written by Phil M.
Since the Premier League was established in 1992, it’s become common knowledge that the team that props up the rest of the league at Christmas is a near certainty for relegation. In fact, the only team to buck this trend was West Brom in 2005 and even then this was arguably more attributable to the teams above them slipping up on the final day of the season, than a heroic escape by the Baggies.
This season, QPR were the bottom placed incumbents during the festive period, but are they on the fast track to the Championship as the majority of their predecessors have been?
There have been plenty of negative adjectives used to describe Rangers’ campaign so far – gutless, tepid, and hopeless, to name just a few – and the club can have few complaints at finding themselves in their current predicament.
The start of the season saw a wave of optimism at Loftus Road. The Chairman, Tony Fernandes, had been more than generous in his support of manager Mark Hughes in the transfer market, with the likes of Ji-Sung Park, Samba Diakite and Junior Hoilett added to the ranks. Esteban Granero, Julio Cesar and Stephane Mbia would also shortly be arriving. Talks of a European push, a new stadium and a state of the art training ground did nothing to lessen the euphoria surrounding the club.
QPR kicked off against Michael Laudrup’s Swansea as red-hot favourites, but were alarmingly cut open at will by a well drilled and clinical Seagulls team who helped themselves to five goals, as the Loftus Road faithful sat in stunned silence in the scorching August heat.
In truth, the Superhoops never really recovered after the Swansea debacle and one abject performance after another followed right up to the end of November. Mark Hughes, with such an impressive playing career behind him and with an array of coaching badges to his name, was simply unable to inspire his side out of the rut in which they found themselves.
At the end of November, the situation was bleak. Hughes was sacked, having failed to win a single match all season and the fans were already resigned to the inevitable relegation.
Cue Harry Redknapp.
It would be fair to say that Redknapp isn’t universally popular – Spurs fans are notoriously divided as to how successful he was as Tottenham manager, but his track record with taking over struggling teams and, not only moving them away from the bottom of the league, but transforming them into exciting and competitive Premier League outfits, is second to none.
One of Redknapp’s finest qualities is his emotional intelligence – he knows how to relate to and motivate players. This simply isn’t something you can obtain a UEFA coaching badge in and it’s, debatably, this crucial characteristic that Mark Hughes lacked and which ultimately cost him his job.
There was a marked improvement straight away, with respectable draws away at Sunderland and Wigan, before the long anticipated first victory of the season at home against local rivals Fulham.
Despite a couple of narrow defeats since then, Rangers notched another impressive win away at Chelsea and have knocked an imposing West Brom side out of the FA Cup.
There can be no doubt that QPR are still in a precarious position, but January has brought with it an air of optimism, not seen since last summer. The defence have been solid and formidable, and players such as Shaun Wright-Phillips, so disappointing for much of his Rangers’ career, have been playing like men with a new lease of life.
Once again, it seems that Tony Fernandes is willing to open the cheque book to support Redknapp in the transfer market. The club have today announced the audacious signing of Loic Remy and the rumours are rife that he’ll be followed by his French compatriot, Yann M’Vila, in a matter of days. These are players who, potentially, have yet to hit their peak and they represent the complete opposite of the club’s recent policy of signing big names whose best years are behind them.
There is no question that 2012 was a forgettable year for most QPR fans, but with an experienced and canny manager now installed, a continually supportive chairman and a rejuvenated squad with some exciting new additions, 2013 could be very bright indeed.
There is a lot of hard work ahead, but Rangers may yet pull off ‘the great escape’ and defy the statistics.
Harry certainly believes they can.
Quite possibly relegated? Quite possibly revived!
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