Imagine, if you will, that you are an ageing footballer. You have had a fine career at the top of your profession, but your legs have gone, and you can’t really cut it at the highest level any more. However, you have got used to a certain amount of luxury, and would like one final lucrative contract to fund this lifestyle. You don’t worry; instead you remember Park Ji-Sung, Jose Bosingwa, Rio Ferdinand, Shaun Wright-Phillips, Luke Young et al, and instruct your agent to get on the blower to QPR, saying you’ll accept a 3 year deal on £70,000 a week.
Well, I have bad news for you. It seems as though those days have gone. Judging by QPR’s recent transfer business, you are exactly the sort of player they are looking to avoid, a policy that looks like it may bear fruit.
This transfer window, on the surface, hasn’t been great for the R’s. They’ve lost one of the top centre-forwards in the country for peanuts, Charlie Austin, and two international midfielders in Sandro and Leroy Fer; The Hoops have signed three players, one each from Wycombe Wanderers, Burton Albion and Peterborough United, not exactly footballing powerhouses. However, on the evidence of Saturday’s win over Ipswich, it could turn out to be shrewd business.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink hasn’t had the easiest of introductions as QPR manager. A combination of bad luck, poor attitude from certain individuals, and questionable substitutions has meant that before Saturday he had won only one game, a streaky 3-0 win at Rotherham (as far as a 3-0 win can be streaky), leading to some short-sighted idiots suggesting he should be sacked. For me he’s made a perfectly decent start, even allowing for the fact that QPR tend to get about as much new manager bounce as Mike Gatting landing in a bowl of treacle. There has been more cohesion about the team, they have looked defensively stronger, and he is, in certain cases, looking to the future.
There are reservations. Paul Konchesky has been woeful at left-back all season, and although he was reasonable on Saturday, there are four other options at the club, in Yun Sook-Young, Jack Robinson, Armand Traore and Cole Kpekawa. Kpekawa is inexperienced, although he has recently been recalled from a loan spell at Leyton Orient, Traore is to defending what I am to DIY, while Robinson is returning from a bad knee injury, but most Rangers fans can’t fathom why Yun, who always looks impressive, can’t get a look in. There’s no word about an injury or poor attitude, so his non-selection remains baffling.
One of Hasselbaink’s most popular changes has been bringing in Alex Smithies for Rob Green in goal. This may have been precipitated by the need not to play Green too often in case he accidentally earns himself a new contract through appearances made, but from a footballing point of view surely it was a no-brainer. Green, for all his shot-stopping expertise, tends to make at least one dreadful mistake per game, and, while Smithies has his defects – he is too often caught on his line and he let the ball bounce on far too many occasions on Saturday – he is younger than Green, more agile than Green, and, most importantly, can kick confidently with either foot, meaning that not every backpass is a hold-your-breath moment.
Striker Conor Washington, signed from Peterborough, got his first start against Ipswich, and immediately impressed, showing off an immaculate touch, a Jamie Mackie-esque desire to chase lost causes, and some remarkable close control. His finishing isn’t yet there, but he should prove a real asset, either playing wide, or down the middle.
Washington seemed to work nicely playing off Sebastian Polter, the biggest FG around, who must be one of the toughest centre-forwards to play against. His touch is, admittedly, just what you’d expect from a big man (the anti-Tore Andre Flo if you like), but his nuisance value is huge, and he started the move which led to Matt Phillips’ late winner.
That goal was created by another new signing, Nasser Al-Khayati, a Dutch winger who followed Hasselbaink from Burton. He also impressed, with a few Taarabt-esque shimmys, and the cross (or shanked shot depending on how charitable you feel) to help break the deadlock.
In the middle of the park, Hasselbaink went for a lightweight pairing in Massimo Luongo and Alejandro Faurlin, neither of whom is known for his grunt. Against a more potent midfield than Ipswich’s, that could have been a problem, but against the limited Kevin Bru and Cole Skuse, it was more than enough. Faurlin passed the ball beautifully, as he always does, despite hobbling his way around, the legacy of a crude lunge from Bru in the first ten minutes. Luongo, meanwhile, had probably his best game for the R’s, both defensively in his constant harrying, and in attack, where he showed some wonderful close control to extricate himself from several awkward situations. All that’s missing from him now is a goal.
Out wide, Junior Hoilett and Matt Phillips were a mixed bag, but that’s nothing new. Phillips has in recent weeks put in a couple of performances straight from the Scott Sinclair school of effort, presumably to avoid a transfer-scuppering injury. Now he’s here for the remainder of the season, there was more effort, but still the same frustrating inconsistency. He whipped in a couple of dangerous crosses, and, against all QPR tradition, is able to beat the first man with his corners, but twice in the first half overran the ball when in extremely promising positions.
Hoilett is starting to look like the player from a couple of seasons ago at Blackburn. His touch was superb, often jinking away from players with an easy grace, and he looked like Rangers’ best hope of a goal. However, he somehow fluffed a Phillips cross when totally unattended, he greedily shot at the near post when two players were waiting for a pull back, and ran down too many blind alleys in the second half. There is though a very effective Championship player there ready to emerge, and I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins a couple of games on his own before the season is out.
It’s far too easy to read too much into a single victory, and the jittery seven minutes of injury time, where Nedum Onuoha and Grant Hall were temporarily unable to deal with long throws, shows that the team’s confidence is still a little fragile, but for the first time in several years, I’m at least cautiously optimistic about QPR’s long-term future. Until the gargantuan fine for breaking the Financial Fair Play rules of course.