As a child I used to really enjoy playing with Lego. No matter how many times I trod on a four bobble brick in my bare feet, or cracked a tooth trying to get two big flat bits apart with my mouth I still loved building things with it, particularly football stadiums. Lego didn’t do a football stadium kit back then, so I’d fashion my own out of unmade petrol stations and airports and the like. I’d always begin these stadium projects with lofty architectural aspirations of replicating the San Siro or the Estadio do Maracana. However, no matter how many times I tried, and no matter what I did differently each time, every stadium I built would end up looking like a scale model of Loftus Road. Every single one. I’ve always had a soft spot for Queens Park Rangers, and I suspect that this is why.
My Lego building projects have been mothballed for the best part of two decades now, but it is satisfying to know that Loftus Road remains pretty much the same as it did when I used to point at The Big Match and go “Look, Lego Stadium”. Its just that now it has more seats and shinier interiors. That’s the other thing to note here, that for me, and other people of my age Queens Park Rangers are viewed as a sizable football presence. QPR were promoted to the top flight in the year I was born, and remained there until I was thirteen. Their presence amongst the nation’s elite during my formative football watching years means that in my eyes at least, they remain a top-flight team.
Rangers dropped out of the Premier League in 1996 and are yet to return, even spending three seasons in the third tier between 2001 and 2004. But in recent years the club’s fortunes have looked to be set for a revival thanks to one of the biggest of big money takeovers. Formula One motor racing moguls (- I’ve always wanted to use that word in one of these previews) Bernie Ecclestone and Flavio Briatore took control of the West London club in August 2007 and introduced billionaire Lakshmi Mittal to the board in December that year. As is often the case for those in receipt of new money the club underwent a garish makeover embracing Gulf Air as their shirt sponsor and replacing the club crest with a new design, which would look more at home wrought into a footballer’s mansion gates than on his shirt. If anything they are trying too hard. Surely Briatore of all people should appreciate style is at its best when projected in more understated tones, and Rangers have already achieved this in the mid 90s. Only they had the bravery to partner the sophistication of a Classic FM sponsored kit, with the suave debonair presence of Andy Impey.
Despite their aims Queens Park Rangers embrace of modern football’s world of high finance has proved only one thing, that money can’t always buy success. Two and a half years on from that takeover, the dreams of returning to the top flight are yet to be realised, and Rangers appear to be in a mess. Throughout this time period the Loftus Road club have changed managers like a Hollyoaks character changes emotionally flawed and ultimately unsuitable love interests. The R’s have had eight managers in less than three years. Indeed four men have taken charge this season alone with current caretaker boss Mick Harford treading where Paul Hart, Jim Magilton and the duo of Steve Gallen and Marc Bircham have all stood and barked match instructions pitch-ward before.
The unrest in the dugout has already had an effect on the pitch with Rangers, who were scoring for fun in the Autumn, now looking ominously over their shoulder. QPR have been in free fall since their visit to the Keepmoat Stadium in November and having not won since the turn of the year now sit in 19th place, just a point away from Ipswich in the last of the relegation places. There is never a dull moment at Loftus Road though and this evening the game of musical chairs moved into the boardroom with Flavio Briatore announcing that he is to stand down as QPR chairman with immediate effect. “My three years as chairman of QPR have been an exciting and incredible experience,” Briatore told the BBC, presumably with the excitement and incredibility of a train crash in mind, rather than say a promotion.
So, in short, Rovers will face a club in disarray when they arrive in West London looking to achieve two wins over their fellow hoop wearers in a season for the first time since the early 1950s. Doncaster were soundly beaten on their last trip to Loftus Road in August last season, but have since notched up two 2-0 wins against QPR scoring four goals in the process, one for every other manager Rangers have had in that time. When the two clubs met in November Rovers turned in one of the best performances for some time as they ran the Londoners ragged, including that notorious passage of total football and a couple of shtrikes from Sharp and Shiels.
After a bit of a wobble in January Rovers have returned to form in the past week taking maximum points from two big matches against Nottingham Forest and Sheffield Wednesday. The neat flowing football which so frustrated QPR in November has returned and has been accompanied by a keen defensive resolve, which means Rovers have also been as effective in stopping their opponents playing as they have in moving the ball themselves. The upshot of those wins is that Doncaster come into this game in 10th place in the Championship and with confidence to spare.
Ever wondered what the collective noun is for central defenders? Well, at Doncaster Rovers its a ‘medical room’ of central defenders. There are currently four of them in there all jostling for attention and getting Steve Brooker a little wound up. The forward had just about made himself at home in the treatment room, having just had some fellas in to lay some lovely cream carpets, and then in come all these big lummocking defenders treading plaster and liniment oil into his new shag-pile. They’re all still in there now, Jason Shackell, Adam Lockwood, Byron Webster and Shelton Martis, all making a nuisance of themselves.
Its not just central defenders unavailable to Sean O’Driscoll either with Gareth Roberts the fifth member of Rovers’ rear-guard currently unavailable. The left full-back’s knee injury has proved thankfully to not be as serious as first feared, but though he is back training he is unlikely to come into the side for this trip. Martin Woods is also back in training, but his groin problem is unlikely to have passed sufficiently for his inclusion, and with Waide Fairhurst unavailable Rovers will most likely name an unchanged side from Tuesday night, the only possible exception being the inclusion of a seventh substitute in the form of Sean McDaid if he is fit.
Queens Park Rangers will be missing Mikele Leigertwood as he completes a three match ban for a red card received against Peterborough United. Mick Harford will also be without Gavin Mahon and Martin Rowlands, and possibly two others as well with doubts currently over Hogan Ephraim and Marcus Bent. Ephraim has been carrying an ankle injury of late whilst the on loan forward Bent is looking to return from a hamstring injury.
Predicted Doncaster Rovers line-up
(4-3-2-1) Neil Sullivan; James O’Connor, Sam Hird, Elliott Ward, James Chambers; John Oster, Mark Wilson, Brian Stock; Jamie Coppinger, James Hayter; Billy Sharp
subs: Ben Smith, Sean McDaid, Mustapha Dumbaya, Jordan Mutch, John Spicer, Dean Shiels, Lewis Guy
Travelling to the Game
If you’re planning on driving to Loftus Road, then first let us pause whilst we acknowledge your bravery. Now, your best route towards the ground is along the A40, either accessed by the M40 or by heading West along London’s North Circular. Stay on the A40 ’til you come to Wood Lane and turn right here for White City. According to the Football Ground Guide, parking can be found in an industrial unit on Aerial Way opposite the BBC television centre, but it will cost you in the region of £6.
A better bet may be to get to the ground via the London Underground as there are a number of stations less than ten minutes walk away. White City on the Central line is the closest station, though Wood Lane on the Hammersmith & City line is only a couple more minutes away. Shepherds Bush on the Central line and Shepherds Bush Market on the Hammersmith & City line are also close by and will plonk you a bit nearer to matchday pubs if you’re after a drink before the game. Between these two stations you’ll find a number of pubs around Shepherds Bush Common, and don’t forget to look out for a mush selling Trevor Francis tracksuits.
Rovers fans will be housed in the upper tier of School End for this fixture, so called because if you don’t sit down and behave yourselves throughout you’ll be kept behind at the end. Though the away end backs on to Loftus Road, the entrance for travelling fans is in Ellerslie Road, which is a shame because I can’t recount the enjoyable night I spent in one of the houses that flank the Loftus Road turnstiles, was it really six years ago? Er, anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, away end, er not much room in the seats, decent view, and you’ll probably get searched on the way in to check that the £30 entrance fee hasn’t left you with any change.
I’m afraid its bad news from Viva Towers folks, as for the second game running you will be without our occasionally enjoyed live match twitter feed. As a paltry make-up gesture Viva Rovers will be tweeting second-hand information during the game which you can access via @vivarovers and so feel free to tweet us with your own updates and corrections to our ill-informed messages.
For live commentary it would seem its a case of official website or bust I’m afraid. As with anything in the capital, if you want it you need to be prepared to pay for it, so you’ll have to subscribe to Rovers Player if you want to know exactly whats going on… well I say exactly. For regular updates back in South Yorkshire you can tune into BBC Radio Sheffield, or if you’re on the internet try the BBC’s online Live Text service which will tell you more than you could ever wish to know about throw-ins and other set-pieces. Alternatively of course there is BBC’s Score Interactive via the red button on television, but use it as your peril as the BBC have not yet found the technology to make Garth Crooks optional.