BEMUSED and beleaguered, Rangers stumble into another fixture that will provide a stern test of their playoff credentials.
High-flying West Bromwich Albion are reaping the benefits of appointing former Chelsea midfielder Roberto di Matteo, with passing but more importantly winning football at the forefront of their game.
Attacking talent of the likes of Chris Brunt and Jerome Thomas makes the Baggies a formidable outfit down the flanks, with summer signing Simon Cox finding form in the front-line.
They face a Queens Park Rangers side who have experienced contrasting fortune – blowing away opposition without a whimper, only to see their world come crashing down around their ears.
Lofty expectations of a playoff or even automatic position are fast diminishing as the R’s slip into the bottom half, cast against the back-drop of Jim Magilton’s ‘scuffle’ with Ákos Buzsáky.
All of this means that the visitors to the Hawthorns find themselves facing an uphill battle with Steve Gallen and Marc Bircham taking temporary charge pending an internal investigation.
The Baggies have seen the end of two Rangers managers in their last two fixtures, with John Gregory getting the chop after a 5-1 reverse and Luigi De Canio returning to Italy for personal reasons after the final fixture.
Fight and determination, combined with the previously displayed attacking talent and defensive stability will be required if the R’s are to pick up points against their promotion-contending counterparts.
Watford 3 (Doyley 43, Cowie 56, Cleverley 90+4)
QPR 1 (Agyemang 33)
Team: Radek Černý, Peter Ramage, Damion Stewart, Fitz Hall, Mikele Leigertwood (Ákos Buzsáky 75), Wayne Routledge (Jay Simpson 72), Rowan Vine (Adel Taarabt 59), Patrick Agyemang, Ben Watson, Alejandro Faurlín, Gary Borrowdale.
West Bromwich Albion 0
Cardiff City 2 (Burke 18, Whittingham 85)
Team: Scott Carson (Sent Off 82), Marek Cech (Dean Kiely 83), Gianni Zuiverloon, Jonas Olsson, Abdoulaye Meite, Chris Brunt, Graeme Dorrans, Gonzalo Jara, Youssuf Mulumbu (Felipe Teixeira 36), Roman Bednar, Simon Cox.
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West Brom have been given a triple boost ahead of this evening’s clash at the Hawthorns with Youssuf Mulumbu (knee), Jerome Thomas (hamstring) and Luke Moore (thigh) all returning to training.
Veteran ‘keeper Dean Kiely will get his first start of the season after Scott Carson lost his cool at the weekend and was given his marching orders with little under ten minutes remaining.
The back four should consist of Marek Cech, Gianni Zuiverloon, Jonas Olsson and Abdoulaye Meite, with Graeme Dorrans looking to continue his fine form in the middle of the park.
Mulumbu may partner him at the heart of midfield, or a tactical shift could see Jerome Thomas return at this expense, with both he and Chris Brunt occupying the flanks, while Gonzalo Jara is set to retain his place.
Roman Bednar and Simon Cox seem to be the flavour of the month as they lead the line, with youngsters Chris Wood and Reuben Reid lying in wait for their opportunity.
James Morrison (heel) has returned to training, but the fixture comes too soon for him.
Zuiverloon – Meite – Olsson – Cech
Jara – Mulumbu – Dorrans – Brunt
Bednar – Cox
Player to watch: Chris Brunt
LeeCookFan has outlined Chris Brunt as the One to Watch for this evening’s clash at the Hawthorns.
The former Sheffield Wednesday wide-man has been in fine form for the Baggies this season featuring in 15 games, scoring six goals.
The Northern Ireland international scored the last time the two sides met in 2008 as West Bromwich Albion were promoted.
To read LCF’s write up on the winger Click Here >>>
QPR Team News:
With Jim Magilton suspended there may well be changes to a few of his core players as the R’s travel to the Hawthorns this evening.
Radek Černý will remain in goal with Kaspars Gork?s and Damion Stewart the possible partnership with Matt Connolly (pelvis) doubtful and Fitz Hall making individual errors.
Tommy Williams and Peter Ramage should start at full-back, with Gary Borrowdale sidelined with an abdominal strain.
It remains to be seen whether Rangers keep the same system, but Mikele Leigertwood and Ben Watson may well be the preferred central midfield partnership – with Alejandro Faurlín in close contention. Ákos Buzsáky has been conveniently sidelined with a knee ligament straing.
Wayne Routledge will be a certain starter with Adel Taarabt looking to return following his surprise omission from the Watford line-up.
Patrick Agyemang’s two goals in two games may well be enough to secure his place alongside the returning Jay Simpson, who will be out to impress his former employers, while Angelo Balanta moves closer to a return.
Martin Rowlands (knee), Gavin Mahon (knee), Lee Cook (knee) and Steven Reid (hamstring) remain sidelined.
Possible line up:
Ramage – Stewart – Gork?s – Williams
Routledge – Watson – Leigertwood – Taarabt
Agyemang – Simpson
Player to watch: Jay Simpson
Jay Simpson returns to his former club tonight in a bid to stick it to his former employers after a disappointing spell last season.
Simpson revealed that he chose Rangers over West Brom in the summer owing to feeling out of place at the Hawthorns last season.
The Arsenal loanee started wide on several occasions, a position that is not his strongest, and has kick-started his career in the forward line for Rangers.
He will be looking to add to his eight goal tally tonight, and what better time to do it than against the Baggies?
To read his career profile Click Here >>>
The Stat Attack
West Bromwich Albion: W W W D L
Queens Park Rangers: W L D L L
HEAD 2 HEAD
West Bromwich Albion: 15
Queens Park Rangers: 12
LAST TIME OUT
Coca Cola Championship – 04-05-2008
Queens Park Rangers: 0
West Bromwich Albion: 2 (Kim 53, Brunt 87)
Team: Lee Camp, Damien Delaney, Gavin Mahon, Michael Mancienne, Dexter Blackstock, Gareth Ainsworth, Martin Rowlands (Sent Off 37), Matthew Connolly, Hogan Ephraim (Romone Rose 80), Zesh Rehman, Angelo Balanta (Mikele Leigertwood 39)
West Bromwich Albion 0-1 QPR – 09-11-1985
Referee: Mr Anthony Taylor (G Manchester)
Assistants: Mr Simon Bennett (Staffs) & Mr Trevor Massey (Cheshire)
Fourth Official: Mr Karl Evans (G Manchester)
Mr Taylor will take charge of tonight’s clash between Rangers and West Brom, of whom he has officiated two games a-piece.
The young official has presided over Rangers’ win over Southampton at St Mary’s under Luigi De Canio, while Iain Dowie’s men were defeated at home by Derby County.
Two Baggies games, two victories for Mr Taylor as a cup game against Bournemouth and Championship against Reading yielded maximums.
To read our report on the official Click Here >>>
Up there as one of the toughest tests of the season and the R’s will have to call upon all their grit, determination and more importantly ability to get past Albion this evening.
The heart says a win could be there for the taking in an open game, but the head says the best Rangers can hope for is a spirited point against the in-form Baggies.
If Rangers can attack with the vigour they have shown this season, and combine that with last season’s formidable defence, most of which remain at the club, then they have an excellent chance.
As it goes, a club in turmoil appears lambs to the slaughter this evening, but it will be refreshing to go into the game as underdogs and with a point to prove.
Teams: QPR v Sheffield United
Date: Saturday December 19, 2009 – 3.00pm
Ground: Loftus Road, London