|Ipswich Town 0 v 2 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 20th October 2018 Kick-off 15:00
Hurst: First Home Win Next Thing to Tick Off
Friday, 19th Oct 2018 12:40
Boss Paul Hurst goes into Saturday’s game against QPR looking for his first home victory having ended the long wait for his inaugural win at Swansea before the international break.
It's been a while since the Portman Road faithful saw their side pick up three points on home turf, the last win having been the 1-0 defeat of Barnsley in Mick McCarthy’s final game in charge back on April 10th, eight matches and more than six months ago.
“That’s the next thing for me in my mind to tick off,” Hurst said. “Give the fans that turn out in their numbers something to cheer about and just putting smiles on people’s faces really and making it a better weekend for everybody.”
Although without a win, the Blues have only lost one of their six home games this season, the 2-0 loss to Middlesbrough last time out, with the other five having ended in draws.
Asked whether the first victory of the season having come at Swansea, a club relegated from the Premier League in May and expected to be among the division’s challengers this season, meant the 3-2 victory provided an extra boost, Hurst reflected: “I think you’re better speaking to the players, in all honesty. It was great just to get that win.
“From my point of view, we talk about the Championship being so competitive and it just feels like we’ve won a game.
“Personally I wasn’t as focused on who it was against particularly. It was a very tough game as I said on the day, they played some excellent football but we contributed to what I would imagine was a decent game to watch.
“To some degree it perhaps reminded me of a game that was on in midweek [England’s 3-2 win in Spain] where a team drew a lot of praise but then had to do a lot of defending.
“We’ll take that and we were very happy on the day. I think the time frame makes it difficult to judge and we’ll not know overall [the impact it will have] and each game is different anyway. But what I would say is we think the spirit does seem good on the training pitch but it did before.
“Now if a game gets to a certain point we know how to win, albeit we’ve only done it once and we want to add to that.
“But there’s not that pressure where we’re thinking that we haven’t won a game yet. That’s been and gone now, hopefully that can be used to get some more victory.”
The match against QPR, 18th, five places and five points above the Blues, is the first of five crucial fixtures running up to the next international break, four of them against teams in the lower reaches.
After Wednesday’s trip to third-placed Leeds, the Blues are at Millwall, 20th, next Saturday before Preston, 22nd, visit Portman Road and Town travel to 21st-placed Reading.
“I’m not putting too much pressure on these games, genuinely,” Hurst said when quizzed about the significance of the fixtures against the teams currently in the same area of the table as the Blues.
“They’re important no matter who they’re against in terms of absolutely the worst case scenario being you’ve got to stay in touch and hopefully we’ll come out better than that.
“But as going to Swansea shows, it’s not just about teams in and around you, but it would be nice because it keeps some sucked in and the day we got the victory a lot of the other bottom teams won and a couple that had just got that little bit of a cushion suddenly got dragged back into looking over their shoulders.
“Like I say, that’s at worst what we've got to do but it won’t be any more added pressure. Certainly my message to the players won’t be anything about that. It’ll be about going out and trying to perform and hopefully they’ve gained the confidence to get some more good results.”
The character the side showed at Swansea was widely praised, particularly going on to win after the Swans’ equaliser, but Hurst says his team has shown that sort of spirit in other games too.
“I think a lot can be made of that, I think the lads have shown character at different times,” he reflected.
“They showed a lot of character in the Middlesbrough game because that situation could have been a helluva lot worse had they not shown that.
“It doesn't always get you a victory but I don’t think I’ve questioned anything like that with the team so far and hopefully I won’t.
“So yes, we need that, I think you need that at any time. The best teams, you can talk about how well they played but there’s character within performances when you dominate, to want to keep going, to want to keep getting the ball, to be ruthless. You need that in a successful team.
“And success can mean different things. But for us, and the situation we still find ourselves in, that’ll be key. We need men, we need leaders and I’m sure we’ll get them.”
Hurst didn’t need reminding that one of the poorest performances of the season followed the last international break, the 2-0 loss at now-bottom Hull City.
He says he wants his side to get back into the swing of things “a lot quicker” and says they’ve treated the break slightly differently this time around.
“We missed a couple more players, we haven’t trained quite as hard,” he said.
“It might have been in mind that we’re a little bit more into the season as well, but it’s something that we looked at and without having a definitive answer we very much don’t want to have that sort of performance because if we do we’re making it extremely difficult to get a positive result.
“I’m fully aware of that and half-expected that question but we’ve got to look to do a lot better.
“There’s no absolute answer to it and maybe the fact that we conceded so early in the game at Hull from a mistake knocked the confidence of the players and maybe it was that more than anything else in that game.
“But at the same time, we want to make sure that we perform better overall irrespective of how the game starts, whether we get in front, QPR, it’s level, whatever. We’ve got to be better than we were on that day.”
Hurst has a lot of time for QPR boss Steve McClaren: “He had a fantastic time in Holland and managed the national team but still clearly wants to be a football manager, which says a lot about a person.
“I’m sure without knowing his finances it’s not something he desperately needs to do, but he does it because he enjoys it and wants to do well.
“He had a difficult start but a couple of signings seem to have really help them and now he’ll be looking to kick on make sure they’re not one of the teams involved at the wrong end of the table.”
The signings he feels made a difference include loanees Nahki Wells and Tomer Hemed, who joined from Burnley and Brighton respectively.
“I’m not sure how often they’ve actually played together but Hemed had obviously won promotion from the league with Brighton and Wells hadn’t played too much football so you’re hoping that you’re getting a player that’s hungry to play and get back amongst the goals,” Hurst added.
“They were two signings that have given them a little bit more strength in attacking areas, but they’ve got another couple of very good individual players I think that are starting to catch the eye of teams and we’ll have to be wary of that.”
Midfielder Luke Freeman and forward Eberechi Eze are among the other QPR players Hurst rates highly.
“Freeman’s a very good player, he was linked with a move away in the window and according to some media outlets that doesn’t seem to have gone away,” he said.
“Either way, he’ll be keen to impress, whether it’s for his current side or if it is to think, ‘Yeah, let’s see whether I can get even more interest come January’.
“He’s got a very good left foot, he can beat players, good dead ball delivery, he’s a threat from freekicks in and around the box, we’ve got to be careful with that.
“So he’s one and the other lad is Eze, who we really liked when he was on loan at Wycombe and has kicked on from there. He was involved with the England set up as well.
“Those two in terms of individual ability are right up there but they’ve obviously got other good players we as well.”
Hurst has said illness has hit the Town training ground this week, with skipper Luke Chambers among those affected, and another unnamed player has picked up an injury which he hopes won’t keep them out of the match.
Assuming everyone is fit and well, Hurst is unlikely to stray too far from the team which won at Swansea, which would see Dean Gerken continue in goal.
The Blues manager does have decisions to make at full-back, however. Jonas Knudsen was dropped from his regular left-back role at Swansea but replaced Janoi Donacien at half-time and had a strong 45 minutes.
On the other flank Matthew Pennington had a tough game and Hurst could consider starting Donacien on the right and Knudsen on the left.
That would give him another decision in the centre of the defence but, assuming everyone’s fit and well, would probably look to continue with Chambers and Toto Nsiala as his pairing.
In midfield, Cole Skuse and Trevoh Chalobah will take the deeper roles with Andre Dozzell ahead of them, Grant Ward on the left and Gwion Edwards on the right. Freddie Sears will continue as the lone striker.
For QPR, defender Darnell Furlong is on his way back from a knee injury suffered in pre-season but is not ready to feature on Saturday.
Full-back Jake Bidwell and midfielder Jordan Cousins will be given late fitness tests prior to the match.
Bidwell suffered a shoulder injury in the 1-1 home draw with Derby before the international break, while Cousins picked up an ankle problem in the same match.
Like Hurst, QPR boss McClaren was frustrated by the timing of the international break, his side having won 1-0 at Reading prior to the draw with Derby.
“It was a shame because the last week before the break, we didn’t start so well but we got a good win at Reading and a great game against Derby," he told QPR.co.uk.
"It’s about momentum and that’s been stopped; now we have to start all over again.
“We know it’s a difficult trip to Ipswich. But it’s at times like this it’s about standards of performance, it’s about ourselves and we’ve got to be right if we want to get a result."
He added: “Ipswich is always a difficult place to go. They’re a hard team to beat. Despite not winning games, they’ve been drawing a lot so it shows they’re difficult opponents.
“They deserved to win at Swansea – we know how difficult it is to go there, so if they can go there and win it shows how good a team they must be. We know it’s not going to be easy and our performance has to be right.”
Town have won 30 of the previous encounters between the sides (28 in the league), Rangers 28 (25) and 19 (18) have ended in draws.
The Blues have lost seven of their last 10 league games against Rangers, winning only two, however, the West Londoners are without a victory in three at Portman Road.
The teams last met at Portman Road on Boxing Day last year when the game ended in a drab 0-0 draw.
Neither side created many chances throughout the 90 minutes, while the Blues had a good case for a penalty in the final minute when Joe Garner’s header was handled by Jack Robinson, shortly after the visitors were reduced to 10 men when Josh Scowen was dismissed for a second bookable offence.
At Loftus Road in the preceding September, sub Bersant Celina celebrated his 21st birthday with a brilliant late goal but it wasn’t enough to prevent the Blues from falling to a 2-1 defeat.
Jamie Mackie and Freeman struck either side of the break to give Rangers a two-goal advantage before Celina smashed home his stunning strike to set up a nervy end for the home team, who held on to claim the three points and inflict Town's first away defeat in this year's Championship.
QPR’s Australian international midfielder Massimo Luongo joined Town on loan from Spurs in the summer of 2012 and made eight starts and three sub appearances, scoring once, before McCarthy curtailed his spell at Portman Road shortly after taking over.
Loan frontman Wells spent time on trial at Portman Road as a teenager. He did enough to be asked to stay on for a longer spell but the homesick youngster opted to go back to Bermuda and the Dandy Town Hornets before later making his return to English football with Carlisle, Bradford, Huddersfield and Burnley before his loan switch in August.
Midfielder or striker Ryan Manning, who is currently on loan with Rotherham, trained with the Blues academy when a schoolboy before joining the West London club's youth set-up.
Town’s U18s assistant manager Kieron Dyer was with QPR from July 2011 to January 2013.
Saturday’s referee is Geoff Eltringham, who has shown 38 yellow cards and two red in 11 games so far this season.
The County Durham-based official’s last Town match was the second half of the 2-0 defeat at Middlesbrough in December last year when he replaced Robert Jones at the break and booked Bersant Celina and one Teessider.
His last full game was the 3-2 defeat at Leeds last September when he booked Knudsen, Skuse, Jordan Spence and one home player.
Eltringham was also in charge of the 2-1 win at Barnsley the previous month in which he booked Dominic Iorfa, Knudsen and one Tyke.
Prior to that he was the referee for the 3-1 loss at Fulham in April last year in which he booked three home players and Blues captain Chambers.
He also took control of the 2-2 draw with Reading at Portman Road two months earlier in which he cautioned Knudsen and two of the visitors and the 0-0 draw at Blackburn in October 2016 in which he booked only one home player.
Eltringham also refereed the 1-1 draw at Sheffield Wednesday in April 2013 when he kept his cards in his pockets throughout.
His first Blues match was against Leeds at Elland Road in January 2012, which ended 3-1, in which he red-carded on-loan Town keeper Alex McCarthy for handling outside the area thereby denying an obvious goalscoring opportunity and booked Luke Hyam and one Whites player.
Squad from: Gerken, Bialkowski, Donacien, Pennington, Spence, Knudsen, Chambers (c), Nsiala, Skuse, Chalobah, Downes, Dozzell, Edun, Edwards, Ward, Graham, Nolan, Sears, Jackson, Lankester.
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