A win! A win! My kingdom for a win! Now that the gods of fate have answered the calls of all those concerned with Queens Park Rangers, the Superhoops face a trip to the north east.
With Newcastle United in wretched form and possibly beginning to regret a certain eight-year contract, can Rangers break their second unwanted record in the space of a week?
What’s the story?
Once upon a time, QPR supporters could routinely be found exiting Loftus Road with wide eyes and jaws trailing along the floor after witnessing an attacking masterclass from Adel Taarabt.
At the most opportune moment, the Moroccan decided to take it upon himself to haul the Rs out of the mire. While his first goal against Fulham owed much to good fortune, the second was sublime.
Audaciously putting the ball through the legs of Brede Hangeland, Taarabt jinked past the rest of the visiting defenders before coolly slotting the ball past Mark Schwarzer.
Like his team-mates, the ‘keeper had no answer to the Rangers No.10, who shone like a beacon of hope at a ground where only dismal failure had gone before this season.
Even more magically, the rest of the players responded to the call to arms, Stéphane Mbia in particular excelling in front of the back four as a protective buffer that had been sorely lacking.
Unfortunately it was not to be a clean sheet, Mladen Petrić cruelly denying the hosts a thoroughly deserved 2-0 victory from a game that, in all honestly, only one team turned up to.
Reading’s 5-2 hammering by Arsenal on Monday, meanwhile, means that QPR no longer languish at the very bottom of the Premier League table, a tremendous boost for the beleaguered players.
Now that the proverbial monkey has been cast off the team’s collective back, there ought to be no impediment to the Rs doubling their win count, and cuing the music for the greatest escape of all.
Remind me of last time
Almost a year ago the Toon hosted Rangers and saw off the west Londoners in Mark Hughes’ first game in charge.
Despite having a number of chances, profligacy cost the visitors eight minutes before half time when Leon Best fired low into the bottom corner to give Newcastle the lead.
It was a lead they retained throughout, despite QPR putting on as strong a second half display as they had done in the opening period.
Having hit the woodwork twice through spectacular efforts from Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jay Bothroyd before the interval, Jamie Mackie and Bothroyd then squandered further chances to level.
Yet it was not to be a fairytale start for Hughes, who consoled himself with the “attitude” of his new charges, even though their ability was sadly lacking after having failed to win in 10 matches.
Who’s the boss?
Famous for being the only Premier League boss to have been awarded an eight-year extension to his contract, Alan Pardew has enjoyed a mixed managerial record over the past 13 years.
Promotion with Reading from Division One in 2002 cemented his reputation as an up and coming manager, but after guiding West Ham United to the FA Cup final, Pardew’s star began to wane.
Overseeing Charlton Athletic’s relegation from the top flight in 2007, and quitting Southampton amid reports of player unrest certainly did not put the 51-year-old in pole position for the job at St. James’ Park.
Nonetheless, despite an approval rating of 5.5% and amid pervasive scepticism on Tyneside, Pardew steadied the ship in his first season and led the Magpies into Europe a year later.
Signing players such as Demba Ba, Yohan Cabaye, Papiss Cissé, Davide Santon and Hatem Ben Arfa demonstrated an astute touch that many of his fellow managers lacked, and has paid off.
All have become household names and players courted by clubs across Europe, which would have been unthinkable before Pardew took charge.
Indeed, his performance as gaffer was so exceptional that owner Mike Ashley, in the interests of creating stability lacked for so long at the north east club, offered Pardew an eight-year deal.
At the time it seemed particularly optimistic and perhaps slightly naïve, and a poor run of form over the past couple of months has seen many question the logic behind this decision.
There can be no doubt, however, that despite cancelling the club’s Christmas party, Pardew has excelled in the role to the point that a volatile businessman has trusted him on a long-term basis with his most prized asset, which is quite an achievement.
How have they been doing lately?
To put the recent form of the Toon into perspective, they have been playing badly enough to give Rangers supporters genuine hope of an away victory, which is no mean feat.
Fresh from the swashbuckling displays last season that signalled the rebirth of the Geordie club, they have struggled in 2012/13, and are in wretched form with just eight points from a possible 30.
While nobody would call a 3-1 defeat to Manchester City a “crisis”, they have been beaten over the past 10 games by Southampton, Stoke City, Fulham, West Ham United and Swansea City.
Despite the seemingly endless supply of goals from Ba, failing to register an away victory by Christmas will be particularly worrying for Pardew.
This run may well stretch into the New Year, with trips to Arsenal and Manchester United to come after the visit of the Rs.
Injuries and suspensions have taken their toll, but it is hard to escape the feeling that this year’s side is much like a film sequel – all the same people are in it, but they seem unable to recreate the magic of the original.
Poor defending such as that displayed against Fulham, where Hugo Rodallega was allowed to head home unmarked from a Damien Duff free-kick, is costing Newcastle dear.
Their defeats tend to be narrow, but the 2-1 reversal against Stoke last month, in which the Potters came back from a goal down with nine minutes remaining, shows how brittle the Geordies are.
When the form book is analysed more closely, it shows that if the 3-0 win at home to Wigan is taken out of the equation, Newcastle have essentially lost six in a row.
This is a record so spectacular that, even at their lowest ebb, QPR did not come close to matching, illustrating the true extent of the problem on Tyneside.
Can I have a bit of team news please?
With much of the pre-match talk having concerned Demba Ba and his midweek interview, in which the Senegalese striker professed a desire to join Arsenal, the game itself has been somewhat overshadowed.
This is perhaps understandable, but it has distracted from the news that both sides have a number of absentees for tomorrow’s match at St. James’ Park.
Júlio César looks set to miss out with a back injury, the same ailment that is keeping José Bosingwa on the treatment table.
Meanwhile Kieron Dyer is being tipped for another indeterminate spell on the sidelines despite returning to training recently after two months out.
Despite positive news regarding his recuperation, the clash comes a month too soon for Bobby Zamora, while Ji-sung Park and Andrew Johnson are still injured.
Possible QPR starting line-up: Green, Onuoha, Hill, Nelsen, Traoré, Mackie, Mbia, Faurlin, Wright-Phillips, Taarabt, Cissé
As for the hosts, they are once again without midfielders Hatem Ben Arfa and Yohan Cabaye, and must decide whether to punish Ba for his outburst, or rely on the in-form forward to score as usual.
Utility man James Perch is also a doubt with a neck injury, which could leave the Toon facing a crisis in the middle of the park, despite the return of Gabriel Obertan from toe surgery.
Possible Newcastle starting line-up: Krul, Simpson, Coloccini, Williamson, Santon, Tiote, Anita, Gutierrez, Obertan, Cissé, Ba
The first item to be flagged up is not an omen, per se, more an inherent weakness that must be exploited by tomorrow’s visitors. Since October 2010 Newcastle have not come from behind to win a Premier League match – a period of more than two years.
While the Rs have been regrettably goal shy so far this season, they will certainly fancy their chances of extending this remarkable record.
However, said statistic is perhaps no more remarkable that, despite a triumph on home soil, Rangers have not picked up three points on the road in more than a year.
Moreover, not only have QPR not won at St. James’ Park in nearly 20 years, since October 1993, but they have also netted just twice in the last five encounters between the two teams.
Overall the Toon have the edge, with 17 victories compared to Rangers’ 16 in the league, but a positive result would bring the scores level, which is another incentive for the away side.
On another note, these two sides famously played out a legendary draw in 1984, where despite leading 4-0 at half-time, Newcastle contrived to throw their lead away to draw 5-5.
It remains the second highest scoring draw in English football history, and a result that took 27 years for the Magpies to get over, which they were able to with a famous 4-4 fight back against Arsenal in 2011.
How do you think we’ll do?
This will be a far tougher assignment than Fulham last weekend, not least because of the Superhoops’ dismal away record.
Yet the manner of the victory and breaking of the unwanted winless streak should have given the team a new lease of life, and there will not be a better time all season to face Newcastle.
Away defeats have become so familiar that they are expected, at least among supporters, but after positive displays at the DW Stadium and the Stadium of Light, there is no reason as to why the Redknapp recovery would falter just as it is beginning to gain momentum.
As witnessed a week ago, creating a balance in midfield is essential, which was achieved with Mbia sitting deep in front of the defence and Taarabt roaming forward.
While the set-up somewhat stunted the ability of Mackie and Wright-Phillips to get forward, it paid dividends through the middle of the park, which is where the killer balls to Djibril Cissé come from.
Similarly to the Fulham game, the ageing defensive partnership of Clint Hill and Ryan Nelsen must ensure that QPR do not go behind early on.
With Ba and Cissé among the most prolific goalscorers in the division, and Ben Arfa also a major threat, one goal for the home side will most likely be followed very quickly by another.
There must also come a time when conceding away from home triggers a “here we go again” effect in the minds of the players that is not conducive to the fighting spirit required to forge a recovery.
Furthermore, given the paltry goalscoring rate achieved by Rangers at St. James’ Park in the last few visits, I am tempted to opt for a 1-1 draw.
Like most QPR fans, I lost faith in the Rs’ ability to ply their trade successfully away from W12 a long time ago, and the small matter of a west London derby victory is not enough to change my mind.
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Originally published on QPRnet on Friday December 21 2012.