Monsieur Salut writes: Ian McCullough* is a seasoned sportswriter and a friend of a friend (John Crowley, who has also occupied this hot seat). He supports QPR but has a soft spot for Sunderland and will be at Saturday’s match with a Mackem pal. His assessment of QPR’s decline could as easily apply to us.
Ian’s team has hardly had a great season but, on 40 points against our rock-bottom 28, can be fairly sure they will not finish last. Our relegation rivals are doing their best to give us a chance but it is not, so far, a chance our team seems able to grasp. Can Saturday provide enough respite from the unfortunate atmosphere when home games go wrong to enable them to play with rare assurance and pick up three points? John O’Shea talks of there still being 30 points to play for but the supporters desperately need some encouragement from Chris Coleman and whoever he can turn out.
Welcome Ian (@IanMac08 at Twitter), even it feels like intruding into private grief …
Salut! Sunderland: one of your best mates, a Sunderland supporter, is joining you for the match. How bad does he says it is?
Ian McCullough: he says he’s become immune to the defeats which says it all really. He was excited about the appointment of Coleman but unfortunately accepts that he will probably be supporting a League One team next year.
And you, though safe by comparison, have had a bad season so far. What is going wrong and what is needed to put things right?
It’s a double-edged sword. Off the field things are going reasonably well. The high-earning, low-performers that were on silly money in the Premier League have gone. A final decision from the High Court is due any day on the long-mooted training ground after several legal objections from a cashed-up local nimbie which the club are quietly confident will be successful.
The squad age is one of the lowest in the division and we have two or three decent prospects who have been given a chance this year and shown flashes of encouragement.
However, we have been poor by and large since about November. But we have won the games we need to win which has kept us at arm’s length from the bottom three. This was always going to be a difficult season largely due to the ridiculous FFP fine which has prevented any major squad additions. However, that is not a bad thing because we had the biggest squad in the division after several heavy transfer windows under different managers. It’s a case of going backwards to go forwards.
Do you rate Ian Holloway as the man to drag you out of it and upwards?
Absolutely not. I never wanted him back. He has got away with a lot because of his connection with the club and should have been shown the door at the end of last season when we lost six of the last seven matches. He is limited tactically and the fact we have lost 38 games since he returned in Nov 2016 paints its own picture. We also have something like nine clean sheets in 70 games. Not good.
And what do you make of the ownership structure?
The fan base is very divided on the ownership. I have been a QPR supporter for over 30 years and spent time holding buckets to raise money to keep the club going in the early 2000s so when owners write off 250 million quid and hold their hands up and say we have messed up and carry the can how can you complain?
Too much money was wasted on the wrong managers and players in the Premier League and we are paying for it now. It’s was a case of putting on the roof before digging the foundations. The chairman Tony Fernandes spends a little too much time on Twitter something you’d think he’d cut down on given some of the abuse he receives on there. But things are being done off the field that should have been done 10-15 years ago and that is good.
Realistically, how far can they or anyone else take QPR? And bring us up to date on the Linford Christie stadium
When you look at the likes of Preston, Bristol City, to a lesser degree Millwall and from last year Huddersfield and Brighton, it proves that if you are a well-run club, you don’t need millions to be in contention in this division. That has to be our aim if, God forbid, we do ever go back up, we are better suited to staying there.
As for the stadium, I reckon my young fella who is two will be going with his mates before the Linford Christie Stadium ever becomes a reality. It’s just so hard in London to get things over the line. The training ground construction has been a five-year saga and as bigger clubs than us have found, building a new ground is so difficult and a legal minefield Unless you’re West Ham and given a stadium at the tax payers’ expense.
If I am honest, no one really stands out in your first team squad but who has been doing the business and where are you weak?
Our midfield three of Luongo, Freeman and Scowen are as good as any in this division on their day and the goalkeeper Smithies should be playing at a higher level. Up front we struggle, Matt Smith is a six-foot five lump with the pace and movement of a snail and Conor Washington needs nine chances to score one goal. In defence we play a back three and utilise wing-backs who struggle going forward. Stopping the cross has been an issue all season. However, two batterings from Forest aside, we have pretty much been in every game this season.
What have been your highs and lows as a QPR supporter?
I’ve seen us win at Anfield, Highbury, Old Trafford and Stamford Bridge over the years but also seen us thumped at Peterborough, Wycombe and Southend – so I’ve witnessed both sides of the coin.
Two promotions in three years was fun. It’s never dull supporting QPR – we have been battling relegation or fighting for promotion pretty much every season since 1997! My favourite season was actually 2003/04 when we were promoted from League One at Hillsborough. 13,000 fans were there and we won 3-1 – a great weekend.
If you go back far enough, there are some great names in your hoops. Who has given you most pleasure or do you wish would been around to watch?
My formative years was watching the likes of Simon Stainrod, Gary Bannister, John Byrne and Clive Allen. My teenage years were spent adoring Roy Wegerle, Les Ferdinand, Trevor Sinclair and Alan McDonald. But for sheer joy at his on-field audacity and breathtaking skill, coupled with the odd tantrum Adel Taarabt in the 2010/11 promotion season was incredible. I would have love to have seen the ’76 team with Bowles, Francis and co.
And who should have been allowed nowhere near Shepherd’s Bush?
Mark Hughes as a manager was the worst appointment in my time watching Rangers – he was hated as a player when he was at Man United and was never going to be fully accepted by the fans. As for his player recruitment. don’t get me started. Playing-wise – Shaun Wright-Phillips, Jose Boswinga and fellow wage thief Julio Cesar won’t be welcomed back with open arms.
Did you see our sharp decline coming?
Not to this extent. You can only flirt with relegation in the Prem for so long before it becomes a reality. But to be honest, I expected you do a Villa in your first season back and then push on in your second. I keep putting you down on my weekend coupon as I am waiting for the revivial to begin but you keep letting me down!
Other thoughts on Sunderland – the club, the fans, the city and region, Chris Coleman?
I have always had a soft spot for Sunderland as I have known a good few Mackem lads down the years and they’ve all been top boys who know and love their football.
They also don’t claim to be the only passionate fans in the country like Newcastle do. Sunderland is a proper football club with great support and deserve a lot better than you are seeing now. This season was my first time at the Stadium of Light, and it really is a fine venue.
Afterwards my mate took me to some smashing pubs around the city and we had a great evening. For that alone I hope you stay up. As for Coleman, I am not sure. He hasn’t got the greatest track record as a club manager and showed with Wales that without Gareth Bale he wasn’t that successful.
I think someone like Paul Cook at Wigan should have been the choice for Sunderland – they took him from Portsmouth when you took Grayson from Preston. For me he is the best young English manager outside the top division as shown when he schooled Guardiola the other week.
The Dele Alli question. Pochettino says diving hardly matters. True or false?
I don’t get too worried about it. Alli will get away with it for so long, but then when he does genuinely go down for a pen he will get his comeuppance and it will get waved away. It will more than likely happen in a big World Cup game and he will no doubt get slaughtered for it.
Hand on heart, where will our clubs finish this season?
We’ll have a wobble no doubt and then just do enough to stay out of it. It’s not looking good for your lads – Bolton are the worst team I’ve seen this year and I was stunned when they beat you the other week. But I do have a feeling you may just clamber out of it – you are not cut adrift and there is still lot of games to play,
Will you be at our game? What will be the score? I will be there. Another 1-1 draw.
* Ian McCullough on himself:
I am the UK and Europe sports correspondent for Australian Associated Press. Been supporting QPR since 1984 and had a season ticket on and off since I was 14 – although you can take out a nine-year stint when I lived in Australia. Despite this, I’d always get back for at least two games every year.
Interview: Colin Randall