Nottingham Forest take on QPR on Saturday as Forest lift the curtain on their 2020/21 Championship campaign.
The Reds head to the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium looking to kick-off in style after a disappointing end to the last campaign.
Forest were beaten 1-0 by Barnsley in the Carabao Cup last weekend but some of the team’s stronger players look set to return this weekend.
Once again no supporters will be allowed in the stadiums for the big kick-off and the behind closed doors feel will feel normal for the players now.
Ahead of Saturday’s trip to the capital, we caught up with Clive Whittingham from LoftforWords who gave us the lowdown on all things QPR.
Nottingham Forest News (NFN): Pre-season looks to have been busy, are you satisfied with the signings you’ve made?
Clive Whittingham (CW): It’s certainly not as busy as we were last summer when I think we did 16 out and 16 in. Obviously the headline is Ebere Eze departing for some serious money which has enabled us to spend a little bit on Lyndon Dykes up front from Livingston and Rob Dickie at the back from Oxford. After our years of gross overspend and mismanagement under Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp, we’ve spent the last few seasons grinding the wage bill down from £80m a year to less than £20m.
We’ve particularly struggled in the striker market where prices have soared (£8m gets you Gary Madine) and wages are beyond our new wage structure. We failed with a punt on Conor Washington from League One and have since relied mostly on the loan market with varied results from the likes of Tomer Hemed, Nahki Wells, Jordan Hugill, Jan Mlakar etc. Dykes is a chance for us to actually own a striker again and we need it to go well. The defence has leaked for years, 70+ conceded for three seasons in a row and 76 last year, so Dickie will have his work cut out there. It’s all about buying low and young, developing and selling on at QPR now, the days of chucking money about are gone.
NFN: Could we expect anyone else to arrive before you face Forest at the weekend?
CW: We interviewed Mark Warburton earlier this week and he’s hoping for three more before the end of the window, a midfielder, wide attacker and another striker (we’ve been linked with Scott Hogan and others on loan). Doubtful they’ll be in for Saturday though and we’ve got a brewing situation with two influential players from last season – Bright Osayi-Samuel and Ryan Manning – who are out of contract at the end of the year, have so far refused to sign extensions, and have basically been made an ultimatum by the manager and club to sign extensions, or leave now, but they won’t be allowed to just stay, play and see their deals out before walking away next summer. We’ll have to see whether both, either or neither play on Saturday.
NFN: How are you finding Mark Warburton’s tenure; is Plan B still to do Plan A better in his eyes?
CW: I know he gets beaten up with that quote a lot, and he’s certainly got a very particular style of play which he is absolutely wedded to, but there were times last season (Millwall A, Cardiff H) when we changed it up to combat a more physical team and got good results from that. The good that comes from the system is we can be a very attractive and exciting team to watch, we score a lot of goals, we commit lots of players to the attack, and it’s benefitting a crop of talented young players. We had 6-1, 5-1, a 4-3, a couple of 4-2s and so on last season.
The downside, particularly with the full-backs pushed so high, we frequently get exposed in the channels, and our defending at set-pieces isn’t good at all, so we also concede a lot – I think only Luton shipped more than our 76 last season. Warburton would point out we’ve got £5k-6k a week defenders marking £45k-£50k a week strikers, and that if you’re both a big physical lad and also a great ball player then you’re probably in the Premier League so by going for lads who can pass we have to sacrifice a bit on the physicality side. A lot of fans are increasingly disgruntled about the way we defend and the number of goals we concede. We got into it with the manager earlier this week and it developed into a bit of a row, which you can read here. fansnetwork.co.uk/football/queen
Overall I think Warburton has been very good for us. We were relegation hot tips last season and instead finished higher in the league, won more games than the year before, scored more goals, more away wins, played better football, developed a young player into a £20m sale and so on. He’s got his eyes wide open on the financial limitations of the job and happily works within them, though doesn’t believe it’s factored into the criticism enough when we lose. I like him.
NFN: Last season you finished mid-table, will you hope to kick on this season? What are the expectations among the supporters?
CW: People are worried. We’ve lost Eze, Wells and Hugill from last year’s team which represents 45 goals from the 2019/20 total. We’ve only got Lyndon Dykes as a striker at the moment, though another will probably come in on loan. The defending hasn’t got any better judging by our pre-season games and League Cup tie and without Eze to bail us out that could become even more of an issue. If we can continue playing this style of football and finish higher in the league again than last year’s 13th then that would be a great achievement.
NFN: What do you know about Forest?
CW: That it’s your year every year. That you sign a player every 45 minutes or so. That you’ve got a striker earning not far off the same as our entire starting 11. That you’ve got in excess of 30 senior professionals in your squad. That you’re able to do things like take Luke Freeman on loan and pay 100% of his Premier League salary. That you treat changing the manager as the first course of troubleshooting action rather than a last resort. And that you come up with ever more weird, wonderful and convoluted ways to bottle out at the end. (NFN: Ouch!)
NFN: Is there a player of ours who you’d welcome in your squad and why?
CW: Maybe Brice Samba. He’s unorthodox but good, really impressed with him last season and it’s a position we’re having a bit of a weird time with at the moment.
NFN: Finally, what will the score be on Saturday?