|Fulham 2 v 1 Queens Park Rangers|
Friday, 22nd November 2019 Kick-off 19:45
Meeseeks and destroy – Preview
Friday, 22nd Nov 2019 11:57 by Clive Whittingham
While all the attention and criticism continues to focus on QPR’s porous defence prior to tonight’s derby at Fulham, it’s the ongoing conundrum of the central midfield that is front and centre of manager Mark Warburton’s mind.
Fulham (7-5-4, DLWDLW, 7th) v QPR (7-3-6, WWDLLD, 10th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Friday November 22, 2019 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – You'll be able to cut glass with your nipples >>> Craven Cottage, Fulham, SW6
I’ve ruminated for quite some time this week about whether Rick & Morty is now mainstream enough for me to base this preview around the idea of bringing in Mr Meeseeks as a defensive coach, charged with shaving two goals off our conceded-per-game ratio.
In the end, I’ve decided it’s not, and to do so would require a complicated explanation about how Mr Meeseeks appears from a small box when summoned, completes a task as commanded by whoever brought him into the world, and then disappears. The joke in the show is that he can accomplish anything you ask of him except getting two strokes of Jerry’s golf game and, well, that’s where our porous defence would come into it. “Are they squaring their offside trap?” “Oh, they’re trying.”
Jokes are never funny when you have to explain them, and besides Mark Warburton has already revealed what he’d be asking the Meeseeks for at the recent fans forum. Given the chance to buy any player in the Championship, money no object, he didn’t go for a penalty saving goalkeeper or a less accident-prone centre back or even a gamechanging 25-goal-a-season centre forward. Instead he named Romaine Sawyers, once of Brentford and now very quietly guiding table topping West Brom around the field – a bargain at £3m.
Mark, mate, Mitrovic. No? You no like?
Contrary Mark is contrary? Or could it be that the fault for our mammoth 30 goals conceded in 16 games this season really does lie away from a dishevelled backline and nervous pair of goalkeepers? Warburton pointed to a specific incident in the Leeds match where Mateusz Klich was able to steal into the penalty area unmarked but volleyed over a gaping target from eight yards out. Had it gone in, Warburton contended, the centre backs would have been singled out by the baying public once more but, in his opinion, the incident stemmed from a lost two-on-one tackle by the dug outs and was exacerbated by the central midfielders failing to track a runner into the box. With the ball he added that midfielders capable of receiving the ball in dangerous areas from the defence and linking it up to the attack were hard to find in the British game, and the need for one at QPR has been highlighted by the lack of Yoann Barbet’s passing game in recent matches.
The middle of midfield has been a problem at QPR for sometime. Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink was frequently criticised – not unfairly – for being too negative, but he feared opening the midfield up to commit more to the attack would result in exactly what it did result in when Newcastle stuck six through us at Loftus Road. Prior to his arrival Neil Warnock had a brief caretaker spell of four games during which Charlie Austin was injured and he elected not to play with a striker at all - R Green, N Onuoha, G Hall, P Konchesky, J Perch, K Henry, A Faurlin, Yun Suk-Young, Sandro, M Phillips and L Fer the team for televised 1-0 loss up at Middlesbrough. Ian Holloway briefly had some success parking Grant Hall as a holding player in front of the back four, and later used Mass Luongo, Josh Scowen and Luke Freeman as a central three that was effective but caused numerous problems elsewhere. Steve McClaren initially brought Geoff Cameron in as a centre half to help replace the outgoing Onuoha and Robinson but quickly moved him into that Hall role in midfield to tighten things up after a disastrous start to the campaign.
Finding players both physical enough to protect the defence and good enough on the ball to move the team around the field has proven beyond us for five seasons. Several players who’ve been asked to anchor the QPR midfield since relegation from the Premier League have become the subject of abuse and criticism from supporters – Karl Henry and now Josh Scowen. Numerous attempts have been made in the transfer market to solve the problem and while some always looked like a bit of a punt – Ariel Borysiuk – others seemed like very sound signings on paper only to fall completely flat once they were in the building – Daniel Toszer, Jordan Cousins. It’s a tough gig it seems, somewhere between an impossible job and a poisoned chalice.
Warbs Warburton, well aware that QPR are only ever a week away from embarking on another six game losing streak and only ever one six game losing streak away from booting another manager out the door without a second thought for what’s coming next, is at pains to point out that this entirely reshaped squad with 16 new signings is a work in progress. There’s nowhere that’s more the case than the deep lying midfield area, where Rangers have more often than not played with two in a 4-2-3-1 but have occasionally reverted to just one in there to accommodate two strikers further forwards or an extra centre half behind them.
The holding has been done by Geoff Cameron, who by and large has really looked his age in that position this year, or Dom Ball, who’s a trier and good at keeping simple things simple but has the touch of an axe murderer when required to receive the ball or pass it on to a team mate. Josh Scowen started the season further forward at ‘ten’ where he finished last season so strongly, but a succession of missed chances and substandard performances early in the season have rightly seen him usurped by the far more technically gifted Ilias Chair. There’s been as much good as there has bad from The Rat further back, contrary to what his critics will tell you, but it’s not been much more than a 5/10 season so far. Luke Amos was probably the great white hope coming in from Tottenham, somebody who could receive the ball on the turn in tight spaces in his own half and transport it creatively and efficiently to an exciting group of attacking players, but he’s struggled with hamstring problems after spending all of 2018/19 sidelined and has at times looked to lack a bit of belief. Man City’s Matt Smith looked lightweight at Bristol City, and has barely been seen since, also struggling with knocks.
The defence is all over the place. Particularly at the moment with Barbet injured, Hall coming back from injury, and Cameron now suspended. I strongly suspect we’ll be back in Aberdeen’s ear about Scott McKenna in January. But I found it interesting that Warburton chose a physically strong, ball-playing central midfielder when asked at the forum and the success or failure of his reign at QPR may very well hinge on being able to solve a problem that has stumped all of his immediate predecessors.
I’ve got a little bit of grit in my eye.
Links >>> Comebacks, penalty misses and collapses – History >>> Inconsistent Fulham – Interview >>> Linington in charge – Referee >>> Dave Thomas part two – Podcast >>> Fulham official website >>> West London Sport Fulham – Local Press >>> Friends of Fulham – Message Board >>> Fulham Web – Blog and Forum >>> Fulhamish – Podcast
Geoff Cameron Facts No.74 in the Series – Geoff can tell the difference between butter and I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter.
Team News: Trouble at the back for Mark Warburton not only with the amount of goals being conceded, but also who exactly he’s going to pick there tonight. Geoff Cameron’s booking against Middlesbrough, which could easily have been a red card had the referee not mistakenly booked Grant Hall for a foul he committed earlier in the game, was his fifth of the season so he’s on the naughty step for one match. Yoann Barbet is also still injured which means we’ll suffer the terrifying spectacle of some combination of Toni Leistner, Grant Hall and whoever else is kicking around the training ground trying to play out from the back without the Frenchman. Liam Kelly is fit again but whether he’ll come straight back in for Joe Lumley remains to be seen. Nahki Wells was away with Bermuda in Mexico in the week but trained on Thursday, as did Ebere Eze whose first start for the England U21s in Holland during the week was curtailed by a knock on the hour.
The big news for Fulham is that the division’s top scorer Aleksander Mitrovic picked up a fifth yellow card of the season at Birmingham prior to the international break so misses out. Tom Cairney sat out the Birmingham win because it clashed with his colonic irrigation session but he’s back tonight, as are Joe Bryan and Harry Arter after they recovered from a lover’s tiff.
Elsewhere: It’s new manager season in the Championship as this festering turd of a division crawls out of its enforced international slumber and trudges bleary eyed downstairs into crucial matchday 486.
The Eleventh Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour has been brought to a premature end down at Cardiff ahead of their televised away match with Charlton – an exciting game between two teams beginning with C. The Welsh club promised a swift appointment, and said they were looking for a younger manager. You could scarcely find an older one could you? Basically they’re not interested in Roy Hodgson. Having tired of Warnock’s rudimentary, long-ball football and over reliance on set pieces which every team in the league bar QPR seemed to be wise to, City thought long and hard about what direction they wanted to move in before appointing… Neil Harris. So a higher, longer, angrier direction then? Might be worth Matt Smith getting the removal men booked now.
Grimethorpe Miner’s Welfare have looked to the continent again for their new boss, bringing in Austrian Gerhard Struber (us neither) ahead of their trip to the Mad Chicken Farmers. An exciting match up of two teams beginning with B. Poke City got off to a winning start under their new boss Michael O’Neill with Sam Clucas scoring twice from a cumulative distance of three quarters of a mile. O’Neill himself has been away on international duty since then – a first surely – but will be hoping to continue the momentum with a gimme home game against Wigan Warriors. Cowley sisters Danni and Nikki lost at Preston Knob End last time out but that was Huddersfield Imp’s first defeat in eight games after a run of seven straight defeats so they’re heading in the right direction.
That resulted lifted Preston into the top two, and clear as the top scorers in the division on 31, prior to this weekend’s trip to PSV Derby. West Brom are the only side ahead of them and they play Sheffield Owls at The Hawthorns this weekend. The Champions of Europe lurk just behind prior to their trip to struggling Lutown, and the game of the day is arguably the one between two other top six dwellers Bristol City and Nottingham Florist’s cast of a thousand footballers.
Mark Bowen has successfully transferred his knowledge on the business of winning Premier League football matches to the Championship thus far, with his meticulous preparation yielding three wins and a draw from four matches for Reading so far. They’ll have all on this weekend though, with a trip to face Justice League leaders Spartak Hounslow at Griffin Park. They’ll almost certainly be the best side Reading have played all season.
Referee: QPR have a curious record with tonight’s referee James Linington (Isle of Wight). They’re yet to lose a league game with him in charge in 11 attempts, but have twice been dumped out of the cup competitions by lower league opponents (Carlisle 2015, MK Dons 2018) under him. Last season he was the man in the middle for our home win against Brentford and away draw at Aston Villa. Details.
Fulham: The Whites have rather flattered to deceive this season. They’ve shown themselves capable of annihilating teams – 4-0 at home to Millwall, 4-1 away at Reading when they were 3-0 up after half an hour – while also losing 1-0 at bottom of the table Barnsley, 2-0 at second bottom Stoke and 3-0 at home to Hull. Of the seven wins they have accumulated this season, Aleksander Mitrovic has scored in six of them and his one match ban for picking up a fifth yellow card in the seventh of those could be keenly felt. Having started the season with two home wins to nil against Blackburn and Millwall, Fulham have only won two of their last seven on this ground (3-2 v Luton, 2-0 v Wigan) with Hull, Forest and Southampton (League Cup) all winning here and Charlton and West Brom escaping with draws.
QPR: The 2-2 at home to struggling Middlesbrough prior to the international break made it four without a win for Rangers after a bright start to the season and raised fears of another one of our famous six-game winless streaks that have dogged recent seasons with tough games against Fulham and Forest to come this week. It was the eighth consecutive game Rangers have conceded at least two goals, the worst record since 1990 when they did that nine times in a row. Rangers are now the only team in the Football League without a clean sheet and only bottom of the table Barnsley (33) have conceded more than our 30 goals in 16 league games so far. That said, only the top two West Brom (29) and Preston (31) have scored more than our 26. Since rekindling rivalries with Fulham in 1999 Craven Cottage has been an unhappy hunting ground for Rangers with five straight defeats between then and 2015, but they’re unbeaten in their last two visits here (2-1, 2-2).
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. We were spot on at Leeds last week sadly, this week last year’s champion WokingR says…
“Although Fulham have been on a reasonable run of late, they haven't actually played anyone in the top half of the table in this time. I'm not quite confident enough to predict a win for us but a credible 2-2 will do me with Hugill getting our first.”
Woking’s Prediction: Fulham 2-2 QPR. Scorer – Jordan Hugill
LFW’s Prediction: Fulham 2-1 QPR. Scorer – Jordan Hugill
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