Everything you need to know about Middlesbrough's upcoming opponent Queens Park Rangers
Middlesbrough are set to host Queens Park Rangers at the Riverside in a clash between 10th and 11th. Just a single point splits the two sides going into the game and so QPR will fancy their chances of leapfrogging the Tessiders should they manage to get all three points. On the other hand, Neil Warnock has discussed the need to add quality and numbers to the squad before next season as his side fell to defeat against Barnsley; he reiterated the fact that a playoff push is beyond the side for this season. Yet it could still be an interesting clash for Middlesbrough fans as a number of youngsters could be bled into the side since there is little pressure on them to hit the ground running and a number of fringe players will be hoping to be involved in order to stake a claim for their place in the team for next season.
There has been growing questions surrounding the Hoops’ short term plan with Charlie Austin revealing that he would like to stay at the club if they were to make a serious challenge for promotion. Warburton also mirrored this sentiment, as he claimed that the side could manage to become a promotion candidate if they kept hold of key players. This discussion has frustrated QPR fans over recent years as they have seen the sale of their best talents, particularly in offensive area of the pitch as Eberchi Eze, Jordan Hugill and Nahki Wells all left before the start of this season. It would be reasonable to assume that QPR would have been a far bigger threat this season if they had not gone through such a high turnover of players.
This game may also feature Albert Adomah, the winger joined the Rangers on a free transfer in the summer and he has since made 30 appearances for the club, mostly as a substitute. He has provided a direct goal contribution every 147 minutes since his arrival at Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium showing that he can still pose a threat at this level. Middlesbrough fans will have fond memories of the Ghanaian as he was a key member of the squad when the Teessiders were promoted to the Premier League. He then left the club for home town side Aston Villa with Adama Traore going the other way. While it is unlikely that Albert Adomah will start against the Boro there is a good chance that he may be brought on as a substitute.
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Meanwhile, QPR will not be looking forward to facing their previous captain in Grant Hall, the dominant centre back has been a success at Middlesbrough so far but he will be hoping that history won't repeat itself as the first time he lined up against QPR, following his departure, led to an injury that kept the player on the sidelines for a month. His experience playing for QPR will also have a limited effect as the heavy rotation of the attacking line up, following a mass sale of their best assets in the summer, means that his inside track will be limited. All the same, Grant Hall will hope to marshal the defence and secure a better result to take precedent over their previous clash that saw him get injured.
Season So Far:
The Hoops are currently in 11th position. The London based side has managed to gain 56 points from 41 games so far this season, an average of 1.37 points per match, which is a solid return but is certainly not enough to threaten the top six as the teams current position highlights. However, it is a considerable improvement to their form coming into the second half of the season as it looked as though the side may fall into a relegation battle. As it stands, QPR will remain in the league with a comfortable mid-table position.
Interestingly, Queens Park Rangers are the highest placed side with a negative goal difference, currently sitting at -2, they have been as prolific as Middlesbrough this season, finding the net 48 times in 41 appearances; which is a considerable drop from their output last season; which has become the primary gripe for QPR fans who have grown frustrated with the business plans impact on the side, and matching Middlesbrough, who have had a serious identity issue going forward highlights their reasons for complaint. Yet it is the sides defensive form has given Middlesbrough the slight advantage as they have conceded 50 times so far this season, 5 more than Middlesbrough. Ultimately, this positions QPR in a situation that can only be maximised with a victory as a draw will leave them beneath the Northeast club.
Form: D W L W L
One of Middlesbrough’s biggest issues so far this season has been their inconsistency with the side struggling to maintain a run of positive results and it appears that it has also been a recent issue for QPR, who have won two, lost two and drawn one of their last 5 games. This ensemble of results, and the fluctuating manner at which they have come about, means that the side is struggling to concrete form in recent weeks.
While there has been two convincing wins in recent weeks, a 3-0 victory against Coventry and a 4-1 victory over Sheffield Wednesday, they have both come against weaker opposition that are fighting against relegation, and while these sides are fighting for their Championship future, they are in that situation for a reason, as the sides have either been in poor form or they are unfortunately lacking in quality. Some may argue that Sheffield Wednesday find themselves where they are due to the points deduction and, while that is true, their form this season, even with those missing 6 points, still lands them within the relegation zone. Yet, alarmingly, QPR’s convincing results against these lowly sides are offset by a defeat to Rotherham United, while the Millers are in a more promising position, with potential for salvation, they too are at the bottom of the league for a reason and Hoops fans would have expected a result against that side. The defeat to Nottingham Forest will be considered as less of a concern as the side is also ranked mid-table which means that it was a game that could have gone ‘either way’. Finally, they managed a respectable draw with Reading, the promotion chasers currently sit in 7th position and have to be considered one of the more dangerous sides as it is a side with a number of talented players that are all motivated by the prospect of a place in the playoffs. Overall, QPR averaged 1.4 points per game over this period of games, not too dissimilar to their season average presenting this recent run as a microcosm of their season as a whole.
Yet the most prevalent pattern among these fixtures is the gap between home and away from. The Hoops have seriously struggled away from home and it has quickly become the crux that has prevented them from competing at the top of the table. On the away form Championship table, QPR sit in 18th place after only winning one of their last 6 away from home. This can be seen in their recent form too as they have only managed to gain a single point on their last three outings away from Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium: a shock draw against Reading. This is extrapolated further by the side struggling defensively away from home as they have conceded 7 goals in 3 games. This will be taken as a positive sign for Middlesbrough who are set to welcome the Hoops to the Riverside Stadium on Saturday.
Top Goalscorer: Lyndon Dykes (10)
Most Assists: Albert Adomah, Chris Willock (4)
Most Yellow Cards: Dominic Ball (9)
Most Red Cards: Robert Dickie, Todd Kane (1)
One To Watch: Robert Dickie
Despite having a worse defensive record than Middlesbrough there are a number of decent defenders within the QPR squad and one of these is Robert Dickie. The 25 year old Englishman has made 38 appearances for the club so far this season, as the almost ever-present defender has made the 3rd most minutes for the side. He is a tall domineering centre back and his near constant presence has allowed Warburton to build his defences around the centre back. While there is still some of this season to go, QPR will be planning to build the defensive block around him next season.
Born in Wokingham, Robert Dickie started his career at Reading but he failed to break into the first team during his time with the club, making just 1 first team appearance. Instead he was loaned out across the football league to Cheltenham and Lincoln City. He made 54 appearances (Cheltenham Town) and 23 appearances (Lincoln City) during these loan spells. He also contributed to Cheltenham Town’s attack by supplying 5 goals and 5 assists during his stint at The Jonny-Rocks Stadium.
He returned to Reading in January 2018 and he quickly recognised the importance of moving away from the club in order to further his career. 3 days later, he would make a permanent move to Oxford United for an undisclosed fee. He played 10,055 minutes across 113 appearances for Oxford United, scoring 3 goals and supplying 5 assists.
Two and a half years later, QPR registered their interest in the centre back, signing him on the summer transfer window opening day in 2020 for £2.43m. He has since made 40 appearances for the club in all competitions and he has supplied 2 goals and an assist so far during his QPR career.
A defender built in the same mould as Grant Hall, Robert Dickie is a tall domineering centre back that has good passing and positioning within his repertoire. Unfortunately he lacks speed which can sometimes be exploited by pacier forwards allowing them to get in behind with an opportunity on goal. This is somewhat counteracted by his positioning as it gives him an advantage over the runner but it is a weakness that Middlesbrough may want to exploit in an otherwise defensively astute dominant and clever centre back. Overall, though, Rob Dickie is a very good centre back at this level and shouldn't be underestimated by Middlesbrough if they wish to keep all three points at the Riverside Stadium.
Hot Prospect: Ilias Chair
While Lyndon Dykes is the sides top goalscorer, and former Middlesbrough wideman Albert Adomah and Chris Willock are the top assist makers, Illias Chair is the attacking player with that something special. He has made the second most appearances for Queens Park Rangers this season, highlighting his importance to the side and Warburton’s reliance on the player as a creative force. Meanwhile his contribution of 8 goals and 3 assists so far this season will have been highly valued by the team.
Born in Antwerp, Belgium, Illias Chair has dual citizenship with Morocco and Belgium, while he made his first movements into professional football in Belgium, making two appearances for Lierse SK, it was on arrival in the UK that his career really begun. QPR signed the player for an undisclosed transfer fee in July 2018 and he steadily made his way through the youth ranks and a loan transfer to Stevenage before he could truly establish himself in the Championship side.
His loan move, between July 2018 and February 2019, saw him play 1,393 minutes across 16 appearances for the side on the periphery of London and he managed to find the net 6 times and create 6 goals for his teammates. This return, a direct goal involvement every 116 minutes, was very impressive and so it is little surprise that he was brought back to the Hoops for the remainder of the season.
Since his return, Illias Chair has played 6,660 minutes across 102 appearances, and he has contributed going forward during this time too, scoring 14 goals and assisting another 13. While his current direct goal contribution every 246 minutes isn’t as impressive as his rate at Stevenage, he often contributes to the sides attack providing opportunities for other attackers to create opportunities; which isn't highlighted in the statistics. Meanwhile, these numbers are relative to the general success of the side he plays in (taking into consideration the sides earlier form and drastic changes to the team this season) and the jump in difficulty between the leagues, as such a decrease was to be expected.
His performances at QPR may mean that he has a number of interested parties in the summer but QPR have been wise in how they have dealt out his contract tying him down until 2025 with a club dependant option for a year extension to 2026. This means that the Hoops hold all the cards to any transfer that occur meaning that it will not be cheap to acquire the player if it is possible to do so in the first place. All the same, QPR have a very talented player in Illias Chair and it is up to Middlesbrough to stop him from having success at the Riverside Stadium.
Manager: Mark Warburton
A very respectable manager at this level, Mark Warburton isn't a manager that can bring a great deal of playing experience into their role, as, while he will have gained a lot of experience playing for Enfield and Boreham Wood, during a 135 game career, he has stepped above that level as a manager and these experiences may not be applicable to Championship football. Still he has proven himself to be a good manager at this level with stints at Brentford, Rangers and Nottingham Forest and he knows how to make a team that can compete at this level.
He made his first step into management at Brentford, where he averaged 1.77 points per game over 78 matches, which is constant playoff level form. He would then leave Brentford to go North of the border, taking over Rangers for two years. His time in Scotland came with his best managerial form averaging 2.18 points per game across 82 matches. He has since struggled to replicate this earlier form at Nottingham Forest where he averaged 1.3 points per game over 37 matches and QPR where he averaged 1.29 over 93 games. Yet he has shown serious promotion level form in his previous jobs and so he certainly has the ability to lead QPR into the race for promotion next season.
The former Brentford manager is a good fit into the current philosophy of the club as his experience developing players and bringing them in from the B-team at Brentford will come in useful at QPR as they now focus most of their recruitment in the under-23s with the hope of increasing their transfer value. This has frustrated Warburton as the manager believes that retaining some of the clubs best players would have gone a long way to staking a claim for promotion, an issue that may well be raised again this summer should the club sell their best assets once again.
Mark Warburton has built a side that favours a possession dominant style utilising the on the ball talents in the midfield to recycle and redistribute the ball in order to find gaps for the wide players, strikers and attacking midfielders to exploit. This means that Middlesbrough will probably spend large periods of the game without the ball as they challenge the Hoops to break them down. Meanwhile this style of play also opens up the possibility of quick counterattacks which Boro will try and utilise to score the goals needed to win.
Middlesbrough are going to have to spend a lot of the game on the back foot and Paddy McNair and Grant Hall will have to be at their best in order to prevent QPR from getting any opportunities. But that is often when the Teessiders are at their best, the majority of Middlesbrough's victories have came when the side had less possession, while January additions that will be wanting to stake their claim for a long term deal, either at the club or elsewhere, will be sufficiently motivated to use their pace to great effect against Rangers. Finally, the passion of Middlesbrough's youth players may provide the extra oomph for the side to get over the line. Having said all this, there is no doubt that it could be a hard match with some of the individual talents at QPR's disposal.