Plymouth Argyle’s first competitive game for almost six months is finally upon us, with QPR set to visit Home Park in the Carabao Cup. Ahead of the encounter, we spoke to @LoftForWords for an opposition perspective.
First of all, how did you get into supporting QPR?
Glory hunting believe it or not. We’re a northern family but my late father trained in the Met Police in the 1970s making QPR his local side just as the club was putting together its greatest ever team, going on European runs and running Liverpool agonisingly close to the title in 1976. When he returned home, he kept going home and away to Rangers from Grimsby. I came along in 1984 but mum had a rule that he wasn’t allowed to force me into supporting QPR and could only take me along if I showed an interest and asked to go.
That happened in January 1992 when we won a televised game 4-1 at Old Trafford. Obviously, being at infants’ school in Grimsby, all the other little boys “supported” Man Utd and would take the mick out of me for my dad supporting QPR and me not really being interested in football. Well, a 4-1 win against those little gobshites seemed like a wonderfully unexpected Christmas present for me so back to school I went after the break suddenly a fully-fledged QPR fan with a big smile on my face.
That lasted a few days, until my first match, which I demanded to be taken to – Southampton away, all the way in the car from Grimsby, for the FA Cup Third Round. Typical QPR, we followed the Old Trafford massacre up with a 2-0 defeat and a missed penalty. I was bored and cold, and I’ve been bored and cold at QPR games ever since, barely missing a game between now and then.
Are there any QPR players in particular we should be looking out for this weekend?
We’ve just lost our star man Ebere Eze to Crystal Palace for big money so we’re all keen to see which of a promising crop of younger players steps up to fill that void. Ilias Chair, 5ft 1in but strong and skilful, has been playing the ‘ten’ role in pre-season so far. He had an outstanding League Two loan at Stevenage littered with spectacular goals and then a very decent first full season in the Championship with us last season so we’re hoping he kicks on.
Bright Osayi-Samuel was unplayable at times last season on the right wing and can destroy teams when he’s in the mood but he’s refusing to extend a contract at the moment, has turned down a couple of moves this summer, and there’s a bit of a stand off developing between him and the club. His form has taken a bit of a dive while that’s been going on but if he’s picked and he’s up for it then he’ll be a problem for you.
Obviously, world events have significantly altered the football schedule. How has the upheaval affected things from a QPR point of view?
After the years of gross overspend and mismanagement under Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp the club has embarked on a long period of cleaning house. This will be our sixth season outside the Premier League, second without parachute payments, and in that time the wage bill has come down from £80m a year to below £20m. We’re also, increasingly, selling players for decent money each summer and reinvesting that – Smithies for £3m in 2018, Freeman for £5m in 2019, and now Eze for £19m this summer.
It’s been a difficult turnaround. A portion of the support base is unhappy saying we lack ambition and we’re being tight etc, and they’ve made a lot of mistakes along the way and wasted big chunks of the parachute payments on some dodgy recruitment. But we’re better run than we have been in the past in my opinion. We’re still, however, reliant on the owners funding the club’s losses which aren’t far off £1m a month.
Tony Fernandes’ airlines and hotels are struggling but the lesser spotted Ruben Gnanalingam has been the majority shareholder for sometime and seems on a surer footing. No sign of them pulling the funding yet and the Eze money will help. We’ve actually spent some money on Lyndon Dykes and Rob Dickie this summer which we haven’t done for a while.
What would you say your ambitions are for the season ahead?
If you ask the club they tend to just say “to be competitive”. Like I say, some fans are complaining about a lack of ambition and lowering standards, settling for life in the Championship when we have been a Premier League club recently. Last season we played better football, won more games, won more away games, scored more goals, finished higher in the league than the year before and developed our young players further, including one we’ve got a massive transfer fee for. If we can do all of that again, personally I’d see that as a success.
What sort of tactical style do you expect to set up with on Saturday? And do you think QPR will field a slightly weakened side with the start of the league campaign in mind?
Mark Warburton has been quite disparaging of the timing of this year’s First Round, a week before the season starts and on an international weekend, so I would expect to see an even scratchier side than the one we usually turf out for these games – we have an abysmal recent record in both cup competitions.
Lyndon Dykes was signed from Livingston last week to replace Jordan Hugill as our main striker but he’s had a first Scotland call up so isn’t available which leaves us probably picking between U23 strikers Aramide Oteh or Marco Ramkilde for this. Neither have shown much to suggest they’ll trouble you greatly so far.
And are there any real weak links in the side you’re worried about?
We’ve conceded 70 goals for the last three seasons running, peaking last season at 76. The defence simply isn’t up to standard, and while Warburton has done many good things since taking over and I like him and his football, his inability to stem the flow of goals against is a concern. All we really get out of him is that we have to “defend better as a team”.
We concede ridiculously frequently from opposition corners and did so again, fairly shambolically, in our final friendly at Oxford last week. We’ve since signed Rob Dickie from them as a right-sided centre back to play with Yoann Barbet so hopefully that will help but, again, he’s only 6ft tall and seems to have been bought more because of what he can do with the ball than without it. Without Dykes this weekend we’ll be one of the smallest teams you’ll face all season.
What first comes to mind when you think of Plymouth Argyle?
The amazing running battle we had between 2002 and 2005ish, culminating in us both becoming competitive, attractive Championship teams at the same time. I was at Home Park the day you sealed the league at our expense and remember there was a good deal of mutual respect between the clubs and fans and two weeks later when we beat Swindon and Sheff Wed to pip a rather cocksure Bristol City to the second automatic spot I remember the Argyle fans on the old Rivals website being nearly as delighted as we were. Brian Tinnion’s March comments that City’s promotion could be “all over bar the shouting” before we both played them at Easter and that Plymouth and QPR were “running scared” right up there in terms of bollocks that preceded unfortunate events.
When we met at Loftus Road the following season Ian Holloway was on the verge of the sack amidst a load of boardroom politics but we got a frantic 3-2 win thanks to a couple of Paul Furlong goals which meant he kept his job and we went on to win seven games in a row.
Which Argyle player, if any, would you like to sign?
If you’ve got somebody who knows how to mark at corners that would be amazing. We could do with a real quality deep lying central midfielder in front of our defence but I notice Josh Grant who did that for you in the promotion season is at Bristol Rovers now instead.
And finally, what is your prediction for the game itself?
You’d be a foolish man to ever put much money on QPR winning a cup game.