IT’S often said that a club is too good to go down. QPR, on the other hand, are too good to stay down. Man for man, Rangers have the best squad I’ve seen at this level. Only Newcastle in 2009-10 came close, with the likes of Kevin Nolan, Fabricio Coloccini and a fit, hungry Andy Carroll.
Yet even the Mags couldn’t boast the number of internationals kicking around at Loftus Road. And when I say kicking around, I mean it. Jermaine Jenas, capped 21 times by England, can’t get off the bench. Shaun Wright-Phillips, once of Man City and Chelsea, can’t even make the squad.
Bobby Zamora and Andy Johnson are injured. Jose Chevanton, a former Uruguay international who won the UEFA Cup with Sevilla, gets the odd 20 minutes.
Those names alone would be stars at any other Championship club. Leaving them out should decimate a team. But against Millwall last week, QPR still had enough class to stretch their unbeaten run to 11 games. And watching them, I still get the feeling they haven’t really kicked off yet.
A phalanx of 1-0 victories does not reflect the class they possess. Charlie Austin is a brutal finisher, an instinctive poacher who can vanish completely for 89 minutes yet materialise to take the only chance that comes his way.
Richard Dunne, bar one uncharacteristic aberration against Millwall, is strolling through Championship games like Mo Farah on a fun run.
And don’t get me started on Niko Kranjcar. At Tottenham, the Croatian was another twinkle in a galaxy of stars, outshone by international club mate Luka Modric.
At this level he is like granite wrapped in silk, his stocky physique and velvet touch meaning he operates in his own time and space. Even before he had thundered QPR into the lead last week, Millwall’s players had resorted to kicking his legs away. If he stays fit, Kranjcar is a decent bet for player of the year.
Then there’s Joey Barton, Clint Hill, Junior Hoilett – I could go on. The truth is, QPR are under-performing. They should be blowing teams to bits.
But within that truth lies another, which is bad news for the rest of the Championship.
Namely, that QPR need be nothing more than adequate to get out of this division. Like Newcastle, they need only wait for one of their many class acts to do his stuff.
No fancy tactics required, no tub-thumping team talks. Just an inevitable explosion of technique, like the one provided by Kranjcar last week.
Even as things stand, the Hoops are going up.
And if they ever decide to ratchet things up for the full 90 minutes, they’ll leave the rest for dust.
O’S LOSE AT LAST BUT THEY ARE A BANKER FOR THE TOP SIX
WELL, it had to end sometime. Leyton Orient’s 3-1 defeat to Coventry on Tuesday ended a 12-game unbeaten run that has seen Russell Slade’s unheralded band of misfits surge to the summit of League One.
So will they now tumble to their former home in mid-table? I think they’ve already done enough for the play-offs – and here’s why. With 32 points, the O’s have taken more from their first 12 games than any other side but one in the last decade. And that includes all three divisions.
The one? That would be Luton, in 2004-05. Like Orient, the Hatters won ten and drew two of their first 12. And, like Orient, they came a cropper in an unlucky 13th game against Huddersfield. Slade will hope the similarities don’t end there, as Luton went on to win League One with a monstrous 98-point haul.
Then there’s the fact that Tranmere, last year’s runaway leaders, had 30 points at the same stage. Ronnie Moore’s men won just three of their final 17 games, yet still missed the play-offs by just six points. Basically, Orient need only avoid a bad run of equally catastrophic proportions to get into the top six – and Slade will know that Orient’s squad is both better and deeper than Tranmere’s was.
And finally, here’s a funny thing. In ten years, over three divisions, do you want to know who has the second-best 12-game record after Luton and Orient?
It’s Peterborough, 2013-14. Yes, the Posh had taken just one point less than Orient and are flying as well.
So if the O’s are a decent bet, the bookies may as well pay out on Posh now.
NIGEL HAS A NEW JOB BUT THE SAME SCENARIO
POOR Nigel Clough. He’s spent the best part of five years squeezing blood from the stone that is Derby County. Now he’s got to do it all over again.
Here’s what Clough’s new gaffer, Prince Abdullah bin Mosaad bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, said after handing him the Sheffield United job.
“Nigel was the clear, first choice of the board. He brings an approach to the game that is well suited to what we are trying to achieve at Sheffield United.
“He knows how to inspire first-team players to give their all and has a proven track record of making an academy a key ingredient to the club’s success. We count ourselves lucky to have Nigel aboard.”
Translation: “We’ve got a middling squad and no money to make it better. Nigel – do your stuff.”
It’s a bit like being rewarded for surviving on a desert island by winning a week’s holiday with Ray Mears.
FA GET IT RIGHT ON MCCLEAN
GOOD to see the FA show some sense and overturn James McClean’s red card against Blackpool last week.
The poor bloke was elbowed, stamped on and then showed remarkable restraint not to lamp his tormentor Gary MacKenzie. Yet somehow ref Mark Haywood decided the Wigan man was the aggressor and sent him packing.
For the sake of all those managers who urge their players not to react, McLean had to be exonerated. The only downside is that his suspension wasn’t immediately transferred to MacKenzie.