By Ben Bowers
Most fans of teams in the upper echelons of The Championship are looking forward to the play-offs with great excitement. That is, unless you are this fan of Queens Park Rangers.
Indeed many QPR fans will tell you that this season has not been an enjoyable one, despite having secured fourth place in the Championship. Most teams in the division would bite your hand off if offered fourth place at the beginning of the season. However most sides have not forked out the same amount of money on transfers and wages as QPR have in the last 5 transfer windows.
It recently emerged that the QPR wage bill is higher than that of German giants Borussia Dortmund.
Whilst most of the hired guns who contrived to get QPR relegated last season have been shipped off (mostly on loan so will be here at the end of the season), there are still players who are being paid Premier League wages. This is unsustainable and the club have got in trouble with the FA over their financial predicament.
At the beginning of the season QPR were expected to be in the automatic promotion places after 46 games and initially the signs seemed good. In Harry Redknapp we had a Premier League quality manager who, at one point, was the favourite to become the England manager. Furthermore, on paper, QPR arguably had the best team.
A lot of the deadwood, such as the unpopular Jose Bosingwa, had been shipped off and in came the likes of Matty Phillips who were proven at Championship level. This season was about getting back in The Premier League efficiently and smoothly.
Redknapp decided to bring in several players from his previous stints at Pompey and Tottenham. Although these players had had successful Premier League careers, they were either on the wrong side of 30 or they didn’t seem up for scrapping in the Championship.
In my opinion Benoit Assou-Ekoto was the epitomy of such an attitude, at fault for many goals this season and not looking very interested. His support for Nicholas Anelka, after the ‘quenelle’ debacle, appalled me personally. Niko Kranjcar is ageing fast and looks very pedestrian in many games whilst Tom Carroll is too lightweight and rarely makes any significant contributions – he has 0 goals and 2 assists in 26 games to his name.
Last weekend, when QPR were outplayed for a lot of the game, against a Millwall side who are fighting for survival, 10 out of the starting 11 had Premier League experience. The only one who did not has been QPR’s most important player this season – Charlie Austin.
To get to fourth place, you inevitably have to win the majority of your games. However the victories have, on the whole, been unexciting and without any style. Whilst I do not mind when teams, such as Stoke, play direct football because it suits the players they have, one would expect the players that QPR have at their disposal to play more exciting and attacking football.
But the majority of the wins have followed the same pattern – solid defence, little invention in midfield and relying on Austin to score and win the game by one goal. Prior to the arrival of the wonderful yet temperamental Ravel Morrison (who is far too good for The Championship), our top scorer (Austin) had 15 goals to his name whilst the second top scorer had 2.
Promoted Burnley’s top two scorers, Danny Ings and Sam Vokes have scored 25 and 21 goals respectively. When winning the football has been effective but not pretty. The losses have demonstrated QPR not being determined enough and many of the defeats have come as a result of a lack of heart and passion. In too many games players have been ineffective and ostensibly uninterested.
This brings me onto Redknapp. Despite doing a good job with Spurs, I feel he does not know The Championship well enough to be a success. His press conferences are repetitive and although he talks a good game, too many times he has underwhelmed.
Last week he said he was still trying out different styles of tactics and formations – isn’t that what you do at the beginning of the season?
Prior to Morrison’s arrival, there was a lack of flair and quality and QPR’s other creative player, Matt Phillips, spent the majority of his time in the treatment room. Without the ‘reformed’ Joey Barton in the middle, the engine room has spluttered and in January there was a point where QPR had no strikers. In typical Redknapp style, he went to the loan market and bought three strikers on deadline day. Between them they have mustered less than 5 goals. I only hope that Malky Mackay doesn’t get snapped up any time soon.
Maybe it was unrealistic to assume the QPR would effortlessly sail to automatic promotion. And the play-offs is no travesty – we could well be promoted.
But judging by our record this season against the others in the top 6 it’s going to be difficult and we go into the play offs with our recent form ranking 12th best in the division.
The atmosphere at Loftus Road has also been a bit lame with away fans consistently making more noise than the QPR faithful. Last season’s relegation left many fans disillusioned with the QPR hierarchy. Redknapp labelled the dressing room as ‘the most toxic in football.’ Although there have been some astute signings, the culture of the club has not changed and that is why this season has been un-enjoyable, despite our high league position.
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