QPR kicked off the season with four defeats but have put that early misery behind them and are now just a couple of points outside the Play-Off places. It’s been some turnaround at Loftus Road…
In August it looked like it was going to be a season that was only going to go one way. They were on the end of some poor results, including the 7-1 defeat to West Bromwich Albion, but it wasn’t even just the scoreline, it was the whole performance and the complete and utter collapse and lack of character. You struggled to see how this team were going to pluck up enough of anything to pick up any results, but credit to Steve McClaren and the other coaches, they’ve done a good job with the squad that is there. With some shrewd acquisitions, they seem to have been able to add enough to the squad to pull themselves away from their problems.
Ian Holloway - a popular figure at Loftus Road – was sacked by the club just days after the end of last season. Were there any calls for his return after the poor start under McClaren?
When Ian Holloway left there was a mixed reaction. He did a good job and was very good at getting the best out of the squad; he was a motivator who helped the players put in their strong, efficient and hard-working performances, meaning they were able to grind out results. When he left at the end of last season the board decided a 16th-place finish wasn’t good enough but, from my point of view, given the standard of the squad QPR had last season compared to the rest of the Championship, I think 16th was probably about right.
Some people were ready to get rid of Holloway, others thought it was maybe not the right time to do so. When McClaren came in, you look at those first few results and it wasn’t so much about Holloway, it was more a case of whether McClaren was the right person needed in this situation. He’s so different to Holloway and he’s not a man who’s renowned for grinding out results and winning games in a gritty, effective way; he’s a manager who has come in, wants to develop youth and get the team playing the right way. After those first few results, you did think he might not be the right man for where QPR are at the moment, but all credit to him and the job he’s done since.
How much of a strain did the world-record £42m fine and subsequent January transfer embargo put on the acquisition of players in the summer?
I don’t think it put any more strain on the club than what they were already under. The way they seem to have been paying the fine or said that they’ve handled it is something they are dealing with at board level and they’ve worked out a payment plan to pay it back. As far as I know, the fine doesn’t impact Financial Fair Play performance moving forward, so the amount that they are spending each season on the fine doesn’t impact that. Basically, with their summer transfer dealings, the challenge was an ongoing thing from the previous transfer windows; the damage had very much been done with what had happened previously, they knew the fine was coming, so for the last couple of seasons there’s been a focus on getting the wage bill down so that the outgoings at the club, in terms of player wages and transfer fees, are sustainable. I don’t think it changed that much over the summer in terms of their transfer plans - it was just the next step in how they went about things. It’s very tight financially. It’s not that they don’t have money, it’s just that they are treading a fine line for stepping over Financial Fair Play again, so it was just about ensuring they weren’t spending huge transfer fees and paying massive wages. Ultimately, by the time it got to the end of the transfer window and they knew they needed some experience players in, they had to negotiate loan deals with clubs that would involve minimal fees.
Which player has impressed you most so far?
There have been a few, particularly if we take August out of the equation. Joe Lumley, the young goalkeeper, has come into the team and almost immediately made his impact felt. I believe he came in the week after that 7-1 defeat to West Brom and has just taken to the Championship like a duck to water; he’s a very vocal presence in goal, he’s strong in the box, has good command of his area and he seems to have really solidified that defence. It looks a lot more organised, more disciplined and his communication has helped the team kick on from a defensive point of view.
If you are looking at the defence, Toni Leistner and Joel Lynch have been a solid partnership, though I don’t think anyone looked at those two at the start of the season and thought they’d be the most solid partnership in the Championship this season! They’ve done really well and I think team is based around playing to their strengths; they are both no-nonsense defenders who basically play the game in a bit of an old-school way, which is refreshing but it has also been really effective over the last few weeks as well.
Saturday will mark the first taste of a West London derby for both bosses. What are you expecting from the game?
I’m intrigued to see how the game plays out and I think it will be interested to see how both sides approach it. I’m really expecting it to be quite an entertaining game. I don’t think it’ll be like last season when Holloway was in charge and there was a bit more of an edge than what there is expected to be this time round. I’m expecting an entertaining game from two managers who like to play the game the right way and will be looking for three points.
Has QPR’s style of play changed under McClaren? Can you give us any early team news?
I would probably say so, yes, though it’s not as different now as what it was at the start of the season. Holloway’s approach was very much about hard work, a high press and almost suffocating the other team and then catching them on the counter. QPR were very open at the start of the season and I think McClaren learned that he had to be a little bit smarter and a little bit more pragmatic as the season got into full flow.
We’ve seen little bits and pieces of McClaren’s side that is similar to Holloway’s and there is a high press in place; it’s very much about a quick turnover in possession, picking up the ball in midfield and then moving quickly on the counter. There are similarities there, but I think McClaren tries to play a more expansive style than his predecessor, making it a lot more entertaining to watch than what it was last season.
In terms of team news for the game, Geoff Cameron, who has been missing recently with a hamstring injury, is back and available for selection, and Tomer Hemed, who missed out last week with a groin injury, is going to be subject to a late fitness test to see if he makes the cut. If he’s not fully fit, I suspect he might be on the bench. Other than that, it’s a fully fit squad to choose from and I think the line-up will be pretty much identical to what it has been in recent weeks, with maybe Cameron replacing Josh Scowen.
What’s your score prediction?