By Tom Simmonds.
QPR sit 16th in the Premier League, after Wilfried Bony’s late equaliser for Swansea on New Year’s Day, forced them to settle for a 1-1 draw in a contentious game that almost yielded them three points. Do QPR have the tools to ensure that the two point cushion they have at present is a springboard for a successful survival push?
They went into the Swansea game in an anxious state, having come off the back of a goalless draw with Crystal Palace the previous Saturday – a game that many fans felt they should’ve won. Their start against Swansea saw this anxiety spill over, encapsulated by Robert Green’s rush of blood, which took him out of his penalty area to commit a handball – which went unpunished.
Harry Redknapp responded to Swansea’s early supremacy by pressing higher and pulling the game out of shape, a tactic which allowed Leroy Fer to unleash an unstoppable shot from long range to give them the lead. Swansea were curiously pliant for the best part of an hour, letting QPR’s high pressing dictate the flow of the game and needed Bony (who was mystifyingly left on the bench in his last game before African Cup of Nations duty) to exploit QPR’s resurfacing anxiety and deprive them of two much needed points.
The depressive pall that the last two home results had caused around Loftus Road was evident in both, Redknapp’s programme notes and the mood of the faithful, before Sunday’s FA Cup game against Sheffield United. This infected QPR’s players, who produced a dreadful, spiritless performance and lost 3-0 to ensure their dismal recent record in cup competitions continued.
Redknapp, while making seven changes to his starting line-up, kept Austin, Fer, Steven Caulker and Karl Henry in the team. His selection demonstrated that his protestation of a thin squad was not one of his usual exaggerations. Rio Ferdinand looked a parody of the player he once was, and Jordon Mutch’s timid performance in midfield bore the hallmarks of a player who feels he doesn’t enjoy his manager’s complete trust.
QPR’s unease is understandable; their survival hopes hang by gossamer threads. While their home form is strong, they’re running out of ‘banker’ home games. Manchester United, Southampton, Spurs, Arsenal, Everton and Chelsea are the next six league visitors to Loftus Road. It is imperative that they improve their awful away record, which has seen them accrue nine defeats in nine league games. Rangers are yet to visit Burnley, Sunderland, Hull, Crystal Palace and West Brom. Quite simply, if they cannot get any points from these games, their cause is lost.
Their over-reliance on Austin, who has scored 12 of their 22 league goals, is another vulnerability. Leroy Fer being second in their scoring charts with three (level with own goals) lays their paucity of attacking options bare. Related to this is the style of play, which seems to be centred around an unsophisticated strategy of trying to give Austin scraps to feed off.
There’s also no guarantee that new blood will help QPR. Spending big in the transfer window has disastrously backfired previously – their acquisition of Chris Samba in January 2013 for £12.5 million will forever be seen as the bellwether of QPR’s financial incontinence.
Just as Samba, Loic Remy et al couldn’t prevent their drop into the Championship then, a January trolley dash will feel like the same desperate measures adopted in 2013. However, given their current state, rolling the dice again and praying that Austin stays fit might just be Redknapp’s best bet.
QPR Fans: Can you survive the drop? Who do you think you will sign in the January window?
Do you think Harry Redknapp is the man to steer you to safety?
Read more from Tom Simmonds here.