The QPR Verdict: Why meticulous Hughes is going back to basics
Draw with Everton showed signs that Rangers’ new manager is making his mark
It may not have yielded three points, but there were enough encouraging signs in QPR’s performance against Everton on Saturday for Mark Hughes to tentatively suggest that his side have turned the corner.
In the grand scheme of this tortuous season for Rangers, a scrappy 1-1 draw at home to David Moyes’s hard-to-beat team has not changed much. A welcome point, certainly, but relegation fears eased? Not yet.
However, this was a different QPR side to the one which surrendered in such abject fashion to Fulham just seven days previously.
The defence was calmer, the midfield creative and resilient in equal measure, and ably supporting lone striker Bobby Zamora, whose bustling display was rewarded with the second well-taken goal of his blossoming Rangers career.
Hughes rightly pointed out that his team’s prospects were infinitely improved by keeping all 11 players on the pitch, but it was the disciplined, organised approach adopted by his charges which pleased him most.
“I saw more qualities that I expect from teams which I take charge of,” said Hughes. “If we can get organised and make sure we’re difficult to beat then we’ll definitely have enough going forward in the games we have left.
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“It has taken a while but I was encouraged by things that I saw which really illustrated what I have been trying to get over to the players.
“They have to understand that if they keep following what we’re saying, I’ve been in this league long enough and I understand what it takes to win Premier League games.”
Hughes is a meticulous man; a student of strategy who drills into his players the need for regimen on the pitch.
For Hughes, flair, craft and attacking creativity have their places, but only once supported by sound defensive ability.
That is the message which he has been drilling into his players ever since he arrived at Loftus Road last month, and the evidence on Saturday suggested it is paying off.
The exception was, unfortunately for Hughes, the moment Adel Taarabt was nudged off the ball by Marouane Fellaini in the build-up to Royston Drenthe’s opener.
Taarabt was unlucky; on most days Drenthe would not have connected so sweetly as to leave Paddy Kenny flailing at thin air, but it underlined how such casual moments can cost a team at Premier League level, and it is instances like that which Hughes is striving to eradicate from Taarabt’s game.
“He tries things, he’s a talented guy and wants to affect the game and make things happen,” said Hughes. There’s a place to do that on the football field, he picked the wrong opportunity and was caught out.
“Maybe in the past he would have let that affect him but he didn’t, he kept on trying to do the right things. Maybe that shows he understands the responsibility he has now. I will give him licence to create in key areas of the field but obviously he has a responsibility to do the right things more often than not.”
It was, perhaps, the best and worst from Adel Taarabt, and it encapsulated the best and worst of Rangers this season. Five minutes later, Taarabt’s charge towards the penalty area drew the foul from Drenthe which led to Zamora’s equaliser.
“That’s why from my point of view I will always try to get him in the team, because he can make things happen,” said Hughes.
More significant in this match were the solid performances - again - of QPR’s long-standing players. Clint Hill was outstanding alongside Anton Ferdinand at centre-back, while Shaun Derry was, in Hughes’s own words, ‘faultless’.
Brought in to replace the suspended Samba Diakite and sit in front of the defence, Derry was everywhere, all tackles and energy, and once again providing a compelling argument for a regular starting spot.
The key for Hughes, and one which was pointed out by forward Tommy Smith last week, is that the manager’s focus on his side’s defence does not negate their threat going forward.
There is still the nagging concern over QPR’s record in front of goal, although that is likely to be solved, at least in part, by the return of Cisse from suspension, and leading goal-scorer Heidar Helguson from injury.
Only Akos Buzsaky will know how he managed not to turn in Zamora’s cross from all of four yards against Everton, while Wright-Phillips’ late miss against Fulham was of equal significance, with a costlier outcome. Such head-in-hands moments have been a running theme of the season at Loftus Road.
It could be argued that Rangers’ dearth of goals from midfield is irrelevant given their new-found array of options up front, but equally relevant is the fact that had those two presentable opportunities been taken, Hughes’s side would have taken four points from their last two games rather than one.
“I would be more concerned if we didn’t have the ability to score goals, but I know that we have that threat,” added Hughes. But the problem has never been the creation of chances, it has been taking them.
However, on Saturday, and understandably, Hughes was a satisfied man.
The Reebok Stadium now awaits this weekend, and the hard work starts here as QPR face the run-in which was always likely to shape their fate.
For the first time in a long, long while, it is a match which Rangers can approach with a degree of optimism. Hughes is certainly warming to the task.
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