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Saturday, April 23, 2011

QPR Report Saturday: Cardiff: Warnock's Weekly Column...FA Penalty Speculation


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GUARDIAN/JAMIE JACKSON - QPR's promotion party could be ruined by Alejandro Faurlín legal case

Neil Warnock's side will go up if they win at Cardiff today but FA charges over third-party ownership could send them down again

Queens Park Rangers will return to the Premier League if they beat Cardiff City in Saturday's lunchtime kick-off in Wales. This is the supposed scenario. Yet away from the pitch the party could be ruined.

On 7 May QPR hope to host Leeds United at Loftus Road as the Championship champions before returning to the top division for the first time since player-manager Ray Wilkins took them down 15 years ago. Yet, the day before, QPR could be docked enough points that prevent automatic promotion, and to force them into the lottery of the play-offs.

After a three-day hearing an independent panel will return its verdict on the seven FA charges brought against the club and its chairman, Gianni Paladini. These relate to the third-party ownership of Alejandro Faurlín, the Argentinian midfielder who has been among QPR's best performers in a campaign during which they have led the Championship almost throughout.

For a club 95% owned by the billionaires Bernie Ecclestone and Lakshmi Mittal, this is an unwanted and potentially disastrous pickle to be in. For Neil Warnock, the manager who has the opportunity to restore the west London institution of Rodney Marsh, Stan Bowles and Les Ferdinand to the big time, there is no concern.

"Not to me," he says. "I didn't want to speak to anybody at the club because I'm not sure what I would hear. So I spoke to the independent barrister and I was very pleased with what he said. I told the players: 'This is from an independent barrister. All we've got to do is worry about the football and let him worry about this.' I'm quite happy when the facts come out that everything will be OK."

Leniency, though, is not assured. QPR are the first club to be charged with breaching the prohibition against fielding a player whose registration, or "economic rights," is owned by a private concern. The four most serious charges relate to the allegation that Faurlín was owned by what is understood to be an Argentinian company in the period from July 2009, when he arrived, until October 2010.

West Ham United were fined £5.5m by the Premier League, after Carlos Tevez and Javier Mascherano were signed in 2006 and later found to have been partially owned by a third party, but this was not necessarily a precedent. When they joined West Ham, third-party ownership was allowed. The club was actually fined for failing to disclose the agreement to the Premier League.

QPR deny all charges. The club will argue that, because their breach of regulations was flagged up as soon as they became aware of it, clemency should be afforded. But ignorance is not usually a legal argument. And, while QPR may yet receive only a fine, if they are docked points Warnock's men may find when the season ends that even a gap of 10 or 15 points to the third-placed team is not enough for automatic promotion.

All that a side which includes Adel Taarabt, the Championship player of the season, Faurlín, Paddy Kenny, Clint Hill, Shaun Derry, Heidar Helguson and Kaspars Gorkss can do is maintain focus.

As they kick off against Cardiff the Welsh club stand eight points behind QPR. The message from Warnock, who is the 10th manager since Ecclestone, Mittal and the now departed Flavio Briatore bought the club in 2007, is to enjoy. "It's an exciting time. A full house at Cardiff, it'll be a fabulous atmosphere. That's why you're in the game."

Warnock's 13-month tenure has been a success. The 62-year-old is fond of repeating that, despite QPR's cash-soaked owners, he often selects a team that cost only £2m (at £3.5m, Faurlín is the club's most expensive player). Warnock said: "We never envisaged where we would be now. Not in a million years. I said between fourth and eighth, depending on what happened at Christmas. We've played some great football and had some good results with a good mix: solid at the back and some creative players."

Taarabt, a 21-year-old Moroccan, is the undoubted star. "We realise what Taarabt's got," he says. "I tell our players: 'Look at what he's good at. Because if you looked at what he's not good at, you'd want to hang him every week.'"

Previously Warnock has lifted Notts County, in 1991, and Sheffield United, in 2006, into the top flight. Would taking QPR up be the pinnacle of his 43-year career? "Absolutely. It'd be the best job I've done because from being almost relegated when I turned up to not far off the Premier League in 13 months is incredible."

Warnock still argues bitterly that West Ham's ability to field Tevez in the 2006-07 season allowed them to avoid relegation and sent Sheffield United down.

The fear is that, if Cardiff are defeated, or whenever promotion should become automatic for QPR, off-field transgressions could yet again initiate another bout of unwanted acrimony and legal wrangling." The Guardian


Neil Warnock: Cardiff will be intimidating, but so are abusive prisoners, Dragon's Fury and injecting Elvis

What I Learnt This Week

Saturday, 23 April 2011

The TV crews turned up in force to our press conference on Thursday and they all wanted to know if I was worried about taking the team into what will be a hostile atmosphere at Cardiff today. Worried? I'm excited. A sell-out crowd generating a fantastic atmosphere: this is what we are in the game for.

Besides, I've been going down to Wales to play football matches for a long time and I doubt I'll ever be as unnerved as I was as an 18-year-old with Chesterfield after playing at Swansea's old Vetch Field. There was a prison opposite and when we came out of the ground to wait for the bus the prisoners started banging metal spoons and cups against the bars and shouting abuse. That was intimidating.

Both Cardiff and Swansea have new grounds now and, although they are both fantastic stadia, there was something special about the Vetch and Ninian Park. I had good memories of the latter place as well, as that is where we got the points with Sheffield United five years ago that took us into the Premier League. We won there on the Good Friday and when results the following day went our way we were up.

We're back at home on Monday but that may not be an advantage as the visitors are the best away team in the country – Hull City. They have gone 17 undefeated, which is fabulous at any level but especially in the Championship. Nigel Pearson deserves a pat on the back for his work there which could end up in promotion this season.

Both matches will be tough but, as I said to the players after our goalless draw with Derby on Monday, the opposition will be trying to win which means there will be space to play. Derby came with the aim of avoiding defeat and the onus was on us to break them down. We needed to score early but couldn't. We could not score late either, but all credit to Derby. Besides, a point is not a bad result at this stage of the season and, while Adel Taarabt wasn't able to celebrate being voted by his fellow pros into the Championship's team of the season with a goal, Paddy Kenny did mark his equally deserved inclusion with a clean sheet.

2. Without silly errors Arsenal would have won the league

Arsène Wenger must have felt like shooting himself last weekend when Arsenal couldn't beat Liverpool despite going ahead in the eighth minute of injury time. But as upset as he was by the penalty decision he must have been absolutely gutted by the pathetic way Emmanuel Eboué gave it away. Why do players do that in the box? It does my head in. He showed a total lack of responsibility. Arsène knows his team have had such an opportunity this season. They should have won the league. That is what makes it all the more soul destroying.

Then on Wednesday it happened again. Arsène watched his team play some exhilarating football, go 3-1 up at Spurs, get pegged back to 3-2, then give away another daft penalty. Aaron Lennon was never going to score from where he was so why didn't Wojciech Szczesny pull out of the challenge? Why go down and give Lennon the chance of a penalty? I asked our keepers, "Is it me or can you not pull out once you know the kid is going to get there first?" They thought he could have stopped himself, but he's a young keeper and still learning. I do think he will be the best Arsenal have had for a long time, but his learning process involves some expensive mistakes.

Like most people I couldn't take my eyes off the match but what went unnoticed by the majority was what a fantastic game the referee had. When Martin Atkinson first came on the scene I wasn't convinced, but he's now one of our best officials and I was delighted to see him appointed the FA Cup final referee. At White Hart Lane he showed just why he was such a fine choice with an excellent performance. I thought he not only got the big decisions right, the way he handled the match was one of the reason it was so fantastic. We are quick to criticise refs when they get it wrong, so it's only right we praise when they get it right.

I must be going soft because I was also impressed with a ref on Tuesday. I've had one of two run-ins with Lee Probert in the past, but other than him laughing all the time I thought he had great game in Newcastle v Man United, it was probably the best I've seen him have. Although he incurred the wrath of both managers when it came to penalty incidents, I thought he was right. When I think of some of the decisions in the Barcelona-Real Madrid matches this week it shows how lucky we are to have such good refs in our top flight.

After watching Real and Barça draw on Saturday I changed channels after Spurs-Arsenal to the Spanish Cup final because I was interested to see Jose Mourinho's tactics. You have to say he is a top-class manager. He knew that his side were not good enough to play open football against the best in the world, so he got numbers back and made it very difficult for Barcelona, then hoped for a goal by breaking quickly. Which is how it played out in extra time. I know he likes to wind people up about coming back to England, but I think any league is better with him in it than without.

3. Get well soon, Gérard, I know how painful it can be

I'd like to take the opportunity to send Gérard Houllier my best wishes for a swift recovery. It is a stressful job and I doubt my wife would have let me return after suffering a heart attack. But he took advice from his doctor and obviously thought he would be OK. It certainly can't have helped being abused by his own fans. Recent results will have eased the pressure but it won't have taken away the hurt. Even though we all say it's water off a duck's back, it's not really. It used to hurt when Sheffield United fans chanted "Warnock out" even when it was only 200-odd out of 20,000. The good news is the situation does not seem as serious as last time and I hope Gérard will be up and about no time.

4. After years as a manager I can take a roller-coaster – just

The press are always talking about clubs having a roller-coaster ride. Well on Sunday I went on a roller-coaster and I can tell you there is no comparison. I was absolutely terrified, which doesn't happen often in football. We went to Chessington World of Adventures and really enjoyed the day. I haven't been as brave for many years – Vampire and Dragon's Fury were unbelievable. We went up and down, and sideways, and upside down – I don't know how they keep the things on the track. I had a permanent smile on my face as we whizzed around, but don't think that meant I was enjoying it. Underneath I was full of fear-induced adrenalin.

Which means you may be surprised to hear I suggested we go on Dragon's Fury a second time. William was right impressed. It was actually a cunning ploy as I knew closing time was coming and the kids were steering me to Rameses' Revenge, in which you get soaked. I figured I'd rather have the life frightened out of me than be wet through on the way home.

5. Good to see Brighton back and heading for a new home

Congratulations to Gus Poyet and Brighton on their promotion to the Championship. I've a soft spot for the club because I scored the best goal of my career down there. We then stopped over and had a wonderful night out. That was at the old Goldstone, of course, more recently they've been at the Withdean which, let's be honest, is a dump. I've nothing but admiration for the Brighton fans who have loyally kept going along to support their team. They deserve the new stadium they'll be going to next season. I know from my time at Huddersfield when we left Leeds Road – which was so terrible no woman would have dreamt of going there – that a new ground will provide a real boost. Our gates trebled as families flocked to the new facilities.

6. Our recharged chameleon is going like a traffic light

I've a bit of a crisis this week. Elvis the chameleon had to have an operation. He had lumps on his side and went into the vets for a biopsy. He had to stay for a few days – the total bill was £600 which is a bit steep. Whatever they did seems to have worked because when he came out he was full of life. He's eating locusts like they are going out of fashion and changing colours like a traffic light. The only drawback is I've had to inject him every day, which isn't easy. At least I won't have to do it today as I'm in Cardiff. If it starts getting lively I'll think of Sharon trying to inject him and realise I'm in the best place " Independent.

Dave McIntyre Blog - A momentous week?

I rarely see QPR play away from home these days and expected to be at a different match tomorrow, but after a late swap deal it turns out I’ll be at Cardiff.

Being such a superstitious man, this ought to please Neil Warnock. I won’t say what Rangers’ record is in away matches I’ve covered this season. You wouldn’t want me to tempt fate.

I think both Rangers and Cardiff will be in the Premier League come August. And if I were putting money on tomorrow’s result, I’d go for a draw. I also reckon two draws will be enough for QPR to go up.

Warnock seemed very relaxed when I spoke to him earlier this week, which was to be expected. Most managers try to be that way at this stage of a run-in, and let’s face it Rangers are almost over the line already.

Ian Holloway, a totally different character, was manic most of the time, yet I never knew him to be calmer than before the play-off final and the following year’s decider at Hillsborough.

Gerry Francis and John Gregory also appeared to be at their coolest during their relegation run-ins, although the latter seemed to fancy himself as QPR’s answer to The Fonz at the best of times.

Warnock confirmed that Pascal Chimbonda has effectively left Rangers after recently being told he won’t play for the club again. He hasn’t reported for training.

Despite Wayne Routledge’s agent recently suggesting the player might return to Newcastle in the summer, Warnock also confirmed there are no expected problems with his permanent signing.

We later both learnt of a report that Routledge had basically been released by Newcastle and, by definition, would be joining Rangers on a free transfer.

After reading about Chimbonda, a friend of mine reckoned I’d managed to dredge up a negative story even in this most potentially positive of weeks.

Maybe that’s a fair comment. But a couple of Saturday’s papers will feature Warnock waxing lyrical about Rangers’ season, so I’ll leave all that to them. Positivity isn’t my strong point, although I did have a go with a Matt Connolly interview following the Derby game.

But Chimbonda’s exit does have a positive element – and I don’t just mean for those who are glad to see the back of him.

It was precipitated by Peter Ramage’s recovery, which has been quicker than expected. Ramage featured for the reserves recently and is due to play the full 90 minutes of another game on Tuesday.

That’s partly – and I stress the word partly – why Warnock decided to tell Chimbonda his time was up.

As most know, Ramage’s contract is due to expire at the end of the season, so the next few weeks are important for him.

Back to tomorrow, which could be a very open game despite what’s at stake for both teams.

A lot of Rangers fans seem disappointed about Norwich’s win against Ipswich, but I saw that as a good result for QPR as it puts added pressure on Cardiff, who need to win.

I’ll update my Twitter feed throughout tomorrow. You can follow me by clicking here. http://twitter.com/davidmcintyre76

Chris Charles/Football League Blog

Easter is upon us but for Ipswich fans Friday was anything but good.

The hot cross buns will have had a distinctly bitter taste following Thursday night's humiliation by Norwich at Portman Road in the Old Farm derby.

"5-1 and Holt didn't score!" could be the new chant for the delirious Canaries, who leapfrogged Cardiff to go second in the Championship, but more importantly completed a memorable double over their deadly rivals, 9-2 on aggregate. Ouch.

Norwich boss Paul Lambert had his eye on a second successive promotion following the five star performance from his side and laughed afterwards; "There are 500 dvds getting made of that match right now!"

Opposite number Paul Jewell was not a happy bunny, managing to include "embarrassing", "disappointed" and "humiliation" in the same sentence as he tried to come to terms with what he'd just witnessed.

The win saw Norwich close the gap on leaders QPR to six points after the west London side were held to a goalless draw at home by Derby. Rams skipper Robbie Savage again kept Adel Taarabt quiet, cheekily Tweeting afterwards: "It was hard playing with 12 stone in my pocket."

Paddy Kenny denied Derby an unikely win with a fantastic one-handed from Stephen Pearson on his way to a club record 24th clean sheet of the season, causing 'Jon Doeman' on the QPR Report forum to quip: "Paddy and the shut outs - sounds like an indie band!"

Cardiff host QPR on Saturday hoping to make it five wins in a row to keep alive their faint hopes of overhauling the long-time leaders.

Portsmouth were the latest victims after being on the wrong end of a 3-0 rout in South Wales, but thoughts on the Cardiff City Message Board were already turning to what fancy dress they should be wearing at Burnley on the last day of the season.

Don't expect 'Ell' to be among those in their gladrags though, after he wrote: "The last time I dressed up for a game - Liverpool away in the Carling Cup - I was the only one in fancy dress. I thought it was the thing everyone did as it was Halloween. To make matters worse, I was in the Liverpool end and had to sit through the whole game in my superhero 'Flash' outfit."

Burnley were the toast of Cardiff after seeing off the Bluebirds' promotion rival neighbours Swansea 2-1. The Clarets came from a goal down to end a six-game winless streak and Graham Alexander nearly enjoyed a fairytale ending on his 1000th appearance, only to see his late free-kick tipped onto the bar.

The 39-year-old made his debut for Sc**thorpe in a Football League Trophy match against Halifax in 1988, when Margaret Thatcher was in her ninth year at the helm, Bros were the hottest boy band in town and Ian Rush returned to Liverpool from Juventus after declaring Italy was "like living in a foreign country".

The win kept Burnley's play-off hopes alive and Hull did their cause no harm after Matty Fryatt's double secured a 3-1 victory at Doncaster. Leicester must be wishing they'd kept hold of Fryatt after they were on the wrong end of a right Royals spanking at Reading.

Andy King hit a late 35-yard scorcher for the Foxes but he was just a bit-part player in the Jimmy Kebe show. The Malian midfielder opened the scoring and tormented the visitors throughout as Reading made it eight straight wins to put them in sight of automatic promotion.

'Stuka' on Reading's curiously named 'Hob Nob Anyone?' forum asked: "Is Jimmy Kebe the greatest man that ever lived?" While 'Brendywendy' opined: "His handsome visage makes even the most beautiful of the angels hide their faces in shame."

But even Kebe's record isn't as impressive as midfield partner Mikele Leigertwood, who has yet to taste defeat in the 27 league games he's played for Reading and parent club QPR this season, leading fans to give him his own song to the tune of Ebeneezer Goode.

Elsewhere, Barnsley's Paul McShane got his marching orders for his part in a 20-man brawl at Middlesbrough but Tykes fans seemed more interested in a spot of schadenfreude at the expense of Yorkshire neighbours Sheffield United, whose 3-1 defeat by Preston in the proverbial six-pointer left them with a near impossible task of avoiding the drop.

'Trelford Mills' suggested a bizarre Aerosmith-inspired tribute for the boss - "Gus in an elevator" (going up, presumably) while 'Chops' made a personal appeal to striker Glen Murray to stay put, to the tune of East 17's Stay Another Day: "Muzza if you had to go away, don't think I could take the pain, won't you stay another day?"

Brings a tear to the eye. Have to admit that song is one of my guilty pleasures - I always fancied myself in one of these fetching white snow suits.

Anyway, Southampton stay second following Guly Do Prado's fine solo goal eight minutes from time against Bristol Rovers, while Huddersfield consolidated third place after a 1-0 win at Charlton stretched their unbeaten run to 21.

At the bottom, 'Mad Dog' Martin Allen is beginning to weave his magic at Notts County following a 1-0 win at Tranmere which lifted them out of the bottom three, as fans on the Notts County Mad forum amused themselves by holding a manager of the season vote.

Things are looking desperate for Plymouth, who went down at Peterborough courtesy of Craig Mackail-Smith's 30th goal of the season and it's not buch better at Swindon, whose home defeat by MK Dons made it just one win in 20.

Sheffield Wednesday virtually guaranteed their safety and the prospect of that League 1 steel city derby we heard about earlier, with a 2-0 win over Hartlepool. Doubtless inspired by Rocket Ronnie and co at the Crucible, Owls boss Gary Megson remarked: "Mathematically we need snookers to go down." Come again?

In League 2, Chesterfield are all but up (barring snookers) after beating Macclesfield, while Bury cemented second spot with a 2-0 defeat of Barnet, who have called on the services of Lawrie Sanchez (scorer of the the FA Cup winner in the year Graham Alexander made his debut) to help them out.

Bradford City abandoned their plans for a Player of the Year bash after their 4-0 hammering by Southend and announced that fans would have to pay just £1 to see their game with Burton, which one disillusioned supporter described as "way too expensive".

Northampton are still in trouble after squandering a two-goal lead at Wycombe, whose 37-year-old midfielder Gareth Ainsworth was named in the League 2 team of the season, and while Rotherham's 0-0 draw with Hereford was not much to write home about, fans on the Millers Mad messageboard came up with the thread of the week, entitled 'Strangest sandwich you've made' (apologies if you're just sitting down to eat).

Offerings included Melted Mars bar, Nutella and tomato ketchup, and chocolate Digestives and brown sauce. But my favourite came from 'Millerlite', who wrote: "Once came home from the boozer starving and we had no bread. Closest thing appeared to be corned beef so had slices of that with cheese and salad cream in between." We've all been there.

And finally, forgive the self-promotion, but I am joining a band of hardy souls on Saturday week (April 30) in walking the 15 miles from Loftus Road to Watford ahead of the Championship game. We're raising money for the Tiger Cubs - QPR's team for children with Down's syndrome and the one my little girl will play for one day. If you want to help out, click here.

Have a good Easter weekend one and all.

To contact Chris with an interesting story/quote/chant to share, then email him on chris.charles@football-league.co.uk or contact him via Twitter at http://twitter.com/chris__charles. Football League/Charles Blog

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