By Richard de Winter @rgdewinter @TLE_Sport
First of all, hope that all’s going well for you at this busy time of year, and that you’re not too swamped by the deluge of demands for an iPad from armies of over-privileged 6-year-olds with a worrying sense of entitlement. Give them all a lump of coal I say, the chances are they’ve been more naughty than nice, and anyway what possible benefit could a 6-year-old gain from owning an iPad?
I’ve been very nice this year, and so as such I don’t feel I am being too unreasonable when I ask for an extra special gift. As you are no doubt aware, given your deity-like omniscience, supporting my team, QPR, is a highly frustrating experience – one that can lead to more ups and downs than a bipolar disorder sufferer on a pogo stick. I’m sure followers of most clubs would say the same thing, but for me it seems as though Rangers of late have caused more extremes of emotions than normal.
Take Saturday for example; being booked to sing at a wedding meant I was unable to attend the match against West Bromwich Albion as initially intended, so I had to resort to the Sky Sports Football app – when I checked the score at 15.22, my reaction, as you can imagine, was one of despair – ‘typical Rangers, always finding a way to cock it up’ would probably be a good, if clean, summary. When I next checked, at 16.08, there was a sudden surge of hope within me – ‘sorry I doubted you guys’ would sum it up – and when I was able to check the final score at 16.58, my thoughts were along the lines of ‘Whoo! Yeeeahh! Come on Rangers! In your face Albion! Charlie Austin for Pope.’
All this goes to show that following the Hoops is a rather stressful occupation, so what I’m really leading up to asking is…can you arrange for QPR to actually win an away game this season? Actually, maybe that’s asking a bit much, can you let us at least get a point please?
Now, I know what you are going to say. You’re going to suggest that I’m maybe being a little harsh on the team. You’re going to trot out the fact that in our first 8 away games this season, we’ve played 7 of last season’s top 10, and that the exception, West Ham, are currently 4th, playing with the verve and freedom that no-one ever expected to see from a Sam Allardyce team. You’re going to say that things won’t get any easier, seeing as our next away match is at Arsenal, and that we couldn’t really have expected to get a result in any of those games.
But I am going to argue the toss with you here Santa. You see, I think that attitude is precisely why the Rs have spectacularly failed to win so much as a point away from home this year. Going into a match thinking ‘well, we’re going to get stuffed here in all probability’ can either cause a team to play with glorious freedom and abandon, knowing nothing much is expected of them, or, more commonly, it can breed a defeatist attitude, meaning the game is lost even before it’s begun.
Harry Redknapp talked of the games at Spurs and at Manchester United as being bonus games, in effect suggesting that he would accept a boring 2-0 defeat with a reasonable performance and no injuries. Why bother playing at all, if that is to be the approach? Why should any supporters travel to a match that is already a foregone conclusion? Yes, QPR have had an unusually hard run of away games, but coming up with an unexpected and at times inexplicable away win is one of the joys of supporting a club, and the rotten away record is putting a huge amount of pressure on the team to perform at home.
Ah yes, the home form. I’m sure you will argue that sacrificing the away matches seems to be a valid tactic, since our home form is that of a top 4 club. True, Rangers look an entirely different side at Loftus Road. This may be down to the fact that the compactness of the stadium makes it an intimidating venue for the away side, as evidenced by Chelsea losing their collective bottle in the raucous 1-0 victory in 2011. Yet our tactics at home are very different to those in away matches.
Harry’s decision to adopt the 3-5-2 formation at the start of the season wasn’t totally misguided in my opinion – he used it on occasions last season to good effect, and given that the combined age of 3 of our 5 centre-backs (Ferdinand, Dunne and Hill) at the start of the season was 104, it made perfect sense to have an extra defender to compensate for their lack of pace. It became quickly apparent, however, that this was serving the team well neither in attack, where we looked devoid of ideas other than hoping Niko Krancjar could whip in a free-kick, nor in defence, where we looked horrendously disorganised.
Redknapp deserves credit then for recognising the need for change, and almost stumbled across an effective attacking formation (our defence is still as ropey as a hangman convention). Bobby Zamora’s ability to hold up play means Charlie Austin can get on with what he does best, namely making darting runs and scoring poacher’s goals; the two Chileans, Eduardo Vargas and Mauricio Isla can hare up and down the right flank like a couple of skittish squirrels; Leroy Fer has licence to drift in from the left, often unnoticed, and Karl Henry has been unexpectedly classy as the calm, deep-lying central midfielder, winning the ball and then moving it on to someone more talented. If only Joey Barton would take a leaf out of his book.
But then, as I’m sure you’ve noticed Santa, we don’t play with anything like the same attacking verve away from home – in fact we often play so negatively it’s difficult to believe it’s the same team. Yes there are mitigating circumstances – Zamora has taken such a battering over the years that his body is barely up to playing 70 minutes every 7 days, and has often been rested for away matches, and as mentioned the fixture list hasn’t been kind to us. Why, though, do we look defeated before the game has even started? Why, after an exhilarating performance at home to Manchester City where we absolutely battered the reigning Champions for the first half-hour of the game, did we turn up to the next away game, at Newcastle, where the sum of our ambitions was to escape with a 0-0? Given the porousness of our defence, such a tactic was bound to fail. Let’s play to our strengths.
So, in summary Santa, I’m a little bit worried. I know I’m naturally more pessimistic than most, but if reports in the press are to be believed, relegation this season could have catastrophic consequences for the club thanks to the Financial Fair Play rules. We can’t continue to rely on slightly streaky home wins against teams in similar league positions, and although there are in my opinion 3 worse sides in the league this year (Burnley, Hull, Leicester), we are going to have to break our away duck at some point if we are to survive. Please Santa, if you make it sooner rather than later, then I promise to be a good boy next year too.
Hope the wife and elves are OK. Seasonal regards.