So, this is goodbye – Preview
Thursday, 28th Apr 2022 21:50 by Clive Whittingham
QPR manager Mark Warburton will end his three-year stay at the club at the end of the season, it has been confirmed on the eve of the final home game against Sheffield United.
QPR (18-9-17 LLLDWL 10th) v Sheff Utd (19-12-13 LWDLDW 6th)
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Look at that Stoke goal from last week. Just look at it. Come on, we’ll brave it together, hold my hand. The standard of the marking, the first contact, the second balls, the players literally falling over themselves, the swing and miss clearance attempts, just the general farce of it all. It’s a goal we’ve seen a version of multiple times in the last three months – Huddersfield, Sheff Utd, Hull, Forest – near post run, first contact lost, carnage ensues. As Dan Lambert details in this tactical analysis piece it was a real Groundhog Day. Punxsutawney Phil beaten at the fucking near post again.
It is in fact the tenth goal QPR have conceded from a set piece in 20 games, the worst record in the league over that period bar Birmingham (11). Prior to that run, which started at Coventry, we had conceded three goals in 24 games from dead balls, which was the joint best record in the league with West Brom. We have gone from conceding a goal from a set piece once every six weeks or so, to one every other time we take the field. From the division’s meanest, to its most generous.
I focus on set pieces partly because that’s how we conceded and lost most recently, but there are dozens of examples like it. QPR have gone from consistently one of the top scorers in the league over the last three seasons, scorers in 32 consecutive games, scorers in 22 consecutive away games, club record-threatening stuff, to not being able to register a serious effort on target for great swathes of time. You can follow this team for literally hours now – Stoke A, Sheff Utd A, Millwall A, Barnsley A – without seeing it have even a moderately threatening shot on the goal. From a team capable of challenging Bournemouth for second, to one looking down now as low as fourteenth in the league. From a team that lost 14 times all 2021, to one that could match that total in two months. From an exciting team you’d pay to watch, to a boring and staid outfit you’d actively avoid.
And this is the problem the decision makers at QPR have faced. Had we slipped slightly, given the injuries we’ve had, and missed out on the play-offs by a point or two, pipped at the post by a form team, you could perhaps be a bit philosophical about it, point to year-on-year progress, talk about the tweaks needed to be better next year. Actually, had we slipped slightly, we’d still be in the top six. The first two thirds of the season was so good we needed just seven wins from the last 17 games to make it. Even adding wins against Cardiff and Peterborough - two poor sides we were 1-0 up against at home only to lose – would have us level with Sheffield United and knowing that a sixth win tomorrow night would all but guarantee us a spot. Concede a few more from set pieces, you point to Dieng’s absence – but to go from the best at it in the whole division to the second worst?
It’s the scale of the collapse, the magnitude of the missed opportunity, they clearly feel has given them a decision to make.
It may just be that a whole load of little things have added up to a big thing. Mark Warburton has had to deal with a lot. The unprecedented situation with the goalkeepers, injuries to other key players, costly individual mistakes at important moments, senior players hitting a physical wall collectively at the same time, team selections that would be done differently in hindsight, tight games that went the wrong way when pre-Christmas they were going ours, the ongoing issue of trying to compete with rich clubs on a tight budget. But to go to Stoke, who had absolutely nothing to play for, and have very similar injury issues to us with several goalkeepers used and their best players missing from attack and defence, in a must win game, and play like that… Allied with all the different ways we’ve collapsed from the league’s best to worst, and the cliff-edge nature of it occurring almost overnight between the Reading and Peterborough games, all adds up to feeling like something more has happened behind the scenes.
This is information us mere mortals on this side of the fence aren’t in possession of. I can sit here and say I think Warburton should be kept (which I do), but perhaps he’s fucked things up terribly, the club are ditching him because of it, and if only we had the full picture we’d be all in favour. Similarly, you can sit there and say he has to go, but actually something entirely out of his control that he tried to counter has ruined the whole thing for him and that problem will remain while he is scapegoated. It's ok to say you don't know - and in this case you and I don't.
Either way, did it feel realistic, given the scale of this collapse, that we could all just pop off to Mykonos for May, come back mid-June for a late July start and just pick up and compete again as if none of this ever happened? Put Dieng, Dickie and Willock back in and all is right in the world again? That was the dilemma facing the decision makers, and with under-performing high earners like Austin and Johansen already tied to contracts for next season their ability to do major surgery on the playing side is limited. So they’ve gone for the manager, as they tend to do, as the whole sport tends to do. (Postscript – West London Sport now reporting Austin’s second year is dependent on appearances, which he hasn’t reached, so can be released, which is very good news).
Here comes your next problem. Never sack a manager who would be his own best replacement. Now we’ve decided to part company with Mark Warburton we shall immediately commence a search for a manager exactly like Mark Warburton. You’ll rarely read a departure statement as glowing as the one the club put out this evening which essentially amounts to “he did absolutely everything we hired him for so now we’re getting rid of him”. If he’d just completed the three years he’s done here somewhere else, he’d be near the top of 90% of your lists. It’s potentially that old Charlton-Curbishley trap of sacking a manager because he’s “taken us as far as he can” when in fact he’s taken you as far as you can go at this point. Get that wrong and the only direction from there in the short and medium term is down. You’re already seeing Reading and Birmingham fans on social media saying he’d be a great option for them, exactly as we would be doing. He’s already favourite for a Birmingham job that isn’t available yet. If this decision goes wrong then attention and heat will be turned on the array of executives we have immediately above the manager, and rightly so. The overwhelming weight of reaction online this evening says this is the wrong decision.
The second piece of information you and I are not in possession of is who the club realistically think they can replace him with. This is pretty important because obviously if Pep fancies dropping down and giving this a crack you wave Mark off no questions asked, but if Brian Laws is top of your list you stick to what you’ve got like Gorilla Glue. I wait to be proven wrong but a lot of the names that I see filling my timeline – Daniel Farke, Sean Dyche – I believe are unrealistic both in the package we’d be able to put together for them personally and the budget and level of backing they’d expect in putting a squad together. Dyche was on several million a year at Burnley, and will sit tight awaiting a handsome pay-out knowing he’ll be the automatic favourite for every lower Premier League job that comes up. Again, might be usual LFW bollocks, but I think we’d again be looking at something in the Karl Robinson/Lee Johnson ballpark. I’m blowing the dust off that Tim Sherwood pros and cons list as we speak. Would this be an improvement on Warbs? Is a sideways (or even slightly backwards) move justified given the scale of the collapse, and the fear that had Warburton started next season and August hadn’t gone well we would be in a toxic, chaotic mess a month into the season? It’s no and no for me, but the board clearly think differently and they have more information to hand than we do. Quick spoiler though - if you, or they, are looking for somebody who always does the team selection, substitutions and post-match interviews that you like and agree with then you’re going to be disappointed again. Blackburn, Birmingham, Reading… there are going to be a lot of Championship clubs in our ‘wheelhouse’ looking for managers at the same time, and a lot of distinctly mediocre candidates doing the usual rounds.
My immediate reaction to tonight’s announcement is also that it’s the wrong decision. I want him to stay, because I like him, I rate the job he’s done, I don’t think there are better realistic alternatives out there, I think we’re better with stability than upheaval. I think in some ways he’s been a victim of his own success – improving us to such an extent that supporters (and board members it seems) who used to look over their shoulders from sixteenth have now convinced themselves it was play-offs or bust this season. I also think his steadfast professionalism, and straight-batting of every question he ever got asked, has perhaps masked and covered the real reasons the team has fallen flat on its arse which he’s now taken the blame for, when in fact a lot of those problems will be waiting here for whoever they do get to replace him. But then I come back to the scale of the collapse, culminating in that pathetic no-show against a Stoke team so bad they’d lost at home to Bristol chuffing City the week before, and I wonder how likely it is that you just spin that around and make everything right in the world again in time for the kick off on July 28 without a change. It’s not been normal, by any stretch of the imagination, what’s happened the past three months – something looks badly wrong over and above a hectic treatment room. The board have been more swayed by the latter argument.
You can go backwards and forwards like this for hours (welcome to the inside of my head, excuse all the emotional baggage, sit down over there by the painful secondary school memories). Remember the state of the team he took over, that first summer when we had to do 16 in and out while reducing the budget and losing his best players. We are undoubtedly miles better off than we were at the end of Steve McClaren’s reign – now a club disappointed not to make the play-offs, as opposed to one relieved Burton Albion didn’t stage a late run and catch us. Players have been developed, improved, and sold for serious money – exactly as he was asked to do. He has worked diligently and uncomplainingly within our restrictions – no “you’ll have to ask the chairman” or “you’ll have to get my half a dozen loan players” here. But then there’s an argument to say a team with Ebere Eze, Nahki Wells, Bright Osayi-Samuel and Ilias Chair as its attack with support from Jordan Hugill and the likes should really, actually, have done better in that first season but for the inability to correct chronic problems like, again, conceding goals from set plays. Remember he then had all of his best players from that team ripped away, again had to rebuild on a lower budget, and again got better. But then having pushed the boat out last summer on some new players and retaining the best of what we had, to get into a position where we needed just seven wins from the final 17 games for a play-off place, won three and ended up in the bottom half…
I would lean towards viewing his overall three years here as a success, and certainly deserving of another year at least. The board do not agree.
What I am more certain about is I don’t like the way this has been handled at all. Whether you rate Mark Warburton as a manager or not, whether you agree with me that he’s done a hell of a job here or not, whether you’re glad or sad that he’s gone, I’d be amazed if any of us disagree that as a man and a representative of our club he’s been unimpeachable. Given what we’d put up from with some of his predecessors – ‘Arry’s blame game and off the record media briefing; Jimmy’s “it is what it is” banality while pocketing big money chatting Chelsea and backhanders on the after dinner circuit; Schteve’s loaned “team of men”; Holloway’s riot incitement – Warburton’s professionalism, courtesy, standards and respect have been a breath of fresh air and absolutely what this club has needed and needs going forwards. Once more, are we likely to appoint better in this regard? Again, for me, unlikely.
He’ll speak to every podcast, every journalist, every website, for however long you want to speak to him for, and whenever you want to speak to him because he values communicating with the fans. His programme notes are actually worth reading, and he writes them himself – rare on both counts. You may not agree with the answers, he may not like some of the questions, but he will turn up on time and speak to you courteously and respectfully. Journalists try and trap him into the Redknapp-style off-hand quote that chucks one of the players/assets under the bus, and he sidesteps it every time. Like I say, I wonder if that straight batting has enabled him to be scapegoated for problems not of his making. Whenever he appears nationally, he is a tremendously well-spoken, erudite, professional representative of our club. He has deserved better than this ‘dead man walking’ routine over the past few weeks. Each week a new public interview hinting at change, but maybe not, from people who all work within a few feet of each other and him. To basically talk ourselves into a situation where we’ve had to announce this tonight because the director of football gave an interview at a golf day, where they surely knew the question would come up, is poor for me. Did TalkSport need to be at that? Did Les need to give that interview, then? Leaving Warburton to go out and face the press this morning and say “nobody’s spoken to me so I presume I’m off”. It’s unedifying, a terrible look, and not the first time – Steve McClaren obviously walking into Ian Holloway’s job, turning up on Sky co-coms to wax lyrical about all the things he’d do with our players, long before Holloway was officially binned also particularly grubby. It removed the possibility of us surveying potential alternatives and deciding to stick – he was obviously going, there was no rowing back.
And now, everything is back up in the air and the future very uncertain. Season tickets yet to go on sale, no decision on safe standing, no manager, a clutch of players out of contract we don’t know if the next manager will want or not, the new American investor into the club a few months back no sight nor sound of whom has been heard. Did somebody mention stability? It all feels terribly ominous. And sad. Just as you thought we were getting somewhere, that light at the end of the tunnel turns out to be another train heading towards us after all.
If you’d told me at the start of February that this would be the situation and my preview for the final home game, I’d have laughed at you. No chance. There’s that scale of decline thing again.
Links >>> Sleepless in Sheffield – Interview >>> When it all went right – History >>> Bankes takes final home game – Referee >>> Sheffield United official website >>> Bramall Lane ground guide >>> The Shoreham View – Contributor’s YouTube channel >>> S2 4SU – Message Board >>> Sheffield Star – Local Press
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Team News: Hopes that Seny Dieng might make it back for this one have receded, and given that QPR are now out of play-off contention there’s little point risking an early return. With Keiren Westwood apparently struggling as well it could be back to Murphy Mahoney as goalkeeper number five for the season. Other long termers, as we know, include Moses Odubajo, Rob Dickie and Chris Willock along with all the other keepers – Jordan Archer, Joe Walsh and David Marshall. Yoann Barbet continues to struggle with a knee injury. Jeff Hendrick has been quietly shuffled aside.
The Blades’ right wing back George Baldock limped off on Easter Monday at Bristol City and missed last week’s win over Cardiff but could be touch and go for this one with a late check on a hamstring issue. John Fleck will also be given right up to kick off to prove his fitness. Perennial QPR scourge Billy Sharp returned from the bench in that 1-0 win against the Wellsh outfit after five matches sidelined, and must be pushing for a start with the team winning just one of the five games he missed – guess who. His return is made even more crucial by the ongoing absences of Rhian Brewster and David McGoldrick who’ve now been joined on the sidelines by Haggis McNeaps who’s done for the season with a foot injury. Jayden Bogle also a no go.
Elsewhere: Pity the poor clubs that need QPR to get a result in this Friday night Sky game. Blackburn suddenly sparking into life with a 4-1 win in their local derby at Preston, and Middlesbrough completing a routine victory in their game in hand at home to Cardiff, leaves them, along with Millwall, all three points back from Sheffield Red Stripe and technically in contention if the Blades drop points here or on the final day at home to Fulham.
Blackburn start at home to Bournemouth, a game in which the PGMOL have taken the fairly extraordinary and really rather stupid decision to give to Bournemouth-born, Luton-supporting referee Keith Stroud. Such an easy conflict of interest to avoid, and one they absolutely should have done so. Middlesbrough are at home to Stoke while the Marxist Hunters have a gimme at home to Peterborough. Final day Blackburn are at Birmingham, Boro at Preston and Wawll at Bournemouth.
The other issue in play is the second automatic promotion spot. Bournemouth are the team in possession following a remarkable comeback from three down to draw at Swanselona during the week. They have three games remaining, starting at Blackburn Saturday and have 79 points and a +30 goal difference. Three points back, same games played, same goal difference, is red hot Nottingham Florist who take a turn against the Swans at home tomorrow. If results go as they should there then it’s all eyes on Dean Court during the week when Bournemouth and Forest play each other. Also on 76 points, but with one game fewer to play and an inferior goal difference, Sporting Huddersfield who go to Coventry. Lutown are in that weird there-but-not-quite position but could have it all confirmed before they take the field for a Bank Holiday Monday afternoon game round Tarquin and Rupert’s riverside pile.
And that’s it really, with Barnsley and Peterborough joining Wayne Rooney’s Derby County in confirming their abject relegations over the past week. Nothing at stake for Barnsley v Preston Knob End, but in this week’s Football Without Fans Means Nothing news the police refused to sanction that game unless it was moved to a 12.30 kick off at a fortnight’s notice. Bristol City v Hull? Well, you can, but I shan’t be bothering. Cardiff v Birmingham matters to nobody bar Lee Bowyer. Reading v West Brom? Just you be ready with that holy water.
Referee: Peter Bankes from Merseyside in the middle for this one. He’s a Premier League referee and was originally listed for our recent defeat at Nottingham Forest before pulling out injured to be replaced by The John Moss Square. Details.
QPR: The 1-0 loss at Stoke last week effectively ended QPR’s play-off hopes – now six points and chunky goal difference back from Sheff Utd with two to play and three other teams inbetween us. It was Rangers’ eleventh defeat in 17 league and cup games and means they’ve taken one point from the last 15 away from home. No other team in the Championship has lost as many matches in that period since the start of February. Just five wins from the final 16 in the Championship would have Rangers level with the Blades ahead of this game and given that Boro, Hull, Cardiff and Peterborough have all taken points from Loftus Road in that sequence that’s fairly heart-breaking. The 1-0 win against Derby here on Easter Monday which had initially kept hopes alive is one of two home victories in the last seven games here. Since beating Reading here 4-0 in the last game of January QPR have scored more than one goal in a game on four occasions out of 17, never more than than two, and one goal or fewer on 13 occasions. Stoke was the seventh time in 17 games they’ve been shut out altogether. QPR have scored five times in their last six games and Luke Amos has three of those.
Sheff Utd: The Blades have been weird all season – weighed down from day one by the considerable millstone of being our season preview tip for the title. Five wins from the first 18 league games had them in the bottom half of the table and saw manager Slavisa Jokanovic sacked. Paul Heckingbottom’s appointment came with an immediate uptick – eight wins from ten games from mid November to February all while losing multiple matches to weather and Covid postponements. That left them with multiple games in hand at the back end of the campaign, mostly at home, and all against teams bang out of form including ourselves. Even when loitering back around eleventh and twelfth in the table the statistics sites had them finishing deep in the play off places with ten of 14 games between February and April at Bramall Lane. Given they are now sixth, and highly likely to finish there, you’d make the predictions right but they’re in middling form at best. Four wins from 12 games coming into this, no two consecutive outcomes the same since a pair of home wins against Blackburn and Swansea in February. They haven’t won away in six games going back to a 2-1 success at Birmingham on February 4. Billy Sharp is top scorer here with 14 but missed five matches through injury recently, in which our limp 1-0 surrender at Bramall Lane was the only victory. £18m Tartan McPartick (0), £20m Rhian Brewster (2), and David McGoldrick (3) have five league goals between them in 28 starts and 33 sub appearances.
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 just hope we win and give those that have made the effort throughout the season something to be happy about on Friday. I’d love to be more chipper about this, but as discussed all over the shop, it’s gone wobbly. 2-1 Rangers - Amos to score.”
Mick’s Prediction: QPR 2-1 Sheff Utd. Scorer – Luke Amos
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 0-3 Sheff Utd. No scorer.
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When Saturday Comes and we reach the end of a topsy-turvy season, much of which hasn’t been that much fun if I’m honest, though latterly considerably improved under Wayne Brown. If I can, I always like to do the first and last game of the season, but sadly a trip to Hartlepool just wasn’t on the cards, not if I actually wanted to get home again tonight, so I had to console myself with a pretty enjoyable trip to the JobServe last weekend – not quite the victory the U’s deserved over Walsall, but a great day out anyway. I know it’ll be too late for the Player of the Year awards, but wouldn’t it be nice to see a Freddie Sears hat-trick this afternoon to round off the season.
When Saturday Comes #36 by wessex_exile
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When Saturday Comes #35 by wessex_exile
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When Saturday Comes #34 by wessex_exile
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When Saturday Comes #33 by wessex_exile
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