18 December ~ Manchester United visit Loftus Road today for the first time since 1996, when a Dennis Irwin own goal was cancelled out by an Eric Cantona equaliser in around the 15th and final minute of injury time allowed by Alex Ferguson. There followed much bitter gnashing of teeth among QPR fans, on the way to seeing our side relegated a few weeks later. A repeat of that result would be welcomed by the majority of the 18,000 crammed into the ground today. Rangers have only been turned over by Bolton in August and on an aberration of an afternoon at Fulham, but three of their four wins this season have come away from home. The only win at Loftus Road was against an extraordinarily petulant Chelsea.
Fifteen goals in as many games point to the chief problem. The reborn 34-year-old Heidar Helguson accounts for six, while injury and sloth respectively have largely kept summer signings DJ Campbell and Jay Bothroyd off the scoresheet.
Add to that an entirely new defence with a generous attitude to offering space at dead balls, and too few clean sheets, and you will see why Neil Warnock and new owner Tony Fernandes are planning a busy January. Joey Barton’s move to central midfield has benefited Alejandro Faurlin to the extent that Spurs and Arsenal are supposedly casting glances at the Argentinian. It is imperative that he stays.
Rangers end the year with trips to miserly Swansea and Arsenal. Before that they entertain a Sunderland side lifted by Martin O'Neill's appointment. Picking up four points before the transfer window opens wouldn't be disastrous.
Ominously, today's opponents' No.10 tends to score goals in clusters, as the Match of the Day pundits kindly reminded us after his drought-ending brace against Wolves last week. But Rangers’ better performances have come against the top sides at home, perhaps as much a result of the atmosphere created, as the realisation that another Fulham might be looming.
Who knows what could happen if we upset Wayne Rooney and co – as our players and fans did against the likes of Ashley Cole, David Luiz and Juan Mata – or play United at their own game as we so nearly did successfully against City in the best game seen in Shepherds Bush this century. The R's approach will need to be a more positive one than our last outing, when third-choice goalkeeper Radek Cerny almost single-handedly contained Liverpool in a very one-sided 1-0 defeat.
QPR’s prospects going into January look a hell of a lot sunnier than they did in August, in the last days of Flavio Briatore and Bernie Ecclestone. No one is tipping them for the drop now. But much depends on the shrewdness (and fitness) of Warnock’s next batch of signings, and the ability to address current issues. Jamie Sellers