Despite His White Boots

Football, football, football and, if the mood takes me, more football.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

(Almost) End Of Season Review

Technically, QPR's fate is still in their own hands.  A point at Man City will ensure Premiership football for another season.  Practically, I think this is very unlikely.  With the best will in the world, holding off such an expensively assembled team when they need a win to secure the title is going to be next to impossible.  So QPR, and Mark Hughes, will be judged failures or (relative) successes based on whether Bolton beat Stoke on Sunday.

This is the kind of results-oriented "analysis" that makes the football world go round, and in attempt to bypass it I'm going to try to assess QPR's season, and their future prospects, now.  It's been a strange one to say the least.  After 12 games, all the pundits were certain QPR would have "no problem" staying up.  After 25-odd, everyone said they were relegation certs with their tough run-in.  But QPR and Wigan have both shown that "toughness" of fixtures on paper doesn't necessarily mean a great deal.

No doubt if Bolton do beat Stoke on Sunday, there will be a lot of chirping about QPR being wrong to sack Neil Warnock.  The facts are that Warnock picked up 15 points from 20 games, while Hughes will (barring that shock at Man City) record 22 from 18 [1].  Hughes had the opportunity to spend money in January, then again Warnock could call on both Faurlin and Helguson who were probably our best players in that first half of the season.  Faurlin of course was injured in Warnock's last game, and Helguson has only managed a couple of substitute appearances under Hughes.

My feeling, looking from outside and being speculation as it can only be, is that the club would have done better to place more trust in the players who won promotion in the first place.  One or two (Gorkss springs to mind) were discarded before the season even started.  Hughes has, perhaps ironically, placed more trust in some of Warnock's championship signings than Warnock did himself this season.  There's little doubt that Mackie has contributed much more than Wright-Phillips over the season, similarly Helguson > Bothroyd and Hill > Gabbidon.  Warnock barely seemed to trust Taarabt at all this season, whereas Hughes has not only trusted him to attack but to make a defensive contribution as well, which Taarabt has tried his best to fulfil.

In fairness to Warnock, he was forced to shop in the bargain basement before the summer takeover, and had about three days to try again with a bigger budget when the takeover happened.  But Warnock does strike me as the kind of manager who, when you give him a budget, will make sure he spends every penny of it regardless of long-term benefit to the club.  Instead of following Norwich and Swansea in identifying exactly what holes needed filling and then finding the best players available to fill them, there seemed to be a headlong rush of "He's available, let's buy him!" irrespective of whether we actually needed that type of player (Wright-Phillips) or whether there was a good reason no one else was buying particular players in regard to the baggage associated with them (Barton, Dyer).

Warnock's statements about the players he would have bought given funds and time don't inspire a lot of confidence - he talked about Routledge, who we all had a good look at and who has never impressed at Premiership level despite umpteen chances, and Graham, who has scored 11 league goals in a full season compared to Helguson's 9 in half a season.

I don't want to badmouth Neil Warnock entirely, he did a great job in the Championship, we may well have had the biggest budget in the division but plenty of managers have failed despite that in the past.  But it seemed to me that he felt (and/or the club felt) that we needed one team to get into the Premiership and another completely new team to stay there.  Norwich and Swansea showed that that isn't at all the case.

In summary, I felt at the time that the decision to replace Neil Warnock was marginally justified, and what has happened since indicates that it was more than marginal.  Hughes has been able to bring in better players, and Diakite in particular is a player who I'm almost certain Warnock would not have considered, let alone been able to bring in.

I have little doubt that Hughes will be manager next season either way, and so he should be.  The club needs to move on from short-term thinking and making decisions with a view to making itself look good, the classic example being re-signing Lee Cook.  Vine, Agyemang and Hall will finally be off the wage bill this summer and the club should be taking note of the cost/benefit ratio of those signings.  Of course, the people who signed them are all long gone.  Instead of three spending sprees in a year, all with different objectives, like we've just had, irrespective of what happens on Sunday the club should try to build a squad that will be knocking around the top 10 of the Premiership in 3 years.

Looking at next season, this is a decent looking team IMO : Kenny ;  Onouha, Ferdinand, +1, Traore ;  +1, Barton, Faurlin, Taarabt ;  Zamora, Cisse.  If they can bring Diakite in so much the better.  Priorities are a goalscoring wide player (Hoilett and Moses spring to mind) and a big fuck-off flesh-eating they-shall-not-pass centre half (nothing springs to mind right now unless Samba wants to come back).  In the event of relegation, any big earners who want to leave should do so if possible, commitment to the club is a must.

Player of the season is a tough one, Helguson in the first half, Diakite in the second (by far the best player in the games I saw in the flesh).  It's hard to make a case for anyone who played through being outstanding, but I would like to give full credit to Derry and Hill, two players who I mocked when they arrived, but they've both played more games in the Premiership than I (and many others) thought they would in the Championship, and they've both squeezed everything they can out of the ability they have, at a club renowned for housing under-achievers.  Whatever happens I'd like to think those days are over.

[1] FWIW A better points-to-games ration than both Norwich and Swansea over the whole season to date (44 from 37)


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