|Huddersfield Town 2 v 0 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 8th February 2020 Kick-off 15:00
The end of the tunnel - Preview
Friday, 7th Feb 2020 18:13 by Clive Whittingham
As QPR head to Huddersfield on Saturday, a rare bit of Evening Standard coverage has offered some insight into exactly when the club sees its current austerity drive coming to an end, and why.
Huddersfield (8-8-14, LLLDWL, 20th) v QPR (11-5-14, WLWLLL, 16th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday February 8, 2020 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Bright to start with, rapidly worsening, gales evening >>> John Smith’s Stadium, Huddersfield
Les Ferdinand’s interview with the Evening Sub-Standard this week was inevitably headlined by and built around a matter of fact comment towards the end where he said he’d been racially abused by QPR fans since he returned.
If you’re writing for a London paper that thinks some coverage of Crystal Palace is a bit of an exotic wing stretch beyond its main focus of Arsenal, Chelsea, Spurs, West Ham and Manchester United then that is obviously the news line you’d go for. Club legend, now back fighting fires, abused for his skin colour by supporters who used to cheer his name. Bish bash bosh, now let’s get back to the important business of letting over-worked, under-appreciated, under-paid, permanently stressed out people in this cold, dark mass of humanity know exactly where Cara Delevigne was yesterday, and exactly where she’s going to be tomorrow.
To be fair, we should have been grateful for the coverage. The Standard usually treats Football League clubs like something it found on the bottom of its shoe, with column inches that could fit on the back of a postage stamp written in a thick pen, and don’t even get me started on how the London Broncos’ fairy-tale promotion and near miraculous survival in Super League last season was afforded less page space over a period of two years than Fay Maschler’s ten best restaurants of 2019 got in a single issue. Nothing against Fay, love Fay, but still... This a paper that also, for some time, carried a two-page weekly column from that doyen of the London football scene, Paul Scholes.
The racism we’ve covered before, will cover again, and is of course a serious issue which I’m in no way ignoring, belittling, passing over or anything else. But for the sake of my sanity, Twitter mentions and this preview we’re going to focus once more on the football side of things, which I suspect is why the club were keen for the interview to go ahead in the first place until a journalist stuck the clickbait line at the top and took it off in a different direction (as it’s his job to do).
The other comment Les made in the piece which caught my eye, on the football side of things, was this. “I don’t think we are too far away from being able to compete. There is light at the end of the tunnel. The chief executive Lee Hoos and finance director Ruban Ghandi have tightened the purse strings and we have to fit in around that. Hopefully, in a year or two’s time, we can be competitive again.”
That speaks to how I finished my Bristol City preview a week ago about how you take the crowd with you on this accounting exercise. Even those of us who see the logic, understand the maths, support the choices being made, are on board and all the rest of it, are a bit down in the mouth about the months stretching out ahead of us. We worry that we’ll somehow contrive to embroil ourselves in the relegation battle after all. We dread making long journeys to Huddersfield, Swansea, Middlesbrough and Wigan at great expense to see an uncompetitive team going through the motions (as we did a year ago). And even if neither of those things happen, even if we do continue to entertain and win games with the frequency we did through the first half of the season, there is a sinking feeling that this is just us now, that all we have to look forward to is Championship survival and the sale of our best players. Pushing season tickets on a promise of two early cup exits and not only a sixteenth place finish in the league but a sixteenth place finish which, as soon as it’s almost certainly secured, signals a surrender for the rest of the campaign and everything that’s not tied down being tipped overboard.
There needs to be an end goal, a light at the end of the tunnel, to give hope and this is the first time I can really recall anybody from higher up at the club really putting a serious timescale on that. It got me thinking about what will change over the next 18-24 months and why we believe we’ll be in a stronger position then and I came up with four things.
The first, and biggest factor, is the wage bill. Down from north of £80m at our peak silliness to £30m-odd in the last set of accounts released that February, that will have to (and should) drop further in the set due out any time now, and the set after that. To be honest, I was surprised it was still as high as £30m at the last count, for the 2017/18 season under Ian Holloway. We’re still massively overpaying footballers when you look at our squad and wage bill that season relative to the rest of the division. Sheffield United’s promoted squad was on far less. The summer release of top earners Nedum Onuoha, James Perch, Jamie Mackie and Jack Robinson, the sale of Alex Smithies, should – SHOULD – see that wage bill drop significantly in the next set of accounts and if it doesn’t then very serious questions have to be asked about what went on last summer and exactly how much money we laid out on Steve McClaren’s “team of men” at the end of the window.
It should also come down significantly again for the summer just gone when the thick end of 20 players left the club either released, sold, or on loan including the likes of Mass Luongo and Luke Freeman. If we can get it down towards a more Preston North End-level of £15mish then we can start doing exactly what Preston do, which is to spend money now and again when a good prospect comes up while tiding ourselves over with the occasional big money departure of a Jordan Hugill or Callum Robinson type. Of course, Preston scout the lower divisions and Ireland far better than we do, and the departure of Gary Penrice earlier this season I see as a real shame, but that’s at least the theory. QPR lost £17m on that wage bill of £30m+ so do the maths and if we’d had PNE’s wage bill then a club that has lost money in 19 of its last 20 seasons would have been at break even. Break even means significant FFP headroom to spend if the right deal comes along.
The second thing is the state of other clubs in the division. A persistent, not unjustified, moan at the moment is we seem to be the only club making an effort to comply with these bloody rules. Derby, Birmingham and Sheff Wed, all already flagrantly in breach, continue to spend money on players. Nottingham Forest sign everybody who triggers their porch security light. Reading went from a “soft embargo” to £15m worth of striker signings in the same window. Clubs are selling their grounds, doing sponsorship deals with bookmakers, flogging players you’ve never heard of to clubs their owner also has a hand in for big money, and other work arounds, while we bend over and take it. The punishments for this take, literally, years to come through and the only one who has been penned to any degree are Birmingham, whose paltry nine point deduction for an aggravated breach merely moved them from one bit of midtable to another. QPR hope that within the next two years all of this will start to catch up with the offenders, as it now seems to be doing with Derby, and leave us in a healthy spot to take advantage so we should watch the forthcoming hearings into other Championship clubs with real interest.
The third is the transfer market. I spoke last week about how the parachute payments going through the roof and lunatic clubs like Villa and Newcastle coming into this league, has driven the cost of mediocre players, particularly strikers, through the roof to the point where even a Hugill, Kenneth Zohore or Gary Madine costs you £8m. As FFP starts to bite the clubs in point two, as more and more clubs get burned chasing the Premier League dream, the hope is that what clubs will see as a realistic price for a player going to a Championship player will drop. You saw with Scott McKenna from Aberdeen in the summer that not only did we miss out when the price started to escalate, but everybody else did as well. That’s a bit different from a few years ago when Ian Holloway went out for lunch thinking we’d nailed Derby striker Sam Winnall for £1m only to come back an hour later and find him going to Sheff Wed for eight times that.
We shouldn’t throw our hands up and give up until then – as discussed on this week’s podcast you can still find a Jarrod Bowen, original Jordan Hugill, Ebere Eze or Bright Osayi-Samuel if you’re looking hard enough and scouting right – but there is a strong possibility that at our level transfer fees may start to balance out slightly from the days when Jonathan Kodija, Ross McCormick and Scott Hogan cost £36m between them, and Boro spent £30m and got themselves Britt Assombalonga, Martin Braithwaite and Ashley Fletcher.
And the fourth is we might have finally received some significant, gamechanging transfer fees for some of our own players. To get from never selling anybody for money, desperately waiting for contracts on the likes of Armand Traore and Shaun Wright-Phillips to run down while they kick about doing fuck all, to getting reasonable fees for the likes of Smithies and Freeman who we bought cheaply is progress. But to trade our way to the place that Norwich and Brentford got themselves, we need to be getting James Maddison, Scott Hogan, Chris Mepham, Neal Maupay money for players on a semi-regular basis. Ebere Eze and Bright Osayi-Samuel are the first big tests of that.
A lot of ifs buts and maybes in there, and it doesn’t make that long trip into the teeth of the storm in Huddersfield look any more attractive tomorrow, but this time next year Rodders…
Links >>> Macca’s last minute winner – History >>> Tough return – Interview >>> One step forward two steps Nahk – Podcast >>> The view from the Pu – January >>> Webb in charge – Referee >>> Huddersfield Official website >>> Huddersfield Ground Guide >>> Down at the Mac – Forum >>> And he Takes That Chance – Podcast
Geoff Cameron Facts No.87 In The Series – Geoff has used his two weeks in solitary to locate Kalvin Phillips’ house. Now he waits.
Team News: Bar one more game on the naughty step for Geoff Cameron who’s raced his way to ten bookings by January, QPR have a fully fit squad to choose from. Yoann Barbet came through an hour of U23 action and Angel Rangel has been back on the bench in recent weeks so they’ll be pushing for starts, along with Jack Clarke who recovered from a personal nightmare against Sheff Wed on his full QPR debut to impress as a sub against Bristol City a week ago.
Huddersfield went for experience and know-how in the January transfer window to steady their ship further as they continue the steady recovery from a nightmare start to the season of eight defeats and two draws from their first ten games. Richard Stearman has come in on a permanent from Sheff Utd to bolster the midfield while Andy King has been added to the midfield. They join our former charge Danny Simpson and ex-Hull City striker Frazier Campbell who arrived as free agents in between the summer and winter windows. There’s been some flare added too, with Chris Willock (ex-of Arsenal) on loan from Benfica and Emile Smith Rowe joining temporarily from the Gunners. Danish keeper Jonas Lossl has also returned on loan from Everton, who he joined from Huddersfield on a free last summer – just as well reall as Kamil Grabana, on loan from Liverpool, has been sidelined with a bad blow to the head. Jonathan Hogg is back in training.
Elsewhere: Our Sky overlords have been unable to resist tonight’s exciting fixture between two teams beginning with B as Bristol City take on Birmingham. The Brummies, incidentally, I hear from up there, have been given the upper and lower School End for their visit to Loftus Road again this year for the first time since, well, this…
Fun for all the family.
Tomorrow it’s all eyes on the Champions of Europe. One win in eight had the “Leeds are falling apart again” chants rattling around the Championship but when they came from two down at half time to beat Millwall 3-2 with a phenomenally intense, powerful second half performance in last week’s midweek round that looked like a corner being turned. Not so, as last year, lowly Wigan secured only a fourth away win in two years (two of them at Elland Road) amidst another round of Patrick Bamford’s personal miss of the season competition. Having refused to pick Eddie Nketiah instead of ‘Bam Bam’ to such an extent that Arsenall recalled the striker, Marcelo Bielsa is now meeting out similar treatment to January arrival Jean-Kevin Augustin who is yet to even make the bench. Bielsa, facing criticism from the home fans for the first time in his spell there, gave a 59 minute press conference yesterday in which he fielded just five questions, prior to this Saturday evening’s trip to Nottingham Florist who are now just four points behind the Whites. Tarquin and Rupert, three points back, are at the Mad Chicken Farmers this week, who’ve now lost Lewis Holtby for the season having already seen Bradley Dack pick up a year-long knee injury over Christmas.
West Brom have been reeled in a bit themselves – remember there was a 12 point gap to third at one point – and they take their four point gap on Fulham into a tricky Sunday lunchtime match at the Millwall Scholars. Bristol City, already mentioned, are sixth on 50 points and just above them courtesy of goal difference are Justice League leaders Spartak Hounslow, almost certainly the best team Middlesbrough will have faced this season when they meet at Griffin Park on Saturday.
The immediate chasing pack is led by Preston Knob End who have a televised Saturday lunchtime derby game at Wigan Warriors, and Swanselona who are at home to Wayne Rooney’s Derby County at 15.00.
QPR fans of a pessimistic nature will be glancing nervously/constantly over their shoulders for the rest of the season after a January of squad and cost cutting. One would think/hope Lutown, bottom on 24 and at home to Cardiff, are too far back along with Grimethorpe Miners’ Welfare who also have 24 ahead of their local derby with Sheffield Owls. Wigan, already mentioned, have 29 and then come Poke City on 31 and Charlton on 33 either side of Huddersfield – those two meet at the Britannia this weekend.
Reading v Hull City.
Referee: David Webb takes a break from his usual day job of refereeing QPR v Derby to take a relaxing, exotic holiday at Huddersfield v QPR. Details and stats.
Huddersfield: The Terriers won none of their first ten in all comps this season, and the point they got at Loftus Road was the only one they won in their first eight league games. Quite the job for Cowley sisters Danni and Nikki to take on straight out of League One, but having started with an ujnbeaten run of six games including four wins they’ve since posted a further four wins, four draws and seven defeats to move up to twentieth. Three of those wins came through December with a last minute 1-0 at Charlton and a pair of 2-1s at home to Forest and Blackburn but things have not gone well since the turn of the year. One win from six games in all comps (another last minute goal on the road, this time at Hull to complete their only double of the campaign) and defeats against fellow strugglers Stoke at home (5-2) and Barnsley A (2-1). Their overall home record this season is 4-5-6 with Derby, Reading, Fulham and Sheff Wed all winning during that nightmare start, and Leeds and Stoke doing likewise since. Forest, Blackburn, Barnsley (all 2-1) and Hull (3-0) are the only teams to have lost here this season. Town have only scored once in the first 15 minutes of games all season, the worst record in the league behind Bristol City and Middlesbrough who have three each. Karlan Grant has scored 13 goals in 30 starts, including one from the penalty spot in the first meeting between these sides in August.
QPR: Having posted five away victories – as many as they managed in the whole of last season – with the December 11 2-0 at Birmingham, Mark Warburton’s side have now embarked on a run of four straight defeats on the road at Barnsley (5-3), Reading (1-0), Brentford (3-1) and Blackburn (2-1). The R’s started January with three home wins in four games, scoring 12 goals in the process against Cardiff, Swansea and Leeds. Sadly, starting with an FA Cup defeat to Sheff Wed, they come into this game on a three game losing streak in which they’ve only been able to score twice. Rangers lost 2-1 to Huddersfield in both meetings the last time they shared a league in 2016/17 but were unbeaten in six prior to that, including four wins and two away wins on this ground. There has never been a goalless draw in 27 meetings between these sides.
I can’t say I’m overly confident about this one but in the interests of not being a completely miserable git and in the hope that our attack may start firing again as it did at the start of January I’ll revert to my previous safe bet this season of a high scoring draw.
LFW’s Prediction: Huddersfield 2-2 QPR. Scorer – Jordan Hugill
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Queens Park Rangers Polls