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Sunday, 17th Apr 2022 21:09 by Clive Whittingham

A nourishing improvement and 2-2 draw at Huddersfield on good Friday needs backing up against Derby on Monday to avoid yet another bit of QPR history repeating.

QPR (17-91-6 LLLLLD 12th) v Derby (13-13-16 LLDWLW 22nd)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Monday April 18, 2022 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Mungo Jerry >>> The Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12

If Reading’s chronic ability to do just enough to survive through a woeful campaign and subject us to another trip to that poxy ground again next season is irritating for you and I, imagine what it’s doing to the good people of Derbyshire. The Royals conceding a last minute equaliser at Bramall Lane on Good Friday only to storm straight down the field and win the game from the kick off really rather took the sheen off the latest impressive act of resistance from the Rams later that night at home to champions-elect Fulham. Now nine points behind with 12 to play for, Wayne Rooney’s side require snookers, and with eight straight defeats on the road coming into this Good Friday clash you’d be a brave man to back them from here.

Derby have somehow managed to essentially marry the division’s best home record (11-7-3) with its worst away one (2-6-13). They’ve lost their last eight away matches in a row, conceding more than two goals a game, and would be seventeenth in the table even if you put all their points back on, Which, in a normal season, would be nothing really to write home about. Worth bearing in mind when that insufferable Sky Sports hyperbole machine starts screaming “this city does not know when it’s beaten, these people have walked through the valley of the shadow of death, these players will not lie down, there will be no white flag, this spirit is unshakeable, this bond unbreakable, this is Wayne Rooney’s Derby County” after they’ve - checks notes - equalised at home to Birmingham City with a goal from an £8m midfielder they haven’t got round to paying for yet.

However, when you consider the state and tiny size of the squad they were left with last summer, the heavy restrictions placed on them adding new players or even registering others from their academy, a stringent salary cap, and vultures circling to pick off the likes of Luke Plange (with a loan back) and Phil Jagielka in January, their performance has been fairly remarkable. Seventeenth, with this group of players, would have been a fine achievement. I’d have had them finishing dead last this year even starting on zero. The sniggering about Wayne Rooney’s managerial prospects (yes, ok, us) has subsided. You don’t hear as much about Liam Rosenior, who assists him, but he’s always very impressive when I hear him speak. These guys will now be in demand for other jobs and rightly so. That Reading’s years and years of Kia Joorabchian-led 205% wages to turnover spend resulted only in a “negotiated settlement” six-point deduction, after which they immediately went back out with the cheque book and added Andy Carroll to their survival fight, another luxury Derby were denied, can only rankle still further. That doesn’t seem fair. Because it isn’t.

The idea that Derby have been wronged and persecuted, that there’s some sort of EFL agenda against them, is wrong. They cheated, they cheated for a prolonged period of time, they knew they were doing it, they did everything they could to cover it up and work around the rules, they went after whistleblowers like Steve Gibson with memes and chants, and a string of creditors have been left in their wake counting the cost of doing business with Mel Morris who will surely go down in history as one of the most dangerously incompetent, deluded and destructive owners the EFL has seen. Their punishment has been fair, and should have been handed out a lot sooner than it was, saving Wycombe from relegation last season for a start. What isn’t fair is the relatively light sanctions applied elsewhere. At Birmingham, for instance, who also narrowly escaped relegation and signed a whole load of ridiculously expensive players they couldn’t afford on a Harry Redknapp trolley dash, and even added Kristian Pedersen for a couple of million quid illegally while under a transfer embargo, and for it all were only docked six points right at the end of a season moving them from one bit of mid-table to another. Sheff Wed’s punishment did at least send them down a division but they, Reading, Villa, Bournemouth and others have all taken the absolute piss at one point or another and, relative to the Rams, largely or completely got away with it.

QPR, of course, can also be placed on that list. Bobby Zamora’s last minute play-off winner will always be associated with this fixture, but that was a day of a sub-£20m wage bill playing a squad that cost £80m. QPR ignored the rules that season, cheated, financially doped themselves back to the Premier League, and again Derby fans cannot but wonder how different things could have been in a world where Richard Dunne doesn’t exist. Rangers were subsequently fined a world record amount for a sporting organisation, something that will take us ten years to pay off, and the rules have been changed since. It certainly hasn’t been a bed of roses at Loftus Road for the last few seasons as we’ve had to take medicine for that transgression, but it hasn’t been 21-points and a trip to League One-worth of medicine. You can see why they’re grumpy, particularly with us and the EFL.

It’s actually a different match entirely that springs to my mind ahead of tomorrow. QPR had hoped to be well on their way back into the play-off picture for the first time since that fateful Wembley day, getting all excited about who we might face and how we might fare in the end of season knock-outs. A dramatic collapse of two wins from 15 games, seven defeats from eight, has put paid to all of that and instead left us engaging in our favourite pastime of thinking about sacking the manager again. The performance and result at Huddersfield on Good Friday was far better than what we’ve seen over recent weeks. QPR played with positivity and energy that has been woefully lacking in recent weeks. The impact of turning to the younger, fitter, more mobile members of our squad, there for all to see. The mood has softened considerably, which shows how bad we’d been when all it takes to calm people down is a draw at Huddersfield.

What does worry me ahead of tomorrow is Steve McClaren had an afternoon very similar to that, and a fixture exactly the same as this, right at the end of his reign. Like Warburton he’d endured a run of two wins from 15 matches. As this team won surprisingly 2-1 at Luton, so that one did the same at home to Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds. There was heavy and justified criticism of McClaren’s decision making, reliance on loans, ignorance of people like Bright Osayi-Samuel and Ryan Manning that would come back to bite us in the transfer market, but he, like Warbs now, could point to plenty of mitigation in that run. There were a string of frankly bizarre refereeing decisions that went against us – the disgraceful injury time penalty winner at Bristol City, the failure to award us the same for an obvious handball in the last minute of a loss at Wigan, Jake Livermore surviving an obvious red card tackle at home to West Brom then winning the game in the last minute. Like Warbs, he had to deal with a long injury list, suffering particularly up front where now it’s goalkeepers. There were some freak occurrences – the 4-3 against Birmingham, where Rangers missed a last gasp penalty to draw level having been 4-0 down, and no retake was ordered despite half the Birmingham defenders being closer to the goal than their keeper was as Nahki Wells struck it.

You could have made some sort of case for McClaren at the point we travelled to Hull City in March. There, having gone 2-0 down, he made decisive changes, and two of those early substitutes (Josh Scowen and Tomer Hemed) scored to win us a point. That was better, we said. That wasn’t a team that’s abandoned its manager, we reasoned. Play a little bit more like that over the remaining games and we’ll take that, we promised. And then straight away, in the very next game, we faced a Bolton side well on its way to relegation, that had lost ten of its previous 11 away games including a 6-0 at Hull, and we fell straight back in a hole and lost 2-1. McClaren was sacked afterwards, and John Eustace took the remaining games.

I actually walked out of that Bolton game with a good 20 minutes left to play. I could feel myself losing it, and didn’t want to be that guy (again) having a public meltdown. If I may be permitted a request prior to tomorrow, it would be that Rangers don’t put us through something similar again. Warbs would do well to pray the same.

Links >>> Eyes on new owner – Interview >>> Match of the 70s – History >>> Smith in charge – Referee >>> Official Website >>> Derby Telegraph – Local Press >>> Derby County Blog – Contributor’s blog >>> DCFCFans – Forum

Below the fold

Team News: QPR’s list of absentees is long, well-documented, and mostly goalkeepers. Mostly. Seny Dieng, Jordan Archer, Joe Walsh and David Marshall are all done for the year between the posts, and they’ve now been joined by Rob Dickie and Chris Willock. Jeff Hendrick and Lee Wallace both missed out at Huddersfield and Friday and will do so again. The improvements in performance we saw in West Yorkshire was helped by the selection of a younger, more energetic, more mobile team, with Kieren Westwood the only over-30 involved from the start and Charlie Austin, Albert Adomah, Stefan Johansen, Lee Wallace and Jeff Hendrick all absent. The short turnaround will no doubt necessitate changes to the side but, if Friday’s performance is anything to go by, we’d do well to stick as close to that strategy as possible over the remaining games.

It’s likely to be as-you-were for Derby because, well, they haven’t got anybody else. Colin Kazim-Richards is done for the year, while Ravel Morrison may miss the chance to face his former club because of illness. Bang goes our first goalscorer bet for the day. Max Bird serves game three of three on the naughty step after a red card against Preston. Gibraltar-born Carlos Richards debuted at just 16 on Friday, and may be involved from the bench again. The impact of so many academy graduates one of the silver linings to the considerable cloud shrouding Pride Park over the last 18 months.

Elsewhere: Dramatic Good Friday wins for Wayne Rooney’s Derby County against the Tarquins, and a last minute 2-1 for Peterborough against Blackburn, has dragged the relegation ‘battle’ kicking and screaming into another round. A Reading win, at home to Swanselona, basically finishes the whole thing off. They’re ten points ahead of Barnsley, and nine ahead of both Derby and Posh with four games left to play. Barnsley and Peterborough play each other at Oakwell in this round.

At the top, Fulham have now lost two in a row against Coventry and Derby ahead of a Tuesday homer with Preston Knob End, but zero ground has been made up as nobody else bar Luton won in the top eight on Friday. Bournemouth, without a win in three, and Boro, likewise, cancelled each other out in a nil nil draw. Bournemouth are at Cov (still well in the fight after consecutive wins) tomorrow while Boro go first in the early TV game against third placed Huddersfield. Lutown were the big Good Friday victors, knocking over Nottingham Florist in a game that’s brought a serious amount of bitching and moaning about refereeing decisions even by City Ground standards. Nathan Jones takes his respectful and reserved celebrations to Cardiff this Monday, while West Brom are the lucky visitors to the latest flag parade by the Trent. Sheff Utd, sixth and surprisingly beaten at home by Reading, now travel to Bristol City for the early evening game while Blackburn’s withering challenge really needs a win against Stoke at Ewood Park.

Millwall v Hull and Blackpool v Birmingham taking place for want of something better to do with their time.

Referee: The Championship’s youngest referee Josh Smith, last seen in charge of our win (!!) at Luton, gets a first Loftus Road date here. Details.

Form

QPR: The 2-2 draw at Huddersfield on Friday interrupted a run of five successive defeats, seven losses from eight games and ten defeats from 14 played. Rangers have, however, only won two of their last 15 matches, and Peterborough’s last gasp win against Blackburn means there is still no Championship team that has taken fewer points than our nine won since the beginning of February. QPR have scored seven goals from central midfield this year if you credit Dom Ball with the first at Reading (many have this down as an own goal), and Luke Amos now has five of those himself. Only Andre Gray has a better goals-per-minute ratio in this season’s QPR squad than Luke and he;’s now moved past Charlie Austin for league goals scored. Rangers have won one of the last six at home – the last gasp effort against Blackpool with ten men. They’ve won only one of the last five home games against Derby, but are one of only three sides to win a game at Pride Park this season having triumphed in the first meeting 2-1.

Derby: Without their 21-point deduction, Derby would now be safe on 52 points and seventeenth in the Championship despite having to compete with a threadbare squad and punitive wage cap. That has largely been built on their home form. League leaders Fulham were the latest Pride Park victims on Friday night to leave them with a record of 11-7-3 on their own patch. Only Boro, Blackburn and Fulham (all 12) have won more home matches than the Rams, and nobody has lost fewer than their three (QPR one of the trio of sides that have actually won there this season of course). The 40 points they’ve won at Pride Park this season equal with Fulham, and bettered only by Blackburn’s 41 at Ewood. Only three teams have conceded fewer than Derby’s 18 at home. On the road, a completely different story. They won at Hull in August, Stoke in December, and that’s it. Two wins from 21 road games, 12 points from a possible 63, and arriving in W12 on Monday on a run of eight consecutive away defeats in which they’ve conceded 17 times at an average of more than two a game. Only bottom-placed Barnsley have won fewer than Derby’s two away games, and only the Tykes and Peterborough have lost more than their 13. Their total of 13 goals away from home is also the worst in the Championship. They’ve scored more than one goal in an away game just once so far, in a 2-2 at Reading, and have failed to score on ten occasions including three of the last five. Tom Lawrence is top scorer here by some distance with 11, but only two of those have come in away games and both of those were penalties (Forest A, Swansea A). They trail Reading by nine points with 12 left to play for, finishing with a fairly kind run in of QPR A, Bristol City H, Blackpool A and Cardiff H while Reading play Swansea H, Hull A, West Brom H and Luton A.

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. A good half dozen players still in contention at the top of this year’s competition, currently led by Cheesy. Last year’s champion Mick_S says…

“I think, like many of us, that the Huddersfield performance was a decent pick up from where we’ve been lately. Cut out the set piece defensive lapses and we are more than capable of winning this. I’ll go with a bonkers 3-1 Rangers win with Chair to score.”

Mick’s Prediction: QPR 3-1 Derby. Scorer – Ilias Chair

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 0-1 Derby. No scorer.

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Paddyhoops added 08:17 - Apr 18
2.0 to us. Dykes to score. He has to get another at some point in his career. Hasn't he??
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ngbqpr added 09:53 - Apr 18
Oh Clive, that score prediction. How dare you dampen the mood by articulating what we all secretly fear?
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TacticalR added 14:57 - Apr 18
Thanks for your preview.

It's been a calamitous decline in form, even if our result at Huddersfield showed a bit of light at the end of the tunnel. However, individual results (or even a string of bad results over a few months) shouldn't determine Warburton's fate.
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