QPR and Fulham gear up for first ever top-flight meeting
Preview: Fulham v QPR
The last time QPR scored a league goal against Fulham, 35-year-old Neil Warnock was fresh out of his playing career, and in charge of non-league Burton Albion.
While there have been enough encounters between QPR and Chelsea over the years to keep that rivalry simmering, Rangers have had precious few chances to renew their other west London duel, against their neighbours from the banks of the Thames.
This is, in fact, the first ever time the two sides will meet in English football’s top flight.
Since that last QPR goal, in a 3-1 win at Loftus Road in May 1983, the clubs met four times in the old Division One, with Fulham winning three and the fourth ending in a 0-0 draw.
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The last encounter, in March 2001, ended in a 2-0 win for Fulham at Craven Cottage, in a season which ended with Fulham winning promotion to the Premiership, and QPR suffering relegation to Division Two – and hurtling towards administration.
Ten years on, both clubs have achieved far more than they could have hoped, with Fulham establishing themselves as top-flight mainstays, and Rangers climbing back up the league ladder to once again sit on a level playing field with their neighbours.
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For Fulham, the last two years have been an upward curve. Since they escaped relegation on the final day of the 2007-8 season, the club ended the following three campaigns in seventh, 12th and eighth, and famously reached the Europa League final under Roy Hodgson in 2010.
Their start to the current season, however, has been indifferent; under the new management of former Tottenham boss Martin Jol, Fulham are the only top-flight side without a win, with four draws and two defeats – and just four goals – from their opening six matches.
That last stat tells the story of the current side’s problem so far: their inability to find the net without talismanic striker Bobby Zamora. Zamora missed the clash with West Brom on Saturday with an ankle injury, and watched on as his side stuttered to a 0-0 draw.
Fulham’s �10.6 million summer signing Bryan Ruiz has struggled to adjust to Premier League life, drawing a blank in his four appearances and missing the decisive penalty as Fulham crashed out of the Carling Cup in a shoot-out with Chelsea last week.
Costa Rica international Ruiz, signed from FC Twente, has promised goals, but was benched by Jol against West Brom despite the absence of Zamora, and Andy Johnson through illness.
If fit, Zamora will start against the Rs on Sunday, so Jol’s dilemma up front is whether to stick with Moussa Dembele – also yet to score this season – or hand Ruiz the chance to shine.
Fortunately for Jol, what his side lacks in striking potency, they make up for in a talented midfield, where former Liverpool star Danny Murphy has shone for the last four years.
Murphy is likely to be joined in central midfield by Steve Sidwell, handed the chance to rejuvenate his career after unsuccessful spells at Chelsea and Aston Villa.
American international Clint Dempsey is capable of playing on the left of Jol’s four-man midfield or up front, and was the club’s top scorer last season with 13 goals in all competitions.
Another ex-Liverpool man, John Arne-Riise, played at left-back against the Baggies and should keep his place. The Norwegian has lost much of the pace that made him such a threat in his hey-day, but his dangerous left foot makes him a threat at set pieces.
Brede Hangeland and Northern Ireland’s Chris Baird are likely to start at centre-back, with Czech Republic international Zdenek Grygera on the right, ahead of Mark Schwarzer in goal.
With the two sides netting a combined total of nine goals in 12 matches so far this campaign, the first west London derby between QPR and Fulham for a decade looks destined to be a tight affair. QPR will be confident of breaking their goal-drought against the Cottagers, and a point in a 1-1 draw will be a welcome return from a very welcome renewal of old rivalries.
Follow Ian Cooper on Twitter @QPRTimes