Once hopeful, Queens Park Rangers now seem set for relegation
And with that, the light went out. At the start of the Christmas program it seemed improbable that Queens Park Rangers would survive; three games into it, it seems all but impossible. The gap from QPR to safety is eight points, which is only two more than QPR has managed in 20 games so far, while the brief gleam of hope that emerged after Harry Redknapp had replaced Mark Hughes as manager has now been all but extinguished. So bad are things now that the January transfer window may be less about trying to put together a last-gasp bid for survival than putting contingencies in place for a relegation that seems all but inevitable.
Two lists tell the full bleakness of the situation. Sunderland, Aston Villa, Wigan, Fulham, Newcastle, West Brom (home), Liverpool (home): those are the teams QPR has played under Redknapp so far, five of the matches against other teams in the bottom eight and the other two at home against mid-table sides on inconsistent runs. Chelsea, West Brom (away), Tottenham, West Ham (away), Norwich (home), Swansea (away), Manchester United: that's QPR's next seven games, four of them against the top four sides, two away games against teams in the top half and a home match against Norwich. At a time when it desperately needs points even to raise the possibility of survival, QPR faces a tough stretch.
The knowledge that only three sides in last place on New Year's Day have survived in the past 20 years won't help. Nor will the fact that of the previous 14 teams to take 10 points or fewer from its first 20 matches of the season (under the three points for a win system), none survived. The momentum that seemed to be building under Redknapp has been lost.
When three straight draws were followed by a win over Fulham -- the first victory of the season -- it seemed just possible that an act of astonishing escapology might be on. Admittedly the draws were against teams struggling against relegation themselves, but six points form four games offered a ration that, if extrapolated over the season, would have led them to safety.
Three defeats in a row have put a halt to that line of comfort, with Sunday's 3-0 shambles against Liverpool as demoralizing as setbacks come. Last season, QPR came from 2-0 down to beat Liverpool 3-2, a morale-boosting win that helped carry it to safety. On Sunday, it played as though determined to give Liverpool a 2-0 lead as quickly as possible. Much of the discussion around QPR has -- understandably -- centered on how ill-advised much of its summer business was, but it doesn't really matter who the personnel are or what they're earning: if you defend half-heartedly, Luis Suarez makes you look silly.
"I still think we'll stay up," Redknapp said. "People will think I'm mad, but I think we will. I only want positive players around me. I said that in the dressing room after the match. Those who are moping around ... the subs are not playing because they're no good. If they were any good, I'd be picking them. I don't need miserable faces, I don't need them around me. I need people who are upbeat because the next two games are unbelievable, Chelsea away and Tottenham at home ... two of the best teams in the country. But we've got to keep going, and I still think we'll do it."
It's necessary, even laudable stuff, of course, and follows the theory Redknapp seems to have adopted of willfully ostracizing half the squad in order to create some enemy within against which those in the starting 11 can rally. This time he said the others were useless, presumably hoping to pique in at least a couple of them some professional pride, while previously he has been scathing about the wages certain payers are earning -- notably Jose Bosingwa, on a staggering $65,000 a week, who reportedly refused to sit on the bench for the game against Fulham.
"I know what the problems are," Redknapp said. "You need to have everyone working as a team together. If one or two don't buy into it, you have a problem. A few have miserable faces too often for some reason. If there are people who don't want to be here, as soon as the window opens we'll see if we can fix something up for them if we can, but it's not easy moving people on. Bosingwa's injured, he has been ever since the day he wasn't on the bench. Not fit to train. But I've had a good chat with the players, a meeting, and we start again. You don't give up."
Perhaps not, and perhaps with hope seemingly lost and the pressure off, QPR can suddenly discover some form. But it seems an increasingly forlorn hope. The summer signing was weirdly scattergun and left the club with an imbalanced squad short on Premier League experience. Ability is nothing without attitude, and too many of QPR's high-earning acquisitions have fulfilled the prerogative of mercenaries throughout history, taking the wages with little or no commitment to the cause.