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Tuesday, 25th Jan 2022 12:01 by Clive Whittingham

QPR made it four away wins on the bounce in what felt like a big moment at Coventry on Saturday, and now hope to cement their position at the top end of the Championship with a home game in hand against Swansea.

QPR (14-5-7 LWWDWW 4th) v Swansea (8-7-9 LLLDDW 17th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Tuesday January 25, 2022 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Cold, grey, dry >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12

Christmas out of the way and Covid postponements hopefully now subsiding, things feel like they’re starting to ramp up a little bit. The Championship is such a long, windy road that it’s difficult to really get too excited or downbeat about any twists and turns that may occur through its first few months and couple of dozen games. But there was a definite feeling at Coventry on Saturday that this was a big game for QPR, and that was only enhanced by the victory, and the battling nature of it. I’m finding myself looking at the league table more and more, working out the permutations, and you know things are getting serious when a Monday night game between Blackburn and Middlesbrough is a big deal in your house.

Fundamentally, QPR’s challenge remains the same as it always has been – competing for promotion against clubs with far greater resources. Fulham have a £25m central midfielder, a £100k+ a week striker, and a £12m Harry Wilson – they cover the division’s best left back, Antonee Robinson, with the second best, Joe Bryan. West Brom have just topped up an underperforming squad of stars with an £8m Daryl Dike although they, like Blackburn and Dilan Markanday, have quickly discovered one of the perils of thinking you can make it all ok in the January transfer window – both players are now injured. Bournemouth, who also have a £25m player in their ranks in the form of Jefferson Lerma, are seeing their form slide, and Scott Parker is describing his enormous and talented squad as “thin” as the window draws to a close. QPR are competing against that with Lyndon Dykes, Charlie Austin and Andre Gray as their only striking options, and Gray is now away on international duty. While the form in the second half of last season rightly raised expectations around Loftus Road, we shouldn’t ever lose sight of the fact that Rangers have no right, really, to be landing punches in this fight to the extent they are.

Mark Warburton’s side have a lot going for them though. They carry a goal threat (only three teams have scored more, and only twice have they failed to score in a game) and the defensive problems that plagued the team under all of Warburton’s recent predecessors, and the start of his reign, have largely dissipated. Jordan Shipley’s wonderful goal at the weekend was only the fourth Rangers have conceded from a set piece this season, the division’s best record, and the back three, in particular, of Yoann Barbet, Jimmy Dunne and Rob Dickie are in superb form and seem to be absolutely relishing and loving the battle they’re in at the moment. Rangers are in good form, with four wins on the spin in the league coming into tonight’s game against Swansea, but more importantly they’re winning not only when they play well (against West Brom) but also when they don’t (at Coventry and Birmingham).

They have games in hand, and while we’re not going to do that old Billy Davies trick of pretending a game in hand will definitely be won and is worth six points on the table, you’d rather have them than not and given Swansea’s form of late tonight’s looks potentially a nice one to have on the list. With Veljko Paunović still in situ at hapless Reading, who are due here Saturday, this week looks like a fantastic opportunity for QPR. Now, of course, no easy games in the Championship cliché klaxon, and we’ve all been going to Rangers long enough to know they’re never more dangerous than when you think they should be winning a game. If you told me I’d be sitting here tomorrow writing a report on a meek defeat to nil against a Swansea team that has won it’s last two league visits to W12 I wouldn’t bat an eyelid in surprise at all. But, if we have got ambitions this season, this little clutch of games we’re in the middle of now must be seen as an opportunity. In the next dozen league games we play 24th, 22nd, 21st, 20th, 19th, 17th, 14th, 13th and 12th – six of them at home.

Of course, that inevitably means the run in is then very difficult. We’ve got Bournemouth and West Brom out of the way early, and Fulham and Boro still have to come to us, but the strange decision to kick the other match in hand, away at Sheffield United, all the way into the long grass of April gives our spring a taxing look. That will now be one of three consecutive long distance away matches (Sheff Utd, Preston, Huddersfield) and QPR will play five of their last seven fixtures on the road. They still have to go to Blackburn and Forest, two in form promotion rivals which would be difficult trips for any club but come at two grounds where Rangers have a biblically terrible record (famously one win in 35 trips to The City Ground, and now no wins in ten attempts going back 22 years at Ewood). The good news is, Rangers aren’t far off having done enough away from home already. Only Fulham (eight) have won more than our seven victories on the road and recent history in this league tells us we might only need another two or three away from Loftus Road to have ticked that box: last season Watford finished second with eight away wins, Bournemouth made the play-offs with nine; Fulham, Cardiff and Swansea were all in the six the year before with eight; Derby and Villa contested the final the year before having won seven and nine on the road respectively. The average number of away wins required to qualify for the play-offs over the last ten seasons is 9.3, and QPR already have seven in the bank, including the last four in a row.

There are key players to come back into the team. QPR have only very seldom been able to pick their strongest 11 this season, with Sam Field showing on Saturday why he would obviously be in that selection and him missing the first three months. AFCON loomed large on our horizon through December, but the team has hardly missed a beat without Seny Dieng and Ilias Chair and both could be on their way home as soon as tomorrow, depending how their respective knock out games go this evening. That said, in keeping with the swings and roundabouts theme of the piece, and the situation, there was certainly a sharp intake of breath in Coventry on Saturday when Jimmy Dunne went down with what looked a worrying foot injury in the first half. It was a little puzzling why Warbs would be prioritising another centre half this January – Dion Sanderson looks all set to join from Wolves having impressed against us for Birmingham twice already – with Jordy De Wijs now back as far as the bench, but when Dunne sat down at the weekend and you were suddenly faced with De Wijs having to do 80+ minutes and no other back up available it brought home just how quickly one knock to somebody like him, or Chris Willock, could derail this whole thing. Lee Wallace is currently clocking a win percentage north of 80% - his fragile fitness is key.

Fun though, isn’t it? Just being involved in this again. Looking out for other results, scouring league tables, checking fixtures, wondering what might be, fighting for big results in tough away games in front of huge travelling support. I’ve spent the last few years writing previews at this time of year along the lines of ‘don’t panic, we’re not very good but it would need a very convoluted set of circumstances to get relegated from here’, and then watching nervously as QPR see how close they can run that against the likes of Burton Albion. We are just five points shy of the 52 mark that felt like shitting a snooker table out in prior years. Keep in mind that point about the relative budgets at the top of this league at all times, and just sit back and enjoy.

Links >>> Playing catch up – Interview >>> Taarabt lights up Christmas – History >>> Davies replaces Eltringham – Referee >>> Swansea Official Website >>> Planet Swans – Blog and Forum >>> Swansea Independent - Forum >>> Wales Online – Local Paper >>> The Jack Army – Forum >>> SOS - Fanzine

Below the fold

Team News: QPR were without Stefan Johansen for the weekend win at Coventry but he is being backed for a return here, albeit possibly via a late fitness test. Despite that fourth consecutive away win, Warbs Warburton is making noises about rotating his troops with the aim of maximum freshness and, hopefully, points from two home matches this week. Weekend match winner Albert Adomah is tipped for a rest with Moses Odubajo getting a recall, and Luke Amos could start after impressing off the bench at the weekend. Andre Dozzell maintained his impressive personal record of just three defeats in 21 appearances, but didn’t impress greatly and would be the most likely to make way. Andre Gray also scored at Coventry and is also out of this one, now away on international duty with Jamaica so it’s just Lyndon Dykes and Charlie Austin to pick from up front. Seny Dieng and Ilias Chair are still away at AFCON. Jordy De Wijs returned to the bench at the weekend after two months out, Sam McCallum is also back in training after his mid-term hamstring problem.

Hannes Wolf cost £10m when he moved from RB Salzburg to RB Leipzig, and another £8.5m when he subsequently left for Borussia Monchengladbach but the Austrian youth international now finds himself on loan at Swansea as he continues to struggle to recapture his early form after a leg break. He was a second half sub at the weekend and could start here with Jamie Paterson’s ongoing transfer status seeing him relegated to the U23s having scored eight goals in the first half of the season.

Elsewhere: Six midweek matches to be played in this round of catch-up from the Christmas Covid chaos. Following Blackburn Middlesbrough on Monday evening the one we’ll probably be watching most closely is Nottingham Florist’s latest, although given it’s at home to woeful Barnsley, now actually below Derby and their 21-point deduction in the table, it’s as good as a gimmie.

The perils of putting your faith in the January transfer market have started to shine through a bit this week. Dillan Markanday looked (and probably still is) a fantastic buy at the price for Blackburn from Spurs, but he already has a medium term hamstring injury sustained in last week’s loss at Hull. Daryl Dike, meanwhile, saviour of all things West Brom, is also now injured for eight weeks and out of their Wednesday nighter against Preston Knob End.

Just one win in seven at home now for Coventry ahead of their quick turnaround fixture with Stoke. Lutown appeared to be heading the other way with four wins in five prior to a weekend loss at Sheff Utd, but should fancy their chances at home to Bristol City.

Birmingham v Peterborough is an absolute goat rodeo.

Referee: Geoff Eltringham, who we rate quite highly, was down for this but has been replaced by Andy Davies who we had at Bristol City over Christmas and historically we’ve done quite well with. Nigel Pearson was fined for his remarks about Davies after that match, and he was due to take them at Luton tonight, but diplomatically the league have swapped him and Eltringham over to avoid that conflict. Details.

Form

QPR: Rangers are unbeaten in five games, winning four. They’ve won eight of their last dozen matches, losing just twice, and have suffered only two defeats in 16 league and cup matches. Away from home they’re unbeaten in six, winning five, including the last four all by the same 2-1 scoreline. Both the recent defeats came at Loftus Road, 2-0 against Stoke and 1-0 against Bournemouth. Goals are starting to be a bit of an issue in W12, where they drew a blank across 90 minutes against Stoke, Bournemouth and Rotherham before notching a late, offside, winner against West Brom last time out here. Only the top three have scored more than QPR’s 40 this season but it’s now 18 games since we last scored more than two in a game (3-2 at home to Preston) and the R’s have scored one goal or fewer in 12 of those. They have failed to score in just two league games all season though, and their run of consecutive away scoring games now stretches 23 games, all the way back to the 0-0 at Preston in February. That run includes last season’s late 1-0 win at Swansea, our first win at the new stadium there, and first win anywhere in Swansea in ten fixtures going back to 1980/81. Rangers go third with a win here, their highest league position since they won at Middlesbrough in round three back in August. Andre Gray scored his fifth goal for the club on Saturday (from nine starts and eight sub apps), but is yet to score one at Loftus Road. Coventry’s equaliser at the weekend was just the fourth goal rangers have conceded off set pieces (excluding penalties) this season – a league best. Rangers also lead the league in points won in the final ten minutes, with Albert Adomah’s officially timed at 88 and therefore counting to lift the total to 14, although as we all know it was really more like 72 given the medical stoppage. That victory lifts Lee Wallace to nine wins and a draw from 11 appearances this term – an 82% win rate.

Swansea: The Swans’ weekend 1-0 victory at home to Preston was only the second league game they’ve played since December 11, and their first win in six games going back to November 24. It was supplied by a fine long range strike from our former charge Ryan Manning, his second in 47 appearances since he swapped W12 for South Wales. Russell Martin’s team have now won two of their last nine league and cup games, having previously been on a run of four victories in five games. Away from home their record overall is 3-3-6. The wins came at Barnsley 2-0, Coventry 2-1 and Bristol City 1-0. Only six teams have scored fewer than their 13 goals on the road, and the includes the bottom three. Only the bottom three and Hull have scored fewer than their 28 goals overall. With eight-goal Jamie Paterson apparently now persona non grata, they look heavily reliant on 13-goal striker Joel Piroe – the next top scorer after those two is Oliver Ntcham with three in the league. No team has played as few as their 24 league games to this point. Since these teams started sharing leagues again in 2008/09 this fixture really has been one thing or the other – QPR have won five of the meetings including a 3-0, two 4-0s and a 5-1, while Swansea have won three, including the last two league meetings here, and a 5-0 on the opening day of the 2012/13 Premier League campaign.

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 year’s champion Mick_S had more faith than I did for Coventry and was rewarded with a correct guess, here’s what he thinks of Swansea…

“I’m really hoping we’ll be ok tomorrow night and don’t slack off as Swansea don’t seem to be all that at the moment. We should have too much for them, especially second half, so I’ll go 2-0 with Dykes to get the first.”

Mick’s Prediction: QPR 2-0 Swansea. Scorer – Lyndon Dykes

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-0 Swansea. Scorer – Chris Willock

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Myke added 13:04 - Jan 25
Cheers Clive, some fascinating stats and facts in there. Your first paragraph really resonates with me as I find myself doing exactly that. With regard to our budget, it was amusing to hear Robins bemoaning the access we had to strikers like Gray and Dykes that they are a 'million miles' away from. But you are right it is easy to forget to enjoy it, which is the most important part and is a new experience for us all. It would be nice to win the next two games 'comfortably' (2 goal margin) but will settle for 4 points any which way achieved.
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Northernr added 13:35 - Jan 25
Cov strike me as being about 2 years behind us in this process, so at that point we were just moving from loans and the likes of Sylla, Polter, Washington into wells, hugill etc. We couldn’t have dreamed of Dykes, Austin and Gray (2 of them owned) three years back, but at the same time they’re not in the same league as some of those we’re now trying to compete with ourselves.
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enfieldargh added 13:57 - Jan 25
Great preview and in the past would come into these games with great trepidation after away wins.

But it seems qpr are not the QPR we know and love, they are something better thanks to the management team we have although many of us fans still wear the scars of the past
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extratimeR added 15:07 - Jan 25
Thanks Clive, very good preview, watched the Blackburn game last night and surprised how poor they were, Middlesbrough must be kicking themselves, (a lot of that going on), at missed chances, and a good shout for a penalty, they look like they are constantly improving.

Tough one tonight but optimistic, wouldn't want to be playing against Dunne at the moment, he is actually bloody scary!

Cheers Clive
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BlackCrowe added 15:41 - Jan 25
Wish you hadn't have predicted 2-0. Can you change it to a loss or a draw and we might have a chance of winning.
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TacticalR added 15:46 - Jan 25
Thanks for your preview.

As our away form is as good as our home form (23 points away, 24 points at home) it doesn't feel like a normal season. To put at it another way, perhaps we can be more confident than usual about away results, less confident than usual about home results? If we hadn't lost those two home games against Stoke and Bournemouth we would be second in the table. Some teams try to shut up shop at Loftus Road, and although that doesn't always work (e.g. Blackburn), it can make things difficult for us. Anyway, it's pretty impressive that we are where we are, particularly with Chair and Johansen missing in recent games.

As I said before the Coventry game, the thing we tend to struggle with is expectation.
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NewYorkRanger added 17:05 - Jan 25
It's incredible isn't it? As has been said on here many many times, it's the hope that kills you and how true that is. Not just with QPR but as a generalisation across sport and life. Regardless, looks like I picked a good season to renew my interest in all things Rangers - spurred on by my 9 year old daughter getting the bug and begging me to take her to games. After the West Brom game she has not stopped singing Charlie, Charlie, Charlie......
It's got to the point now where I'm desperately trying to justify to her Mum that it's perfectly fine for her to go to midweek games and get to bed way after 11pm on a school night. And we're drastically trying to reschedule long ago arranged family activities so we can fit in more games (Reading this Saturday for instance).
At some point the grief levels from the Mrs are going to go nuclear but until then.....
Great preview Clive - spot on with the looking at tables, other results etc. Haven't felt this energised by Rangers for many a year. Long may it continue
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Burnleyhoop added 17:26 - Jan 25
I wish I could enjoy it Clive, but will be a bag of nerves at kick off. If we can can get a couple of early goals to settle the nerves then maybe so. Our modus operandi however, appears to be a first half of containment before turning the screw in the last half hour of the second half.

If that’s the way it goes, and we take the win, I will enjoy looking at the league table instead.
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WestonsuperR added 17:53 - Jan 25
Great preview. I’ve got a bad feeling about this match, would be typical of QPR to do to all the hard work of winning away and beating WBA only to lose a very winnable match.
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francisbowles added 19:15 - Jan 25
Thanks Clive. We are QPR. Being nervous is what we do, whether before, during the game or both, it's normal........
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