Leeds United, have, on more than one occasion, been English football’s “bad boys”. A bunch of, let’s be honest, dirty, cheating reprobates in the 1970’s, the Leeds side of the early 2000’s featured a number of shall we say, “morally dubious” individuals. Now Queen’s Park Rangers are by no means of this ilk, but under Mark Hughes the club has developed a rather alarming tendency to pick up red cards. Despite Rangers being only mid-table in the Premier League disciplinary ranking (11th to be exact), Hughes’ valiant soldiers have had more red cards than anyone else (eight), compared to the likes of Bolton Wanderers with the next highest number of dismissals (five). More than half of these have occurred under Hughes’ management, and have all taken place in less than two months.
It looked at one moment as though Djibril Cisse’s madness against Wolverhampton Wanderers and Sunderland had cost Rangers their Premier League status, and certainly his idiotic behaviour hamstrung QPR in a goal scoring sense. It doesn’t seem to have affected results too drastically, however, beyond the West Bromwich Albion game, where Bobby Zamora’s profligacy could have been replaced by Cisse and his deadly eye for goal. Indeed, the only victim of Cisse’s lack of discipline may be himself. Given the success of the five-man midfield against Tottenham Hotspur at the weekend, and Arsenal previously, and how effectively Zamora held the ball up against superior opposition, Cisse may not reclaim his spot in the starting eleven.
The Zamora-based hold-up game isn’t pretty, by any means, and relies on the pace of Jamie Mackie, Adel Taarabt and Samba Diakite on the break. It is effective, however. It is also, arguably, Rangers’ best weapon against Chelsea, but lacking the suspended Taarabt, the R’s will be a lot narrower, and possibly rather one dimensional. With QPR’s dismal away record of five defeats in a row probably right at the forefront of Hughes’ mind, only a foolhardy optimist would bet on the Superhoops emerging from Stamford Bridge with all three points.
It is reassuring, however, that Hughes, a notorious slow starter, seems to have got into his stride. The team is beginning to resemble the boss, and reflect Hughes’ calibre as a very talented and experienced Premier League manager. Rangers appeared tenacious, highly organised and full of self-belief against Spurs. From the first minute, Brad Friedel was under pressure, and Mackie forcing Benoit Assou-Ekotto into a slip just outside the Spurs area was an example of exactly the sort of pressing game that big clubs expecting an easy ride at lowly opponents are often unprepared for.
True, Rangers were fortunate with Taarabt’s free kick, doubly so, in fact. Firstly, it could be argued that the awarding of the set-piece was soft, and secondly, without the sun in his eyes, a ‘keeper of Friedel’s calibre might well have got closer to Taarabt’s curled effort. However, when you are in the relegation mire, luck is essential, and as the old cliché goes, sometimes you have to earn your own good fortune.
When QPR lost 0-1 to Fulham at the end of February, Hughes’ men were doomed. Although not in the relegation zone, we were a point off bottom and the defeat to Martin Jol’s men brought to a close Hughes’ “honeymoon period”. In this time, Rangers had picked up four points from a possible eighteen since the Welshman replaced Neil Warnock. A disgraceful record, but hardly surprising, given the number of fresh arrivals in January and the adjustment from a side that was very much “Warnock’s team”, to a new boss with a very different style. Since then, the R’s have amassed thirteen points in nine games, compared to six in nine for Saturday’s opponents, Spurs.
To add to this festival of statistics, and offer a crumb of comfort ahead of Sunday’s derby, Queen’s Park Rangers have, behind Manchester City and Wigan Athletic, the third best record in the division against the “traditional” big four of Arsenal, Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester United. It also tends to be the case that Rangers, if ahead at half-time, go on to win. Only three times in ten games has this not been the case, so a goal at Chelsea could be invaluable.
It may even be made more likely by a win for the Blues in midweek against Barcelona. Taking a 1-0 lead to the Camp Nou, avoiding defeat would see Roberto Di Matteo’s side through to the Champions League Final. Given that the team they sent out against Arsenal was very much “weakened”, the nightmare and almost unfathomable scenario of R’s supporters cheering on the old enemy may become a reality.
Fear not though, fellow fans, you can be cleansed of this sin: just have a bath afterwards, or else you’ll feel dirty for weeks.