QPR FanZoner Chris King gives his verdict on the club’s start to the season and looks ahead to what the rest of the campaign holds in store.
Queens Park Rangers are in genuine danger of looking like a real football team again after taking four points from their opening two Championship matches, and picking up a rare victory in the League Cup.
So reassuring were Rs’ displays in the 2-1 win against Sheffield Wednesday and 1-1 draw with Huddersfield Town, that one bookmaker encouraged punters to back Rangers for the title “sooner rather than later”.
This is a tad optimistic, particularly as neither the Owls nor the Terriers are likely to be competing in the upper echelons of the division, and both were able to take the lead against the Superhoops.
Despite going behind in successive games, which will naturally concern manager Harry Redknapp, QPR now have a mental fortitude and determination that was missing this time last year.
Naturally, having dropped down a division, Rangers were always expected to acquit themselves well against almost any opponent, but there is a palpable sense that the team dynamic has changed.
While certain individuals that, for whatever reason, did not give their all to keep the Rs in the top flight remain on the books, it has been the return of two players which has caught the eye the most.
Andy Johnson, sidelined for the vast majority of the previous campaign, quickly showed an eagerness to chase after any loose ball, win headers, which is no mean feat at 5ft 7ins, and put himself back among the goals.
Equally Joey Barton, who famously stated that he would not be playing the Championship this year, to much derision when he did just that just over a week ago, has won back the respect of fans.
His performance against Wednesday, which demonstrated the 30-year-old’s ability to dominate games at this level, was met by universal acclaim, and while he remains motivated, Barton is a huge asset.
The signing of Charlie Austin, for a fee believed to be in the region of £4million, has generated a real sense of positivity, and distracted supporters from the departure of Loïc Remy and Adel Taarabt.
Although Austin is yet to open his league account for the club, he comes with an excellent pedigree and should work well with winger Junior Hoilett, whose pace is already causing chaos for opponents.
It remains to be seen whether Rangers’ superior squad, on paper, has the capability to keep up with the early pacesetters, most notably Watford and Nottingham Forest, over the next few months.
Furthermore, unlike the visit of Ipswich Town this weekend, the away double header against Bolton Wanderers and Leeds United should go a long way to establishing the Rs’ true potential.
Given that Esteban Granero, one of the “hangers on” from the catastrophe last season, is still on the books but likely to depart on loan, and Júlio César is yet to decide his future, there will be more comings and goings in W12.
Bringing in Gary O’Neil, while only marginally more “exciting” than the arrival of fellow midfielder Karl Henry, is a smart move by Redknapp. However, the left back position remains a serious concern, particularly in the long term.
Armand Traoré, who has long flattered to deceive as a defender, despite his clear ability going forward, appears to have irked the boss, who said of his latest injury setback: “He’s got this dodgy calf or something.”
With a couple of targeted additions, most pressingly one or two defenders in light of Anton Ferdinand’s release, and perhaps another striker should Johnson or Bobby Zamora pick up a knock, QPR will be ready.
For what, remains to be seen. Hype is no guarantee of success, and the favourites tag should be ignored as the damaging label it is. Nonetheless, Rangers appear, at long last, to be back on the right track.
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Originally published on TEAMtalk on Wednesday August 14 2013.