to know a long time before May that their future does not lie here at Loftus Road – either because their loan is coming to an end or because their contract is up. When you’re midtable with nothing to play for, that can be a lethal combination and could see a promising season just drift away into apathy and lethargy. It is one of the downsides of relying so heavily on loans.
That, and so many other reasons besides, makes tonight’s match with Portsmouth absolutely massive. QPR have been offered a home game with Portsmouth and another with Watford to reach the quarter finals/sixth round of the FA Cup for the first time in 24 years. It’s not easy by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s an opportunity every single one of us would have snapped your arm off for at the start of the season and one that simply must not be passed up. Hell, we’re three wins away from a Wembley semi-final. We could get there by beating Pompey, Watford and Doncaster Rovers. This tournament is wide open this season and after a generation of hurt in it McClaren and his team have a chance to be heroes in this part of the world if they can rediscover some of that October and December form tonight and then again a week on Friday.
McClaren has proven rather adept at dragging a result out of the fire just when it’s been needed this season. Against Wigan at home in August when it felt like his job was on the line, at Reading in October after the Blackpool and Swansea debacles, and now hopefully tonight against Portsmouth after a poor January. Arm the players if we have to, but this is a magnificent chance for our football club and passing it up in the manner we’ve done in cup competitions over the past two decades would be a difficult one to forgive quickly. The season hangs on tonight’s game, and the result of it will go a long way to informing opinion on McClaren when we look back on his reign in the years to come. The manager who banished the cup demons, or the guy that was in charge when we passed up that glorious FA Cup opportunity?
Geoff Cameron Facts #25 – Geoff’s beard is grown to cover a neck tattoo protesting the socialist government of Venezuela so as to comply with league rules about political messages on shirts/faces.
Team News: With so many players loaned out or injured, the QPR side pretty much picks itself despite the poor showing at Wigan at the weekend and run of league defeats. Bright Osayi-Samuel may push for a start after a goal off the bench at the weekend and indifferent performances from Pawel Wszolek and Ebere Eze and Grant Hall maybe also fancies his chances after the Leistner and Lynch show at the weekend but with Angel Rangel, Geoff Cameron and Tomer Hemed all still injured it’s highly likely to be the same team again tonight. Hemed is, however, nearing a return from his hernia op.
For Portsmouth, Dion Donohue is out because of an overprotective parent while Jack Whatmough is out with rickets.
Elsewhere: Four games tonight, including our own, led by League Two Newport, who knocked Premier League Leicester out in round three, at home to Middlesbrough. Spartak Hounslow host Barnet in the Beeplay at Griffin Park after their thrilling 3-3 draw last Monday – Barnet chairman Tony Kleanthous is not attending the game and will give up his club’s seats in the directors box to fans in protest at Brentford refusing to meet the FA Cup’s 15% of capacity away allocation for the tie. Wolves Reserves are hosting Stoke’s conquerors Shrewsbury at Molineux. Tomorrow it’s Brighton Reserves v West Brom Reserves live on the tellybox.
Referee: Couldn’t have just given it to Gavin Ward again and made my life easier could they? David Coote.
QPR: Rangers have very quickly gone from the top of the Championship form table after a third straight victory on Boxing Day, to the bottom of it now with no wins in five league games and three consecutive defeats for the first time since that dire start back in August. The run is punctured by that 2-1 win against Leeds here in round three but that is QPR’s only success in seven matches now since Ipswich were beaten at Loftus Road at Christmas. Rangers have scored one goal or fewer in their last four games, including the draw at Fratton Park, and lost 4-1 to Preston last time out at Loftus Road. They haven’t been to the FA Cup fifth round since 1997, or the sixth round since 1995. The draw that forced the replay extended an unbeaten run against Pompey to eight matches dating back to a 3-0 loss at Fratton Park in 1998 – six of those games have been drawn though, five of them 1-1.
Portsmouth: Much like QPR, Portsmouth’s FA Cup exertions have coincided with a drop off in league form. A run of four straight wins in all comps had been interrupted by single goal defeats to Blackpool and Oxford prior to the first meeting between these sides, and since then they’ve lost a crucial promotion six pointer at Luton 3-2 and drawn 1-1 at home to Doncaster Rovers. That leaves them nursing just one win and three defeats from their last six games, which has seen them slide to third in the League One table behind Luton and Barnsley. Away from home recently it’s been a real mixed bag with defeats at Luton (3-2), Oxford (2-1) and Gillingham (2-0); wins at Fleetwood (5-2), Norwich (1-0) and Southend (2-0) and a draw at Barnsley (1-1). Overall away from home in the league this season they’ve won nine, drawn three and lost three. They reached this stage of the competition with three away wins – 4-0 at Maidenhead, 1-0 at Rochdale and 1-0 at Norwich.
Prediction: Probably cursing us, but I’m going for a narrow win. The season hangs on this game, while Portsmouth have other stuff to focus on, and to this point Steve McClaren has been very good at pulling a result out of the hat to halt escalating poor runs.
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-1 Portsmouth. Scorer – Nahkiiiiiiiiiii Wells
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When Saturday Comes #7 by wessex_exile
Well that didn’t go as planned at all – after a stirring battling performance full of grit, character and togetherness with the small band of travelling supporters at Barrow, the U’s then finally returned back to the JobServe and completely failed to turn up against bogey side Crawley. They weren’t the only ones either, Hayden Mullins was absent as well, and we have since learned he has Covid-19 and will also miss tomorrow’s game at Swindon too – I know we all wish Hayden a speedy recovery. Fortunately, I won’t be missing the match, with tickets arriving last weekend – first live game for best part of 18 months, and I can’t bloody wait!
When Saturday Comes #6 by wessex_exile
After over a month of absence, the U’s finally make a welcome return to the JobServe for a home league fixture. Sutton seem to have quickly got over their Covid-19/ injury crisis/ international call-up woes, fielding a team the following Tuesday that was strong enough to push Cardiff City hard in a narrow 3-2 defeat to the Championship side. But enough of that, I haven’t seen the outcome of the EFL investigation, but I don’t doubt the decision has either already been or will be rubber-stamped. Gamesmanship – maybe, but I hope at least the EFL are now a bit more alert to the fact that some might think they can treat them like chumps when it suits their purpose? Still – it’s great to be back home isn’t it!
When Saturday Comes #5 by wessex_exile
“Well, I can tell u my son was stood nearer the back of the Holker Street end and although he couldn't see who was responsible, he was disgusted and was very clear in telling me that the 'N' word was used by someone stood directly behind the goal nearer the front. I'm sick of hearing this, no one but the player being abused heard anything so maybe he was mistaken crap. This shite still exists despite everything that the authorities try to do because unfortunately there are still racists in every, city, town, village and hamlet in this country. [SwearFilter] scum of the earth.”
When Saturday Comes #4 by wessex_exile
I start with an apology for the no-show last weekend, but for all the right reasons. My nephew and his fiancé finally managed to tie the knot on Friday, at the fifth time of asking (previous four attempts falling foul of covid restrictions unfortunately). It was a fantastic afternoon and evening over in Essex, but meant it just wasn’t possible to get a blog produced. A significant proportion of the wedding party were U’s supporters, including the groom, but any thought of live-streaming the Rochdale game at the evening celebration might have resulted in the fastest divorce on record, so we contented ourselves with surreptitious glances at the BBC Sports updates – and what an own goal it was! Different circumstances, but I was (painfully) reminded of Aidan and Kevin’s howler at Blackburn – golden rule, never, ever pass the ball directly towards your own goal.
When Saturday Comes #3 by wessex_exile
The goalless U’s have eventually got that monkey off their backs, with the Frank and Freddie show combining to win a somewhat dubious penalty, in the 5th minute of injury time, allowing Freddie to get his new goal account at the U’s off and running (all in all he now has 37 goals, five of them penalties). It was tight though, and on another day the goalkeeper would have got a hand to it, but they all count, whether it’s a 25 yard peach or one off the arse. Everyone has rightly said that without doubt Mansfield were the best side we’ve faced so far – I’ll go so far as to say they’ll probably be one of the best sides we face all season. Though it wasn’t comfortable viewing at the time, some of their passing and movement, particularly on the break, was breath-taking at times. But enough of the love-in, however good they were, the U’s stood up to them, kept them out for the most part, and eventually got the point we deserved.
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