There is a rather unfortunate habit emerging at Reading that is spoiling the Queen’s Park Rangers party and detracting from the great story of manager Harry Redknapp’s “miracle” turnaround. Not content to struggle on abysmally as they did happily for months, the Royals have earned themselves a reputation for being unable to compete for 80 minutes per game.
However, after being put to the sword for the vast majority of their clashes with Newcastle United and West Bromwich Albion, Brian McDermott’s side twice came back to win. Once and such an act can be branded an aberration, but to do it successively suggests the cultivation of real camaraderie and strong team spirit at the side one place and now five points clear of the R’s.
While QPR celebrated preventing Tottenham Hotspur scoring on the road for the first time this season, the Berkshire club were revelling in their spectacular comeback against the Baggies.
Having gone to Upton Park, taken the lead and emerged with a creditable draw, Rangers were once again trumped as Reading left it late to win at St. James’ Park. There is a fine line between success and failure and sadly, the R’s still appear to be on the wrong side of the divide.
Yet such pessimism must be put into context, for while QPR continue to prop up the table, they had been dismissively written off as relegated by many in December. The signing of striker Loic Remy has breathed new life into the area where the club has been desperately short of ability all season and four points is hardly a chasm.
Hope remains that Rangers can build on their three big achievements of late: winning away from home, keeping successive clean sheets and going on an unbeaten run. This is in spite of the news that captain Ryan Nelsen will play his final game for QPR on January 29 against Manchester City, leaving the Superhoops critically short at the back.
Unfortunately the January transfer window is an abysmally poor time to be targeting centre backs, the best of whom earn their reputation for being consistent and reliable. No club would allow a defender that fits the above criteria to leave halfway through the season, as West Brom showed by rejecting the £5million bid for Jonas Olsson.
Forwards are different, as they can easily fall out of favour, are more temperamental and require resting and rotation more frequently. Hence the relative ease with which Remy was enticed away from Marseille, although some have argued that his decision was based primarily on financial incentives.
Be that as it may, the point is that the 26-year-old is a goalscorer who found the net 53 times in 136 games for Marseilles and Nice in Ligue 1. He has the potential to make the difference, for it must be said that goals could not be any scarcer than they were over the past three or four months.
Shortcomings remain in this team, however, the sort of failings that allowed an excellent stop from Julio Cesar to be turned in by an unmarked Joe Cole for the equaliser last weekend.
Against Chelsea, Redknapp’s players cut out the mistakes and stuck to a rigid system that proved too stubborn for a team of stars and big-money signings to break down. A similar tactic must be employed against the Citizens next week, before one of the most important matches of the season – the visit of Norwich City on February 2.
Perhaps a game against the Canaries may not seem particularly significant: after all, they are hardly world-beaters. Yet in the context of a defence lacking the faultless leadership of Nelsen and facing a team including Anthony Pilkington rather than Yaya Toure, it will be the first chance to assess whether the R’s genuinely have what it takes to stay up.
Photograph provided by Sandra Sayce and used with permission.