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Middlesbrough 2 v 0 Queens Park Rangers
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 23rd February 2019 Kick-off 15:00
Seven straws to clutch at – Preview
Friday, 22nd Feb 2019 19:00 by Clive Whittingham

QPR, on another one of their six match losing runs, again find themselves facing a promotion-chasing team at Middlesbrough on Saturday.

Middlesbrough (14-12-6, DWLLDW, 5th) v QPR (11-6-15, LWLLLL, 18th)

Lancashire and District Senior League >>> Saturday February 23, 2019 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Sunny but windy >>> Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough

Here we are again then, staring up at the sky from the bottom of a six-match losing run. Drunk on the pain of defeat. Crawling on hands and knees up a steep hill littered with broken glass just to get a point only to find another stoppage time catastrophe waiting for us at the top. Two years ago QPR had only lost six consecutive league matches once in their history – they’ve done it three times since and come mighty close to a fourth. Defeats come easily for a team that seems to have to expend so much energy for every scraped victory.

But what you going to do? Sit in the corner of a dark room rocking backwards and forwards? Drink yourself numb? Go all Arthur Fowler and smash the living room furniture up? Yeh, ok, going to watch QPR at the moment feels like taking your dog to be put down three times a week. But, hey, even if that was the situation at least you don’t have to pick up its shit any more right? There’s a silver lining to every cloud and in a stark departure from LFW mood/style/better judgement we’re going to attempt to find some of those vaguely positive straws to clutch onto now. So, who wants to go first?

- Players coming back. Much has rightly been made of the effect Geoff Cameron’s injury has had on the team, removing protection from in front of an accident-prone defence and depriving it of that auxiliary third centre back that he would often drop into being during tough spells late in games. In theory he’s back in March and that will make a difference, but so too should the return of Tomer Hemed to the attack. I haven’t been overly thrilled with Hemed this season to be honest, and it irks me that Ebere Eze has been facing accusations of laziness while Hemed has been allowed to miss three months of football with a hernia and pretty much just go through the motions when he has played (and not even that against Bristol City or Watford). But he looked a real threat as a substitute against West Brom and the idea of a physical presence up front, a player capable of playing lone striker in a 4-2-3-1, and a proven goalscorer at this level coming back into the team just as Nahki Wells’ form collapses completely is an attractive one. He owes us, and his return should be good news.

- Maffs. If you are going to lose six games in a row, then 39 points isn’t a bad total to have in the bag already at this stage of the season. Since Peterborough were incredibly relegated on 54 points the survival mark in this division has been 44, 42, 41, 51 and 42 – totals well, well within QPR’s grasp even if they end up losing another dozen of the remaining matches. While we were playing cup football last weekend Rotherham blew a lead at home to a poor Sheff Wed team while Bolton and Reading were both soundly thrashed 4-0. If Rotherham (third bottom) continue to pick up points at the average they’ve maintained over the season they’ll finish on 40 and Bolton on 36. If QPR lose every single game between now and the end of the season Ipswich, who’ve won three all season, still need to win seven of their remaining 13 to catch us. The chasing pack isn’t chasing very hard, there’s a ten point gap, the maths and history is on our side for now.

- Fixtures. Having to play six of the top eight in the division, and a Premier League team, all in the shortest month of the year has been a unique challenge that has proved beyond this team. Once the game at Brentford is out of the way next week we embark on a run of less difficult fixtures, with Bolton, Rotherham and Stoke all to come to Loftus Road in March. Rangers’ final dozen games include fixtures with the teams currently 23rd, 22nd, 19th, 17th, 16th, 15th, 14th, 13th and 12th. With the players coming back in point one and the points already on the board from point two that really should be enough to cobble together enough points to keep us safe.

- The dressing room. The first half against Birmingham, following on from the Preston thrashing, was a massive concern for me. But the second half fightback there, and the subsequent performances against Watford, Bristol City and West Brom, suggest the team is still together and behind the manager. We’ve seen players down here that didn’t care, and we’ve seen dressing rooms that have got away from the manager – we know what it looks like, we know what it means, we know what it smells like and we know what happens when it’s the case. This lot, so far, don’t whiff of that. They care and they’re trying. That has to remain the case for another week at least, in the face of some bitter blows, so that we’re able to take advantage of a kinder run of games that lie beyond. If we start giving up and getting soundly thrashed every week then I’ll start to panic, but it’s not happening yet. They came from behind twice against a very good team during the week. Mentally, they seem present and correct for now and many other teams would have wilted.

- You don’t keep losing. You don’t. It sounds silly but no team just loses on and on, every game, forever and ever. Fuck me even the Redknapp and Hughes teams picked up the occasional accidental win. We won’t keep conceding in the last minute, we won’t keep having these penalty disasters. Sooner or later it bottoms out and your luck changes. It’s often when you least expect it as well – Holloway snapped his first six match losing stint with a random win at Wolves on New Year’s Eve with Ryan Manning wheeling Sandro around the midfield. I’d say it’s pretty likely we’ll lose another three games this week, but it’s not certain. Don’t write these games off, particularly tomorrow because Middlesbrough aren’t all that.

- The crowd. The support on Tuesday for the first half an hour was non existent – what few of us there were there just seemed completely resigned to a defeat. But it picked up after the equaliser and generally the crowd has stuck with the team. There’s been ridiculous criticism of Eze, and on social media it’s like a rabid zoo, but the people that actually go to the games seem sympathetic, empathetic and with the team. There’s been no booing, no abuse, no anger, all of which would have been understandable but all of which would make the situation worse and harder to get out with.

- The return to 4-2-3-1. After getting torn apart in the first half on Tuesday, McClaren switched back to the formation that suits most of our players and this team the best. With Hemed potentially to come back as the ‘one’, and Eze looking much improved against West Brom as the ten, I think we’ll probably stick with this now by and large and we’ll be better for it. It works for the two main strikers – though not Matt Smith, whose form may weirdly have hindered us by forcing us into a back three to accommodate him – the three attackers behind him and the two midfielders once Cameron is fit. I wonder whether Grant Hall has been considered for the Cameron role next to Luongo in the meantime – Holloway played him there to good effect.

Look, ok, it’s shit. It’s a shame that a season which promised so much has collapsed so alarmingly into another spell spent nervously looking over our shoulder and checking on Rotherham, Bolton and Reading results and just trying to stay up. It is only going to get more difficult next season, as detailed in our last preview when we sifted through the club’s accounts and FFP situation. These are dark times. But come on, we’ve got our health haven’t we? And even if you haven’t, at least it means you won’t have to watch this lot much longer. See, there’s a positive in everything.

Links >>> Ferdinand beats Boro – History >>> Functional Pulisball – Interview >>> It’s the Hoops that kill you – Podcast >>> Madley in charge – Referee

Geoff Cameron Facts #29 - Geoff never actually existed. He was just a figment of wish fulfilment conjured up by your own imagination.

Saturday

Team News: Luke Freeman was taken to Springfield General Hospital following his hip flexor problem against West Brom on Tuesday, where he was pronounced dead. He was later taken to a better hospital where his condition was upgraded to, alive. So alive in fact, that he might be able to play in this game. The state we’re in, don’t rule out McClaren wheeling him round the pitch in a chair, lifting him up purely to take all the set pieces. Tomer Hemed came off the bench to good effect against the Baggies and is now pushing for a start along with Ebere Eze who also made a good impact as a substitute during the week. Grant Hall faces a late check after being rested during the week but Angel Rangel and Geoff Cameron are both still key absentees. Expect to see Rangers revert back to the back four for this one.

Middlesbrough have problems at the back where George Friend has been deemed too good looking for the Championship, Aden Flint is suffering the after effects of trying to get a tattoo on his eyelid and Ryan Shotton is going through the menopause. Daniel Ayala can return to the heart of the defence however, after spending a match on the naughty step last time out.

Elsewhere: Admit it, you’d missed those panicky looks down the table and fixture list to work out just how much shit we’re in hadn’t you? Hadn’t you? Dirty boy. Well here’s good news and bad news for you this weekend because Reading and Rotherham, who are both below us, are playing each other in an exciting match between two teams beginning with R and they can’t both bloody win can they? Similarly, Ipswich Down are playing Wigan Warriors. Problem is, they all can’t lose either. It’ll be fine, it’ll be fine. Sobs.

Of the other teams that are even worse than us, Bolton will more than likely lose to the Champions of Europe at Elland Road you would think/hope. Millwall Scholars may well fare better at home to Preston Knob End, although you never know with PNE. And… oh, that’s it. My we have sunk quite far down haven’t we? Stoke are one point ahead and host Big Racist John and the Boys this weekend.

Two big games at the top, with Borussia Norwich at home to Bristol City on Saturday at 15.00, swiftly followed by the evening TV game between West Brom and the Sheffield Red Stripes. The big grudge match between Nottingham Trees and Frank Lampard’s Derby County is the Monday Night Football. Sheffield Owls v Swanselona is of interest to nobody.

This week’s exciting fixture between two teams beginning with B is the Mad Chicken Farmers against Birmingham. Spartak Hounslow will almost certainly be the best team the Allam Tigers have played all season.

Referee: Andy Madley gets his second QPR appointment of the season double lively after his first – he was in charge of the 4-1 home humbling by Preston in January. Full QPR case history and stats.

Form

Boro: Tony Pulis’ side have wobbled a little of late with only two wins from their last six games – a sequence that includes an FA Cup loss at League Two Newport. They lost just one of their first dozen home games this season in all comps but have struggled at the Riverside since then with only wins against hapless Ipswich (2-0) and League One Peterborough (5-0) here in the last nine games. Sheff Wed, Burton and Villa have all won here in that sequence while Millwall, Newport, Leeds and Blackburn all drew 1-1. The last three games here have finished with that scoreline, including last time out against Leeds when the visitors equalised deep into stoppage time. Boro have only scored twice in the last four games since winning 3-2 at West Brom. They have the best defensive record in the league with only 24 goals conceded (Bristol City are next best with 30) but weirdly for a Pulis team 50% of those have come from set pieces, the second highest percentage in the Football League – only Doncaster Rovers with 20 of their 39 conceded coming from deadballs have a worse record. Hat tip to the BBC stats guy for this gem – Middlesbrough are unbeaten in 61 home games, winning 54 of them, when scoring first. QPR were the last team to concede firt here and still win, back in 2014 on the day of the bottlcap Bobby Zamora goal.

QPR: In November 2017 QPR had only lost six consecutive league games once in the history of the club. The West Brom loss on Tuesday means they’ve now done it three times in two and a half seasons and only the late comeback and 2-2 draw with Brentford prevented a fourth such sequence last season. The run of eight league games without a win dates back to the 3-0 success against Ipswich on Boxing Day and is the club’s worst run of results since they went nine without a win ending in May 2013. The R’s have conceded 15 times in their last five league games, and you don’t get anywhere averaging three goals against every game. We’re fast coming up on the hundred game anniversary of our last goal from a direct free kick – scored by Yeni Ngbakoto at Birmingham 97 matches, two years and four days ago. The R’s have won four away matches so far this season at Bolton (2-1), Ipswich (2-0), Reading (1-0) and Forest (1-0).

Prediction: The winner of our Prediction League this year gets goodies from our generous sponsor Art of Football. Get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Reigning champion Elliott tells us…

“Another game already?! Do we have to? I actually don’t think Boro are up to much and don’t actually think they’re as good as they probably should be. However it doesn’t take a lot to beat us at the moment. It’s one of those runs where you just can’t see where the next points are coming from. Still doom and gloom from me I’m afraid.”

Elliott’s Prediction: Boro 2-0 QPR. No scorer.

LFW’s Prediction: Boro 0-1 QPR. Scorer – Tomer Hemed

The Twitter/Instagram @loftforwords

Pictures – Action Images

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knocker added 21:07 - Feb 22
Clive. You forgot to mention that it is 61 games since they have lost when scoring first at home.
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Northernr added 21:09 - Feb 22
No I didn’t, it’s in the form section.
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knocker added 21:10 - Feb 22
Apologies Clive. Just read it again.
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ManinBlack added 22:40 - Feb 22
One positive for us is we did rather better last Friday against Watford than Cardiff did this Friday.
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TacticalR added 22:48 - Feb 22
Thanks for your preview.

In terms of results this losing streak is quite a serious wobble, although we have been in contention in a lot of those games, plus, as you point out, we have a cushion because of the teams down the bottom.

The light at the end of the tunnel seems to be the set of easier fixtures coming up (or is it an oncoming train?).
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isawqpratwcity added 06:02 - Feb 23
You'd have to be a valium-addled Helen Keller in an isolation tank not to be feeling a little nervous with our recent run of results, but the situation is nowhere near as dire as some (usually loyal Holloway diehards or long-time McClaren haters) would paint it.

Thanks for articulating the seven straws: a comprehensive reality check.
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GloryHunter added 08:40 - Feb 23
Thanks for cheering us up, Clive. One thing that surprises me about Schteve is his ineptness at this substitutions malarky. He spent the first half of the season making no subs at all, or only in the 89th minute. Now he throws all his subs on early, so we go down to ten men when a player gets injured. Talk about poor game management. The effective use of subs is such a vital aspect of the modern game, and he just doesn't seem to get it.
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