Hughes losing the battle to blend QPR's strangers
Queen's Park Rangers 0 Fulham 1
QPR's performance at Loftus Road on Saturday underlined how hard it is to construct a team through the transfer window equivalent of trolley dashes. Fielding two players bought on the last day of the August window, and four in the last week of January's, Rangers looked a team of strangers despite a training camp in Portugal.
Adding a last-minute signing to an already established unit is, though, a different matter. The transfer clock was ticking down when Fulham secured the loan acquisition of Stuttgart's Pavel Pogrebnyak. The Russian, who had scored once in 14 Bundesliga matches this season, has scored two in two for Fulham, both taken with confidence.
"I thought he was worth a chance because he scored regularly in Russia, and he has 45 caps," said Martin Jol. The Fulham manager consulted compatriots Guus Hiddink and Dick Advocaat, both of whom had selected Pogrebnyak for Russia, but admitted: "it is a risk because players can take months to settle in England and you don't know how he will do. But in the first training session he scored a hat-trick in ten minutes, so he gave everyone a boost."
Players of such quality, he added, were not usually available in the January window (as QPR have discovered) but Jol promised Pogrebnyak regular first-team action ahead of Euro 2012. The striker headed an enterprising Fulham line-up, Jol accurately predicting QPR would be defensively vulnerable. Both full-backs arrived in January, the central defensive pairing of Clint Hill and Anton Ferdinand had never played together before, and Samba Diakite, their midfield shield, was making his debut.
That lasted 33 minutes, by which time half-a-dozen late tackles had earned two yellow cards. Diakite's unfamiliarity with the Premier League was cited in mitigation but he was born and brought up in a French environment which is hardly known for it's strong tackling. Nervousness, and a desire to impress, will have been factors, but it was as if he had heard about the English game's hurly-burly and was desperate to show he could mix it. After his first caution Rangers' captain Joey Barton should have counselled him to calm down, or Mark Hughes withdrawn him.
QPR were a shambles with eleven men so had no prospect of winning with ten, though Fulham's strange decision to sit on their lead might have allowed them to level. A bad miss by Wright-Phillips, who is still to score this season, condemned them to a fourth defeat in six matches under Hughes, who has taken four points from 18 since replacing Neil Warnock.
A tough run-in waits and everyone at the club is acutely aware that they need to win matches in this spell of fixtures but all is not well. Hughes is trying to blend a fractured dressing room. Last season's Championship winners, Barton's "gang", and a Francophone foreign group are in different camps and the new signings are uncertain of which clique will welcome them. In addition, Hughes and his own tightly knit coterie of staff are yet to bond with the ones he inherited. The word is last week's trip to sunnier climes did nothing to heal the divisions but a club fighting relegation needs everyone pulling together.
"We have got a lot of players, they seem to be everywhere," said Hughes. "We try and integrate this on the periphery when we can. The spirit is fine, but in games you have to be aggressive in what you say to each other. The key is that you don't take exception to it, you just get on and try and affect the game in a positive way."
QPR: KENNY 6/10; ONUOHA 5; FERDINAND 4; HILL 6; TAIWO 5; MACKIE 5; WRIGHT PHILLIPS 6; DIAKITE 3; BARTON 4; TAARABT 5; ZAMORA 5
Fulham: SCHWARZER 7; J RIISE 6; HANGELAND 7 HUGHES 7; KELLY 6; MURPHY 8; DEMPSEY 6; JOHNSON 7; DEMBELE 8; RUIZ 8; POGREBNYAK 7
Scorer: Fulham Pogrebnyak 7.
Substitutes: Queen's Park Rangers Traoré (Taiwo, 72), Buzsaky (Wright-Phillips, 83). Fulham Baird (Murphy, 75), Duff (Ruiz, 78), Etuhu (Johnson, 82).
Booked: QPR Diakite. Fulham Pogrebnyak, J Riise, Dembele, Baird. Sent-off: QPR Diakite (33).
Man of the match Dembele. Match rating 5/10.
Possession: QPR 49% Fulham 51%.
Attempts on target: QPR 8 Fulham 3.
Referee P Dowd (Staffordshire) Attendance 18,015.
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