No beating about the Bush for Hughes at QPR

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 14 January, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 14 January, 2012, 12:00am


Things are likely to get worse before they get better as new manager Mark Hughes tries to turn around the Asian-owned Queens Park Rangers.

The January appointment at the newly promoted club is a shrewd one, because it means Hughes (pictured), a former Manchester United and Chelsea striker, will be able to attract better talent in the transfer window than his unfashionable predecessor, Neil Warnock.

Already he has been linked to players such as Andrew Johnson, Chris Samba and Nedum Onuoha, with whom he has worked before. They are clearly a cut above the likes of Shaun Derry, Clint Hill and Paddy Kenny, who go back a long way with Warnock.

With an annual salary of around GBP3 million (HK$36 million) a year, which puts him just behind Roberto Mancini, Arsene Wenger and Alex Ferguson, Hughes will soon be feeling the weight of expectation as he prepares for a relegation dogfight. It is a different kind of pressure to what he experienced in his 18-month stay at Manchester City, but the fans will be no less impatient.

The problem is that he takes over a dressing room in turmoil. Argentine midfielder Alejandro Faurlin, QPR's best player this campaign, has been ruled out for the season with an anterior cruciate ligament injury. Another midfielder, the outspoken club captain Joey Barton, is serving a three-match suspension after he received a red card against Norwich. And last season's top scorer, Adel Taarabt, is on his way to Gabon and Equatorial Guinea to represent Morocco in the Africa Cup of Nations.

Defensively, the Rs have been a shambles, especially with the prolonged absence through injury of their key August signing, Anton Ferdinand. In their miserable run of just one win in 12 games since October, they have failed to keep a clean sheet and slid to 17th on the table.

Fitz Hall, Matt Connolly and the unfortunate Danny Gabbidon. who debuted with an own goal in QPR's opening day 4-0 home defeat by Bolton, simply cannot cope with the high demands of the Premier League.

Up front, the west Londoners are even worse, with only Wigan having scored fewer times. Take away the unexpected return of seven league goals in 13 matches from Icelandic veteran Heidar Helguson and QPR could be propping up the table.

Hughes' challenge is that he must get his team clicking within a fortnight - even before new signings arrive - to have a realistic chance of ensuring a place in the Premiership next season.

After tomorrow's tough trip to Newcastle, relegation rivals Wigan, Wolves and Blackburn loom in the next month so those results will go a long way to deciding QPR's fate. With matches against Spurs, Chelsea and Manchester City in the final three weeks, it would be unwise to count on any late escape act.

Relegation would be a disaster for everyone at Loftus Road, including Malaysian owner Tony Fernandes, who is promising a budget of ?20 million for new players before the end of the month.

It is only seven months since a perceived lack of ambition saw Hughes walk out on Fulham after guiding the Cottagers to eighth place and into the Europa League via the Fair Play League.

There are many similarities between Fulham and QPR. They are small, historic and not very successful clubs in the same London borough. Yet Hughes clearly believes more in the vision of Fernandes than of Fulham owner Mohammed al-Fayed.

In September 2004, Hughes took over a Blackburn team in the bottom three and guided them to a comfortable 15th position - nine points above the drop-zone - and an FA Cup semi-final. The following season they finished sixth, thus qualifying for the Uefa Cup.

They were known as a super-fit and sometimes overly physical side. In all of Hughes' four seasons in charge at Ewood Park, they finished bottom of the Premiership's disciplinary table.

A harder edge would not be a bad thing for QPR, who have won just once at home this season, and that was against a Chelsea team reduced to nine men. Too many times they have just rolled over, including a dire 6-0 drubbing against Fulham.

In 1996 as Hughes rounded off his first year with Chelsea in London, the Blues finished in the bottom half of the Premier League standings and QPR were relegated. And Fulham? They were 17th in England's fourth tier. The following season Manchester City were one of the teams that QPR faced in the second tier, with the latter finishing higher on the table.

That shows how quickly things can change with the right players and philosophy. Hughes knows this. But for longer-term rewards, he will first have to ride out the storm that is sure to arrive during his first weeks in Shepherd's Bush.


The number of goals scored home and away by QPR in 20 games in the Premiership this season, the second-lowest total after Wigan