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Queens Park Rangers 1 v 1 Middlesbrough
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 26th September 2020 Kick-off 15:00
A whole new ball game - Preview
Friday, 25th Sep 2020 16:47 by Clive Whittingham

QPR face Middlesbrough at Loftus Road on Saturday but with the return of crowds postponed indefinitely and Covid-positive tests starting to pop up around the sport this season is becoming about a lot more than three points at the weekend.

QPR (LWL, 1-0-1, 12th) v Middlesbrough (WLLD, 0-1-1, 17th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday September 26, 2020 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Bright and breezy >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12

For a moment there, a light at the end of the tunnel. In reality, a train hurtling straight towards us. Another one.

A week ago there were supporters in Championship football grounds. Not many supporters, admittedly, and not all Championship football grounds, of course, but some somewhere and in a year where lunchtime repeats of Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares USA have become appointment viewing that was something. A big something.

QPR asked us all to start bubbling up – no, not like that. Or like that. Dirty boys. A process akin to a round of the Krypton Factor, with a list of rules as long as Idrissa Sylla’s neck. If you could find a group of you no more than six, from no more than two households, and gather together at the local church hall to put on an impromptu performance of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, to an invited judging panel of club executives, while remaining appropriately socially distanced and masked, and score an average no lower than 7.6, then find a point in time that the club website worked long enough for you to enter that score into the specially created database, while at the same time landing the simulated helicopter on the simulated aircraft carrier, then you too could be entered into the same drum Ian Holloway used to draw his team selections from to be in with a chance of ‘winning’ the ticket you’ve already paid for in a randomly allocated seat you hadn’t. If I’ve made that sound like a shit deal then I apologise, it was the farthest thing from it. In 2020, that sort of deal is like Kelly Brook offering to sit on your face.

Off we went to bubble up - an awkward process where you kind of want to cheat a little bit and go as a five from three houses so you can sit with the people you always sit with, and the club want you to go as a five from three houses so they can get more people into the ground, but eventually you decide to play the game and go by the book, scattering a close-knit group of 12 who’ve been seeing each other every weekend for the last decade all around the stadium in disparate threes and twos. Because playing the game and going by the book is what we’ve been doing. It’s what we’ve been doing All. Fucking. Summer. It’s what we’ve been doing while the de facto prime minister has been galivanting around the tourist attractions and bluebell woods of the north east 250 miles from home. Contrary to this current televised exasperated shrug at how reckless everybody has been and how we've screwed it up for ourselves, playing the game and going by the book has been the status quo for the vast, vast, vast majority for six months now. And finally, in the form of limited attendance at Championship football, here came the reward. The chance to once again call Keith Stroud a cunt to his face. Bubble me, bubble me right now, hold my hand and we’ll hubbly bubbly together.

Meanwhile, in the real world, something far more dangerous was building, a poison. Now for the sake of my Twitter mentions I am duty bound to point out that nobody, but nobody, could ever have foreseen this coming. Least of all Dido Harding, the head of the Serco Track and Trace system - who qualified for the job by allowing a couple of teenage boys to steal the data of 17m TalkTalk customers (remember to get that track and trace app downloaded folks) - as she patiently explained to the clueless commons select committee last week. In no way was it foreseeable that shoving all the kids back into their little petri dishes all at once might lead to an increase in cold and flu symptoms requiring testing. In no possible way could it have been anticipated that hectoring people to get back to the office lest all that investment in city centre real estate space go to waste, and having the Murdoch press shove out think pieces about how 45 minutes of Northern Line hell twice a day is “part of you” and “good for your mental health” and “you miss it really” could send the number of Covid-19 infections up. In no conceivable way could anybody have foreseen that literally paying people to cram back into pubs and restaurants for a month would ever allow this potent, airborne, infectious disease to start spreading once more. Somehow, by some miracle of medical science, that has happened. I know, I’m stunned as well. Can’t ruddy bloody believe it. Maybe it’s because they’re making us all wear masks? Have you considered that? Eh?

Here we are then, R-rate sky rocketing, and a whole load of new non-sensical, often entirely contradictory rules, delivered with an angry finger wagging from the people who brought you the Barnard Castle eye test, about how we absolutely have to start behaving now or else. Now it’s eat out to help out, but no later than 10pm, because that’s when the virus comes out to play, like some dark villain from a fairy tale designed to make children go to bed on time. Out we all spill, from the pubs and restaurants we’ve been begged to frequent, at exactly the same time, packing the tubes for an hour. What, one wonders, could possibly go wrong? Now it’s socialising yes, amateur sport yes, pubs yes, but only in a group of six, in case the seventh one has Covid, and if he does have Covid but you’re altogether in the office or out on a grouse shoot then don’t fucking worry about it. At one point last week, under the Anti Mingling Legislation of 2020, it was illegal for two families of four to bump into each other on the street and say hello for a bit, but that was scrapped after one politician contradicted another when asked about it. At another, health secretary Matt Hancock told Sky News flu jabs were to be rationed this winter to only the old and vulnerable, only for Dominic Raab to tell the same channel he had his booked for Friday. Maybe receding hairline is an underlying health condition? Best get mine booked in. Incompetent, underqualified, clueless, ignorant people, promoted above their ability level because of how they vote on Brexit, in charge at the worst possible moment.

Our hope of return to our normal, our lifeline, our support network, has vanished now. It is increasingly apparent we will not be back inside Loftus Road this season. All that time and money the club spent getting our creaking old stadium into some sort of compliance; all that poring over rules and regulations to satisfy increasingly nonsensical and contradictory government guidelines they did; all that tiptoeing through consultation with a disparate and varied fanbase about what would and wouldn’t be acceptable to them; all of it for nothing. More time and money wasted. Plans for season ticket sales and refunds, plans for bubbles and a socially segregated stadium, plans for free and discounted streaming, all of it finalised and released barely a week ago, now all completely redundant. Thoughts and prayers with Lee Hoos. Whatever you think of him and the job he's done, to be the CEO of a Championship football club now is to be in charge of a raft without fuel, packed with passengers demanding a luxury trans-Atlantic cruise. Square that circle.

I can go and sit in the Crown and Sceptre tomorrow with five friends and watch the game in an enclosed space on a small screen, but I cannot walk half a mile down the road and sit with the same five people in the open air and watch the game in a socially distanced stadium. I can go and watch Conference North and South, but I cannot go and watch Harrogate and Forest Green who, checks notes, came from Conference North and South, with the same crowds, in the same grounds. If there were grouse nesting at Loftus Road, 30 of us could turn up together and shoot them. Maybe we should grow the grass long? Maybe we should tell them we’re on an official and organised hunt for the Loftus Road squirrel?

This is where we are now. Contradiction after contradiction. Concession to favoured lobby group after concession to favoured lobby group. Like the Shawshank Redemption, but with more tunnelling through shit and no fucking redemption.

This changes the game – the actual game - entirely.

The game is now 90% off the pitch. On it, QPR need to get to 50 points and get the hell out of here, and that’s only assuming the season finishes at all. Starting it without having a vote and clearly defined rules on how it will be decided, or annulled, if it all goes to shit again seemed foolhardy anyway, but now as the country starts going down the pan again it looks just plain wrong. Rules on how often you test your team have been relaxed by the league stupidly prematurely, to the point where Hull City were allowed to refuse to be tested prior to their cup game at West Ham, and haven’t tested their players since prior to this weekend’s league game – because in true Donald Trump logic if you don’t test, you don’t get positive results, and you don’t have to quarantine players during an early season fixture programme that was obviously fucking daft/ambitious from the start. Leyton Orient have 17 players with Covid, and have had to forfeit their League Cup tie with Spurs, because there’s no room to fit a replay in. Lo and behold, offers of scraps from the Premier League table are coming with more catches than a payday loan – B teams, League Cup withdrawal, no relegation, further EPPP encroachment. This should all have been set in stone before we kicked off.

Off the pitch is the real quiz. QPR are now facing zero matchday income for the best part of 18 months, and they were losing nearly £1m a month when we were there. If you’ve got a solvent football club, that’s a going concern, within a functioning football league pyramid, this time next year, then consider that a result. You’ve done well. This isn’t about Les Ferdinand and Mark Warburton now. This is about Lee Hoos and Ruben Gnanalingham. The way we defend at corners is infuriating, we’ll continue to bitch and moan about it, but it’s now akin to moaning about the air conditioning temp on your cancer ward. The #announceRavel brigade need to step back from their Charlie Austin, Albert Adomah and Georges Boateng Kevin Prince N’koudou wet dreams and look out of the window. If you think we’re “still four or five short” or idiots for not bowing to £30k a week Loyal Taylor then let’s see how you cope 12 months from now when we’re playing in a semi-professional league. Money is to be spent on food, oxygen, water. It's not to be spent on more footballers to move us from 16th to 12th. If you're hammering the club to do that you're living in a different fucking universe to the one I'm suffering in.

We had hoped the big money sale of Ebere Eze might be the start of our Trade to Victory strategy. In actual fact we might look back on that beautiful dreadlocked boy as the guy who kept the club afloat in a storm in the same way we refer back to Lee Cook surrendering his signing on fee to keep us out of admin long enough for a takeover. Money is not to be spent on more footballers.

It’s a clusterfuck lads. Start recognising it as such.

Insert paragraph about Middlesbrough.

Links >>> Sinton keeps cool – History >>> Warnock’s latest last hurrah – Interview >>> Sent to Coventry – Podcast >>> Whitestone in charge – Referee >>> Middlesbrough Official Website >>> Teeside Gazette – Local Paper >>> FMTTM – Message Board >>> One Boro – Forum >>> Bonkers for Boro – Blog

Geoff Cameron Facts No.106 in the Series – The three men Geoff admires most are the Father, Son and the Holy Ghost.

Saturday

Team News: QPR’s chances of making the 50 point mark will be aided not only by being able to complete the season, but also keeping the squad fit, given that they have only a single option in several key positions. Lyndon Dykes, as far as we know, is fit. In fact, it seems everybody is this week, given the news coming out of the club and the strength of the U23 team that beat Ipswich 5-0 during the week. Ryan Manning played and scored in that game but is unlikely to return to the first team while he and his representatives continue to push towards taking their chances in this market on a free transfer next summer. Lee Wallace was horrific in his stead last week, furthering the prospect of Nico Hamalainen getting the nod for a rare league start. Bright Osayi-Samuel, negotiating in good faith, remains in the team. Clamour for Seny Dieng’s long overdue league debut in goal continues to grow.

Neil Warnock will not make a physical return to Loftus Road after testing positive for Covid-19 last week and self isolating. First and foremost, as a 71-year-old, and a QPR club legend, we wish him absolutely all the best and it’s wonderful to hear that he’s relatively fit, well and planning to involve himself in tomorrow’s game remotely, communicating with his assistant Kevin Blackwell on the bench. Neil Warnock gave me one of the happiest years of my life, memories that will live with me forever. He turned around a horrific situation at QPR and gave us a team we were not only proud to go and watch, but one we could take our friends to see for entertainment. The perfect Championship team, one you wish could play a game every day just so you could be there to watch them. He’s since been incredibly generous with his time, warm and enthusiastic with his participation, entertaining and enlightening with his various long-winded tales, on the QPR Podcast . I love him, it’s become like chatting to a kindly uncle when he sets off on his improbable tales of adventures with Adel and “ooooo I’m like Red Adair me”. I hope he’s properly better soon and back on the touchline so we can get back to taking the piss out of how many times he’s said it’s his last job before retiring back to Cornwall. Get well soon Neil, we’re all with you.

Ashley Fletcher limped off early against Bournemouth with gout but has drunk a lot of water this week so should still make the line up ahead of Chuba Akpom who sounds too much like a lollypop for Blackwell to select him.

Elsewhere: Behind the curtain, this is the last bit I’m writing this week, and that never ends well.

The first Watford v Luton tear up since 2006 is kicking off early on Saturday to prevent drunk fans attending and causing trouble, despite them not being able to drink, attend, or cause trouble. We’re through the looking glass here people. Somehow Sky have ignored that game and instead televised Swanselona v Wycombe (I get the impression they’re fulfilling their Wycombe quota early expecting them not to be competitive this season). Make sure you take the knee lads, or Jobi McAnuff will get you, assuming he’s not away with Leyton Orient tomorrow, not taking the knee before their game. Remember, if it’s not happening on Sky, it’s not happening. If a tree falls in the wood and Martin Tyler isn’t around to commentate on it…

The rest of the Saturday line-up is the most Championshipy Championship thing you’ll ever see. Barnsley v Coventry? Thought not. Birmingham v Rotherham? I know. Cardiff v Reading? My God I’m boring myself. Where are Brentford? Let’s do that routine for a bit, break up the monotony…

The Royal Botanical Gardens of Kew’s Sporting Orient will undoubtedly be the best team that Millwall have faced all season when they meet at The Den in a 15.00 kick off. Thomas Frank’s Justice League leaders hit form with a slick win over high flying Huddersfield last week and travel in full confidence.

Preston v Stoke. My God. Wayne Rooney’s 24 Hour Beer and Brass v Mad Chicken Farmers counts as a highlight on this list. Bristol City v Sheffield Owls and relegated pair Bournemouth v Borussia Norwich will wait until Sunday, just because.

And of course we wish Nottingham Florist a safe journey up to Huddersfield Town for their Sky game this evening.

Is it getting better, or do you feel the same?

Referee: Dean Whitestone in charge of this one, last seen sending off Geoff Cameron at Preston in March. Can be a bit of a fusspot. Details.

Form

QPR: It took QPR 21 games in all comps to keep a clean sheet last season (Preston H) but they managed that same 2-0 scoreline at the first time of asking against Nottingham Forest at Loftus Road this time around. Sadly both competitive away games either side of it have ended in 3-2 defeats with the same problems of conceding goals from set pieces and crosses from wide areas in full evidence. It’s a rare moment when QPR play an opponent they’ve beaten more than they’ve lost to but this is one such occasion – My Chemical Hugill’s masterblaster in June moving the record to 19-18-16. Having set a club record for 11 home defeats in a league season in 2018/19, Rangers improved last year with a record of 9-5-9

Boro: Middlesbrough have taken one point from their first two league games but they were given the unusual challenge of facing two of the sides freshly relegated from the Premier League back to back. Grant Hall was suspect at a corner in the 1-0 loss at Watford on the opening night (no change for him, or Boro who were vulnerable at set pieces last season) and then a 1-1 was secured with Bournemouth thanks to a late Marcus Browne goal. In the League Cup they won 4-3 at home to Shrewsbury and lost 2-0 at home to Championship rivals Barnsley. Boro’s away record last season 7-6-10 was remarkably similar to our own 7-5-11 but it picked up markedly once Neil Warnock arrived. In his eight lockdown games Warnock won four of five on the road (Stoke, Millwall, Reading, Sheff Wed) while losing all the remaining home games (QPR, Bristol City, Cardiff). Boro actually haven’t won a league game at home in 11 attempts dating back to last Christmas.

Prediction: We’re indebted to The Art of Football for once again agreeing to sponsor our Prediction League and provide prizes. The squad is updated and you can get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Last season’s champion Mase offers us this…

“Mine is a gut feeling of a prediction and is not based on my having done any detailed research. That's Clive's department. With Warnock (possibly) still in quarantine and Jon Parkin's favourite manager deputising, I fancy us for a narrow win and clean sheet, providing we can avoid conceding too many corners and set pieces around our box. Dykes to continue his promising start, perhaps not from the spot this time.”

Mase’s Prediction: QPR 1-0 Boro. Scorer – Lyndon Dykes

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-2 Boro. Scorer – Lyndon Dykes

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Flossywop added 18:11 - Sep 25
I don't think you appreciate how good you are. It's such a pleasure to read your work
2

eastside_r added 19:41 - Sep 25
Brilliant and spot on as usual, I LOLed on more than one occasion, but I have something that’s bothering me here and this is a genuine query Clive.

A few weeks ago, talk was all about how BOS had a dodgy agent and was being poorly advised, but now he is apparently negotiating in good faith.

This has now turned the focus on to Manning and the poor behaviour / unrealistic demands of he and / or his agent. Do we actually have any evidence to back this up as it now seems to be the accepted wisdom?

I’ll throw in an alternative suggestion that I have little evidence for but might become an internet ‘FACT’.

Is there perhaps something else going on - like that MW does not perhaps like anyone challenging his methods and questioning his authority. Toni Leistner seemed to be an adequate player at this level but was always on Warburton’s naughty step. We have seen that TL is no shrinking violet. Perhaps young Ryan is a bit too outspoken for Mark’s liking? Wild speculation of course but we have the recent example of your interview and how he reacted to you questioning the defensive set-up.

I probably need to get out more.
0

Hunterhoop added 21:33 - Sep 25
One of your best previews, Clive.
1

BlackCrowe added 21:52 - Sep 25
The bit on Warnock is spot on, I so wish him well. That season was one of the 3 or 4 in my life supporting this club that every Sunday I was counting the number of sleeps until the next game. Aged 40ish.
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Myke added 22:48 - Sep 25
Superb piece Clive. And the 'vast vast majority' of ordinary five eights doing their bit in Ireland too, while the hierarchy continue to flout the rules. Meanwhile, as cases once again soar, it's the ordinary folk who are hit hardest. I wonder is that replicated across the world? Thanks a million.
0

timcocking added 01:24 - Sep 26
Deep sigh, we're in real trouble here.
0

johann28 added 09:25 - Sep 26
A truly astonishing piece of prose. Absolutely superb.
0

HastingsRanger added 09:41 - Sep 26
Knowing that I won’t see the team this season is certainly not good for my mental health. Thankfully your outstanding previews, which extend into unchallengeable political observations, make this read all the more compulsive. You may not have considered what a service you are providing to the our church. Thanks and whilst shit rains around, I value this more than ever. Cheers, it keeps me close to this club.
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Patrick added 10:56 - Sep 26
Your final paragraph says it all - the match itself is bordering on irrelevance. Rearranging the deckchairs. If a cold wind is blowing through Shepherds Bush (must stop this - too much time listening to our tuppenny happeny input Churchill) then what about all the lower league clubs? Everyone has spent money in anticipation of some sort of crowd/income which now won't happen. Seriously think some consideration must be given to abandoning this already completely bloated schedule and saying we'll pack up until the spring. (Apart perhaps from the Prem with its oil/oligarch/TV money.)
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enfieldargh added 11:11 - Sep 26
Your previews have always been a highlight of my ritual Saturday(when Sky permit).

Commuting to LR is never a chore compared with commuting anywhere else(apart for my sitting appointment with Kelly Brock).

I miss the Cafe, I miss the occasional pub visit before and after and of course a QPR performance of note.

Its like all has been taken away and but we still have one golden nugget in your penmanship.

Thanks Clive and keep on tour uncle Neil
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TacticalR added 14:40 - Sep 26
Thanks for your (Covid-safe) preview.

You've covered all the contradictions and absurdities of government schizophrenia on the lockdown. Countries led by strong and stable geniuses have not fared well during the crisis.

Despite everything I would still like us to get something out of the game.
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nix added 15:17 - Sep 26
Brilliant article. Blending trenchant criticism of our uninspiring, hypocritical and self serving government and a lament for the loss of live attendance at our beautiful game.

It's difficult not to be depressed. I honestly have more faith in my mates to run the country than our cabinet.

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Letters from Wiltshire #09 by wessex_exile
Letters from Wiltshire #08 by wessex_exile
Lots of discussion this week on football forums, including here, on two subjects – the petition to lobby parliament to allow limited numbers of supporters back into football grounds, and of course the return of that old chestnut from Man City Chief Executive Ferran Soriano, introducing Premier League ‘B’ teams into the EFL. First off, I don’t mind admitting I’ve signed the petition ( https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/552036 ), as have 192,779 others at the time of writing, though I don’t actually think it’ll make any difference. I can completely understand why some do not think this is a good idea, as second-wave spikes of coronavirus infection pop up all over the country (mainly because – let’s face it – some people are dicks and can’t be trusted to sit the right way on a toilet). But to me, the two go hand in hand (not dicks and toilets) – whilst football clubs throughout the country struggle financially without spectators, we are always going to be under threat of this sort of ‘B’ team nonsense as a condition of financial support from the Premier League fat cats. They got their way in 2016 with the EFL trophy, who’s to say they won’t again when the financial squeeze really starts to tighten its grip without paying customers through the turnstiles? Robbie has featured prominently in this debate in recent weeks, and looks like he will again on Sky tomorrow if this tweet from Sophy Ridge is anything to go by -
Letters from Wiltshire #07 by wessex_exile

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