The 2-3 defeat to Manchester City at the weekend was, incidentally, the second time Queen’s Park Rangers have been denied a share of the spoils by a late Citizens goal. The first occurrence of this was back in November, where a 74th minute header from Yaya Toure secured all three points following a spirited, aggressive performance from the home side. This time, Rangers put on a defensive master class against the eventual Premier League winners. Bodies were thrown into the way of every effort City had on goal, which by the final whistle numbered 44, and the R’s were dogged and determined at the back against unwavering pressure from the Etihad outfit.
Following the first loss to Roberto Mancini’s side, QPR were 12th in the table with 12 points from 11 games. After the siege on Sunday, the club lay a point above the relegation zone, having navigated its way through the most deadly of minefields on the way to remaining in the top flight. On paper it would appear as though little has changed between the November defeat and the result on Sunday, besides the identity of the manager.
Neil Warnock took charge of Rangers on that cold November night, while it was Mark Hughes jumping up and down in the technical area after news filtered through to Manchester of Bolton Wanderers’ failure to find a winner against Stoke City. However, things have changed. In his post-match press conference, Hughes sent out a clear message to the fans, the owners and his players that the club would not be put in the situation it had been again under his management. There is no reason to doubt this statement now that QPR have stayed up.
It may be somewhat negative to say so, but had the R’s gone down, the foundations which now appear so strong would likely have collapsed. They haven’t, however, and this year there is no court case or threat of a debilitating points deduction to distract supporters from revelling in a thrilling and positive end to the season. Instead there is an FA charge looming for captain Joey Barton, after his two minutes of madness at the weekend earned him a straight red card and the disdain of the nation.
There is a strong case for Barton never to play for the club again. A statement on the QPR website yesterday said: “A full investigation in relation to Joey Barton’s dismissal and subsequent events against Manchester City on Sunday will be carried out following the conclusion of his FA hearing,” As a boss with, rightly or wrongly, a reputation for being somewhat of a disciplinarian, Hughes will surely not permit the former Newcastle United midfielder to remain as captain. Releasing Barton is unviable economically, especially as many other players will presumably be let go, but if he is permitted to play for the club again, he can expect more than the cacophony of boos that so triggered his chagrin a months ago.
The positivity emanating from the club was summed up by the renewal of Jamie Mackie’s contract to the summer of 2015 yesterday. Mackie said in a statement that “the fans have been brilliant with me” and underlined the optimism and belief that is clear among the players and the management of the club. The addition of Mike Rigg to the coaching staff, the significant investment made by owner Tony Fernandes not only in Hughes (particularly his £1m bonus for keeping QPR up) but in the playing staff, and the successful acquisition of Warren Farm and the future plans for a state-of-the-art training ground there, all points towards a club that isn’t looking to rest on its laurels.
With everyone looking to the future, it is worth taking a moment to thank the Rangers old guard: Clint Hill, the deserved winner of the Supporters and Players Player of the Year award, Shaun Derry, Heidar Helguson and his nine goals, and finally Paddy Kenny. They have been immense this season, as they all were last, and the club should try its level best to ensure that these four men have a place here next season, particularly Clint Hill, who is now out of contract. In an interview with the BBC, Hill said: “The last couple of years have been the highlight of my career. If I can stick around and help in any way, I’d love to.” You won’t find many fans ready to cast the old war horse out after the contribution he’s made since joining in the summer of 2010.