Dawes not open to defensive changes

AMIDST all the statistics churned up by QPR’s stampeding start to the season, their miserly defensive record is surely the most impressive.

Only four players have breached the Rangers back line during nearly 20 hours of Championship football – a rearguard that, apart from injuries to Fitz Hall and Bradley Orr, has remained unchanged.

And Ian Dawes, the ever-present left-back in the last QPR team to gain promotion to the top flight, agrees that a settled defence is an essential element for any successful side.

Dawes and goalkeeper Peter Hucker played in every single match as Terry Venables’ team stormed to the Division Two title in 1982-83, while right-back Warren Neill and central defenders Terry Fenwick and Bob Hazell missed just three games each.

“When you look at most of the best sides, they don’t change the back four that much and I think Neil Warnock’s doing something very similar at the moment,” Dawes told the Times.

“If they’re tinkering, it tends to be with the midfield and up front. It does help if everyone in defence knows what each other’s doing and detail was a big thing for Terry Venables – he was spot on with that.

“We were a youngish side, but we had a good manager – and I’d say QPR have the same now. Neil Warnock’s a good manager in that league, the best they could have at the moment.

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“We used to do drills nearly every day in training, just on the back four, with seven, eight or nine players attacking us, and we got very good at defending.

“It also helped that a lot of us had played together for a while – Peter Hucker, Warren Neill and myself and Wayne Fereday – but you still have to gel as a team.

“We were a hard team to beat. We knew how to knuckle down and defend and we tried to play good football, although the pitches weren’t the best in the world – not like the carpets there are now.”

At that time, of course, Rangers’ own playing surface was regarded with suspicion and scepticism – they had installed the country’s first artificial, all-weather Omniturf pitch at Loftus Road the previous year.

Critics claimed that the Rs’ plastic pitch gave them an unfair advantage, tending to ignore the fact that they won 10 and drew four of their 21 away games that season.

After jostling for top spot with Wolves, Rangers finally began to pull clear in March and sealed the championship with three games remaining by beating local rivals Fulham 3-1.

“Your home record is imperative, but you need to do reasonably well away too if you’re going to win the league,” said Dawes. “No-one really spoke much about us that season, though.

“Even with six weeks to go, all the talk in the press was about other teams and I didn’t think we really got the recognition we deserved for becoming champions.

“It’s different this time – everyone’s expecting QPR to go up because of the start they’ve had and already they’re finding it harder because teams are treating it as their cup final. I fancy them to do it, though.”

Dawes remained a permanent fixture in the team the following season – and, incredibly, right through until December 1986 – as QPR adapted quickly to Division One and finished fifth to qualify for the UEFA Cup.

But the full-back, now 47 and working as a teacher in his native south London, admits it would be difficult to see Warnock’s team repeating that feat if they were to gain promotion at the end of the current campaign.

“We didn’t think too much about it at the time, but the gulf between the top level and the one below wasn’t as big then as it is now,” Dawes added.

“Realistically you’ve got the top 10 in the Premier League and everyone below is fighting each other, so to go up and stay up is a good season now. It’d be a big surprise for anyone to do what we did then.”