Date:Friday August 15 2008
Saturday 16th August 2008
RANGERS are back on the road following their Carling Cup success, however their 2008 away record makes for bleak reading.
Rangers have only one league win away from W12 in this calendar year, coming against Southampton during the reign of Luigi De Canio back in February.
They take on a Sheffield United side which has been rejuvenated since the arrival of Kevin Blackwell last season, however they come into the game following the opening day defeat against promotion rivals Birmingham City.
A 3-1 home win over Port Vale in the League Cup would have helped settle a few nerves, as Blackwell`s new signings look to bed into the side.
No fewer than six additions have joined Bramall Lane in the close season, with the likes of Darius Henderson from Watford, Sun Jihai and wandering defender Greg Halford on loan.
These are supplemented by young keeper Justin Haber, Matthew Spring, and the return of David Cotterill following a successful loan spell.
A game that makes tough reading for both sides on paper, with the pressure firmly on the Blades to pick up their first victory of a Championship campaign with expectancy at the forefront.
Iain Dowie following the R`s commendable fight back against Swindon Town to secure their passage into round 2 of the Carling Cup, setting up a home tie with Carlisle United.
'It was a performance of great character,' He told QPR.co.uk.
'It was a travesty that we trailed at half-time, but I told the lads I was proud of their first half display and to be fair to them, they kept at it in the second half.'
'It was a proper Cup tie." Dowie continued.
'Even the most ardent Swindon fan will admit that we deserved to be in front at the break.
'I counted 12 clear-cut opportunities we created and with a little bit more care and attention we would have been home and dry by the break.'
Dowie singled out a couple of his players for praise indicating there may be some changes for Bramall Lane.
'Angelo (Balanta) was outstanding; Dani (Parejo) showed what he's all about; Mikele (Leigertwood) gave us everything; and Dexter (Blackstock) worked tirelessly across the line. His goal was textbook. I have to say though, that we were outstanding in the first half and we fully deserved our victory.'
Kevin Blackwell spoke in the build up to Saturday`s clash:
'It is a very interesting one, that's for sure." Blackwell told SUFC.co.uk
"With everything that is happening down there QPR could be the ones to beat this season, but it might be about how everyone reacts to the situation they are in."
'Rangers have the clout to throw money at any problems that might arise on the field, should they decide to spend, as they did last January rather more than the summer when they have dealt mainly in loans."
Blackwell was also keen to stress his admiration for QPR winger Lee Cook, but seemed to be under the illusion that QPR FAN Lee Cook, signed for the R`s for the money,
'They have built a strong squad, including Lee Cook who I certainly liked the look of. But I know the sort of money Lee is on so to get him is a coup for QPR."
'Although everyone there has to cope with the added pressure of expectation and there are some new faces, Iain Dowie has been round the block a few times and has the armoury to cope, whilst players such as Leigertwood, Blackstock, Fitz Hall and others are also experienced."
'At boardroom level there is also a wealth of experience and there is no doubt that Rangers have all the ingredients to take them a long way this season.'
United could be set to make wholesale changes following the defeat against Birmingham City. With numerous players impressing in their respective roles in the 3-1 win over Port Vale, Blackwell may well change his defensive unit, with a few more players also available in attack.
Geary, Armstrong and Ehiogu came in for Naysmith, Morgan and the home-sick, Sun Jihai. These players will by vying for places in the defensive unit, despite Matthew 'HANDBALL!` Kilgallon remaining ever present, whilst the strike force is by no means finalised.
The R`s old enemy Danny Webber will be amongst many fighting for a place upfront, along with summer signing Darius Henderson from Watford, Jon Stead and Billy Sharp.
The man who settled the encounter at Bramall Lane last year, Lee Hendrie, could also be set to move into the midfield with David Cotterill and Matthew Spring in close attendance.
However there are no places for long-term absentees James Beattie and Keith Gillespie.
Sharp began to find his form under Kevin Blackwell towards the latter stages of last season, scoring three in three, however in his search for consistency he has come up surprisingly short.
Goalscoring may not be the problem need to face, the forwards industrious running and ball control make him a tough prospect for the Rangers back-line, who have been struggling significantly against pace.
Sharp started out at Sheffield United, before a brief foray into the loan market with Rushden where he 9 goals in 16 games. Following only two substitute appearances, Sharp made the £100k move to Glandford Park.
In his successful two years at Scunthorpe he helped the Iron to promotion scoring 53 league goals in 82 appearances, prompting then Blades manager Bryan Robson to recruit the services of the young striker once more.
Last season Sharp contributed a mere 4 goals, but his comfort on the ball and his raw pace is enough to worry the majority of defences at this level.
Rangers have excellent competition for places going into this week ends fixture. The impressive performances of Angelo Balanta and Daniel Parejo may persuade Iain Dowie to persist with the duo.
However with Patrick Agyemang and Samuel Di Carmine knocking on the strikers door, and Gavin Mahon set to come back into contention following a slight niggle, it makes for an interesting selection headache.
This continues into the back four as Fitz Hall will be vying for his place back in the side after a decent display from Kaspars Gorkss and Damion Stewart at the County Ground. However Peter Ramage looks set to come back in for Matthew Connolly.
This selection headache also goes back as far as the number one jersey, with both keepers performing admirably in their respective games, both Radek Cerny and Lee Camp will be hoping they`ve done enough to impress manager Dowie.
Long-term absentee`s Rowan Vine, Akos Buzsaky and Hogan Ephraim will not play a role in proceedings as Rangers have already named their 19 man squad for the fixture:
Radek Cerny, Lee Camp, Peter Ramage, Matthew Connolly, Damion Stewart, Fitz Hall, Kaspars Gorkss, Damien Delaney, Mikele Leigertwood, Gavin Mahon, Emmanuel Ledesma, Lee Cook, Gareth Ainsworth, Daniel Parejo, Dexter Blackstock, Matteo Alberti, Samuel Di Carmine, Patrick Agyemang, Angelo Balanta.
The Madrid born midfielder on loan from Real Madrid Castilla has already shown in both his cameo appearance against Barnsley, and his performance against Swindon that he will be an important figure for Rangers this season.
19 year old Parejo came up through the ranks at Real Madrid to progress to the Castilla side where he has been a mainstay, most notably last season, where he scored 10 goals in 33 appearances.
An attacking central midfielder by trade, Parejo has not been afraid to sit deep and stroke the ball across the pitch, and has displayed his footballing intelligence in his distribution and tackling. His accuracy from dead balls will make him formidable opposition for any defensive unit.
In the Blades, Rangers face a different prospect, to that of their first two wins, especially away from home, as this presents the first big challenge of Rangers` season.
In the calendar year of 2008 Rangers only won one away fixture, courtesy of Patrick Agyemang`s brace against Southampton at St. Mary`s. Since then the R`s have faltered on the road making it a winless run stretching back to early February.
Off the back of their last gasp 1-0 defeat against Championship favourites Birmingham City, United knocked Port Vale out of the Carling Cup, 3-1 in a confidence boosting victory.
Blackwell`s side finished last season on the front foot with 8 wins out of the final 11 fixtures, remaining undefeated at home since March 1st, when they lost out to Charlton Athletic.
HEAD 2 HEAD
Rangers have the better of the head to head record with 14 wins to the Blades 11, with the teams drawing 15 times.
The R`s have found Bramall Lane a decent ground to come to in recent times, with a shock 2-0 League Cup win, whilst Lee Probert`s unfathomable decision to hand the Blades a last minute penalty was forgotten a year later when Paul Furlong slotted home for a 3-2 win.
Last time out
Last time out Rangers came to Bramall Lane off the back of a defeat at Chelsea in the FA Cup, errors from Damion Stewart and Matthew Connolly handed the blades all three points, whilst it was the sight that Patrick Agyemang embarked on his trailblazing scoring run.
Saturday 12th January 2008 - Bramall Lane
Sheffield United 2 (Stewart 64og, Hendrie 69)
QPR 1 (Agyemang 45)
Rangers Team: Lee Camp, Chris Barker (Dexter Blackstock 73), Matthew Connolly, Fitz Hall, Damion Stewart, Gavin Mahon, Akos Buzsaky, Martin Rowlands, Kieran Lee, Patrick Agyemang, Rowan Vine.
Referee- G. Laws
Assistants - S.P. Cummins & G.C. Law
Fourth official - S.J. Rushton
Mr. Laws will most be remembered for handing the R`s a fortuitous goal last season against promoted Hull City, with Dexter scrambling the ball goal bound, the effort never actually appeared to cross the line, never the less the R`s drew first blood.
Recently Mr. Laws has been a bit of a lucky charm, taking that result into account there was also the R`s 2-0 win away at Wrexham, the sight of Chris Day`s self professed greatest triumph, despite the sending off of winger Kevin McLeod. Laws also presided over the come-back of Clarke Carlisle as the R`s stormed to a 4-0 win away at Mansfield.
Laws has also seen the R`s beat Manchester City at Maine Road back in 2000 (3-1), but defeats against Bolton (2-1) earlier that season, then losing away to Oldham on the final day of the 01/02 season, followed by a 3-0 loss away to Notts County, made for disappointing reading.
By and large a sensible official prone to moments of spontaneous madness, he handed out 74 yellow cards and three reds last season in 31 games.
Without a doubt this is the R`s toughest test yet, and I don`t feel the defence will be capable of keeping an excellent attack at bay, however Rangers attacking flair has also drawn plaudits of late; which is why I predict:
Boxer`s Prediction: 2-2 Draw
Who- Doncaster Rovers
Where- Loftus Road
When- Saturday 23rd August. 3:00pm
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