|West Bromwich Albion 2 v 1 Queens Park Rangers|
Friday, 24th September 2021 Kick-off 20:00
Aesthetic interpretation - Preview
Friday, 24th Sep 2021 09:05 by Clive Whittingham
Energetic press in midfield has been kryptonite to this QPR team in 2021, and Valerian Ismael's Barnsley executed it better than most, but the new West Brom manager hasn't been having it all his own way of late ahead of Rangers' visit this evening.
West Brom (4-4-0 WLWDDD 3rd) v QPR (3-3-2 WWDLLD 8th)
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Barnsley’s performance in victory at Loftus Road last season divided opinion like few others. Masterful innovative form of the game, or a new dark age? The message board debate raged for days.
You certainly couldn’t argue with the results. That 3-1 win part of an unbeaten sequence of ten, nine of them victories, as the Tykes went from a team that had only avoided relegation the previous year thanks to a pair of unlikely results in the final two games, and one that had won none of its first seven in 2020/21, to play-off semi-finalists. The question was more whether you could bring yourself to watch it every week. Whether it was a price worth paying for success.
Valerian Ismael’s side came with a defensive line higher than I can ever recall seeing before. Goalkeeper Bradley Collins played where you’d find the centre back in a Paul Hart team. Three athletic, energetic strikers ceaselessly tore around on close-down duty and then – making use of the extra substitutions permitted in the lockdown games – all of them were replaced by fresh legs on the hour. The effect was to condense the pitch down into a tightly-packed middle third in which the ball was rarely allowed to bounce and second touches in possession were things the opponent had only read about in books. It played like an U8s game – all of the players chasing the ball around in a cloud of dust at a million miles an hour. QPR were completely suffocated. It was like trying to play football under a grill.
Personally, I found it quite an exhilarating style. I get excited by football played with speed and width and tempo and Barnsley certainly had that. I find the slow, steady, possession based style of somebody like Swansea, with their 500 passes completed every game and just seven goals scored so far this season, every bit as dull and boring to watch as Neil Harris or Mick McCarthy bringing out the wheeled cannon by way of tactics. For many though, and I respect the difference of opinion, Barnsley were simply Pulisball on x2.5 speed.
Although West Bromwich Albion’s pursuit of a manager this summer threatened to descend into farce - with Chris Wilder rejected by the Far Eastern board because of the impolite manner of his departure from Sheff Utd (get over yourself lads) and the likes of Steve Cooper, David Wagner and Michael Appleton all reluctant to take on a job where a chasm now exists between expectation and available budget – landing on Ismael could turn out to be a very happy accident. A club that has suffered through not only Pulis but Gary Megson and Sam Allardyce as well is not one that’s adverse to spit-on-it-and-call-it-foreplay football if it gets the job done. Never mind the quality, feel the width.
The start to the season has backed this up. A 2-2 at Dean Court on night one looks a better result with every passing Bournemouth match and they then quickly stuck three wins on the board scoring nine goals in the process, including an absolute roasting of Sheffield United on the same night we won at Middlesbrough, and a 2-1 at Blackburn that featured the goal of this or any other season from LFW darling Alex Mowatt after a minute. My fear for the Baggies pre-season was that Barnsley, with their transfer policy of only signing players under 25, had the youthful legs to execute Ismael’s extreme plan, whereas West Brom, who only had two players under 24 in their whole squad, would not. That, it seemed, every bit as sound as my prediction that Sheff Utd would walk the division. More recently though – and this is said with the caveat that West Brom are still one of only two unbeaten sides in the division, bar an aberration for their second string in the cup against Arsenal – some cracks have started to appear. They’ve drawn the last three against poor Millwall, Preston and Derby sides, banging away for hours with Darnell Furlong’s prodigious long throw as plan A, B and C. The Hawthorns regulars, not adverse to a bit of ends-justifying-the-means pragmatism as I say, have been whispering words like ‘dinosaur’.
Whatever your thoughts on Queens Park Rangers - their strengths and weaknesses, whether they’re over or under performing, and how they’ll do this season – you can’t say this isn’t an attractive team. The ball is on the floor, QPR play less ‘long passes’ than anybody else in the division, but it’s passing with a purpose and only Fulham have scored more than our 16 in the league – from ten different players. Watching Ilias Chair and Chris Willock go to work on Premier League Everton during the week was the best sex I’ve ever had. If there is to be a team that ends this West Brom unbeaten record it’s QPR and yet the thought of our defence, which will probably need another reshuffle tonight with Sam McCallum now seemingly injured and has already conceded more than anybody else in the top half, holding out under a barrage of long throws and corners does not thrill me greatly. When West Brom score in open play, it tends to be a direct play down the middle of the field, and when QPR concede… you know the rest because you’ve been watching it with me.
Since Warbs Warburton moved in, clubs that have come at QPR with football from the Cretaceous Period have not done well. Rangers are unbeaten in five against Millwall, winning three, scoring 11 goals. They lost 3-0 to Cardiff in their first meeting under this manager, though the stats told quite a different story, and have since beaten the Welsh side in three games out of three, again scoring ten goals in the process. Twice in two seasons we’ve got Neil Harris fired, such was the total domination of his route one garbage. When teams try to play us at football, we’ll tend to school them as well – as Man Utd, Leicester and Everton have found out to their cost recently. But where we have struggled, against Derby, Forest, Huddersfield and Barnsley this year, is when teams are able to execute an energetic high press through the middle of midfield, choking off Stefan Johansen or whoever plays that role, and forcing QPR into that thing they’re rather prone to doing where the ball comes from Dieng to Dickie to the RWB, then back again, then Dieng to Barbet to the LWB and back again.
If Ismael is able to recreate his Barnsley griddle, tonight could be a long night. If it is as rudimentary as seems to have been the case against Millwall, Preston and Derby, then QPR have got every chance. About as fascinating as this dog league gets. See you all tonight.
Links >>> The Highbury Semi – History >>> Unbeaten but wobbling – Interview >>> Jimmy Jimmy – Podcast >>> Linington in charge – Referee >>> Official Website >>> Independent West Brom forum – Message Board >>> Boing – Blog >>> Express and Star – Local Paper >>> Birmingham Mail – Local Paper
Below the fold
Team News: With Captain of Glasgow Rangers Lee Wallace already out medium term QPR could face another headache at left wing back with Sam McCallum taken off in the Everton game with a worrying looking muscle injury. Should he be unavailable Warbs Warburton must first decide whether to stick with a back three - which would presumably see either Yoann Barbet moved into that spot and Jimmy Dunne coming into the middle after an impressive show during the week, or Moses Odubajo switching sides with then either Osman Kakay or Albert Adomah started on the right – or move to a back four with a conventional right back and Barbet shifted across slightly to the left. Stefan Johansen’s knock at the end of the Bristol City game was cramp, so he should return, though Andre Dozzell did very nicely in that position during the week – blessed relief after his false start against Barnsley. Charlie Austin did a full 90 minutes against Everton and one would think, despite the two goals, that means Warbs is gearing up to start Lyndon and/or Andre Gray here with Austin having to make do with a bench spot against his former club. Luke Amos made his first appearance in a year off the bench during the week. Sam Field is a long term absentee so misses a first opportunity to play against his former club.
West Brom’s slight slip from their early season form into a string of uninspiring draws coincided with a nasty long term injury for defender Dara O’Shea. With on loan Brighton centre back Matt Clarke struggling with injury too manager Valerian Ismael must decide whether to persist with Conor Townsend as a left centre back (not a conspicuous success so far) and Adam Reach wide of him or find another solution in the middle so that Townsend can return to the flank.
Elsewhere: QPR may be the Friday night game, but we don’t technically go first this weekend with surprise high flyers Coventry looking to consolidate their top four place with an eminently winnable home game against Peterborough which kicks off 15 minutes before ours.
The other ten games are all on Saturday, with another full midweek round to come, and it’s a pretty ropey bunch if I may say so, starting at lunchtime with Reading’s televised date on the Fourteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour. Rumours that the Royals could be the latest club facing the dreaded nine point deduction for years of financial mismanagement continue to circulate.
No more circulating at Wayne Rooney’s Derby County however, where the long teetering house of cards has finally come crashing down around them. Delinquent owner Mel Morris has been keen to blame the Covid-19 crisis for this week’s descent into administration that has seen them docked 12 points to move bottom of the league, but anybody who’s been following this division over the past few years knows what an absolute crock of shite that is. Derby are still to file valid accounts for any of the last five seasons, during which they pursued a ruinously expensive transfer policy of paying enormous transfer fees and eye-watering contracts to mediocre players with no sell-on value. Morris has finally admitted that these accounts, when filed, will breach the league’s P&S rules leaving them open to further deductions of between nine and 12 points for each set. There is also a suspended three point deduction for failing to pay players on time, which is surely at risk of coming into effect with the administrators estimating there are only enough funds to keep the club going in its current guise for three months – and that with the inevitable mass redundancies. Another 15 point deduction could also be levied for failing to pay off debts owed to fellow clubs on past transfers. It’s not unfeasible, as they head to Sheffield Red Stripe this weekend, that north of 30, or even 40, points could be coming off the Rams over the next 18 months. What is certain, despite their creditable start on the pitch, is that they won’t be in this league next season. A Bolton/Bradford/Portsmouth-style descent into the bottom division now surely awaits.
Quickly scouting around the division’s early pace setters and unbeaten Bournemouth have gone top with three wins in a week prior to their home match with Lutown. Tarquin and Rupert remain second prior to their scoot over to Bristol City. Stoke, in fifth, host Allam Tigers, who finally got a goal against Sheff Utd last week but were still beaten and look dead set for a return straight back to League One. And Blackburn, it says here, somehow up in sixth, prior to a weekend meeting with Cardiff.
Down at the other end, Nottingham Florist will be even more grateful than you’d usually expect for their bitter rivals’ demise given it moves them one place off the bottom of the table. They did get a win at Sporting Huddersfield last week though, off the mark for the season at the ninth time of asking, as caretaker Steven Reid shows there are other ways to go about things than Chris Hughton’s steadfast 4-4-2 and punt it to Loyal Taylor. As usual they’ve forgone the banality of a proper recruitment process for a new boss and just hired the best known available candidate, and Steve Cooper starts life in the Championship’s hottest seat at home to The Marxist Hunters who are going to be there all bloody night if they’re going to check a squad of Forest’s size for any past links to the Communist Party. Wawll’s game at home to Bristol City on Wednesday presumably now in some doubt.
In European Conference League Group F we find Swanselona v Sporting Huddersfield, Blackpool host Barnsley in this week’s exciting game between two teams beginning with B, and Birmingham v Preston Knob End is also taking place – but I’m not bloody watching it.
Referee: James Linington from the Isle of Wight, usually quite a lenient referee but currently trucking along at five yellow cards a game, is the man in the middle for this one. Details.
WBA: Along with league leaders Bournemouth, West Brom are one of two unbeaten records left in the Championship. They currently sit third with four wins and four draws from their eight league games so far. That doesn’t tell the whole story though. Initially it looked like an absolute cakewalk for the newly relegated side with a draw at Bournemouth on the opening night followed up by three consecutive wins featuring nine goals including a 4-0 shellacking of fellow Premier League alum Sheff Utd. Since a scratch team was humiliated 6-0 by Arsenal in the League Cup things have gone a little awry, with a 1-0 win at newly promoted Peterborough only secured with a last second goal, and then three poor performances and draws against middling sides – Derby (0-0), Millwall and Preston (both 1-1). Having scored 11 in the first four games, the Baggies have now scored just three in the last five. There are six active player connections between these two sides: Charlie Austin, Chrissy Willock and Sam Field in the QPR squad; Darnell Furlong, My Chemical Hugill and Matty Phillips in the Baggies. Hugill has made one start and three sub appearances for West Brom so far which means he has started just eight times since leaving QPR, and come off the bench on 27 occasions for Norwich and West Brom. West Brom face an average of 7.5 shots a game this season, the best record in the league.
QPR: The defeat at Bournemouth last week ended an unbeaten run of seven league and cup games away from home for Rangers, dating back to the 3-1 loss at Rotherham at the start of April. It was QPR’s first loss of the season anywhere nine games into the campaign, the best start since 75/76, but was quickly followed up by another 2-1 defeat at home to Bristol City meaning Rangers have gone from no defeats in 11 games in all comps to two in two in the league. The draw with Everton (won on penalties) means it’s four games without a win in open play for Mark Warburton’s men. Charlie Austin’s brace, QPR’s first in the League Cup since Trevor Francis against Charlton in 1988, extends the R’s scoring run to 22 consecutive games, a best record in 59 years. They have, however, only kept three clean sheets in 11 matches so far and have shipped nine in the last four games coming into this one. Five of QPR’s 11 matches this season have been score draws. Only Fulham (18) have scored more than QPR’s 16 league goals this season and those have come from ten different players.
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. Here’s last year’s champion Mick_S and his thoughts on West Brom…
“I’m really looking forward to this. I’m interested to see whether we change our tactics to absorb a bit more than we have been lately and push on a bit more aggressively in the mid to late stages of the second half. They are, as yet, unbeaten and do like a draw at the moment. Again, I’ll not take a draw pre-match even though perhaps I should. I’ll go 1-2 with Willock as our first goal scorer.
Mick’s Prediction: West Brom 1-2 QPR. Scorer – Chrissy Willock
LFW’s Prediction: West Brom 2-2 QPR. Scorer – Andre Gray
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When Saturday Comes #11 by wessex_exile
This blog is a little earlier than usual, to give me and Alfie time to load up the car and sally forth for our first awayday of the season together, on the road to Vale Park – “He who would valiant be, 'gainst all disaster, let him in constancy follow the Master”. Not quite sure who the master is in that analogy, but let’s hope it’s Hayden Mullins on Saturday. All being well, I’m looking forward to catching up with fellow U’sual boarders (Noah, Durham maybe?, anyone else) when I get there. I won’t be meeting up with Clampin (Covid) or Judge (calf injury) who will miss out on making the trip, nor of course Tchamadeu (see below).
When Saturday Comes #10 by wessex_exile
So here we are again, still looking for that elusive first home league win of the season, only this time against high-flying (and recently non-league) Harrogate Town. That isn’t meant to be in any way disrespectful for Harrogate Town, they should be applauded for what they have achieved so far, but it is nevertheless a measure of how far our stock has fallen in recent years that we find ourselves in this situation. I have no doubt that today will be a difficult game, but it’ll be even more so if Hayden Mullins doesn’t take anything from recent performances and realise that what he’s trying just doesn’t seem to be working – he simply has to change things around. Whether he will or not remains to be seen – maybe he will, maybe won’t and the old guard will finally come good? I guess we’ll know one way or another by 5pm.
When Saturday Comes #9 by wessex_exile
After the complete horror-show that was U’s v Salford last Saturday, we find ourselves desperately clinging on to our away form like a drowning man to a lifebuoy…and I have no doubt Tranmere will be seriously stamping on our fingers in that regard. As a Friday night kick-off, I can look forward to the live match stream, which I was fortunately spared for the Salford game (it sounded bad enough). Swings and roundabouts though, if this hadn’t been rearranged to a Friday night, I may well have joined my Tranmere mate Chris and his family for the weekend – Prenton Park is always a good visit for an awayday, so safe travelling and good luck to Durham and the rest of the U’s faithful who make the trip.
When Saturday Comes #8 by wessex_exile
I’ve gone back through my archive, and the last football match I attended before last Saturday at the County Ground was U’s at Cheltenham on 29th February 2020 (and covered in LfW11) – In other words a 574 day wait. Others have mentioned about finding other things to do, losing their love for live football, things like that, and certainly my bank balance has appreciated the break from costly awaydays for the best (worst) part of 18 months. If I’m honest, I was slightly worried that I would go the same way, that the attraction would fade after so long, but I needn’t have been. As a result, it’ll be a slightly different format to this When Saturday Comes blog.
When Saturday Comes #7 by wessex_exile
Well that didn’t go as planned at all – after a stirring battling performance full of grit, character and togetherness with the small band of travelling supporters at Barrow, the U’s then finally returned back to the JobServe and completely failed to turn up against bogey side Crawley. They weren’t the only ones either, Hayden Mullins was absent as well, and we have since learned he has Covid-19 and will also miss tomorrow’s game at Swindon too – I know we all wish Hayden a speedy recovery. Fortunately, I won’t be missing the match, with tickets arriving last weekend – first live game for best part of 18 months, and I can’t bloody wait!
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