Sad, sad situation - Preview
Thursday, 14th Apr 2022 16:54 by Clive Whittingham
As QPR continue to crater, it now seems that manager Mark Warburton is on his way out as the R's prepare for two games in four days we could all well do without.
Huddersfield (19-12-10 LDLLWW 3rd) v QPR (17-8-16 WLLLLL 11th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Friday April 15, 2022 >>> Kick Off 17.30 >>> Weather – Actually quite nice >>> Huddersfield, West Yorkshire
It’s the speed and scale of the collapse, I guess, that’s caught so many of us in so much surprise and disappointment.
The analytics community, and particularly our own @AnalyticsQPR, have pointed out for sometime that in metrics trendy and old fashioned, QPR were significantly higher in the league table than they really should have been. It’s something we were discussing with the head of recruitment Andy Belk as far back as August when Rangers’ impressive 3-0 win away at Hull scored super low on the xG. You and I may not like it much, and using it to assess individual games (like that one at Hull) is a fool’s errand, but it is proving rather adept at predicting performance over medium and long term and, sure enough, QPR have slid back to where it said they should be.
Had that happened gradually over a period of time, I guess we’d have been a little more philosophical about the whole thing. As well as the budget challenges relative to most of the other teams up there (though not this Friday’s high flying opposition) we know all about, this squad has had to contend with a lot. We’re now potentially onto goalkeeper number five in Murphy Mahoney, and none of them so far have proven anywhere close to Seny Dieng in terms of distribution which in turn has contributed to us becoming stuck in our own half and unable to get out. Not being able to afford cover for Ilias Chair and Chris Willock in January as they wanted (Jamie Paterson, Tom Lawrence) because they’d spent the budget in the summer, and then losing Willock for the back part of the campaign, was a blow. The bad run had long since set in by the time Willock blew up at Nottingham Forest, but just a few days prior a win at Luton had lifted us back to fourth so we were still well in with a chance at that stage. Senior players the club and manager placed a lot of stock, and wage bill, in have all hit a wall at roughly the same time – Stefan Johansen, Charlie Austin, Albert Adomah and to a certain extent Lee Wallace all shadows of the players we saw tearing the place apart at various points of a superb 2021.
Put all that together, lose form more gradually over a period of time, slide down to a seventh/eighth/ninth sort of a finish and you could come away taking the positives from what was, for so long, such a memorable and enjoyable season. But to go from a team pushing Bournemouth for second to one that’s rapidly accelerating back to the sixteenth spot that seems to have this weird magnetic hold over us, almost literally overnight from a team thumping Reading 4-0 to complete an unbeaten January to one limply losing 2-0 at Peterborough, has been really rather the short, sharp shock. QPR have the worst record in the entire division since the start of February, just eight points gained. The style of play has transformed for the worst, with this dull, staid, boring pass around the back replacing the forward-thinking Warburton style we’d become accustomed to that had placed Rangers consistently among the league’s top scorers over the past three seasons, even when we were in the bottom half of the table. We’re still fifth for goals scored in the division, though it’s not through anything we’ve done recently.
It makes it feel like there’s more to it than simply injuries, loss of form, bad luck, all the goalkeepers being killed to death. To go from where we were at the start of February, to potentially finishing the season with a club record ten-straight defeats, and 12 losses from the final 13 games. Even the sceptics and pessimists surely wouldn’t have offered you a price. It seems, now, that it will end with the departure of Mark Warburton as manager, something else you’d have rated unthinkable just a few short weeks ago. Reading between the lines of CEO Lee Hoos’ recent interview with the Standard it would appear Warbs’ contract, improved in value but not length last summer, included an automatic extension for making the top six, which looks and feels like their minimum requirement for the investment made last summer. Having now almost certainly failed in that the choices are to renew it anyway or “shake hands and say, ‘Let's everybody just take a step back and take a deep breath and figure out where we're going to go’” which, given the weight it was given in the quote, and how things have gone since, now feels like what’s going to happen.
The journos on the QPR beat are now Tweeting and talking openly on podcasts as if this is a done deal, an open secret and, as the best of that bunch Dave Mc said this week “has been the case for sometime”. Not, though, writing a story to that effect, which feels a bit odd. Like I say, we could have gone second at Blackburn, we did go fourth at Luton which was only six games ago, this “been the case for sometime” doesn’t compute really, but Dave’s record on QPR news and opinion is impeccable so you wouldn’t want to bet against it being true. It just adds to the weirdness of the whole situation, and the sense that something has gone on somewhere beyond the reach of us fans in the stand.
Weird, odd, and really quite sad. Mark Warburton has been a good manager for QPR in every sense of the word. All the stuff we know and clearly see, about ripping that dire Steve McClaren squad up and helping rebuild it on a smaller budget, losing all the best players from that including the best player in the division and building all over again, improving the league performance season on season regardless. But also in the way he’s conducted himself, spoken about the club, upheld standards and emphasised the importance of respect, defended and shielded his players, brought several young talents on, avoided controversy and headlines at a club that was a newspaperman’s dream for so long. After so many charlatans in so many different forms, many who came with hangers on, most of whom had a big mouth and a media persona, he’s been exactly what the club needed in so many other ways than simply improving the team. From Harry Redknapp chucking players under the bus, revealing salaries publicly, taking them on boozy mid-season trips to the Middle East, writing the away matches off as “bonus games”, and trying to sign and spend his way out of every problem; through Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s mucky after-dinner speaking debacle; to Ian Holloway’s madcap post match antics, team selections, and riot incitement at Millwall; to this. A calm, intelligent manager who conducts himself impeccably, speaks very thoughtfully and intelligently on a range of issues, and has done everything asked of him with the team while operating within and at times embracing the restrictions we have here. I’m sure, at times, he wanted to scream stuff from the rooftops. He’s resisted and remained professional throughout. Journos, as is their job, have tried to entrap him in quotes about certain players and situations, he's straight batted it every time. It’s rare to find a manager who represents your club as well as he has ours, works un-complainingly through problems. Absolutely perfect for us. And yet here we are now on the verge of ditching him, it seems.
Sure, Mark Warburton can be a little stubborn. His keenness to protect and shield his players, not give outlandish quotes in the media, can sometimes lead to repetition in his interviews that may frustrate you, particularly if things aren’t going particularly well. He’s been slow a couple of times to change team systems and selections that aren’t working – the switch to the back three that sparked the brilliant run through 2021 was long overdue by the time it came at the end of 2020, for instance. Some of his substitutions haven’t made sense to the laymen in the stand. But, look, Mark Hughes, Harry Redknapp, Chris Ramsey, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, Ian Holloway, Steve McClaren… at times we hated all their team selections, substitutions and interview comments as well. It’s just part of being a football fan, you always think you know better, or would have done something different. I guarantee, at times, you’re not going to like the next bloke’s selections, subs and comments either. You’ll always think another sub, another formation, a different signing, would have made it all so different. Just like a change of manager is always the solution football clubs go for to every problem. It wouldn’t, and it isn’t.
And that’s the challenge and problem we’re apparently going to be faced with now. Who and what is the alternative? Who will come here, and work with this budget, and do it better than Warburton has done? Maybe I’ll be very wrong, but when I see articles today saying the club should go for Bielsa, Nuno Espirito Santo, Daniel Farke… I can’t help but think either some people have missed a memo, or I have.
Even if we assume it is simply a spectacular loss of form, and not something more serious behind the scenes, the problem you have if you retain Warbs after this scale of collapse is he has zero gas left in the tank with supporters if next season doesn’t start brilliantly – it would only need a couple of narrow home defeats in August for the pitch forks and flaming torches to be out, and then you have got a problem although the World Cup does provide a natural breakpoint in next season that could be useful in that. A bigger problem still, however, is who next – because if Mark Warburton had just done the three years he’s done here for another similar Championship club he’d be very near to the top of a lot of our wishlists to come here. Who you getting who’s better, and would come?
Charlton (Curbishley), Sheff Utd (Wilder), Spurs (Pochettino) and others have all written the rule before that you sack a manager who would be his own best replacement at your peril.
Links >>> Big finish – Interview >>> Macca’s injury time winner – History >>> Doughty in charge – Referee >>> Official website >>> Ground Guide >>> Down at the Mac – Forum >>> And he Takes That Chance – Podcast
Below the fold
Team News: The illness that kept Kieren Westwood out of the defeat at Preston last week has continued to hamper him this week and he’s so far completed one light training session. Young Murphy Mahoney will play again if he’s not deemed fit to play. Hopes that Seny Dieng will play again this season have now faded completely. Rob Dickie, Chris Willock, Joe Walsh, David Marshall and Jordan Archer are all done for the season. Yoann Barbet, Lee Wallace and Jeff Hendrick also missed the trip to Deepdale, forcing QPR into a back four for the first time in more than a year, but should all return here. Assistant manager John Eustace has been given a one-match touchline ban for his conduct in stoppage time of the home defeat against Fulham. After two unsuccessful stints in LA, Nico Hamalainen is continuing his education at the school of hard knocks with a loan spell at Botafogo in Rio de Janeiro. Just a quick stint in St Lucia, six months in Sydney, and a tough slog up and down the wing for some mid-table outfit in the Maldives to go before he’s ready for the rigours of Championship action. If I had that kid’s agent, I wouldn’t be sitting here writing for you two.
Huddersfield have a shorter turnaround having beaten Luton at home on Monday but have no fresh injury concerns ahead of this game and a Monday trip to promotion rivals Middlesbrough. The obligatory Chelsea loanee Tino Anjorin didn’t feature against the Hatters but is available. Centre back Matty Pearson is done for the season with a knee knack. Pipa and Daniel Sinani got the nod over Ollie Turton and Duane Holmes and Monday and Carlos Carlos Corberan hasn’t named an unchanged team since November so may come back into the reckoning, according to the Huddersfield Examiner. Rolando Aarons (heads), goalkeeper Ryan Schofield (shoulders) and midfielder Alex Vallejo (knees and toes) are all long term absentees.
Elsewhere: QPR could be fourteenth in the table by the time they kick off their early evening game at Huddersfield on Good Friday. Rangers are now eleventh, two points ahead of West Brom, Preston and Swansea all of whom have winnable home matches. The Baggies host Blackpool who are about done for a satisfactory season, Swanselona have soon-to-be-relegated Barnsley, and Preston host the Marxist Hunters at Deepdale.
Lutown kick the Easter weekend off with a Friday lunchtime clash at home to Nottingham Florist. Steve Cooper’s men have broken into the top six and are flying but Nathan Jones’ side are now without a win in three as their challenge starts to wane. The question is whether a diminishing chasing pack can close the Hatters out of the picture. Middlesbrough are three points back and favourites but two defeats in two including a poor home loss to Hull last week doesn’t inspire confidence. Blackburn, likewise, one win in seven and two in 13, are seventh prior to a trip to rock bottom Peterborough. Sheffield Red Strip complete the play-off picture in sixth and will surely make light work of Reading at Bramall Lane. Runaway league leaders Tarquin and Rupert had a second slip of the season at home to Coventry last week, and complete the Friday picture with a cruel 20.00 kick off at Wayne Rooney’s Derby County. That result kept Coventry technically still in touch ahead of a short hop to Birmingham.
With the bottom three all but signed and sealed there are going to be an unusual amount of dead rubbers over the closing five rounds in this division. Bring a good book to Hull v Cardiff and Stoke v Bristol City.
Referee: Leigh Doughty, new on the Championship list this season, takes charge of QPR for the second time following the defeat at home to Bristol City. Details.
Huddersfield: Defeats to Forest, Millwall and Bournemouth as well as a draw with West Brom having led 2-0 suggested Huddersfield’s surprise play-off push may be wobbling through March, but two victories to nil have followed at Hull and home to Luton to steady the ship and they come into the game third in the table. Prior to that tiny blip they had gone 18 matches unbeaten from December 4 to March 7 with 11 victories. They have an 11-5-4 record at home – only Bournemouth, West Brom and PNE have lost fewer home matches this season. Goalkeeper Lee Nicholls has kept 17 clean sheets this season, the club record for a season is 23 for the team as a whole and 21 for an individual keeper. Their 1-0 defeat at Loftus Road in November was the first time they’d lost to Mark Warburton’s QPR during his reign, having won three and drawn one of the previous four. Rangers have lost their last three visits here since Tjarron Chery’s late goal gave them a 1-0 win in August 2015.
QPR: Rangers have now lost five in a row and seven of the last eight. They have won just two of the last 14 games, failing to score in six of those. They have scored just 11 times in those matches. Away from home it’s seven defeats and one win from the last eight trips away from Loftus Road, and three in a row since the surprise victory at Luton in March. That put Rangers fourth in the table, and they would have gone second with a win at Blackburn in February, but they can go as low as fourteenth if results go awry this Friday. Rangers are now just four defeats away from losing as many games in four three months as they did in the whole of 2021. No Championship team has lost as many games since the start of February as QPR (nine). Lyndon Dykes hasn’t scored in eight appearances going back to Reading at home, Charlie Austin hasn’t scored in 11 going back to West Brom in January.
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. Even ever the optimist, and reigning champion, Mick_S is losing faith…
“Given the way things have nosedived, I’m hopeful that we can carry on and at least try to repeat the slight upturn that we saw at Preston. This will obviously be a tough one with Huddersfield play off bound. I’d be delighted with a 1-1. You never know. Random goal scorer alert - Dunne.
Mick’s Prediction: Huddersfield 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Jimmy Dunne
LFW’s Prediction: Huddersfield 3-0 QPR. No scorer.
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