If Mark Hughes was under any illusions as to the spectre that hangs over him at Queen’s Park Rangers then he was left in no doubt yesterday when, in a moment during his post-match press conference, he was inadvertently addressed by one reporter as “Harry”.
“My name’s Mark,” replied Hughes, with just about as much good humour as could be expected of a manager who has now gone 10 games of the season without a victory. Harry, of course, is the moniker for one Henry James Redknapp, currently out of work but keen to get back into the business of football management soon and something of an expert on teams in QPR’s parlous situation.
Should one take Tony Fernandes’ word for it, Redknapp is not currently on his mind – at least he was not when the QPR chairman composed his programme notes that were lavish in their support for the job Hughes is trying to do at Loftus Road. When QPR were booed off at half-time by their own fans, trailing 1-0 to the only other team in the division not yet to have won a game, one can only wonder at what Fernandes was thinking.
In the end, QPR were saved by a goal from Djibril Cissé, which Fernandes celebrated by jumping to his feet and high-fiving his fellow QPR supporters. “The cream always rises to the top,” he had written in the programme. “Dare to dream”. It would be a stretch to describe QPR as “the cream” and so far they have risen as far as 19th place, behind opponents Reading on the basis of goal difference.
When it comes to dreaming, you can forget about it – certainly while the only team beneath them are the hapless Southampton on a meagre three points. Southampton have at least won a game, a milestone that Rangers and Reading are yet to reach and were it not for a moment of brilliance from Cissé yesterday, QPR’s situation would be even more dire.
What would Redknapp do with this Rangers team? For a start he would want to address their worrying susceptibility from set-pieces, which was again exposed by Reading in a dreadful first-half performance from QPR. They improved after the break but other than promising moments from Samba Diakité and Esteban Granero there were few signs of real progress.
In the end, it was Cissé to the rescue with a touch in the box redolent of his days as a Champions League-winning footballer and a France international that left the reliable but limited Sean Morrison spreadeagled. Having taken the centre-half out the game, Cissé had the room to score a goal that was just about recompense for an individual performance that was otherwise forgettable.
Hughes could point to two similar moments of outstanding individual skill from the Reading goalkeeper Alex McCarthy whose saves from Granero and Adel Taarabt, one in each half, were critical for the away team. This 22-year-old England Under-21 has been loaned out eight times in his career at Reading but having dislodged Adam Federici now looks like a real prospect.
No one mentioned the A-word to McDermott in the post-match press conference, but the Reading manager himself raised the subject of Arsenal and last week’s 7-5 Capital One Cup defeat himself. “I have analysed the game [last week] and I know exactly what happened,” he said. “Some of our play was excellent to go 4-0 up and it was again [yesterday]. We got a point and we move on.”
The Russian businessman who owns McDermott’s club, Anton Zingarevich, was already back in Russia having met McDermott last week for a friendly drink in a pub to discuss the defeat to Arsenal. Reading are 18th having played one game fewer than Rangers, a place below them, and the burden of expectation does not weigh quite so heavily on them as it does on Hughes.
The QPR manager exuded calm yesterday and, given that barely a quarter of the season has passed, perhaps there is good reason for that. But watching his side, especially in the first half of yesterday’s game, they look badly short of confidence in defence and lacking in any firm ideas in attack apart from a reliance on the maverick instincts of Cissé and Taarabt.
Unforgivably, Hughes’ team conceded from a corner, having lost two consecutive headers to Morrison in their own area whereupon the ball fell to Kaspars Gorkss whose well-taken volley was deflected and went through Julio Cesar’s arms. At this point Rangers had the death rattle about them.
McCarthy pushed Granero’s free-kick on to the bar late in the half but otherwise Reading, with fine performances from Jay Tabb and Mikele Leigertwood, were solid. Cissé scored on 66 minutes, found by Jose Bosingwa’s cross from the right. McCarthy saved again from Taarabt on 83 minutes when substitute Bobby Zamora and Cissé combined to put him in on goal.
After the break, Reading did not match their performance in the first half but in the substitute Jimmy Kébé they had a late threat, albeit a player who would be much better served releasing the ball when he runs at goal rather than choosing to do it all himself. He opened Rangers up in injury-time and might have won the game.
A draw was as much as a disillusioned home crowd might have expected after going behind but away at Stoke City next weekend there will be no guarantees for Hughes that this embarrassing run without a victory will come to an end. No one is saying Redknapp’s name just yet but that, as Hughes knows, can change quickly.