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Ipswich Town 0 v 0 Queens Park Rangers
SkyBet Championship
Friday, 29th December 2023 Kick-off 19:45
Back where we started again – Preview
Friday, 29th Dec 2023 10:07 by Clive Whittingham

QPR's desperately poor showing at Millwall on Boxing Day brought up a third defeat in a row and left them right back where they were when Marti Cifuentes first arrived – five points adrift of safety and bereft of hope.

Ipswich (16-5-3 WWWDLD 2nd) v QPR (5-5-14 WWDLLL 22nd)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Friday December 29, 2023 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >> Weather – Drizzle, breeze >>> Portman Road, Ipswich, Suffolk

Let’s have a look at that first Millwall goal again, shall we? It’s really quite a thing. You don’t see many of these out in the wild.

The ball is initially played up towards Lyndon Dykes who, in a one against one battle with Wes Harding, a 27-year-old free transfer from Rotherham, loses it comprehensively. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody who watches Lyndon Dykes in general, or anybody who was there on Boxing Day. We played the ball up to him four times in the first ten minutes, he gave it away every time, and somehow got worse from there. I’ve played ‘ball and a wall’ before and had the thing come back at me less often than it did off Dykes against Millwall. He wouldn’t get in the Dorking team playing like that, and I’d actually quite enjoy seeing him try just to hear what their manager would make of his efforts. May as well not have fucking been there.

This didn’t need to be a disaster – being 100 yards away from our goal and all. We could have won the second ball as it dropped, but Ilias Chair’s attempt to do so was less than half-arsed - quarter-arsed, which even with a bum that big isn't very arsed at all.

There’s then a 50/50 ball to win which Sam Field simultaneously manages to lose in the air to a guy half his size, while also being the wrong side of him, and then gets beaten (as a central midfielder) in a scrap on the ground for possession by a goal poaching striker – Tom Bradshaw simply wanted the ball more, Field’s efforts were pathetic.

As Duncan Watmore brings the ball away from that, the defence collapses in exactly the manner we’ve become accustomed to. A decoy run takes Osman Kakay out of position – which it would, I could move that guy out of position wafting a shiny piece of paper around. Jimmy Dunne panics and tries to solve the problem himself, charging out of the line, drawn to the ball like a moth to a flame – not one of the smart moths either. Andre Dozzell’s jog back to try and help actually gets him in the position to make a tackle, or commit a foul, to end the whole thing right there. He does neither. Again, should not be a surprise to anybody who watched Andre Dozzell lose every tackle he went in for in this game, nor anybody who’s watched that coward hide in every difficult match we’ve had since he got here - compare his abdication here to George Honeyman’s foul on Ilias Chair when QPR threatened to break the other way.

We have now gone from losing a header 40 yards from their goal to them being basically clean through on ours, with our entire team in the left back position, and the whole left and centre of the field and penalty area completely vacated, in about eight seconds. Once more, once again, and as usual, Dunne and Kakay charge towards the ball to try and solve this, with zero awareness of what’s behind and around them, and no communication with each other along the lines of ‘maybe you go and I stay’.

The situation is, still, remarkably, completely salvageable, because Millwall are nearly as bad as we are.

George Saville attempts a cross and a shot and accomplishes neither. The ball dribbles across the six-yard box in front of a flat-footed goalkeeper. Sam Field, who’s already fucked up once in this move, could control it, could put it behind for a corner, hell could even stick it in his own net and say ‘at least I tried something’, and instead he waves his arms around in the air and lets it roll past him. Sam Field is currently doing a lot of waving his arms around in the air while things go past him.

Watch Jake Clarke-Salter on the zoomed-in replay. This is my favourite bit. As Saville is entering the area, Clarke-Salter actually gets his head on the swivel and checks what’s going on behind him, as professional footballers are taught to do at professional football clubs. Sadly, in the three or four seconds it takes Saville to turn and play the ball, Clarke-Salter forgets what he’s seen there. Just clean forgets. And, so, when he, too, is faced with a choice of sticking a foot out, clearing it behind, sliding in, doing something, doing anything, about the developing situation, he lets it run by him. Tom Bradshaw, who was there all along because that’s where Tom Bradshaw tends to stand, and who Clarke-Salter must have seen when he looked to see if Tom Bradshaw was there, because Tom Bradshaw was there, because that’s where Tom Bradshaw tends to stand, slid it into an empty net.

And if I kill these people and bury them under my patio, I’m in the wrong.

It takes something to concede the second goal in the manner we did – Big Asmir flapping around under a corner like Christ in a crucifix shop, Kakay losing a two-horse race he was first, second and third favourite to win – and it not be the most fucktastrophic defensive cuntamity in the game. Begovic straight off the pitch to let everybody on socials know he’s got a Boxing Day sale on for his merchandise. Does the range include a ball with a bell in it?

I described Southampton’s set piece winner at Loftus Road last week as a goal which would, defensively, shame a Sunday League side. That first Millwall goal is different planet. I’ve got a Monday night seven-a-side team which is basically my old uni team all growing old together. Used to be good, and thin, and now neither of those things really. We play in a league of teams almost exclusively much younger than us, and sometimes we take them to school, other times we get our expanding arses handed to us. It’s competitive, we take it seriously, but it’s increasingly about the meeting up, the seeing each other, the pub afterwards. It’s not important. Let me tell you something now: if we had conceded that Millwall first goal, there would have been violence. No kidding, I genuinely think a couple of us would have come to blows. At half time, at full time, and in the bar afterwards, there would have been serious questions asked, there would have been fingers pointed, there would have been blame apportioned, there would have been rows, there would have been some degree of sort out. Some may have resolved to not play any more, because they’re done – “I’ll just come for the drinks in future lads I think”. The conclusion would have been: “If we’re not going to play properly then let’s not fucking bother, eh?”

I ‘like’ this Millwall goal, because of how many of our players it involves. I go on QPR Twitter, where there is a younger demographic of fan, and I get told how good Jake Clarke-Salter is, what a ‘baller’ Andre Dozzell is, how we’re going to ‘cook’ when he gets together with whatever B Team midfielder it is we’ve seen on a stream, and how this is all the fault of Kakay, Field, Dunne and Dykes. I go on our message board where there is, ahem, an older clientele, and I get told that actually we just don’t service Dykes well enough, and he gets in the Scotland team ahead of Che Adams you know, and that Sam Field basically walks on water, and Dunne gets no protection…

Everybody has their favourites, and their pet scapegoats, and they double down and down again, and they point at little bits that prove their point. If you don’t like Dozzell you highlight his cowardly abdication of duty against Watmore, and don’t mention that Field should never be beaten by Bradshaw like that in the first place; and if you spend your time on Twitter gargling Dozzell’s ballsack you ignore that and go apeshit about Field instead. Dykes, Chair, Field, Dozzell, Kakay, Dunne, Begovic, Clarke-Salter - there was something for everybody in that goal, and that is really rather my point. More than half the team, from the goalkeeper to the strikers and everything in between, involved and culpable. Any one of them could have stopped it at any point, with a bit more commitment, a bit more physicality, a bit more intelligence. None of them bright enough, interested enough, aware enough, good enough to do so. In the last minute before half time. Commit one foul, win one header, one tackle, boot one ball behind for a corner. None of them. This is a goal I will come back to in the autopsy of this season if it does indeed end up in a death.

Everybody also has their solutions. Marti Cifuentes has been criticised for rotating the winning team he had, for taking off Ziyad Larkeche rather than somebody else, for not involving Elijah Dixon-Bonner from the start or at least sooner than he did. Some want Armstrong given more of a go ahead of the woefully, painfully ineffective Dykes. Others, most of us in fact, roll their eyes when the team sheet lands and it’s Kakay ahead of Reggie Cannon. There’s probably still somebody out there thinks #TeeeeeeRichStarrrr should be getting a game.

Well, let me tell you something else – there are no solutions with this group of players. That Millwall performance was typical fucking Leyton Orient. It’s a performance we have seen from them countless times. London derby – don’t want to know. Pressure game against somebody around us in the table – fold. Other team mixing it with a bit of physicality – oooh, bigger boys came. Cifuentes called it exactly right in his post-match interview, in the very first answer – not brave enough. Not brave enough with the ball, to play it forwards with a pass that might give it away, to take it in a tight and difficult area, to get on the turn and get us moving up the pitch, or to hold it under pressure from an opponent. Instead, always an easy option, backwards, backwards, and backwards again until it’s with Begovic. If the aim of the sport was to work the ball back to your own goalkeeper we’d have been 14-0 up at half time – at one point we turned a throw in by their corner flag into a pass back to Begovic in two touches and five seconds. Not brave enough without the ball, to tackle somebody, to muck in, to win a header, or a second ball, to stand in a high defensive line and puff out a chest and say that’s me, I’m stopping here, and you ain’t coming past. Once again we put in a reasonable performance against a good team in a game we think we’re going to get annihilated in, lose narrowly but come away saying “well if we play like that against the poorer teams we’ll be fine”. Next game, against as poor a team as you could wish to face, fall in a hole. This group has an uncanny ability to do just enough, play just badly enough, to lose to whatever level of opposition they’re playing against.

They get bullied and beaten up and physically intimidated. They take easy options, short cuts and cheats. They'd rather dive to try and get a free kick than stand up to a bit of contact and play – blaming the referee, again always somebody else’s fault. They'd rather pass it backwards and let somebody else have responsibility, than strap a pair on and try a difficult pass that might mean they give the ball away. On the rare occasions they do get in front they go and stand on their own goalline and just try and punt the ball away and run the clock down rather than continuing to play and trying to score more.

It leaves us back where we started again, five points adrift of safety having missed several opportunities to move out of the bottom three in the last five games. That feels like a daunting gap in much the same way your heart sinks when we concede the first goal – when you struggle to score one goal, or win one game, having to score or win two feels like an insurmountable task. We have lost 31 of the last 34 games in which we’ve conceded first. We surprisingly played our way back into things with three consecutive wins at the start of December, but that opportunity has now been well and truly pissed up the wall. We’re back to square one.

What hope we have seems to rest entirely on January when we play five home league games in six and have a chance to do some surgery on this team. How much budget is left to do that, how many changes we’re able to make, will decide our fate. We are not staying up with this team as it is. There still seems to be some lingering hope that if we can get Cook, Colback, Cannon, Willock etc back in the team and start the 11 we did against Hull most games we’ll be fine, but we won’t because we can’t. The manager is not labouring under some misapprehension that Osman Kakay is any good, he’s not getting up in the morning and thinking let’s pick Jimmy Dunne for shits and giggles, he knows exactly what he’s working with here. But he also knows Reggie Cannon has had no pre-season and is playing with an injury even when he does play. Steve Cook, another with no pre season, hasn’t been able to put more than four consecutive starts together since September. Jack Colback, no pre-season etc etc, has done nothing since he got here bar pick up ridiculous cards and get injured. Only Begovic of Gareth’s famed summer ‘culture guardians’ available for the Christmas games hardly came as a surprise did it? Players only here because we were the only ones daft enough to be offering two years when everybody else was offering one. Perhaps Gaz should have specified in the job spec that it's not a hybrid WFH role. Cifuentes knows who he wants on the pitch, but he knows the physical condition of our squad prevents it, and he knows what happened last year when we tried to ignore that and pick the ‘best team’ every week anyway – the season collapsed amidst an injury list 12 players deep.

More problematically, this group continues to show you what it is, what it’s about, and who they are. They’ve lost that Millwall game, exactly like that, a dozen times over. There’s a stat floating around this week that no club in the country has lost as many games as QPR over the last five years – 104. Well, just short of half of those have happened since February 2022. We’ve had five different managers in that time, a wide variety of approaches and styles among them, and nothing has worked for very long. It’s not about Kakay, or Dykes, or Field, or Dozzell really. It’s not about your personal favourite or pet hate. It’s just a crap side. There is no magic best eleven or team selection or formation that will get this lot moving if only the idiot manager wasn’t so stubborn and blind not to pick it. Tuesday was our 50th league and cup loss in 92 matches – we lose more than every other game we play, and we win barely one in five. Occasionally they cough into a bit of life, as they did when Cifuentes arrived, and often when playing against better teams. Hey, maybe we’ll catch Ipswich cold tonight. Very QPR to do all of that, and me say all of this, and then we go and win at Ipswich, like we went and won at Burnley. No doubt this preview then bounces around the socials for a few days – hahaha, look at mad, drunk Clive ranting on talking shit again. But this group will revert to type soon enough, because they’re not very good players and they’re not mentally or physically strong enough. They keep showing it to you, who and what they are.

What hope we have left relies almost entirely on replacing as many of them as we possibly can, as quickly as possible, starting in three days’ time. And we’ll be doing that without a budget, without a director of football, and with a CEO who’s also the chairman. Gooooooood luck everybody.

Links >>> Seeing it through? Interview >>> Impey brace – History >>> Webb in charge – Referee >>> Ipswich Town Official Website >>> Ipswich Star – Local Press >>> East Anglian Daily Times – Local Press >>> TWTD – Blog and Forum >>> Talking Town – Podcast

90s Footballer Conspiracy Theories No.21 In The Series – Blackpool hall of famer Phil Clarkson thinks the Tower was on fire really, they’re just covering it up because they don’t want you to know it’s actually a massive 5G mast spreading the woke mind virus across the entire North West.

Below the fold

Team News: Steve Cook is apparently back, fit, and ready to start, which will improve the defence by a magnitude of some 10,000% on the slop we saw on Boxing Day. Chris Willock, too, allegedly, having pulled out in the warm up at The Den. If it’s a choice between this game or Cardiff on New Year’s Day I’d go for the latter personally but let’s see. Jack Colback is one game away for the sixth game in a row, and there’s rumours of Morgan Fox involvement by the time we play Bournemouth in the FA Cup. Sam Field’s lazy tendency to pick up bookings means he’s now two yellows away from a two-match ban for collecting ten. Jimmy Dunne’s performance at Millwall would have been a resignation letter at most clubs, and perhaps Cifuentes has taken it that way because both he, and Sinclair Armstrong who Cifuentes has clearly not been having since he arrived here, have deleted all the QPR content from their social media accounts, and then later the accounts altogether. Our new manager has, like me, perhaps seen enough, and is about to clear house. Or maybe they’ve had enough of QPR social media too.

Ipswich have been dealt a couple of significant blows in the run up to this game. Striker George Hirst, six goals and six assists so far, blew out his hamstring against Leicester on Boxing Day and will be out for the foreseeable. Freddie Ladapo, who used to terrorise us in Rotherham colours, will likely come in with Dane Scarlett recalled by Spurs and a January pursuit of Birmingham loanee Jay Stansfield yet to officially commence. XL Bully Sam Morsi has picked up a retrospective one match ban for chewing on a referee’s leg at Middlesbrough at the start of the month. Our man at Portman Roads says Morsy “makes them tick” - let’s see if they even need to do that to win tonight.

Elsewhere: Let me just get right through this bit. The two teams still atrocious enough to be below us are Rotherham who play at home to Sunderland, and Sheff Wed who are taking in excess of 5,000 away fans to Preston North End – Ryan Lowe still in a job courtesy of their oh so hilarious last minute win against Champions of Europe Leeds during the week.

The teams we’re ostensibly trying to catch, in ascending order or likeliness, are Huddersfield (five points ahead, at home to Middlesbrough), Millwall (lol, six points ahead, at home to Norwich), Wayne Rooney’s Birmingham City (seven points in front, at home to Bristol City), Some Of These People Have Come From Stoke (seven points ahead, away to Watford), Who Needs A Manager Anyway Swansea (eight points ahead, travelling to Coventry) and Plymouth (eight points ahead, latest victims of 15-unbeaten Southampton).

At the end of the table that does not concern us Champions Leicester are away to Cardiff; Ipswich are beating us; Leeds Leeds Leeds are taking more to West Brom than anybody has ever taken before; Southampton, West Brom and Sunderland we’ve mentioned; Hull suddenly have four losses from six games prior to a visit from Blackburn; aaaaand… Actually that’s it.

Three previews down, one to go, see you again in 48 hours.

Referee: David Webb has been refereeing Championship matches since 2010, and never once threatened to be moved any further in the game beyond that. The reasons for this are clear whenever you watch him referee. He was last seen in our neck of the woods sending off Asmir Begovic (overturned 12 hours later) for going within 6ft of Patrick Bamford’s cello lesson. We have won one of 12 matches with this pedantic arsehole, and had a red card or penalty awarded against us in each of the last three. If he gets injured, Keith Stroud is the fourth official. Put a bullet in me. Details.

Form

Ipswich: With a game left of 2023 Ipswich have 102 points for the calendar year, with three wins and two draws in the cup competitions on top of that. They have won 33 games, drawn 14, and lost only six of the 53 games played. QPR have lost six games since October 24, and you have to go back to October 2, 2021, to get to our last 33 wins, 112 games ago. Ipswich have scored 116 goals this year – 60 in the second half of last season, 56 in the first half of this. They have scored six goals in a game on two occasions, four goals on seven occasions, and three in nine games. QPR have scored 20 goals this season, and 18 in the second half of last for a total of 48 – less than half as many. The most Rangers have scored in a single game is four, once against Stoke. They haven’t scored three in a game, and have only scored twice in a game on seven occasions. Kieran McKenna has won 55 of his 93 games in charge of Ipswich, and never lost two in a row. QPR have lost 50 of their last 92 games played, and won only 22.

By Town’s recent astonishing standards they come into this game on a bit of a wobble – two draws and a loss, the first time they’ve gone three league games without a win since three draws against Cambridge, Sheff Wed and Bristol Rovers last February. They followed that up with eight straight wins and 13 wins and two draws from their final 15 games. This sequence has come during a tough run of games against title rivals Leicester and Leeds, and local rivals Norwich. They were excellent in the derby, really unlucky not to win, but rather fell in a hole against Leeds losing 4-0. They’ve only been beaten three times in the Championship so far, and two of those were against Daniel Farke’s team with eight goals conceded in the process. Leeds are the only side to win at Portman Road. Their defence is not that great to be fair – 33 goals conceded is the worst total in the top ten bar Preston, and more than Coventry in 13th, Stoke in 18th and Millwall in 20th. Nobody has scored more than their 48 goals though – and ten of those have come from substitutes, also the league’s highest total.

Ipswich have been rather rocked by the news George Hirst is likely to be out medium term with a hamstring injury, but they’ll spend on a replacement in January – likely Jay Stansfield – and in the meantime a solution against QPR may already be in the building. Freddie Ladapo fairly terrorised QPR in his Rotherham days, scoring three goals in two games against us in 2020/21.

QPR: The defeat to Millwall was Rangers third in a row, and felt like a real low point of this dreadful season so far. They are now five points adrift of safety once more. Rangers have lost 15 and won only five of their matches in all comps. They have scored one goal in their last four games and failed to score in 12 of their 25 fixtures. Away from home we’re now 3-2-8 – only the bottom two have lost more on their travels. That sinking feeling when we concede the first goal is probably because QPR have recovered just four points from losing positions this season, and three of those were against Stoke. We have lost the game on 31 of the last 34 occasions we have conceded the first goal.

No team has scored as few from set pieces as QPR this season – a paltry two. Another one that definitely passes the eye test – Jake Clarke-Salter has played in ten of QPR’s last 14 wins, Steve Cook has started three of the five games we’ve won this season, Jimmy Dunne has only won two of his last 14 and in one of those (Stoke H) he was hooked with Rangers 2-1 behind against ten men before the comeback began.

Probably not worth much given this fixture has been off the list since 2018/19, Ipswich were absolutely rotten then and are brilliant now, but QPR do have a good recent record against the Tractor Boys. Prior to Town’s 1-0 win at Loftus Road in August Rangers had gone five without defeat and have won three and drawn one of their last six visits to Portman Road.

Prediction: We’re once again indebted to The Art of Football for 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 newly extended QPR collection here. SilverFoxQPR fought off a great Southampton call by WestonSuperR to top our Prediction League at Christmas by two points, so Art of Football gear will be winging its way to him in the New Year. Reigning champion Aston says…

“Ipswich are a really good side with a great manager and this will be as big a challenge as we have faced in ages. With the players reverting to type, I think this will be a tough day.”

Aston’s Prediction: Ipswich 2-0 QPR. No scorer.

LFW’s Prediction: Ipswich 3-0 QPR. No scorer.

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gazza1 added 14:13 - Dec 29
You are not talking shite Norf, you are right in many, many of the things you write above(you cant be right on everything!!!).........we were not brave enough for the occasion on Saturday, the first goal blamed on Kakay, by many, was a team effort in conceding. The second, yes, leading to the corner was not good, but the keeper should eat those up all day - it is not his first bad mistake either. Games like that you need to be strong and powerful but many were not.

Sign a couple (forward) in January we should still be OK because I feel some of the players currently in the squad are good enough to turn things around with the help of the Manager & Coach.

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TacticalR added 15:41 - Dec 29
Thanks for your preview.

That Millwall goal was a fiasco, at a point in the game when we needed to keep things tight and hold on until half time. I hadn't noticed until you mentioned it that Field deliberately let the ball run across him. I wonder if Clarke-Salter was just not expecting Field to do that? Also, when Clarke-Salter checked what’s was going on behind him, he must have seen that were two players behind him (I don't know if that affected his judgement somehow), because at that point Larkeche was nowhere to be seen.

I am reluctant to bash Field as he's one of the people who held the team together when Beale's players disappeared and the form of our existing players crumbled. He's not like Dozzell who can go limp at any moment or just disappear from a game.

There are two types of stupid people. The ones who understand what they have done wrong when you tell them (i.e. they are teachable), and the ones that still don't understand what they have done wrong even when you tell them (i.e. they are unteachable). We can only pray that we don't have the wrong kind of stupid people.
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Burnleyhoop added 19:05 - Dec 29
Fair enough, no argument left in me now Clive………but just make sure that feckless fooker Dozzell is the first numpty slung out through the door marked “do one” come January 1.
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Myke added 19:26 - Dec 29
Super piece, Clive, your frustration (disgust) is palpable. Sadly, we are not just back to where we were after winning three in a row, we are now five games worse off. At one point 25 points from 23 games seemed very achievable, but now it is hard to see where the next point/goal/win is coming from. So we will probably win tonight to give us all a dose of false hope again
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