By Glenn Moore
Neil Warnock was unexpectedly fired last night as manager of Queen's Park Rangers. Owner Tony Fernandes, who only bought the club in August, sacked him a day after watching Rangers snatch a late draw at the League One side MK Dons in the FA Cup third round.
Mark Hughes is favourite to take over as Fernandes wants a "big name". The Welshman's adviser, Kia Joorabchian, flew back from Brazil last night with a view to speaking to Fernandes, though it would not seem an obvious step up from Fulham, whom Hughes left last summer. A somewhat improbable managerial partnership of Gianfranco Zola and Ray Wilkins, who managed QPR between 1994 and 1996, is also being discussed.
In a statement Rangers said the decision was due to "the commitment to retaining our Premier League status", adding that "our recent run of poor form has seen us slip alarmingly down the table and the board felt it was the right time to make a change".
A return of one point from the last 18 possible has dropped QPR to 17th in the table, one place and one point above the relegation zone. However, those six matches included one-goal defeats at Arsenal and Liverpool, and a 2-0 loss to Manchester United. At no stage this season have QPR been in the relegation zone and there have been no calls for Warnock's head from Rangers fans, despite just one win this season at Loftus Road.
"I'm disappointed because I think we've been playing well, but a lot of things haven't gone our way in recent games," said Warnock last night. "I'd like to have had the chance to strengthen the team in the transfer window and show what I can do with a few new players."
Warnock has had to operate for the opening half of the campaign with last season's Championship winners plus a few recruits added in great haste after the takeover in the final days of the August transfer window.
Warnock said that he left QPR with "a great sense of pride". He arrived 22 months ago with the club embroiled in a relegation dogfight. Having evaded a drop to League One, he reshaped the side in the summer of 2010 and won the title, returning QPR to the top flight for the first time since 1996.
Warnock, 63 and a manager since 1980, was told of the decision by the chief executive, Phil Beard, not Fernandes, who did not speak to him at Milton Keynes. The assistant manager, Mick Jones, and first-team coach, Keith Curle, both long-time Warnock associates, have also left the club.