“It started badly, it tailed off a little in the middle and the less said about the end, the better, but apart from that it was excellent.” The famous words of Edmund Blackadder sum up perfectly the cacophony of misery that last season has been. Characterised by a slow, inevitable disintegration of morale at the club, it was truly awful.
Opened with a confidence eviscerating 0-5 defeat to Swansea City, Queen’s Park Rangers were doomed from the moment they took the field against the Welsh side. When the Swans spent ¬£2million on Michu, they brought in a player capable of turning a good side into a very good one, and making the sort of “step up” the R’s Board assumed would be easy.
In signing Ji-Sung Park, Jose Bosingwa, Esteban Granero and Junior Hoilett, Rangers mistakenly believed they had done the same thing, but in fact these were the harbingers of doom.
Despite not playing at all well, after four league games it appeared as though QPR were simply slow starters, having drawn 1-1 away to Norwich City and held Chelsea to a goalless stalemate. However, instead of being a routine 3-0 win against minnows Walsall in the League Cup, it turned out to be the R’s only taste of victory until December.
As the months rolled by, so did the defeats, notably a dire 2-3 loss to West Bromwich Albion that, incredibly, should have been a draw had Bosingwa scored, despite Rangers being entirely outplayed.
Moving into November, there appeared to be a way out of the mess that the R’s had got themselves into, with “easier” matches against fellow strugglers Reading and Southampton. Expectations and assumptions were put to the sword, however, as the Royals took the lead through former QPR defender Kaspars Gorkss, before a face-saving equaliser from Djibril Cisse.
As though a dismal 1-1 draw between the only two sides in the division without a victory was not unpleasant enough, Rangers went one better two weeks later, shipping three goals to the Saints.
Watching Jason Puncheon, a chubby, impotent winger when he was on loan to the R’s, and disastrously mismanaged by former boss Neil Warnock, running riot was too much to bear.
There had been enough leniency. Mark Hughes, his excuses, “meticulous preparation” and hope that constantly flew in the face of logic would relegate QPR by January unless something was done.
So it was, and despite pledging to fight on, rather like a boxer that has just been floored in a title fight, Hughes was sacked on the eve of a trip to Manchester United at Old Trafford.
Replacing the former United striker was Harry Redknapp, the amiable media darling who watched his new side take the lead through Jamie Mackie, before inevitably throwing it away and losing 1-3.
Presented as the answer to R’s supporters varied and increasingly desperate prayers, Redknapp quickly shored up the defence but, like his predecessor, found victories hard to come by. That is, until a freezing cold December day when West London rivals Fulham, no doubt expecting an easy ride against the previously charitable Rangers, were put to the sword by Adel Taarabt.
His two-goal salvo, including a superb second so nonchalant, as he glided past several players before casually slotting home from 30 yards, it might have been scored in training, was a joy to watch.
Yet it was short lived as QPR returned to form the week after with a 0-1 defeat to Newcastle United, which inspired one of Redknapp’s most memorable remarks about club owner, Tony Fernandes. In what appeared to be a genuine display of sympathy and support, the former Tottenham Hotspur manager blamed ruthless agents for Fernandes having had his “pants pulled down” on transfers.
Ranting for a good few minutes about the rotten state the R’s had got themselves into, Redknapp went on to say that players earn “far too much for their ability and what they give to the club”. Unquestionably, he was right, but the proximity of these comments to the January window did raise some eyebrows, as it was widely envisaged that Redknapp would be looking to spend big.
Whether this was his intention or not, successive home defeats to West Bromwich Albion, 1-2, and Liverpool, 0-3, made new arrivals a necessity to avoid relegation, and forge a united, hungry squad. This was particularly pertinent following the revelation that former Chelsea defender Bosingwa had refused to sit on the bench for the 2-1 win against the Cottagers, which sparked fury and outrage.
However, in just three days, Rangers went from despair to elation as Shaun Wright-Phillips struck the winning goal against the Blues at Stamford Bridge in a historic, unforgettable victory.
QPR suddenly had belief and confidence, holding Spurs to a 0-0 draw and even beating West Brom in the FA Cup, a rare triumph in the competition that set up an “easy” tie against Milton Keynes Dons. Despite one of the most defensive formations in the Premier League, with Stephane Mbia playing a deep holding role in front of the back-four, the R’s still lost 2-4 against the League One side.
Then-captain Ryan Nelsen had been the architect of much of the new found solidity at the back, but he shocked supporters by announcing that he was leaving to coach MLS side Toronto FC, in Canada. His guard of honour after the 0-0 draw with Manchester City, which followed a goalkeeping performance of the highest quality from Julio Cesar, was, in retrospect, a watershed moment.
Nevertheless, if any moment defined the hard-luck, never-quite-good-enough story that was the 2012/13 campaign, it was Taarabt missing a second-half penalty at home to Norwich City. Victory would have been entirely undeserved, and perhaps the playmaker realised this, but whatever the reason for squandering such an opportunity, there would be more pain to come.
It would arrive the following week, as Swansea continued their ruthless annihilation of whatever dignity remained at Rangers by humiliating the imperious Cesar, and scoring another four times. Only Bobby Zamora’s consolation strike, which undeservedly made it 1-2 following QPR’s first-half capitulation, provided some relief and gave the 1-4 scoreline its hint of respectability.
Next it was the turn of visitors Man United to inflict a footballing lesson on the R’s through a screamer from Rafael and a late goal by Ryan Giggs, in a game the hosts failed to turn up to.
Down and out, seven points off safety and not even bothering to try and fight to survive, the last bit of breaking tabloid news anyone needed was of drunken shenanigans on a squad break to Dubai. Bizarrely, however, the events in the United Arab Emirates had a galvanising effect upon the team, and resulted in a wholly unexpected 2-1 victory away to Southampton at the beginning of March.
Was this the start of another great escape ? It certainly appeared so, particularly when Jay Bothroyd’s late winner on the south coast was followed by a 3-1 home win against Sunderland. Naturally the R’s remained unable to keep a clean sheet, but were suddenly capable of falling behind early on and recovering, thanks to stunning goals from Andros Townsend and Jermaine Jenas.
So that was it, the great escape was on and Harry Houdini had begun to work his magic on a group of players that, a few months earlier, looked as though they would never win one match, let alone four.
In typical Rangers fashion, just when everything finally appeared to be going right, it all fell apart as Aston Villa inflicted a devastating 2-3 defeat on the league’s bottom side in the West Midlands. Cruel, undeserved and so very predictable, the Villains came back from 0-1 down to take the lead before Remy equalised, but won the game nine minutes from time thanks to Christian Benteke.
This, more than any other moment, even the missed spot kick against the Canaries, was the result that condemned the R’s to Championship football and a summer of recriminations and bitterness.
Worse was to follow, too, as Fulham made up for becoming the first team to actually lose to QPR in December by humiliating the Superhoops at Craven Cottage in a game dominated by one man. With scores of Bulgarian fans paying homage, Dimitar Berbatov ran the show from start to finish, making a mockery of Christopher Samba’s ¬£12.5 million transfer fee and inept defensive display.
True, Rangers did mount a slight recovery following Clint Hill’s own goal, but the inability of the R’s to break the Cottagers down despite the dismissal of Steve Sidwell was extremely telling indeed.
Yet nothing, perhaps in the entire history of the club, could reasonably be described as more devastating or cruel than the last-minute equaliser scored by Shaun Maloney at Loftus Road.
After Rangers had fought valiantly with 10 men for 70 minutes following a brainless challenge by Bobby Zamora, Stephane Mbia broke from defence and teed up Remy for a shot at goal. What the French international conjured up was footballing perfection, his side-footed effort flying past bemused Wigan Athletic goalkeeper Joel Robles Blazquez, who barely even moved.
For any other club, this would have been the defining moment of the season and the beginning of an against-all-logic-and-reason relegation battle, but the R’s squandered their slim chance of a reprieve. Naturally, in true hero-to-zero fashion, it was the clumsy, over enthusiastic Mbia that gave away a free kick on the edge of his box, which Maloney gleefully executed with ruthless perfection.
That really was it, QPR were down and, over the remaining six games, set about putting absolutely no effort to their “survival fight”, instead planning how to jump off the rapidly-sinking ship,
Successive 0-2 defeats to Everton and Stoke City followed before, in a drab, forgettable match that summed up all that is wrong in W12, the R’s lost their Premier League status away to Reading.
However, there was still time for pantomime villain Bosingwa, caught smiling after the final whistle at the Madejski Stadium, to stick a metaphorical middle finger up at the fans one last time.
During one of the most bizarre matches ever witnessed at Loftus Road, Bosingwa was booed from start to finish, and in return treated supporters to a display that was an affront to his profession. The Magpies’ boss Alan Pardew must have been grinning from ear to ear after his Newcastle side did absolutely nothing and came away with a 2-1 victory thanks to a brace of Bosingwa howlers.
By this time, the Rangers players had given up to such an extent that, on the final day against Liverpool, they did their utmost to allow veteran defender Jamie Carragher to net his last-ever goal.
That was that, an unmitigated disaster so appallingly dreadful that, had it been presided over by the Government, it would have resulted in a decade-long public inquiry costing millions of pounds.
Where do we go from here ?
With “doing a Wolves” still a worryingly attainable target for QPR, Redknapp has wasted no time in rocking the boat and stirring up trouble with the club’s management, which hardly bodes well. He chose an odd grievance in veteran defender Wayne Bridge to nail his colours to the mast over, demanding to be given complete control of transfers at an outfit now ¬£90million in debt.
Fortunately, Bridge was snapped up by Reading, and no other disturbing transfer rumours have arisen since, but this latest episode shows that Redknapp may not realise what league he is now in.
Squandering millions on jaded stars in the Premier League is fine, within reason, and as long as the team in question is not relegated, but the Championship is no place for such ill-judged frivolities.
It remains to be seen whether the gaffer knows what a good second-tier player looks like, but if he continues with incendiary rhetoric and the Portsmouth 2005/06 transfer policy, all will not end well.
Responding to the mounting speculation that he was looking for a way out of West London, Redknapp said: “I am committed to QPR. I want to do well for the club. I want to take it back where it belongs – in the Premier League. It will be a difficult task but a challenge I am excited about.”
As always, Redknapp talks a good game, but he is not averse to playing the odd one either, and the Board must remain steadfast in opposition to any suggestion of repeating old mistakes.
With the fixture list released today, by the time the R’s take to the field on August 3, Rangers need to have ditched the delusions of grandeur, the mercenaries, and big-time Charlies.
Former boss Neil Warnock bought unglamorous players such as Clint Hill, Shaun Derry and Jamie Mackie in order to win promotion to the top flight two years ago. They are now precisely the men Redknapp will be counting on to mount a similar charge this time around.
There is a lesson there, and it is up to the manager whether he wants to learn from it or not.