Saturday, 25 August 2012

Bounceback time?

When you were disconsolately slinking away from Loftus Road on Saturday perhaps you spotted a straggle of similarly crestfallen people here and there on the Underground. Dressed in various shades of baby shit and Colman's mustard, they had just seen their team handed a spanking as severe as the one which our lot received from the visiting Swans.

Tomorrow, then, our second match this season is a basement battle, with both teams reeling from the shock of a 5-0 hammering. Norwich fans may be right to believe that their result was the less awful of the two, their defeat having been endured away from home and at the hands of more firmly established top flight opponents. But at the same time they may also be wondering about whether the infamous second season syndrome is in effect. They may also want to remind themselves that their Canaries were well beaten by a Fulham side missing its most reliable scorer, the want-away Clint Dempsey.

Surely, the idea of a second season curse can't really be said to apply to QPR because the 2011-12 campaign can only just be deemed to have been a success.Yes, relegation was avoided. But only by a very slender margin. Moreover, the Rangers' struggles were in stark contrast to the very much easier seasons enjoyed by the other two promoted teams. Both today's and last week's opponents climbed to mid-table safety and both got to bask in the warm approval of the pundits. For QPR fans, meanwhile, it became quite tiresome to hear the near-constant praise for Messrs Lambert and Rodgers, both of whose efforts were rewarded by job offers from better-resourced clubs this summer.

In both cases, however, you would be forgiven for wondering whether they have made wise, career-enhancing moves. A heavy defeat to West Brom was not an ideal start of Brendan Rodgers, and Paul Lambert fared little better, his Villa side succumbing to newly promoted West Ham. Rodgers, particularly, will need to engineer some bouncebackability. His outfit travel to the Etihad Stadium on Sunday and face Arsenal a week later. These are tough fixtures. The Anfield crowd is notoriously impatient with managers seen as outsiders and you wouldn't want to be in Rodgers's shoes three weeks into the season if, as is quite possible, the Reds are languishing on zero points.

While Villa supporters may not live with delusions of grandeur quite as inflated as those entertained at Anfield, they do seem to think in terms of deserving something rather better than a relegation scrap. Even mid-table mediocrity might not be enough to give Lambert a sense of security about his new job. But have Villa really added much talent to the side which fared so poorly under Alex McLeish? 

Lambert's replacement is the affable Chris Hughton, a nice chap with many years of coaching experience but a more slender CV in terms of managerial experience. But Delia Smith & co. clearly saw enough good in his short stint at Bummingham Titty to mark him out as the right man for the Carrow Road job. The appointment was made early in the summer and Hughton has therefore had ample time to prepare his new outfit for the challenges ahead. New additions to the squad include fullback Steven Whittaker (an escapee from the Ibrox sinking ship) and useful-looking central midfielder winger* Robert Snodgrass (an escapee from the baleful Ken Bates regime in Leeds). In the last few days, these new arrivals have been joined by centre-half Sébastien Bassong, a player about whom QPR made enquiries last season.

Perhaps more significant than this relatively modest set of signings is the retention of last season's top scorer, the generously-proportioned Grant Holt. During the summer, the bulky journeyman was eloquent when taking to Twitter to announce his desire to leave the flatlands of Norfolk in search of new opportunities. "I have loved my three years at the club", he wrote, "and it sadness [sic] me to right [sic] this but want use [sic] to here [sic] it from me first." But Holt later retreated from this position and will continue to ply his trade in a garish and luminous shirt for the foreseeable future. So our defence, which crumbled so spectacularly last week, must be prepared for the robust physical presence of the hulking front man.

It must be quite a strange time for those Rangers defenders. Rightly highlighted for having performed poorly last Saturday, they can't have failed to notice the club's efforts to bring in reinforcements this week. Michael Dawson may be joining from Spurs and Ricardo Carvalho could be signing on loan from Real Madrid. But neither deal is done. Today, then, the incumbent defenders must find the confidence to put last week's horror show firmly behind them. Whether it is harder to do so in the knowledge that they could be soon benched in favour of new arrivals is something that only they would know. As supporters, we must simply hope that Messrs Ferdinand and Onuoha are strong enough characters for this not to be an issue at Carrow Road this afternoon.

Rob Green, too, will be well aware of the club's attempt to bring Inter Milan 'keeper Julio Cesar into the squad. Can it really be the case that Mark Hughes always intended to sign two senior goalies this summer? Can it really be true that the experienced Green - a current England international - joined QPR in the knowledge that he might spend the season fighting for his place with a rival capped sixty-four times by Brazil? This does seem hard to believe, whatever Hughes has said this week.

With a deal for the Brazilian goalkeeper as yet unconfirmed, Green, just like the defenders in front of him, will need to bounce back swiftly from the opening day debacle. At least this week he will not have to contend with any QPR fans ill-advisedly singing the praises of his predecessor, Paddy Kenny. As discussed here on Monday, Kenny has plummeted from hero to zero in the eyes of many of the Rangers faithful. We knew about his moronic retweeting of some minor local hack having a dig at Rob Green. We knew about his bitter bullshit when taken to task by angry QPR fans. But now we know he went further, disgracing himself with a series of messages sent to Tony Fernandes and Mike Rigg. Well, we always knew that Kenny was possibly a bit of a loon - his brawling in the street and getting his eyebrow bitten off stands out as evidence for this. But we didn't know what a nasty piece of work he could be. Oh well. You live and learn. Don't get too close to your heroes and all that.

In the aftermath of this silly incident, we learn that Neil Warnock has insisted on Kenny quitting Twitter. Quite right too. If the silly sod is not smart enough to enjoy it without getting himself in trouble then he's better off not having an account. In a fairer and more benign world, Joey Barton would learn the same lesson.

It's very difficult to predict the outcome of today's match in Norfolk. Much trickier fixtures lie ahead. All we can do is hope that the Rangers come home with at least a point. We don't have a bad side. However much the newspapers want to talk up the idea of a poorly conceived QPR transfer policy, the truth remains that the Rangers have added quality throughout the side and for a lot less money than the likes of West Ham  and Sunderland are prepared to spunk on just one player from relegated Wolves. So our lads ought to have a decent chance today and in the weeks ahead. Let's see. Surely all that summertime confidence can't have evaporated this quickly, can it?

U RRRRRRRRRRsssssssssss

* thanks to a friendly Norwich fan for the correction

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