|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 1 Watford|
Saturday, 21st November 2020 Kick-off 15:00
You spoil us – Preview
Friday, 20th Nov 2020 17:29 by Clive Whittingham
Eyes down look in for any 12 fixtures across as QPR start a run of a dozen games in six weeks with a testing Saturday home fixture against newly relegated Watford.
QPR (3-4-4, LDLWWL, 18th) v Watford (6-3-2, WDDLWW, 2nd)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday November 21, 2020 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Greeeeeeeeeey >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12
Oh, it’s you again. I suggest you get comfortable.
As the ink dries in the record books of another international break we’ll never recall, daylight becomes but an abstract concept to a population apparently thrilled to death to be trapped on a permanently overcast island in the North Sea, rain tumbles so incessantly you can scarcely recall a time when it did anything else, and the annual row over which edit of Fairytale of New York will be played on a radio station you don’t fucking listen to anyway heralds the end of one trumped-up, commercially-driven spend fest and the start of another, so the Mercantile Credit Trophy returns. And how.
Queens Park Rangers play Watford tomorrow. Then Rotherham on Tuesday. Then Brentford on Friday – probably the best team they’ll play all season. And they keep playing. Bristol City that Tuesday, then up to Huddersfield, then back down to Millwall, then at home to Reading, and then Stoke, all within a fortnight. Some of these are on Sky as well so, you know, you should feel free to make other plans on those nights. If other plans were allowed by the government. Which they’re not. Over Christmas and New Year we play four times, three of them away. Which is nice. Between now and January 2 - six weeks - QPR play 12 times. If Lyndon Dykes gets injured we’re down to Macauley Bonne, and if he gets injured too we’re down to… I don’t know, that chonky boi we got from Southend? Don’t even get me started on the implications of 84-year-old Geoff Cameron and Dom Ball getting crocked at the same time. Luke Amos, as we know, already killed to death.
The Championship is a relentless, monotonous drag at the best of times, and these are not the best of times. We know this, we’ve been stuck in it long enough, listening to one highly paid chancer after another talk about “Saturday Tuesday Saturday Tuesday” as if we’re asking them to go into some sort of Lions v Christians (Sky Sports Arena, Sunday 11.00, repeated later on Mix) situation three times a week and it’s completely beyond the physical capabilities of professional athletes to play more than one football game in any seven day period. Talk to ultra-runners, talk to rugby league players, hell talk to non-league footballers who manipulate an even more unworkable fixture list than ours around actual day jobs - the body can be trained to do all sorts of things, particularly when it’s literally your job. Footballers and football people moaning about too much football wears real thin real quick. *Insert a cliché about working down a coal mine.*
But anybody who looks at the December and January fixtures for EFL teams and thinks anything other than “Really?” isn’t looking at it right. Issues at the top and bottom of this league this year could well be settled on a last-squad-standing basis. If you've got a relatively fit group going into February, you've got a better chance than most of achieveing whatever it is you're here to achieve.
A bone, in theory, has been thrown this week with the return of five permitted substitutions from a bench of nine. Though exactly how much help this will be to a club and a squad like ours is debatable. For a start, working to the original rule of three subs from six, QPR have allowed Mide Shodipo, Paul Smyth and others to leave on loan, which presumably they would have thought differently about if they’d known this was going to be a thing. Would players who’ve been released, or passed up on, back in August actually have been retained or signed if we’d known we could have nine on the bench and use five? Changing the rules midseason is a minefield. Changing them midseason to solve a problem that was eminently predictable more so. Who, exactly, will be making up our nine? Bring your boots, it could be you. If bringing your boots to football games was allowed by the government. Which it's not.
Meanwhile we’re going in tomorrow against a newly relegated Watford squad that contains, not to put too-fine-a-point on it, 37 senior players of the calibre of Ben Foster, Etienne Capoue, Craig Cathcart, Nathaniel Chalobah, Will Hughes, Tom Cleverley, Troy Deeney, Craig Dawson, Andre Gray, Joao Pedro, Glenn Murray, Stipe Perica, Ismaila Sarr, Ken Sima, James Garner, Quina, Trust-Ekong, Ben Wilmot, etc, etc, all of whom would immediately be the best player QPR have got should they swap sides. I’m not sure how allowing clubs like Watford, Bournemouth, Norwich and the cast of a thousand footballers at Nottingham Forest the chance to introduce five fresh faces from their bench does anything other than further hinder most of the rest of the league.
There’s also an aesthetics element to this. You only have to sit through a pre-season friendly, or any of the summer lockdown games when this rule was in place, to know that the more substitutions you make, the more disrupted the game is and the worse the spectacle. I spoke after Blackburn about the ongoing Championship trend to get a goal in front and then commence clockrunning, no matter how early in the game it is, with the full consent and complicity of passive match officials. It was already a dire league to watch, even when the crowds were in grounds, and now they’re not it takes a lot to sit through a whole 90 minutes of it.
I’m a geek, I love it, I’ll watch any football game that’s on, I’ve bullied people into sitting with me through televised Grimsby Town matches, but what a PR person would currently call “the product” is horribly devalued at the moment.
No crowds and VAR make the Premier League utterly unwatchable. It’s over for me, I can’t do it to myself, it feels like smoking to somebody who's never smoked. Look at this incredible moment of skill, joy, narrative and drama, which we've given you as a reward for sitting through 65 minutes of dross. Now wait there while we forensically examine it for a reason to take it away from you. I’ve managed to drag myself through three games this year, and one of those was Man Utd losing 6-1 at home which will never not be funny regardless of circumstance – you could play that thing on the moon and I’d have to pause it to regather myself. The combination of no crowds and VAR is toxic to the spectacle – chuck in ten substitutions a game and I’d rather give John Prescott a rimjob.
The Championship I watch now out of a sense of duty, to write this column, but there’s zero enjoyment in it for me. It’s turgid. Throwing in five substitutes each will only exacerbate that. As Warbs Warburton pointed out in his pre-match presser this week, a team leading at half time, already minded to start running the clock, could now potentially chuck five defensive players on from a bench of nine and full-on Paul Hart the second half.
It’s a move 90% bad, for 10% benefit, and almost all of that 10% will go the way of clubs that don’t need a leg up – rich clubs with big squads. I’d be willing to bet now QPR fail to name nine subs more often than they drum up a full complement in the coming weeks. It’s been brought in under a catch-all cloak of player welfare which means you cannot say anything against it less you be categorised as an uncaring, old-fashioned, old-school philistine, banished to sit in the corner with Big Sam, Reidy Reid and Keysie and talk about how much better things were in the old days over a jug of gravy. Ooooh, the players are getting injured, oooh the footballers are getting hurt, ooooh the assets are getting devalued, do something, do something.
Well, durrr, yeh. You’re trying to force a nine-month season, that was already overcrowded, into seven months. You’re now asking tiny squads at cash-strapped clubs to play 12 games in six weeks. Of course the footballers are getting injured. If you really gave a single shit about that you’d have taken a glance out of your window three months back and looked at the state of the world, the state of the country, the direction of travel and asked some tough questions. Did we need an EFL Trophy this season? Do we need a League Cup this season? Do we need an FA Cup this season? Do we need a Nations League? Do we really, really (seriously now), need international friendlies? Neil Warnock the latest club boss to give it the “hang on a fucking minute” routine this week after Paddy McNair was required to play three times in six days for his country. And he’s bloody right as well. It’s Neil, of course he’s right. What on earth are England doing playing the Republic of Ireland in a friendly game?
The answer, of course, is money. Fans aren’t in stadiums, ticket revenues have dried up, the entire sport now hangs by the thread of its broadcast contracts and sponsorships. In the case of the FA Cup, the prize money on offer could breathe life into deathbed patients in lower divisions. So it’s really easy for me to sit here, Richard Littlejohn style, and throw a few bottles down at people trying to make impossible decisions in unprecedented times. Yeh, get rid of the League Cup… but then, what about the money Sky and Carabao have paid to be involved in that? Yeh, get rid of the EFL Trophy. But what about the pizza lot and the Premier League grant? Yeh get rid of the FA Cup and all its prize money, and the Nations League, and this, and that… file that column, match preview 54/108 for the season in the bank. But they all come with a broadcast contract, and sponsorship commitments, which are now lifeblood of a patient on life support.
To a certain extent we just have to accept this, swallow it, and get on with it. But, at the same time, companies that build their brands around football, often using it as a way to normalise, promote and peddle extortionate pay TV subscriptions, organ-blitzing food and drink, and corrosive gambling habits, need to accept, swallow and get on with a few things as well.
Football was already chipping away at everything that made it good. The tilt in balance of power from match-going supporter to armchair fan; the shift from UK-based audiences to the international crowd; the bending and swaying to ever-more intrusive broadcast requests; the move from old, atmospheric, traditional, city-centre stadiums into identi-kit, out-of-town warehouses in retail parks; the ticket prices; Sky; the ever-decreasing competitiveness of the Premier League – it was getting pretty awful and detestable anyway. Into that bubbling cauldron add VAR, take away the crowds, add in more substitutions…
I say again, I’m a football geek. At uni people hid from me on Mondays because they knew I’d be looking for a friend to go and sit in the West End in Sheffield and watch the Monday Night Football. Shit, hide, here’s that weirdo looking for somebody to watch Charlton v Fulham with. And if I didn’t find one I’d go in there and sit in there and drink in there by myself and watch the fucking thing alone. That boy now cannot sit through televised professional football, and my social life is no better now than it was then. Worse, in fact.
I wonder whether Coca Cola, McDonalds, Bet 365, Sky, BT, Sky Bet, Pappa fucking John’s Pizza, and all the rest of these multi-multi-multi-billion pound businesses have considered that by driving this continuation of 2020/21 as if nothing has happened - as if nothing is different, as if we’re working to the same calendar, cramming drab games with zero atmosphere and multiple substitutions and long VAR delays into six weeks of 12 league fixtures or international breaks of three away games in six days – they’re not only devaluing the product for now, but corroding it still further for later. When crowds are tentatively allowed back - with all the hassle and rigmarole and health implications that’s going to come with - how many people are going to think better of it, or have found things to do with their time other than watch what football has become and is becoming?
Five substitutions is a sticking plaster for, literally and figuratively, football’s ruptured ACLs.
Links >>> Promotion or bust – Interview >>> Let me count the ways – History >>> View from the Pu – October >>> Bradley Allen – Patreon >>> Nedum Onuoha hour – Podcast >>> Salisbury in charge – Referee >>> Watford Official Website >>> WFC Forums – Message Board >>> Watford Observer – Local Press
Geoff Cameron Facts No.115 in the Series - The greatest trick Geoff ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.
Team News: Three games in a week for Scotland again, although Lyndon Dykes was suspended for the middle one. He played 81 minutes in Serbia last Thursday and then another hour against Israel on Wednesday night, returning to Harlington for Covid tests and assessment late on Thursday. After the last break, in which he played all three matches, he missed the Rangers games against Bournemouth and Preston and the R’s failed to score in either. George Thomas and Lee Wallace were both back in training prior to the two weeks off - Wallace hasn’t played since Birmingham at home, Thomas since Boro – but Warbs Warburton is making noises about Thomas having to get some U23 action before forcing his way back in. Bright Osayi-Samuel contract chess has played the Sicilian defence, staking a claim at the centre while denying white the double pawns on e4 and d4, so he’s available to play. The Many Varied Adventures of Joe Lumley No.2 In The Series - Week-long loan at Doncaster.
Stipe Perica continues to miss out for Watford with an elbow injury, but it’s not his wanking arm and he doesn’t require surgery so don’t worry about him too much. Deeney and/or Gray up front for them instead. Will Hughes got a bit too into a John Grisham novel under his reading lamp during the week so misses out with severe sunstroke. Adam Mesina misses out with a feeling of existential dread. If the thought of Ismaila Sarr running at Lee Wallace or Niko Hämäläinen scares you as much as it does us then please join us at 22.00 tonight at Scratchwood Services where we’re going to meet and then fan out west to hunt him down and do him a mischief before the game. Please bring a board with a nail in it.
Elsewhere: Some weeks we really have to scrabble and scrape around for motivation and material on a Friday afternoon, and some weeks Neil Warnock casually drops into his pre-Borussia Norwich press conference that he’d been asked to go on I’m A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here prior to embarking on a Thirteenth Annual Farewell Tour at Middlesbrough.
"I was only to saying to Sharon before they called, it’s my kind of show this – muck and nettles, beetles, spiders, headers, tackles. Snairkes. I thought I'll dip us bread now, but Steve Gibson called and he's the best chairman I've ever worked for if I'm honest. I tell you, we tried to get Adel to eat a kangaroo anus once. I said Adel if you don’t eat this kangaroo anus today I’ll bring it in again tomorrow, and again the next day, and again the next day until you do. He kept saying 'no, no, no', like this shairkin his head bless him. I love Adel me, they told me he’d get me voted off when I first came in but Rudy Gestede was first out – I said don’t worry about that Rudy son, get yourself off. Jairmi Macki ate it in the end, said he enjoyed it, I said Jairmi that’s disgusting go in there I’ll be sick if I look at you. But he’s that sort of lad Jairmi, do anything forya. I said to Sharon when our Amy grows up I’d love her to bring a lad like that home - as long as he isn’t picking the meat for Sunday roast. I don’t mind Ant and Dec, I know they’re not everybody’s cup of tea and Ant’s had his problems but I think he’s a super lad me. It’s my last job in television this though. I’ve probably enjoyed it more than anything else in my whole career, but I want to retire down in Cornwall when it’s done. I’ve promised the family."
Phillip Cocu is no more at Derby, free to move into another manager’s office somewhere else without him noticing (hat tip MikeS). Bottom of the league with one of its better paid squads, with only one win from 11, and back-to-back home defeats to nil against QPR and Barnsley made the departure fairly inevitable. It is, however, worth considering exactly what he’s had to deal with there: inheriting a deficient squad shorn of its loan stars from the year before; drunken rampages and subsequent injuries and court cases with the club captain front and centre; Mel Morris; best players being sold on the eve of the transfer deadline; Mel Morris; bookmakers parachuting in 35-year-olds earning as much as the rest of the players combined; Mel Morris; constant speculation and assumptions that Mr Potato Head was simply biding his time there before getting the job; Mel Morris; FFP hearings, verdicts, appeals and counter appeals; rumours of a mysterious Middle Eastern takeover...
Cocu’s football was drab, and Derby are obviously underperforming for what they have available to them. You only had to sit through our win there last week to see that scumbags like Tom Lawrence - who’ve done more than most to undermine Cocu and make his life more difficult - have been, fairly obviously, going through the motions to get him the sack. We see this so often in the modern game and when it happens there’s only really one outcome because it’s a lot cheaper and easier to sack one manager than 25 contracted playing assets. But you have to wonder, barring this Middle Eastern takeover turning out to be another Wolves/Man City affair, and the inevitable short-term uptick in performance and results, exactly what they expect to improve with this group of personalities in this culture simply by booting out a manager who won the Dutch league three times in his previous job.
It's a no from Rafa Benitez apparently - no, fucking, shit. Worst episode of Poirot ever.
Rooney is, of course, now in temporary charge. Though in a supreme act of decisiveness, and presumably because they thought it might take him most of the first week to spell his own name correctly on his office door, Derby have also put a far more able candidate, Liam Rosenior, in charge with him. And they’ve put former Scunthorpe United legend Justin Walker in charge with them as well. And former Republic of Ireland international goalkeeper Shay Given in charge with them as well. So that’s Wayne Rooney, Liam Rosenior, Justin Walker, Shay Given, Gary Nuttall, Frank Sinatra, Dave Clark out of The Dave Clark Five, Davis Love III and the late former culture and media secretary Tessa Jowell taking charge of the Rams for their weekend trip to Bristol City.
Managerial changes afoot at Sheffield Owls too, with Garry Monk paying for a desperate 2020 in which they’ve won just eight and lost 18 of 35 games played. At Hillsborough they’ve won just two out of 17, conceding three on their own patch to West Brom, Derby, Reading, and five to Blackburn. Chuck in a couple of five goal away defeats as well, at Fulham and Brentford, and it’s clearly been a dire time, though incidentally their totals of eight wins, eight draws and 54 goals conceded over that 35 game stretch compares not that differently to the 11 wins, nine draws and 50 goals conceded that QPR have managed over the same period. Naturally, two of the wins and one of the draws came against Mark Warburton’s side as well.
Anyway, here comes Tony Pulis, dragging his wheeled cannon backwards through the discount rail at the club shop, destined to keep them up with goals scored exclusively from corners and long throws, an achievement he’ll credit to long-since retired Jon Walters before barking “Go On Jon” down the lens at Colin Murray in the final EFL Quest highlights show of the season. As Simmo said on his way to the fridge, there’s no better time to have Tony Pulis as your manager than when you can’t go to the games. Quite opener - away at Ben Pearson’s Preston Knob End - football’s equivalent of an unprovoked acid attack on anybody brave enough to tune in.
Let’s rattle through a few shall we? Aitor Karanka’s attempt to extract a 0-0 from Coventry is your Friday offering on Sky Sports Leeds, while Bournemouth at home to Reading is the Saturday lunchtime offering – sage, knowing nods all round as the Royals lose three in a week conceding nine in the process to derail their weirdly impressive start. Miwllwawll and Cardiff face off in the Neil Harris derby. Mug. Slag. Etc. Lutown host the Mad Chicken Farmers, still labouring under the Samba Diakite Memorial Millstone of being LFW’s outside tip for a play-off push, but with Bradley Dack finally back in training this week. Swanselona have a gimme at home to Rotherham, and Stoke are playing Huddersfield for want of something better to do with their time.
Thoughts and prayers with Wycombe, who’ve put seven points on the board in the last four games after losing their first seven games scoring just two goals, but now have a home game with Justice League leaders Spartak Hounslow – probably the best team they’ll face all season and therefore, by default and simple maffs, arguably the best team they’ve faced in the history of the club.
And of course we wish Nottingham Florist, no doubt delighted at the extension of bench and permitted substitutes, all the luck and safe travels in the world for their trip up to Barnsley this weekend.
Referee: Despite geographic proximity, and a long history of matches against each other and shared players, it never really feels like much of a derby game this one. No crowds either. Still, it feels like a ballsy pick for Michael Salisbury, just months and eight games into his life as a Championship official. Took a keen whistle to an already dire encounter between QPR and Sheff Wed when last we saw him earlier this season. Details.
QPR: Rangers’ wins against Cardiff and Derby were the first time they’d won two league games in a row since December last year when Birmingham and Preston were vanquished, but they couldn’t follow it up with a third at Blackburn prior to the international break. The last time they won three league games in a row was the Sheff Wed, Luton and Millwall triumvirate last September. Still, it provided a much needed shot in the arm for the lockdown form, which previously showed just three wins from 18 games played without fans, and even now is only five wins from 21. The Loftus Road form continues to recover from its record setting low under Steve McClaren in 2018/19 when the R’s lost 11 league games at home for the first time in their history. So far this season only Preston have won in W12, with draws against Boro and Birmingham and wins against Forest and Cardiff. QPR conceded 76 goals last season (1.6 a game), 42 of them at home in 23 games, a third consecutive campaign in which 70 goals have been leaked. They kept just six clean sheets across the 46 games. They’re marginally better in 2020/21 so far, with 15 shipped in 11 league games (1.3) and four clean sheets kept already. Of the 18 players involved for QPR against Watford in the FA Cup in February 2019 only late substitute Bright Osayi-Samuel and unused sub Osman Kakay will be involved tomorrow. Only Joe Lumley, now on loan at Doncaster, is still with the club of the rest (Furlong, Hall, Leistner, Bidwell, Luongo, Freeman, Wszolek, Eze, Cousins, Smith, Wells, Hemed, Manning, Ingram, Scowen).
Watford: Trying to write a form guide on Watford this season is like trying to knit fog – spot patterns in WDDLWLWWDDLWW. Initially it looked like, despite the talent available to them, they were simply going to grind their way straight back to the Premier League. Four of their first five league games finished 1-0 either way, and the other was a 0-0 at Sheff Wed. They then beat Blackburn 3-1 at home, followed by a pair of 1-1s, including a draw at supposed whipping boys Wycombe, and another 1-0, this time in defeat at lowly Barnsley. Just when you thought we were getting a picture of them under known pragmatist Vladimir Ivic, they then turn in a couple of 3-2 wins, with an injury time winner against Stoke, and a ding dong battle with Coventry in which they led, trailed, and then retook the lead late. Their second placed status going into this game is built on a home record of five wins and a draw from six played. Away from home they’ve been granular and attritional, yet to score or concede more than one in a game – a 1-0 win at Derby, 1-0 losses at Reading and Barnsley, and draws at Wycombe (1-1) and Sheff Wed (0-0). Joao Pedro top scores in the league with four so far.
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…
“A run of many fixtures in few days begins with Watford. They have good attacking threats and nous to get over the line even if not playing well - it reminds me of Brighton the year they went up, and beat us similarly at Loftus Road. Hopefully we can avoid a defeat but with some key players out of form, nursing knocks or tired from international duty, I think a defeat is most likely.”
Mase’s Prediction: QPR 1-2 Watford. Scorer – Lyndon Dykes.
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 0-2 Watford. No scorer.
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Letters from Wiltshire #18 by wessex_exile
Trump has finally conceded defeat, albeit in a childlike, begrudging and typically ungracious manner, but at least things are moving on now, and hopefully the beginning of a new, less adversarial era in world affairs. There was an interesting article on one of the news websites this morning looking at how the transition for other administrations have gone – none as poorly (so far) as this, but still some amusing anecdotes nevertheless. Apparently, ahead of George W Bush taking up residence, the departing Clinton team went around the White House removing all the W’s from keyboards – very childish, but quite funny too…
Letters from Wiltshire #17 by wessex_exile
So I never actually imagined more than two weeks after the event that Trump and his attack-dog “Hot Mess” Giuliani would still be refusing to acknowledge that Biden has won the US Presidential election, but there you have it. Closer to home, we are just past halfway through our circuit-breaker 4-week lockdown, and most of the graphs suggest things are slowly improving, but nowhere near a rate that would see figures return to the pre-October levels. Much closer to home, Alfie has been in self-isolation for the last 14 days because one of his teachers tested positive – delighted to say we have both passed through that period without developing symptoms…and without killing each other either 😊
Letters from Wiltshire #16 by wessex_exile
Good morning everyone. Outside the football bubble, and across the pond, we have the soon to be ex-President of the United States walled up in his White House bunker, inexorably going through the Kübler-Ross 5 stages of grief…and in a particularly undignified and un-statesman like manner. Clearly we’ve had Denial by the bucket-load, Anger as he lashes out firing those he perceives as disloyal, Bargaining as his legal team try and force recounts of perfectly valid election results, and no doubt a huge amount of Depression as he sulked in silence for the best part of a week. Now perhaps, as he nearly slips up when eventually breaking radio silence to address the press, we see the beginnings of Acceptance. If I’m honest, I’d be quite happy for Trump to keep this up and make the transition as embarrassing as possible for himself and his supporters – and if the police could eventually drag him out of the White House in hand-cuffs, all the better.
Letters from Wiltshire #15 by wessex_exile
Well, there’s a turn up for the books, the mighty U’s unceremoniously dumped out of the FA Cup by lowly Marine AFC, four tiers below us in the league pyramid. These things happen, and we’ve done it to others on more than a few occasions, but the manner of the result on Saturday is what rankles the most. Virtually our strongest line-up available, but the complete lack of any urgency right from the outset was dreadful to see. Even as we reached squeaky bum time into the 2nd half, having drawn level, still we ponderously passed aimless triangles in midfield for far too long. Someone has to pay for that debacle, so let’s hope it’s the auld enemy Southend tonight in the Pointless Trophy…
Letters from Wiltshire #14 by wessex_exile
Welcome to Lockdown #2, and as I write this blog, an as yet uncertain future with the orange loon threatening to refuse to hand over the keys to the White House and calling on all his white supremacist mates to rise up in arms. Moving on swiftly from chump to champ, Chairman Robbie has again addressed the U’s faithful, with another clear, concise statement on the current situation and how it may or may not affect Colchester United. I know in the past he hasn’t been everyone’s cup of tea, but I do think an awful lot of people are warming to him because of the leadership he has shown through this crisis, and long may it last!
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