MARK O’HAIRE (@MarkOHaire) tackles the Thursday night Championship encounter between Reading and QPR.
Reading v QPR | Thursday 20.00 | Sky Sports 1
On the 17th October this year, Reading were flying high in second having dispatched Charlton 1-0. It was the Royals’ sixth win in seven and made their 2015/16 record read an impressive W6-D3-L2. Steve Clarke’s side were dominating the Championship’s performance data and were trimmed to odds as short as 11/2 to take the second tier title.
Fast forward six weeks and the Berkshire boys are languishing in ninth having taken just six points from a possible 21 (W1-D3-L3) and trailing league leaders Brighton by 11 points. No surprise to see Reading pushed out to 66/1 for the Championship crown.
What’s made the downturn in results even more galling for optimistic Royals supporters? Clarke’s public flirtation with Fulham and his willingness to consider leaving the Madejski Stadium despite the club sitting just a point off sixth-place. Naturally, many Reading fans voiced their disquiet, especially considering the former West Brom boss was given his wishes to spend big in the summer and flush out numerous long-term loyal staff.
Reading still top the division for the most shots and efforts on-target in attack, as well as facing the fewest but are cracks beginning to appear? The day after confirming his intention to stay at the Madejski, Bolton landed more shots-on-target at the Royals’ home with goalkeeper Ali Al-Habsi forced to make three fine saves in a rather fortunate 2-1 home success.
Last weekend Reading slipped to a disappointing 3-1 defeat at Nottingham Forest despite taking an early lead. The Tricky Trees hadn’t scored more than twice in a league fixture all season with Clarke bemoaning post-match, “They played with two banks of four, in midfield and defence and they made it difficult for us. They crowded the penalty area and made it difficult for us to create anything.”
Despite surrendering 56% possession to their visitors and playing for 25 minutes with 10 men, Forest held on rather comfortably in a contest that also saw Royals skipper Paul McShane pick up a nasty facial injury. He’ll be missing along with Gareth McCleary and an unfit Hal Robson-Kanu on Thursday night.
As for QPR, there’s been a sea change in football philosophy and approach since Neil Warnock arrived back at the scene. It was required but I never expected the switch to incur such dramatic results.
Rangers were haemorrhaging goals under Chris Ramsey and looking defensively inept. But Warnock knows exactly how to organise an underachieving group as well as get results at this level. Our former promotion winning manager has given the team a real solid feel with the first aim to give nothing away to opposition sides, and the second to try to nick something in the final third.
It’s had mixed results. Since Warnock arrived QPR have W2-D2-L3 – it’s W1-D1-L1 since Ramsey was sacked – with last weekend’s 1-0 victory at Leeds arriving thanks to Charlie Austin’s first touch off the bench. Austin was denied a double by a fantastic Marco Silvestri save but the three points lifted the R’s to within striking distance of the play-off spots once more.
Austin’s return from injury should ensure he starts and the attacking threat from a striker that’s scored eight goals in 13 appearances looms large on a Reading defence that’s kept just three clean sheets in 16.
But don’t dismiss the magnificent influence of Alejandro Faurlin in midfield. The injury-plagued Argentine has linked play supremely and really makes the side tick. We’re looking stable, solid and streetwise. You could say, we’re looking very Warnock.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink is on the verge of being confirmed as the new QPR boss and I’d expect the principles laid down by Warnock to be stuck to. Before arriving, Rangers had kept a solitary clean sheet in 11 and been involved in 8/11 Over 2.5 Goals winners and the same amount of Both Teams To Score bets.
But since Warnock arrived back on the scene, the Super Hoops have seen 0/7 BTTS winners, 6/7 matches feature fewer than two goals with four sides shutout from scoring. But these trends are seen in even more detail when viewing the performance data before/after Warnock.
Under Ramsey, QPR were averaging 12.54 attempts and facing 12.90 – of which, 4.73 landed on target per-game with 4.64 efforts faced hitting target per-game. Since Warnock joined, Rangers are attempting 13.28 shots per-game (3.14 on-target) and facing just 8.71 per-game with only 2.00 hitting target. Remarkable, eh?
So whilst the R’s have only W2-D1-L6 of their nine road trips, lost five on the spin on their travels and kept a solitary clean sheet away from Loftus Road, those figures demand respect. And if you wanted more, Austin only played in three losses from six away from home and two of those came at Derby and Hull.
So what am I getting at? Well, I think the 4/5 from Coral on the QPR double chance is big. It suggests QPR have just a 55% chance of avoiding defeat and I reckon, all things considered, we can do just that on Thursday night. Reading have gone off the boil, have only won four of nine at the Mad Stad (W4-D4-L1) and there’s a feeling they’ve had the luck of the green in a few encounters.
But my main play will be to take a punt on the 0-0 half-time draw at 7/4 with Paddy Power. It’s been a winner in five of QPR’s nine on the road with 13/18 (72%) of Rangers’ Championship outings being level at the interval. Reading have been level at the break in 5/9 (56%) home fixtures – each being goalless – whilst 11 of their last 14 as hosts have featured fewer than three goals.
Reading v QPR – QPR double chance (4/5 Coral)
Reading v QPR – 0-0 half-time score (7/4 Paddy Power)
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