QPR believe again as Harry Redknapp's side cement place in top six
PUBLISHED: 17:00 26 March 2014
Harry Redknapp must wish he could play every game at Loftus Road. Victory over Wigan Athletic on Tuesday night was QPR's 13th home win of the season. Only leaders Leicester City have chalked up more victories on their own ground.
If the race for promotion was decided on home form alone, Rangers would be sitting just two points behind second-placed Burnley, with automatic promotion a very real possibility.
The win over Wigan was a variation of a common theme: score early, play poorly, defend resolutely, trust in a touch of luck along the way and send another opposition side back up the M1 wondering how on earth they managed to lose a game they dominated. For Wigan, read Leeds United, Huddersfield Town and Doncaster Rovers. All did enough to win at Loftus Road. All missed chances and were beaten. QPR will not win any style awards for their performances this season, but, at home at least, they have forgotten how to lose.
Conversely, away from home they have forgotten how to win with regularity. Redknapp’s side have been beaten seven times on their travels. Their tally of 26 points is the worst of the top six sides, and has included defeats at Doncaster, Charlton Athletic and, most recently, Sheffield Wednesday, who flattened Rangers 3-0 two weeks ago.
Such Jekyll and Hyde form is the prime reason why the gap between QPR and Burnley is 10 points rather than two, and why automatic promotion to the Premier League is now a vague hope rather than an outright target. Not that Rangers have given up the fight. Consecutive wins over Middlesbrough and Wigan have renewed the optimism that had dwindled through the winter months.
“You never give up [on automatic promotion]. But the likelihood for us is that it will be the play-offs, so what you desperately want to do is go into them with a bit of momentum, in a bit of form,” assistant manager Kevin Bond said.
“We all know we’ve had a bit of a sticky spell but now we are doing a little better. By the same token, we would like to think that if anyone slipped up, that we would be best-placed to make it up.
“They [Leicester and Burnley] have been amazing. Good luck to them. We can only try to win as many games as we can so that if they do falter we are in a good position.”
Momentum is the key for QPR if they are to overhaul Burnley, and equally if they are to stave off the challenge of Reading, Ipswich and Brighton, all snapping at the heels of the top six. Blackpool at Loftus Road on Saturday offers the opportunity for a third consecutive win, something Rangers have managed only twice all season. But then come the trips to Bournemouth, Blackburn and Leicester - they will be the acid tests.
Yet at the full-time whistle on Tuesday night, Loftus Road celebrated a win that had the air of a landmark result. Wigan were one of the form teams in the division, having gone 10 games unbeaten ahead of this match and on another glorious FA Cup march. It was indicative of their renaissance that QPR were underdogs.
Rarely have QPR matched such vibrancy in attack with defensive resilience this season. Against Wigan, after taking the lead on 16 minutes through Yossi Benayoun’s second goal for the club, they dug in and simply refused to buckle. In hindsight, Wigan probably should have thrown in the towel at that very moment – when Clint Hill sets up a goal with a back-flick, you know it is not going to be your night.
The closing stages were a siege, with QPR camped on the edge of their own box for long periods and Wigan hurling men at the home goal time and again. Time and again they were repelled. When they did break through, Rob Green flung himself to his left to push aside Nicky Maynard’s header. It was a pivotal moment. “We don’t take it for granted but we have come to expect that level of performance from him,” said Bond.
Bond was asked after the match if Green should be considered for England’s World Cup squad. He sidestepped the question, but Roy Hodgson may yet give it closer consideration.
Green was not the only hero. It is hard not to wonder where QPR would be had they signed Ravel Morrison at the start of the season, rather than in February. The answer, most likely, is at the summit. Morrison was everywhere, driving QPR forward with his energy and running. His ability to unpick a defence has solved a problem which plagued QPR for the first part of the season. Morrison already has five goals, and he might have had a sixth had his late, stunning free-kick not crashed back off the underside of the bar.
Such moments of individual brilliance are reminiscent of Adel Taarabt at his finest. QPR’s season threatened to crumble when Charlie Austin suffered his injury, but Morrison has breathed new life into it. There were others, too, who could take enormous credit. Bobby Zamora, his chest heaving long before the full-time whistle, produced another performance to remind supporters that on his day, he remains a half-decent striker.
Even the late dismissal of QPR’s match-winner Benayoun, for two yellow cards, was not enough to dampen the atmosphere inside the stadium. Indeed, the moment was almost lost in the noise which grew and grew as the full-time whistle edged closer.
Given QPR’s recent form, it would have been no surprise to see Wigan walk away with a positive result. Instead, QPR strengthened their position in the top six and belief seems to be returning that they can achieve a return to the Premier League.
There is every chance they will meet Wigan again this season, in the play-offs in May. On the evidence of Tuesday night, Redknapp’s side will have little to fear.