‘I Know it’s Over’. ‘This Charming Man’ we brought in as manager has, despite all his bluff and media savvy, been unable to save Queen’s Park Rangers from relegation. Continuing the theme of ‘The Smiths’, as a football club, QPR are very much ‘Still Ill’. That there are eight games remaining and “plenty of football to be played”, as the clich√© goes, is irrelevant.
Naturally, having netted a paltry 11 goals at home all season, Aston Villa put on a goalscoring masterclass to win this “relegation six-pointer”, putting three past the devastated away side. Brandishing the clash a “relegation 40-pointer” may have been more accurate, for the team able to take all three points from this encounter was always going to be far more likely to stay up.
Momentum is the most valuable commodity in all of football, far more than skill, experience or expertise. Take League Cup finalists Bradford City, who got to Wembley largely because of this.
With defeat on Saturday, the only reason for believing in Harry Redknapp and his players vanished, and nothing short of a miracle is now required. As harsh as this may seem, lightning will not strike twice. Rangers were extremely fortunate to still be playing Premier League football at the end of last season after their “great escape”. At Villa Park that luck deserted the visitors, fatally so.
Redknapp said afterwards that survival would be a “tough ask”, but “not impossible”. Indeed, credit must go to the former Tottenham Hotspur manager, whose record is strong since he took charge. Sadly, even the good job he has done will not be enough and the inquest into why the R’s were ever allowed to get into such a dismal mess will surely be called for soon.
Two facts are obvious and indisputable: former boss Mark Hughes ought to have been sacked earlier and a number of “bad apples” have precipitated the Rangers down fall and current crisis. Given the fact that under the Welshman, away matches had been written off entirely as pointless exercises in futility, scoring twice on the road in one game is a vast improvement four months later.
Yet no matter how many chances QPR squandered, or the saves Brad Guzan made, the harsh truth is that Villa had more in them than the Superhoops on Saturday, which itself is a criminal indictment.
There are of course still 24 points to be won. However, the loss against the Villains had two-fold consequences. Not only did it mean the R’s were deprived of a vital three points and unable to leapfrog second-bottom Reading, it also saw the side currently in the “promised land” move further into the distance.
When it comes to the final game of the season, against Liverpool at Anfield, certain matches will be picked out, scrutinised and branded “responsible” for the coming year of Championship football. Saturday was one such clash.
These sombre words may be proved foolish and premature, but only an eternal optimist would be so audacious as to believe that five more wins are possible. For this is what Redknapp has targeted, in another of his “all-or-bust” rallying calls, but not only is this unrealistic it also assumes that the other strugglers will continue to err between now and May.
Take Wigan Athletic, for instance, who will almost certainly run Villa very close, and may even surpass the West Midlands outfit over the coming matches. Shrugging their shoulders as games came and went, and the Premier League left them behind, the Latics have done what they always do, wait until March to start the late show all over again.
The worst part is that this will probably be enough, because at the lower reaches of the English top flight is a footballing graveyard where teams struggle to even string successive victories together.
Not only this, but Wigan have an extra game in which to paint manager Roberto Martinez as the managerial genius that he apparently is for just two months of the year, every year.
Many recriminations, accusations, bitter outbursts and home truths will inevitably follow if the “doomsday prophecy” comes true, but for now these can wait. This is not the time to point the finger, however tempting it may be. QPR have lost a game of football, which may seem fairly harmless and typical, but could in fact be the long-feared killer blow.