Opposition Focus: QPR


Image: Fulham FC

We spoke to QPR supporter Clive Whittingham from the fans website LoftforWords to get a QPR perspective ahead of tonight’s game…

QPR vs Fulham: What’s the first thing that comes to mind?

Many lovely long afternoons drinking by the river ruined by the football. Always falling down that one step in The Putney End that is weirdly deeper than all the others. Conceding many, many goals almost immediately from the kick off. Heading back to the pub at half time.

On a happier note, there was an Adel Taarabt goal stroked in with the outside of his foot from 20 yards that I still see when I close my eyes and go to a happy place.

Like Fulham, you’ve lost your opening two fixtures. What has gone wrong since the restart?

We were actually second to Leeds in the form table when the lockdown came: we’d just won away at Preston with ten men to move within six points of the play-offs, we were playing nice stuff and scoring a lot of goals, and our remaining fixtures were almost entirely against teams right down the bottom of the table so there was a good deal of optimism around.

There had been a few warning signs in the last few weeks. Our club is quite sensibly run these days, compared to the shambles in the past, and they’re usually quite measured about what they say publicly but they came out very aggressively against the restart date, all hot and heavy about what a disgrace it was to be expected to get professional athletes ready to go in three weeks and things like that. We then lost 4-1 to West Ham and 7-1 to Chelsea in warm up friendlies. We also released a couple of experienced players, Marc Pugh and Grant Hall, early – Pugh because further appearances would have triggered an extension we couldn’t afford to give, and Hall because he’s out of contract and didn’t want to play.

So there were a few alarm bells ringing there if we’d been listening out for them and we’ve returned with two, frankly, pathetic performances against Barnsley and Charlton and two 1-0 defeats against two of the division’s worst sides. We’ve barely threatened the goal in either game, and looked actually a lot less fit and up for it than the opposition. Quite a few players who had been going really well for us prior to lockdown now look a bit disinterested and like they’re just happy to avoid injury and mark time before their move somewhere else at the end of the season.

You’re 8 points above the bottom three and 10 points behind the playoffs. Are you looking ahead, over your shoulder or is your season over?

Yeh it’s probably over and that’s such a shame. Had we beaten Barnsley and Charlton, which shouldn’t be that big an ask but we’ve somehow failed to do it once in four fixtures this season now, then we’d be coming into this game tenth, four points off the play-offs, unbeaten in eight games and in great shape. Instead it’s all doom and gloom again.

It shouldn’t see us sinking into any real trouble. There are only seven games left and even if we were to lose all of those then to get relegated you’d still need Hull, for instance, to win three of their seven which you would say is unlikely looking at the state of them. One draw would leave Hull requiring four wins out of seven, one draw and one win means they have to win five out of seven. QPR have enjoyed seeing how close they can push these sorts of situations in recent years, but they’ve tended to end up sixteenth or thereabouts for four years now and it’s starting to look like that’s where we’ll be again. A shame, because for a lot of the season we’ve looked a lot better than that.

Can you see Eberechi Eze staying at QPR next season?

No. One, because he’s obviously a seriously good player already with the potential to go on and be even better. Liam Kelly our goalkeeper was on the Open All R’s Podcast recently and he said that Todd Kane (ex-Chelsea) and Luke Amos (loaned from Spurs) have both said that if Eze turned up at either of those clubs now and the players there saw him in training they’d think he was absolutely unbelievable. Any Premier League club should be having a look really.

Two, because he’s only got two years left on a contract and he’s clearly not going to be extending here. That’ll reduce his value a bit, and means we need to get big money now for him or risk losing a huge asset at a cut price next summer or, even worse, when the deal expires the summer after. Post parachute payment, with all the historical mismanagement, with owner spending restricted by FFP and with a small, old ground the only way QPR can progress from here is by buying low and selling high frequently. We tend to let what few good players we do find ourselves with go far too cheaply. We need to be regularly selling players for £8m, £10m, £12m and in Eze’s case more than that, and then reinvesting in three or four more.

Three, he’s English. Not to mention the B word but we still don’t know exactly how hard that’s going to be, what it’s going to look like. I’ve heard talk of exemptions for footballers and so on. But as it stands will it be as easy to sign foreign players in the future as it is now? Will there be a premium on British players? A 22-year-old Greenwich lad who’s clearly got plenty about him could be a very nice investment for a club right about now.

What have you made of Mark Warburton’s time at QPR so far?

The faults we were warned about by Forest, Rangers and Brentford are mostly true. He’s an idealist. He’ll talk constantly about how we need to defend from the front, defend as a team, strikers need to defend, midfielders need to be in shape and so on and so on, but we concede goals for fun. We run a defensive set up at opposition corners where our tallest, best headers of the ball mark zonally along the edge of the six yard box, then our smaller players try and man mark their big threats as the cross comes in. Nobody on the posts. If it sounds counter intuitive, you wait until you see it in action. It’s mental. Charlton the latest in a string of sides to score a soft goal off a corner against us on Saturday. We’ll go to Cardiff, have 70% possession, lose 3-0 to their only three shots on target, and he’ll praise the team for sticking to the game plan.

However, the good far outweighs the bad. I like him. I think he speaks a lot of sense, contrary to the warnings we had about hackneyed PR lines. He’s actually developing and coaching the young players and giving them a chance in the first team – Ilias Chair, Ebere Eze, Bright Osayi-Samuel, Conor Masterson and Ryan Manning have all grown into first team mainstays and actually improved as players this year, contrary to the “you’ll have to get me some Premier League loans” approach of super-coach Steve McClaren. Some of the football we’ve played has been fantastic, there have been many very entertaining games and big wins after several seasons of grind.

You’ve also got to remember what he inherited. We won three games in the whole second half of last season. We had to sell what few competent players there were from that already very poor team – Furlong, Luongo, Freeman. The wage bill had to come down again. We had to shift 16 players on last summer and build an entire team with nothing really to spend. We’re relying on loan strikers. We’re relying on kids to step up. FourFourTwo season preview had us 22nd and a lot of fans feared the worst. Even allowing for this little blip in the last week, we’ve far exceeded expectations and looked pretty good doing it at times. It would be a shame if that drifts away over these next seven games because opinion changes against managers very quickly at QPR in the social media age and by and large Warburton has been great so far and that shouldn’t be forgotten because of a lacklustre end of season in strange circumstances.

Which current Fulham player would you love to see in a QPR shirt and why?

We can’t afford to buy strikers in the current market. We’ve been relying on loans for several seasons now and sometimes they come and they’re up for it and they’re good like Nahki Wells, and sometimes they’re a massive, disinterested old lump like Tomer Hemed. If Mitrovic could somehow wind up under a permanent contract with us he could elbow as many people in the head as he liked for all I care. To be honest Bobby Reid, Cavaleiro, Kamara – if we could own them and not loan them we’d probably take them.

In the formation we play we’re also short of one of those midfielders who stands in front of the back four and can not only defend adequately, but also take the ball on the turn and feed it forwards with any sort of quality. We’re kind of muddling through with Geoff Cameron, Dom Ball and Luke Amos sharing that position at the moment, so one of those would be nice.

How do you see the game panning out?

Well we’ve both come back in lousy form and yet to score so some sort of tight, niggly local derby with both teams just happy to finally get a goal and a point on the board maybe?

Score Prediction: 1-1

Top 6 and Bottom 3 Predictions?

I’m starting to fear Brentford might sneak into the two. Eye roll. They’ve come back flying while West Brom are starting to remind me a bit of us under Redknapp – all the big money talent and strikers in the world but a bit stodgy and lacklustre. I’d love Leeds to blow it but you didn’t do a lot for that dream at the weekend. Leeds, Brentford, West Brom, Forest, Fulham and please dear God not Wayne Rooney’s Derby County or we’ll drown in a tidal wave of cum flowing out of the Sky Sports Studio.

The only one I’m sure about at the bottom is Hull. Barnsley might have left themselves a bit much to do. Huddersfield are quietly sloping back into the shit. Middlesbrough will probably make a late charge for the play-offs now on the Twelfth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour.

Thanks to Clive Whittingham from the QPR fans website LoftforWords for answering our questions. Check out their match preview with Focus’ Dannyboi  who answered their questions on Fulham’s season so far…