Should have seen us coming - Preview
Friday, 27th Sep 2019 17:20 by Clive Whittingham
The winner of QPR v West Brom on Saturday will, for a few hours at least, top the Championship, and if you reckon you predicted that over the summer you're a liar.
QPR (5-1-2, LWLWWW, 5th) v West Brom (4-4-0, WDDWDW, 4th)
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Exciting, exhilarating, intriguing, surprising… it’s been all of these things and more so far and it leads us to the wholly unlikely scenario that the winner of tomorrow’s game at Loftus Road will top the table leading into the three o’clocks. Who saw that coming? Nobody, that’s who, don’t turn this website into a house of lies.
Even West Brom, in a second season outside the Premier League and still well flushed with parachute payments, were not overly fancied before the season kicked off. They’d faltered badly after a free-scoring start to last season when the division’s best player, Harvey Barnes, was recalled from his loan deal by Leicester City. They drifted rather aimlessly through the back end of the season after the hasty sacking of club legend Darren Moore without obvious replacement and sending a collection of knackered defenders up to take a series of technically awful penalty kicks in their play-off semi-final shoot out against Aston Villa rather served as a microcosm of the situation. Over the summer their much-vaunted strike force of Jay Rodriguez and Dwight Gayle followed Barnes through the exit door along with a host of top earners.
The hefty £8m splashed on Cardiff’s functional target man Kenneth Zahore looked panicky, and the appointment of charismatic pundit Slaven Bilic as manager for his first ever stint in the Championship as either player or boss fully two years after he left West Ham smacked of a club under clueless foreign ownership going for a big name they’d heard of and seen on the television. A brief spell managing in Saudi Arabia in 2018/19 did little to allay those fears. Things looked more promising when Charlie Austin arrived, pure goals at this level, but he’s played little football for a year after being senselessly frozen out by Southampton and, kindly put, looks it. Most pre-season predictions I saw for the Baggies, including our own, had them kicking around eighth or ninth.
And then there’s Queens Park Rangers. Parachute payments at an end, wage bill requiring a further hack, an everything-must-go sale of players from a squad that was already only good enough to win three of its final 23 league games last season, the mood was bleak in Shepherd’s Bush over a summer spent mostly haranguing the club on social media about a lack of strikers. As we’ve said many times, halving a wage bill and halving it again while even standing still on the league ladder is tough to do and having been set back considerably by Steve McClaren’s nine months in charge there was a growing feeling that 2019/20 might be the season it all caught up with Rangers. Attempting to sooth these fears by offloading the thick end of 20 players either sold, released or loaned and bringing 16 in the other way in one transfer window only exacerbated fears for many. This was a footballing equivalent of throwing the cards up in the air and seeing where they land.
Where they’ve landed is a young, energetic, all-out-attack team that has already won five times, three of them away from home, and looked bloody good doing it. Manager Mark Warburton has adapted his usual 4-2-3-1 to accommodate a two-man strike force and been rewarded by Nahki Wells and Jordan Hugill topping the divisional scoring charts. He’s been bold enough to back them up with youngsters Ebere Eze and Ilias Chair who look slick and quite at home at this level.
West Brom, meanwhile, are unbeaten in the league, top scorers (one ahead of QPR) and have come from behind in all four of their victories so far. An all-former-QPR right side of Darnell Furlong and Matt Phillips tore Huddersfield a new arse live on Sky Sports Leeds last week. Rangers will do well to hold them.
This excitement comes with all sorts of caveats. It is, after all, ridiculously early days. The Baggies fell away from a much stronger position than this, much deeper into the season, last year. There are months and months and games and games to go. Even league leaders Leeds have shown on a couple of occasions already that their reputation as bottle jobs has not been shaken off over the summer. The Hawthorns regulars know what happened last season, and the Loftus Road faithful have become used to their team going through brief periods of looking like it knows what it’s doing only to then slip into another long losing run again. Nobody is getting carried away, this could very easily all go to shit all over again.
Neither West Brom nor QPR are defending well. They both await a first clean sheet of the season and while several of the goals they’ve conceded could simply be put down to being teams getting used to more adventurous styles of play, several others have been catastrophically bad. You’d do well to get very far conceding the sorts of goals QPR did against Luton, or Albion did against Blackburn.
And when you look at the teams QPR have beaten, it’s not an illustrious list of the division’s best and brightest. Stoke are bottom, Luton 21st, Wigan 19th, Millwall 16th and Sheff Wed 9th. When they played Swansea (2nd) and Bristol City (7th) they lost pretty comfortably. A visit from the fourth-placed team will be an interesting litmus test.
It leaves most of us, I think, still well in the camp of just enjoying the football for a change, after a long period of watching complete drek, rather than getting any hopes and ambitions of a top six finish up just yet.
But here’s the thing, and it’s been the thing for some time. The Championship isn’t very good. It makes me smile when people suck their teeth and exchange knowing glances about how Slaven Bilic will ever be able to cope with the intricacies of this division, like it’s some complex, nuanced maze of talented, innovative teams skulking around every corner waiting to catch you out with some piece of genius nobody has ever seen before. In reality it’s a footballing fatberg, challenging only because it asks you to play a match three times a week and will often schedule one of those in London, one of them in Middlesbrough and one of them in Blackburn at weird and wonderful times over a six day period. The last time anybody did anything mind blowingly different at this level it was Jean Tigana’s Fulham nearly 20 years ago, and they spent north of £50m on that. Phillips feeding Austin was good enough for a QPR team that hated each other to get promoted with a manager phoning in his duties from a portakabin.
The sludge has slowly been watered down to a gruel over the last three years. Clubs that were flushed with resources and/or been built and run with dominating this league in mind have left us – Wolves, Newcastle, Brighton. Several teams relegated from the Premier League with the biggest parachute payments have worked themselves into varying degrees of state instead of competing to return – Stoke, Huddersfield, Middlesbrough. Several other big names at this level who’ve spent pots of cash trying to get to the Premier League have failed and are now finding rules around profit and sustainability catching up with them – Birmingham, Derby, Sheff Wed. None of the promoted teams either this season or last look remotely capable or staging the sort of Sheff Utd or Wolves ascent straight through the league and out the top end. It was a bad league anyway, massively overhyped by its host broadcaster, but it looks particularly rank this season to me.
QPR and West Brom may have just picked the perfect time to be quite good.
Links >>> QPR connection fuelling Baggies – Interview >>> Highbury semi-final – History >>> Lions tamers – Podcast >>> Eltringham in charge – Referee >>> West Brom Official Website >>> Independent West Brom forum – Message Board >>> Boing – Blog >>> Express and Star – Local Paper >>> Birmingham Mail – Local Paper
Geoff Cameron Facts No.66 in the series: If you’ve had so much to drink you’re vomiting into a urinal, Geoff recommends getting a cab home.
Team News: Grant Hall is unlikely o return to the three-man defence after missing the Millwall win, leaving Mark Warburton to decide whether to continue with Cameron on the right of that set up or move him into midfield and go back to a flat four. Luke Amos and Bright Osayi-Samuel are both now back in full training and available and Lee Wallace may make the bench for the first time since a summer move from Rangers.
West Brom will bring a trio of former QPR players back to Loftus Road, two of them (Darnell Furlong and Charlie Austin) for the first time since they’ve left. Kieran Gibbs’ missus has said they have plans this weekend and Conor Townsend is away on a stag do. Ahmed Hegazi may make a first appearance of the season though, returning to a defence awaiting its first clean sheet, after finally having his hair cut short enough for him to see out.
Elsewhere: Oooooooooooooh where on God’s green earth shall we start this week? Well, probably at the decision-making process that led PSV Derby to deem one league win and eighteenth place to necessitate a morale-building team "dinner". This would have a strict 8pm drinking curfew, and taxis would be laid on to transport the players home afterwards. What, you may ask, could possibly go wrong?
Well things escalated rather, through striker Mason Bennett vomiting a disputed number of pints of Peroni into a urinal to the extraordinarily brilliant idea for him and Tom Lawrence – so thick Derby keep a special piece of wood in the shed specifically to stir him with – to drive home. This, unsurprisingly, ended with them crashing into each other and the street furniture at high speed and getting nicked for drink driving. Bennett, it should be pointed out, fresh (or not) from a club-arranged Drink Aware charity football tournament event the day before.
Now, it’s a bit early in the season for the annual Rams meltdown but just when you thought this couldn’t possibly get any more Derby, stories began to emerge on Thursday that perhaps Lawrence and Bennett hadn’t been alone in their escapade. What’s that I spy staring out from the back seat? Is it a twany owl? Is it a long-eared owl? Is it a great horned owl? No, it is of course QPR-hero, Captain Calamity himself Richard Keogh, discharging his role as skipper by not only allowing younger members of the squad to spend the whole night getting tanked up and then driving themselves home, but climbing into the Range Rover with them and setting off into the night. They repaid him by not only smashing the car up, but then forgetting he was in the back leaving him unconscious for the medics to find when they arrived. The knee injuries he suffered in the crash will keep him out for the rest of the season
Derby’s blind spot when it comes to Keogh’s repeated failings on the pitch is nearly as wide as his eyes, and has already cost them one promotion to the Premier League. Chuck in this sort of reprehensible off field nonsense as well and it’s hard to imagine even him playing for the club again but even now in the official statement the club released they’re already talking about “working with those involved to rehabilitate them back into the squad”. I swear to God Derby would rather be a League One team with Keogh than a Premier League team without him.
Anyway, meantime they’ve made Tom Huddlestone captain, an announcement that was swiftly followed by the revelation he’d filmed Bennett staggering around the pub vomming everywhere and slurring his speech before also presumably waving him on his way to the car park. You want to see the video don’t you? Well, you’re in luck, because he published it to his Snapchat, which is very captain-like behaviour I’m sure you’ll agree.
And the whole thing has given newsdesks up and down the country a really good round of their favourite game – unkind picture selection to run alongside story about somebody being a dickhead. Bit like shooting fish in a barrel with Keogh this one, but kudos to BBC East Midlands all the same.
Speaking of pictures, what is that on the floor between the kerb and the yellow line in the first image accompanying this story?
Birmingham, their lucky opponents this weekend, were 3/1 for the win on Wednesday and have now been backed in to 12/5.
After all of that, what else is there for us? Well Pippa and Minty are welcoming Wigan Warriors down to the Cottage for a little soiree this evening. Home win. Poke City’s horror season shows no sign of abating following a midweek cup exit at the hands of Gatwick Airport, and they face in form Nottingham Florist and their cast of a thousand footballers this evening.
In the interests of speed I can whip through the Mad Chicken Farmers at home to Lutown, and Middlesbrough at home to the Sheffield Owls because, well, frankly, who cares? Surprise early pacesetters Swanselona are likely to continue on that ascent with a home win against Reading along with the Champions of Europe in their Lee Bowyer derby down at Charlton. Millwall Scholars are starting to wane again – surely a perfect chance for Huddersfield Imps to pick up a long overdue first win of the season. They've added free agent Danny Simpson to their ranks. Preston Knob End against Bristol City is a battle of two in form sides, though City have been rocked by the news that Bennick Afobe is now out for the season. The Eleventh Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour reaches Hull.
The weekend is rounded off with Grimethorpe Miners’ Welfare at home to Spartak Hounslow on Sunday lunchtime. Not only an exciting fixture between two teams beginning with B, but also almost certainly the toughest game Barnsley will have faced all season.
Referee: Geoff Eltringham was supposed to referee us on day one at Stoke before being switched to Huddersfield v Fulham at the last minute. His ratings with LFW so far suggest this is a perfect appointment for a big game, if he turns up. Famous last words. Details.
QPR: Rangers have won four league games in a row for the first time since early in the 2013/14 promotion season when Ipswich, Bolton, Leeds and Birmingham were all beaten 1-0. Slight word of warning, apart from ninth placed Sheff Wed QPR have so far beaten the teams lying 24th, 21st, 19th and 16th with a draw against 23rd thrown in their for good measure. Swansea (2nd) and Bristol City (7th) both beat us reasonably comfortably and the coming week brings West Brom (4th) and Cardiff (13th but freshly relegated from the Premier League) into view before bogey side Blackburn (10th). Rangers are also yet to keep a clean sheet, though they matched their total of away wins for 2017/18 with a third success at Millwall last week and are only two behind last season’s final total of five. Jordan Hugill and Nahki Wells are joint top scorers in the league with five along with Baston at Swansea, Grant at Huddersfield, Taylor at Charlton and Mitrovic at Fulham. There have been 23 goals scored in the last four meetings between these teams with two wins each, though West Brom completed the double last season scoring ten in the process.
West Brom The Baggies are similar to QPR in that they’ve defied low pre-season expectations to make an impressive start. They’re the only unbeaten team left in the Championship, although four draws to go with the four wins means they’re only fourth in the league behind Leeds, Swansea and Preston. Like Rangers, they’ve also achieved this without yet keeping a clean sheet – the Baggies have conceded ten and QPR 12, easily the highest totals in the top half of the table. In fact, only Wigan, Luton, Stoke and Huddersfield have conceded more than QPR. The victories and draws are split 2-2 home and away, but in all four of the games they’ve won Slaven Bilic’s team have had to come from behind – usually early goals as well, Huddersfield’s in the sixteenth minute last week the latest so far. On their travels they’ve followed up 2-1 wins at Forest and Luton in the first two games with 1-1 draws at Derby and Fulham coming into this game.
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 was right with his Millwall call and this week says…
“I really don't know how to call this one. I only have to write a couple of lines and yet I've already changed my mind three times trying to predict it. Both teams score freely but both also let in plenty too so started at 3-3, tempered it slightly with 2-2 and have finally settled on us edging an absolute thriller 3-2 with Wells continuing his scoring run. It will be 0-0 now won't it.”
WokingR’s Prediction: QPR 3-2 West Brom. Scorer – Nahkiiiiiiiiiii Wells
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 3-3 West Brom. Scorer – Nahkiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii 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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