We chatted with Clive Whittingham from QPR blog loftforwords ahead of Saturday's class at Loftus Road to get the lowdown on QPR's tumultuous season, the club's transfer policy and the weekend's game itself
Well, just where do you start with QPR's season!? How has it been as a fan in the stands?
Clive Whittingham: Fairly torturous. Probably the worst thing about it is most fans, including myself, seemed to believe we'd done the hard work by staying up last season and having spent a bit of money on some big name players in the summer few expected the season of struggle we've had. A pre-season prediction thread on our message board ran to eight pages and not a single poster had QPR down as one of their bottom three - and QPR fans are a notoriously pessimistic bunch.
The hardest part, personally, has been seeing the contrasting effort levels between the players who aren't Premier League standard but put it all on the line for the club and the professional pride - Jamie Mackie, Shaun Derry, Clint Hill - and those who we know full well are far better than they're currently showing because we've seen it at their previous clubs - Jose Bosingwa, Ji Sung Park, Djibril Cisse, Esteban Granero.
If the majority of our players had played to their full potential and tried as hard as they possibly could in every game I don't think we'd be anywhere close to the bottom of the league, and that's pretty heartbreaking for a supporter. That said, Mark Hughes is going to go down as one of the worst managers in our club's history; he had more financial backing than anybody before him and saddled us with this lot.
Six new faces through the doors in January, what kind of an impact have the new recruits had on the side?
CW: Minimal. Since we had our first takeover by a gang of rich owners a few years ago QPR have become obsessed with the transfer market. Every transfer window brings six new faces and the team very rarely gets any better for it. Under the ownership of Flavio Briatore, and more recently Tony Fernandes, the club has always, always, always preferred to sign a new player rather than work on one they already have. The result is a massively over-populated squad of poorly coached players that don't get on with each other because the difference in wages between them breeds contempt.
The squad is also very clearly layered - each layer with six or seven players brought in by a different manager in a different transfer window for different reasons. We currently have senior, high earning players like Djibril Cisse, Alejandro Faurlin and Joey Barton out on loan while we're bottom of the Premier League which really highlights how scattergun and haphazard the policy is. This January we brought in Loic Remy and Chris Samba who have improved the team, although in Remy's case he's rarely fit to play so whether he's actually much more use to us than Cisse would have been is up for debate. The others haven't improved us much at all - were Jermaine Jenas, Andros Townsend and Tal Ben Haim better than what we had here already? No. Signings for signings' sake. It's the QPR way.
QPR have what on paper at least looks like a more favourable run of fixtures from which to pick up some much needed points. How confident are you in QPR beating the drop?
CW: Not very, simply because the team has yet to give any indication throughout the entire season that it has the ability, togetherness, spirit or work ethic to get itself out of this mess. We've already played Sunderland, Villa, Wigan etc once and didn't beat any of them. That said, we left our run to safety very late last season and ended up winning all of our last five home games to survive including wins against Arsenal, Spurs and Liverpool. Wigan also went on an incredible run from this point last year and survived from a similar position we're in now. It's not impossible but I don't think it's likely. A hard fought win at Southampton at the weekend just gives that flicker of hope and we haven't given up yet, but it would be pretty miraculous if we escaped now.
Just how dangerous could relegation be to QPR, this must be a frightening scenario for a fan?
CW: It's difficult to tell. From the outside people look at Loftus Road with its 18,000 capacity and then they see people like Chris Samba and Ji-Sung Park rolling up and they immediately think 'new Portsmouth'. I'll say a few things in defence of the club... Southampton got promoted last summer and immediately spent £12m on Gaston Ramirez and £7m on Jay Rodriguez. Both of those players were massively over valued - probably worth about half their respective fees in my opinion - and neither of them has been a great success this season, in fact Rodriguez can't even get in the starting 11.
Southampton were in League One a season and a half ago and they don't have anywhere near the financial backing in the boardroom that QPR have - and yet while nobody says a thing about Southampton, who could also easily be relegated, there's a bloody outcry when QPR spend exactly the same amount on Chris Samba and Loic Remy who are both far better players. Presumably that's because Southampton have a big shiny new stadium but, apart from St Mary's, there is little difference in the size and recent history of the two clubs. Loftus Road is small and hamstrings our club, but it's only 2,000 seats smaller than Swansea's Liberty Stadium and our average attendance is similar to Wigan who haven't been shy of spending a bit of money in the Premier League. People seem to forget that apart from the clubs with mega stadiums like Arsenal and Man Utd, and the regular Champions League qualifiers, the majority of the money for clubs comes from the television revenue of which we get as much as anybody else.
Plus we have the added security of not only Tony Fernandes, but also the richest man in the country Lakshmi Mittal on our board of directors. There also seems to be free reign on QPR where you can report any figure you like - Chris Samba on £100,000 a week for example - and it immediately becomes fact. The club assures us the reality of what they're paying the players is very different from what's reported.
However, yes, undoubtedly, QPR is clearly spending far more than it's bringing in and is wholly reliant on its board members to underwrite that. The day they decide to stop doing this - and they've assured us they're here for the long haul - we're screwed. But we're not the only club in that position and what can you do as a supporter other than hope for the best and be ready to pick up the pieces when it all goes wrong? We've been through this boom and bust at Rangers before so we know the drill. The supporters collectively ask tough questions of the board and support the team, which really is all we can do. Football in this country is built on debt and wholly reliant on sugar daddy owners so we're by no means unique - we just stand out because we're bottom of the league, making a lot of signings, and playing in a small shed.
Tony Fernandes is rather unique in his approach to interacting with the QPR fans, especially via twitter, what do you make of the entrepreneur's management style?
CW: The communication and openness via Twitter, Facebook and his trips to the local pubs is great and welcome in as far as it goes. They're not the ideal vehicles for serious debates about important issues. The club recently held its first fans' forum for six years and I think the senior management were very, very surprised by the sheer volume of off the field issues and complaints that were raised at that event - Harry Redknapp, Clint Hill and Jamie Mackie all sat on the panel twiddling their thumbs because none of the questions were directed at them which tells you that the communication from board to supporters has not been good enough.
Following that shock to the system, the club are working very hard to rectify the situation - belatedly recognising that if we're playing Tranmere Rovers at home on a Tuesday night next year there will be no Sky Sports cameras, no football tourists, no Koreans in Park t-shirts and it needs to start looking after and talking to the 13,000 idiots who will still be there spending money. Fernandes' big mistake at QPR has been approaching a difficult task - keeping a club the size of ours in the Premier League - without anybody at board level with any football experience whatsoever. He, and the club, have been naïve and far too trusting of the likes of Mark Hughes and Kia Joorabchian.
Looking ahead to Saturday's clash, are there any areas of the Sunderland side that give you reason for concern?
CW: When your team has played as poorly as QPR have this season every area of every opponent is a reason for concern - Rangers lost 4-2 at home to MK Dons recently remember. Clearly Fletcher scores the goals and Mignolet is playing well in goal. The arrival of Samba seems to have corrected our long standing problem of conceding from set pieces so hopefully, touch wood, there will be no repeat of your pea shelling exercise from corners that we saw in this fixture last season.
To be honest I'm worried about Danny Graham - he has scored three goals against us in our last five games against him and Rangers have a long history of helping players on bad runs break their ducks. John Jensen scored his one and only Arsenal goal against us, Lloyd Doyley has scored once in 550 appearances for Watford and that was against us and there are lots of other smaller examples besides so I wouldn't be surprised to see Graham suddenly looking like a bloody super star this weekend.
Conversely who should Sunderland be most wary of?
CW: Well Adel Taarabt was our entire attack by himself for most of the season but he's looked added recently and was left out at Southampton. Loic Remy and Junior Hoilett played either side of Jay Bothroyd last week and we actually looked threatening for the first time in a long time - we haven't actually scored at home in five league games now and have only managed eight all season. Samba from set pieces of course. That's about it though - we're really not very good.
Any particular weak areas of the QPR setup where Sunderland could possibly take advantage?
CW: Yes, hundreds. Our defence has actually tightened considerably since Redknapp arrived and we have the best record of any of the teams down there for goals conceded now but the midfield remains far too easy to dominate. Every time a team has played the fashionable 4-2-3-1 formation against us this season we've really struggled because we're incredibly vulnerable in the space between our midfield and defence. Michu has had fun in there this season - our aggregate score against Swansea this season is 9-1.
CW: We desperately need to win and I actually think we might manage it, but judging by other similar games to this one since Redknapp arrived - Villa home, Norwich home - we'll huff and puff a bit before ending up with a low scoring draw.
Many thanks to Clive for joining us this week and be sure to call by loftforwords following the game for the QPR perspective