There is nothing quite like a tricky west London derby to warm the hearts of supporters who in the past 16 games have been watching a record breaking side play.
Unfortunately, this is an outfit that has made the worst ever start to a Premier League season.
Can the R’s break their winless curse against Fulham, or will it be another missed opportunity?
What’s the story?
Rangers boss Harry Redknapp should by all accounts be congratulated for avoiding defeat in his opening three games and putting QPR within touching distance – of second bottom Reading.
A clean sheet at Sunderland, who ever since drawing with the R’s have begun to pick up form and distance themselves from the bottom three, and battling draws against Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic seem to suggest that the elusive first victory is on its way.
The Superhoops even managed to score more than once in a league match for the first time since West Bromwich Albion away more than two months ago.
Yet for all of these positives and tentative baby steps towards a fully-fledged recovery, Rangers have to start winning in order to save their season.
Failing to find the second goal against Villa was deeply unfortunate, particularly given that the hosts hit the woodwork twice and forced Brad Guzan into a number of excellent saves.
Meanwhile, conceding against the Latics having been 2-1 ahead can be considered a slight misfortune given the improved performance by the players.
Yet there cannot be any excuses made if a third chance is squandered. Redknapp knows what the R’s need, and so do the players. Anything less than two wins in December and it could all be over.
Remind me of last time
Brutally, the Cottagers put six past QPR back in October, but the return fixture in February was a rather more sedate affair, settled by an early strike from Pavel Pogrebnyak.
Combining with Moussa Dembélé, who put the Russian though on goal, Pogrebnyak slotted past goalkeeper Paddy Kenny with a mere seven minutes on the clock.
Despite having a number of attempts, Rangers were unable to force an equaliser and their task was made eminently more difficult with the dismissal of Samba Diakité on his debut.
Forced to play for 60 minutes without a central midfielder, the R’s threat was essentially blunted – leaving manager Mark Hughes to suffer a defeat against his former employers.
Who’s the boss?
Besides his silky voice, which almost seems like a parody of the Dutch accent, Martin Jol has been a popular figure in the Premier League for nearly half of the past decade.
After early success with Eredivisie sides Roda JC, with whom he won the KNVB Cup, and RKC Waalwijk, Jol moved to Tottenham Hotspur in 2004 and transformed the club.
From mid-table strugglers when he took over, the 56-year-old famously took Spurs to within one game of the UEFA Champions League in 2006, before the infamous “lasagne-gate”.
Under his tenure, Tottenham finished fifth two years in a row and reached the quarter finals of the UEFA Cup and the latter stages of both domestic cup competitions.
Star players were brought to north London, including Dimitar Berbatov, but a falling out with sporting director Damian Comolli and reports of an overture to Sevilla boss Juande Ramos saw his period at White Hart Lane end in acrimony.
Stints in Europe with Hamburger SV and AFC Ajax followed, which re-established Jol’s reputation, before he was brought in to manage Fulham last year.
Leading the Cottagers to ninth in his first season, Jol made a number of smart signings over the summer, including Berbatov, Mladen Petrić and Alexander Kačaniklić.
How have they been doing lately?
Sitting in thirteenth place with 20 points from 16 matches, Fulham put an end to their own winless run of seven games last weekend with a 2-1 victory over Newcastle United.
Prior to this result, settled by Hugo Rodallega’s header, the Cottagers had been thrashed 3-0 by Spurs, held a lacklustre Chelsea and suffered defeats against Stoke City and Sunderland.
While Fulham having netted more times than West Bromwich Albion, Arsenal and Swansea City, defensively their record is more comparable to that of Rangers.
Of 27 goals scored, six have come in two 3-3 draws so far, against Reading and the Gunners, while Jol’s side have only failed to score four times this season – but have kept just four clean sheets.
Despite once having had a reputation for being unable to play away from home, seven of the Cottagers’ points this season have come on the road, and they were impressive in the stultifying 0-0 stalemate at Stamford Bridge a couple of weeks ago.
Can I have a bit of team news please?
With Ji-sung Park confirmed to be out for a few weeks with a knee injury, is fair to assume that Redknapp will largely keep faith with the “warriors of Wigan” for the visit of Fulham.
Possible changes could include goal scorer Djibril Cissé being upgraded to the starting XI after his classy equaliser, and a potential recall for playmaker Esteban Granero.
Goalkeeper Júlio César is fit to play but it would be extremely harsh of Redknapp not to keep the faith with Robert Green, who has performed admirably since his recall against Sunderland.
The still-leaky defence looks set to remain unchanged, while Cissé and Jamie Mackie could be jointly charged with firing the Rs to their first win of the season.
Bobby Zamora and Andrew Johnson remained sidelined with long-term injuries.
Possible QPR starting line-up: Green, Traoré, Hill, Nelsen, Bosingwa, Diakité, Granero, Taarabt, Wright-Phillips, Mackie, Cissé
Visitors Fulham, who welcomed back captain Brede Hangeland in the victory against Newcastle, are without forward Bryan Ruiz, who was ruled out until the New Year last week.
Despite being on the bench last week, midfielder Mahamadou Diarra is not expected to feature this time around.
Possible Fulham starting line-up: Schwarzer, Riise, Hangeland, Baird, Hughes, Riether, Sidwell, Duff, Kačaniklić, Berbatov, Rodallega
Perhaps the most potent omen of all is the fact that the R’s have not beaten Fulham since 1983, when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister and the Cold War was still raging.
However, the players should not let such a gloomy statistic get to them. After all, there have only been six encounters between the two sides since then, five of which the Cottagers have won.
When the entire head-to-head record is taken into account, there have been a mere 29 games throughout history between these west London rivals – and both teams have won 12 each.
Rangers have the edge at Loftus Road, having triumphed in almost half of all home clashes with their neighbours, while Fulham have scored just nine goals in 13 away games against QPR.
Sadly for Redknapp, December is not a good month in which to be searching for a victory in blue and white hoops.
No wins in six festive matches last year, two out of four in the 2010/2011 season and only one the year before suggest the R’s are a little too similar to turkeys in the run up to Christmas.
How do you think we’ll do?
There can only be so many times that a pre-match preview can say “this is when the run will end, this will be our day” when so far the Rs have not taken all three points from any game.
Since Redknapp has come in there has been a definite improvement. The team is beginning to show the sort of character it must do to survive, but there are still major deficiencies.
Against Villa the urgency one would expect from a side rooted to the bottom of the table and desperate to win at all costs was fatally lacking.
Meanwhile at the DW Stadium the same old defensive fragility reared its ugly head and cost the Superhoops a vital victory.
The more optimistic part of me wants to believe that, with the dreaded 15 games without a win record having been broken, the Rs have hit rock bottom and can only improve.
Furthermore, the battling spirit shown against Wigan does give the impression that the players are responding to the scale of the challenge they are facing, and giving their all for the gaffer.
It should also be said that there can be nothing more inspiring than the chance of kick-starting the season against local rivals who have been able to walk all over Rangers for years.
This game will certainly not be a 0-0 draw, with both sides almost entirely unable to defend, but it is crucial that the Rs avoid going behind as they did against the Villans.
If QPR take the lead, there is a good chance the hosts will win their first game of the season and my nervous optimism will be vindicated.
Should the visitors go in front, however, it will be a very long way back for a side that have scored fewer goals than Robin van Persie.
Put it this way, I do not want the world to end before my team secures a Premier League victory, so the players had better pull their fingers out and live up to my prediction of a battling 2-1 win.
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Originally published on QPRnet on Friday December 14 2012.