QPR Face FA Charges

After stating last week that none of QPR’s rivals look as if they’re going to be able to mount a serious challenge for the title, it looks increasingly as if Queens Park Rangers are going to give the chasing pack one last opportunity.

The circumstances surrounding the signing of Argentinian midfielder Alejandro Faurlin are serious enough for the FA to have made the decision that QPR have seven charges to answer before a disciplinary enquiry. The main issue appears to be whether Faurlin’s contract actually belonged to his former club (Instituto de Cordoba, who produced Mario Kempes and Osvaldo Ardiles amongst others) when he joined QPR in July 2009; rumours and allegations of ‘third parties’ and unregistered agents have also been making the rounds.

There’s been plenty of speculation about what might happen if QPR are found guilty of the charges – points deductions and/or heavy fines have been suggested – but even though Neil Warnock had nothing to do with the signing, the ironic part of the case is that it was the current manager at Loftus Road who demanded that West Ham lost points in the aftermath of the Carlos Tevez situation in 2007.

Even if Rangers were docked ten points – the same amount Luton Town had deducted for similar offences in 2008 – they’d still be in the Championship playoff spots. Two games in less than a week is always a challenge and although there were clear winners and losers in the Championship over the past week, QPR are still in top spot.

Four teams won both games their games: with ten games to go it looks as if Leeds will at least reach the playoffs, but both Burnley and Reading can capitalise on any loss of form by the clubs immediately above them. At the other end of the table, Bristol City’s best form of the season continued with a 2-1 win over Portsmouth: Pompey’s keeper Jamie Ashdown had beaten the club’s consecutive clean sheet record by five minutes when former Barnet winger Albert Adomah opened the scoring.

Two of the current top six were amongst last week’s biggest losers. March isn’t a particularly good time to start dropping points if you’re planning on getting promoted: Nottingham Forest lost their first regular season home league game since September 2009 Saturday when a Matty Fryatt goal gave Hull the points. On Tuesday Forest lost at Sheffield United – the Blades’ first win at Bramall Lane since Christmas and their first since Mickey Adams took over. Cardiff also suffered a defeat by a bottom three side, losing to Palace on Tuesday following their televised home defeat to Ipswich on Saturday evening. Forest have now gone five games without a win, but the Bluebirds will gain some comfort from knowing that they haven’t lost three straight league games since November 2009.

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All Change At The Bottom of the nPower Championship League?

After last weekend’s FA Cup ties, only two clubs from the nPower Championship are left in the competition. Burnley and Reading succeeded where Middlesbrough and Newcastle failed when they defeated Burton and Stevenage respectively: Coventry and Nottingham Forest put up decent performances against Premier League opposition, but Swansea and Watford both lost to League 1 sides – Swans captain Alan Tait scoring an own goal with two minutes left.

Only two goals were scored in the three league games over the weekend and both of them came at Millwall, where the Lions beat Barnsley 2-0. Scunthorpe’s game against Preston was postponed for the second time this season and both the other games finished goalless.

Tuesday night’s programme was far more eventful. QPR and Norwich both won, but Cardiff had to come from behind twice to earn a point against Reading – with yet another ‘dramatic late equaliser’, this time from Craig Bellamy. At the bottom of the table, Middlesbrough climbed out of the bottom six with a win over Scunthorpe: Bristol City and Portsmouth dropped back into danger after they both lost 2-0 to promotion contenders. Crystal Palace escaped the bottom three after drawing at Watford and were replaced by Sheffield United – who lost at home to Leicester.

The weekend starts when QPR visit the Madjewski Stadium on Friday (Sky Sports 1, 7:45) but it’s probably safe to say that if you’re looking forward to an action packed game then it might be worth watching the start of the Six Nations tournament elsewhere. The Royals have only lost once against the current top six at home but have drawn other four games; QPR haven’t scored in four of the last games in Berkshire but won 3-1 at Loftus Road in November.

Saturday afternoon’s game of the week is one that could have a big impact at the bottom of the table, is between two sides that are currently struggling and may not be of much interest to anyone outside Central Lancashire or South Bristol. Having only earned two points from a possible fifteen available in 2011, Preston cannot afford any more defeats this season – they’re currently on target to reach 35 points, which is only a point more than Peterborough managed last season – but Bristol City have only scored twice this year and have lost three of their last five trips to Deepdale since December 1996.

The weekend’s games conclude on Sunday lunchtime when Cardiff make the trip along the M4 to the Liberty Stadium for the second leg of the South Wales Derby. Swansea’s record in Cardiff isn’t bad, but the same can’t be said when the Bluebirds travel to their biggest rivals – Dave Jones’ side has never won at the Liberty Stadium and Cardiff’s last win at the Vetch Field was in March 1997.

The transfer window closed without the widely predicted departure of Jay Bothroyd to the Premiership and a lot of loan moves both from the Premier League and to Leagues 1 and 2. One of the more interesting deals involved former teenage prodigy Ryan Burge, who turned down a contract with Forest Green Rovers so he could join The Glenn Hoddle Academy in Spain a couple of years ago. Burge – a midfielder – joined Doncaster Rovers from Jerez Industrial on deadline day and it’ll be interesting to see if he justifies Hoddle’s somewhat revolutionary methods.

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How Will Eddie Howe Do At Burnley?

It’s not even the end of January, but after the four cup replays this week only six nPower Championship clubs remain in the FA Cup: so take a bow Swansea, Watford, Coventry, Reading, Nottingham Forest and Burnley.

Burnley also made the news this week with the appointment of Eddie Howe as manager – the former Bournemouth boss has been ‘one to watch’ for a couple of seasons and seems to be following Sean O’Driscoll’s career – both played for and managed the Cherries before moving into management roles. Howe’s first game in charge will be at Scunthorpe (Sky Sports 2, 5:20pm): a win would re-ignite the Clarets hopes of a playoff spot and put the Iron in further trouble at the bottom of the table.

Looking at the rest of this week’s games, the top of the table is beginning to look tighter than it has done for some time. QPR’s lead is now down to three points and there are only four points between Watford and the automatic promotion spot.

Rangers’ third away goalless draw of season came at Turf Moor and their recent inability to score goals away from home must be worrying Neil Warnock – they’ve only scored two goals in their last five away games and that was against this weekend’s opponents. Although Rangers are at home to Coventry on Sunday (Sky Sports 1, 1pm), the Sky Blues have only lost once at Loftus Road in the last six meetings in the league. Even if Coventry win at Loftus Road, Swansea would have to win by 19 clear goals at Barnsley on Saturday to go top on goal difference.

As predicted, the Swans had a fairly straightforward 3-0 over Crystal Palace while Cardiff’s inability to win at Norwich was emphasised when Russell Martin cancelled out Jon Parkin’s debut goal for the Bluebirds with a last minute equaliser.

At the bottom, the situation is looking increasingly desperate for Preston, who are now six points away from safety. The Lillywhites were involved in a similar game to the one at Carrow Road – they salvaged a point at home against Leicester courtesy of an equaliser from Ian Hume. However, the bottom six clubs are only separated by nine points and it’s worth pointing out that Scunthorpe’s two games in hand could be crucial; Sheffield United still have to travel to Palace, Ipswich, Preston and Scunthorpe and aren’t exactly out of the woods yet.

There are two candidates for game of the week, each at different ends of the table. Middlesbrough’s 4-0 win at Ashton Gate was probably the biggest surprise last weekend and was something of a double whammy for Preston, who travel to the Riverside this weekend. North End haven’t won at Middlesbrough since November 1971 and have lost four of their six games against the current bottom six. On the other hand, Tony Mowbray’s side have only been beaten once by another club in the bottom six – and no-one would have predicted that Ipswich would have been struggling and both Gordon Strachan and Roy Keane would have been jobless after the Tractor Boys’ 3-1 win back in August.

At the top of the table only two points separate Cardiff from Watford and this game could be a cagey affair. Although the Hornets may have a psychological advantage after their 4-1 win over the Bluebirds at Vicarage Road just after Christmas, Watford haven’t drawn a league game in the Welsh capital since 1938 and have already beaten Norwich and QPR on their travels this season.

Quite a bit more activity in the transfer market this week: Adam Hammill (Wolves) and David Wheater (Bolton) moved up to the Premiership from Barnsley and Middlesbrough respectively. In what looks like a perfect move for all concerned Darren Purse joined Millwall from Sheffield Wednesday, but possibly the most significant move was a loan deal: after having already signed Jon Parkin from Preston, Cardiff borrowed Jay Emmanuel-Thomas from Arsenal – the clearest sign yet that Jay Bothroyd may be on his way to pastures new.

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Middlesbrough sign Sean St Ledger from Preston

200px-middlesbrough_crestMiddlesbrough have signed Sean St Ledger from Preston on an initial three month loan with an option to buy the Republic of Ireland centre back in the next transfer window.

A deal reported to be worth £4.5m will be struck between the clubs in the January transfer window should the player live up to expectations. The 24 year old currently holds down a regular first team place in the Republic’s World Cup qualifying team.

St ledger joined Preston from Peterborough three years ago and has made 139 appearances for them, he cost Preston £225,000.

Preston are reluctant to part with the defender but chairman Derek Shaw believes that the deal will help keep his club liquid in a financially tough league, saying:

“My honest view is if we don’t do this type of thing we’ll be getting 10 points deducted and we’ll end up going into administration.”

Alfonso Alves moves to Qatar with Al Sadd

90px-afonso_alves_middlesbrough_v_chelsea_1Following speculation on Friday last week, Brazilian striker Alfonso Alves has indeed joined Qatar league champions Al Sadd on a three year contract for an undisclosed fee, reported to be around £6million or around half what Middlesbrough paid for the player in January 2008.

Alves arrived at Middlesbrough from Dutch club Heerenveen, where the Brazilian could not stop scoring goals, but despite early promise the player could not reproduce that same form in the Premier League where he managed just ten goals in 42 appearances for the club.

Alves should find the pace of the Qatar league more to his liking, he will be playing for one of the top clubs in Asia and eleven times league champions in Qatar.

Alves has yet to play this season after undergoing surgery to a broken foot at the end of the last campaign, but is looking forward to the new challenge and also to linking up with compatriot Felipe Jorge in the Al Sadd team.

Choosing to forget his awful experience in the Premiership and the relegation of Middlesbrough, Alves instead clearly focused on the future when saying;

“I want to have great success with Al Sadd just like I did with Heerenveen in Holland in 2007 where I scored a lot of goals and I hope that I can do the same with Al Sadd.”