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Queens Park Rangers 1 v 2 Cardiff City
SkyBet Championship
Monday, 1st January 2024 Kick-off 15:00
A big month - Preview
Sunday, 31st Dec 2023 21:29 by Clive Whittingham

QPR have a month of home games and transfer window to save themselves and their season, starting tomorrow at home to Cardiff City.

QPR (5-6-14 WDLLLD 22nd) v Cardiff (10-4-11 WLLWDL 14th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Monday January 1, 2024 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Wet and windy again >>> Loftus Road, London, W12

When Warbsball worked, my God you could watch that stuff all day. There were ups and downs across his first 18 months, periods of good form when you thought we were getting somewhere followed almost immediately by inexplicable 5-3 defeats at Barnsley, but after Chris Ramsey, Jimmy Floyd-Hasselbaink, Ian Holloway and Steve McClaren I remember the excitement some of those early wins at Stoke at Sheff Wed, and at home to Wigan and Blackburn, created in me. Here was a grown up, who played football the way I want QPR to play football.

The potential of the approach and the team shone through in the peak of early January, and a previous New Year’s Day visit from Cardiff. Through the hangovers, QPR brightened the day with a rout. Bright Osayi-Samuel had his best game for the club, ending the career of Jaz Richards, and Ebere Eze was at his mesmeric best. Between them they shared three goals and put another three on a plate for Nahki Wells. In the FA Cup, less than a week later, Swansea got much the same treatment and shipped five in Shepherd’s Bush. There was a 1-0 win against Marcelo Bielsa’s all conquering Leeds to come – Kalvin Phillips losing his mind and getting sent off while Eze delivered a sumptuous performance for the ages.

There’s a lot of talk now about whether Warburton actually under achieved with that side. He had Wells and prime Jordan Hugill as his forwards, he had Osayi-Samuel, Eze and Ilias Chair behind them in a 4-2-3-1 which was easily the best combination of ‘tens’ in the division. That team did several very daft things: three times it conceded late equalisers at home to Reading, Boro and Charlton to draw games it had been leading 2-2; Warbs rested Wells mid hot streak to, it turned out, play against us for Bristol City, turning that mega January into a run of four straight losses; we came back from lockdown in play-off contention, and with the bottom five teams still to play, but lost to basically all of them. It is, though, worth remembering the shambles Warburton inherited from McClaren, just three wins in the whole second half of the previous season and a summer of 16 in and 16 out with the budget being cut. He had to let Darnell Furlong, Jake Bidwell and others leave, and as good as the attack was you’re never going far with a defence of Hall, Cameron and Leister in front of a goalkeeper as accident prone as Joe Lumley.

In the end he and we went shit or bust too early, he put his faith in some expensive senior players who let him down, the promotion push collapsed and we’ve been back behind the financial eight ball ever since. That said, he took a team that had finished 18th, 16th and 19th and got 13th, 9th and 11th out of it and, like I say, at least initially, he did that while shifting high earners and lowering the wage bill. We could do Warburton until next New Year’s Eve. Was he right in what he said about the academy players and staff? What’s happened since says probably yes. Should have maybe bitten his tongue and stuck a couple of Aaron Drewe and Sinclair Armstrong types on the bench every now and again to show willing? Also yes.

He did put together a promotion winning season, unfortunately he did it from January to January, and not August to May. Buoyed by loan signings, and in front of empty away stadiums, Rangers won 15 and drew two of their 24 games through the second half of 2020/21, and then won 15 of the first 28 the season after – successive 1-0 wins against Cardiff in Cardiff among these numbers. That’s 52 games rather than 46 I’ll grant you, but that sort of form – 30 wins and six draws for 96 points – is a team that wins automatic promotion. We just did it over a calendar year instead of a football one.

Mind you, don’t curse it too loudly, if we’d done our 2023 record over an August to May period instead we’d be down. Eight wins, 12 draws, 28 defeats from 48 games for 36 points, a total that would have relegated you from this league every year since it took its present form after the dawn of the Premier League.

If we are to escape a relegation which, to be perfectly honest, we were singularly fortunate to avoid last season, and has felt like it’s been coming for a while, this January feels absolutely pivotal. The farce of the opening day having to be switched to Watford may turn out in our favour despite the 4-0 thrashing at Vicarage Road on day one. QPR now play six of the next seven, and five of the next six in the league, at Loftus Road. Now that may not seem like much of an advantage to a team that won just one of 23 home games over the previous year, but Marti Cifuentes has already arrested that with two wins and two draws from five games in W12 so far. The pre-Christmas slump, and debacle at Millwall, has cut us adrift at the bottom again, but the clutch of home games includes visits from Huddersfield and Millwall just above us, Cardiff who are fourteenth, and Norwich who are no great shakes. We, surely, have to put some serious points on the board here, starting tomorrow. Looking beyond, March offers Leicester and Sunderland away, West Brom and Middlesbrough at home.

January is also an opportunity to do some surgery on the squad. It needs it. The improved showing at Ipswich has done nothing to dissuade me from my post-Millwall rant that we will not stay up with this squad as it is. Cifuentes has immediately improved our defence - Ipswich was a fifth clean sheet in 11 games after five in the previous 40. But he hasn’t shifted the needle in attack where Ipswich was also our sixth blank in his games in charge, and nor has he really moved the needle on our xG despite us having loads more of the ball. Trying to do the first half of the season with Lyndon Dykes, Charlie Kelman, Sinclair Armstrong and Rayan Kolli as your forwards was suicidal, and it’s lucky we’re not dead and buried already. If we try and do it again from now to May you and I will be going to Barrow via Prestwick Airport next season.

The problems with that, over and above it being a bad time of year to try and do business, are multiple. We suspect, from reading the accounts, and looking at our behaviour in the summer transfer window, that we’re incredibly close to the line on FFP, if not beyond it. We’ll know more when the next set of accounts (for the Mick Beale season) land at the end of February. It would have been nice to see Newcastle chucking Palace some Saudi blood money for Eze, or Gareth Southgate being brave enough to give him the England start we need to trigger another payment rather than the substitute appearances he’s had so far which do not. We have, over the last few months, basically sponsored everything that’s not tied down, but I’m not convinced exactly how much revenue that will have generated - the naming rights to the ground went for £400k a season, from which not many centre forwards can be bought – nor how much of it is available to spend versus how much of it about getting/keeping us under the FFP line.

Gareth Ainsworth’s aversion to loans – or, perhaps, more pointedly, other managers’ aversion to loaning players to Gareth Ainsworth – means we have all five of those spots open. That could be a source of salvation. Forward thinking clubs higher up the chain will be much more willing to loan the hordes of excellent young boys from their respective puppy farms to a Marti Cifuentes style of play than they would be what was going on here earlier. But these loans are not free, they often come with conditions and financial penalties around picking the player, and we’ve had three bad ones to every success story since returning to this league. In tough times those loan players often spend much of the second half of the season in self preservation mode as they think about their contract or next loan for next season – just look at some of the pathetic behaviour we had from the borrowed sect of our squad last season. They’re also very difficult deals to do early in the window, with the Premier League 25 man squads not finalised until the end – and, like we say, our January fixtures look to hold the key to surviving or not. Ideally we need two or three newbies through the door literally the day after tomorrow.

Another possibility is Cifuentes’ knowledge of the Scandi market having worked in Norway, Denmark and Sweden. That’s a market previously plundered well by the smart data driven clubs, and while the wonderful sunlit uplands of Brexit and its points system has hampered that slightly it is still possible to shop there. Their summer seasons mean it’ll be difficult to loan, but there may be players out of contract there this January that Cifuentes will know fit into his style and system a lot better than the ones he’s inherited here do, particularly in attack.

Now, again, that’s QPR doing what manager wants manager gets, which I hate, and never works here. But, having allowed ourselves to drift into a transfer window that could make or break the club for the next ten years without a replacement director of football, and with a CEO who’s now also the chairman, it feels pretty fucking inevitable to me at the moment that Cifuentes and Andy Belk’s recruitment department are going to be driving this in much the same way Ainsworth was allowed to burden us with a whole load of 30-somethings on two year contracts in the summer. Unless Jude’s got any ideas from his long, lonely nights on Football Manager?

Resolutions for 2023 I might do as the Bournemouth preview, but both regular readers will know I don’t think we can continue with the manager dictating the signings, the director of football post unfilled, and a CEO and chairman who’s the same person. Medium and long term I want Cifuentes as head coach, a director of football driving the strategy, and a new CEO bringing much needed fresh ideas and energy in that department. We ain’t getting that in the next couple of weeks, and this month is going to be absolutely crucial. It needs to start with a win tomorrow really. We’ve beaten Cardiff frequently, they're one of only five teams we've beaten this season, hell we’ve beaten them twice recently on New Year’s Day. We need to do so again here.

A Happy New Year to you all. I hope.

Links >>> December downturn – Interview >>> Bowles and Givens down Cardiff – History >>> Kitchen in charge – Referee >>> Cardiff Official Website >>> Three Little Birds — Blog >>> CCMB — Message Board >>> Wales Online — Local Paper >>> Mauve and Yellow — Blog >>> View From The Ninian — Website and Podcast

90s Footballer Conspiracy Theories No.22 In The Series – Chris Fairclough believes we all still live on Pangea, and maps were created by Big Boat to sell more “around the world” cruises.

Below the fold

Team News: Probably the most nervous wait for the team selection of the season so far. A winnable home game, and a chance to pull back within a point of Huddersfield who are away at Leicester, but a number of key players picking up injuries at Ipswich on Friday. Steve Cook and Chris Willock both had to be subbed with knocks, Ilias Chair appeared to cramp up, Sam Field was treated on the field, and Reggie Cannon did a full 90 which usually means he misses out the next game. They’re taking a check on Jack Colback and while Morgan Fox is now available he hasn’t played at all since the end of September. Ilias Chair has been left out of Morocco’s squad for AFCON. Sam Field remains two yellow cards away from a two match ban – he’s on nine but one of those was in the League Cup. We’re offering a mystery shopper experience at Bicester Village for any sighting of Taylor Richards.

Cardiff’s recent decline in form has coincided with injuries to Callum O’Dowda, and particularly star attraction Aaron Ramsey who’d scored four goals in six games for club and country just prior to him getting crocked at the end of September. The predictable Friday loss to Leicester saw them lose both starting strikers – Karlan Grant in the first half, and Kion Etete on the hour. Neither are likely to feature here, they were replaced by Callum Robinson and Yakou Meite in that game but it was Ruben Colwill who impressed most from the bench and will surely start. Defender Jamilu Collins has been surprisingly left out of Nigeria’s squad for the AFCON.

Elsewhere: For now it’s back to looking like three from a bottom four of Rotherham (17 points), Sheff Wed (19), QPR (21) and Huddersfield (25) for the drop. We’ve got easily the nicest fixture of the four teams tomorrow, with Rotherham away at Blackburn (four defeats in a row), Sheff Wed hosting Hull in the early evening TV game, and Huddersfield taking an injury list 12-deep to Champions Leicester.

There’s then a clutch of five teams on 28 and 29 points that we had rather reeled in prior to our ill-timed run of five without a win. Wayne Rooney’s Birmingham City, who were sixth when they sacked John Eustace, continue to descend at a rate of knots. They really are recreating their Rowett to Zola season all over again it seems, with the brains trust of Rooney, John O’Shea and Ashley Cole tanking them down to fifth bottom prior to an incredibly difficult trip to Leeds. Stoke, who won at Birmingham over Christmas to move above them, host Ipswich, who seem to be wobbling rather under pressure from the two parachute payment clubs behind them (Southampton are at Norwich). Then it’s Plymouth, still searching for a manager as Watford visit Home Park. The 29-pointers are Swansea, at home to West Brom, and Millwall, who’ve suddenly won two in a row and now go to Bristol City.

The lunchtime game is Honest Mick’s second chance to make a first impression on the Stadium of Light when Sunderland host Preston Knob End. The only other game we haven’t mentioned is Boro v Coventry, a repeat of last year’s play-off semi-final.

Referee: Andrew Kitchen is in his first year of Championship refereeing, and made his debut at this level with our 1-1 draw against the other South Wales team, Swansea, back in September. Unfortunately he did rather miss the Swans punching their goal into the net with a fist that night. Details.

Form

QPR:There have been significant improvements to QPR’s defensive record since Marti Cifuentes has taken over. The 0-0 draw at Ipswich on Friday was a fifth clean sheet in 11 games under this manager after the team only kept five in the previous 40. Unfortunately, Cifuentes is finding the same problem as his predecessors getting this team scoring. Rangers haven’t scored a goal for three and a half matches, and have drawn a blank in four of the last five. They have failed to score in six of the manager’s 11 in charge. Four of the ten goals we have scored under Cifuentes came in the home game with Stoke. Unfortunately after initially starting with two draws and three wins from the manager’s first six, Cifuentes’ QPR are now winless in five and are four points adrift in the relegation zone.

Cardiff are a rare example of a team QPR have a substantial positive record against – 41 wins to their 28. Rangers won the first meeting in August, one of only five victories so far, and are unbeaten in the last three against this opponent. The R’s have only lost one of the last 11 meetings. The Cardiff City Stadium is one of those grounds notoriously travelsick QPR have a weirdly decent record on. They’re unbeaten in their last four visits, winning three, conceding only once. Rangers have only lost two of ten since the switch of stadiums winning five of those. There was a 20-year gap in league meetings between these two, 1980/81-2001/02, with three separate cup ties in between which either went to a replay or were two legged anyway. Since the fixture was regularly rekindled with a League Cup game in 1999/00 QPR have been to either Ninian Park or the Cardiff City Stadium 17 times, winning eight, drawing six and losing only four. At Loftus Road we’ve won five of the last six and lost only one of the last eight. Cardiff came here on New Year’s Day in 2018 and 2020, losing 2-1 and 6-1. They were also beaten by a Marc Nygaard header here in a December 28 fixture in 2005.

Cardiff: Cardiff stayed in the division last year only courtesy of Reading’s points deduction. Without it they’d have been third bottom. They worked through three managers, won just 13 games, and even when Sabri Lamouchi got them going enough to keep their heads above water they still lost seven of their final 13 games when supposedly battling for survival. Expectations outside the city were low before the start of 23/24 despite a creative summer recruitment drive under partial transfer embargo. Two draws and two defeats to begin felt par for the course but Erol Bulut then masterminded eight Championship wins, a couple of draws and just four defeats in 14 games through to the end of November to have City in amongst the play-off picture.

The Welsh side come into this game in less decent nick, however. Injuries have bitten and form has tailed away through December with five defeats and a draw from the last eight matches. The wins came at home to struggling Millwall (1-0) and away to basement dwellers Sheff Wed where they scored on 74 and 88 to turn a defeat into a victory. Leicester, Hull, Birmingham, Southampton and West Brom have all beaten Cardiff in the last month and City didn’t score a goal in any of those games. It’s now only three wins and six defeats in the last 11 games. Away from home they’re 4-2-6 with the wins coming at Sheff Wed, Preston, Huddersfield and Sunderland. Karlan Grant and Ike Ugbo are the top league scorers here with four.

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…

“A fixture that brings back good memories but not a good time for us at the moment. The Ipswich performance was a positive but you just can't read into how we play from game to game at the moment.”

Aston’s Prediction: QPR 2-1 Cardiff. Scorer – Lyndon Dykes

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

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062259 added 02:50 - Jan 1
Just can’t see where the goals are coming from. Not enough creativity, delivery or penetration from midfield or wide, Dykes looking more and more like the second coming of Conor Washington, and Armstrong no longer the phenom-in-the-making we all hoped for when he broke through. Crunch time.
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dunners added 09:00 - Jan 1
To churn these out every other day at the moment is unbelievable! Amazing dedication and always, always worth a read. Thanks so much. Yes, it's a big one today, lack of goals is a big concern, have no faith in any loans coming in and looking arsed for a relegation scrap, but that's the last hope we have.
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TacticalR added 14:55 - Jan 1
Thanks for your preview.

Warburton has been vindicated in hindsight, especially as the drop in form at the end of his reign came once it was known his contract wasn't going to be renewed. The DoF and chairman soon scarpered when they didn't have Warburton to hide behind.

I can't see any alternative to Cifuentes getting what he wants as there is no DoF.

With Cardiff's recent dip in form, it sounds like it's going to be the battle of the two non-scoring Malaysian teams.
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Loft1979 added 21:06 - Jan 1
Post-match:

-When I saw the team sheet I was switched off. BUT post match this team, hardly the team from Friday, could have pulled something off. We know Cook is far far and away our best defender, Colback is a notch over Dozzell. Point here is we know what we lack.

Considerate of all the talk, well presented in this post how can we keep Chair? If Dykes is courted certainly he must be swapped for cash. $6M, If Leeds really are still interested must be a carrot to large not to grab. The DNA of the team would benefit for an infusion of new spirit.

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hixepeg940 added 20:10 - Feb 22
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