West Brom v QPR: Inside track on Albion's promotion decider
West Brom face a final day promotion decider against QPR - after seeing Brentford slip up over the weekend.
With the Baggies simply needing to match Brentford's result, Albion need a win to ensure they're playing Premier League football next season, although a draw or even a defeat could be enough should Brentford and Fulham slip up on the final day.
We spoke with Clive Whittingham from the LoftforWords podcast and David Fraser from The QPR Podcast to get a proper look at QPR.
See what they had to say here...
What sort of form are QPR in heading into this huge game against West Brom?
CW: Lockdown has been bitterly disappointing for a lot of QPR fans. We went into it unbeaten in six, six points off the play-offs, playing well, scoring goals. There was a good deal of optimism around the place.
There were a few warning signs as we approached the restart.
The club is usually pretty measured and sensible with its PR output but we went very hot, heavy and aggressive against the restart date, describing it as a disgrace, saying it risked player injury etc. That didn’t feel like a club that was ready to start again.
We released Marc Pugh and Grant Hall on the eve of the season, two senior players.
A lot of the optimism was having nine games left that included fixtures against all the teams at the bottom but we started with a 1-0 loss to Barnsley, quickly lost 1-0 at Charlton barely registering a shot on goal in either, and have since lost to Wigan, drawn with Luton, been absolutely pumped by Sheffield Wednesday and beaten by Fulham.
We suddenly clicked back into our earlier season form against Millwall at the weekend, playing lovely football, attacking with abandon, scoring from all over the place, defending like idiots, so that was a huge relief and great to watch.
But our summer form has been pretty abysmal, and the Sheffield Wednesday performance last week was completely unacceptable - the worst we’ve seen at Rangers for a very long time.
DF: Ummm….weird. Very weird.
We have, by and large, been dreadful post-lockdown. In our first seven after the restart, we lost five. It was boring and painful.
Then at the weekend against Millwall, we won 4-3 playing like we did before March – free-flowing, exciting, attacking football…and all without a striker on the pitch.
A betting woman would steer clear of this game – there is no way of predicting which QPR team will show up.
With the season essentially done and dusted at Loftus Road, do you think there could be some lack in motivation in the R's ranks?
CW: Well we get some more money for Furlong if you guys go up so we’ll shake hands on that now and not bother coming if you like?
There’s been a lot of discussion about why we’ve fallen off so badly.
Injuries, senior players departing pre-lockdown, losing Nahki Wells late in January, have left the squad quite thin and relying on a lot of younger kids to step up.
It’s also a fact that three of our best players this season – Ryan Manning, Bright Osayi-Samuel and Eberechi Eze – are highly likely to move on this summer, and there’s already been a bid for Bright so he won’t play in this game.
Until this week against Luton and Millwall they’ve all been particularly poor compared to their pre-lockdown form and it’s attracted the accusation that they’re just trying to get through these games un-injured so the moves still go through. We’ll never know the truth of that of course, and they were all suddenly brilliant again in the last two games, but it’s been something that was thrown around.
It could be that in playing all of the relegation threatened teams we actually ended up with a load of games against teams with a lot riding on it, so they went all out while we didn’t. Or the team might just not be very good, and having done well to get to the 50 point mark pre-lockdown they just didn’t have a lot left in the tank.
Through it all it’s important to bear in mind that we were a hot tip for relegation at the start. FourFourTwo had us down as 22nd.
We’ve been getting our house in order after years of excess, cutting the wage bill back frantically, which is difficult to do while maintaining your place in the league.
We won three games in the whole second half of last season, sold the best players from that team (Freeman, Luongo, Furlong) and tried to do a turnover of 16 out and 16 in last summer.
Expectations were not high and if you’d told people we’d finish mid-table, score a tonne of goals, win seven away games, play some wonderful football, develop Eze, Bright, Chair, Manning and others into sellable assets… I think most people would have snapped your hand off for that.
It’s just disappointing the way it’s ended.
DF: The motivation for this game is all over the place.
From the supporter’s point of view, I am not saying some fans want us to lose because…there may be a kernel of truth in it for some. That’s because a QPR win will likely see either Fulham or Brentford promoted – and neither of our West London neighbours are Rangers’ fan’s favourites, put it that way.
There is also another quirk to this fixture where, apparently, if West Brom get promoted (i.e. QPR lose) then the Baggies owe us money as part of a Darnell Furlong sell-on clause.
All this of course means we will go against the grain and thump you because that will be the most Queens Park Rangers thing to happen (probably).
With it being the final game of the season, could Mark Warburton name some youngsters in the team, or will he go full strength?
CW: You’ll be getting what we’ve got left.
We only named six subs against Millwall and among them we had Joe Gubbins and Faysal Bettache who are two youngsters without a start between them.
Osman Kakay and Conor Masterson have been quite impressive but, again, they’re academy graduates you wouldn’t be expecting to start under normal circumstances. The U23 squad is still furloughed so we can’t call up any more from there.
Jordan Hugill pulled his hamstring at Middlesbrough and is our last recognised senior forward; Bright Osayi-Samuel has been outstanding this year but we’ve accepted a bid from Club Brugge for him so he’s withdrawn from the squad; Grant Hall said he didn’t want to play the lockdown games because he’s out of contract; we released Marc Pugh prior to the restart because further appearances would trigger a contract renewal which we didn’t want to give him; Angel Rangel snapped his Achilles at Luton last week.
We’re not blessed with a lot of options. Bring your boots, you might get a game. Unless you’re Jack Clarke, in which case absolutely not.
DF: Those things are not mutually exclusive for us right now.
We barely have any players left, as evidenced by us being three (THREE!) subs short against Millwall.
Since March, our captain (Grant Hall) and a senior player (Marc Pugh) have left for financial reasons, our only striker (Jordan Hugill) has been out for three weeks, our most senior player (Angel Rangel) has had his season cut short with a serious injury and Bright Osayi-Samuel will be out of the team as Rangers protect his value before a rumoured big-money move to Belgium.
Our bare bones have got bare bones at the moment and there is a decent chance I might even get a game.
What sort of style of play can we expect from QPR against Albion?
CW: Mark Warburton likes us to pass the ball, commit a lot of men to the attack, have the full backs playing as extra wingers, and basically just try and have a lovely old time of it.
We’ve scored four or more goals in five home matches this season, including five through Swansea and six through Cardiff. We’ve scored 65 goals – only the top three have more. We’ve conceded 74 goals – only Luton and Hull have done worse. We see things like defending corners as a bit beneath us. Quite often it’s been tremendous fun, at others immensely frustrating.
DF: It depends which QPR show up.
For most of lockdown we have been turgid, out of sorts and redefining relegation form. But against Millwall we brought back some of the swashbuckling football that we played earlier in the campaign.
Although we are without a striker at the moment, our talisman Ebere Eze should be playing and with the possibility of this being his final game before a big summer move, we would love to see him go out on a high.
Are there any injury concerns at Loftus Road?
CW: See answer above. There’s some suggestion Hugill might have recovered but I’m not sure why a player who’s only on loan and is presumably looking for another move out of West Ham for next season would rush back from a hamstring injury to play this game.
We saw with Rangel, who’s 37 and out of contract, picking up a nine month lay off last week at Luton what can happen.
DF: Well our squad has been decimated in recent weeks for various reasons although there are rumours that Hugill might be available in what would be his last game before he returns to parents club West Ham.
It would be nice to see him as he has had a decent season for us.
What's your predicted XI for the game?
CW: Lumley; Kakay, Masterson, Barbet, Manning; Amos, Cameron, Ball; Eze, Chair, Shodipo
That’s an U23 graduate; U23 graduate, free from Liverpool, free from Brentford, small fee from Galway; loan from Spurs, free from Stoke, free from Rotherham; U23 graduate, U23 graduate and U23 graduate. Jake Livermore probably earned more money this week than the team we’ll put out on Wednesday cost in total.
DF: Lumley, Masterson, Barbet, Cameron, Kakay, Ball, Amos, Shodipo, Manning, Eze, Chair.
What have you made of Albion from afar, obviously should they beat QPR they go up automatically, do you think they could cut it in the PL?
CW: Honestly my expectations weren’t that high at the start of the season but when you look at the team on paper I’m not quite sure why that was.
You’ve obviously got a couple of outstanding players with no business being at this level in Pereira and Diangana. I’ve always loved Romaine Sawyers and he’s exactly the sort of player we need deep in our midfield.
Johnstone, Phillips, Livermore, all those sorts that are a bit too good for this league and not quite good enough for the one above. Ajayi seemed a good signing, Furlong I really liked at ours, and you’ve got a ridiculous collection of strikers compared to most, particularly for a team that often only plays one up front. We’ve done half a season with Jordan Hugill and nobody else, compare that to what Bilic has had to work with.
But then just lately you’ve kind of reminded me a bit of Harry Redknapp’s QPR. All the talent, loads of players for every position, money spent, and yet a bit sloppy and sluggish and crawling towards the line at the business end of the season.
Four league games in a row against Wigan, Swansea, Birmingham and Brentford without scoring a goal when you’ve spent the money you have and got Austin, Zohore, Robson-Kanu, Leko and Robinson to play up front supplied by Phillips, Diangana, Pereira, Grosicki, Sawyers etc just seems mad to me and obviously there’s been quite a serious choke against Blackburn, Huddersfield and Fulham more recently which you’re lucky to get away with thanks to Brentford bottling it at Stoke.
In 2013/14 we absolutely coasted through the first half of the season, went eight games without conceding a goal at one point, it was almost too easy. We had a ridiculous squad with an £80m p/a wage bill.
When Charlie Austin got a shoulder injury in January we went out and added Kevin Doyle, Will Keane, Mobido Maiga, Ravel Morrison and Yossi Benyoun as cover, to a squad that was already paying Andy Johnson, Bobby Zamora, Niko Kranjcar, Matt Phillips, Junior Hoilett... And that was just the forwards.
And yet through the second half of that season the football was dire, the results were mediocre, we ended up in the play offs.
The players who didn’t make it onto the field for the Wembley final against Derby included Benoit Assou Ekotto, Tom Carroll, Benayoun, Ale Faurlin, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Aaron Hughes, Jermaine Jenas, Johnson, Keane, Maiga, Luke Young… It was sick really, and quite how all that outlay and all those players couldn’t be fashioned into a top two side in the Championship by famed man manager and uber motivator Barry Redchapp only he knows.
Looking at West Brom adding Robinson and Grosicki to what you already had, and then struggling to win and score goals when it’s really mattered at the end of the season, brought back quite a few memories.
The good news is we went up anyway, and so will you I think.
DF: I think I said this last time, but I like them. Good players, a good manager and a good club. And it’s ever so nice of you to keep Charlie Austin warm for us before he returns to West London one last time before he retires (we love that guy).
Out of all the top eight teams in the Championship table, I think the ones best prepared for the PL are Leeds and West Brom – you guys seem a stable outfit, well coached and with some top division quality. What could do for you, if you get there, is the lack of preparation time before the new season.
Your match prediction?
CW: I wouldn’t worry too much about it lads.
DF: It’s so utterly ridiculous that we could get anything from this game, or that we should with the whole Brentford and Fulham dynamic. And therefore it’s so obvious that we will win. Sorry.