|Watford 1 v 2 Queens Park Rangers|
Monday, 1st February 2021 Kick-off 19:45
Strictly business – Preview
Sunday, 31st Jan 2021 15:42 by Clive Whittingham
QPR finally have some good news to shout about ahead of Monday’s trip to Watford, with great white hope Ilias Chair signing a new four-and-a-half year contract.
Watford (13-8-5, LLWWWD, 4th) v QPR (6-9-10, LDDWWL, 19th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Monday February 1, 2021 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Overcast >>> Vicarage Road, Watford
At the end of a month where Queens Park Rangers had drawn criticism, fire and legitimate questions about their recruitment and retention, you could almost feel a palpable relief from senior club executives and the media team when they were able to reveal this week that Ilias Chair has signed a four-and-a-half-year contract with an option for a fifth. Think of the coats he’ll be able to buy with that. I suspect we’re only ongoing lockdown restrictions away from seeing him carried aloft through the streets of Shepherd’s Bush King Julien-style, Les Ferdinand leading the procession, pointing and shouting “see, SEE, LOOK” to the bemused patrons of Quashie’s Roti Hut.
Ilias, to this point, is a QPR success story: well scouted, initially, in Belgian backwater Lierse SK; excellent development, including a well-timed and highly productive Football League loan at Stevenage; ample first team opportunities, with little periods out of the side here and there when form and fitness dipped slightly; contracts renewed regularly, and in good time. After the Bright Osayi-Samuel fiasco, Rangers needed something like this to dick swing about, and that made the timing of this week’s new deal perfect in more ways than one.
On the pitch, there is still development work to do. He can be guilty of taking too long, too many touches, on the ball when early service would benefit the strikers more. It can sometimes feel like he’s too single minded in trying to get a 25-yard shot away when there are better options available, and moving the ball quickly would open up further opportunities. He’s good in space, but less effective when teams crowd the ground around their own penalty area, as Derby did so effectively last weekend. But he’s already a lovely player to watch, and once again we’re seeing a young lad grow into himself and this level of football as his senior appearances tick through 50, 100 and 150. Ilias has made 81 starts and 22 sub appearances in his senior career now, and he’s obviously better now than he was 40 games ago, already matching last season’s goal tally of five and hopefully progressing further still as we move through 100 appearances towards 150.
Off the pitch, nobody can say enough about the lad. The word you hear over and over again about him is “driven”, as I guess you’d have to be to make it as a professional footballer, in a notoriously physical league, in a foreign country, at five feet two inches tall and having started out playing football in concrete cages on Antwerp housing estates. The tiny, chubby kid had been written off plenty, and thrives on it. There’s a humbleness to him that will stand him in good stead, he’s a regular with the club’s Community Trust, and as the eldest of five brothers back in Belgium he’s a natural with the younger supporters, as demonstrated when he dropped in as a surprise guest on this year’s Open All R’s half term podcast. Given the context, his “I think it's what the fans deserve and what the club deserves from my part” line upon signing this week felt very pointed.
All of this sounds very Ebere Eze, of course. The trajectory, so far, has been almost identical, right down to the teenage nights spent playing cage football, the eye-catching lower league loan and attractive off-field personality. It’s easy to say Chair will never be as good as Eze, he’s at a significant physical disadvantage for a start and he’s certainly got a long way to go as Ebere’s latest wonderful Premier League goal for Palace against Wolves this weekend demonstrates. But Eze is 60-odd senior appearances in front of Chair development wise, and there were plenty of doubts kicking around about him in the 50-80 appearances period.
QPR need a similar outcome, not only because their team at the moment is desperately short on quality and an existing player growing into Eze 2.1 without costing anything would be enormous in the short and medium term, but also because, as we always say, the most obvious way Rangers can get themselves out of their current malaise is to buy low, develop, sell high, and reinvest shrewdly. Not once, or twice, but over and over and over again. Chair’s five-year deal does not, should not, mean he’s here for five more years. More that if he continues to develop like this, then a couple of years down the line we’ll be able to command the sort of money we weren’t able to extract for Osayi-Samuel and Manning, and then reinvest that in four or five other prospects.
Whether that has been done well enough post Eze departure is the big debate of the moment. You could see the thinking with a lot of the signings, there’s still plenty of time for Lyndon Dykes to turn things around, Chris Willock is promising, Rob Dickie is a perfect example of what we should be doing, and Seny Dieng’s development, loans and contract status has been well managed. There are assets on our slate. The team, however, has been left short in key areas. We see it in games, week after week, and we’ve seen it this month in our transfer activity, which continued this week with the addition of 30-year-old Stefan Johansen on loan from Fulham.
It’s worth bearing in mind that we’re approaching the one-year mark of QPR last having a proper crowd at a home game. Rangers were already struggling with financial losses, profit and sustainability rules, historic FFP breaches, income, turnover, revenues and all the rest of it when 13,000 of us were going to Loftus Road a couple of times a fortnight. That Eze money, as we said in September when it became clear that Covid-19 wasn’t going away anytime soon, has more likely become a lifebelt to keep the club afloat, rather than a war chest to go into Championship battle with. I suspect a good chunk more of it may have been spent on prospects were these normal times, instead we have the cool lad with dreadlocks partly to thank for making sure we still have a club on the other side of this.
Nor is Johansen a particularly bad signing per se. Certainly the general consensus on the other side of Hammersmith Broadway is that his legs have gone, but QPR have done quite nicely in recent years supplementing a young team by eking out the last drops of football from old pros like Angel Rangel and Geoff Cameron, whose previous clubs also thought they were done at this level when releasing them. He plays a position we were weak in anyway, even before Luke Amos and Little Tom Carroll got crocked, and he’s a known protagonist of exactly the sort of shithousery and dark arts you need in a Championship relegation battle, and that QPR have palpably lacked for many months now. You can’t bitch and moan about how nice we are, how we need to commit more tactical fouls, how quiet the team is, and how short the midfield looks, and then be sniffy about Stefan Johansen because he does at least tick those boxes.
Nevertheless, it has been frustrating to watch promising prospects of exactly the pedigree we should be chasing moving out of League One and Two to exactly the sort of non-parachute payment receiving Championship clubs like Blackburn and Preston we should, in theory, still be capable of competing with, all the while we’re scraping around for loan signings well past their best to sticking plaster long-known issues with our team. Mumbled pre-match complaints about having to play this Watford game in the run up to the transfer deadline only have me rolling my eyes further back into my head – we have known about our problems, in midfield, at full back, for months, and we have had all of this month to correct them. If having to play a game on transfer deadline day throws a spanner in the works then the machine was pretty busted anyway.
A Championship club that spends its January loaning Charlie Austin, Jordy De Wijs and Stefan Johansen - who've played precious little football between them this season - is not one for whom the season has gone well, or the pre-season plan worked and been a success. When the time does come to sell Chair, Dieng, Dickie, or whoever it may be, we have to be better at that.
Links >>> Home and away – Interview >>> Mad Malian – History >>> The best a ref can get – Referee >>> The view from the Pu – January >>> Watford Official Website >>> WFC Forums – Message Board >>> Watford Observer – Local Press >>> Voices of the Vic – Podcast
Geoff Cameron Facts No.128 In The Series – Geoff wouldn’t slide into someone's DMs whether Jordy De Wijs scores or not.
Below the fold
Team News: QPR have added 30-year-old Fulham shithouse specialist Stefan Johansen to a midfield depleted by long term injuries to Luke Amos, Charlie Owens and most recently Little Tom Carroll. Johansen has only made five starts for club and country in the last five months, so whether he’ll be able to go straight in, and how long he’ll last if he does, remains to be seen. The ten-card yellow card amnesty comes after the thirty seventh fixture of the season so he'll have to go some to trouble that. Other than that, expect much the same team as the one that lost 1-0 to Derby last week, with another new arrival Jordy De Wijs still nursing a calf injury he arrived with an unable to participate at the moment. Lee Wallace is back in training following a phone call from Andy Sinton as part of the Community Trust’s R You OK? lockdown welfare outreach campaign.
Watford ended the unsuccessful loans of James Garner and Glenn Murray as the end of the transfer window drew close, but have been able to add experienced Bournemouth midfielder Dan Gosling to their number in time for this one.
Elsewhere: Further comings and comings at Nottingham Florist who seem think they're putting together a cast for a Ben-Hur remake rather than assembling a functioning squad for a competition that only permits 11 players to take to the field at any one moment. Brighton’s Glenn Murray and Man Utd’s James Garner have both ended unhappy loan spells at Watford to head to the Midlands for unhappy loan spells at the City Ground. With Filip Krovinovic also coming in temporarily from Benfica to join Luke Freeman, Anthony Knockaert, Cafu (not that one) and Cyrus Christie, that’s now seven loaned players in a league where only five can be selected in the matchday squad. Former Man Utd trainee Nikolas Ioannou, one of 14 summer signings, is already back on loan in Cyrpus four months into his four year contract. Harry Arter, another of the summer intake, is in talks over a pay up and didn’t make the bench for Saturday’s big 0-0 home draw with Barnsley. Loyal Taylor an unused sub. Coventry A and Wycombe A their next two games.
Wayne Rooney’s Derby County continued their upward momentum with a home win against Bristol City on Saturday – a third consecutive 1-0 victory. They’ve paid their players up to date and exited from a transfer embargo just in time to make as many as four signings ahead of tomorrow’s deadline, according to Mr Potato Head, but they’re selling the family silver to do it with two graduates from their excellent academy side, Kaide Gordon and Morgan Whittaker, being sold to Liverpool and Swansea respectively. Another nasty looking injury for star midfield man Krystian Bielik as well – just four defeats in the 14 games he’s played in this season, and one of those was when they played Preston with ten men for more than an hour and lost in injury time.
More troubling news for QPR fans of a nervous disposition as managerless Sheffield Blue Stripes got a 1-0 home win against Preston Knob End, but Birmingham (one win in nine) and Sporting Huddersfield (five defeats and a draw in six) continue to come towards us in the other direction after weekend 1-1 draws with Coventry and Stoke respectively. Rotherham remain third bottom after a comprehensive 3-1 home loss to Swanselona. Bournemouth are really getting into the swing of their 2013/14 QPR tribute act with another limp display and comfortable defeat on the road at fellow promotion chasers Reading on Friday night.
Darnell Fisher impressed on his Boro debut after a canny £300k move from PNE as the Thirteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour registered a goalless draw at league leaders Borussia Norwich. Yannick Bolasie is also back at the Riverside for the second half of the season. Big Mick McCarthy’s Cardiff stodgeathon registered a second draw of the week, 1-1 at home to his old club Miwllwawlll (fackin’ ‘ell Wawll) – now eight without a win for the Welsh side. Is anybody actually winning games in the Championship at the moment? Oh yeh, of course, Spartak Hounslow. In all fairness, at 7-2, they probably were the best team Wycombe have played all season.
There’s a round of catch up games in hand taking place on Tuesday and Wednesday this week, with four of the five teams below us in the table and the three immediately above us all in action. Cling on to the rosary beads and hope for the best from Borussia Norwich’s trip to Miwlwllwawwwlll (fackin’ ‘ell Wawlllw) and Sheffield Owls’ trip to accident-prone Bournemouth. Coventry and Florist, Rotherham and Derby, and Wycombe and Birmingham all play each other on Tuesday in a string of six pointers. Worst case scenario (Birmingham, Forest, Rotherham win, QPR lose), QPR go into next weekend fourth bottom, one point outside the relegation zone.
Brentford v Bristol City is Wednesday night’s exciting fixture between two teams beginning with B.
Referee: Australian Jarred Gillett is in charge of this one, just as he was for our last midweeker on Sky at Millwall. That was his first QPR appointment and he was, to be fair, very good. Details.
Watford: Watford have, by far, the division’s best home record so far with ten wins, two draws and a single defeat – 1-0 against Cardiff on December 5. Norwich (eight), Swansea (six) and, bizarrely, Sheff Wed (eight) have all conceded fewer home goals than Watford’s nine, and Brentford (26) have scored more than their 23, but no team can match the Hornet’s 32 points secured at Vicarage Road this season (Norwich have 29, Reading 27). That’s just as well because their away form – 3-6-4 - is the worst in the top half of the table. You have to go all the way down to Luton in thirteenth it find a team that’s taken fewer than Watford’s 15 points on the road, and their record is actually only one point better than our own mediocre haul from away matches. They come into this game unbeaten in four, with three wins and a draw and just one goal conceded. They’ve beaten Barnsley, Huddersfield and Norwich without conceding in their last three home games and are unbeaten on this ground in five games since the Cardiff defeat, four wins and a draw and only the one goal conceded. The Hornets have been awarded seven penalties in their last 17 games, with the last five converted by Troy Deeney and one each for Sarr and Pedro before that. Deeney is their joint top league scorer with six, but five of those have come from the penalty spot.
QPR: Rangers, in stark contrast to their dire home form, are unbeaten in five away from home and have won the last two without conceding, at Luton and Cardiff. The three prior to that had all finished 1-1 at Norwich, Wycombe and Millwall. At Loftus Road they’re without a win in six, losing five (one after extra time) and haven’t scored for five matches. No goalkeeper in the Championship has made more saves in away games than Seny Dieng with 52. QPR won promotion on this ground with a 2-0 win at the end of the 2010/11 season but had lost six of their seven visits here prior to that, conceding three goals in five of those games. This is their first visit here since a 0-0 draw in 2013/14.
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…
“There was such a slew/overkill of articles about our new loan signing on the official club website this week that I feel I know everything about him bar his dog's name and his favourite ice cream flavour. It would be great to have a few more goals from midfield (or anywhere) so let's hope he can start off with one here. I've got a feeling Watford will be able to hold us at arm's length and continue their good recent form but let's hope that any goal we do manage is more than mere consolation.”
Mase’s Prediction: Watford 2-1 QPR. Scorer - Johansen
LFW’s Prediction: Watford 1-0 QPR. No scorer.
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Letters from Wiltshire #35 by wessex_exile
As many were predicting, time finally ran out for Steve Ball mid-week, after the U’s lost 2-1 at home to Exeter City. Although a considerable improvement in score-line compared to the 6-1 thrashing they handed out at St James Park earlier in the season, apart from the first 10-15 minutes and very brief glimpses throughout the remainder of the game, it was a poor performance, leaving Robbie Cowling with no choice. After a brief interlude, Robbie named Wayne Brown as our new Interim Head Coach (that’s caretaker as far as I’m concerned), and after an even briefer interlude, Robbie and Wayne in a joint statement put to rest any lingering concerns about Wayne’s attitude to race. If Wayne can show the same sort of leadership on the training ground and in the dressing room as he used to show for the U’s on the pitch, I am certain he’s going to do very well in the job.
Letters from Wiltshire #34 by wessex_exile
I won’t dwell on Robbie’s latest message to the supporters – we’ve all read it, and we’ve all probably drawn our own conclusions about what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. To me, bottom line, I suspect the clock is now ticking for Steve Ball (at least), turn around this terrible form pretty damn quick, or start clearing out your locker. Regardless of personal opinions on any of the individuals concerned, I would like to think none of us actually wants to see people made redundant in the current climate. But, these are difficult times that require tough decisions. If Steve Ball is up to the job and can turn this around, I’ll be more than happy to support him. If he’s not, he has to go before irreparable harm is done…and we all know what that will look like, we’ve been there before…
Letters from Wiltshire #33 by wessex_exile
Today we face a trip to Crawley, not usually a venue that bears fruit for the U’s it has to be said. In nine visits we’ve only won once in the league, and once in the League Cup. Of course, we’ll all remember that League Cup victory, indeed many of us were probably there to see us progress through to 5th round and the dream fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford. All of our goal-scorers that night, Luke’s Norris and Gambin, and Cohen Bramall (okay, technically an O.G.), are no longer with us, so let’s hope at the very least that recent departee and subsequent returnee Frank Nouble can bag another like his late equaliser against Mansfield. Steve Ball commented during the week about how tight the league is at the moment, and he’s right that a couple of back to back victories would see us move significantly up the table away from danger – but we’ve got to win them first Steve – something we’ve failed to do since our 1-0 victory at Scunthorpe on December 8th.
Letters from Wiltshire #32 by wessex_exile
Fifty years ago yesterday, Colchester United of the 4th Division pulled off the greatest cup giant-killing ever, beating 1st Division Leeds United 3-2 at Layer Road. Watched by 16,000, and the Match of the Day cameras, Dick Graham’s U’s, a rag-tag band of mostly aging journeymen, defied the odds to defeat arguably the greatest club side in Europe at the time. “The greatest cup giant-killing ever” is a bold claim, and over the years various football magazines and websites have run their own polls of which was the greatest. Whilst that day at Layer Rd always features, as the years have gone by other feats fresher in the memory have been put forward as a candidate – we probably all remember Ronnie Radford’s screamer against Newcastle, Sutton’s exploits, or even Bradford City quite recently at Stamford Bridge – but these pale into insignificance when you pause to reflect on the Don Revie side that we beat that day. Sprake, Cooper, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Giles etc – all full internationals, all household names – the only one missing was Billy Bremner, and that was because he was injured. By comparison, all we had to offer was Ray Crawford – at his peak arguably on a par with some in the Leeds side, but that peak had been ten years earlier playing for Ipswich and England. Eleven heroes didn’t just try and hold out against Leeds United, they took the game to their illustrious opponents with such tenacity, grit and no small amount of flair, and before we knew it, the U’s were 3-0 in the lead. As legs tired, Leeds got back into the game with goals from Hunter and Giles, but we held firm – typified at the death by Graham Smith pulling off an impossible save to ensure the U’s achieved the greatest cup giant-killing ever!
Letters from Wiltshire #31 by wessex_exile
And so the dust settles on another transfer window closing, and despite (my) expectations that the possibility of incoming business was going to be remote, we have instead seen a veritable flurry of activity, with no less than three coming in. Big Frank Nouble, making a very welcome return on loan from Plymouth Argyle, of course needs no introduction. Neither really does feisty Brendan Sarpong-Wiredu, here on loan last season, and this time signed full-time from Charlton Athletic for an undisclosed fee. Actually paying hard cash for someone did come as a surprise, presumably offset by the sale of Cohen Bramall to Lincoln for a similarly undisclosed fee. However, the fact that the Addicks have insisted on not only a sell-on clause, but a rarely used buy-back clause too, suggests (a) Wiredu’s signing fee probably wasn’t too high, and (b) Charlton are protecting those finances with these clauses. The last one, which would have been a complete surprise for me were it not for a contact leaking me the news earlier yesterday, is left-back Josh Doherty on loan from Crawley. Josh was only announced once outgoing left-back Bramall was confirmed, and presumably his loan is directly related to part-time fashion model, TV and radio celeb and former left-back Mark Wright signing for Crawley on a non-contract game-by-game basis in December. We have also released seven from the academy, Ollie Kensdale, Miquel Scarlett, Sammie McLeod, Michael Fernandes, Ollie Sims, Danny Collinge and Matt Weaire, and I’m sure we all wish them the best for the future.
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