|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 0 Blackburn Rovers|
Saturday, 6th February 2021 Kick-off 15:00
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Friday, 5th Feb 2021 19:31 by Clive Whittingham
QPR's away form is keeping them afloat, but they'll need to improve on a winless run of six games at Loftus Road, five of them scoreless, if they're to keep an awakened relegation whirlpool at bay.
QPR (7-9-10, DDWWLW, 17th) v Blackburn (11-6-9, LWLDWW, 8th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday February 6, 2021 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – You’ve had your day of sun and that’s your lot >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12
There’s something odd occurring at the bottom of this year’s Mercantile Credit Trophy. Queens Park Rangers, with three wins in their last four games, all of them away, find themselves just four points outside the bottom three. That’s closer to the dreaded drop than they were after round 18 of this year’s nonsense, a 1-0 defeat at home to Reading which made it five without a win for Mark Warburton’s side, four of them defeats.
By common consensus QPR are significantly better now than they were a month ago, when they were rather shambolically blowing a scarcely deserved 1-0 lead at Wycombe, suffering a complete outclassing on their own patch by Swansea, and then cursing their own missed chances in a 1-1 draw at high flying Norwich. At that point Rangers had gone 10 without a win. They had just four victories to show for their efforts through the first half of the season and while they’d been the better of the two sides in beating fellow strugglers Forest and Derby both games could have gone another way on the day, and 3-2 home victories against Cardiff and Rotherham quickly descended into baffling ordeals that took years off the life of any Ranger watching after promising beginnings. They lost when they played well, usually because an additional player had been added to the opposition midfield at half time to overpower our own powderpuff middle. When they played poorly, at Huddersfield for instance, or at home to Preston, you were ashamed to know them never mind support them. Positives were clung to through draws with disinterested sides like Bournemouth and Watford.
Early January brought the return of Charlie Austin, and it would be easy to lazily lay a clutch of recent improvements at the altar of Chaz and commence worship.
Firstly he has taken a couple of chances, at Luton and Watford, of exactly the sort that were being missed before he arrived. Actually, more accurately, he’s been in the sort of position to score goals against Luton and Watford that the strikers simply weren’t taking up prior to his arrival – even at Vicarage Road on Monday an inch perfect assist from Todd Kane found Macauley Bonne on his heels and not anticipating. Oh for Austin in the team when we were dominating, missing, and losing, against Bristol City, Brentford, Watford, Fulham, Bournemouth and others earlier in the season.
Secondly, now he’s here the team is playing with a purpose and belief that was definitely waning. It’s really easy to say “if we keep playing like that we’ll win more than we lose” when we put in creditable performances against Brentford, Bristol City and Watford, but when results don’t come faith in that rhetoric slides. Against Reading, Stoke, Wycombe and Swansea at the end of December QPR had looked tired and miserable, posing zero threat to their opposition, expecting to lose. We looked bereft. Having Austin up there does seem to have at least given the boys hope that, occasionally, some of their approach work may be nudged/outofmywayyouslags over the line.
And thirdly, he’s gobby. He really seems to have taken the task as a senior player coming into a young, quiet team to heart. He’s everywhere. He’s on every podcast, every radio station, every TV channel that covers our league, he does every interview, he invades the interviews of other players, he has his own podcast, he pops up on Five Live. I’ve never seen or heard so much Charlie Austin in my life. Our official website is basically now like the Chesterfield official website that weird summer Martin Allen decided he was going to edit it as well as managing the team. On the pitch, too, you can see and hear him, all over the ball park, all night. Lot of pop coming off the bat. Which is exactly what we needed, as I may have mentioned a time or two.
But it is not entirely down to him. There has been a change of formation, to three at the back with wing backs, that has worked well in a number of ways. Yoann Barbet, in particular, is well suited to being left of a back three, and is quietly playing well at the moment without getting too many plaudits. Geoff Cameron, obviously struggling having gone on a season too long, now has younger bodies directly right and left of him to help. QPR have poor full backs, but with a senior right and left back contracted, and two youngsters behind them on long deals, the budget is never likely to stretch to a third right and left back. Moving them further forwards and switching to a back three has exposed them far less than they were in a four. Stefan Johansen has been added to a midfield that was a problem zone even before Big Bad Luke Amos and Little Tom Carroll signed off for the season, and he’s now been joined by Sam Field – “exactly the sort of signing we should be making™” – from West Brom, who I like a lot if you can keep him fit and mainline some self belief into him.
Our West Brom man, Dr Matt Graham, sadly missed from our oppo previews this year, tells us: “I'm a little bit gutted Sam Field has left, and I think a lot of Albion fans are too. A player with bags of potential and always seemed to be on the cusp of breaking into the first team. He looked good when he did play. A very tidy central midfielder. In the category for many managers that he was too good to go on loan, but then never got a run of games so sat on the bench if lucky. However, he's been super unlucky with a series of injuries, including the one he got on loan at Charlton last year. That said we've now had six managers who've not seen anything in him/trusted him to give him a run in the team. He badly needs this loan/move to work to get his career going.”
A West Brom Paul Smyth then. He had me at “unlucky with a series of injuries”.
A Championship club for whom Jordy De Wijs, Stefan Johansen and Charlie Austin represent the January business is not a Championship club who has planned adequately for the season. But, as Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink told us, it is what it is and we have applied short term sticking plasters to a broken spine in much the same way John Gregory did when last we were in the serious shit and he dug us out with the help of Lee Camp, Danny Cullip and Adam Bolder.
And yet still only four points north of the relegation zone, despite three consecutive away wins for the first time since Bolton, Leeds and Yeovil were all vanquished 1-0 in the weird early days of 2013/14 when Steve McClaren was de facto managing the team while ‘Arry pretended his knee was too sore.
That’s partly because the bottom of the Championship seems to have woken up. It was always likely that Derby and Forest might get their act together eventually, and Coventry and Rotherham are at least competitive, but between the six teams currently below seventeenth-placed QPR there have been 16 wins across the last five rounds of fixtures. Sheff Wed have responded to ditching Pulis with four wins; Forest, Derby and Rotherham have three wins each, Coventry two and Birmingham one. Had Rangers not beaten Cardiff and Watford, we’d currently be second bottom.
In glass-half-full news, if QPR had played and beaten Wycombe when they should have done we’d now be thirteenth, above Huddersfield, Luton, Millwall and Cardiff. By contrast, the six teams immediately above Rangers in the table have just four wins between them over that same five rounds of fixtures, including Cardiff, Huddersfield and Barnsley with none between them. Birmingham’s quest to 0-0 their way to a comatose midtable finish has already descended them from that middle group of mediocrity into some quite serious shit shovelling as the basement dwellers have stirred. Couldn’t happen to a more miserable manager.
For QPR to genuinely start moving off into what passes for ‘sunlit uplands’ in 2021 Britain, we need to add the occasional home win to our awayday domination (who ever would have thought?). It’s six without a win at Loftus Road, five defeats, and no goals in the last five games on our own patch. Rangers’ style of maintaining possession in front of teams and waiting for them to come out and offer space far more effective on the road than it is at home where teams are happy with their point, despite there being no crowds and it apparently making no difference where the game is played. Medieval football thinking strikes again.
They’ll do well to start turning that tide against an injury-hit but seriously talented Blackburn Rovers side, who would appear to have cracked their own long standing defensive issues with three clean sheets and ten points their last four league games. We can’t keep losing at home, in both senses.
Links >>> Paul Murray – Patreon >>> The dotted line – Interview >>> 82 ghost goal – History >>> Cup final success – Podcast >>> Oh it’s you – Referee >>> Blackburn Official website >>> Lancashire Telegraph – Local Paper >>> BRFCS message board and podcast >>> Rovers Chat – Blog
Geoff Cameron Facts No.129 In The Series - Geoff wouldn’t let you sleep in his room if you were growing on his ass.
Below the fold
Team News: Expect much the same as the Monday selection from QPR. Lyndon Dykes is awaiting the all clear from his period of self-isolation (stop it) to return up front, if not it’ll be Macauley Bonne’s travelling circus. Stefan Johansen managed just over an hour at Watford and will make his home debut. Jordy De Wijs remains a mystery we’ve only read about in books, though he has ascended to George Thomas levels of "out on the grass" we hear. Little Tom Carroll, Big Bad Luke Amos and Charlie Owens are left to mark time in the sandpit (play nicely boys) while Sam ‘Fieldy’ Field arrives from West Brom on loan with a view to a permanent deal and could home debut. With that nervousness and those puppy-eyes he’ll fit right in.
Rovers have been beset by injuries all season but hope to have Jacob Davenport and Tom Trybull back from their illicit affair for this one. Taylor Harwood-Bellis has suspended campaigning for the Tory safe-seat of South Holland and Deepings to join on loan and is available along with Amari’i Bell who can now play after an arrival of apostrophes at the shirt printers. Elliott Bennett and Corry Evans both returned to the bench in recent fixtures after many months out, though given the sort of mush your brain turns to after that much exposure to This Morning it could be a while before either can start a game. Bradley Dack got 72 minutes against Stoke, and then came on for the final half hours of 1-0 wins against Boro and Luton as he continues to work his way back from a knee explosion. Joe Rankin-Costello (excellent against QPR in the first game), Daniel Ayala (always injured) and Bradley Johnson (top cunt) are out long term.
Elsewhere: We’re back in business tonight with an all-European fixture between Swanselona, third on 51, and Borussia Norwich, top on 55. Further Sky Sports Leeds fun tomorrow lunchtime as Udinese, still sporting the division’s best home record despite Uncle Albert’s late intervention on Monday but with just three away wins all season, travel to Coventry who absolutely have enough about them to catch manager Troy Deeney out if his team show the same sort of rank bad attitude they have lately.
Speaking of teams with all the gear and no idea, Bournemouth have dispensed with manager Jason Tindall after their plan to make a clean break from Eddie Howe by appointing his assistant met a predictably dire end with a midweek defeat at home to struggling Sheff Wed. Jonathan Woodgate dusts off his nose, checks his luck, and takes charge for tomorrow’s 0-0 draw at home to Birmingham City.
Teams heading in the opposite direction meet at Oakwell as Grimley Colliery Band, winless in five Championship games either side of cup success, host Wayne Rooney’s Derby County, who had won three in a row without conceding prior to their midweek, rearranged, 3-0 capitulation at relegation rivals Rotherham. The Millers are within one-win striking distance of Derby, Florist and Birmingham as they head to Preston Knob End. Second bottom Sheffield Blue Strips, four wins from the last five but still without a manager, are away to Miwwwwwwwwwaaaaaaallllllwwwwwallllllwwwwwwllllll (fackin’ ‘ell Wawwwwwwwlllllll).
Big Mick McCarthy bid to draw Cardiff City to safety trundles into Bristol City. Two other teams looking over their shoulders after bad runs, Lutown and Sporting Huddersfield, meet at Kenilworth Road. High flying Reading are at Stoke. The Kew Bridge Sporting Orient will almost certainly be the best team on the Thirteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farwell Tour, and we wish Nottingham Florist all the best as they attempt to cart their cast of a thousand footballers down to Castel Di Sangro for a relegation six-pointer.
Referee: After the highs of Jarred Gillett’s latest calm, composed handling of our Monday night game at Watford, we’re back down in the barrel scrapings of the Championship this weekend as Tony Harrington’s small man syndrome show hits town. Just you make sure that free kick is in exactly the right place lads, don’t sweat the big stuff that matters. Details.
QPR: It’s a Jekyll and Hyde cliché for QPR at the moment who are unbeaten in six away from home for the first time since the Neil Warnock promotion campaign of 2010/11 (Sheff Utd 3-0, Derby 2-2, Ipswich 3-0, Leicester 2-0, Palace 2-1, Swansea 0-0, Bristol City 1-1, Portsmouth 1-1, Forest 0-0) and have won three on the spin away from home for the first time since the early days of the 2013/14 promotion season (Bolton A, Leeds A, Bolton A, all 1-0). At Loftus Road QPR haven’t won in six, losing five, and haven’t scored a goal in the last five. They have lost five times at Loftus Road in the first 12 games there this season and will have to lose six of the next 11 if they’re to match the Steve McClaren 2018/19 record of 11 home defeats in a league season which was the most the club had ever suffered in a league season. QPR have already kept more clean sheets this season (seven) than they did in the whole of 2019/20 (six) and the addition of Rob Dickie and Seny Dieng to the backline as seen 20 goals knocked off the against column – Rangers had shipped 48 in 26 games at this point of last season, and have let in just 28 in 26 this. The Watford victory in the week was the first time in 13 attempts that Rangers have come back from conceding the first goal to win – they’d lost nine and drawn three of the previous dozen, including the corresponding fixture at home to the Hornets.
Blackburn: Rovers’ 4-2 defeat on this ground last season, though played all the way back in November 2019, was something of an anomaly between these two teams as not only a watchable game of football ending in a QPR win. Rovers have won eight and drawn two of ten meetings at Ewood Park since Stuart Wardley and Kevin Gallen gave Gerry Francis’ team a 2-0 win there in the 1999/00 season. At Loftus Road QPR haven’t fared much better, also winless in ten dating all the way back to Les Ferdinand’s disputed winner against Kenny Dalglish’s side in 1993/94 prior to last season’s 4-2 comeback win. Rovers had won five and drawn five of their ten visits here between drinks. They arrive into this latest meeting in decent touch. Their season had looked to be on the slide amidst a catalogue of injuries with one win from seven games through December but they have tightened up in January, taking ten points from 12 and keeping three clean sheets through four unbeaten league fixtures. Adam Armstrong scored twice against the R’s in the first meeting back in November, and trails only Ivan Toney (20) in the divisional scoring charts with 17. Only Brentford (48) have scored more than Rovers 41 league goals this season, but they have often left it late. Blackburn have scored 25 second half goals, winning them 17 points. They’ve scored 14 goals in the final 15 minutes of matches, for a gain of 14 points.
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…
“A visit from Rovers represents a tricky game at a ground we've found it hard to make feel our own of late. My prediction partly reflects that Blackburn don't tend to score or concede heavily, but they also seem to have made a couple of canny-looking transfers in the window to freshen up the squad in its tilt for the playoffs. My heart also sank to see Bradley Dack back in the action in January after a longish injury, he has always impressed when I've seen him before. At least his namesake Johnson is out. I hope we can put in a good display to complement those we have produced on our travels of late. It's just a pity we can't play all our fixtures away from W12.”
Mase’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Blackburn. Scorer – Charlie Austin
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-2 Blackburn. Scorer – Charlie Austin
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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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