Is Mark Hughes Living on Borrowed Time?

There is no way we will be in this situation again in my time here.” – M. Hughes 13/05/2012

Following their 3-2 defeat at Manchester City on the final day of last season in which Queens Park Rangers survived on a controversial penalty decision in favour of Stoke City (versus Bolton Wanderers), Mark Hughes vowed his side will not be involved in a relegation scrap again.

We are only 7 games into the Premier League season, so whilst we shouldn’t perhaps be suggesting Mark Hughes is wrong, I can understand Queens Park Rangers fans being a little more than concerned how their side has started the season.

The Rs will prop up the Premier League table in mid-October (next games are 20 October), having picked up just 2 points from their opening 7 games.

Mark Hughes’ side with a number of new signings were hammered 5-0 at home by Swansea City (who have won just 1 of their following 6 since) on opening day. That result was followed up a 1-1 draw at Norwich City, thanks to Bobby Zamora following up Djibril Cisse’s saved penalty. A point on the road, not so bad (Norwich City have not won any of their first 7 games either).

Queens Park Rangers can be excused for losing 3-1 to reigning Premier League champions Manchester City in their third game. They had actually stole an equaliser in the 59th minute and the third goal was only scored deep in stoppage time. 1 point from 3.

Their second point of the season came in a surprise 0-0 draw at home to Chelsea after the international break. Perhaps Chelsea suffered more from their players flying all over the world, and I certainly expected Roberto Di Matteo’s side to win this fixture. Eden Hazard had a legitimate penalty shout turned down and the Champions of Europe missed a couple of good chances. But a great point none the less from the home side. 2 points from 4 games.

A trip to Tottenham Hotspur followed. Spurs had been held 0-0 by Lazio in the Europa League on Thursday night heading into this game and Queens Park Rangers took the game to the home side in the first half. Bobby Zamora scored the opening goal and the Rs had chances to have gone into half-time ahead by more than 1 goal. They were made to pay. Their own fault too as Alejandro Faurlin scored a bizarre own goal to tie the game up on the hour. 2 minutes later and Jermain Defoe fired Spurs ahead. Tottenham held on and QPRs short trip home was no so happy. Tottenham have won their following two games since; beating both Manchester United and Aston Villa. 2 points from 5 games.

On Monday night this week, Queens Park Rangers’ second televised game of the season was at home to West Ham. The visitors started off the better side and were deserved 2-0 leaders at half time when Matt Jarvis and Ricardo Vaz Te both scored from narrow angles with the Hammers’ only shots on target in the opening 45 minutes. It took a wonder strike from Adel Taarabt before the hour to get the Rs back in the game and in fairness to them they started playing well in the last half hour of the game. Samba Diakite’s red card didn’t help the cause and QPR lost to a single goal once more. Newly-promoted West Ham’s first win on the road in three attempts. 2 points from 6 games.

Yesterday, Mark Hughes’ side became the fourth victim in as many games to West Brom at the Hawthorns this season. The Baggies had won their first three games to nil, beating Liverpool 3-0, Everton 2-0 and Reading 1-0. Queens Park Rangers were able to breach their defences with goals from Taarabt and Esteban Granero. But the Rangers were down ever since James Morisson’s opener on 5 minutes. Zoltan Gera had doubled the home side’s lead midway through the first half, before Youssouf Mulumbu killed the game off, making it 3-1 with 5 minutes to go. 2 points from 7 games.

After the international break, Queens Park Rangers host high-flying Everton, travel to Arsenal and then host Reading.

Chairman Tony Fernandes continually backed Hughes towards the end of last season when they spent a long time in the relegation zone. 5 straight home victories, over Liverpool, Arsenal, Swansea, Tottenham and Stoke ultimately kept QPR up. Victories over those sides just don’t look like happening right now for Fernandes’ team.

One thing that I said at the end of last season that Queens Park Rangers needed to improve was their defence. In fact, I said they needed to do that heading into the January transfer window. I praised the capture of Nedum Onuoha at the start of the year. 9 months on and he looks half the man he was in his early days at Queens Park Rangers. A liability. Poor.

Over the summer, Hughes has added 34-year old Ryan Nelsen (a player he had at Blackburn Rovers, so one we can assume he can rely on), Jose Bosingwa (not a good defender and one terrible at defending set pieces) and Stephane Mbia (a player I don’t know much about so please give me time to judge). In goal, the unreliable Rob Green was actually an upgrade on Paddy Kenny in my opinion. But nothing convincing. Started the season conceding 5 of 6 shots faced by Swansea.

Then in came Julio Cesar. Quoted as saying he dreams of winning the Premier League with QPR. I think that will remain just a dream for the 33-year old. But a great signing in my opinion. Been a big fan of the Brazilian goalkeeper over the years even if he hasn’t played for Brazil since the Copa America in July 2011.

Overall, an underwhelming upgrade on the defence for a team which has a very rich owner. Centre back Clint Hill started at left-back at the Hawthorns and Anton Ferdinand continues to play in the centre. Fabio on loan from Manchester United; not a defender if you ask me. They’re just not good enough, as perhaps shown by the 16 goals conceded in 7 games. Only Southampton (20) and Norwich City (17) have conceded more to this point.

Going forward, only Bobby Zamora had scored in their opening 5 games. Adel Taarabt has added a further 2 in their last two defeats, whilst Esteban Granero’s stoppage time consolation at West Brom became the third goalscorer for the London side this season. Djibril Cisse has yet to score this season in 300 minutes and 10 shots, which includes a saved penalty.

There are a number of forwards on the roster for Queens Park Rangers, but none of them are outstanding. Andrew Johnson may be able to supply a few goals and will certainly give you effort, when fit. Jamie Mackie’s a decent player but all-in-all they’re not mid-table quality.

Samba Diakite and Park Ji-Sung were signed in the summer also. The former is a red card waiting to happen. The latter provides energy but not a great deal else. Simple passes, yes, but Park offered minimal in terms of goals and assists whilst at Manchester United. He has 0 goals and 1 assist as the only player to start all 7 games for Queens Park Rangers this season.

Esteban Granero looked like a good player at Real Madrid. Strange decision to move from there to QPR though. He registered a goal and an assist at the weekend and is certainly a player who has something to offer this club. A good player that Hughes has managed to bring to the club.

And Junior Hoilett, a good player on his day. Inconsistent certainly and has yet to offer much for the London side. I suspect the small Loftus Road pitch will limit his chances to hurt opposition defences. Perhaps better on away days? Like Shaun Wright-Phillips; but he has offered very little since joining at the start of last season. Sometimes I wonder why he’s still in the first team. Then I realise QPR don’t have much else on offer.

When Mark Hughes first joined Queens Park Rangers I wrote a quick blog saying they will avoid relegation. They did; not as comfortably as I was expecting. And thereafter I was expecting big improvements over the summer (particularly defensively) and pushing for mid-table even a long-shot for top 10. It almost seems that Hughes is better without money than with it. He did good jobs at both Blackburn Rovers and Fulham. Manchester City a bit disappointing. Queens Park Rangers so far, disappointing.

What happens from here? Queens Park Rangers have two very tough games after the international break. They did take 4 points off Everton last season so there’s something on offer there, apart from Everton being much improved right now from last season. Arsenal I just don’t see dropping points to the Rs, although the game does come 3 days after a trip to Schalke for the Gunners in the Champions League.

If Hughes loses both of those games I’d be surprised if he’s still in a job. Queens Park Rangers will be bottom of the league and perhaps more than 3 points adrift of safety before a home game against Reading. That game a real opportunity to take 3 points for the first time this season.

Harry Redknapp has been strongly linked to the club. The former Tottenham man is available after being dumped by Tottenham in the summer, but would be a big step down considering he was linked to the England job just a few months ago. However, money talks. Especially when we’re talking Harry.

There’s a long way to go until the January transfer window opens. Plenty of time to improve. And fellow relegation competitors, Norwich City, Southampton, Reading and Wigan Athletic aren’t exactly performing much better so far. West Ham are but I cannot rule them out of relegation just yet (but Sam Allardyce has got them taking points from the lower teams; he knows what he’s doing).

Come January, if Queens Park Rangers are still in the bottom 3 or close to it, then I expect them to open the cheque book and essentially buy their way to safety. They’ve attracted players from Real Madrid and Internazionale over the summer so don’t be surprised if they bring in a few recognised names. But whether it be Mark Hughes, Harry Redknapp or whoever in charge, they need to get this team playing as a unit. Alongside the defenders who I don’t think are good enough for this level, a bigger problem is those not putting in a shift. That needs fixing.

I’m not going to write Queens Park Rangers off. Mark Hughes has never taken a team out of the Premier League. They’ve got money, they’ve got some talent on their books already. And there’s a few weak teams in the division. But I’ve got nothing more positive to say about them right now.