|Blackburn Rovers 2 v 1 Queens Park Rangers|
Tuesday, 28th January 2020 Kick-off 19:45
Focusing on the league - Preview
Tuesday, 28th Jan 2020 05:30 by Clive Whittingham
Having meekly dipped out of the FA Cup on Friday as per usual, it's all eyes and pressure on fourteenth placed QPR on Tuesday night as they face what the manager has described as a "vitally important" league game at promotion rivals Blackburn.
Blackburn (11-7-10, DLLLDW, 11th) v QPR (11-5-12, LWWLWL, 14th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Tuesday January 28, 2020 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Sometimes the snow comes down in June, sometimes the sun goes round the moon >>> Ewood Park, Blackburn, The North
And so, as we predicted and for all the reasons we said, Nahki Wells has been recalled by his parent club Burnley in the hope of sparking a cash auction for a player soon to turn 30 and available for free in the summer. In the madness of modern football the sniff of an in form Championship striker for less than £8m means upwards of £5m is, for some, a fee worth paying for somebody you can literally have for nothing five months from now. It’s something QPR would once have been all over like a donkey on a waffle, parading him around in an Air Asia cap, but are, for now, sensibly, balking at.
Of more annoyance to me than his inevitable recall is why he didn’t start the game against Sheffield Wednesday on Friday night. Had it been a league game he would have done, and he’d have been serviced by Bright Osayi-Samuel from the wing instead of Jack Clarke, and Liam Kelly would have been in goal instead of the now utterly bereft costume of Joe Lumley in goal.
Mark Warburton is a student of sports science and stats, and has managed the rotation of his squad far better this year than Steve McClaren did last. In 2018/19 we reached Christmas with four ever presents and two more players who’d missed a game each. We subsequently descended through the second half of the season so quickly we whistled through the air as we went. This season only Ebere Eze and Ryan Manning had played every game to Christmas, and Manning has since been left out for a few matches. Just as Ilias Chair was in December, to notable improvement in his form in January, and Osayi-Samuel was through November, to similarly spectacular results over the winter. The manager knows what he’s doing, and were he to flog Osayi-Samuel into a lengthy hamstring injury he’d be pilloried.
But, personally, I’d rather have played Bright on Friday, get Morgan Fox nice and toasted, book our place in the next round, and then sack off this Tuesday night game at Blackburn. Rest him here, let Jack Clarke (eight senior starts in his entire career) make his silly little mistakes and fail to track his runner from a throw in in this game, not on Friday when defeat ends our involvement in the competition. Warburton repeatedly describes this game at Blackburn as “vitally important” but it’s not. It’s not. We’re fourteenth, we’re not going up, we’re not going down, and even if we were doing either of those things it wouldn’t hang on game 29 of 46. If the players are tired rest them for this one, go balls deep on a winnable home cup tie instead. Sheff Wed drew a money spinning televised tie with Man City at home in round five.
Realistically, we’re not going to win the FA Cup. Although it is worth pointing out again that having beaten Leeds and Portsmouth last year we were then offered home games with Watford and Crystal Palace to get to a Wembley semi-final. Can you imagine?
That’s where it grinds my gears. I count myself among the realists in our support base. I completely understand what Les Ferdinand and Lee Hoos are trying to accomplish, I’ve written about the FFP issues we have repeatedly, I’ve taught myself to look at bloody accounts and understand what they mean when all I wanted to do was support a sodding football team. I know and understand and accept why we can’t pay money for a 29-year-old striker who’s out of contract in the summer just because he’s scored a few goals in a team that creates a barrel load of chances. It hurts to see him leave, it’ll bloody kill to see him come back with Bristol City on Saturday and maybe score against us, but I suck it up and accept that this is where we are. Many hundreds of others don’t, all over social media decrying it as a farce, hammering the club for not pushing the boat out and so on.
Keeping football supporters engaged through a prolonged, years-long, accounting process to dig the club out of a hole it dug for itself under negligent ownership is hard. Asking fans to turn up and pay their hard earned money, keep buying season tickets, to see a team with no ambition other than to stay in the league and halve its wage bill again is a big ask. We were sixteenth last year, we’re sixteenth now, we’ll be sixteenth again next year, that’ll be £535 please. I’m in, but many others aren’t, and I don’t blame them one bit for that. Whether you’re in or you’re out, a realist or a fantasist, what you dread is the boredom. I accept why we’ve plodded along in sixteenth for four years but I don’t like it, others don’t accept it and absolutely hate it, but none of us like being bored.
QPR have been an entertaining watch for the most part this season but an easy way to placate both parties, to inject a little bit of excitement into the lives of those who dedicate themselves to the club, is an FA Cup run. See how the ground filled, people took half days off work, the atmosphere crackled, the tension built, and it felt like the old days again just by getting a poxy fifth round tie last year against Watford. It was our first fifth round tie since 1997. People lost their shit, and they were right to do so. QPR tosses that away at its peril in its current situation – it’s just pissing people off for no good reason. And a club that pleads poverty also can’t be affording to turn down windfalls like fifth round ties at home to Man City live on the TV because their precious footballers need to be fresh for fourteenth v eleventh in this godforsaken stodge of a league on the following Tuesday.
They say, perfectly correctly, that managers fear the sack too much to take a chance on a cup run at the expense of league form. They’re right – see how the online world of QPR reacts whenever we lose two or three league games on the spin. The spectre of Neil Warnock or Gareth Ainsworth starts to loom. QPR sack managers far too readily, for far too little reason, so I don’t blame whoever the incumbent is being pragmatic rather than chasing a pipe dream. But, equally, any basic knowledge of our recent history will tell you that Chris Ramsey spent a huge amount of credit he didn’t have losing in the League Cup to Carlisle, Ian Holloway did likewise against Mk Dons, and when Steve McClaren made ten changes for a League Cup third round game at Blackpool and got beaten he was subjected to a volley of abuse from the away end at Bloomfield Road.
More to the point, McClaren’s beautifully rested first team went to Swansea on the Saturday and lost 3-0 regardless. By leaving Kelly, Osayi-Samuel and Wells out on Friday and losing, Warburton has now put pressure on himself and the team for a long midweek away trip to the snowy north to face a team that scores a lot of goals and almost always beats us on this ground regardless of circumstance. Where those gnashing their teeth at Nahki Wells’ departure and those who accept it as a fact of modern day QPR life come together is in a folded arms stance ahead of this match. Come on then, let’s see this big focus on the league, let’s see this big play off push. If you’ve taken that FA Cup excitement away from us because this game is so vitally important, let’s see you do something with it.
It needn’t be like this, and yet here we are again, same time every year.
Geoff Cameron Facts No.85 in the Series – If Geoff was in charge, we’d have bought Nahki Wells from Bradford City in 2014 when we were too busy pissing about with the likes of St Joseph and trying to persuade Loic Remy not to go to Chelsea.
Team News: One would presume Liam Kelly, Grant Hall, Lee Wallace, Luke Amos, and Bright Osayi-Samuel will all come back in for this one, with Angel Rangel also a likely starter if he’s anywhere close to being fit. Yoann Barbet will be given a run in the U23s before making his come back from three months out. Jordan Hugill is now plan A and B up front with Wells returned to his parent club. Plans to return Jan Mlakar and Matt Smith to Brighton and Man Coty may have been curtailed by the departure of Nahki, and today’s sale of Josh Scowen to Sunderland.
Blackburn lost star man Bradley Dack to a knee explosion in their Christmas draw with Wigan. They’d been without a win in five games since then prior to the surprise 5-0 win at ten-man Sheff Wed last time out. They’ve been on a warm weather training break to Portugal since then, so hopefully plenty of ‘free time’ was afforded them. Bradley Johnson is back and available after an unfortunate but not entirely out of character bout of ‘eaten all the pies’. Old Man Charlie Mulgrew has been recalled from a loan spell with Wigan as a designated kicker in time for a game against the side that’s conceded more from set pieces than anybody else in the league. Apparently Matt Le Tissier is going to make an appearance as well. Corry Evans has a broken head, so he’s out.
Elsewhere: That strategy of scheduling a round of league games on FA Cup fourth round day continues to work a treat, with 16 out of the 24 sets of Championship supporters now suddenly finding a Tuesday night game plonked into their schedules at a fortnight’s notice.
QPR going all the way to Blackburn are the worst sufferers but spare a thought too for West Brom going down to Cardiff and Millwall Scholars heading up to the Champions of Europe. Luckily most of the others are relatively local – the Cowley sisters away to Jarrod Bowen FC for example, or Bristol City travelling to Reading. Wayne Rooney’s Derby County come down the M1 to Lutown and Sheffield Owls cross the Pennines to Wigan Warriors.
Nottingham Florist probably have it toughest of all though. Not only a London midweeker added to their calendar at two weeks’ notice, but also a game at Justice League Leaders Lokomotiv Gunnersbury who will almost certainly be the best side they’ve played all season.
Referee: QPR don’t have a particularly happy recent record with Darren Bond, but he’s awarded penalties against Blackburn in each of his two appointments with them so far this season. Details.
Blackburn: A run of six without a win (D3 L3) snapped by a 5-0 win at Sheff Wed rather sums up eleventh placed Blackburn’s season. Prior to that they’d won six and drawn one of eight. They’ve been beaten at home by Charlton, Luton and Huddersfield, won away at Bristol City and Hillsborough, and are currently slap bang in the middle of the table. At home they’ve only been beaten twice, with six wins and six draws from the other games. Only Bristol City and our good selves have scored more than their 40 goals outside the top six.
QPR: Rangers have won five away matches this season which is as many as they managed in the whole of 2018/19, though they’ve lost their last three on the road at Brentford, Reading and Barnsley. They’ve not won in eight visits to Ewood Park dating back to 1999, losing six and failing to score in six. The last two visits here have finished in 1-0 defeats.
Prediction: This year’s Prediction League 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 reckons…
“Blackburn's home form has dropped away lately with too many draws but this has coincided with our own away form seeing a similar decline.”
Woking’s Prediction: Blackburn 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Bright Osayi-Samuel
LFW’s Prediction: Blackburn 2-1 QPR. Scorer – Jordan Hugill
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