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Fan Focus: QPR’s current woes are hauntingly familiar - could Sunderland’s be even worse?

Our long time QPR corespondent Clive Whittingham is back to speak to us ahead of our trip to Loftus Road. The Loft For Words chief knows exactly what its like to support a club who has spent daft money on terrible players, so strap yourself in!

Queens Park Rangers v Brentford - Carabao Cup Second Round Photo by Linnea Rheborg/Getty Images

RF: It hasn’t been the greatest season for you but you’ve never been in any real danger when it comes to relegation. What’s your overall feeling on the campaign?

CW: Yeah, we’ve never been closer than six points to the relegation zone (and that was only for half a week) and we’re ten away now. Not that you’d know it if you follow QPR through social media – League One stalks us at every turn apparently.

It has been, almost exactly, the season I expected. I predicted we’d be sixteenth in all the pre-season stuff we did, we’re sixteenth now and have been kicking around sixteenth for the last five months. Barring a collapse – and don’t put that past us, we’ve been very prone to suddenly losing six games in a row since Ian Holloway returned – it looks at the moment like we’ll finish there.

The main aims for the campaign were to further reduce the size of the squad and the size of the wage bill, get rid of the last of the big earners, start getting some of the kids actually playing first team football, remain competitive on the pitch and stay in the league. At the moment, we’re just about doing all of that. The home form actually stands up against some of the play-off contenders (eight wins), the away form is second only to Bolton in its absolute awfulness (two wins).

Initially the home games were very entertaining and we were unlucky not to win several away games – Sheff Wed, Sunderland, Barnsley and Bolton all featured a catalogue of missed chances and all finished as draws. We then went on a bad run before Christmas which sapped a lot of confidence and the home games have become more of a grind while the away performances have quite often been absolutely pathetic since the turn of the year.

Crowds are down, apathy is high, there’s a lot of dissent, but we need to go through this process to get the finances of the club and the wage bill into a position where it qualifies for FFP and enables us to move forwards. The latest set of accounts suggest we’ve done that and if we do indeed finish where we are now it’s an acceptable campaign as long as we’re aspiring to better next season and have a plan to make it happen.

Queens Park Rangers v Middlesbrough - Sky Bet Championship
Will Ian Holloway be in charge of QPR next season?
Photo by Harry Murphy/Getty Images

RF: When we spoke earlier in the season you mentioned that QPR were scaling things back after years of throwing money around. Since it looks like you’ll be staying up, does this make you confident for next season after a year of transition?

CW: Well the latest set of accounts released this week (covering last season) show losses down from £11m to £6m and the wage bill down from £40m to £30m. I suspect that wage bill will come down by a similar amount again for this season so it’s heading in the right direction. We’ve also got this monumental fine (north of £40m) for breaching FFP previously still working its way through the court.

We were run appallingly in the early Tony Fernandes days, with him throwing good money after bad, a CEO with absolutely no football experience signing off on eye-watering contracts, and Hughes/Redknapp saddling us with a collection of disgustingly overpaid, under-worked, usually over-the-hill, poorly behaved, under committed players from their favourite agents. That’s taking some recovering from – we’ve only just managed to shift on Steven Caulker after three years of him sitting on his arse drinking while earning north of £40k a week. Sunderland know all about this sort of shit, of course.

I think the majority of fans accept that we’re going through a necessary period of cuts. Just standing still at this level while cutting back and cutting back some more is progress of sorts, but it’s difficult to do and it doesn’t sell many tickets, nor provide much motivation for the playing squad – who do seem like a good bunch these days.

But this can’t just be us forever – happy to just stay in the Championship and not lose an absolute fortune. We have to show we can move forwards. Preston, Huddersfield, Burnley and others have shown you can compete at the top end of this division spending a fraction of what we’ve been doing and we need to see some progress towards that next season. We’ve got another load out of contract this summer which will hopefully create the wiggle room for us to make a couple more signings like Josh Scowen and Luke Freeman, bargains we’ve managed already.

RF: What about Ian Holloway? I’ve seen a few murmurs about fans not being happy with him. If the club start looking to push on, do you think you’ll look for a new gaffer?

CW: First thing to say is the blood lust at QPR is fairly notorious. Since the money arrived a decade ago the board and a section of the fans have believed, been conditioned to believe and behaved as though every problem can be solved with another change of manager and another six signings. For several years now we have always, always, wanted the manager sacked and another half a dozen signings made.

Ian Holloway has a very difficult job for the reasons already outlined. Expectations are still high because we were recently a Premier League team, but he’s being asked to oversee a drastic reduction in wage bill and player spend while at the same time keeping the team competitive on the field, and of course making sure the football is entertaining. That’s a tall order, so I have some sympathy for him.

The away record is appalling, we’ve won three away games in well over a year and two of those were at woeful Birmingham. He shows no sign of being able to solve that. His tactics and team selections can be a little wild, and often very frustrating – though to come back to my first paragraph, this idea that we’re only one more player or a slightly different formation away from salvation is a bit of a stretch for me. He doesn’t help himself winding up Millwall and Brentford fans and then losing to them. He doesn’t help himself having a go at QPR fans for leaving shit games early, either.

I’m on the fence as you can tell. I wonder what other manager would want to come to QPR in its current form, with no money to spend on players and a remit to reduce the wage bill while progressing the team. I wonder why people believe another change will improve things greatly, when the last five managerial changes have produced no improvement in results whatsoever. I wonder why people have faith that after getting the last five managerial appointments wrong our club would suddenly be able to find and appoint this mythical, brilliant manager who’s so keen to come to a skint club for some reason. And I wonder whether the money it would cost to sack another under contract coaching team wouldn’t be better spent on a better centre back than Lynch and Baptiste.

Sheffield United v Queens Park Rangers - Sky Bet Championship
Luke Freeman has been an assist machine for The R’s this season
Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

RF: On to the game and who should Sunderland fans be worried about in the QPR side? Anyone in good form?

CW: We’re very reliant on Luke Freeman who leads the division in assists. Our strikers are very poor – we’ve suffered there more than anywhere else on the pitch with Newcastle and Villa inflating the market to £8m for even a bog standard Championship striker we just can’t compete. We’ve got a young kid from Northern Ireland called Paul Smyth who’s quick, skilful, nasty and caused Derby all sorts of issues on Tuesday night.

Ebere Eze, bit of a maverick number ten type, spent the first half of the season on loan at Wycombe and scored some eye-catching goals, he might get a first start on Saturday after impressing as a sub on Tuesday night.

The whole team is built around a midfield three of Freeman, Luongo and Scowen, but they’ve been flogged to death through every minute of every game and the latter two have looked very tired in the last couple of games.

RF: And what about our lot? Anyone you’ll be keeping any eye on?

CW: McGeady always plays well against us, and scored in the first game of course, and it would be typical QPR if Kazenga LuaLua, who looked fat and disinterested with us in the first half of the season, suddenly turned up and had a blinder.

But, to be honest, and I’m not just saying this because of the season you’re having because I always give the same answer when I’m asked this question - nobody. I don’t mean that in a horribly arrogant way, it’s just that the Championship is the absolute definition of mediocre. The vast majority of games I watch at this level could easily finish in the other two outcomes – we could have lost and drawn against Barnsley but won 1-0, we could have won or drawn at Wolves but lost 2-1, we could have drawn or lost at Burton but won 3-1, we could have won or lost on Tuesday against Derby but drew.

There are far too many fixtures played far too close together, far too many bang average players earning ridiculous money, far too many clubs mismanaged and the result is an attritional league where the vast majority of the games are sub-standard 90 minutes of two limited teams crashing into each other, with no real pattern or plan and at the end we have a count up of the score. Albert Adomah was a threat when we played Villa, Canos at Brentford, Jota and Douglas at Wolves, Sessegnon at Fulham, but really you can count the players that are genuinely brilliant and an actual threat in this league on the fingers of two hands. I’m not saying we’ll definitely win, I’m not saying one of yours won’t wop one in the net from 35 yards, but honestly when you’re playing us or Barnsley or Preston or Norwich or Ipswich do you really worry about any of the players you’re facing?

Queens Park Rangers v Wigan Athletic - Sky Bet Championship
Kazenga LuaLua could be back in the Sunderland team to face his former club this weekend
Photo by Clive Rose/Getty Images

RF: How do you expect Holloway to approach the game and what do you think the starting line up will be?

CW: We’ve been playing a back three all season, with Jake Bidwell and Pawel Wszolek rather pressed into service as wing backs to no great effect. That was all designed to get Freeman, Scowen and Luongo playing together in the middle of midfield which was our main strength.

Then it’s been mainly Smith and Washington up front. After Forest took us apart, and under growing pressure from the stands, that was finally changed on Tuesday night to a back four with two threes ahead of it which worked quite well, and then later a 4-2-3-1 without Washington for the final 20 minutes which worked very well.

We’re all hoping for more of the same on Saturday, maybe with starts for Smyth and Eze at the same time which might be quite exciting.

RF: Finally, can we have a prediction please?

CW: Based on last night’s improved showing against Derby, and hoping we stick with the same system and style, I’ll back us to win 2-0. But QPR have a long history of being very, very charitable to teams and/or players on bad runs so it might be a good game for you to have.