Queens Park Rangers currently lie on the brink of catastrophe in the Premier League. Without a victory in 11 matches, no win on the road for an entire year and already five points adrift of safety, manager Mark Hughes has one game to keep his job.
Standing between the Welshman and a temporary reprieve are Southampton, who sit one place above the hapless Rs, themselves rooted to the foot of the table with a grand total of four points.
Owner Tony Fernandes may not have explicitly stated that the boss stands to be dismissed if he fails to engineer a turnaround – starting this Saturday – but in many ways he does not need to.
It is so painfully obvious that things cannot go on as they are. Restless supporters have almost unanimously lost patience with the excuses and “bit by bit” improvement offered by the manager and his players.
Hughes, for his part, has even called for the team to play ugly and win, which demonstrates the full extent of the problem. At the moment every game is a must-win, simply because the club is in such a precarious position.
Were it not for the ineptitude of Aston Villa and Sunderland, who occupy the places directly above the relegation zone, it could all be so much worse. As it is, a result this weekend would move the Rs to within two points of safety, provided results go their way.
It is hard to pinpoint exactly what is wrong at Loftus Road. On paper the side is good enough to mount a survival challenge, but it is clear that QPR possess a brittle spine and often, the team do not seem to be playing for the gaffer.
Selection problems have taken their toll, particularly in defence, but with just two players suffering from long-term injuries (Fabio and Andrew Johnson) Hughes was able to pick a full-strength side against Stoke City last weekend.
It made little difference, with the 1-0 defeat as inevitable as the coming of day or night. Incredibly, unthinkably, Rangers are simultaneously goal-shy, defensively inept and lacking in self-belief.
Many have called for an early replacement for Hughes: indeed, some argued that his tenure should never have been allowed to extend into a double figure winless streak. After all, a win ratio of 24% is hardly good enough in the modern game.
This perhaps is true, but managerial appointments made in a crisis rarely pan out as planned. To some extent, Hughes is right: the Rs are playing better, they have been unlucky, and a win will come sooner or later.
In a results-driven business, however, sooner is never quickly enough. Hughes only kept QPR afloat last season by a whisker, and not once did he set the world on fire in his first season.
In the last 11 games the pre-season hype and optimism surrounding the “new-look” Rs have burned to cinders, along with any hopes of building on the last year’s “great escape”.
The situation is now black and white. A win against Southampton and Hughes will have bought himself another week at the helm. Lose and he must be sacked. A draw will not do either. The time for excuses really is now over, once and for all.
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Originally published on Sky Sports on Tuesday November 13 2012.