Saturday, April 14, 2012
Danger looms for Hughes
Richard Jolly, The Hawthorns
There is a certain, unfortunate symmetry to it all. The club Mark Hughes used to manage now sit two points off the Premier League summit, propelled onwards by a catalytic striker he signed. The one he now coaches are perched precariously two points above the relegation zone, condemned to defeat by the misses of another striker he recruited.
In cost as well as character, Bobby Zamora is no Carlos Tevez, but on the day a forward Hughes prised from one of his former clubs scored a hat-trick, a target man he pinched from another of his many old employers delivered a different sort of treble. Zamora's three misses - all excusable, but ultimately all damaging - leave Queens Park Rangers needing to reprise their habit of beating the bigger names to survive.
They have already overcome Chelsea, Liverpool and Arsenal. Now their remaining opponents are Tottenham Hotspur, Chelsea, Stoke City and Manchester City; a final day reunion at Eastlands therefore offers Hughes the potential for jubilation or desolation. Since his sacking by City two-and-a-half years ago, an idiosyncratic interpretation of ambition and some questionable career choices have led him to QPR. There he has spent £14 million, played 14 league games and only won four. His impact has been neither instantaneous nor emphatic enough to complete a rescue job. A loss to West Bromwich Albion was the sort of setback they might not be able to afford and it was inflicted by a player, in Graham Dorrans, who was bought for an initial £100,000.
In the long term, owner Tony Fernandes' millions may allow Hughes the chance of vindication. In the short term, he risks relegation. Wigan and Bolton both have games in hand and Wanderers, in particular, have seemingly simpler matches. Rangers, meanwhile, have lost their last five away games.
"We can't just think that our home form will be enough," Hughes said. "We need to improve the away form points and this was an opportunity. What we produced wasn't good enough."
They may have been directed towards the Championship by a man who was once the division's outstanding player. Since his starring role in Albion's promotion campaign of 2009-10, Dorrans has struggled to make the same impression, but a wonderfully crisp 25-yard shot that flew into the top corner of Paddy Kenny's net, even though the despairing goalkeeper got a hand to it, was a sign of his technical ability. "A marvellous strike," an admiring Roy Hodgson said.
Dorrans was set up by Peter Odemwingie, who, in a performance of elusive excellence, also supplied Billy Jones with an inventive backheel. The right-back hit the post while, in added time, Shane Long accelerated away but skewed a shot wide.
But chances went begging at both ends. Zamora could have opened the scoring when his shot was saved by Ben Foster; he might have equalised when he headed Joey Barton's outside-of-the-boot cross wide; and he could have levelled again after Taye Taiwo's brilliant 50-yard ball but, once again, Foster thwarted him. "I'd like to give credit to the 'keeper," Hughes said. "I thought he did well."
Nevertheless, it rather encapsulated Zamora's afternoon when his mishit shot struck team-mate Jamie Mackie on the backside. The other expensive January addition to Rangers' attack provided a different type of miss. This was the seventh game Djibril Cisse has sat out through suspension in his brief QPR career. Both were bought to keep the club up and the Frenchman has brought goals - three in the five games for which he has been eligible - and the Englishman a target man's devotion to leading the line. "He is a real handful to play against," Hodgson said, having enjoyed Zamora's prolific efforts while at Fulham.
Having piloted Albion to safety, the potential England manager reflected upon Rangers' mid-season makeover. "You see Queens Park Rangers here and see the Queens Park Rangers we met earlier in the season," he added. "There is a major shift in Premier League quality but that quality hasn't come cheaply. There has been a major investment." Yet that is why demotion would be so damning. Hughes' season concludes as he revisits his past, returning to City. A club aiming for the heights could condemn him to the depths of the Football League.
MAN OF THE MATCH: Peter Odemwingie. The Nigerian has proved productive coming infield from the right wing. Here he was given a central role and roamed to great effect, popping up to pose problems.
WEST BROM VERDICT: This rubber-stamped their place in next season's Premier League. "We've not only got over the line, we have got over the line with some degree of comfort," Hodgson said. "Forty-two points is a really good achievement." It was a decent display, too, with Foster, Odemwingie and Dorrans all impressing and Craig Dawson standing in well after Jonas Olsson tweaked his groin in the warm-up.
Yet there was a warning from their ever-cautious manager. "We would be sensible to be worried about next year," Hodgson added. "To get a real foundation, a real foothold in this league, you need years. There is work to do. It won't be easy to find the quality we need because the players we have got are not bad at all." They acquit themselves well, but Albion do not have the sort of financial muscle QPR possess.
QPR VERDICT: They stood off Albion too much in the first half, Hughes arguing that their exertions in Wednesday's win over Swansea may have been a factor. Cisse will be available for Saturday's clash with Tottenham and his return will presumably necessitate a change of shape as Zamora played as a lone striker. Either Adel Taarabt, who endured one of his disappointing days, or Shaun Derry, ineffectual in the holding role, could be the midfielder to make way. This guess is that Rangers will win their two home games and stay up, but it will be a close-run thing.
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