Football: Houston left wishing for Wilkins

Grimsby Town 2 Queen's Park Rangers 0
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The Independent Online

Grimsby Town 2 Queen's Park Rangers 0

A couple of years ago, their careers bound together, neither man would have imagined it could come to this: George Graham and Stewart Houston, not at Arsenal but running different clubs elsewhere, at opposite ends of the M1. And still both looking for their first win. How ironic that the man inheriting the harvest of their devoted labours at Highbury takes over a side still in bloom.

Arsene Wenger is the exception to the usual way of things. Winning teams do not commonly need new managers, so for Graham and Houston what is happening is normal. An incoming manager is first obliged to clear up the mess left behind. One wonders, do the two compare notes?

Houston did not underestimate the task he faced in rebuilding QPR, a young team still trying to come to terms with the pain of relegation. But so far he has been struck most not by any shortcomings of Ray Wilkins, his predecessor, as a manager but by his immense value as a player, even a 40-year-old one.

"I can see now why Ray carried on playing," Houston reflected, in the wake of a second defeat in four days. "It was Ray who was holding the side together."

Without Wilkins to guide them, QPR here confirmed the impression Houston has clearly gained of them: a team of bright young talents, full of promise for the future but lacking direction for the present. Much as Houston yelled from the touchline at Blundell Park, where he was on his feet throughout, the Wilkins effect could not be reproduced. Only when he was able to get among them at half-time could Houston do a thing to raise their performance above the pathetic.

There was some modest improvement. But Grimsby, quite unfazed, apparently, by slipping into the bottom three of the First Division, were 2-0 ahead and quite unwilling to surrender anything. Having been forcefully positive in the first half, now they became robustly defensive. And so effective they were that Rangers could do no more than huff and puff.

Houston was fortunate, in fact, that the margin of defeat grew no larger as chances were missed and Juergen Sommer pulled off a magnificent save to deny Neil Woods, a substitute, in the last minute. But this was of no consequence to Grimsby, who would have been happy with 1-0 after losing four home League matches out of five. In the event, Tommy Widdrington, the former Southampton player, added a superb 30-yard-lob to Clive Mendonca's earlier, close-range effort.

For QPR the transfer market is the next step - perhaps, someone suggested as Houston pondered his options, to buy a young version of Wilkins. "I'd love to," he replied, "but I think you'll find that, were there such a player, Manchester United or Newcastle would like to sign him too."