Even if they stay up Rangers need a change of approach next season
10 April ~ QPR v Chelsea games can be unpredictable affairs, even in the Roman Abramovich era. In Rangers’ last, mostly dismal two-season stint in the Premier League, a couple of notable highlights came during west London derbies. In 2011 Heidar Helguson converted a penalty for the only goal in the clubs’ first league meeting in 15 years at Loftus Road, the rather hyped-up home crowd making the most of the occasion by baying for blood from the first minute.
Chelsea ended the game with nine men and Juan Mata was subbed at half-time after being too scared to take a corner at the home end. The following season, one of only two away wins in the whole campaign came at Stamford Bridge, where former footballer Shaun Wright-Phillips scored his only QPR goal in four years at the club, to defeat his old side.
But all that was before José Mourinho’s return. Now Chelsea are predictable, clinical, just as unlikeable. Rangers are what? Probably six games from relegation. But strange things do happen near the season’s end. If Harry Redknapp were still in charge, he’d call Sunday a bonus game, but there’s little room for bonus games now.
Christian Benteke’s late free-kick at Villa Park on Tuesday prevented an unlikely run of back-to-back away wins for the Hoops, who had picked up three points on the road all season prior to West Brom on Saturday. They’re scoring goals, and not just Charlie Austin either. Five other players contributed over the two games, including winger Matt Phillips, discarded by Redknapp but now enjoying a new lease of life under Chris Ramsey, and apparently second only to Lionel Messi in Europe’s “top leagues” for assists in 2015.
Ramsey has endeared himself to many by not constantly whinging about injuries like his predecessor, and by giving youth a chance rather than sticking with seniors who’ve had more opportunities than they deserved. What he hasn’t done, seven away points aside, is turn performances into results, or to plug the division’s most porous defence.
Les Ferdinand’s role as director of football includes overhauling the club’s give-an-old-man-a-final-payday policy of recent years, and Ramsey’s history as a youth coach chimes with that. Should he keep the club up, he’ll deserve a chance at the job permanently. If they go down, and there are encouraging signs in the next few weeks, maybe he’ll be offered a chance to rebuild.
Half of Rangers’ current squad is out of contract in the summer, so either way it’s going to be all change. Much depends on whether owner Tony Fernandes has the bottle to see through a period of restructuring, or whether he’ll panic and bring in another Mark Hughes or Redknapp, and let them loose with the finances. But you’d hope by now he’s learned his lesson. Jamie Sellers