Having spent the last four months rightly panning Queen’s Park Rangers for making the worst ever start to a Premier League season, pundits were forced to eat their words on Saturday.
The fear was that, having entirely outplayed Fulham, but conceded late on, the R’s’ 2-1 win would appear scrappy, hard-thought, battling and all the other adjectives journalists love to insert at random into stories.
It was none of these. The Cottagers were destroyed at Loftus Road, and it was largely through the magical touch of one man – Adel Taarabt – whose stunning second goal was so wonderfully nonchalant it left supporters speechless with admiration.
Nonetheless, when Mladen Petric reduced the arrears with two minutes remaining by means of a deflection off Alejandro Faurlin’s outstretched boot, the cry from three sides of the ground was “here we go again”.
A few weeks ago Rangers would have collapsed had they conceded with even a few seconds left on the clock. Indeed, there was never such a thing as a two-goal cushion under Mark Hughes this season. More or less as soon as the ball hit the back of the net there was a palpable sense of fear that the R’s might throw a 2-0 lead away and succumb to a last-gasp equaliser.
During March and April, Loftus Road acquired a reputation as a fortress where reputations were undone and no quarter was given to the league’s biggest names.
The Other Unwanted Record:
If QPR are to remain in the Premier League, the momentum for a successful charge up the table must be generated on home soil. For more than a year Rangers have been accustomed to losing on the road. There is a regrettable inevitability about away trips that, if Redknapp can solve, he will probably keep the Superhoops up. Perhaps the biggest test of the season thus far, and certainly for the former Tottenham Hotspur manager, will be the trip to Newcastle this weekend.
Injuries and suspensions have seen the Magpies plummet from apparent UEFA Champions League qualification contenders to fifteenth place, just two points off the bottom three. Furthermore they have won a mere two out of the last ten games, which is the second-worst run of form in the entire division.
To put that into perspective, only Reading have taken fewer points over the same period of matches, a paltry six. These are tough times on Tyneside, and a worthier outfit would certainly be confident of making it a very unhappy Christmas indeed for Alan Pardew.
Hopes and Expectations:
While the word “complacency” does not seem to be one that could even register on the Rangers radar after their abysmal start to the campaign, it is a genuine worry given the optimism that emerged from the performance against the Cottagers. Prior to the Fulham game, the target was always to take at least six points from the festive fixtures in order to justify launching into a full-scale spending spree in January to avoid the drop.
Although three of those precious points have already been won, this figure has to be doubled against one of Newcastle, West Bromwich Albion or Liverpool. Fortunately, two of those games take place in W12 and barring an extremely negative and dispiriting defeat this weekend, should see a more confident QPR take the field.
However, attempting to steer clear of Championship football next season without breaking the year-long away hoodoo is rather like heading into a boxing ring with one hand tied behind your back. Not only is it foolish and hopelessly optimistic, but even if it does come off, as it miraculously did last time around, lightning does not tend to strike twice.
Up for the Fight:
Another interesting conclusion to be drawn from the previous result is that, with the players in no doubt that they are battling for survival, Redknapp now knows on whom he can rely on to fight tooth and nail for the cause. This is not to say that certain prima donna individuals boasting a spectacularly lackadaisical approach to the game will not slip through the net, as Djibril Cisse is able to courtesy of his goal threat.
Nevertheless, the return of Faurlin from a rather baffling exile and the flourishing partnership between Clint Hill and Ryan Nelsen appear to be signs of a spine emerging.
Against Fulham it was clear that pragmatism had won the day, and Redknapp had remembered that amid all the apparent superstars at his disposal, one midfield man was able to stand head and shoulders above his team-mates.
Handing the ball to Taarabt and allowing him free reign to terrorise Premier League defences is not particularly clever, nor original, but it is extremely effective.
Bypassing the wide players, meanwhile, which paid dividends on Saturday, certainly had no major negative effect on the number of chances created. It may not work every time, but the mantra of “give it to Adel and let him do the rest” was so extraordinarily effective that, for the time being, it must be Redknapp’s Plan A.
If anyone can tame the playmaker, it looks like being the wheeler dealer himself. After all, he sold Taarabt to the R’s in the first place, and will not want to let him slip through his fingers for a second time.