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Friday, 22nd Jan 2021 18:21 by Clive Whittingham

Two away wins and two clean sheets in a week have transformed the narrative around a QPR season that seemed to be in a death spiral. Ahead of Saturday’s home six-pointer with Derby, LFW examines what, if anything, has really changed.

QPR (6-9-9, DLDDWW, 17th) v Derby (5-7-12, LWLLLW, 21st)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday January 23, 2021 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Bright and cold >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12

Little more than a week ago, Warbs Warburton could do no right.

The results were poor - ten games without a win – and increasing amounts of the blame were being apportioned his way. We didn’t like the tactics, the team selection, the formation, or the substitutions. We didn’t like how persistent problems, like conceding from set pieces, or being too quiet, were apparently being left unaddressed. We didn’t like that everything was the same – regardless of the results you could predict the team selection, the shape, and the substitutions down to the minute for the next game. We trotted out all that trite old stuff about repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results.

You know a manager is on his last legs with a support base when the little stuff grates into big stuff. Does it matter, for instance, that he stonewalls his post match interviews with stock phrases about “first contact, second ball”? No. Managers deliberately go as bland as possible in those things to protect their players and not create headlines. Sit through one of Paul Lambert’s and check your pulse at the end. Does it matter, in all seriousness, that after a serious knee operation he sits on a coolbox for a good portion of games? Obviously fucking not. But as results drift and niggles pile up stuff like Chris Ramsay’s hat and Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink’s “it is what it is” start to rile a certain type of person. Post 2-0 home defeat to Swansea, after which Lee Hoos and Les Ferdinand lingered ominously in the director’s box deep in conversation and Whats App messages, Warbs had reached this point in the cycle. When people are angry about what you sit on during the game, it’s a long way back to their hearts from there.

Two matches and one signing later, two away wins and two clean sheets later, and all is suddenly right in the world again. The message board has flipped from “for the love of God please GO” to discussing him completing a second full season in charge, and where that ranks him among our recent bosses. This is the ridiculously short-term nature of sport in the 24-hour news and social media age. A manager who was clueless, didn’t know what he was doing, was dragging the team towards relegation, and should be sacked immediately just a week ago is now fine again and free to carry on his work. Should we lose to Derby tomorrow, as is perfectly possible, and then at high flying Watford next Monday, it’ll be night of the long knives again. Should we win both, again feasible given how Derby and Watford are playing, there’ll be sleep lost over Warburton’s soon to expire contract.

Modern football looks at QPR going from no wins in ten to two away successes and clean sheets in a row and wonders what’s changed. The easy answer is Charlie Austin arrived, and we’ll come onto the positive impact he’s made in a moment, but in actual fact it’s very little. QPR have won one match at Luton - who were miles away from their best, with their player of the year Kiernan Dewsbury-Hall having a strangely incompetent night against the team that tried to sign him in the summer - and even then needed a brilliant late Seny Dieng save at 1-0 to do it. They then won 1-0 at a Cardiff team obviously in the final throes of a managerial reign, going through the motions until Neil Harris is sacked in much the same way Derby were when we won up there in the autumn. Again, even then, without Dieng, the game would have been drawn or lost – although with a different referee it might also have been won 4-0. Warburton also gets caned for saying “fine margins” a lot, but the last two months of life in QPR land are the absolute textbook example of how little can be read into short spurts of the Championship food fight.

Look at the games prior to this during the winless run. QPR were utterly abysmal at Huddersfield, they wouldn’t have scored in that game if it was still taking place now. But after that they hit the inside of the post only to concede an almost identical goal in a 1-0 home loss to Reading, they were within three minutes of winning at Wycombe and both Dieng and Kane could and should have done better with the equaliser, they missed a late sitter to win a draw at Norwich, and then a catalogue of chances to beat Fulham in the FA Cup. We could easily, with the same team and the same performance, have won against Millwall, Wycombe, Norwich and Reading and taken a point from Luton and Cardiff. Since Millwall away there really hasn’t been that much difference in the performances, it’s just that against Luton and Cardiff chances were taken and saves were made, and in the seven before that they weren’t. If you wanted Warburton out before this week, you still should, and if you thought that sort of knee-jerk, short-term, quick-fix that QPR crave like few others wouldn’t get us anywhere then you’re vindicated for now but potentially only a week and two games away from another tidal wave of vitriol and blood lust.

There have, though, been some changes. The most striking, of course, is the arrival of Austin. He’s scored a crucial goal against Luton, been singularly unfortunate to have another disallowed against Cardiff, and rejuvenated a flagging attack. Judging by his demeanour on the pitch, and what he said in this week’s Open All R’s Podcast, he’s rather revelling in the role of the senior man, adding that much needed voice to the quiet team we’ve talked about previously. Bonne and Dykes already look better for playing with him. The biggest change he’s brought though, for me, is the whole team now plays with a belief that pressure will tell in goals, which it didn’t earlier in the season. Oh for an hour of Charlie in those Bristol City and Brentford games.

We’re playing more directly. Absolutely not Neil Harris wheeled cannon football, and quite possibly just a horse for a course on a ploughed field at Luton and a category five hurricane in Cardiff, but certainly not as pure and tippy tappy as we were previously. Austin, speaking on Five Live last week, said he’d already told the defenders “don’t think you’re Ramos” and not to be afraid to “whack it up to the halfway line and let’s have a 50/50 up here”. Given that this is the absolute antithesis of what Warburton wants and believes, and Austin was brought here by the owners and not the manager, it’ll be interesting to watch how that dynamic plays out over the second half of the season, particularly if and when results aren’t quite so good.

What absolutely is a Warburton move is the switch out of the 4-2-3-1 into the back three and wing backs. This has made a big difference, and should be acknowledged in the manager’s favour given many of the sticks being used to beat him a fortnight ago were about stubbornness and lack of a plan B and so on. It’s a formation that helps alleviate defensive responsibility from our obviously deficient full backs, and place that on the increasingly impressive Rob Dickie (scouts surely watching already), and Yoann Barbet who, for all his many failings, is suited to playing the left side of three centre backs. That, and the addition of Charlie up front, has been enough to nudge us over the line in a couple of tight games against two poor teams.

Tomorrow will be interesting. I’m more confident than I would have been before the arrival of Austin and the switch of formation, but everything in the garden isn’t suddenly rosy, just as the sky wasn’t falling a fortnight ago. It’ll be a tight game that can go either way. Even with Austin, and the formation flip, QPR will still struggle for results at this level with this midfield and these full backs, especially now the best of the bad bunch Carroll is also unavailable. Derby, for all their problems, have a Polish midfielder, Krystian Bielik, who is absolutely everything our midfield is not and cries out for – as he should be for the money they paid for him.

It’ll be tight, it’ll be tense, and if you nail me to the wall I think Austin may be the difference between two teams who struggle to score. But if he’s not, the real skill in modern day football supporting is not to get too carried either way.

Links >>> Rooney back to basics – Interview >>> Class of 75 – History >>> Robinson in charge – Referee >>> Austin Powers – Podcast >>> Derby Official Website >>> Derby Telegraph – Local Press >>> Derby County Blog – Blog >>> DCFCFans – Forum >>> 11 Points – Blog

Geoff Cameron Facts No.127 In The Series - Geoff never gives up, he’s always thirsty for more.

Below the fold

Team News: Wednesday night’s win in Wales was tempered by the news that Little Tom Carroll has done an owie and will be out for the next three months with a poorly knee. Sending cuddles. That leaves an already seriously deficient midfield without two of its key men, with Carroll joining Big Bad Luke Amos on the absentee list. Rangers desperately needed additions in that area of the pitch anyway, and this from somebody who constantly bangs on about how another signing is rarely the answer to our problems, but they need at least one if not two in midfield now and Fulham’s creaking shithouse specialist Stefan Johansen has been linked. Lee Wallace must surely have qualified for a Covid-19 vaccination by now but assuming he’s still absent, and even allowing for Osman Kakay’s substitute comeback in the week, it looks like it’ll be much the same again, unless Jordy De Wijs is available for a debut – expect Buzz Lightyear to make way if he is. Bright Osayi-Samuel is permanently naughty stepped.

Derby are under a transfer embargo amidst a suspiciously drawn out Middle Eastern takeover attempt during which a portion of player wages went unpaid for December. There’s scuttlebutt abound that Scott Carson’s permanent free transfer to Man City has been blocked because the £500k loan fee (the sport truly has gone mad) due for the second half of this season is key to making January payroll. Soon to be out of contract Duane Holmes, who can sympathise with Ilias Chair’s persecution at the hands of the ride attendants at Chessington World of Adventures, is being allowed to return to his first club Huddersfield and summer signing Mike te Wierik has been jettisoned back to Groningen from whence he came. I know it’s football and football is tribal, and it’s mostly Twitter and Twitter is a cuntpit, but I was always a little bit surprised at how willing Derby fans were to not only swallow the sale of their stadium for a highly questionable and obviously inflated price to chairman Mel Morris, but also to go out to bat for it as “Mel-nomics” and “Morris has got the EFL on strings”. As at Birmingham and Sheff Wed, there are many stops on the District Line to the destruction of your club, but having to sell the stadium to keep the wolf from the door is the Hornchurch to ultimate financial meltdown's Upminster. The red light should have been spinning, the alarm bells should have been ringing. Of their more short term issues, Kelle Roos will continue to deputise in goal if David Marshall, out since New Year’s Day, cannot return. Tom Lawrence is also out, too busy risking the lives of the general population of Derbyshire by drunkenly smashing a Range Rover up and blaming it on the death of his mum… or something along those lines.

Elsewhere: QPR’s record breaking fiftieth third round FA Cup exit at the hands of Fulham, along with Derby’s Covid-affected humiliation at Chorley, means we’re the only Mercantile Credit Trophy fixture left on the Saturday list while everybody else has fun in something it says here is called the fourth round. Who knew?

Fixtures scattered far and wide over the next seven days by way of catch up, starting tonight with the televised meeting of fourth placed Watford, who’ve won their last two without conceding, and eighth placed Stoke, who have won just one of the last 11 amidst a growing injury crisis.

Two games on Sunday being used by Sky Sports Leeds to try and spoil the ratings of rival channels showing cup football. This begins with fifth placed Reading heading up to Preston Knob End who’ve been busier than anybody else in the league this transfer window, and ends with The Mad Chicken Farmers, one win in ten, heading up for their date on the Thirteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour.

Miwllwawlll (fackin ‘ell Wawll) got a much needed 1-0 win up at Sporting Huddersfield during the week after only one maximum in their previous 15 league games. They’ll look to build on that Tuesday as Watford are obliged to play again in a rearranged fixture from an earlier Covid-19 incident. Watford probably be due another new manager once these two games are out of the way. The Huddersfield team the Scholars beat during the week, themselves quietly embarking on a run of four straight defeats, have a tough trip to Bristol City the same night.

Four fixtures on Wednesday, three of them involving teams close to our good selves in the league table. QPR got Neil Harris the sack for the second season running last week and Cardiff have moved quickly to secure the services of Big Mick McCarthy as they continue their weird quest to make their team as unwatchable as possible. He starts away at his hometown club, facing the The Barnsley Science and Technology Academy For Excellent Young Boys. Coventry and Sheffield Blue Sox will both have eyes on their meeting for valuable relegation battle points – Cov one win in seven, Owls still without a manager. Rotherham, currently occupying the final relegation spot, have their date on the Thirteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour that night as well. Justice League leaders Racing Club de Syon House will almost certainly be the best team Swanselona have faced at home all season.

We get Thursday off for good behaviour before Reading pop up again on Friday, hosting a strangely out of sorts Bournemouth team. But we’ll get to that in next week’s preview-ish.

Referee: A very familiar face to both teams, Tim Robinson, gets this one. A third QPR appointment of the season and although it’s his first with Derby in 2020/21 he had five of their games in 2019/20. Details.


QPR: Notoriously travel sick QPR are in the unusual position of having more points from their away games (3-5-5) than their home (3-4-4). Since beating Rotherham 3-2 here in November the R’s are winless in five league and cup games on their own patch, and haven’t scored a goal in the last four. The two consecutive wins at Luton and Cardiff came after a ten match winless run and have lifted Rangers seven points clear of Rotherham in the final relegation spot. Only Millwall (11) and Stoke (10) have drawn more than QPR’s nine in the Championship so far, and four of those have come in the last eight meaning Rangers have actually only lost one in six and two in eight in the league. Those two wins were the first time Rangers have won consecutive matches since Cardiff and Derby were vanquished in the first meetings this year, the first time they’ve won consecutive away matches since Sheff Wed and Millwall were beaten either side of a win against Luton in September 2019, and the first time we’ve kept consecutive clean sheets since Preston and Birmingham were both beaten 2-0 in December last year. It takes the total of clean sheets this term to seven, one more than we managed in the whole of 2019/20. Only six Championship sides have conceded more than QPR’s 30 goals so far, but it is a significant improvement from this point last season when Rangers had kept three clean sheets and conceded 45 in the league.

Derby: Scoring goals has been Derby’s problem this season – they’re the lowest scorers in the league, along with Sheff Wed, on 15. Four of those came in a 4-0 televised win at Birmingham earlier this month. The 1-0 home loss to Rotherham a week ago was the fifteenth occasion in league and cup this year they’ve failed to score in a game, including QPR’s 1-0 win at Pride Park in the corresponding fixture, and they’ve scored just a single goal in ten of their other fixtures. The Rams lost four games to nil, including our win there, as Phillip Cocu was replaced by Wayne Rooney and initially a tightening of the defence resulted in a string of draws – four draws and two wins from six with four clean sheets. The Birmingham win has been followed by 1-0 defeats to relegation rivals Sheff Wed and Rotherham either side of an FA Cup upset at Crawley, though they absolutely dominated the game at Hillsborough and picked a Covid-forced youth team in the cup game. Promotion chasing Bournemouth were beaten 1-0 in their midweek game. Keeping the goalscorer from that game, Krystian Bielik, is key to their survival hopes. They’ve lost just three of his 11 outings this year and one of those, Preston, was a 1-0 injury time defeat having played the majority of the game with ten men. Away from home they’ve won three, drawn three and lost five, with the three wins all coming to nil at Birmingham, Millwall and most surprisingly Norwich. Their goals conceded record of 25 is better than the four clubs immediately above them, and 15 teams in the league including fifth placed Reading.

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. Last season’s champion Mase offers us this…

“Are we too late to gatecrash the playoffs? After two successive away victories we have a great chance to make it three wins from three with Wayne's lowly Derby in W12. We must be favourites with the bookies but I think he will have them playing with more focus and we could struggle to break them down. But three clean sheets in a row would be something to celebrate too, right?”

Mase’s Prediction: QPR 0-0 Derby. No scorer.

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-0 Derby. Scorer – Charlie Austin

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CLAREMAN1995 added 18:54 - Jan 22
Great preview as usual Clive but this game worries me a bit with Derby hitting form in the last couple of games according to reports.Of course we are full of confidence ourselves so that should balance things out .
Cardiff taking on big Mick is hard to figure ,he will stop the goals going in their net but will also stop his own team scoring such is his negative approch IMO.

Phil_i_P_Daddy added 19:24 - Jan 22
Dieng 52 “saves” away and thereby 17 “saves” at home?! Sounds disproportionate, and what constitutes a “save”?

E15Hoop added 20:17 - Jan 22
Re: your point about potential footballing style "culture clash" between Warbling Warbs and Young Chas, Clive: It's interesting, I think, that the Warbler has been very keen to stress the importance of "balance" between battling and getting the ball down and playing in both his pre-match interviews for Cardiff and Derby. I suspect the reason for that is that he's savvy enough not to be seen to hinder the amazingly positive influence that Austin is having on the squad - above and beyond even what most of us thought he would.

This has to go down as clever management by Warbler, and also displays a certain degree of grace and humility that's a strange contradiction to his obvious stubbornness in relation to team selection and other matters, and with that in mind, I would be massively surprised if he does anything to rock the boat in relation to Saint Charles of Hungerford.

Letting Charlie revel in his new leadership position will be a massive weight off his mind and will give us the best possible chance of building on the momentum we've created in the last two games. I suspect, with that in mind, he'll just back off and let Charlie carry everyone with him, as he's done for us on countless occasions in the past.

T_Block added 20:23 - Jan 22
Credit due : Racing club de Syon House.

Maybe our defence has improved 20%.Generally doesn't look troubled

Without Samuel buying ,pace upfront very important.Soon teams will work us out by having a high lined crushing space in midfield.Shame about Carrol he was improving.Spot on on Austin -Dykes looks a lot better next to him.
A fit Austin could smash this division

I am sorry I cannot help it i keep watching Crystal palace.It was such a joy to watch him.....

E15Hoop added 20:28 - Jan 22
I think we've all been secretly watching Palace, T Block! Its so funny to hear Jermaine Jenas, Danny Murphy and Ian Wright all praising Our Boy on Match of the Day and claiming that they've been banging the Eze drum for years!🤣

cheesy added 21:12 - Jan 22
Will you be having Charlie as first scorer for every game now Clive?

Loft1979 added 22:37 - Jan 22
Yes. We have a lot of secret Palace watchers.

Loft1979 added 03:57 - Jan 23
On the subject of Eze: Eze-2 seems to be touted but I have not heard much about him. Would be nice to see a write up on the potential prospects come up through the ranks.

WestonsuperR added 12:39 - Jan 23
Excellent preview and views I agree with completely.

It’s incredibly frustrating at the hysterical over-reaction to both wins and losses. I don’t think we have been particularly good vs Luton and Cardiff or particularly poor in matches lost, it’s a very tight division and with the squad and budget we have we are currently absolutely where I’d expect us to be, lower-mid table.

DavieQPR added 12:40 - Jan 23
Can't understand how Morris was allowed to buy the Ground for £80m then used it as collateral , along with the training ground and car park, for a £30m loan.

TacticalR added 14:53 - Jan 23
Thanks for your preview.

Football fans? Living from match to match? Not a good thing but that's the way it is.

It will be interesting to see how far Warburton can accommodate Austin if he has a completely different philosophy. It's worked so far - Austin's presence has settled the nerves of the attacking players and lifted the whole team.

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