London calls for the Baggies for the second time in as many away games. Albion will be looking to extend their record as the only unbeaten side in the division against a QPR side who are bang in-form. The R’s are level on points with Albion, behind only on goal difference. Every season there are teams who nobody tips that end up in the top 6 and there are early signs that QPR could be one of those teams. Both fixtures against QPR last year are among the more memorable of Darren Moore’s short tenure at the Hawthorns. The 7-1 last August which announced Albion as free-scoring promotion contenders was Moore’s first home win, while the the 3-2 at Loftus Road was to be his last victory as Albion head coach. While the former may live longer in the memory, the latter was a much better game of football, which saw Jake Livermore strike decisively at the death.
This season, however, QPR are a different animal. The appointment of former Brentford and Rangers boss Mark Warburton has seen a change in fortune for last season’s 19th placed team. Despite tasting defeat twice, the West London outfit have amassed as many points as their unbeaten opponents, thanks in no small part to a four game winning run that they are still on. A team that keep winning against a team that won’t lose, something has to give and one record will end on Saturday lunchtime. While Albion have not exactly been an immovable object at times this season, QPR have certainly been an irresistible force, courtesy of a lethal strike partnership and the promising Eberechi Eze in midfield.
21 year old Eze has impressed with silky dribbling in the final third and 3 goals in his first 8 this season, just one shy of his total during the last campaign. If you somehow didn’t see it, go and find his goal against Stoke from the opening day and you will see the danger he poses. No player has scored more goals this season than QPR strikers Nakhi Wells and Jordan Hugill (5 each) and only Albion themselves have scored more times than their hosts. The attacking trio have had a monopoly on goals for the R’s this season, with Eze, Hugill and Wells accounting for 93% of their goals.
QPR have, of course, been impressive thus far but the 5 wins they have amassed have all come against teams who are currently in the bottom half, including a faltering Stoke side and Wigan, who frankly everyone beats at home. The onus is therefore on Albion to show they are a cut above those pushing for the playoff places with victory at Loftus Road, which would take them to the top of the tree, at least for a while. The (recent) historians among the Albion fan base will remember lifting the title at Loftus Road in 2007/08 after a 2-0 win to hold off Stoke in second place. A win on Saturday wouldn’t be quite that significant but taking top spot for a while would be quite a statement heading into what would be a mouth-watering clash at Elland Road in midweek.
Two of Albion’s goalscorers last time out in Phillips and Furlong are former QPR players, but the former QPR player who is yet to score this season will attract the most attention. Charlie Austin was lethal for QPR, where he became known to many as a second-tier hitman. Although he couldn’t find the net, Austin turned in a solid performance against Huddersfield, showing signs he might finally be getting up to speed after -by his own admission- being off the pace during the early stages of his Albion career. Ahead of a return to his old stomping-ground, Austin gave a refreshingly honest interview to Albion’s media team, in which he said he is feeding off healthy competition for places and the time has now come to show the Albion fans who the ‘real’ Charlie Austin is. Albion’s number 15 spoke of very highly of his new teammates insisting that although they were pleased with the start, they have not yet shown the form they are capable of.
With neither side managing to keep a clean sheet this season and Albion (3.13) and QPR (3.25) games featuring considerably more goals per game than the league average (2.46), goals are almost guaranteed. Albion will be desperate for that elusive first clean sheet, but you wouldn’t bet on it coming this weekend. Once again, as with every Albion game this season, BTTS looks to be a certainty. With both teams vying for the chance to end the game in top spot you can expect a hard-fought encounter, but I think Albion will have too much for the R’s defence and I’ll predict 3-1, with Charlie Austin to score against his former employers.