Wednesday, 30 January 2013

#20 A Tale of 2 QPR Teams

QPR’s January fixtures looked pretty daunting at the beginning of the year, but now we are at the end of the month, who would have thought that QPR would have gone through January undefeated in the league, having conceded just the one goal.
Remy scores on debut v West Ham
In the last two weeks or so, we have made the short trip to Upton Park, followed by a home tie against League 1 side Mk Dons in the cup and back to the league as we entertained current Premier League Champions Manchester City. Harry’s choice of personnel for the cup game included nine changes from the team that played at West Ham and the result reflected the changes. For the West Ham game, Harry had picked the strongest team available and included R’s debutant Loic Remy. The R’s started the game well, looking very dangerous on the break as the R’s faithful made themselves heard even though the number of R’s at Upton Park could have been considerably higher had the club accepted the larger allocation on offer. Taarabt was a menace and it was his delightful through ball that found Remy who went on to calmly finish and bag a debut goal.  Hammers manager Sam Allardyce’s immediate response to the early danger and the goal was to employ a more direct approach. Rangers have found this kind of approach difficult to cope with this season, as results against the likes of Reading (twice), Stoke, Newcastle etc, and West Ham were able to stifle the R’s counter attacks and dominated the second half, particularly when they brought on Carlton Cole, whose physical presence eventually contributed to West Hams equaliser. The second half onslaught that QPR had to endure would have resulted in the R’s capitulating and succumbing to a heavy defeat in the days of our previous manager. But Harry has quickly got to know the players and the team he picked fought heroically to earn the R’s a point. The whole team battled valiantly and Cesar in particular, kept us in the game with another world class performance. All in all we did fight for our lives and were very lucky to come home with a point.
Next up was MK Dons in the cup and Harry made nine changes to the side, giving players that hadn’t featured lately, the opportunity to prove themselves. On paper it was a strong side featuring seven internationals and players that have won major honours, having played at the highest level and should have been more than capable of beating the side two leagues below them. But this was not to be, as in a weekend that saw a number of Premier League teams knocked out by lower league opposition, the team that was put out went on to disgrace themselves and the club, with a completely pathetic and lack lustre performance, riddled with mistakes as they found themselves four nil down by the 56th minute. Faurlin and Granero lacked confidence, Park was ineffective, Ferdinand was woeful and the rest were not much better. Players that were given the opportunity to secure a place in the squad of twenty five failed miserably, failing to deliver when asked to and only confirmed what we already knew, which is that they are just not good enough.  Although we did manage to get two late goals in the game, it did little to disguise the fact that the fans that attended (in good numbers and  at even more expense) were badly let down by these players. The only consolation we can take from this game, is that we now know who can’t be relied upon to get us out of the mess we’re in. (It is most of these players that have got us in to this relegation fight.)
Following his failure to impress, it would seem that DJ Campbell is on his way out with a number of championship outfits interested and thankfully, Ferdinand has gone on loan to Turkish side Bursaspor until the end of the season. Harry has loaned out a few of the more promising youngsters to get some meaningful competitive experience, whilst Bothroyd is intent on staying to fight for a place.
Julio Cesar - World class performance
So after more transfer speculation and Harry’s talk of gang war amongst agents in the transfer market, Tuesday arrived and with it our home game to Man City. Harry went for the strongest team he could pick, but Mackie was surprisingly omitted apparently with a back injury amid speculation that he could go to Stoke as part of a deal to secure the services of Peter Crouch. He also named two keepers as substitutes, was this a subliminal message to Fernandes for more players or did Mackie pull out of the squad injured very late. Wright-Philips missed out through injury as this QPR eleven put in arguably the most hard working shift of the season, as we comfortably earned an unexpected point. After a fairly forceful start by City, a well organised and hardworking QPR side played their hearts out to avoid defeat with a new air of fluency that we don’t normally have when Wright-Philips starts.  Taarabt worked the hardest I have ever seen him, as did Fabio and Remy made some useful runs and was a general nuisance when he had the opportunity. Traore a player normally subject to criticism from me had a very good game, enjoying his wing back role as Harry played a 3-5-1-1 formation. Onuoha continued his improved performances and is starting to hit a fine run of form. Hill, Nelsen and Derry were as dependable as ever and Cesar was again world class and was a major factor in earning this point. Mbia had a good game but still needs to stay on his feet more, whilst Granero worked hard, but gave the ball away far too often. Granero is a quality player, but is seriously lacking in confidence at the moment (since he cut his hair!) but his game did improve over the 90 minutes, I just hope if he is to stay that he can knuckle down like the others and contribute to our survival effort, but I still think we are yet to see the best of Granero and he will prove to be much more useful than the hapless Park.  Harry had the good sense to substitute the two players on bookings(Mbia and Granero) late on to avoid the prospect of trying to get over the line a man down whilst Remy went off late on to be replaced by the returning Zamora.  
Ryan Nelsen - QPR great, off to MLS
Ryan Nelsen ended his QPR career in fine style, putting in a typical herculean effort that epitomises the man and although only at Rangers a short while, will go down as a QPR great. His team mates recognised his efforts by giving him a guard of honour as he left the field, after he had said his goodbyes to the adoring R’s faithful. Good luck Ryan, you served us well.
So, now we all know we have not got a second string eleven that we can rely on, but have a first choice eleven fighting for our survival, but it is obvious that we have got to strengthen the squad if we are to remain in the top flight. As I close this blog post on the penultimate day of the transfer window, we have secured the services of South Korean full back Yun Suk-Young. I don’t know much about him, but he was one of the stars of London 2012 and was on Liverpool’s radar for some time.  Tony Fernandes was absent from the City game as he was on a flight somewhere to try and secure another signing yet to be divulged. But I think he went to get Christopher Samba, as reports are emerging that he is in London with a deal close to being done after QPR made a bid.  We did not secure the signing of M’Vila and the Livermore loan deal looks dead, but we are in talks with Stoke with regard to Crouch. If we were to secure these two players I can’t see QPR going back to WBA with improved offers for Odenwingie or Olsen. It is also being reported that the club have given Faurlin permission to speak to Palermo about a loan move for the rest of the season.  As with all transfer speculation you can never be sure till the deals done, but it looks like QPR are again going to be in the headlines in the transfer window.
January can unexpectedly go down as our best month of the season so far even though we have not scored many goals, but there has been a significant change in our performances and it looks like the start of something promising. Harry has told the world he is going to save QPR. “I’m going to do it. Just watch this space” he said. You can’t question his commitment to the R’s, it’s so refreshing, especially compared to the useless incumbent that he replaced. However, the unexpected points we earned against the top opposition will mean nothing unless we can take all the spoils when we play those around us. This has to start on Saturday in our live game against the old bogey team, Norwich. We are well overdue giving them a good beating, this Saturday would be nice. The year has started well for us, but those around us are picking up points too so it is vital that we up our game. The fixtures to the end of April are all winnable and could produce a run that could see us get out of the mire we are in. Not only is it possible, but with Harry at the helm it’s feasible.
Come on you R’s we’re all behind you.

The Bush Ranger.

Wednesday, 16 January 2013

#19 A Glimmer of Hope

After a dismal Christmas that culminated with QPR ending the year on only ten points, seemingly staring relegation in the face, we are now two league games and a cup game in to the new year and remain undefeated.

Celebrating going one up at Chelsea
We began the year with the daunting task of visiting a free scoring Chelsea at the Bridge and after our disappointingly poor showing against Liverpool few people could see anything less than the kind of hiding they gave us there last season. Nevertheless three thousand plus R's made the short journey having splashed out ridiculous amounts of money for a ticket at a time of the year when money was tight and they were deservedly rewarded with the shock result of the season as "Little Old" QPR beat the European Champions on their own manor. R's fans every where were jumping around in delirium even though we remained bottom of the league, it didn't matter, we had beaten Chelsea. In fact they have not scored against us this season and we have taken four points off them. More importantly, it was an enormous turning point in the epic journey that our players have embarked on in their quest to secure our premier league survival. This result meant so much to everyone that is QPR (fans, player or staff) and you could see it on their faces at the final whistle. The travelling R's had been in magnificent voice all night and the players revelled in it as, at long last they were able to give something back to the loyal R's fans. Wright-Philips was our goalscoring hero on the night, eventually breaking his premier league goal scoring drought (after over nine hundred days) but disappointingly did not celebrate his goal due to some misguided respect to his former club. It was quite fitting that he managed to score here tonight, as he was having a shocking game till he scored, but that's football and that's three points that nobody had counted on us achieving and can be offset against the points we expected over Christmas. More importantly, Harry sorted out the shambles from the  Liverpool game immediately and although we nicked the win we thoroughly deserved our clean sheet as every one worked their socks off as a cohesive unit, finally getting all eleven players to put an effective shift in. Much as we all love beating our foes in SW6, we've still got to build on this result to turn this disaster of a season around, so our feet must remain firmly on the ground.
Next up was WBA at Loftus Road in the cup and an unsurprisingly low attendance. Considering the two home games over Christmas followed by Chelsea away and the clubs insistence on charging silly money for tickets to this game, you would have thought they would have learnt from Chelsea in the cup last year. The game itself was quite uneventful and was never going to meet the euphoric levels of our shenanigans at Stamford Bridge days earlier. It did give Harry a chance to blood new signing Tal Ben Haim as well as have a look at returning loanees DJ Campbell and Bothroyd. Ben Haim had a solid game although he was asked to play at left back as a right footer and Bothroyd had a brief outing without doing very much and I cant see Harry including him in the squad of twenty five at the end of the month. Campbell who has been scoring freely whilst on loan at Ipswich, didn't get much of an opportunity as QPR's second half dominance failed to produce any clear cut opportunities for Campbell to capitalise on. The R's early second half dominance eventually petered out and they conceded a silly goal late on, but Dyer equalised for the Hoops in injury time to secure a replay at the Hawthorns. Dyer was subsequentley released by the club before the clause enabling them to do so expired, as Harry started to shuffle and make room for his twenty five man squad for the end of January. Harry's motives I suspect being Dyer's lack of availability due to injury and he didn't want to risk a place in the twenty five. Not a bad player, shame we didn't see much of him and I wish him well, but right call from Harry I think.

Following the cup game news began to break that our dependable centre half Ryan Nelsen had accepted the managers role at Toronto FC in the MLS. We are still unsure as to when Nelly will actually leave the R's, but I'd say it is unlikely to be before we have a replacement. Sadly some R's fans have been slating him and seem to have forgotten he was the only one to lead the team during the dark days of the previous manager. Nelsen signed for QPR as a squad player, but he has ended up being our first choice centre half and has arguably been our best player this season. The 35 year old Kiwi has openly said that his ankles and knees are made of glass and I'm amazed we've got this many games out of him. He has played through illness and given his all to the cause of QPR and I wish him well.

Dyer late equaliser before his exit from QPR
Further transfer speculation involving QPR is the continuing tug of war with Newcastle over the signing of Loic Remy, (I doubt very much if R's misfit, Joey Barton, has done much to sell the club to Remy, in fact he's probably encouraged him to go to the Toon.) whilst we continue to be linked with M'Vila and are currently preparing an improved bid for Peter Odemwingie. At the time of writing, it looks likely that we will also secure the services of Jake Livermore on loan for the rest of the season. On the players out front, Cisse is being linked with a move abroad and rumours are surfacing that Chelsea are interested in Mbia.

Away from all the transfer rumours, QPR welcomed Harry's old club Spurs to Loftus Road on Saturday and a very good performance from the R's earned a creditable draw. Harry got the troops to turn out another hard working and organised performance, as the R's managed to secure their first consecutive clean sheets in the premiership. Onuoha and Fabio occupied full back roles alongside captain Hill and Nelson, with this back four configuration seeming to be our most successful combination and Onuoha had a good game and looked settled in the right back role. However, it was the collective work rate of the team that earned this result and is the reason behind the good start to the year. Cesar made a few outstanding saves, proving his claim as first choice keeper. Wright-Philips recent form continued in so much as he's not as bad as he has been, but he is still not good enough or the answer. QPR's three best chances fell to him, but he failed to convert and I can't help thinking that the likes of Campbell etc would have put at least one of those chances away, which is what we need to to if we want to stay in this league. By the end of the day other results were not kind to us, but our last two games have produced four points when those around us were expecting us to achieve none.

Bothroyd scores to secure cup win
I was going to finish with the Spurs game, but I have waited for the cup replay at WBA. Another thousand odd faithful QPR travelled up in the freezing conditions to the Hawthorns to be rewarded by another QPR victory away from home. Harry made six changes to the side from Saturday starting both Cisse and Bothroyd. Cisse was pretty woeful in the freezing conditions and was replaced by Wright-Philips halfway through, but Bothroyd seized his chance and produced arguably his best performance in a QPR shirt and nodded in the winner to put the R's into the last 32 and a home tie with MK Dons. Green is reported to have made some fine saves and more importantly the collective effort of the team that Harry put out replicated the ethos and work rate of Saturday and it would seem our Harry has got through to his players and they are beginning to deliver. Many had thought this fixture to be a non event and one we could do without, but the victory has made me feel good and the all important momentum has continued as we find ourselves unbeaten in four games in 2013. Of these four games we have conceded only one goal, had three clean sheets and surprisingly our goalscorers were Wright-Philips, Dyer and Bothroyd. In 1982 we won a 3rd round replay that no one fancied up at Middlesboro after a late equaliser in the home tie, and that year we got all the way to the final, you never know we might have a good run in the cup this year.

Loic Remy signs for QPR

Finally as I complete this blog post, QPR have just confirmed the signing of Loic Remy from Marseilles (No thanks to Barton,but big thanks to Fernandes and Mbia) and the signing of M'Vila is looking imminent. Bottom of the table and people still want to sign £or u$. Here's hoping these guys love the club and deliver.

Next up is West Ham away this Saturday, who will have one day less to prepare as they have a replay at Man U to negotiate and a number of injury worries. We need to get at least a point from there. In Harry we trust, thanks for the nice start to the new year and thanks for giving us a glimmer of hope.

Come on You R's

The Bush Ranger