QPR’s big second chance - but can Hughes keep his promise?
Rangers boss vowed his side would never again be caught in a relegation scrap, and now he must deliver
Sitting in the press room at the Etihad Stadium after the final match of last season, an emotionally drained Mark Hughes made a single promise.
He assured everyone associated with QPR that as long as he was manager, there would be no repeat of a campaign which so nearly ended in disaster.
Three months on from that incredible afternoon in Manchester, when City won the title with the last kick of the season and QPR survived thanks to a Bolton draw at Stoke, Hughes will feel confident of keeping his word.
Such confidence will emanate partly from the calibre of his key summer signings. The two big problems Hughes wanted to solve were a perceived lack of experience within his side, and a lack of strength in depth. He addressed these issues by bringing in the veteran defender Ryan Nelsen from Blackburn Rovers and former Fulham striker Andy Johnson.
He wanted to add creativity up front, achieved with the impressive capture of Junior Hoilett from Blackburn Rovers.
He wanted a midfield leader with Premier League experience, and in Ji-Sung Park, a player who made more than 100 appearances for Manchester United, he will feel he has acquired a world-class performer.
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Player turnover has, once again, been a big feature of QPR’s summer. But in contrast to previous years, Rangers were intent on keeping hold of their top performers. Jamie Mackie and Clint Hill, two of last season’s stand-out players, were given new contracts, a refreshing gesture of loyalty but, more importantly, recognition of the quality both bring to the side.
As last season demonstrated so dramatically, new signings count for nothing if they do not have the time to gel as a unit, and in that sense Hughes has very real reason for optimism.
After a standing start last year, when in January Hughes took over a side playing as individuals and drifting aimlessly towards the drop, the one thing the manager would have wanted above all else was a settled pre-season.
And that is where he may have stolen a march on the rest of the league. Beginning transfer activity early – Johnson and Nelsen were signed in June – QPR were able to embark on their tour of Asia the following month with most of their signings either completed or due for completion. Most were able to play some part in the three games in the Far East.
It is always open to debate as to how much can be gleaned from a team’s pre-season form, but the fact that Rangers have gone unbeaten through six matches is certainly no bad thing.
Admittedly, QPR were at times pitted against decidedly mediocre opposition, but their 3-0 victory at Wycombe Wanderers displayed signs of a team working as a unit, solid in defence, cohesive in midfield and with a potent attacking threat in the form of Djibril Cisse.
Draws with Trabzonspor and Augsburg suggested there is still some way to go before QPR can look too far up the Premier League table, but as the opening day fast approaches, the overwhelming feeling is optimism.
Hughes is keen to keep a lid on expectations, but the reality is that QPR have a squad which is capable of challenging for a mid-table finish. Rangers were lucky to get a second crack at the Premier League, and now Hughes must deliver on his promise.
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