The view from Loftus Road

Supporting Queens Park Rangers has, this year more than any other, been a trial of strength, endurance and commitment rather than a pleasure.

WORD | Queens Park Rangers goalkeeper Júlio César picks the ball out of his net in the 3-1 home defeat to Southampton. (Image | Eurosport)
Struggle | Queens Park Rangers goalkeeper Júlio César picks the ball out of the net during the 3-1 home defeat to Southampton. (Image | Eurosport)

From the humiliation of failing to win in 16 matches to the ignominy of propping up the table over Christmas and into the New Year, fans have seen it all this year.

Despite chairman Tony Fernandes making public his reaction to every result on Twitter, I wanted to find out what supporters have made of events over the past few months.

To do so I spoke to Paul Finney, who runs fans’ website Indy R’s, Ron Norris of QPRnet and 2011/12 official supporter of the year Clive Whittingham, from Loft for Words.

How has this season compared to last, is it drastically worse or similarly abject?

Paul: I think the football under Mark Hughes was the worst I have witnessed in my entire footballing life, and that is saying something. What made it even worse was the fact that the chairman backed Hughes with so many new players.

Then along came Swansea City to show us the sort of signings we could have made. You cannot blame the board, because they were hoodwinked by him. So yes, this season has been much worse.

Ron: Annoyingly similar. I hoped that we would have learned from our mistakes last year and progressed, but instead we have repeated our errors. Too many players arrive in August, the manager loses control of them and is sacked, and a new boss arrives to rebuild. Repeat ad nauseam.

Duped | Owner Tony Fernandes has wholeheartedly backed both Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp this season. (Image | Daily Mail)
Support | Owner Tony Fernandes has wholeheartedly backed both Mark Hughes and Harry Redknapp this season. (Image | Daily Mail)

Clive: It has been my worst season as a QPR fan since 2000/01 when we were relegated from Division One. Back then we had a squad full of Premier League reserves such as Matthew Rose, Steve Morrow and Chris Kiwomya, who for one reason or another were all out of contract at the end of the season.

When the campaign started badly and financial difficulties made it clear that deals would not be renewed, the players gave up too readily. This season has not been about the struggle, because Rangers struggle most years: it has been about the lack of heart and fight in the team. I can forgive a poor player for his lack of ability, but I will not forgive a good player refusing to try.

What needs to be done to keep Rangers in the Premier League?

Paul: We need to win more on the road and keep it simple at home. Yet what we must do more than anything to avoid relegation is keep the team unity that was missing for so long.

However, after the guard of honour given to Ryan Nelsen after the Manchester City game, it seems that is on the way back. Of course, it would also help if we were able to score more goals.

Ron: We need to correct the squad imbalance. Hughes left us woefully short up front and lacking in good defenders.

Clive: What needed to be done has been done. The squad has been overhauled, a new manager brought in and first teamers cast aside called back, such as Shaun Derry, Clint Hill, Jamie Mackie and Adel Taarabt. After failing to win any of the first 16 matches it is doubtful whether any of this will work, and in the long term, the financial position the club is headed for is deeply concerning.

Do you trust Harry Redknapp to save the club?

Paul: Yes. He is the man that will do it. I would go so far as to say that nobody else could have taken on such an awful job and turned it around. We are very lucky to have Harry. When he keeps us up, Redknapp will show he is above godlike.

Tough gig | Rs manager Redknapp sits gloomily in the Loftus Road dugout. (Image | Metro)
Despair | Rs manager Harry Redknapp sits gloomily in the Loftus Road dugout. (Image | Metro)

Ron: If you could have picked someone to come in at any stage it would have been Redknapp. The bloke most people wanted as England manager is now sitting in the Loftus Road dugout.

Clive: I trust him to save the team, or at least have a better chance of doing so than anyone else. Redknapp has done a fine job thus far given the mess he inherited, but the club would be dead within weeks if the owners withdrew their financial backing.

Redknapp is throwing good money after bad, because the financial situation was ludicrous before he arrived, but he is certainly throwing plenty of it. Should we go down, will Tony Fernandes bankroll a vastly overstretched Championship side for years on end? If not, we are in trouble.

Will the Rs be playing Championship football next year?

Paul: Everything suggests that we will but I believe the Rs can do this. Then again, I fear that if we do go down it will put the club in danger, which is a situation we have been in far too often. That is why we must and will stay up.

Ron: Can I answer in May? I feel we are a lot shorter than last year, but at the same time we have some better players and a far superior manager. We also have a series of winnable games coming up. Heart says yes, head says no.

Clive: Logic says Rangers will, having only won twice in the league so far and needing seven or eight more victories from 13 games. Teams above us such as Southampton and Reading are doing well, while Aston Villa could still turn things around. Yet part of me thinks that we will find a miraculous way out of this situation.

Which players have let the club down most this season?

Paul: The case of José Bosingwa shows exactly what is wrong with our transfer policy. I feel for Ji-sung Park, who looks lost on the pitch and has had his confidence shot to pieces. He tries very hard but it always goes wrong.

Mercenary | Defender José Bosingwa has not played for the club since refusing to be a substitute against Fulham. (Image | So Foot)
Mercenary | Defender José Bosingwa has not played for the club since refusing to sit on the bench against Fulham in December. (Image | So Foot)

Bosingwa, on the other hand, is only here for the money. Others, such as Djibril Cissé, have lost their way from last season. Cissé looks as though he is playing with the weight of the world on his shoulders and lead in his boots. It is a shame that we did not sign a few more players like Júlio César and Stéphane Mbia.

Ron: Cissé, Bosingwa and Park have taken the most flak, a lot of it deserved. Although you cannot excuse the way some players lost focus and coasted under Hughes, the manager must keep everyone motivated and he failed to do that. Redknapp seems to be coping with the egos just fine.

Clive: Hughes set out to sign proven players from big clubs in order to enable Rangers to push on to the next level. The problem was that swapping Old Trafford and the San Siro for Loftus Road, where absolutely everything has to be fought for, meant taking on an entirely different challenge, atmosphere and culture.

Some have taken well to this, such as César, but most appear to see QPR as beneath them and are grossly underperforming. Those signed from better teams can also have had their failings covered up previously by having great players around them, which is not the case here. In terms of names, Bosingwa, Park, Bobby Zamora, Cissé, Anton Ferdinand and Shaun Wright-Phillips can all be blamed.

Should Mark Hughes have been sacked earlier than he was?

Paul: Yes. He was kept on for three matches too many.

Ron: Yes, and that was our biggest mistake. Had he gone a few weeks earlier we could perhaps have picked up a few more valuable points.

Clive: Yes, but that is easy to say in hindsight as I agreed that he should be given the games against Stoke City, Reading and Southampton to turn it around, which turned out to be wrong.

Who is your player of the season thus far?

Paul: Nelsen, because without him we would be relegated already.

Leader | Ryan Nelsen was given a guard of honour after his final game for QPR against Manchester City last week. (Image | Sky Sports NZ)
Leader | Ryan Nelsen was given a guard of honour after his final game for QPR against Manchester City last week. (Image | Sky Sports NZ)

Ron: Hill. It would be easy to pick Nelsen and very few could argue with that, but for me it is Hill. To be on the scrapheap one season and claw his way back to become a key part of the side once is impressive. Doing it twice shows immense guts and dedication and typifies the man.

Clive: It would have been Nelsen had he not left, and it still may be. Hill and Derry have been immense and César is in exceptional form, but if I had to decide now I would go for Taarabt.

Taarabt has matured as a footballer and a person and his all-round game is excellent now. He probably is too good for us, as the song goes. Sadly, I have to agree with Glenn Hoddle, who said after the match against Tottenham Hotspur that Taarabt has developed to such a point that he needs to play alongside superior team mates.

Will you renew your season ticket no matter which league QPR are playing in?

Paul: Yes, as long as the club does not price me out.

Ron: Yes. I have had a season ticket in all three of the divisions we have been in while I have been going. I will not stop if we go down.

Clive: Of course. I have had a season ticket since 1992, during which time we have been through worse than this.

What was your highlight of 2012?

Paul: Beating Chelsea away.

Ron: Avoiding relegation in Manchester was the most incredible, stomach-churning 90 minutes of football I have seen in a long time.

Clive: The last-minute winner Mackie scored against Liverpool: we were 2-0 down with 15 minutes left and he won it in injury time. I ruptured my oesophagus celebrating.

Which teams will finish in the bottom three come May?

Paul: Aston Villa, Reading and Southampton.

Ron: I think we are looking at three from Rangers, Reading, Villa, Wigan Athletic and Southampton. If the Rs stay up, it will be Villa, Reading and Southampton.

Clive: As I said, it should be us but I think we might yet manage to escape. Should Rangers do so, the bottom three is likely to be Villa, Reading and possibly Wigan at long last. There may even be a team that drops down into the mess, perhaps Norwich City. We can only hope.

Name your best and worst signing of the season and why.

Paul: The worst was Bosingwa. He showed no pride, passion or effort and embodies all that is wrong with the game.

Secure | César continues his excellent recent from with a save from Sergio Agüero in the clash with City. (Image | The Telegraph)
Secure | César continues his excellent recent from with a save from Sergio Agüero in the clash with City. (Image | The Telegraph)

Ron: We now have arguably the best ‘keeper in the league aside from Joe Hart in César. That is staggering for QPR, and he is paying back his cost with performance after performance. I had high hopes for Bosingwa but he sums up the “coasting for money” attitude that has apparently been prevalent at the club.

Clive: Clearly Bosingwa is the worst given the money he earns for poor performances and his divisive effect on the dressing room. He sums up everything that was bad and wrong with Hughes’ reign.

Nelsen has been the best signing to date, given what we paid, the expectation on him and amazing displays the New Zealander has managed to produce considering that he has knees and ankles like cement mixers and no hamstrings left.

So there it is, with 13 games remaining the view from Loftus Road is fairly uniform. All three feel Hughes should have been dismissed earlier and it is very much a case of “in Harry we trust”.

Bosingwa, unsurprisingly, has forever shamed himself in the eyes of supporters and pales in comparison to the heroics performed by Nelsen in his sport spell in W12. Perhaps most interesting of all, fans unanimously agree that QPR can stay up despite everything. Only time will tell on that one.

Have your say | Tweet the author | @chriskking

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