Anton: Started well.
Hello you, it's about time we had another rather marvelous Fan Focus isn't it? Yes, yes it is. So here we are bringing you the views of the opposition, and we've got a good one for you today.
Clive Wittingham from the excellent QPR site "Loft For Words" joins us to tell us all about the Hoops season so far, and it's been quite a storied one so far what with comings and goings on and off the pitch at an alarming rate, coinciding with the club battling to avoid the drop.
Now then, let's get down to business...This season never really seems to have got going for QPR. Since the start of the season the club has had new owners, new manager, and practically two different teams. If at all possible, can you just briefly sum up for us your season so far?
Clive: Midfielder Shaun Derry probably summed it up quite well last week when he said it's been like playing for three different clubs. Anybody who saw the Four Year Plan on BBC2 recently will know we've had a somewhat complicated and unusual boardroom situation at Loftus Road recently. In the summer, following promotion, Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone came back in from the sidelines and basically put us right behind the eight-ball for the whole season.
The pair of them had moved aside 18 months previously when it looked like we might actually be relegated to League One if Briatore continued to operate the club as he was, and in their semi-absense Amit Bhatia and Neil Warnock transformed the team and the club and promoted it. So everybody was gutted to see them back, especially when they then jacked the ticket prices which caused Bhatia to then resign from the board saying he wouldn't put his name to that decision. Neil Warnock was given £0 to spend and told to just work with his team from last season which was, being kind, built for the Championship with a lot of Derry types in there. He picked up scraps from various tables - Danny Gabbidon, DJ Campbell, Jay Bothroyd and Kieron Dyer who has managed just the four minutes of football so far - but we lost 4-0 to Bolton at home on day one and 2-0 to Wigan in week three which gave us a fair idea that we were in trouble.
Thankfully, ten days before the end of the transfer window, Briatore sold the club to Tony Fernandes who immediately made money available for players. Problem was, ten days is no time at all to plan and build a football team so we just scatter fired money all over the place trying to get some much needed quality into the side - Anton Ferdinand, Luke Young, Joey Barton, Shaun Wright-Phillips all arrived. Problem with that was suddenly the dressing room was filled with some pretty big egos and some very high earners. Things started well enough (we were eighth in mid November) but when things started going badly everybody fell out with everybody else and it seemed as though Warnock was having a tough job keeping hold of the dressing room. We played poorly over Christmas, losing some key games including the first meeting with Sunderland, and Warnock paid the price. It was a harsh sacking in my opinion, and the results haven't improved at all since, but I think Fernandes recognised that with our fixtures falling the way they do (we essentially play the top ten in ascending order as our final ten matches of the season) and the transfer window being open if he was going to make a change he had to make it then or not at all.
So, another new manager, another six new signings, another load of money spent and long contracts awarded and no improvement in results. We've lost to Bolton, Blackburn and Wolves recently and now face Liverpool, Sunderland, Arsenal, Man Utd, Man City, Chelsea, Spurs, Stoke and Swansea between now and the end of the season. We've won two of the last 17, haven't kept a clean sheet for 20 games, have had a league record equalling five players sent off in home matches, have used 35 different players this season (league record is 37) and basically are in a bit of a mess.
At the start of the season, the two managers you knew were unlikely to see out the season on the unemployment line were Martin O'Neill and Mark Hughes. Fair to say that Hughes hasn't quite had the impact that O'Neill has enjoyed, but is still a huge step up in caliber from Neil Warnock. How has Hughes so far been received at Loftus Road?
Clive: Hughes starts slowly and then gets results. I think he won one of his first eight at Blackburn, and Fulham were in the bottom three on Boxing Day last season before finishing eighth. The signings he has made have been better than the signings Warnock made in the summer transfer window but the results have been worse. With our situation in the league and on the fixture list he really needed to hit the ground running and he just hasn't done that, so now we'll have to do it the hard way. I haven't heard any dissenting voices against him yet.
Clive: Cisse is a massive hit. He's started four games, scored three goals and been sent off for picking a guy up by the throat. Sadly that red card cost us an almost certain win at home to Wolves and he was then suspended for further big games against Everton, Fulham and Blackburn from which we took just one point. He's probably our most talented striker since Les Ferdinand on early evidence though. Anton Ferdinand started brilliantly, then there was the whole John Terry incident and after that he never seemed quite as assured or confident. Whether the publicity got to him or his early form was just a honeymoon period is hard to tell. He's mediocre at the moment. Onuoha has started slowly, but has been bumped around between centre back and right back so may benefit from starting in one position for a few consecutive games.
On paper, your run-in looks absolutely hellish, but yo currently sit outside the relegation zone. Do you fancy your chances of surviving the drop?
Clive: Simply put, no. Prior to Wednesday night's miraculous comeback against Liverpool we'd shown no real ability to take points from even the division's worst teams so I can't see us suddenly putting a run together against the best ones. In our favour is the quality of the other teams down there - Wigan lack firepower, Wolves lack everything, Bolton are a mess. I think it could be the lowest points total required for safety for many a year but I'm just not convinced we're going to get there.
We can't really let the opportunity pass to ask you about 'The Four Year Plan'. As a Hoops fan, what did you make of it?
Clive: I'd seen it several times before and it didn't surprise me. I can see why it stunned everybody else but we all knew at the time that this sort of stuff, and much, much worse besides, were going on at QPR. We were at death's door when they arrived but for too long people acted like they could do no wrong because they'd saved the club, or they must know what they're doing because they're rich and you don't get rich by accident. One of our bloggers pointed out a the time that if you save a kitten that's about to be drowned in a sack that doesn't then give you the right to mistreat it and kick it about your flat for the rest of its miserable life but you saw on the film even when things wee going wrong and Briatore was behaving like that you still had QPR fans outside the ground running up to him shouting "you saved us Flavio" and "we love you". The one good thing to come out of the whole situation was Amit Bhatia who is the board member you dream of at your club.
Moving onto the game itself, confidence must be sky-high following the remarkable comeback against Liverpool in midweek. How you do see QPR winning this one? What should be worrying O'Neill?
Clive: Hopefully O'Neill will be worrying about the FA Cup and you'll be as insipid against us as you were against Blackburn during the week. To be honest I don't see QPR winning this one, but then I rarely think QPR are going to win because they rarely do. Our front two of Zamora and Cisse have immediately struck up a dynamic partnership that poses a number of threats - they're good in the air, they're quick, they link well, their hold up and lay game is good, they're both scoring goals. The big problem we have at the moment is our midfield. We have brought in Samba Diakite from French football who looks an exceptional talent but is absolutely stark raving mad - he committed 13 fouls in 33 minutes against Fulham on his debut and was sent off. So we play Derry alongside him to chaperone him but the pace of the Premiership is often too much for him so we play Joey Barton as well whose form at the moment is just absolutely lousy. So the midfield is a mess and can easily be picked apart. I'd like to see us play without Barton, with Jamie Mackie on one side and Adel Taarabt on the other. If we do that, with the front two we have, we could pose you a threat if your team has one eye on the Everton replay.
And what, or who, in the Sunderland team worried you most?
Clive: I've been really impressed with Sunderland under O'Neill but I think this could be a good time to play them with the FA Cup occupying thoughts and Cattermole still suspended. Sessegnon seems to have grown into his role this season and he'll be a threat coming back from his ban, and you have unearthed your own version of Jamie Mackie in James McClean who I'm sure won't give us much peace.
Finally, can we coax a prediction out of you?
Clive: We played 48 league and cup games last season and I predicted them all on our website - I got one right. This season I'm yet to get a single score right. So I think Sunderland will win 2-0, and hopefully that now means it's the one thing that can't happen.
Thanks very much to Clive for speaking with us, and be sure to visit his site www.loftforwords.co.uk regularly for more top QPR chat.