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Queens Park Rangers 1 v 0 West Bromwich Albion
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 15th January 2022 Kick-off 15:00
QPR hope to catch West Brom’s tribute act out of tune – Preview
Friday, 14th Jan 2022 19:23 by Clive Whittingham

Playing poorly, natives restless, multiple suspensions, West Brom look ripe for a strike by QPR in a rare Saturday afternoon game – but if Harry Redknapp’s class of 2014 taught us anything, it’s that often none of that matters in the financial hellscape of the Championship.

QPR (12-5-7 WLLWWD 5th) v West Brom (11-9-5 WWDLDD 4th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday January 15, 2022 >>> Kick Off 15.00!!! >>> Weather – Cold but dry >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12

As February turned to March 2014, a few of my more wonderful friends and I took train tickets in hand for a day in Brighton. Early in the year it may have been, but the sun shone low in the sky, the temperature held, and we sat on the beach all afternoon, watching the day turn to dusk behind the burned-out shell of the old pier. A young couple obviously in the first throes of love rolled back and forth at the water’s edge in a Disneyfied romantic way only very slightly diminished by it progressing into a full-blown fingering. We drank bottles of beer from the offy, ate fish and chips from the seafront café, and watched. It was, as day’s go, absolutely fucking beautiful. And then the match started.

There were players in that QPR team – Richard Dunne, Clint Hill, Richard Dunne, Nedum Onuoha, absent-through-injury Charlie Austin – who I greatly admired. There were others - Robert Green, Matt Phillips, Junior Hoilett - whose ability was obvious but consistency and, at times, concentration and effort frustrated me deeply. And then there were others – Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Joey Barton, Jermaine Jenas, Armand Traore, Mobido Maiga - who I actively hated. Mercenaries, on an absolute fortune, phoning in performances for pension top ups, not a single toss left to give. Jenas’ ability to always be ten yards away from anything that happened - legendary. Barton, in particular, who’d laughed at the mere idea of ever returning to QPR to play so far beneath himself in the Championship, welcomed back in like some sort of returning hero two days before the start of the campaign, without a single day of pre-season in him. Brighton was not only not the first time we’d lost rather haplessly in the second half of that season – one we’d actually started unbeaten in 11 and a club record eight clean sheets in a row, love you Dunney – it wasn’t even the first time Assou-Ekotto had cost us a goal by pisballing about around his own corner flag and then pretended to be injured afterwards.

There was a 3-0 midweek loss at Sheffield Wednesday, where I would joke that Barton tried so hard to join Dunne in being sent off that he’d had it on his coupon – if, as it transpires, that wasn’t so utterly fucking plausible. There was a 2-1 at Bournemouth, when Maiga was so woeful he actually turned, mid-game, to the packed away end and held up two hands in apology. There was a 1-0 at Charlton, where we suddenly switched to a back three out of the blue, and one of the three was Aaron Hughes who’d appeared from somewhere, and the atmosphere in the away end turned feral. A 1-0 at Leicester where Assou-Ekotto, who wanted to be here less than anybody has ever wanted to be here before or since, got himself red carded so he could have Easter Monday off. I was fortunate my work had flown me to France for interviews when the team travelled to Blackburn Rovers in April and having settled down in my hotel room with a couple of beers to take in the midweek stream only to find that Luke Young was the starting centre half – his first and only appearance of the season; his first, only and last appearance since March 2012 – I backed Blackburn to win, Rudy Gestede to score first, and walked back out to spend the night doing other things. Gestede took nine minutes. I spent the money on drink.

I’d had a similar epiphany/breakdown with Sven’s England not long before this. A regular attender at England home and away through my youth, I found myself one afternoon sitting in the Stretford End of Old Trafford watching us beat Wales 2-0. It occurred to me at some point that afternoon that I’d fought my way across the Pennines on a shambolic and packed train service to sit in the end I hate the most, at the ground I hate the most, and listen to a three-part split of kids with clappers and horns, the world’s most irritating brass band, and knuckle dragging meatheads singing about the IRA and the RAF, while an England team containing nine players I actively fucking detested went through the motions against, at that point, a crap opposition. I haven’t been back to an England game since and while that QPR team never pushed me over that precipice – how could you abandon Richard Dunne, Clint Hill and Charlie Austin? – this was about as close as I ever came to jacking the whole thing in. This, and that bit with Paul Hart. That could get in the sea as well.

And yet… that team won promotion. That team took us to Wembley for the first time since 1986. That team won at Wembley, one of only two QPR teams to do so, and it did so in the most incredible, dramatic, satisfying fashion imaginable. It gave me, us, one of the great days. I felt no connection to it. I hated half the players. I detested how we were going about it. I thought - and said and wrote - it ludicrous that with everything the manager already had at his disposal, he was allowed to add Javier Chevanton and Oguchi Onyewu – 130 international caps between them – to his squad as bench warmers in the autumn, rather than be told to sit Max Ehmer and Tom Hitchcock there and stop fucking moaning. When Austin’s shoulder fell apart in January, Redknapp was allowed to add the hopeless Maiga, woefully inadequate Will Keane, Champions League winner Yossi Benayoun, Premier League striker Kevin Doyle and Man Utd starlet Ravel Morrison to his squad. It was ridiculous, hateful, cheating… and it worked.

Which brings me, typically belatedly, to West Brom. I have watched a lot of the Baggies this season - because the same lunatic who thinks anybody wants to watch Barnsley v QPR at 20.00 on a Saturday night labours under the misapprehension that society will collapse in on itself and the country will be overtaken with rioting, looting and civil war if it is deprived a two hour fix of their particular brand of Championship slop on a Friday night at least once a fortnight – and that has been my grave misfortune. Valerian Ismael’s Barnsley divided opinion; there was an enormous message board thread on this site following our home game with them last season about whether this was exhilarating and revolutionary or the Wimbledon team of the cretaceous period reincarnated in red and I tended to come down on the side of the former. But even I doubted whether ‘football under a grill’ would translate to West Brom because firstly Barnsley didn’t have anybody older than 26 while the squad he inherited only had two first teamers south of 24, and secondly a big part of the Tykes’ success last year was being able to run players (particularly strikers) into the ground safe in the knowledge you could make five substitutions, which you now can’t. At Loftus Road last season Barnsley gave us an enormous chasing, and deserved their win, but the front three of Woodrow, Chaplin and Dike were all withdrawn on 56 minutes, for another three to come and continue the fire-breathing. Nobody involved in that - the players, teams or manager - have been as good since that rule was switched back. Woodrow, in particular, has gone from Championship hot property to Barnsley boo-boy.

To watch West Brom, and listen to the West Brom fans (who now boo their team off at half time and full time as a matter of course), you’d make me right. I made myself sit through their recent 0-0 draw at Barnsley - partly because if I’m going to write about this shit it’s only right that I consume as much of it as I can, and partly because I like to challenge myself sometimes to see how bored and miserable I can get while still maintaining existence because I think it’s good practice for work Zoom meetings and other people’s weddings – and my main takeaway from the whole thing was this is what it must feel like to get bowel cancer. I watched them lose at Derby a week later and they were somehow, incomprehensibly, even worse still. Their 0-0 homer with Forest made me thankful guns aren’t really a thing in this country, because even if I’d resisted the urge to shoot myself, the poor bastard two doors down from me who supports Wolves and watches all this same nonsense would surely have come round and put me out of my misery before turning the thing on himself. And yet… and yet, despite it all… fourth in the league. Fourth in the league and now in possession of one Daryl Dike who, for all the chat about five subs, and age of players, surely cannot help but do better for West Brom than My Chemical Hugill has so far – his propensity to lean back and sky half-yard sitters a lot less amusing, it turns out, when you’re only creating one of those chances every three weeks, as opposed to his time at QPR where we all laughed at his swept hair safe in the knowledge that Eze and co would put another one on a plate for him in a minute or so anyway.

West Brom have allowed their squad to grow rich and old under a succession of short termist managers, mostly preaching the worst kind of gutter football. This lot have sat through Pulis, Pardew, Megson and Allardyce in their time – honestly, take their fucking shoelaces away. They’re trying to progress, reduce the age of the team, reduce the cost of the squad, and rebuild. All of that takes time. They’ve gone for a sensible middle ground in Ismael, rather than, say, that time Crystal Palace went from Dowie, Warnock, Hart, Burley, Freedman, Holloway, Pulis, Warnock again, Pardew and, of course, Allardyce to… Frank De Boer, and then fired him after five games. The turnaround will be slow and torturous but, in the meantime, like Redknapp’s QPR, they might get promoted anyway, because they’re in receipt of parachute payments, they’re able to pay enormous wages, and they have enough quality players to paper over any cracks. Tony Fernandes’ QPR did its best to be an outlier, but there’s usually no better correlation on how teams will perform relative to each other than wages paid. If you're paying £80m on salaries, as we were, it doesn't matter if the players are all cunts, and the manager isn't interested, you can almost stumble up by accident. Our loss up there, forced through by Karlan Grant, a prime example. Nobody could leave that game saying West Brom played well – but they won anyway because of a striker they paid £14m for. How many times in 2013/14 did QPR really play well? And in the end, when that's your wage bill in the Championship, how much did that matter? Zamoraaaaaaaaa.

You could call this the Despite Derby. Despite everything at West Brom, where the Chinese owners have been desperately feeling around the smokey wreckage looking for the exit door for months, they’re fourth, and potentially all set for an immediate Premier League return. QPR’s class of 2014 stumbled into the play-offs, deliberately killed an away game at Wigan 0-0, went 1-0 down in the home leg and got bailed out by Austin, then fluked the final with ten men. West Brom have shown more than enough to suggest they might do the same. QPR are fifth, despite injuries depriving them of their strongest team since day one, despite the strikers collectively misfiring, despite never once playing as well as they were at the end of last season, and most pertinently to tomorrow’s game… despite seeming incapable of beating the other teams around them.

There is a theory that, even with Dieng and Chair who we don’t have tomorrow, this QPR team has a ceiling. It can play really however it likes and knock off positive results against the Birminghams and Bristol Cities of this division, and that in itself is an improvement from Mark Warburton’s predecessors who would struggle to put three away wins on the board all season long (six already this), but it got destroyed at Fulham, lost at West Brom and deserved it, lost to Stoke and deserved it. Twice we’ve been beaten by Bournemouth, the single goal losses opening up the ‘fine margins’ line, but even allowing for chances missed, the Keith Stroudness of the games, any perceived misfortune, I felt like they were a goal better than us both times and deserved the wins. Yes, we did beat Blackburn at home, though their dour failed attempt to get a 0-0 from that game seems to have triggered a complete rethink and rip up of their whole philosophy so whether we’ll be able to repeat that in our February televised encounter away I have serious doubts. Huddersfield too, playing really well, probably our best show of the season, though I don’t expect them to stick around. And I’m not for one moment suggesting that a team on our budget should be beating the ones we’re surrounded by, who can drop a quick £12m on Harry Wilson, or £7.7m on Daryl Dike. That’s the ceiling we’re talking about – at the end of the day we’re trying to compete with teams that have Joe Bryan backing up Antonee Robinson at left wing back, while we’re clutching our fucking rosary beads that Lee Wallace lives through the night. In 2014 we were on the rich side of that divide, now we're on the poor side punching up. But it’ll be interesting tomorrow.

QPR are, of course, without Seny Dieng and Ilias Chair who are key players. I actually think the forced signing of David Marshall could work in our favour because he is certainly a far better goalkeeper than Archer ever will be. Were we midtable I’d say you play Joe Walsh, otherwise what are we doing here? But in this position, with this fixture, they’ve done exactly the right thing and come up trumps with a good, experienced player. Had I not waffled on so long already I’d do my ‘what exactly is the point of Dillon Barnes if we’re still able to loan him to Yeovil while all this is going off?’ bit, and mention again that when we interviewed the club’s excellent head of recruitment earlier this season he, rather strangely (for my money, anyway), said he has little to do with signing goalkeepers and it’s mostly done by the keeper coach Gavin Ward. Seny Dieng apart, our recruitment and retention of often quite mediocre keepers is a rare weak spot in our current operation in my completely unconnected, uneducated, clueless opinion.

But with West Brom in poor form, natives restless, suspensions not only coming out of the wazoo but, in the case of Sam Johnstone and perennial pain in the arse Alex Mowatt, to exactly the players we would have chosen… This is surely the acid test on that ceiling. Paper? Glass? Concrete? We’ll find out in a rare Saturday 15.00 kick off tomorrow at the school of science, and while the effects of six months of Ismael may not render the product pleasurable to mine eye, it is a genuinely fascinating tie in waiting. Make the most of it anyway, because next week we’re back at the fucking Ricoh “Arena”.

Links >>> Tribute act – Interview >>> Cup final victory – History >>> Prem ref in charge – Referee >>> Uncle Albert and the Sex Pistol – Podcast >>> West Brom Official Website >>> Independent West Brom forum – Message Board >>> Boing – Blog >>> Express and Star – Local Paper >>> Birmingham Mail – Local Paper

Below the fold

Team News: Seny Dieng has two starts and two clean sheets in the African Cup of Nations for Senegal so far, so won’t be back for sometime as they are certain to progress out of their group. Jordan Archer deputised shakily against Rotherham but popped his shoulder in the penalty shoot-out. Derby’s veteran Scottish international David Marshall, 36, has been brought in on a short term deal and will make his debut here. Ilias Chair has been on the bench for both Morocco’s games so far and remains unavailable, along with Osman Kakay who was (an often panicked) part of a scrappy Sierra Leone effort to get a 0-0 from tournament favourites Algeria during the week. Chris Willock, who apparently had a knock last week and wasn’t just rested for the cup, is back available. Now the threat of the manager trying to eat him has been removed, Charlie Kelman has been allowed to return to Gillingham on loan until the end of the season.

West Brom will give a debut to £7.7m January capture Daryl Dike in attack – he scored nine goals in 13 starts and six sub appearances for Barnsley at this level through the second half of last season – but having not played since the end of the MLS season in November Ismael is saying this will only come from the subs bench. Unless he’s kidding, we might get re-acquainted with former R’s loanee My Chemical Hugill who, with one goal in seven starts and 12 sub appearances so far, is not a popular figure in these parts on loan from Norwich. I think we all know what’s coming next. Elsewhere, problems continue to mount. Six red cards in their last 12 matches leaves them without arguably the division’s best goalkeeper Sam Johnstone, key midfielder and perennial scourge of QPR Alex Mowatt, and defender Cedric Kipre. Another defender, Semi Ajayi, is away at AFCON with Nigeria. Dara O’Shea hasn’t played since the beginning of September, but is back in training. Kean Bryan isn’t travelling. Another centre half, Kyle Bartley, was injured in the cup against Brighton last week and will undergo a late fitness test to try and drag him over the line into a start. Expect our former charge Darnell Furlong to drop into the back three. David Button, who without the Johnstone suspension could have been lining up for QPR instead as our preferred emergency keeper option according to Dave McIntyre at West London Sport, will likely be between the sticks for Albion.

Elsewhere: Barnsley, it appears, have given up. No wins in eight, one win in 22, they’ve now taken to just calling all their games off – home fixtures with Stoke and now Blackpool postponed this week – and haven’t played in the league since December 29. Wayne Rooney’s Derby County have eyes on overtaking them, despite a 21-point deduction, but after a series of false starts and missed deadlines with perspective buyers the club has now been placed under another embargo against registering players while the EFL awaits proof of ongoing funding of the club from its administrators. Phil Jagielka was not allowed to renew his short term deal there this week and has hopped across to Stoke prior to this weekend’s home fixture with Sheffield Red Stripe.

Basically there’s one relegation spot in play this season, and that’s currently in Peterborough’s possession ahead of their home match with Coventry tomorrow. Reading, once again, look like they’re going to run it mighty close, following up last week’s cup disaster at Kidderminster with a 7-0 home loss during the week against Jeffers and AJ. Their message board match thread for that reads like the script for the next instalment of The Purge. Perhaps they could solve their ongoing wages-turnover ratio problems by punching out 90 minutes of CCTV footage of the creche behind the goal from the Fulham game on DVD? I’m in for a dozen copies – everybody’s birthdays sorted this year. Don’t expect things to get a lot better this week as they head to Chris Wilder’s motoring Middlesbrough – eye-watering deal for Arsenal’s £40k a week striker Folarin Balogun on loan already done, they’re now hijacking Celtic’s offer for nomadic Oz winger Riley McGree.

Cardiff aren’t exactly pulling away either, currently fifth bottom and kicking the weekend off tomorrow with a tough task at home to red hot Blackburn in the early game. Rovers apparently about to complete the steal of the transfer window – Dilan Markanday from Spurs for just £500k is all kinds of nonsense. Hull await confirmation of their Turkish takeover ahead of a Sunday breakfast meeting with Stoke – roll up, roll up.

Up at the business end of the table league leaders Bournemouth are away to Lutown, with Fulham’s second 7-0 win of a remarkable season hosting Bristol City. Blackburn we’ve already mentioned, fourth and fifth are obviously playing each other, and looking to capitalise on dropped points at Loftus Road is a queue led by sixth-placed Sporting Huddersfield at home to Swanselona, Middlesbrough in seventh, Stoke in eighth, and then Arsenal’s conquerors Forest who are away to Milllllllllwaaaaaaawwwwwwwwllllllll. Those two clubs in talks about a swap deal involving Jed Wallace and Loyal Taylor.

Preston Knob End v Birmingham is also taking place. Rather you than fucking me.

Referee: It’s a Premier League referee for this one, with Simon Hooper dropping down. Last seen in these parts for last season’s hard fought 1-0 home win against Wycombe. Details.

Form

QPR: Only Bristol City had won at Loftus Road in the first 13 league and cup games on this ground this season, prior to back-to-back losses against Stoke and Bournemouth in December. Having gone 31 consecutive league games without failing to score, Rangers drew blank in both of those games, coming up two shy of the club record. The draw against League One leaders Rotherham in the FA Cup last week means it’s now three without a win in W12 for Rangers, since the 1-0 victory against Huddersfield on November 24. This is the first time the R’s have played at home at 15.00 on a Saturday afternoon in the Championship since they beat Preston 3-2 here on October 2, 105 days and nine home league games ago. The defeats to Stoke and Bournemouth were quickly followed by successive 2-1 away wins at Bristol City and Birmingham – the latter completing our first double of the campaign and putting us on six away victories for the year. Only top two Bournemouth and Fulham have won more on the road than us (seven each) and our record is two wins better than all the other teams between second and eighth. Everybody north of Stoke in eighth has, however, won more than our six at home and 16 goals scored at Loftus Road is the worst home scoring record of any team down to Forest in ninth. Blackburn, in third, are not far off doubling that, with 30. All of this with the caveat of a home game in hand against Swansea to come. Rangers have only lost two of their last 12 in all comps, and have won six and drawn two of the last ten. Cup progress against Rotherham last week came in the club’s fourth penalty shoot out of the season, as many as they’d been involved in the previous 20 years (Bristol City H, League Cup, August 2019; Swindon H, League Cup, August 2016; Vauxhall Motors, FA Cup, November 2002; Bristol City H, FL Trophy, October 2002). In all, 14 different players have scored in the shoots outs this season, but Rangers have missed two of the last three penalties they’ve been awarded in open play – Lyndon Dykes v Norwich in April, and Charlie Austin v Stoke in December, though Charlie did then redeem himself by converting one at Bristol City.

West Brom: QPR played West Brom away in round nine of this season’s Championship at which point the Baggies were yet to lose. Their late 2-1 win that night contributed to an unbeaten start to the season that eventually stretched to ten games, and means that Rangers haven’t won any of their last five meetings with West Brom since completing an unlikely seven-goal Premier League double over them in our 2014/15 relegation season. West Brom have won four and drawn one of five Championship meetings since, scoring 16 goals in the process (never fewer than two in any of the games). Their form since suffering the first loss of the campaign at Stoke in round 11 has not been good, however. Valerian Ismael’s side have won only five of 16 league and cup games, two of the last ten, and none of the last four. Six of the last ten have been drawn, three of them 0-0. They have failed to score in six of their last 12 games, scored a single goal in five of the others, and breached two just the once in a 2-1 win at Coventry. The last time they scored three in a game was against Bristol City on October 23 – this after beating Sheff Utd H and Cardiff A 4-0 earlier in the season. Away from home they come into this game having taken just one point, without scoring a goal, from two games against the bottom two Derby and Barnsley. The 2-1 win at Coventry before that is their only away win in eight attempts, and they’ve failed to score in five of those. No Championship team has had as many red cards as West Brom to this point – five reds in the league and six overall, with all of them coming in the last 12 games, and three of them coming in the last two fixtures. Sam Johnstone, Alex Mowatt and Cedric Kipre are all suspended for this match. For it all, they remain fourth in the table.

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. Congratulations to DerbyHoop for topping the table at Christmas and taking the first prize of the season. Here’s last year’s champion Mick_S and his thoughts on West Brom…

“I’d have fancied our chances of a narrow win had Dieng and Chair been available. I believe Brom have a few out through disciplinary issues - I’m not sure how they’ve been affected by AFCON so I’ll plump for a 1-1 against the high press battering rams. Willock to score.”

Mick’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 West Brom. Scorer – Chris Willock

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-0 West Brom. Scorer – Chris Willock

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HastingsRanger added 23:03 - Jan 14
This fixture feels like ghosts of Xmas past! Great preview, can’t wait to see how it plays out!
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WigRanger added 23:22 - Jan 14
Great write up …COYRS
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TacticalR added 14:19 - Jan 15
Thanks for your preview.

Earlier in the season I assumed that because the top 3 teams (Fulham, Bournemouth, West Brom) looked so much stronger than everyone else, there would be one strong team in the play-offs that would win them quite easily. When we played them earlier this season, their athletic players put us under pressure and we eventually caved (after not playing our normal game). Since then West Brom have looked far from convincing, although they are still in the play-off spots.

As you have pointed out, you can't normally defy footballing gravity, so the question is: 'Is West Brom's dip in form serious enough to really open up the play-offs?'. We will know a lot more after this game. We might even know which side of the ceiling we're on.
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