We're back with another Fan Focus, talking to Clive Whittingham of QPR site Loft For Words to get his opinion of our game this evening.
It's that time again, where we grab a fan of the upcoming opposition and get a view 'from the outside' on our upcoming encounter. Although it looked like we may have enjoyed something of a walkover against Mark Hughes' dreadful QPR team, that opportunity no longer affords itself to us. Harry Redknapp, who we have had 'encounters' with in the past is in charge now, but can we spoil 'ol Saggy Face's party?
Hi Clive, it's fair to say that things aren't going too well at Loftus Road this season. Was it the right time for Hughes to leave?
Clive Whittingham: It was certainly time for him to go. Ordinarily you would say a sacking after 11 months in the job is a bit knee-jerk and the manager hasn't had sufficient time, but Mark Hughes cannot complain about any aspect of his treatment by QPR. He was given everything he could possibly want in two transfer windows, he was allowed to bring in 16 new players, and this season the board has backed him despite a lousy start to the season which stretched to 12 games without a win by the time he was finally replaced. Hughes infamously left Fulham because they weren't ambitious enough, but he and the board at Rangers have a false idea of what ambition entails. They think ambition is throwing money at players like Ji-Sung Park, Jose Bosingwa, Julio Cesar and all the rest of it. That policy simply hasn't worked, it lumbered us with a squad of players used to winning every week who see QPR as beneath them and have been unwilling to put in the hard work required to achieve anything at a club like ours. It's also caused a massive split in the camp between the players who got us up out of the Championship who are on 10-20k a week, and the big-time new comers who are contributing nothing for 60-70k a week. Hughes presided over a dreadful strategy, and in every interview and press conference he gave he basically said he didn't know why the team wasn't doing well but was sure they were on the cusp of making a breakthrough and getting it right. In fact, things have been deteriorating still further for a number of weeks culminating in a dismal performance against Southampton last week which finally got him the sack.
The timing of the sacking seemed odd, why wait until a Friday to do it, and have the reassuring words that your chairman gave Hughes beforehand reflected on him badly?
CW: When Hughes was appointed he was the only candidate we considered for the job, and the chairman Tony Fernandes admitted at one stage that Hughes had actually interviewed QPR more than the other way around. He basically came in, laid out his demands and we gave him everything he wanted. That included a colossal contract - one press report suggested he was in the top 20 best paid managers in the world - so I think the delay last week was partly making sure Redknapp was ok to step straight in, and also to try and persuade Hughes to either do the decent thing and resign, or to try and negotiate some sort of settlement so the club didn't have to pay millions to get rid of him. Fernandes remains very, very popular among the QPR fans, although there has been some criticism of him in recent weeks for the first time since he arrived at the club really - no abuse though. Hughes was his man, he desperately wanted it to work, he tried everything to make it work, so I don't think the public declarations of support have damaged him too much. It could be said though that by going for the obvious candidate, not interviewing anybody else etc we've simply made the same mistakes again.
Harry Redknapp took no time at all in agreeing to take over. Is he the right man for the job, and if not, then who would you have preferred?
CW: Well with four points from 13 matches and the Premier League television money about to almost triple for next season what we need is a short term fix, and Redknapp is absolutely ideal for that. The problem with QPR though is everything is always considered in the short term - every problem we have is always fixed by another signing or a managerial sacking. The chronic short termism at the club means we don't have our own training ground (we share a dilapidated facility near Heathrow with a college), we have no youth system to speak of, we have a small and outdated stadium and we now have an enormous squad made up of layers and layers of signings made in each transfer window by different managers. We still have one player in our squad - Hogan Ephraim - from John Gregory's time as boss and we've had eight permanent bosses since then. They come in, they make six signings in the transfer window, they get sacked and it begins again. We are permanently in a situation where we have a layer of six senior players who are training by themselves, not part of the squad, and earning money from us for doing nothing. Last year it was Rowan Vine, Patrick Agyemang, Peter Ramage, Danny Shittu and others and they all went this summer, but now we have Rob Hulse, DJ Campbell, Luke Young, Joey Barton and others all not involved and still earning money. The short termism has to stop, as does this obsession with chasing big name players who aren't going to come and work hard for QPR. For that reason I'd have liked to see a young manager like Gus Poyet or Malky Mackay come in here and set about a long term plan for rebuilding the entire club. However, with the money on offer in the Premier League next season and the amount of big wage earners we're carrying who could bankrupt us if we're relegated, I do appreciate the need for Redknapp in the short term and I'm excited about seeing what he is going to do.
Where has it all gone wrong this season? Why are you struggling so badly, and are the ingredients there for Redknapp to turn things around? Do you still believe that you will stay up?
CW: I do believe we'll stay up but it's not based on any logic. It's gone wrong in exactly the same places it went wrong last season - Warnock in August and then Hughes in January both wrongly believed that the team that got us out of the Championship needed completely replacing with big name Premier League players. Warnock signed Anton Ferdinand, Shaun Wright-Phillips and Joey Barton, Hughes signed Bobby Zamora, Ji Sung Park, Jose Bosingwa and a load of others. These players feel nothing for our club, they didn't go through the trials and tribulations of lower division football with us and when the going gets tough they don't want to know. Last season when Warnock returned to people like Heidar Helguson things improved. Then when Hughes took over injury and suspension forced him to return to people like Jamie Mackie and Adel Taarabt, and lo and behold things improved again. This summer he set about replacing them all once more and we've been dreadful. On Saturday at Old Trafford, Mark Bowen only played four Mark Hughes signings, and the spine of the team was largely made up of our Championship players resulting in a great improvement. The ingredients are there for Redknapp if he uses the Championship players who fought to get the club here and will fight to keep it here. If he goes down the same big name path as his predecessors then we'll go down.
For 45 minutes on Saturday you looked very comfortable at Old Trafford. What would you say cost you the game?
CW: Well I could cruelly say we put Anton Ferdinand on, turning a previously well organised and committed back four into a rabble with one simple substitution. Anton started really well for QPR when he first arrived, but the media reports suggest he's sulking because he wasn't made captain during the summer and Hughes tried to get rid of him. His body language has been awful and his performances have made him a liability. But there's more to it than that - we worked incredibly hard for an hour and tired, and we conceded two more goals from set pieces which have been our undoing all season.
Despite Hughes's love of buying forwards, you're struggling for goals this season. Who is the answer to your problems up there?
CW: Well Hughes put a lot of faith in Andy Johnson - who was injury prone before he joined and very quickly knackered his knee ligaments - and Bobby Zamora who clearly came to QPR solely to get away from Martin Jol and make himself a few quid and has shown a lamentable attitude and commitment to Rangers. Now they're both out injured we're pretty much left with Djibril Cisse as our striking options because, in his wisdom, Hughes decided to completely ostracize DJ Campbell to make room for Zamora and Johnson. We now have a situation where we're picking one striker who doesn't really want to be here, and two other who definitely don't are injured, while a QPR fan who does want to play for the club is on loan at Ipswich averaging a goal every other game in a crap side. To be honest I'm sick of QPR signing players, it's doing more harm than good. We should be coaching our own before adding any more bodies so I'd have Campbell back in the squad in January and work with him, Cisse and Jamie Mackie.
You have quite a few former SAFC players in your ranks. How are Djibril Cisse and Nedum Onuoha doing for you?
CW: Nedum Onuoha has had a really tough time. He had some very poor games for us at right back, especially the opening day of the season when we lost 5-0 against Swansea, and is not currently in the team. He's actually had a couple of half decent games at left back, and he's never had a run in the team at centre half. I feel a bit sorry for him - I'd certainly prefer to see him out there than Ferdinand, Bosingwa and several others. Cisse had this weird record last year of either scoring or getting sent off in every appearance. I think he felt guilty about the red cards and that drove him onto try and keep us up out of a sense of responsibility. He was superb at times. This season, that drive hasn't been there. He's been in and out of the team, he's going through a divorce apparently, he's looked disinterested, but he carries genuine goal threat so he should still start whenever he's fit to. I'd like to think Redknapp can get the best out of him because he's technically brilliant.
How can we expect you to line up tonight? Are you expecting whole-sale changes to the starting line-up from the new manager, or is the core of the team good enough to continue?
CW: Redknapp says he wants players who are going to work hard for the team, which hopefully means we're going to see more of people like Clint Hill, Shaun Derry and Jamie Mackie and less of wasters like Jose Bosingwa and Shaun Wright-Phillips. I think he'll have seen a lot to like about the performance on Saturday but given the fragile state of Armand Traore and Kieron Dyer I doubt whether they can play two games in such quick succession so they may change.
You struggled from set pieces at Old Trafford. Is this something that's been a problem all season, and something we might exploit?
CW: Again this comes back to people not doing their bit for the team - time and time and time again this season we've conceded a goal from a corner of a free kick for the simple reason that somebody was given a marking job to do and didn't do it. Just put a decent delivery into our box and more often than not you'll find one of our £60,000 a week mercenaries won't have been bothered to track his man.
What have you made of Sunderland this season?
CW: Disappointingly poor. I've always really liked Martin O'Neill and I expected you guys to kick on this season. I think you're finding, like Bolton did last season, that if you finish a season on a run of ten games without a win, simply going away for the summer and having two months of pre-season doesn't cure that. Winning is a habit and it's not a habit Sunderland are in. As an outsider looking in you seem to be suffering from losing Bent and Gyan without adequate replacement, and the same issue we have of taking players from a club like Manchester United where they're used to winning and them finding it rather difficult to cope with the idea of scrapping for every point in a team where they're not surrounded by world class players. I'm also amazed that Roy Keane, Steve Bruce and now Martin O'Neill have spent serious money at Sunderland, and yet not one of them has ever addressed the problem on the left side of your defence. You ended up with Kieran Richardson there when he was actually on the cusp of an England call up when played on the wing, and now you've got another winger Danny Rose playing there out of position on loan. Left backs aren't that hard to find surely?
Who should we be wary of coming up against on Tuesday?
CW: Well Adel Taarabt and Djibril Cisse carry our attacking threat and they're both so unpredictable they can be difficult to play against - it rather depends what mood they're both in. Jamie Mackie was excellent at Man Utd at the weekend, scoring one and having another disallowed - he won't give anybody a moment of peace regardless of who we're playing or what the score is, he has an inhuman work rate. Ale Faurlin is a quality midfield player working his way back from a bad knee injury. Your players should probably beware of Samba Diakite if he plays - the boy is three slates short of a full roof and is prone to random acts of violence that come without warning. Last season, including the first half of the campaign at Nancy, he picked up 14 yellows and a red in 29 appearances. He's a law unto himself.
And, is there anyone in our ranks that you think could do you some damage?
CW: Clearly Fletcher is the main man this season. Sessegnon played brilliantly against us in both matches last season but until last week against Fulham - playing against ten men - I haven't been as impressed with him this year so hopefully that remains the case on Tuesday. I've been really disappointed with Adam Johnson who is a player I've always rated and thought was never given a fair chance at City - he's getting a run of games now and should be doing more with that.
And, finally, can I get a prediction from you?
CW: My predictions are notoriously awful - three right in three years at the last count. I'd like to think we're going to enjoy some new manager bounce and take advantage of any lack of confidence at Sunderland with a 2-1 win, but given it's now 20 games and over a year since our last away win that's a tad optimistic. It looks like one of those games where a draw suits nobody so a draw it could well be. I'll go for 1-1.