The Build Up: QPR vs Middlesbrough
Boro travel to the capital with the wind in their sails to take on Championship promotion rivals Queens Park Rangers.
Theatre of Dreams, you bet it is! After a Friday night clash that will be forever cherished by those of a Middlesbrough persuasion, Boro are back in league action once more.
Chris Wilder and his side take a trip to the capital on Wednesday night, as they take on one of the Championship’s in-form sides in the shape of Queens Park Rangers.
The sides met each other way back in August at the beginning of this season, and I was Mark Warburton’s side that took all three points back to London, as the 10 men of Rangers ran out 3-2 winners thanks to a Chris Willock winner.
Boro have failed to beat QPR in any of their last five league encounters, but will that change on Wednesday night? Here’s everything you need to know ahead of it.
Queens Park Rangers
Nickname: The Hoops/The R’s
Stadium: Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium
Current league position: 4th
Last season finish: 9th
Manager: Mark Warbuton
Current Top Scorer: Lyndon Dykes (8)
Fun fact: Since forming as QPR in 1886 (played under the name of Christchurch Rangers from 1882-86), QPR have moved home ground location 18 times.
QPR have been constantly moving in the right direction since current manager Mark Warburton took charge in the summer of 2019. A 13th placed finish in 2019-20, was improved upon by a 9th placed finish in 2020-21, and now The Hoops sit 4th with 18 games to play.
In an attempt to find out more about this upward trajectory and the potential reasons for this, I spoke with Clive Whittingham from the widely popular QPR fansite and forum, Loft For Words (Twitter - @LoftforWords). Here’s what Clive had to say on his QPR side.
What’s your thoughts on QPR’s season so far?
“It’s been very good. We finished last season strongly after making a clutch of loan signings in January, and with that run of form sustained through to May and the loans then made permanent in the summer there was a deal of expectation around Loftus Road for the first time in a number of years.
“That expectation has been met, a push for automatic would surpass it. We’ve spent the last five or six seasons cleaning house after the gross excess and mismanagement of our most recent Premier League years, so to be honest it’s just been nice to be competitive again, play some nice football, have some players to get excited about, rather than grinding away to sixteenth every year and then trying to hack back at the wage bill again.”
What are the things you’ve been most impressed with about your side?
“That we’re competing at the top end of this league without parachute payments against clubs with vastly bigger budgets than ours. I see Scott Parker describing his Bournemouth squad as “thin” and being handed another half a dozen players on deadline day – they’ve got a £25m midfielder, that’s more than twice what we’ve paid for our entire squad.
“QPR used to be those guys, but we’re not any more, we’ve spent years dragging the wage bill down from its grotesque £80m p/a high under Redknapp to a sub-£20m now.
“We’re in the bottom half of the Championship for wages paid now, so to be up there swinging punches with a team that’s got Mitrovic up front on £100k+ a week, another with Solanke et al, another that can spend £8m on Dike and then when he gets injured just get Andy Carroll in, is very impressive. We play decent football as well, I enjoy watching us.”
Which players should we be watching out for?
“Having lost Luke Freeman when he was our outstanding player, then sold Ebere Eze when he was probably the best player in the league along with Jarrod Bowen, and losing Bright Osayi-Samuel in amongst it all as well, you’d fear for our creativity a bit but Chris Willock has been an inspired use of a very meagre amount of money.
“His form has gone up another gear still over the last six weeks, just when we worried that Ilias Chair heading to AFCON may hinder his and our performances. He’ll be playing Premier League football soon with or without us if he keeps this up.
“Other than that we have three very good centre backs who are all in form. Your old boy Albert Adomah is having a great Indian summer as a reinvented right wing back. I never realised how good Stefan Johansen was until we got him here. The one drawback, really since Bright left us, is it’s quite a slow team – not a lot of blinding pace around.”
How will QPR likely set themselves up tactically for this match?
“With Sam McCallum making a run out for the U23s today we’ve got as close to a fully fit squad as we’ve had all season. I’d be surprised if it’s anything too far away from Marshall; Adomah, Dickie, Dunne, Barbet, Wallace; Johansen, Field, Chair; Willock, Dykes.”
Clive’s Match Prediction
“I’ll fence sit with a draw. My predictions are terrible.
“I’m looking forward to the game. Huge fan of Chris Wilder since his Alfreton days crossed over with my time working a local newspaper there, love his attitude and the way his teams play, and I think we’ve got a great manager with a team playing the right way so it should be a great game between two good footballing sides, confident, and in form. Nil nil then.”
The Form Book
Middlesbrough (Last six: WWLWWW)
Manchester United 1-1 Middlesbrough (7-8 Pens Boro, FA Cup)
Middlesbrough 1-0 Coventry
Blackburn Rovers 1-0 Middlesbrough
Middlesbrough 2-1 Reading
Mansfield Town 2-3 Middlesbrough (FA Cup)
Blackpool 1-2 Middlesbrough
QPR (Last six: LWDWWD)
Peterborough United 2-0 QPR (FA Cup)
QPR 4-0 Reading
QPR 0-0 Swansea
Coventry City 1-2 QPR
QPR 1-0 West Bromwich Albion
QPR 1-1 Rotherham United (8-7 Pens QPR, FA Cup)
Head-to-Head League Record
Matches played - 35
Wins - Middlesbrough 10-16 Queens Park Rangers
Draws - 9
Goals - Middlesbrough 41-54 Queens Park Rangers
Points - Middlesbrough 39-57 Queens Park Rangers
Last League Meeting
Middlesbrough 2-3 Queens Park Rangers - August 18, 2021
Middlesbrough 1-2 Queens Park Rangers - April 17, 2021
Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Middlesbrough - September 26, 2020
Middlesbrough 0-1 Queens Park Rangers - July 5, 2020
Queens Park Rangers 2-2 Middlesbrough - November 9, 2019
Middlesbrough 2-0 Queens Park Rangers - February 23, 2019
7th/8th (depending on Luton vs Barnsley result), won 13, drawn 6, lost 9
Goals scored 32, goals conceded 26
Clean sheets 11
4th, won 15, drawn 6, lost 7
Goals scored 44, goals conceded 31
Clean sheets 10
Middlesbrough’s monumental effort that paid homage to the ‘Theatre of Dreams’ name did so at a potential cost.
An evening which was spent largely chasing the ball and springing counter-attacks, 120 minutes followed by a nerve-shattering penalty shoot-out will have undoubtedly taken its toll on the legs of those now immortalised Middlesbrough players.
A fact that Boro boss Chris Wilder acknowledged in the days following the match, whilst stating that he will be brave if he feels the need to rest and rotate his squad on Wednesday night, and indeed for the remainder of the season.
Some of those players who look the most likely to be potentially rested would be Matty Crooks, Jonny Howson, Marcus Tavernier and Andraz Sporar, who have all played practically every minute for the Boro this season.
But Wilder has been handed a team selection boost, as midfielder Riley McGree has now returned a negative Covid-19 test and is available to make his debut on Wednesday, with the Boro boss admitting that the Socceroos international would have made his Boro debut against Manchester United in some capacity if he hadn’t been isolating.
Wednesday night could also see Martin Payero and Duncan Watmore brought back into the starting XI, as Wilder knows he will have to be smart and shrewd when it comes to balancing his team selections if he intends to keep his side fit for their promotion run-in.
Marc Bola is expected to remain sidelined for a further month, whilst the nature of Sammy Ameobi’s mysterious absence has been revealed, with Wilder confirming that he has a knee injury and like Darnell Fisher, will be out for the remainder of the season. But at least we now know that he does exist.
As for Rangers, Mark Warburton is expected to field a stronger team than he did in their weekend’s cup defeat to Peterborough United, as some key men look set to return to The R’s starting lineup.
Chris Willock, Sam Field and Yoann Barbet were all rested at the weekend, and all three are expected to make immediate returns to the starting XI. Barbet especially, as the central defender has made 89 successive league starts for The Hoops, a run which stretches back two years.
Elsewhere, Andre Gray has returned to the UK following the conclusion of the African Cup of Nations (AFCON), with Warburton hoping that the once reported Boro target will be available to return to the matchday squad.
However first-choice goalkeeper Seny Dieng is still in the process of returning to the country after being eventual AFCON winners Senegal’s back-up keeper, and thus will not be available for Wednesday night. 36 year-old David Marshall will deputise.
Exciting young winger Sam McCallum has been dealing with a hamstring injury since late October, and has now all but returned to full fitness. However, the 21 year-old will be given a week or two in the youth team to build up match fitness, and thus won’t be available for this match.
Speaking after Middlesbrough’s heroic win at Old Trafford, Boro boss Chris Wilder praised the togetherness of his squad, as he told the press:
“There are some talented boys here. I inherited some decent boys, with a fabulous attitude in the group. They’re willing to run around, and they’re willing to learn, and we’re together.
“If we’d turned up at Old Trafford on Friday night as individuals, we’d have been pulled apart, but we didn’t.
“There’s belief within the players. We’ve got some technically good players, and there’s plenty of character and bottle in there as well, which you need.”
Wilder is now hopeful that Friday night’s memorable victory can become a catalyst that inspires his players to further league success this season, saying:
“There’s no downside to going through. We got a couple of breaks and took advantage of them, and it was a fabulous night for everybody at the football club.
“We’ve got an incredibly interesting and tough second part of the season to look forward to. We’re in the mix and we’d love to stay in the mix, and getting the result on Friday night will have done us the world of good.
“There’s a hell of a lot of football to be played in the Championship. I’ve been brought here for the medium and long term, but we don’t want to turn this season down. There’s still an awful lot to play for this season, and nights like Friday at Old Trafford will do us no harm.”
Speaking ahead of Wednesday’s clash with Middlesbrough, QPR Mark Warburton wants his players to be excited whilst remaining grounded during their promotion run-in, saying:
“You have to look forward to the run-in. I’ve been very fortunate to experience a couple of promotions in my career and they are enjoyable times.
“If you can’t enjoy these moments, you shouldn’t be in football. We are very privileged to be involved in the game.
“Of course you should feel excited - but it’s controlled excitement. You have to recognise the situation you have created as a group of players and go on and maximise it.”
Warburton was also full of praise for the job that Chris Wilder has done so far, but remains confident that his side can take all three points, saying:
“We’re in good shape and looking forward to hopefully delivering another good performance. We know what we have to do tomorrow night to get all three points and that is our sole focus.
“It’s an exciting game and Chris has done a magnificent job in terms of galvanising the players at Middlesbrough. They have a good blend of experience and attacking talents, have won something like eight from 12 and are in a good place.
“So we face a very tough opponent.”
Middlesbrough (3-5-2): GK: Joe Lumley DEF: Dael Fry, Anfernee Dijksteel, Paddy McNair (C) MID: Isaiah Jones, Riley McGree, Marcus Tavernier, Martin Payero, Neil Taylor ATT: Folarin Balogun, Duncan Watmore
QPR (3-4-2-1): GK: David Marshall DEF: Rob Dickie, Jimmy Dunne, Yoann Barbet MID: Albert Adomah, Sam Field, Stefan Johansen (C), Lee Wallace ATT: Luke Amos, Chris Willock, Lyndon Dykes
Referee: Dean Whitestone
Assistants: Mark Pottage & Lee Venamore
Fourth Official: David Rock
If anyone dares to utter the phrase ‘the FA Cup has lost it’s magic’ ever again, then they simply do not get it.
A small-town team from beyond the horizon of acknowledged existence to some, turning up in their thousands upon thousands to one of world football’s most worshipped sites, to witness their little David topple on of the world’s biggest Goliath’s for the nation to see. Now that is magic.
Players immortalised into Middlesbrough folklore, heads and limbs undoubtedly still suffering, and that’s just those unlucky few souls that were in the wrong place at the wrong time when Elanga’s penalty finally re-entered orbit.
This team is a special one alright. And as Chris Wilder acknowledged this week, one that fights and plays for one another, every single time they step on the pitch. Finally, it feels like we have a squad to be truly proud of again.
But that win on Friday night can and should now be used as an injection of real belief for these players as we enter the make or break period of the Championship season.
And in the capital on Wednesday night, they’ll be facing another team who possess this same confidence and belief that Middlesbrough must surely now have in fourth placed Queens Park Rangers.
The Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium has become a really tough place to go for away sides this campaign, with The Hoops only losing three games at home so far this season and remaining unbeaten in their last four home matches.
And up until last weekend’s disappointing 2-0 loss in the FA Cup at Peterborough United, The R’s had been enjoying a seven-game unbeaten run in all competitions. A run that included a recent 4-0 drubbing of Reading as well as hard-fought wins against Coventry City and West Bromwich Albion too.
QPR know exactly where the back of the net is and have found multiple suppliers of goals this season. Only the current top two in Fulham and Blackburn Rovers have found the net more times than Ranger’s 44 so far this season, with 13 different players all hitting the back of the net this campaign.
Scotsman Lyndon Dykes is the top scorer with eight goals, but it can be argued that the real talisman to this team is his versatile attacker Chris Willock, whose six goals and nine assists have been vital to The R’s success. And he, like he was back in August, is a real match-winning player.
The key to this game for Middlesbrough is something that Clive eluded to earlier on, and that’s speed. For all that QPR’s Rob Dickie, Yoann Barbet and Jimmy Dunne have been excellent this season, they aren’t blessed with quickness, something that Boro’s defence certainly does.
That’s why I believe Wilder will throw Duncan Watmore straight into the starting lineup alongside either Balogun or Connolly, as their raw pace has every right to cause big problems for The Hoops defence.
However, QPR are where they are for a reason. They’re good, very good in fact. Under Mark Warburton, they are extremely well drilled and organised, and have undoubted Premier League quality in the side, especially with the aforementioned Chris Willock.
Like Middlesbrough, QPR are a possession minded team that is patient and probing in their attacks. And ultimately, I see two similar teams cancelling each other out in this one, with the spoils being shared. An outcome that I don’t imagine either set of fans would be too displeased with.
Prediction: Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Middlesbrough