March 28, 2022 5 min read
Squeeze-yer-bum time, or squeaky-bum time? Apparently the journalists who were at the press conference when these words were said took a vote and the latter took it five to four. Thus does Alex Ferguson’s term for the close season get wheeled out every springtime after the international break.
This week’s big game is at Ibrox as the two Glasgow sides face one another, to which we’ll invite you to charge your glasses this Wednesday in a more full rundown of the two sides. It’s a two-horse sprint for the line in the Scottish Premiership, as it is south of Hadrian’s Wall between Manchester City and Liverpool, who meet in the FA Cup semi-final next month.
Liverpool v Watford
Before that, Liverpool are at home to Watford on Saturday lunchtime (April 2). Four decades ago, Watford finished runners-up to Liverpool in the 1982/83 First Division. In the Jürgen Klopp era, however, it hasn’t been nearly as close.
Liverpool have beaten Watford at Anfield in each of the last five meetings: 2-0 in May 2016, 6-1 six months later and 5-0 at the end of the 2017/18 season; it was 5-0 in February 2019 and 2-0 in December 2019, although Watford’s season paused for the pandemic with a famous 3-0 victory at Vicarage Road which broke Liverpool’s unbeaten run.
Normal service resumed as Roberto Firmino scored three as the Reds destroyed the Hornets 5-0, also on television, in November 2021. Watford had regained Premier League status at the first attempt and kept Ismaila Sarr, who has been their most dynamic player in the last three seasons. With Sarr picking up an injury which sidelined him for a lot of this season, the team’s strikers have done their best to keep the club away from the relegation zone.
They are an international bunch: Josh King from Norway, Emmanuel Dennis of Nigeria, Cucho Hernandez from Colombia and Joao Pedro from Brazil have all chipped in with goals. Aside from King, four other former Manchester United players – Craig Cathcart, Ben Foster, Ashley Fletcher and Tom Cleverley – have been part of a cosmopolitan squad.
Unfortunately, Xisco Muñoz and Claudio Ranieri could not bring enough wins to keep their job, which means former Liverpool manager Roy Hodgson is back at his old club this weekend. One wonders if he’ll share a drink with Herr Klopp after the game. If you’re a Watford fan you can give the gift of vodka with one of two Crystal bottles for sale.
Birmingham City v West Bromwich Albion
The Championship remains one of world football’s most exciting divisions, as 24 teams compete for promotion to the Premier League. Some are richer than others, but anyone can beat anyone (just read the new book The Hard Yards by Nige Tassell for evidence). This weekend sees two derby games which pit local rivals against one another.
Birmingham City meet West Bromwich Albion at 3pm on Sunday. The Blues are in 19thplace while West Brom have hired former Birmingham manager Steve Bruce to push them back up the table having fallen to 12th. A perpetually loyal but currently disgruntled set of Baggies supporters will hope they can do the double over their rivals having beaten them 1-0 at home earlier in the season.
The appointment of Birmingham City fan Troy Deeney as captain in January coincided with the loan signings from Manchester United of Tahith Chong and Teden Mengi. It appears this is a consolidation season for Birmingham, who went undefeated in the month of April 2021 to preserve their Championship status. If the Blues repeat the feat this season, a bottle of vodka branded with the BCFC crest will be a perfect gift for any relieved fan.
QPR v Fulham
Fulham have scored a scarcely credible 90 goals in their 37 Championship games so far and, barring something stupendously awful happening, they will return to the Premier League this April much to the delight of their most famous fan, author and TV personality Richard Osman.
They will not quite overhaul Reading’s points record of 106 but they can repeat the feat they achieved in 2000/02 when they won the league with 101 points. Besides Reading and Fulham, three other teams – Leicester City, Newcastle United and Sunderland – have topped 100.
Their latest opponents are their neighbours a few tube stops away in Shepherd’s Bush. Queens Park Rangers have, like Fulham, bounced between the top two divisions in the last 30 years, with periods of stability and chaos in equal measure. While Fulham became Mohamed al-Fayed’s fiefdom and Kevin Keegan and Roy Hodgson (him again!) both took control of top assets from across the world, QPR had investment for motor racing impresario Bernie Ecclestone.
Now owned by Tony Fernandes, who made his money offering cheap flights to Asian travellers, QPR are stable off the pitch thanks to the boardroom involvement of former player Les Ferdinand. They have realised that it is far easier to produce their own talent than to import vastly expensive signings on huge wages. When they sold Eberechi Eze on to Crystal Palace, they made a £17m profit which could rise to about £20m.
To replace Eze, QPR fan and West London lad Albert Adomah joined the club and is a regular fixture of the QPR midfield alongside Stefan Johansen and Chris Willock, formerly of Fulham and Arsenal respectively. Belgian-born Ilias Chair has now declared for Morocco, making him a replacement for his compatriot, the mercurial Adel Taarabt.
Upfront there’s Lyndon Dykes, Charlie Austin and Andre Gray. Dykes has used his Scottish connections to declare for them, after moving to Queen of the South from Australia. Austin played in the Premier League with QPR in the 2010s and rejoined the club on loan in 2021, eventually moving permanently, while Gray was unwanted at Watford and has found the Championship more to his liking.
It will be tough for any of QPR’s strikers to get past Fulham’s centre-backs Tim Ream and Tosin Adarabioyo. Tosin took the right decision to leave Manchester City for regular football denied to him up in the elite level of English football. One can only imagine how excited he is to go back to his old club should Fulham achieve their expected promotion.
The Hoops, meanwhile, go into the Fulham game two points shy of the play-off places, chasing a bunch of teams including Luton Town, Huddersfield Town, Sheffield United, Blackburn Rovers and Middlesbrough. Having already lost 4-1 at Craven Cottage in October 2021, a point at home would be useful against a lethal side. Should QPR grab that point, or even three, pouring out some vodka from a club-branded bottle would be a perfect way to celebrate.