|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 2 Fulham|
Saturday, 9th January 2021 Kick-off 15:00
A voice for the voiceless - Preview
Friday, 8th Jan 2021 19:42 by Clive Whittingham
A welcome distraction/unwanted extra burden for QPR and Fulham this weekend as they step away from their abysmal league form into an FA Cup derby at Loftus Road.
QPR (4-9-9, DLDDLD, 20th) v Fulham (2-5-8, WLDDDD, 18th)
Zenith Data Systems Full Members’ Cup Sponsored By Budweiser >>> Saturday January 9, 2021 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Bloody freezing >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12
Few things rile the British football fan quite like who the captain is. Who’s the captain, and are they captain material? Who’s the captain, and are they a pwopah leadah? Are they screaming at the referee and bleeding profusely from the forehead? Are they screaming at the referee and bleeding profusely from the forehead enough for me?
This was a regular bone of contention when Nedum Onuoha was our anointed leader, because Nedum Onuoha is an intelligent man who speaks thoughtfully in whole sentences, very rarely seen ripping the gizzards out of a teammate for shirking a tackle, or charging 50 yards down the field to call Chuckles Woolmer a top cunt to his face, and therefore absolutely not a pwopah leadah at all.
But then, of course, how would we know? Unless we’re out there with him, unless we’re going into training every day, how on earth would we be able to judge what he’s saying, how he’s behaving, what his influence is, how he’s leading? The same applies to Geoff Cameron now, though we could probably do without seeing the New Year in with a Planet Lockdown conspiracy video from his Instagram stories.
There is a difference now though, with stadiums empty and games followed on streams, or very limited crowds in grounds – we can hear them. Or, rather, we can’t. We’ve long suspected QPR are a quiet team, partly because if you’re relying on mostly younger and inexperienced players, moving up from lower levels, you’re not going to get a lot of brash gobshites. And partly because manager Warbs Warburton seems to value other qualities over traditional Championship ball busting. Being inside Loftus Road with a limited attendance for Stoke, and particularly Liam Moore-led Reading, really brought home just how meek and mild this Rangers team is by comparison, but it’s been apparent over the streams as well – Norwich the latest team to bitch, scream and moan their way through a game with us this season.
This is manifesting itself in two ways, and the first, as we saw at Norwich, is the refereeing. There is little doubt in my mind that 75 minutes of City appealing for absolutely everything, 75 minutes of Todd Cantwell and Emi Buendia literally screaming in the face of the referee and assistants, 75 minutes of Daniel Farke haranguing the fourth official, 75 minutes of what could only at times be described as squealing, 75 minutes of multiple penalty appeals (none of which were anything remotely close to a foul) and an almost certainly incorrectly disallowed goal, was all weighing heavily on the mind of referee Oliver Langford when Cantwell chucked himself over Dom Ball and demanded a spot kick a final, decisive time.
Norwich have done this before this season. Against Wycombe at Carrow Road they spent an afternoon bullying Gavin Ward until he awarded them a ninetieth minute free kick on the edge of the box for a, frankly laughable, dive from which they were able to win the game. QPR have suffered similarly elsewhere under lockdown, particularly at Brentford where their suspiciously large and loud amount of “key staff” and on-field refereeing committee successfully persuaded Matt Donohue to leave Mads Sorensen on the field when he should have been sent off – something Donohue has since written to QPR to apologise for.
Meanwhile, another Championship referee, who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons, admitted to a mutual friend after one of our games last season that QPR were easily the quietest team he referees on the current circuit, and that the opposition time wasting in one of their defeats had even begun to grate on him by the end of the game but as Rangers didn’t make a big deal about it he let it slide because it wasn’t worth the hassle.
The bitter ramblings of an aggrieved fan? Perhaps, but how about this post from a Norwich fan on their Pink ‘Un forum last week: “One of the things having no fans has emphasised is the amount of abuse given to officials – all the time, no let up, moaning, whining, swearing. We were so bad at that last night, questioning every single decision. I’m surprised Buendia doesn’t get sent off in every game and Cantwell had to be close to getting a slap from someone. Now I acknowledge that our ‘game management’ has won us points this season, and that we suffered last year when other teams did it against us, but I’d still rather we didn’t do it. We’ve already had three or four penalties ‘won’ this season – last night’s was a classic hang the right leg out so it can get kicked effort…”
Warbs Warburton has spoken about this before since fans were banished from grounds, and revisited the topic via West London Sport post Norwich saying: “As managers we’re asked to act respectfully and professionally, in a disciplined manner. We do that. And I keep asking fourth officials: ‘What do we get for doing that?’ Others can holler, scream and shout and there’s no benefit for acting in the right manner. There’s got to be a balance here. It is very frustrating. Empty stadiums seem to promote a case of the loudest shout wins it. You can’t be shouting and screaming when it’s obvious it’s not your ball. But teams do it.”
Now, I suspect this is going to divide opinion. Mark Warburton wants his teams to behave respectfully to officials and within the spirit of the game, because that’s the sort of man he is – a principled, honourable, honest guy. It’s admirable, and you may well be with him, proud of QPR for not lowering themselves to such dark arts. Or you may be getting a little bit sick of watching teams referee us out of games while we stand quietly by and let it happen. This isn’t tiddlywinks. We’re already behind the eight ball trying to compete in a division where we’ve got one of the lowest budgets, we need to beg, steal and borrow every slight advantage we can get. No win in nine, now perilously close to the relegation zone, the odd dodgy penalty bullied out of a referee wouldn’t go amiss at the moment. How much honour will count for if we’re away at Rochdale first game of next season you can decide for yourselves.
What isn’t open for debate is the second way QPR have struggled with this issue this season – simple communication with each other on the field. There’s no starker example of just how deficient the chat between QPR players out there really is than the recent Yoann Barbet catastrophe for the first Swansea goal, but there are other smaller examples every game. Observe the early moment at Carrow Road where Norwich slung a hopeful ball into the box that was actually going harmlessly out for a goal kick, except nobody told Rob Dickie that so he headed it straight back into the traffic and further efforts on goal swiftly followed.
It's a problem Warburton is well aware of. Work has been done with this squad, breaking them down into smaller groups to discuss issues they have with the team, then bringing them back together in the hope that somebody will start speaking up in front of the whole room. Unfortunately, the EFL’s latest sticking plaster for its Covid-19 problem will make this sort of work more difficult, with a whole load of new fiddling-while-Rome-burns measures now in place banning players from meeting indoors, eating together, changing and showering together and so on. Then all out onto the pitch to kick, pull, push, jostle and bump into each other for 90 minutes. Well done lads, I’m sure that’ll cure it, while exacerbating our existing issue.
As well the obvious problems in central midfield (Doncaster’s Ben Whiteman, it seems, now going elsewhere, despite being perfect for us) and full back, I wonder whether the January transfer window may also be used to try and add a bit of a voice, experienced or otherwise, to this team of nice young boys.
Links >>> 1983 promotion – History >>> Tide turning at Fulham – Interview >>> Jesus and the flamingo – Podcast >>> Hooper takes Fulham cup tie – Referee >>> Gordon Jago, leading from the front – Column >>> The view from the Pu – December >>> Fulham official website >>> West London Sport Fulham – Local Press >>> Fulham Focus - Fan Blog >>> Friends of Fulham – Message Board >>> Fulham Web – Blog and Forum >>> Fulhamish – Podcast
Geoff Cameron Facts No.124 In The Series – Geoff believes England’s greatest prime minister was Lord Palmerston.
Below the fold
Team News: Last week’s postponement at Luton gave QPR a welcome chance to recover from the fixture excesses of December, and a pretty clear fortnight run into what’s shaping up to be a massive match in W12 next weekend against Wycombe. The unkind, unnecessary rescheduling of that Luton game for Tuesday night complicates that rather and will likely see an even scratchier team than was already going to be the case chucked out here. West London Sport reports that Conor Masterson, Charlie Kelman, Faysal Bettache and Stephen Duke-McKenna, who was set for a senior debut off the bench at Norwich before being sat back down again by the late equaliser, could all feature. Expect Cameron to be rested from the back three for Masterson, and the club, manager and team could really do with Bettache coming on strong not only in a problem part of the pitch but also as a bit of a mouth as discussed above. Luke Amos and Charlie Owens are the long termers, Osman Kakay is a week behind Captain of Glasgow Rangers Lee Wallace and neither will feature here. The ongoing shuffling around of several mediocre, 26-year-old deckchairs on a ship that may or may not be seaworthy sees Dillon Barnes return from Hibs but almost certainly head straight out somewhere else, Joe Lumley back from Doncaster, and Liam Kelly head to Motherwell.
Fulham… well, fuck me if I know. With their last two games off through plague, and far greater priorities pressing against their schedule than this, you’d probably have more luck drawing names out of a bag than I am going to here prediction what we may face. Our resident saintly Fulham fan Konk tells us: “With Covid cases and the likelihood of resting players, I would expect a bit of a second XI. If they are available, I would expect Marek, Hector, Ream, Bryan, Cairney and Reed would all feature. While Farrell from the Fulhamish Podcast adds: “You might as well ask for the lottery numbers! The following game after this weekend is Friday, which is a relative lifetime in football currently, so I wouldn’t expect a completely changed line up. What you will probably see is a few players on the fringes and those that really need match fitness. Kenny Tete has been injured since the beginning of the season and is one I am hoping to get a decent chunk of minutes. Largely missing Championship heroes Joe Bryan, Hector, Rodak might see some action to keep them sharp and Mitro might get a 90. But around that, it is likely to be a familiar line up.”
Oh to have a reserve left back as good as Joe Bryan.
Elsewhere: With the country overrun by a second wave of plague, the north under a sheet of snow and ice, the EFL deciding that after five months of not bothering now might be a good time to test the players once in a while, and priorities for many lying elsewhere, this year’s FA Cup Third Round threatens to present a very sad sight indeed.
The television companies’ decision to take one of the best Third Round draws there has been in decades and still televise the same Villa v Liverpool game we see in the Premier League all the time anyway has backfired somewhat with a wave of plague reducing the Villa squad to women and children from the lifeboats. Hope it finishes 9-0, the commissioning editor who picked that deserves nothing less. Arsenal v Newcastle (zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz) similarly. Man Utd v Watford, Saturday night primetime, give me fucking strength. These people don’t deserve to live. Back of the vaccine queue with you.
Watch out, by the way, through this little section for teams you think actually have Covid-19 issues, and teams you think might be laying it on a bit thick because the fixtures are unworkable, they’re obviously busy fighting league fires, and they want out of this farce as quickly as possible. Oh look, Derby are sending their U18s to Chorley.
There’s some absolute belters among the fixtures this year, obviously headlined by Marine v Spurs on Sunday teatime. Perennial giant killers Newport County have Brighton later that evening, and prepare for multiple angles of Iain Dowie’s spectacular own goal, and maybe also a clip or two of Kevin Francis crawling all over our Premier League darlings once upon a time, as Shockport Bounty host West Ham on Monday night. How can you not get romantic about baseball?
Among the Saturday gems: bottom of the Premier League Sheffield United go to League One Bristol Rovers; their fellow strugglers across the city Sheff Wed are at Exeter; Big Fat Sam’s less than impressive start to West Brom salvation dragged up to his former club Blackpool on a freezing January day; Miwllllwawwlllll (fackin ‘ell Wawll) in poor form are at Boreham Wood… Packed terraces of nervous away fans, three sides of the ground rammed with home fans smelling blood in the air, new grounds, new pubs, convoluted train journeys, upsets and near misses, tin foil FA Cups and half time pints from a plastic glass. Massed thousands from Portsmouth invading Bristol City, Rotherham packing one side at Goodison Park, Cheltenham or Mansfield in the fourth round. You’d even forgive Match of the Day dusting off that bloody Ronnie Radford clip again.
It could all have been so beautiful.
Still, we’re going to start testing people at the airport now, so there’s that.
Referee: Simon Hooper is the man in the middle for this one, a referee who has split his time equally between the Championship and Premier League for the last couple of seasons. QPR’s 4-2 win at home to Blackburn last year snapped a seven game winless run with this official, not that much of it was his fault. Fulham, meanwhile, have fared rather better of late, with both their league wins this season overseen by this official. Details.
QPR: Rangers’ trip to the fifth round of this competition in 2018/19 under Steve McClaren was the furthest they’d gone since Trevor Sinclair’s bicycle kick in 1997. The 2-0 round three home victory against Leeds that helped take them there was their first FA Cup win without the aid of a replay since that memorable day 23 years prior. Last year they memorably defeated Swansea 5-1 in the Third Round only to rest players, including striker Nahki Wells, for a meek Fourth Round surrender at home to Sheff Wed. Wells subsequently left the club a day later and was nicely rested for the weekend league game at home to Bristol City when he played for the opposition. QPR come into this match without a win in nine, their worst run since relegation from the Premier League in 2012/13, though they have drawn four of the last six. Better finishing against Norwich, Brentford, Bristol City and Millwall in that run would have stemmed the tide of criticism and slide down the league, but in truth the R’s have been poor against Reading, Stoke, Huddersfield, Swansea and Wycombe – teams of varying styles, abilities and form – and a huge week of fixtures against Fulham, Luton and Wycombe look like defining the season.
Fulham: The Whites recovered from some early lockdown jitters to get a promotion over the line last season based largely on their defence – the win at QPR the first of four in succession and eight games unbeaten in which only five goals were conceded (three against Sheff Wed in a 5-3 win) and five clean sheets were kept. That didn’t carry on into the Premier League however, where they were once again taught that Tim Ream and Dennis Odoi doth not a top flight defence make and they put themselves behind the eight ball with five defeats and a draw from their first six games, scoring five (three in defeat at Leeds) and conceding 14. A revamp of that defence has seen them tighten up of late, they come into this game on a run of four draws and only one defeat in six, conceding just three goals in the process. Fulham’s problem now is up front, where an unhappy and misfiring Mitrovic sees them scoring just two in their last five games. They’ve won just twice in the league this season, 2-0 at home to West Brom and 2-1 away at Leicester, but they did dump Ipswich and Sheff Wed out of the League Cup to nil back in September before losing to Spartak Hounslow. Fulham’s long standing penalty taking issues have manifested themselves in a series of farcical misses this year – Cavaleiro v Everton, Lookman v West Ham, Mitrovic v Sheff Utd to a cost of five points. This continues a record of 14 misses from 12 different takers since 2016, four of which have been against QPR (Cairney 2016, Aluko 2016, Fonte 2017, Martin 2017). All four, of course, had Alex Smithies in goal. Come back to me sweet prince. Paradoxically, five of the 23 goals they’ve conceded in the league this season have been from penalties, costing them seven points. QPR, meanwhile, have conceded more penalties than any other Championship team since the start of last season.
Prediction: We’re indebted to The Art of Football for once again agreeing to sponsor our Prediction League and provide prizes. You can get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here.
No prediction league this week so you’re stuck with me for this bit too. I usually call a draw here because it provides the worst-case-scenario replay nobody wants. No replay this time, and my honest opinion is that Fulham are simply going to ease past a poor QPR team in second gear, but given just how shambolic these two are in the league at the moment, how they’re highly likely to play scratchy second string teams here, and how their priorities are obviously focused elsewhere, I’ve just got a feeling it might descend into an absolute goat rodeo and plunge both teams into a penalty shoot out, given their respective horrors in that department.
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 0-0 Fulham. QPR win a farcical penalty shoot out.
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