|Birmingham City 0 v 2 Queens Park Rangers|
Wednesday, 11th December 2019 Kick-off 19:45
Scout’s honour – Preview
Wednesday, 11th Dec 2019 11:24 by Clive Whittingham
Saturday's impressive 2-0 home win against Preston brought relief and optimism back to Loftus Road after a tough November, but there was some news snuck out the day before the game that's worthy of greater attention as we head to Birmingham tonight.
Birmingham City (8-4-8, LLDDDW, 14th) v QPR (8-4-8, LDLLDW, 15th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Wednesday December 11, 2019 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather- All the leaves are brown, and the sky is grey >>> St Andrew’s, Birmingham
You can always tell when an organisation isn’t overly proud of an announcement it’s making, or doesn’t think it will play well with the public, when they shovel it out late on a Friday afternoon. Nobody is paying attention on a Friday afternoon – not the journalists, not the people who read what the journalists write, nobody. All heartily fed up of a festering news cycle, they’re either in the pub already, on the way to the pub, or bolting multiple locks on their front door to keep the vile world firmly on the other side until Monday morning.
It’s a “good day to bury bad news”, a phrase coined by parliamentary aid Jo Moore in 2001 who ventured an emailed suggestion to colleagues that the terrorist attacks on New York on 9/11 might be an opportune moment to slip out some less than flattering figures about the performance of the Department of Transport. This led to a weeks-long scandal and the eventual resignation of transport secretary Stephen Byers. Imagine that, a government minister resigning for something clumsy one of his aids said in an email. Now you can clad a building in solidified lighter fuel and when people burn to death in their homes accuse them of lacking sufficient common sense to escape, or look at a picture of a four-year-old boy sleeping on a pile of coats in a crowded hospital and accuse his parents of faking the image, or hand public money and access over to some underqualified blonde you’re knocking off in the afternoon when you’re meant to be working, and not only keep your job but also have us gleefully re-elect you. They were more innocent times.
Which brings us – belatedly, sorry, bloody exploding laptop – to Friday’s quiet announcement from QPR that “recruitment consultant” Gary Penrice is no longer working with the club, with all the corporate speak about being “open and honest with each other” that always makes it sound like there’s been a bit of a row.
Only at QPR would this even be news. Scouting is a transient thing, done on a nod and a wink for often pitiful money based on whether your mate has just got a job somewhere and can bung a few quid your way to go and see what Barnsley are up to with their set pieces these days, or check out this goalkeeper he’s heard about at Gillingham. It’s brilliantly, beautifully and poetically captured in Michael Calvin’s excellent book The Nowhere Men which is one of the best sports books of the modern era and should be on your reading list immediately. No club announces the hiring and firing of scouts, because if they did they’d probably do nothing else, but at QPR scouting is a touchy subject.
Firstly, because we used to be bloody good at it. Obviously that goes without saying through the 60s, 70s, 80s and early 90s, but even in the early 00s we were able to put together a promotion winning team, while in administration, through excellent recruitment, from a starting point of six fit, contracted, senior players. We’d bring in players like Martin Rowlands, Lee Cook, Danny Shittu, Kevin McCleod, Marc Bircham, Aziz Ben Askar, Steve Palmer and others without a problem. These were the early days of streamed internet video and the QPR World platform, where host Billy Rice would offer us grainy ten minute interviews with this friendly man in a suit called Mel Johnson who we were told was our chief scout. Mel dressed and behaved like some sort of magician. When Nick Culkin was injured and Chris Day embarked on a fool’s mission to lance a boil on his shin himself the day before a trip to Hartlepool, Rangers set off on the coach for the north east fully intending to start with Palmer in goal. Mel got out his contacts list and the Readers’ Digest Book of the Road and produced England youth international Lee Camp on loan from Derby at half a day’s notice. He joined the bus at the service station on the way up and was man of the match in a 4-1 win. He became a fan favourite at Rangers across three spells with the club.
But, secondly and mainly, because we’ve since been very bad at it. Johnson’s work saw him poached by Spurs to lead their European scouting and in his stead came a series of increasingly dodgy deals for ever decreasingly worse footballers cooked up by Gianni Paladini based on who the players’ agents were and what favours were owed to whom. The likes of Marc Nygaard and Ian Evatt passable, Marcin Kus and Sammy Youssouff forgivable, but the likes of Ugo Ukah, Armel Tchakounte, Adam Czerkas and so on were just bent. Later, when money arrived to save us, we did silly things like welcome Patrick Agyemang into the club looking for two years at £6k a week and wave him on his way with four years at £12k. A large Bentley, personalised reg P AGYE, was subsequently seen parked up during unsuccessful loan spells at Stevenage, and Portsmouth. At one point Rangers had more loan players than they could pick in their squad, and were losing 1-0 at Peterborough with a strike force of Marcus Bent and Tamas Priskin.
After a brief flurry of rolling-back-the-years transfer activity built the great Neil Warnock side of 2010/11, QPR set off on their path of self destruction again. Money we couldn’t afford thrown at players of appalling character and minimal ability – Anton Ferdinand, Joey Barton, Armand Traore, Shaun Wright-Phillips – poisoning a dressing room and costing a hero manager his job. His replacement, Mark Hughes, stuffed us full of toads from Kia Joorabchian’s client log, leaving us with a hopeless team that would be relegated in dead last. We’d do things like replace Paddy Kenny with Rob Green on twice his wages, then replace Rob Green with Julio Cesar on twice his wages, in a month – with no discernible improvement in the goalkeeping. Ji-Sung Park, Stephane Mbia, Jose Bosingwa.
To try and recover the situation, Harry Redknapp was summoned, and he merely doubled down on the madness. Players you’ve heard of, shovelled in by the barrel load, at extortionate expense, often a Willie McKay client, for no improvement on the field. Chris Samba, Jermaine Jenas, Loic Remy. After relegation, a further 16 players were added. Premier League players, Champions League players, Richard Dunne, Yossi Benayoun, brought in to play in the Championship. Javier Chevanton and Oguchi Onyewu, with 130 international caps for Uruguay and the USA between them, were added to sit on the bench and make two appearances between them. When Charlie Austin got injured, for a bit, Redknapp added Will Keane, Kevin Doyle, Mobido Maiga and Benayoun. A wage bill north of £80m was accumulated. And when it resulted in a scraped promotion, they went out and did it all over again, paying £8m for Steven Caulker, letting Danny Simpson go so they could play wing backs and then abandoning wing backs after a game and a half.
To QPR, scouting was leafing through a Premier League sticker book from ten years prior, or seeing who Tony Fernandes could strike up an accord with on Fifa. They became everything that was wrong with football, everybody hated us for it, and we’ve spent five years and counting trying to repair the damage we did to ourselves during that time.
That’s the context, and it’s led to the club, understandably, being keen to trumpet when it is doing the right thing. Now, when a scout joins, we jump up and down and point and scream “look, see, a scout, a scout, we are doing it see”. We give people like Penrice a title like “head of recruitment” and when a signing like Luke Freeman or Josh Scowen does well we go out of our way to emphasise the importance of Penrice in bringing him here. This rather makes a rod for our own back when Penrice, now suddenly “recruitment consultant”, departs. Now the spin has to start all over again, with this bloke you’ve never heard of promoted into a wider role which is actually, wouldn’t you just know it, great news because actually, wouldn’t you just know it, he’s been doing most of the work for the past few months anyway.
The departure of Penrice has been on the cards, really, since his mate Ian Holloway was harshly sacked as manager. They had a relationship, they trusted each other, they had similar football ideals, and Holloway was happy for Penrice to bring him the Freemans and Scowens of this world while he got down to the important business of sitting the squad down and showing them Coach Carter on DVD. The writing was on the wall when Steve McClaren arrived, immediately dismissed the next crop of similar Scowen-like signings that had been lined up for the summer, and then when that left the squad woefully short for the season ahead and heavily beaten in its first four games insisted on some players you’d heard of being brought in on loan to bail him out. “Men” and “warriors” like Tomer Hemed.
Penrice was still officially with us this summer, when 20 players moved out and 16 came in, but when you’re signing Liam Kelly, who Mark Warburton worked with at Glasgow Rangers, and Lee Wallace, who Mark Warburton worked with at Glasgow Rangers, and Dominic Ball, who Mark Warburton worked with at Glasgow Rangers, you do start to wonder what the point is. And so it has proved.
This all comes across very negatively, and after the highs of Saturday I’m sorry about that – again, blame the laptop, this was meant to be your Preston preview. Mark Warburton has, so far, shown himself to be more suited to this job than either Holloway or, particularly, McClaren were. He’s consistent, and methodical, with a clear and attractive style of play, an intelligent way of rotating the team and a willingness to give the club’s own youngsters all the chance they need to thrive. To get us going even to the extent he has after the turnover in the summer is some achievement.
But ‘what manager wants manager gets’ does not work at QPR under its present ownership because the managers don’t tend to last very long, and they don’t tend to be replaced like-for-like when they do leave. If you bounce from Harry Redknapp to Chris Ramsey to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink to Ian Holloway to Steve McClaren to Mark Warburton, and you give them all what they want, then you end up with exactly the sort of multi-layered, disparate squad of players all signed by different people for different styles and reason that we have had over the years. You only need see how quickly the doubts about Warburton and the talk about Neil Warnock or Gareth Ainsworth started bubbling up during the recent seven match winless run, which came with key players injured and during a run of fixtures we all admitted looked tough on paper before they began. That’s how we are with managers at QPR.
If we were to dismiss him, during this season, or next summer, any successor would be inheriting a Mark Warburton squad, put together by him, with lots of players who he worked with before, to play his distinct style. They’d take one look at it and immediately start demanding things like big angry centre backs, midfield enforcers, goalkeepers who can catch and luxuries like that.
Things like a director of football and a head of recruitment were meant to be moving us away from that problem, which is probably why they told you the latter was leaving on a Friday afternoon.
Links >>> Blues changing style – Interview >>> QPR head to Wembley – History >>> Bond back in charge – Referee >>> Birmingham City official website >>> St Andrew’s – Ground Guide >>> Small Heath Alliance – Message Board >>> We Are Birmingham – Podcast >>> Birmingham Mail – Local Press
Poignant timing for a trip to Birmingham, coming a day after it was announced that Jim Smith, who managed both clubs, has passed away aged 79. A lower league journeyman player, Smith reached the very top in management with a career that spanned ten different clubs and included notable success at Oxford, Derby and Portsmouth. He is rarely talked about among the great QPR managers, with the League Cup final defeat to Oxford and his reaction to it often held against him, but he built a side at Loftus Road with greats that are talked about to this day, signed Paul Parker, beat Chelsea 6-0, finished fifth in the old First Division and led Rangers to their last domestic cup final appearance. A real character of the game, a number of his former players have taken to social media over the last 24-hours to sing his praises. Rest in peace Jim. Message board memories and tributes.
Team News: It’s unlike Mark Warburton, particularly in a week where QPR are playing three times including two away trips, but Saturday’s win and improved performance against Preston does afford him the chance to pick an unchanged team. The big question marks will be whether Angel Rangel, so good at Derby, comes back in for Todd Kane at right back, and if Geoff Cameron is capable of backing up from Saturday again on a Wednesday – Dom Ball presumably is first in line if not. Yoann Barbet is back in training and will be back in the team sooner rather than later you would think.
Birmingham have problems at centre back. Jake Clarke-Salter’s arm fell out of its socket at Reading on Saturday so he’s out while his partner Marc Roberts, who signed a five year contract here when Harry Redknapp was making it rain, has strained himself picking up his wallet so also missed out. A makeshift pairing of Wes Harding or Geraldo Bajrami is apparently being prepared. Dan Crowley promised his mrs they’d go Christmas shopping tonight not realising the game was a Wednesday so he’s missing, but Gary Gardner and Fran Villalba are going to give it a go.
Elsewhere: Suddenly, just like that, the top two went ten points clear of everybody else. The Champions of Europe made it six wins on the spin with a routine 2-0 homer against Jarrod Bowen FC last night and top the table on 46 points, with West Brom able to go above them tonight if they can make it seven in a row at second bottom Wigan Warriors tonight.
That’s because their nearest challengers were both beaten on Tuesday night. Tarquin and Rupert laced up their leather duelling gloves and delivered a bunch of fives to Preston Knob End, who responded in kind, providing a lovely Christmas present for Keith Stroud. Two reds, and there could have been at least two more besides, as PNE snapped a four game losing run with a 2-1 win that left Scott Parker’s side beaten for a second time this week. Big Darren Moore at West Brom vibes going on there. Bristol City meanwhile, who beat Fulham at Carven Cottage on Saturday as they always do, came back to Ashton Gate and lost 2-1 to Gary Rowett’s revitalised Millwall Scholars.
Nottingham Florist and their cast of a thousand footballers missed their chance to close the gap with a 1-1 home draw against Middlesbrough. Although Sabri Lamouchi’s men scored for fun at Loftus Road last week, at The City Ground they’ve only scored six goals in their last seven matches and haven’t managed more than one in a league game since a 3-0 victory against Birmingham in August.
Two of the newly promoted sides have gone on an alarming slide of late – one you’ll have noticed and another you perhaps won’t have done. Difficult not to spot Lutown whistling through the air after a 7-0 loss at Spartak Hounslow last week, and they lost 3-0 at lowly Poke City last night to make it six straight away defeats and 20 goals conceded across them. Seven defeats in nine games leaves them fourth bottom, three points above their conquerers last night. They did, however, beat Charlton at home in that run. The Addicks lost again last night, 1-0 at home to Cowley sisters Danni and Nikki thanks to an injury time winner, and are now down to seventeenth with no wins and seven defeats in nine games amidst a growing injury crisis.
Four games tonight we’re yet to mention include bottom of the table Grimethorpe Miners’ Welfare trying to rouse themselves against Hayes and Yeading; Sheffield Owls heading down the M1 to Wayne Rooney’s Derby County and The Mad Chicken Farmers enduring a long midweek trek down to Swanselona.
Justice League leaders Spartak Hounslow, typically, followed up a 7-0 home win with a 2-1 loss to Sheff Wed. They will, nevertheless, almost certainly be the best team Cardiff City have played all season.
Referee: In keeping with the policy of giving the same referees the same fixtures over and over again, we once again have Darren Bond in charge of our game with Birmingham, just as we did in February when his abject performance contributed to the farcical spectacle of the 4-3 defeat at Loftus Road. Wonder if he’s brushed up on the encroachment rules since then? Details.
Birmingham: Birmingham share an identical 8-4-8 record to QPR and sit one place above Rangers in the league courtesy of of a -4 goal difference to our -7. They come into this game unbeaten in four but with only one win in six, with Saturday’s 3-2 success at Reading snapping a run of three consecutive 1-1 draws. At home they’ve won five, drawn two and lost two with Barnsley (2-0), Blackburn (1-0), Stoke, Luton and Middlesbrough (all 2-1) all losing here and Preston and Fulham (both 0-1) winning. Millwall and Bristol City (1-1) were the draws. Like QPR, Birmingham are also struggling for clean sheets with just one in their last 13 games coming in a 1-0 home win against Blackburn on October 22. QPR and Birmingham fought out a deathly dull 0-0 draw in this fixture last season before a riotous 4-3 at Loftus Road in the return leg.
QPR: QPR have won four away matches so far this season (Stoke, Sheff Wed, Millwall all 2-1 and Hull 3-2) which is only one shy of the total they managed in the whole of last season and one more than they put on the board in 2017/18. They have however lost three (Leeds, Fulham, Cardiff) and drawn one of their last five on the road. It could be a good time for them to head to Birmingham therefore, with three wins and last season’s stupefying draw here in their last five visits to St Andrew’s. Saturday’s 2-0 home win against Preston was the R’s first win in eight games but continued the improvements seen the previous week at Derby after the midweek shellacking by Nottingham Forest. It was also their first clean sheet of the season – the last Football League club to get off the mark in that regard – and their first in 24 league games dating back to the 4-0 home win against Swansea at Easter. Josh Scowen’s latest quickfire yellow card after emerging from the bench at the weekend was his 26th for the club in his hundredth appearance. Having given away six penalties in their first 16 league and cup games this season, Rangers now haven’t ceded a spot kick for six games – Yoann Barbet is back in training though.
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…
“With our form, hopefully, on the up again I'm split between a safe 1-1 draw and a 1-2 win bearing in mind we always beat Birmingham. I’ll go 1-1 now we are a little tighter and I'm still banking on Pugh to score sooner or later.”
Woking’s Prediction: Birmingham 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Marc Pugh
LFW’s Prediction: Birmingham 1-2 QPR. Scorer – Jordan Hugill
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