Harry Redknapp has one job at Queens Park Rangers: save them from relegation.
To finish the Barclays Premier League season in seventeenth place is his most pressing goal. Anything above that would be nice, but at this point is only an added bonus.
Under Redknapp’s predecessor Mark Hughes, Rangers looked a side lost at sea. Despite heavy investment in the squad by Malaysian owner Tony Fernandes, the Loftus Road outfit found themselves marooned at the foot of the table with eight points to their name without a win when the former Tottenham Hotspur manager took over on 24 November 2012.
He knew the task that awaited him, for no side with QPR’s point tally at the time of Redknapp’s appointment has ever avoided the relegation trapdoor. In a league that is as unforgiving as it is entertaining, Redknapp wasted no time in trying to steady his newly acquired floundering side. He said, at the time of his appointment:
“This was too good an opportunity to turn down. I’m delighted to be back in the managerial hot-seat at QPR. I can’t wait to get to work and get the results necessary to kick-start our season.”
Rangers drew their first three games under ‘Arry to accrue three very valuable points against Sunderland, Aston Villa and Wigan Athletic, before an Adel Taarabt-inspired performance gave them their first win of the season, beating Fulham 2-1 at home.
But that battening down of the hatches that the 65-year-old quickly took a turn for the worse when they suffered back-to-back-to-back losses at the hands of an inconsistent Newcastle United, a West Bromwich side who are on a Cinderella run this season and a mauling by a resurgent Liverpool side.
Which makes their latest league result all the more surprising.
Chelsea 0-1 QPR was the scoreline at full-time at Stamford Bridge. Old Blue Shaun Wright-Phillips scored the only goal of the game in the 78th minute. He may have declined to celebrate piercing Ross Turnbull’s net, but there was no such modesty from Redknapp at full-time.
To go to the home of the European Champions, who had once again invested millions in their diamond-studded chess set of a squad is no mean feat. Interim manager Rafael Benitez had just begun to win over the fans, but his wholesale changes against the bottom side of the Barclays Premier League – some enforced, others voluntary – saw Chelsea lack the chemistry that they have displayed this season.
Eden Hazard and Juan Mata were both rested, Marko Marin was given his first league start, and Petr Cech’s absence due to injury saw Ross Turnbull take his place between the sticks. Ashley Cole was dropped too, with Ryan Bertrand coming into the side. With so many new faces in the squad, Queens Park Rangers made the Blues pay for their lack of creativity in front of goal to take them to thirteen points from 21 games: just five away from safety.
And Redknapp knows how important that victory over Chelsea was to his team:
“They worked their socks off and they got their rewards, we deserved it and it was a fantastic performance. They have set the standard tonight and to get out of this mess they have to do it every week.”
And QPR certainly have a squad that could grind out results every week if they rediscover the potential that won them the Football Championship two seasons ago.
A clutch of players came to QPR over the summer, bringing with them immense talent. Junior Hoilett, Jose Bosingwa, Sam Magri, Esteban Granero, Robert Green, Andy Johnson and Ryan Nelsen all arrived on free transfers. Stephane Mbia moved from Marseilles in part exchange for Joey Barton (on loan), veteran Brazilian keeper Julio Cesar came to England, thereby ending a stellar career with Inter Milan, Samba Diakite made his loan deal permanent and Manchester United duo Fabio da Silva (loan) and Park Ji Sung further bolstered the QPR ranks.
Being the wheeler-dealer that he is, Redknapp might look to add a few new faces to his squad, but with the potential at his disposal, he may not need to. He is a fond admirer of David Beckham, and the papers report that he is intent on tempting the England legend with a move back to his home nation, and while he was genuinely interested in securing the services of Joe Cole, the versatile Englishman has decided to return to boyhood club West Ham United.
Redknapp himself is no stranger to relegation. He was in charge of Southampton when the Saints ended their 27-year stay in the Premier League in 2005. Neither are QPR, who avoided relegation on the last day of last season at the expense of Bolton Wanderers despite, losing 3-2 at the Etihad Stadium despite leading for much of the game. A game that will be remembered more for the dramatic style in which Manchester City snatched the title from under the noses of their cross-town rivals Manchester United, thereby consigning QPR’s achievements to a mere footnote.
The unforgiving nature of the league means results and fortunes can change in an instant. Last season’s title challenge only reflects that. Relegation dogfights often go down to the last minute of the last day of the season, and playing good football is no guarantee of safety: Blackpool played some wonderful football two seasons ago but Ian Evatt’s own goal meant they would return to the Championship after just one season in the English top flight.
Neither, surprisingly, is silverware. Joining the Seasiders in the Championship that season were Birmingham City, who’d pull off an upset by beating Arsenal in the League Cup final that season: a game which will be remembered for Obafemi Martins’ opportunistic strike after a horrible mix-up between Laurent Koscielny and Wojciech Szczesny.
Harry Redknapp is no doubt aware of the task that awaits him. But after a forgettable 2012 which saw him unceremoniously released at Spurs, overlooked for the job of England manager and summoned to court on charges of corruption for which he was later acquitted, he could maybe, just maybe, make 2013 a more memorable year to remember.
Queens Park Rangers have a mountain to climb, but at least they’ve set up base camp.