Preview: Queens Park Rangers

Three wins in a row have catapulted Coventry City up to the giddy heights of 12th place and guaranteed that they won’t spend the World Cup break in the relegation zone. With that battle against the bottom three the defining aspect of this first chunk of the campaign, the test now is whether this Sky Blues side has the ambition, and quality, to push further up the table, or is content to chunter along in relative safety.

A home game against a top six Queens Park Rangers side to wrap up this first portion of the season could prove to be a preview of where the rest of this campaign is heading. A win would put Coventry City right in the mix to push towards the play-offs. A draw or a defeat would be no disaster, but it would put a dampener on expectations over a four week break to gawp at the league table.

Expected Line-Up

Michael Rose going down injured on Tuesday night looks to be the only new piece of team selection news on Mark Robins’ plate. It is not clear just how serious the knock sustained by Rose is but, with the manager reporting that the player hadn’t been 100% fit prior to the game, it is probably likelier than not that the central defender will be taken out of the firing line ahead of a period of rest over the weeks to come. In that scenario, it would be Callum Doyle slotting into Rose’s place on the right of the back three.

Elsewhere, the selection considerations are primarily tactical. The most notable area of Mark Robins’ attention will be the configuration of the attack, where a starting forward trio of Kasey Palmer, Callum O’Hare and Viktor Gyokeres didn’t really work last time out against Wigan Athletic. Jamie Allen coming into the starting XI in place of either Palmer or O’Hare seems the obvious move, with the manager’s decision over who to drop resting on who is deemed the least fit out of the two.

The only other potential area for change is in either wing-back slot. On the right, Mark Robins clearly prefers Josh Eccles over Todd Kane, but there might be a change to hand the former a rest. On the left, a booking for Jake Bidwell would rule him out of the trip to Reading following the World Cup break, so there’s half a chance Jack Burroughs could come in.

Last Time We Met

It was a game that epitomised just how luckless, or more specifically, toothless, Coventry City were over the second half of last season. The Sky Blues fell behind early at the CBS Arena after Queens Park Rangers’ Andre Gray was played in behind the defence and produced an immaculate finish past Simon Moore. After that, the home side dominated proceedings and really should have levelled the scores before half-time.

Coventry City ramped things up further following the break, culminating in Jordan Shipley smashing in from the edge of the area as part of a corner-kick routine to level the scores. The relief was palpable, leading to delirious celebrations in the home end, so much so, that a steward was knocked over and led to a prolonged delay as they received treatment. That pause to proceedings was probably to the detriment of the Sky Blues, as their intensity gradually dropped and the game looked set to play out as a draw.

That was until Queens Park Rangers’ Chris Willock found space just outside the Coventry City penalty area with minutes left and picked out Albert Adomah with an absolute peach of a cross to secure an unlikely victory for the away side.

The Opposition

The Manager – Mick Beale

The brains behind Steven Gerrard’s managerial career, it is no coincidence that the former Liverpool midfielder’s reign at Aston Villa went off the rails following Mick Beale’s decision over the summer to step into the managerial game in his own right and join Queens Park Rangers. Taking over a talented side that had gone close to the play-offs last season, Beale has made just a few tweaks to get a more consistent level of performance out of the Hoops, which has had them in the automatic promotion race for periods of this campaign.

A recent run of four games without a win has derailed Queens Park Rangers’ automatic promotion charge, although, they have been unfortunate in quite a few of those games not to have won. That was none more so than on Tuesday night at home to Huddersfield Town, where the Hoops had over 30 shots and nearly 80% possession and came out losers. The point here is that QPR’s recent run doesn’t mean they are less of a skilful and dangerous team than they were a few weeks ago when they were in the top two places.

Who To Look Out For?

Possible Line-Up (4-2-3-1): Dieng; Laird, Balogun, Clarke-Salter, Paal; Johansen, Iroegbunam; Amos, Willock, Chair; Dykes.

The two stars of this Queens Park Ranger side are the attacking, creative duo of Ilias Chair and Chris Willock. Willock is a really adroit footballer who can both weave his way through defenders and pick a final ball. Chair is supremely skilful and has an eye for the spectacular, but is becoming a more refined and consistent creative player under Mick Beale’s management. Both players rank among not only the most creative players in the division but also the highest volume shot-takers, just one of Chair and Willock would be devastating, the two in tandem is a big problem for opposing teams.

Another name to keep an eye on at Queens Park Rangers this season has been Aston Villa loanee, Tim Iroegbunam in central midfield. Yet another in a long line of talented youngsters emerging from worst side of the Aston Expressway, Iroegbunam’s ability to glide forward with the ball at his feet is a key feature of QPR’s play, allowing extra space for Willock and Chair to operate in. Alongside Iroegbunam in central midfield is Stefan Johansen who provides excellent energy, snap in the challenge and experience to steer him through games. There is also Sam Field to call upon, who is a more defensive-minded midfield player who absolutely loves a tackle.

In attack, Lyndon Dykes is the big, physical presence whose role is to plough and furrow and batter defenders on behalf of Chair and Willock. Dykes finishing ability can be pretty hit and miss, but he cannot be ruled out as a goal threat due to the quality of service he gets. To change things up, QPR have more mobile, skilful forwards to call upon in Tyler Roberts and Sinclair Armstrong.

At the back, Queens Park Rangers’ central defensive partnerships have been interchangeable, with Leon Balogun, Jimmy Dunne, Jake Clarke-Salter and Rob Dickie all pretty high-end Championship centre-backs who can seemingly work in any combination. At full-back, Ethan Laird on the right is another big attacking threat for QPR with his sheer pace and ball-carrying ability. In goal, Seny Dieng remains one of the best goalkeepers in the Championship, particularly in terms of claiming crosses and with the ball at his feet.

Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost

With there being no risk of dropping into the relegation zone with a defeat here, it will be interesting to see if Mark Robins takes a less pragmatic approach to this game than he has over the past month or so. With Queens Park Rangers possessing a wide array of skilful attacking players, it feels like the kind of game that Coventry City of recent times would look to defend deep, protect the penalty area and hope to nick something on the counter-attack in. However, this may be an opportunity to see what the Sky Blues are now capable of when going toe-to-toe with this calibre of opponent.

The first-half performance against Blackburn Rovers would be a useful template for what a more proactive Coventry City would look to do in this game. Playing the same high line would be a risk, as it may allow Chris Willock and Ilias Chair to pick out passes in behind the Sky Blues defence – especially if Kyle McFadzean starts – but it would also squeeze QPR away from the Coventry goal and limit the physical threat of Lyndon Dykes in their attack. With Gustavo Hamer, Callum O’Hare and Jamie Allen pressing the QPR backline, it could lead to some dangerous turnovers in possession, but it may rely on energy levels this team doesn’t quite have at the end of a long run of fixtures.

If Coventry City end up sitting back, the midfield is going to have to get the balance right between sitting in front of the defence and limiting Chris Willock and Ilias Chair’s time on the ball. On top of that, the direct running of Ethan Laird from right-back may be left unchecked in the Sky Blues’ naturally narrow formation, which could be where QPR scramble the home defence and create space elsewhere.

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