|Millwall 1 v 2 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 21st September 2019 Kick-off 15:00
I got a goddamn plan – Preview
Friday, 20th Sep 2019 17:16 by Clive Whittingham
QPR, three league wins in a row, head to Millwall on Saturday daring to dream of a successful campaign after all, and wondering quite what all the concern about Mark Warburton over the summer was really about.
Miiiiiillllllllll (2-3-2, WLDDDL, 15th) v QPR (4-1-2, LLWLWW, 7th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday September 21, 2019 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Scorchio >>> The Den, South Bermondsey, London SE16
We’re going to lose this game, by the way.
Every time we’ve dared to let our hopes cough into life even very slightly over the past five years, somebody has seen fit to immediately crush them.
Freed from Redknapp, we wondered whether new manager bounce might save us in the 2014/15 Premier League only for a 2-0 away win at Sunderland, the first road trip success of the season, to be followed by another five defeats. When we randomly won 4-1 at West Brom and drew 3-3 at Villa to restore a glimmer of possibility, a last minute 1-0 home defeat to Chelsea has sent our way by our own goalkeeper’s chronic inability to reach the halfway line with a kick.
We started the following season in a flurry of goals and wins, 4-2 against Rotherham, 3-2 at Wolves, 1-0 at Huddersfield, and when Matt Phillips and Charlie Austin stayed beyond the transfer deadline we dreamed of an immediate return. Result – two wins from 12 games, a run started by another Rob Green abomination at home to Nottingham Forest, and a messy change of manager from Chris Ramsey through Neil Warnock to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who won none of his first seven.
Ian Holloway’s 2017/18 Rangers beat monied Wolves and high flying Sheff Utd in fine style to move within play-off touch in October and two thousand of us travelled up to Nottingham Forest to investigate what was occurring. What was occurring was a 4-0 rodgering, right up the bum. One win from the next ten.
Steve McClaren’s 2018/19 mob won three in a week without conceding, including a televised 1-0 against Villa, and five of seven, including a 3-2 thriller at home to Brentford, to climb into the top half, and then put another three on the spin together in December to knock on the door of the top six at Christmas. They won only three of their last 23 league fixtures after that, two of them after McClaren had been sacked, one of them in a dead rubber on the final day of the season.
This is what happens. We suffer, we suffer for prolonged periods of time, 23 fucking games on occasions, and just when we think we’ve suffered enough, when we think the debt has been paid, when we think it might be our turn again, we get it thrown back in our face. Debt paid? Sins accounted for? Slate wiped clean? Come on mate, you paid Chris Samba £100,000 a week, you signed Jose Bosingwa, you financially doped your way back to the top flight then made all the same mistakes again, you paid for all those woke holidays and casino trips of Steven Caulker’s. You’re not nearly done yet. New cat is it? Let me see if I can send a big fucking truck past your house while it’s looking the other way.
Throw in Tall Matt Smith playing against us for the first time. Throw in the fact that during his time at QPR Smith could have been knee capped by a loyalist paramilitary centre back in the middle of the penalty box in the middle of the game in full view of everybody and whoever was the referee would have, at very most, awarded a free kick just outside the area – more likely no foul at all, your fault for being too tall mate. Throw in the appointment of Peter Bankes, a referee who lists his personal interests as gardening, French cinema, golf, and awarding controversial penalties against Queens Park Rangers. I’ve seen this recipe before, I know the cake it makes. Smith scores first, wins a penalty for the second, and we spend an hour after the match being kettled into a small cage for the crime of attending a football match, despite the usual Met protestations that there are “currently no plans” to do any such thing. My arse, as Jim Royle would have said, I’ll see you all pressed up against the railings during the second reading of the classified football results tomorrow.
All of which means I’d better get the positivity out of the way now, because it’ll all potentially be redundant in two games and two defeats’ time.
Last Saturday against Luton was wonderful. Yeh, we nearly blew it, yeh, we let them back into the game entirely of our own stupidity, yeh it could easily have been 3-3 in injury time. No, we haven’t kept a clean sheet yet, no, I don’t trust our centre backs as far as I can throw them either. But I’ll take more of this. I’ll take this all season if that’s what they’re intending to serve up. Seeing a manager brave enough to not only start with two out and out strikers but then back them up with two creative flair players like Ebere Eze and Ilias Chair after all of the drudge we’ve sat through is soul nourishing. Add in a couple of talented, attacking full backs as well, after season upon season of our wide defenders never crossing the halfway line, and you get a potent attacking mix. Yeh we’ve conceded the odd goal, yeh we’ve hit the odd copper, yeh we’ve enjoyed the old dooby, but will you piss off and leave me alone…
This sort of football, this sort of performance, these sorts of results… if you’re not going to matches for this sort of thing what are you going for? Even if Luton had equalised, I’d have fancied us to go on and win it 4-3. Even in this supposedly terrifying second half in which we were constantly under the cosh we still missed a boat load of chances, mainly spooned over the bar by Jordan Hugill. This wasn’t 45 minutes camped on the goal line as some made it out to be.
One thing I’ve been particularly impressed with has been Mark Warburton’s flexibility to this point. I’m not sure he ever did say “plan B is doing plan A better” but we live in a country now that doesn’t deal in facts and truth and so he’s been beaten over the head with it regardless. But, already, we’ve moved through a one-up-front 4-2-3-1 system to 4-3-3 and now whatever this glorious Kevin Keegan wet dream is with only Dominic Ball acting as a token gesture towards defensive pragmatism. Six weeks ago I’d have been fairly certain that Warburton saw Lee Wallace as his captain, Toni Leistner as surplus to requirements, Luke Amos and Small Matt Smith as first names on the team sheet, Nahki Wells and Jordan Hugill sharing a role, Ilias Chair making impact from the bench. Even with the added politics of wanting your Premier League loans to play more often than not so as to encourage clubs to loan you more players in the future, he has not been afraid to change all of that. Ryan Manning and Ilias Chair have played their way into starters and been picked on merit, Leistner is back from the dead and looking a handy physical presence between two ball playing centre backs, Smith is making do with a bench spot. Often these changes have been made during games – swift, decisive, effective substitutions. Something else we were told to expect the opposite of.
Millwall's direct style of play against Barbet and Hall, pumping balls in behind our high full backs and turning us around, feels intimidating. But they were rubbish last season, have been pretty poor again in the last couple of weeks, and should surely be worrying a bit more about us than we are about them given how the two teams are playing?
All of that said, the fixtures have looked unusually kind. Stoke, as it turns out, are the new Sunderland. Huddersfield, fresh from the Premier League, have actually only got a single point and that was against us. Luton are newly promoted, and we nearly blew that. Wigan can’t find their own arse with both hands. Sheff Wed was a good result, particularly given our away struggles, but the two good teams we’ve played – Bristol City and Swansea – have beaten us. This week we face a unique physical challenge in Millwall, and then our third properly decent team of the season in West Brom.
More misplaced optimism, or the real deal? There’s no reason it can’t be the latter, it’s a dire league and we look good, but we’ll get a fair idea of which it is over the next 180 minutes.
Links >>> Reverting to type – Interview >>> Unhappy hunting ground – History >>> Super hopes – Podcast >>> Bankes back – Referee >>> Millwall official website >>> South London Press – Local Paper >>> News at Den – Blog >>> North Stand Banter – Forum >>> News Shopper – Local Paper
In the absence of any highlights of a win at The Den, here's our mascots trying to play darts.
Geoff Cameron Facts No.65 in the Series – In this week in 1986 The Communards reached no.1 in the singles chart with Don’t Leave Me This Way, a song penned by the chairman of the Dellaware Dung Beetles in a last ditch attempt to get Geoff to agree to sign a new contract at the club. Alas, he left later that Autumn to sign for the Knoxville Knockabouts.
Team News: The debate therefore becomes whether you keep faith with a winning team or pick a horse for a course. Given the unique challenges Millwall pose, the greater experience and physicality of fit-again trio Lee Wallace, Angel Rangel and Geoff Cameron could all come in very useful. Dropping Kane, who is nursing a knock, and particularly Manning, would be super harsh, but I’d expect some room to be made in that midfield for Cameron, either at the expense of Ball or alongside him. Do you try and get at a cumbersome, rudimentary defence with the flicks and tricks of Eze and Chair, add some experience in Marc Pugh, and/or try and frighten them with pace from Bright Osayi-Samuel who has also returned to training? Bright, along with Josh Scowen and Toni Leistner, were particularly effective in the 0-0 here last season. These are, of course, all lovely problems to have but it does remain to be seen how we adapt and cope against better teams, or when we’re not so confident and playing well, or when the mistakes at the back start to outway the goals scored going forwards.
Jiri Skalak says it’s “too bloody hot” and is refusing to play. Jason McCarthy is back after that nasty incident with the bleach, Shaun Hutchinson has come through a stag do unscathed, and Luke Steele says he “quite fancies a game” so might be considered.
Elsewhere: The Mercantile Credit Trophy springs to life again tomorrow lunchtime when Sky Sports Leeds are showing the Champions of Europe at home to PSV Derby. The play-off semi-final second leg between these two on this ground back in May won the Perrier Comedy Award, you may recall, though Derby will do well to replicate that hilarity again with most of the players who masterminded it now back with their parent clubs. Expect Leeds to behave like a home win here against a shadow of the team they lost to four months ago is some kind of revenge, expunging the memories and righting the wrongs once and for all. Know, deep down, that they still see the Rams dancing around in front of that away end when they close their eyes and try to sleep at night.
Ten matches at 15.00, including Reading v The Mad Chicken Farmers which we trailed last week as one of the worst atrocities ever known to man but has now had Lewis Holtby randomly added to the mix as a surprise free transfer signing by Rovers so there is at least some intrigue there. What? Why? How?
Game of the day is probably surprise early league leaders Swanselona travelling over the bridge to face pre-season fancies Bristol City, who are three points behind in seventh. Hatty and Wigbert, lying third, make the long trip up to Sheffield Owls, who started the Garry Monk reign with an away win at Huddersfield Imps last week. That was a first game in charge for Danny and Nicky Cowley and will have left them in no doubt of the size of the job on there – further clues almost certain to be provided in the Sunday lunchtime televised match at West Brom who are fifth but the only team remaining unbeaten in the league so far.
It’s a sell out for Nottingham Florist at home to Grimethorpe Miners’ Welfare – the whole first team squad has requested a plus one causing a logjam. The Eleventh Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour welcomes Middlesbrough to South Wales while the Allam Tigers head south to Lutown. Birmingham host Preston Knob End and Wigan Warriors are at home to the London Broncos in the tale of two games we haven’t mentioned so far.
It doesn’t get any easier for Poke City, joint bottom of the table with one point and now forced to travel to Justice League leaders Spartak Hounslow who will almost certainly be the best team they have played all season.
Referee: No team in the Championship has conceded more goals from penalties than QPR over the past season and a bit, and referee Peter Bankes, newly promoted to the Premier League this season, awarded two of those away at Blackburn and Leeds last season. The Elland Road call, for handball by Toni Leistner, was a particular load of old horseshit and was compounded by him later fialing to spot an obvious foul on our own Matt Smith in the other box. As if Smith scoring against us here wasn’t inevitable enough, the knowledge that Bankes will probably suddenly come over all benevolent with the big target man is also causing sleepless nights. Details and case history.
Millwall: Millwall were rubbish last season. They finished fourth bottom, with 44 points, a total that would have relegated them in 2017, 2014, 2013 and 2010 in the last ten years. They finished the season with two wins from the final 15 games, saved only courtesy of a series of draws (four from five games, three 1-1s and a 0-0) through April. They drew three and lost one of their final four home games leaving them with an overall home record of 7-9-7 for the season – only the hapless bottom two Ipswich and Bolton won fewer home games in 2018/19 than Millwall. All of that led to some angry words from manager Neil Harris and a significant summer overhaul that saw long standing strike pairing Lee Gregory and Steve Morison moved on to be replaced by Matt Smith and Jon Dadi Bodvarsson alongside Tom Bradshaw returning from injury. Initially that looked to have done the trick with three wins and a draw from the first four games in all comps, including 1-0 home wins against Preston and Sheff Wed, and a win and a draw at West Brom in league and cup inside three days. West Brom, of course, the only unbeaten team left in the Championship, but beaten in the cup by the Lions. Since then though it’s five without a win, a run sparked by a 4-0 shellacking at Fulham in which they set a divisional record for possession percentage – 16% of the ball – and including a defeat on penalties in the League Cup at Oxford having led 2-0 going into the final minute. They’ve drawn 1-1 at home to Hull and away at Middlesbrough and lost 2-0 at Blackburn last weekend to make it five without a win coming into this one. They haven’t lost to QPR at home in six meetings (four draws) going back to 1990 however and for all the struggles of September so far, they are still unbeaten at home – two wins and a draw, only one goal conceded.
QPR: A total of 13 points from the first seven league games is QPR’#s best start to a season since the play-off winning campaign of 2013/14, and is in stark contrast to 12 months ago when Rangers were busy recovering from the worst start to a season in the history of the club – four defeats from four and 13 goals conceded. Rangers won five away from home last season, and three the season before, but have already won two of their three road trips in the league this season and can make it three from four with another win at Millwall. Both previous wins, at Sheff Wed and Stoke, have been 2-1, and for all the positivity around Rangers are yet to keep a clean sheet this season – 11 goals conceded is the worst record in the top 15 of the league, and only four teams have conceded more. No matter when you’re scoring at a rate of 12 in seven games mind – only Bristol City and Preston (13 each) have more.
Prediction: Our Prediction League this year is sponsored by The Art of Football. Get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Last year’s champion WokingR says…
“I’m going to break the habit of a lifetime here and predict an away win for us on Saturday. Yes, I know, I'm sorry. Blame me when it all goes wrong but the way we are playing at the moment is just so positive that it's rubbing off. Rangers to win 2-1 with Eze scoring first."
Woking’s Prediction: Millwall 1-2 QPR. Scorer – Ebere Eze
LFW’s Prediction: Millwall 2-0 QPR. Scorer – Original Matt Smith
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