POLL: Town fan and QPR commentator Will Ridgard predicts Saturday’s result

Mick McCarthy: Thumbs up

Mick McCarthy: Thumbs up - Credit: Archant

Having seen QPR more than most this season as a matchday commentator at Loftus Road, Town fan WILL RIDGARD looks ahead to what Saturday’s encounter may bring for the Blues.

With the Tractor Boys remaining unbeaten in December and the early New Year to jump as high as sixth position and Rangers’ hit-and-miss form leaving them in third, if this fixture was to be held in May, a near 30,000-strong crowd full of face-paint and balloons would be passionately cheering their team one step closer to Wembley in glorious Suffolk sunshine.

Cut to the present and in what is likely to be more wet and windy weather, and in front of a crowd that will narrowly fill just over half of its capacity, over-achieving Town will battle it out against underachieving QPR looking to gain revenge on the Hoops who cruelly defeated the plucky Tractor Boys’ efforts at Loftus Road right at the death back in August courtesy of Tom Hitchcock’s single goal (Who? I hear you say).

I say ‘over-achieving Town’ but maybe I’m wrong. Mick McCarthy’s men are having a tremendous season to this point and bar a disappointing yet difficult August, have generally been outstanding as three defeats in 20 league games and nearly four and a half months will prove.

And indeed, my partner in crime in the commentary business still lists Ipswich behind Leicester as the most impressive team to have visited Loftus Road this season.

I probably find myself referring to Town as over-achieving because, like many others, after my fair share of years of disappointment without even the slightest trace of excitement, I cannot believe I am witnessing a Town team genuinely challenging for a play-off place.

And although many Town fans have criticised McCarthy for some of his tactics, football is ultimately a results business and these critics would be lying if they said they picked up the papers on a Sunday and didn’t smile at the league tables sector.

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Besides, I, like many other Town fans would have bitten your arm off if you told me Ipswich would be in the play-off places in January before a Championship ball was kicked on August 3.

Back to QPR and like many I was expecting them to take the Championship by storm and romp away with the league.

Flash back to reality and it’s been tough for Harry Redknapp’s men, who certainly haven’t had it all their own way.

Truth be told, they play good football and as I find out on a fortnightly basis - are more often that not a joy to watch. But that doesn’t guarantee results as the Hoops fans have frustratingly found out. ‘Arry has come under a bit of pressure from the Loftus Road faithful, who feel the club should be better placed than their current position shows, and perhaps rightly so - you only have to look at some of the names on board at the club to see just how much talent and quality they possess. Joey Barton, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Niko Kranjcar and Andy Johnson are just a few names that will take to the pitch on Saturday. Not bad, hey?

Maybe there are too many egos in the dressing room to carve out results which require a wholehearted team effort. McCarthy’s men are the polar opposite in that respect.

The stats don’t lie though and QPR’s away form has largely been their downfall as their flirtatious grip on automatic promotion tightens and then slips with every fixture.

Just one win and seven points from a last possible 24 on the road has seen Rangers fall five points behind leaders Leicester at the top of the Championship pyramid.

‘Win at home and draw away’ is the recognised formula for promotion and although Rangers, by the skin of their teeth, seem to be on the right lines. That said, even their home form has stalled a little as well.

In their last three games at Loftus Road, they have been held to a goal-less draw by Blackburn (a side Town beat 3-1), toppled 1-0 by Leicester before relying on a injury-time winner from Charlie Austin to overcome 20th-placed Doncaster Rovers.

Which leads me to my next problem with Town’s opposition on Saturday. Goals. Rangers have scored a paltry 26 goals in 24 league games, and in truth, apart from Charlie Austin, hardly look like scoring. Coming into the fixture, Rangers have failed to score in five of their last seven games - quite an astonishing stat for a team third in the league.

Former bricklayer Austin has 12 strikes to his name so far for the west London outfit and carries a lot of pressure on those broad shoulders. But what of the likes of Johnson and Bobby Zamora I hear you say? Well, for one reason or another these once established Premier League individuals simply are not the same fearsome players that they once were. Injuries and age look to have taken their toll on the duo.

Matt Phillips is a real threat however, and is in my opinion the best winger in the Championship, so Aaron Cresswell, our very own best left-back in the league (arguably, as I’m sure his opposite number on Saturday will debate that) will have to keep close tabs on a tricky player with an abundance of pace.

Kranjcar is another talent with proven qualities and will have to be picked up by McCarthy’s likely midfield trio of Luke Hyam, Cole Skuse and Ryan Tunnicliffe. The ever-controversial Barton is also a key player for the R’s and loves to get on the ball and try and make things happen.

However, for every negative there is a positive and at the back QPR are formidable. Expertly marshalled by the experienced, robust head of Richard Dunne, Rangers have conceded just 14 league goals and boast 14 clean sheets in total.

Eight of these clean sheets were in a row and this run ironically started in the narrow victory over Ipswich back in August. The tables have turned since then though and Dunne and co will do well to stop not a free-scoring Ipswich side but one that certainly know where the goal is as the Blues are currently the joint-fourth top scorers in the Championship.

Supported by Danny Simpson and Assou-Ekotto, who often don’t have to climb out of second gear for 90 minutes, Dunne is usually partnered by Rangers’ cult hero Clint Hill.

The two are very much a case of ‘what you see is what you get’ which is why I think Ipswich will miss Daryl Murphy’s physical presence on Saturday.

Murph is one of the best players I have seen in the air and that’s no exaggeration.

I haven’t seen many teams score at QPR this season but one that has stuck long in the memory was when the pacey Jamie Vardy beat Dunne for pace and latched onto a David Nugent flick-on before clinically finishing. Enough said.

Prediction... 0-0

Both teams are built on solid foundations and could struggle to break other down with the mentality of ‘not getting beat’ coming into play.

I’ve tried to predict QPR results before and have often predicted score-lines too high so if I go for 0-0, you can thank me when you watch an enthralling 4-4 goal-fest on Saturday.

Either side may nick it 1-0 but if Ipswich are to turn over and gain revenge on QPR and cement themselves in the play-off places, maybe the Championship is not as ‘tough’ and ‘difficult’ as people make out.

I think a lot will be told from the result in terms of their fortunes for the remainder of the season and as proved so far this campaign, McCarthy’s men fear no-one.