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Queens Park Rangers 1 v 2 Watford
SkyBet Championship
Sunday, 14th January 2024 Kick-off 12:00
New broom? – Preview
Friday, 12th Jan 2024 23:33 by Clive Whittingham

QPR have the new CEO that was so obviously coming and needed, but it’s a left field appointment and he brings predictably bad tidings about January reinforcements.

QPR (5-6-15 LLLDLL 23rd) v Watford (9-9-8 WWLDDW 10th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Sunday January 14, 2024 >>> Kick Off 12.00 >>> Weather – Bright and cold >>> Loftus Road, London, W12

As expected, Queens Park Rangers have a new CEO. Christian Nourry, fresh from California-based sports analytics and data specialists Retexo/the set of Made in Chelsea, is to replace Lee Hoos. It ends the American’s eight-year stint at the helm of the club.

LFW has been persistently telling you it was on the cards since October when Amit Bhatia departed his figurehead role as chairman. That left Hoos effectively serving as chairman, CEO and director of football all rolled into one – or Emperor, as R Generation’s Ben Sumner neatly summed it up.

Governance wise, a dreadful set up. One guy marking his own homework. Also, a hell of a lot of power and football-related decision making to be done by one person who had, when he arrived at the club, initially played the ‘dumb Yank’ card in meetings with supporters. Hoos would be the numbers and figures guy, leaving and enabling the football people to make the football decisions... he said. Quite the journey from that to his quotes in a deep dive by The Athletic into the state of the club earlier this season when he said the departure of Les Ferdinand as director of football (DOF) without replacement wasn’t a big deal as his experience at Southampton, Fulham, Leicester and Burnley meant he could easily do the deals working with the recruitment department and manager. A summer followed that saw, among other masterstrokes, a two-year contract for 34-year-old Jack Colback, running out the last of the fumes from the FFP tank and meaning there is zero pounds and zero pence to do anything about our predicament this January.

It was never going to sustain, and to be fair it was never meant to sustain. Hoos has risen without trace since that ‘promotion’, from a guy who was a constant presence around the club to one the staff mainly saw only on matchdays. He’s been looking to move to a more hands-off and figurehead role - effectively retirement - for some time and there was always going to be a new CEO early in the New Year. The club has felt like it’s been rather drifting since then, with only Marti Cifuentes sent out to speak to the plebs shortly to be paying League One’s most expensive season ticket prices.

Hoos is somebody I’ve gone out to bat for a few times and really quite liked during his time here - certainly a lot more than many fans and the journalists who cover the club. Contrary to the brash Baltimore exterior, terrible jokes he cracks at fans forums, and the recent video where he was seen flipping a middle finger to an agitated fan on the street, I’d always found him very open and personable. Certainly the best CEO I’ve dealt with through LFW bar Mark Devlin. A world away from the, frankly, fucking horrible and arrogant Ali Russell, and the bumbling Phil Beard trying to be everybody’s friend. When legendary QPR fan Tom Harrison passed away mid-December at the height of the Covid pandemic lockdowns, Hoos risked ruining his own family break by attending the socially distanced funeral a few days before Christmas Day on behalf of the club. He would regularly give up space in his car and drive fans to away games that had been affected by late television changes.

We’ve currently got one of the club’s highest earning players tossing it off, removed from the squad by a third manager in succession, who fans are willing to give benefit of the doubt to over some perceived mental health problem that may or may not exist. Lee Hoos managed a business that relies on crowd attendance through a pandemic lockdown, he did so with his family and kids split between America and the UK at a time when travel was all but forbidden, his dad passed away, and his mother is poorly. I haven’t really heard a word, among all the criticism, justified or otherwise, about how he’s doing. Just videos from people who drove past a guy walking home from work and abused him from their moped.

Hoos, initially, was hot on the finer details in a way his predecessor Phil Beard simply wasn’t. Beard paid for that at a fans forum when dozens of people whose emails he’d been ignoring turned up en masse to berate him over failed family memorials and botched school visits. Beard hid at the back of the room the year after. Hoos fronted up every time, and was super hot on responding to correspondence one way or another – either agreeing and acting, or thanking you for your time and explaining why you were wrong. You may not have liked his reply, but you got a reply. When Norwich bumped our midweek game at their place to an 8pm kick off last season, meaning the travelling fans would miss the last train home, Hoos had the decision reversed within 48 hours of me emailing him during his annual leave in America to point this out.

I was impressed with him initially when he came in, sweeping into a complete financial train wreck left by combinations of Tony Fernandes, Mark Hughes, Mike Rigg, Kia Joorabchian, Harry Redknapp and Beard. He spoke about QPR the way I saw QPR, as a club that had basically tried to behave like a mini-Man City while playing in front of 15,000 people in a ramshackle old ground. Putting £12m signings from Champions League clubs on north of £100k-a-week to work on a piss poor training facility borrowed from a college. They’d twice had a Premier League windfall, and twice spent it on cunts like Joey Barton – investing zero in infrastructure or securing the future of the club. It was a club that had a world record fine for a sporting sanction levied against it for trying to do a Championship season on a record breaking pay roll – and still nearly bollocksed up the promotion that saved it from oblivion. The Zamora goal may be romantic but that play-off final at Wembley was a £15m salary bill vs an £82m one.

Hoos said we would have to live within our means more, develop players to sell, hack into the wage bill. Not because we wanted to, or the owners were pulling the plug, but because those were the rules of the league and we were risking the very future of the organisation by not. I agreed with him. QPR risked being this decade’s Bradford City. Initially the wage bill was halved and then halved again without the club losing its Championship status, which is a very difficult thing to do. He said he would answer any question we put to him and, while we wouldn’t always like the answer, he promised he would never put the future of the club in jeopardy or have FFP problems the likes of which we had before. Communication with supporters, relative to what it was before, went through the roof. Hoos also said if he did one thing before he left it would be to get a new training ground over the line and, while that became far more expensive and fraught with difficulties than it appeared when he said it, he’s succeeded in that.

There have been smaller positives and negatives: terracing is back at Loftus Road for the first time since the 1990s and looks great; but has enough been done marketing and effort wise to build the fanbase up to a point where you’ve got a waiting list for tickets to really push home your case for a new stadium? In the first meeting I was ever in with Hoos, when we thought we were going to quiz him, he turned the room around and asked us to list the best and worst points of the club, what we thought were its main opportunities and problems. We finished with ‘the stadium' at the top of both the positive and negative list. A cave that can intimidate opponents and be weaponised by the team, but a millstone around the club’s neck in the modern sport. Zero progress has been made on that front, and his hostile public and private attitude towards the council has dug us ever further into an already deep hole.

The new badge process was well run, produced a great result and almost unanimous approval which is a difficult thing to achieve. Hoos was rightly and fairly keen to point to things like the fan zone, cheap tickets in X Block, safe standing, and a reduced average age of attendees, but Loftus Road has rather felt like it’s been left to go to rack and ruin. It is a poor matchday experience. The place needs a coat of paint, at least. Hoos would tell you he’s trying to encourage people to take a season ticket and reward them for that, but in doing so the attitude (and cost) towards new fans and walk ups is not that of a club trying to build up its support base. Rather the opposite - often the club has felt like it’s actively trying to discourage you from spending your money with it by tolerating the online ticket portal and merchandise operation being unusable, bug-riddled shite for years.

On reflection, given we’ve just splashed Amit Bhatia’s name on the South Africa Road stand as an FFP dodge at a moment’s notice, perhaps digging his heels in quite so much about The Stan Bowles Stand was also a battle that didn’t need to be fought quite so ferociously. Trying to teach QPR fans about fiscal discipline by making them raise £5,000 to stick a dying legend’s name on one stand, while at the same time chucking good money after bad at Mick Beale, Taylor Richards, Andre Gray, Tyler Roberts, Steve McClaren, Tomer Hemed… poor. Often people found what result you got from Lee Hoos depended on the manner in which you approached him, and perhaps the people running that campaign would also reflect they went a little hot, heavy and confrontational to begin with. Still, perhaps he’d have liked to exercise a little more discipline of his own on some of the commercial deals we did during his time – DryWorld, Football Index, Royal Panda each blowing up in our face in turn. And if Ruben could just whack some spurious company name on the ground or a stand and have it count favourably against FFP, why weren't we wise to that before? Stoke were.

Ultimately though, as he acknowledges himself, nobody ever went bust by ordering too much stationary. You’re assessed by results on the pitch. His time here will be remembered for the state the club was in when he left – League One bound, and absolutely fucked on the Financial Fair Play rules.

Over time there have been incidents where one of the shareholders has swooped in, seagull management style, and foisted Ian Holloway, or Steve McClaren, onto Hoos and Les Ferdinand. Fans need to understand that – you can have all the plans you like, it’s the owners who call the shots, and if Tony Fernandes needs to scratch his McClaren itch then scratch it he will. But, then, both Lee and Les knew what they had with Bright Osayi-Samuel, knew McClaren was being an idiot for not playing him (“who does Bright have to blow to get a start” is, I feel I can now say, a quote from Hoos at that time), and didn’t have the courage of their convictions to renew his contract regardless. This became a theme of them both – having the right idea, and either not following through with it or not being allowed to follow through with it. Too many times they let things go on they knew were contrary to the plan, but did it anyway - McClaren bombing out Manning and Bright; Warburton renewing Lee Wallace’s contract, or signing Moses Odubajo, or loaning and then retaining Andre Gray; Beale bringing in all of his boys. Some players - Mass Luongo, Jake Bidwell - were signed, even in straightened times, on deals we could never possibly hope to renew. The wage bill has, more recently, ballooned once more.

Hoos had the plan, a plan I was fully on board with and signed up for, and then the very first chance they had to abandon it they did so. All it took was half a hot season in empty stadiums with some loans playing well. After building steadily through the helpful sales of Alex Smithies and Luke Freeman, they landed the golden goose they’d dreamed of in Ebere Eze and the chance was there to get a conveyer belt of talent rolling, get money flowing, obliterate the FFP problems, and build holistically and organically as clubs like Brentford and Luton have. Instead, they went all QPR, spent all the money on waster footballers and expensive loans, went back to wildly rotating managers, and haven’t sold a single player for any decent money since. They’ve bemoaned modern footballers and their reps’ attitude to contract negotiations – Bright, Manning, Willock. But several of their big projects – Dunne, Dozzell, Willock, Chair – are still here, rotting. Others – Dickie, Dieng – had to be jettisoned for whatever we could scrape together for them because we didn’t actively try to shift them in their prime and their form cratered. It was almost certainly the owners driving that 2021 overspend and Ferdinand and Hoos doing what they were instructed by their bosses, and besides the plan they had was one for a pre-Covid-19 age before the Championship transfer market essentially collapsed. Either way, they were both a part of exactly what they said they would never do, and the club should never do, and that’s why we’re in the state we’re in now.

We asked Hoos in interview in the summer of 2021 whether we were pushing the boat out and he said no, before going on to warn clubs away from bidding for any of our players because the answer would be no and he didn’t want anybody trying to unsettle them with offers. That was exactly the point we needed to be selling again. Would it have been unpopular? Sure, of course: “Show some ambition”. But he’d promised he would make those unpopular choices, and when it came to the crunch he got swept up with the rest of us and made the populist moves. Now he’s unpopular anyway, and we’re screwed.

Hoos and Ferdinand were basically done for from that point. Everything they stood for and came here to prevent summed up in one extortionate loan deal for Andre Gray. They knew it as well – Les basically rolled over and let Mick Beale recruit who he wanted with disastrous consequences, and the finer details element of Hoos’ approach that I liked so much initially wouldn’t even survive one brief look at the stadium these days. We’ve had to switch our first game of the season because the pitch wasn’t ready, we initially planned the safe standing area on what was quite clearly the wrong side of the Loft, there was a hairbrained scheme to charge for entry to the Blue and White Bar... The communication, another initial strong suit, has died away to a point of complete silence. I haven’t been to a meeting with anybody from QPR in yonks. Maybe I’ve gobbed off too much. Hoos was exciting and energetic when he arrived – I remember him bounding into the Crown and Sceptre before one midweek game to run past a few of us the idea of The Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium. We don’t see or hear from him any more. He has looked, and felt, done, for a while now.

An early positive, therefore, of Christian Nourry’s arrival is that change, fresh ideas and revitalised leadership were absolutely, desperately, palpably needed here. He may look, and sound, like an Apprentice candidate whose business plan for a medically questionable range of laser eye surgery while-u-wait clinics is torpedoed in an early round by him pouring beef stock into a vegan chocolate brownie recipe, but any change, anybody, is better than no change, and status quo – no, not you Shaun Harvey. This guy is young, fresh, vibrant, full of new ideas, and keen to do things differently – in theory, exactly what we’ve been crying out for while talking about how tired and run down Hoos, Ferdinand et al look. Let’s see how long it takes him to be QPR’d. He’s also already been at the club since the summer as part of Retexo’s audit of the business on behalf of the owners. So, he is coming into this job completely eyes open to the fucktastrophe that is the current state of QPR and cannot possibly ever say there was stuff that wasn’t in the brochure – as Beale stated in a meeting with us last August and I fear Marti Cifuentes is fast feeling.

The decision to jettison Ainsworth and hire Cifurentes, which Nourry seems to be claiming at least some credit for, was excellent, if belated. Cifuentes though, as we’ve previously reported, had been on the radar for 18 months prior. Still, that’s one in the win column already. He’s also quickly identified that our wild swinging from one style of manager to another, and giving each of those managers the power to dictate our recruitment, has us on the fast and expensive first class tickets to Fucksville. Identifying a way you want to play, project yourselves, exist and be as a club, and then basing every recruitment decision and signing around that, is fundamental in the modern sport and QPR simply don’t do it. In the last three transfer windows we’ve signed Leon Balogun, Tyler Roberts, Ethan Laird, Chris Martin, Elijah Dixon-Bonner, Jamal Lowe, Steve Cook, Jack Colback and Paul Smyth – this is, how can I put it, incoherent. As if allowing Beale to join on the proviso we didn’t sell any of our last three sellable assets when we desperately needed a sale, then letting him bring all his little boys in here, wasn’t mad enough, to then double down a third time and let Gareth Ainsworth burn off the very last of our FFP headroom on his “culture guardians” – two centre backs who are never fit to play, a goalkeeper that’s too busy flogging merch to catch crosses, and a midfielder who tries to get injured or suspended every time he goes on the pitch – was certifiable. It’s good to hear somebody at QPR singing off the LFW hymn sheet on that front.

Retexo has history in helping clubs restructure their academies, or so says its founder Charles Gould. Thank God. Come in. Make yourself at home.

Chris Ramsey’s departure may be another early good sign of somebody running a finger down payroll and asking “WTF is this?” Or that Amrit Bansal McNulty thing coming home to roost. Since he was retained after being sacked as first team manager nobody has ever been able to adequately explain to me what Chris Ramsey is doing here. His role (and salary) were apparently big bone of contention (and ridicule) among Mark Warburton and his staff, which contributed to that breakdown in relations. We have an academy manager, Alex Carroll, but the whole thing seems to be run by Ramsey, followed closely at all times by Manisha Tailor. Parents tell us the feedback and decisions on their boys’ future comes from those two. And yet whenever I treat myself to some posh seats on the train back from the first team away game, there’s Chris Ramsey – so is he first team, or academy? Mick Beale, fairly mischievously and almost certainly deliberately, told us all he’d got him coaching the strikers – in one fell well-placed quip reducing the “director of coaching” to a bibs balls and cones man, for a group of strikers everybody knows couldn’t hit a stable door with a bed pan. Beale described our B Team as “something you came up with to give people something to do”.

There’s been an outpouring of support for Ramsey, firstly from Ilias Chair who he brought to the club, helped sign permanently at the end of his trial when several of our youth coaches were voting against a deal, and then pressed Ian Holloway to pick. Ramsey also has a £20m Ebere Eze on his CV. And the egregious EPPP regulations make it nigh on impossible to make a go of category two academy in London - Chelsea's Alfie Gilchrist and Liverpool's Harvey Elliott both in League Cup semi-final action this week, two of a dozen kids stolen from QPR as boys for a collective sum of a paltry £750k during Ramsey's time here. But, let’s be honest, there’s a lot of very mediocre footballers owe that man for keeping them off the tills at Tesco. I’d be grateful too. We have an academy not producing players, with the owner's son playing in goal for one of the age groups. It’s been nuts for a long time that this club, losing this amount of money, has had this many staff producing this little. I suspect a few others are now nervous of their own positions and rightly so – that’s long, long overdue.

Nourry’s talked better communication with fans, which would be very welcome after the last few months of radio silence, but we’ll see – easy promise to make. Likewise, his focus on a future-gazing data approach – brilliant, in theory. For all the talk, QPR are miles behind most others on their use of data and analytics. A comprehensive review of the academy and more sophisticated approach to recruitment we’ve clearly been crying out for, but is this us, again, pursuing a development model when the Championship transfer market has collapsed? Coming up with a plan for 2014 in 2024? Noticing too late what others were doing years ago? Are we guilty of chasing a pipe dream, because it sounds good and polls well, of being more like Brentford and Brighton when in fact their owners are so embedded in sports gambling and analytics that they have access to data we can only ever dream of? Our owners run a container port.

Retexo specialises in finding new sporting directors, head of fitness and performance directors for football clubs – Ben Williams, who arrived here in the summer, is one of theirs which shows how long this has been in the pipeline. The company has previously been involved with American investor groups, advising them on buying European football clubs. That might be useful. Also, Nourry’s thoughts on multi-club ownership, which would be one obvious way to play our way out of FFP hostilities once and for all – oh, look, it’s Watford and their 65 separate transactions with Udinese everybody.

The negatives… well, just look at him. He looks like a sub-character in Cruel Intentions. I want him and his tennis club friends to trick me into losing my virginity.

This feels like one of football’s toughest CEO jobs at the moment and he’s a pup. I was sure The Independent reported tonight he’s 26, and later just left it vague as “the Football League’s youngest CEO”. There is a director registered on Companies House to his name born 1997, but I’m not convinced it’s him. The BBC have gone with it. If it is him then his early claim that he’s been in football for 11 years is quite something, because he was seemingly at Oxford for a good chunk of that. If playing for your school team and setting up a blog counts as "being in football" then I'm starting to wish I'd applied for this gig myself. We asked the club tonight to confirm his age and they said they weren’t able to do so.

It needn’t be a problem whether he’s 26, 36, 46 or whatever – my God do we need some fresh energy and ideas – but, let’s be honest, he’s got absolutely nothing at all on his CV that qualifies him for this job. A bigger job even than Hoos had, because I believe this is us rolling the CEO and DOF positions into one and handing him the keys. It feels very much like we’ve had a new, trendy company come in to audit the business and then, having heard their findings, turned round and said “well, do you fancy it then?” Haven't seen the likes since Mark Bowen's detailed search for a new Reading manager concluded the best man for the job was… Mark Bowen (another of our club's recent chancers). We’ve got a League One team, stadium, budget, and recruitment which isn’t even at that level. We want to compete in the Championship. It feels like somebody with the experience of doing those things at difficult to manage football clubs might have been in order here. Somebody who knows how to over-achieve on a small budget. Who's been dragging small, dysfunctional clubs up by their boot straps into ever higher leagues? Look for somebody like that. Every appointment is a risk, this is hellishly so.

Typical LFW, demands change then slags off the change. Well, if you think I’m being harsh then understand how we’ve been burned before under this ownership. This fits their pattern of behaviour. We, they, are an absolute sucker for a smooth operator with a good PowerPoint presentation – the flashy option, the short cut, the think we’re being clever idea... Miguel Delaney reports tonight how European execs were wowed by Nourry’s presentation at a conference in Turkey, dubbing him the “Lionel Messi of football business” due to his precociousness. Oh God, oh God. This feels very Mike Rigg and Mick Beale.

I get the club are under siege, I get they’re paranoid, but the video interview with Nourry on the official site, which jumps about and feels cut up like a paper chain, with enormous great clunking edits at 3.20 and 7.30, and a whole other bit spliced in where he talks about what great owners we’ve got, had my Marge Simpson growl gathering decibels. Platitudes about falling in love with the club and the ground, watching games recently from all parts of the stadium, just don’t wash with us anymore, not because of the water pressure but because we’ve heard it. Several of the lines actually felt like they’d been picked deliberately off the message boards and social media to try and strike chords with the long sufferers. “Football is supposed to be fun”, hmmm now where have I heard this before?

The main things you’ll find of the guy online are him being a quote-for-hire for respectable publications like The Athletic and FT on all things football finance. All the time networking, building a reputation and getting your name out there. Doctor, my Mick Beale gland is twitching. I’m desperate for QPR to snap out of their malaise, be more innovative, do things differently, set trends rather than follow them. Man alive I hope this is that. Imagine if this is the start of it turning – it will turn, I promise. But have we once again been charmed by ‘a talker’? QPR, the Edna Krabappel of football, a smart woman who makes bad choices. 'I’ve worked for Roma and Athletic Bilbao you know'. Wonderful here’s a key to my apartment and the code to my ATM card.

We’ll find out in time whether this is the brave, revolutionary appointment we desperately need, or QPR’s benevolent and accident-prone owners being benevolent and accident-prone again. Short term the most important part of his interview was his confirmation of something else LFW has been telling you for a long time: there is no money this January. We’re maxed out on FFP, we’re going with what we’ve got.

That almost certainly now means that however good Nourry is, and whatever his plan may be, he and it will be starting in League One in August. See you in Barrow.

Links >>> Defensive set piece déjà vu – Analysis >>> Bucking trends – Interview >>> Diakite’s comedic terror – History >>> Prem official – Referee >>> Watford Official Website >>> WFC Forums — Message Board >>> Watford Observer — Local Press >>> Voices of the Vic — Podcast

90s Footballer Conspiracy Theories No.24 In The Series – Guy Shittingham thinks I only run this website because I’m a “self-absorbed narcissist who loves to feel as if they're the centre of a court and needs to feel important.”

Below the fold

Team News: With the busy Christmas period over, a number of players sitting out the Bournemouth game, and Rangers back on one match a week for now – mostly at home – the hope is a clutch of returning ‘stars’ might kick the team into some life. We’re yet to hear from Marti Cifuentes ahead of the game and will update if and when we do, but Ilias Chair, Chris Willock, Jake Clarke-Salter and Jack Colback were all in the training pictures taken yesterday. Steve Cook was not, and you’ve more chance of spotting an affordable rental property in London than you have catching sight of Taylor Richards.

For Watford, the ongoing indecision over whether Ryan Porteous or Francisco Sierralta should be the right centre back in a defence without a clean sheet in 12 may have been dealt a decisive blow by the latter’s uneasy afternoon against non-league Chesterfield in the FA Cup last weekend. Dananananana Bachmann was given the captaincy and a new long contract in the summer, but the goalkeeper has always divided opinion at Vicarage Road and hasn’t played in the league since being sent off at Leicester at the end of November – Ben Hamer is now first choice, though Bachmann did return for the cup. Imran Louza, outstanding against us on day one but without a goal since, was also dropped after being subbed in the 56th minute of that Leicester defeat and has only made one sub appearance in the Championship since. Jeremy Ngakia, another star performer in the first meeting, is out long term, with one of the goalscorers that day, Tom Dele-Bashiru, often filling in there. Ken Sema is also out and there’s no Jamal Lewis to back up veteran Jake Livermore in midfield either. Watford have completed 65 separate transactions with partner club Udinese over the last 11 seasons with 44 of those a loan or undisclosed fee – nothing coming over the Alps to help out this January just yet though.

Elsewhere: QPR going last this weekend, with a Sky kick-off time tantamount to a war crime, could be a help or a hindrance. Huddersfield host a Plymouth side on Saturday still yet to win away on their return to the Championship, and now shorn of outstanding midfield pair Luke Cundle and Finn Azaz who’ve been recalled by their parent clubs and immediately sold to Stoke and Boro respectively. Argyle have stuck with the Championship theme and trend by giving former England U18 manager Ian Foster the big gig to replace Stephen Schumacher and if he can new manager bounce his way to a win then Rangers will know they can go to within one of the Terriers with a positive result on Sunday. Plymouth lose and Rangers will be kicking off at least seven points adrift of safety.

If Huddersfield do lose then Sheff Wed may have already taken that opportunity to climb out of the bottom three for the first time this season. They’re three points back but there’s only one in it on the goal difference. Wednesday have staged a remarkable rally with six wins from their last nine games and this week added former Cardiff striker Ike Ugbo to their forward line. Quite how miracle working 34-year-old Danny Rohl missed out on the Championship manager of the month is a bit of a mystery, but then Russell Martin did as well despite Southampton being a club record-equalling 19 games unbeaten and that is at least, from our point of view, a very tough awayday assignment for the Owls tomorrow.

Rotherham, meanwhile, could be level on points with us by the time we kick off – they’re three points back ahead of a home game with Stoke, but there is a significant goal difference barrier to overcome for them to climb above us in the table.

It does once again feel like three from those four at the moment. Birmingham have 28 points, three more than Huddersfield and seven more than us and felt on a real slide under the brainiest of brains trust run by Wayne ‘Wazza’ Rooney and Ashley Cole. Moany Towbray, sadly, feels like a very sensible ship-steadying appointment, and he starts what we assume will be a bit of inevitable climb away from danger at home to another managerial appointment I like a lot Notts County’s Luke Williams is in at Swansea – they really will be back to Swanselona style under him.

The Swans are part of a clutch of clubs we could catch if we could string some results together, but feel a long way off because we can't. Plymouth and Stoke we’ve already mentioned are in that group, and Argyle really are having a nightmare with their star players and manager being picked off. If Morgan Whittaker were to leave as well then who knows? Blackburn are sliding into that pack as well, with excellent midfielder Lewis Travis allowed to leave for Ipswich (more brilliant business by the Tractor Boys ahead of a home Saturday nightery with Sunderland), and there’s a tough trip to West Brom to come this weekend for Rovers. Millwall have won three games in succession to climb safely away, they’re at home to injury ravaged cup heroes Boro.

At the irrelevant end of the table Champions Leicester have a ten point gap to Ipswich and 13 to Southampton ahead of Saturday lunchtime’s pretend derby with Coventry. Ipswich we’ve discussed, now struggling to hold off the Saints after a tough Christmas of no wins in five. Leeds have their annual friendly at Cardiff this weekend and are five points back in fourth after their own recent wobbles. Hull can climb above Sunderland into the play-offs if they beat Norwich at home on TV this evening (another kind Friday night pick for the visiting fans by the host broadcaster that one) and the weekend is concluded by Bristol City v Preston Knob End which is of interest to nobody.

Referee: It’s Premier League official Simon Hooper for this one, his first game at Loftus Road almost two years to the day since his last – and that West Brom match report makes for quite a read given what’s gone on since. Details.

Form

QPR: After starting life at QPR with three draws and three wins for 12 points from his first seven games in charge, Marti Cifuentes has now overseen a winless streak of seven with only two points added to our pathetic league total which currently stands at 21 points – 31 shy of what’s usually taken as the guaranteed safety mark of 52, with 20 games left to play. QPR likely need at least eight or nine victories from the remaining fixtures, almost half of them, having only won nine of their last 59. We are four points off Huddersfield as it stands, with Sheff Wed now above us – a team we could have opened up a ten-point gap on had we hung on four more minutes at Hillsborough before Christmas.

So much of that recent damage has been done from one source of goals. Only Blackburn (eight) have allowed more goals from corners than QPR (seven), seven of the last nine goals Rangers have shipped have been from dead balls, and nine of the 14 conceded under Cifuentes have been from set pieces. That’s such a ball ache because, in open play, Cifuentes has immediately and successfully tightened what was previously one of the league’s worst defences. We have kept five clean sheets in 13 games after five in the previous 39. We have conceded just five goals in open play in Cifuentes’ 13 matches, after conceding 21 in the prior 13.

The gritty 1-0 win against Watford here in March was QPR’s only home win in 23 attempts across an entire year. They’ve since managed to add Hull and Stoke to that tally, but again come into this match on a run of one draw and three consecutive defeats at Loftus Road. Historically Watford, a team we’ve played more than any other apart from Norwich, are not a bad opposition for us – 52 QPR wins to 34 Watford. Rangers had won three and drawn one of their last four visits to Vicarage Road prior to this season’s calamity, winning promotion there in 2011. However, Watford were won of only five sides to beat that all conquering Neil Warnock team, ending a 19 match unbeaten run with a televised 3-1 win in December and Rangers have only won four of 12 meetings in W12 since the fixture was rekindled in 1998/99.

Watford That 1-0 defeat at Loftus Road in March was part of a nine month stretch of games for Watford, encompassing three managers, without an away win. Between a 1-0 at Norwich on January 2 and a 1-0 at Swansea on October 24 the Hornets were winless in 16 away trips, losing nine. Valerien Ismael has really transformed that since though, and Watford arrive at Loftus Road with one defeat in seven away from home, including wins at Swansea (1-0), Hull, Blackburn (both 2-1) and a 5-1 at Preston. Their only defeat was a 2-0 at leaders Leicester and they drew 3-3 at Plymouth in their last league game before the FA Cup weekend. They’re 4-4-4 overall away from home in the league.

That’s rather typical of the turnaround enacted under Ismael’s guidance in general. Watford are in danger of completing a season with the manager they started it with for the first time since 2016/17 when Walter Mazzarri led them to a seventeenth placed finish in the Premier League, six points clear of the drop, but was fired immediately following the final game at Man City after finishing the season with six successive losses. That didn’t look likely in mid-autumn – contrary to Gareth Ainsworth’s claims after the 4-0 victory over QPR on day one that the Hornets might well be the champions, they then won only one of the next 11 games and were dumped out of the League Cup by Stevenage. When successive games were lost to Leeds, Boro and Sunderland leading into October the fans became restless and it felt like the Pozzos would swing football’s most bloodied axe once more. Instead, they renewed Ismael’s contract. Since then Watford have lost only three of 17 games, winning eight and climbing into the top ten in the Championship.

The high-scoring draw at Plymouth was also a microcosm in its own way. For all of Watford’s improvements, in general and away from home in particular, the defence is porous. They haven’t kept a clean sheet for 12 games – and that in a 5-0 rout of bottom placed Rotherham. They’ve scored four against QPR, and five against both Rotherham and Preston, but conceded four at home to Bristol City over Christmas followed by three at Home Park and Boro and Leeds have also both scored three against the Hornets this season. The 42 goals they’ve scored is a total substantially better than two of the four teams currently in the top six, and is bettered only by the top four and Plymouth, but 36 goals conceded is the worst total in the top ten and is also more than Millwall in fifteenth and Stoke in eighteenth have conceded.

It's another oppo profile this week where the fans agree their team needs a striker. Mileta Rajovic is top scorer here with ten in league and cup, Vakoun Bayo has six, Matheus Martins has five from midfield, Kaymebe and Asprilla have four apiece – QPR’s top scorer in the Championship this year is Lyndon Dykes, Chris Willock and left back Kenneth Paal, each with three.

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. Reigning champion Aston says.

“While you never really know which QPR will turn up at any given time, that second half v Bournemouth was a real killer. If we don't have any of the injured players available, this could be another disappointing day. I'm going 2-0 to Watford, no scorer.”

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

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-2 Watford. Scorer – Own goal

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Pictures — Ian Randall Photography

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