|Queens Park Rangers 2 v 0 Birmingham City|
Tuesday, 28th September 2021 Kick-off 19:45
Beneath the surface - Preview
Tuesday, 28th Sep 2021 11:05 by Clive Whittingham
The sort of injury problems that QPR miraculously avoided last season are starting to niggle the squad as they look to avoid a fourth straight league defeat at home to Birmingham tonight.
QPR (3-3-3 WDLLDL 10th) v Birmingham (3-3-3 LDWLLD 12th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Tuesday September 28, 2021 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Sunshine and showers with wind >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12
Optimism and expectation were introduced into the constantly bubbling Queens Park Rangers pot this season after several years of the club deliberately playing down its own chances while it cleaned house. Mark Warburton said he’d be foolish to pretend the aims hadn’t changed after the way the team finished 2020/21 and has talked openly about top six ambitions and making Rangers a feared opponent in this league. It’s a risky strategy. Several low-key signings and youth team graduates were given time and space to blossom into excellent first team players under the old ‘just be competitive’ mantra but we’ve already seen this year with Osman Kakay at Bournemouth and Ilias Chair at West Brom that off days will not be tolerated. Online that is, I hasten to add. The crowd in the stand, particularly at the away games, has turned up in big numbers and been unfailingly raucously supportive to this point – “two one down, who gives a fuck, we’re QPR and we’re going up”.
That tentative belief Rangers might lodge some sort of push for the top six this season, which has already morphed into a cannibalistic social media blood lust for anybody that might be at least partially responsible for us not beating the division’s only two unbeaten sides away from home, was based on a multitude of factors that have built for some time under this DOF/CEO arrangement and have accelerated under Mark Warburton’s management and the present recruitment model. Primarily, however, it boils down to two things: QPR won 15 of their final 23 games last season (second only to Norwich and Watford who were promoted, as you’ve heard a billion times before); and then secured the influential January loans that helped drive that on permanent deals in the summer.
QPR have a very good, solid chance of making the top six this season. That remains the case despite the results of the last fortnight, or what happens over the course of this week. I don’t know how many stories like Barnsley not winning any of the first seven and then being the story of last season, or Reading winning seven of their first eight and missing the play-offs entirely, or Millwall being top at Christmas and getting relegated, or Iain Dowie taking over relegation-threatened Palace and getting them promoted, it needs, but in a 46-fixture, nine-month season nothing is won and lost in September. QPR were singularly unfortunate to take nothing from Bournemouth, win the Bristol City game 4-0 999 times out of a thousand, and even though I was disappointed and critical of the performance at West Brom I recognise that wasn’t far off a win either, never mind a defeat. If we’d lost them all 5-0, and then repeat that against Birmingham and Preston this week, we can still fulfil the ambition for the season because – and, again, I don’t know how much more this needs stressing – IT’S THE FUCKING CHAMPIONSHIP. It’s like slagging off Homes Under The Hammer for a below par episode three of season 12. There’s eons left yet.
One thing that is different to the second half of last season, however, is the health of the squad. QPR were miraculously injury free last year. An already unworkable Championship calendar was slimmed down from nine months to seven. Zero allowances were made around cup competitions which were crammed into - in the League Cup’s case in particular – a farcical schedule. Nobody ever stopped and had a grown up conversation about whether we really needed a League Cup, an EFL Trophy, even an FA Cup last season. Sponsorships had been sold, television deals had been signed, the planes had to land somewhere however bad the weather got, and the pilots and air traffic controllers just had to shake that and make it work. The playing squads were asked to squeeze through, in the height of a global pandemic, by simply playing more midweek games, travelling more, training less, having less recovery time, exposing themselves to illness in buses and trains more often. Throughout that QPR lost Luke Amos to a knee blow out and Little Tom Carroll to puberty as their only long term absentees. Lyndon Dykes’ one week isolation through contact tracing was their only Covid-incident in the whole locked down season. It was remarkable. Remarkable. The invisible team behind it – led by head of medical Imtiaz Ahmad and built up over recent years after Tony Fernandes publicly stated his aim to improve our sports science and medical treatment as an obvious easy win for a club on a budget - deserve enormous credit.
It was never likely to continue. They’re good, but they’re not miracle workers. Despite last season’s injury free run, QPR are especially vulnerable because one of the ways they’ve sought to gain an advantage in the transfer market against clubs with bigger budgets is to sign players with chequered medical histories. Sam Field, George Thomas, Lee Wallace, Moses Odubajo and others have all come here with known defects, and in several cases not small defects either – stuff that has kept them out for many months at a time. Jordy De Wijs was signed this summer despite only being fit enough to play eight games in a half season loan at Loftus Road in 2020/21. They know what they’re getting into, they trust in the medical department, and as we so often say there has to be something wrong with you somewhere to be playing at a budgeted club like QPR. If Sam Field wasn’t injured so often he’d have been playing against us for West Brom on Friday night. Players playing like Jordy De Wijs did in those eight games last season, who are fit and able to do that over 46 matches a season, season after season, do not move from Hull to QPR for a nominal fee at 26 years of age.
Rangers were smart, the medical treatment was obviously top notch, but they were in some degree lucky to be as healthy as they were through the second half of last season. Lee Wallace was the star man, but it was the first time in four years he’d been able to string a regular sequence of matches together, and now he’s injured again. Two of the stand outs from an intriguing opening two months of the Championship have been Stoke, who few fancied, and Blackburn, who many were tipping for a relegation struggle, throttling into the top six. Stoke and Blackburn were the two teams worst hit by injury in 2020/21, missing a dozen players or more for much of their campaigns, now simply enjoying life with bodies available. QPR have gone the other way - with Field injured before we even began they have yet to field their strongest team, and go in tonight potentially without him, Wallace, McCallum, De Wijs, Johansen…
The recruitment drive has not done a bad job of covering for that. With some leeway for the back five there are basically two senior players for every position at Rangers at the moment: Dieng (Archer); Odubajo (Adomah/Kakay), Dickie (Kakay/Dunne), De Wijs (Dunne/Ball), Barbet (Dunne), Wallace (McCallum/Barbet); Field (Ball/Amos), Johansen (Dozzell); Chair (Thomas/Amos), Willock (Adomah/SDM); Dykes (Austin/Gray). There’s always going to be ‘should have, would have, could have’ stuff about where some more cover or quality might have been nice in an ideal world. Ideally you want four or five of everything just in case. But then, ideally, I’d have a full head of hair and go out for Peroni with Lee Cook every night. Realistically, for a club on QPR’s budget it’s a remarkably adept and fulsome squad they’ve been able to assemble under the circumstances they face.
As I’ve said a few times, I think this expectation that we should be, nee must be, making the top six could at worst envelop the support base and the club and lead us to doing and saying silly things. At best it’s obscuring the enjoyment of watching what is a very attractive, well-assembled, well-coached team play great football. Isn’t it amazing how throwaway lines like “I just want a team that tries” and “I just want QPR to play football the right way”, made when we’re slobbing around losing at Wigan punting long balls to Matt Smith, completely evaporate when you get that in spades but you’ve convinced yourself it’s promotion right now, in September, or blow the whole thing up and get Chris Wilder in?
This team’s ability to meet these demands this year could hang on how that layer of players scratched beneath the surface handle that anxiety and expectation. If it’s Barnsley Dozzell this evening, it’ll be a long night. If it’s Everton Dozzell, off we go again to the races.
Links >>> Marsh’s glorious hat trick – History >>> The good, the bad and the bore draws – Interview >>> Salisbury in charge – Referee >>> Birmingham City official website >>> St Andrew’s – Ground Guide >>> Small Heath Alliance – Message Board >>> We Are Birmingham – Podcast >>> Birmingham Mail – Local Press
Below the fold
Team News: So, as said, it’s going to be a tight squeeze getting a competitive team onto the field tonight. Lee Wallace and Sam McCallum are both out until after the international break, and Jordy De Wijs is unlikely to make it after leaving the West Brom game early. That will all likely mean Moses Odubajo switches from right to left, Yoann Barbet goes back into the three centre back system with Jimmy Dunne in the middle and Rob Dickie to his right, and Osman Kakay or Albert Adomah get trusted at right wing back. Sam Field is back ‘out on the grass’ but a few weeks shy yet so Dom Ball will likely continue there, although Luke Amos did get half an hour under his belt against Everton. If Stefan Johansen, who also got subbed at The Hawthorns, isn’t fit then expect Andre Dozzell to fill in for him. Ilias Chair and Chris Willock are shoo ins and then it’s perm one or two from Austin, Dykes and Gray for the strikers.
Perennial scourge of QPR Ryan Woods is Birmingham’s big doubt after he spent too long selecting baked goods at his local Co-op and got severe heat stroke from the warming lamp. Lee Bowyer is considering a full debut for youth team graduate Alfie Chang if he Woods doesn’t make it, with Gary Gardner on the naughty step after a red card at Peterborough. Marc Roberts is a doubt with a bout of existential dread while Kristian Pedersen’s hamstring looks a dog chew toy. Neil Etheridge and Ivan Sanchez are being punished for sins in a previous life.
Elsewhere: Mick McCarthy felt his Cardiff side played well for the first 20 minutes at Ewood Park at the weekend, and that Blackburn’s first goal was offside. Quite a punchy start to the post match when your side has just lost 5-1 and with five defeats from their last six matches the natives are starting to get restless in South Wales ahead of tonight’s home game with unbeaten West Brom. Rovers, meanwhile, surprise early play-off gatecrashers, head to Sporting Huddersfield.
Neil Warnock’s excuses and referee rants are also wearing a little thin on Teesside with a 1-0 defeat in a dire match at Reading on Saturday leaving Boro with just two wins from 10 games ahead of tonight’s match at home to Sheffield Red Stripe – who are starting to find a little form after their own dreadful start. Could the Fourteenth Annual Farewell Tour yet have its latter dates cancelled? The feeling even Warnock might have now gone on one season too long grows by the week.
There’s a battle between two newly promoted teams as Allam Tigers, without a win since the opening day, face Blackpool who’ve suddenly strung three success together to kickstart their return to the second tier. Preston Knob End v Stoke rounds out the Tuesday fixtures.
A 1-1 draw with Wwawwll with a goal from a mishit cross was enough to kick start the cycle at Nottingham Florist once more. Turns out it might just be that Steve Cooper really is The New Clough, and he’ll look to cement that hope with an actual full victory away at recent nemesis Barnsley tonight. One thing they’re not short of at The City Ground is optimism. And players. Optimism and players.
Over the other side of the M1 Wayne Rooney’s Derby County have gone out of the black and into the red, nothing in this game for five years of misfiled accounts. They can claw their way back to one point with a home win against Reading, who may be following them down the points deduction pathway shortly if the jungle drums are to be believed.
Early pace setters Fulham and Bournemouth are at home to Swanselona and away to Peterborough respectively. Coventry, up to third now remarkably, go to wildly inconsistent Lutown. The Marxist Hunters are drawing 1-1 at home to Bristol City.
Referee: Michael Salisbury had only had one full season on the Championship list prior to his summer promotion to the Premier League. Mind you, he’s been kept at this level so far this season and this is his fourth league game… Details.
QPR: Rangers have gone from an unbeaten start of eight games, a run of 11 matches without a loss stretching into last season, and just seven defeats since Christmas to losing their last three games in the league all 2-1. It’s the first time they’ve lost three in a row in the league since defeats to Brentford, Bristol City and Huddersfield at the end of November last year. Rangers have never lost four league games in a row under Mark Warburton. They’ve conceded at least two goals in their last five league and cup games and have already shipped 14 in the league this season – the same as second bottom Hull and one worse than third bottom Forest. Their 17 goals scored is a record bettered only by Fulham’s 19. They’ve been shared among ten different scorers and six of the goals have been scored in the final quarter of an hour of games. Andre Gray’s goal in the first minute at West Brom continued a run of 23 consecutive scoring games, closing in on the 1962 record of 34 which straddled two seasons. Five of QPR’s next seven fixtures are at home.
Birmingham: Brum have been all over the map. They have four wins in all comps, including a 1-0 at newly relegated Sheff Utd and a 5-0 at much fancied Luton. They have four defeats, including a 4-1 at home to Fulham and a 3-0 shellacking at lowly Peterborough. They have three draws, of which two have been goalless. They come into this winless in three, and scoreless in their last two, but have posted seven points from four away games played so far. Brum’s away record last season was 7-9-7 though like their campaign overall that was rather salvaged by the form under Lee Bowyer at the end – wins at Rotherham and Derby and a draw at Brentford, who were the best team they played all season, in the final four road trips adding some gloss. They finished eighteenth, with 52 points. Scott Hogan top scores in the league so far this season with three – seven other players have one goal each.
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 Brum…
“It’s safe to say that three points would be very welcome against Brum. I’m going with the safest bet in football - both teams to score. Now the dodgy bit - 2-1 to us with Willock to score. And it might snow. Please win Rangers.”
Mick’s Prediction: QPR 2-1 Birmingham. Scorer – Chris Willock
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-1 Birmingham. Scorer – Lyndon Dykes
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When Saturday Comes #11 by wessex_exile
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When Saturday Comes #10 by wessex_exile
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When Saturday Comes #9 by wessex_exile
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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
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