Wednesday, 9 January 2013

To dare is to do?

It's difficult to remember many awayday experiences as wonderfully strange as the one celebrated by QPR fans last Wednesday evening. How many of the travelling faithful at Stamford Bridge were merely hoping to witness a narrow defeat rather than a horribly heavy one? A good number, probably. All the omens were bad. 

The Rangers had just stumbled through three dispiriting defeats, thereby wiping out the feelings of joy and relief we had gained from the home tie with Fulham, that long-anticipated first league victory of the season. Chelsea, meanwhile, while not winning the full approval of their petulantly greedy fans, were riding a five-game Premier League winning streak. Given our side's frailties, one of those five wins seemed particularly ominous. Just before Christmas, the Pensioners had stuck the ball in the back of the net eight times without reply against Aston Villa. 

As if this context for the match were not sufficiently inauspicious, a couple of stark stats were in the mix for added toxicity. For starters, QPR had not won away at Chelsea since 1983. On top of that, we had to contend with the knowledge that in the Premier League era, only one club has entered the New Year at the foot of the table and then gone on to avoid relegation.

Hence the doom and gloom expressed here at this is my england just a few hours before kick off:
Yes, some of us are crazy enough to be heading to Stamford Bridge this evening. Bonkers, right? What pleasure can there possibly be in schlepping down to that hell-hole and in contemplating the near certainty of a humiliating defeat? Also throw in the prospect of show-boating mockery from English football's most loathsome fans and a fifty-five quid (plus booking fee) ticket price. Then there's the prospect of getting home late in the dark, cold pissiness of this first grim week back at work after the seasonal festivities. Also, as we turn our keys and climb our stairs, many of us will be returning to long-suffering spouses or partners who will wonder at our ongoing masochism. This bloody football club. The behaviour into which it pushes us - repeating the same pains and hassles over and over again, and all the while hoping for different results.
How shockingly brilliant it was, then, for this gut feeling of impending disaster to prove unfounded.
I had never dragged myself so unwillingly to a QPR match. Memories of last season's battering at the Bridge were not distant enough for my liking. On that day, the thrashing we witnessed on the pitch was only one component of a truly miserable day. Other components: getting soaked to the skin by driving rain; a terribly maudlin sensation on seeing the graves of my great grandfather and great uncle in Brompton Cemetery and hearing my dad talk of miserable childhood Sundays built around visiting them; being threatened with a glassing later in the day on account of having the temerity to object to a Chelsea fan's rendition of Spurs are on their Way to Auschwitz.
That I found myself at Stamford Bridge again last week is entirely down to my dad. He had bought a ticket and then pretty much emotionally blackmailed me into buying one too. Had the expected awfulness unfolded I would still be blaming him now for making me suffer it. As it turned out, he now has my eternal thanks for making sure I did not miss the historic win.
There's not much point in offering a match report here now. A week has passed and you've all had the chance to watch the highlights a few times, to read the newspaper coverage and to enjoy the more partisan accounts offered by QPR fans such as Steve Heard, Clive Whittingham and Emily Foster.
For my part, what unfolded last Wednesday was unprecedented. In the context of following QPR, I have never experienced such an extreme gap between what I expected to happen and what actually took place. Yes, I have enjoyed much better away matches before. Last week's tie was notable more for the result than for much that would please the eye of any neutrals watching. But due to those two explosions of joy (when SWP scored and when the final whistle blew), it seems certain that this match will live forever in the memory.
Perhaps it will prove to be the starting point of a miraculous feat of escapology. It seems more likely, however, that it won't. Relegation is still more than a distinct possibility. But if the season does end on that sour note, those of us lucky enough to have been in SW6 last week will surely not feel so despondent as to suffer an eclipsing of our memories of this famous victory. 
So what must be done if last week's unlikely triumph is to prove to be a real turning point for the Rangers' fortunes? 
First of all, Spurs must be beaten at Loftus Road this weekend. Yes, they will be tough opponents, but many more failures to secure all three points at home would surely prove to be the undoing of this attempt to remain in the top flight.
This blog never offers any detailed analysis of tactics, formations or team selections. Let's leave that to others who feel better qualified to comment along those lines. But it is surely the case that Harry Redknapp must risk a more attacking style than we saw at Stamford Bridge. Of course last week's defensive approach was entirely the right one to take. But can Redknapp really favour the same plan in front of a home crowd? We will see.
If a more expansive style is favoured, how well can our often-beleaguered defence be expected to cope? Messrs Hill and Nelsen were magnificent last week. But Tottenham will surely present more of a challenge than was offered by the woeful Fernando Torres at Stamford Bridge.
Nelsen, of course, is set to leave us, having opted to embark on his career as a manager. Some QPR fans have expressed a bit of resentment about our most effective defender heading for the exit when he is needed most. But there's not much point in dwelling on it, not least because it does seem that the Kiwi centre-half will be with us for a little while longer.
Replacing the veteran defender must be a particularly pressing question for Redknapp as he ponders the transfer options during the January window. For this is my england, it remains a case of jury out when it comes to the wisdom of risking yet more of the owners' money on further expensive signings. But this may be a moot point because you'd be forgiven for wondering which well-regarded players will be tempted to come to a club over which relegation's sword of Damocles still visibly hangs. That said, a couple of wins from these next two London derbies might improve our manager's negotiating position, albeit with only a few days to do a bit of frantic last minute business. Cue the hysterics of Jim White on deadline day, perhaps.
So let's see what happens. Will Redknapp dare to try a more buccaneering approach to these next two fixtures? Not for for the first time this season it feels like do-or-die time all over again. Perhaps it won't be the last time we have that feeling. 


  1. On form as ever TIME. I just hope that this win isn't the pinnacle of our season.

  2. Brilliant review of the club at this crucial time. Need a few breaks on Saturday and who knows...

  3. Every games te most important game now, let's see if we can spring an early win on Saturday, I'd like the be basking in the afterglow of another 3 points from another of our London rivals by mid afternoon please!

  4. just love the fact that you wrote about how grim it would be going to stamford bridge before the match. it was a night i will never forget!