Adam’s latest “The Championship Corner” column.
An eye-watering twenty different managerial combinations have taken charge of Queens Park Rangers since Ian Holloway departed the club in 2006, but now, in case the headlines his opinions generate have been missed, he is back at Loftus Road aiming to “restore pride”.
Holloway referenced the excess of Flavio Briatore’s reign as owner and the ‘boutique club’ it turned into under the Italian, with the famous Four Year Plan eventually guiding the London club into the Premier League albeit with soaring wage costs and a disastrous habit for attracting mercenaries.
£36 million was spent in the season they were relegated from the Premier League and the next two years have been spent adjusting to the difficulties of a reduced budget and the destabilising effect of a high turnover of players.
There was hope that Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, following the promising job he performed with Burton Albion, could direct the Hoops back to the top flight but after finding his hands tied in the summer transfer window, the Dutchman left a club sitting 17th in the Championship.
The 2-1 win over Norwich in Holloway’s first game back in charge moved them up to thirteenth and the 53-year-old, who says the 18 months working as an analyst with Sky Sports after his sacking at Millwall was a valuable learning experience, is positive about the direction the club is prepared to take under current owner Tony Fernandes.
“The enthusiasm of Tony is immense” he said, “Les [Ferdinand, director of football] wants to protect this place and nurture it.”
The appointment of Holloway, a step-back from the ambitious, young manager route they went down with Hasselbaink, has been made in the hope that his energy and natural enthusiasm can restore the buzz to a club that has hit a low ebb.
Hasselbaink was criticised among fans for a safety-first approach that saw them score just 6 times from open play (the second-lowest tally in the Championship) before Holloway took-over, but against Norwich his successor went with a more attacking line-up, moving to a back three of Grant Hall, Joel Lynch and Nedum Onouha to free-up Tjaronn Chery in support of two strikers.
“Counter-attacking is fine away from home, but not at home” said Holloway, “we’ve got to make sure we can score goals. I want our fans to entertained when they come.”
Conor Washington, having netted just once this season before the new manager took over, was unshackled from the disciplined left-sided role he played under Hasselbaink and swept home the opener before Sebastian Polter broke clear to clip in the second.
In a squad that Holloway believes is too packed with number 10s, it will be crucial to get Washington, now with just two goals to his name at QPR since making the £2.5 million move from Peterborough in January, and Polter, who hit 14 goals for Union Berlin in last season’s Bundesliga Second Division, firing in front of goal.
The pacey Idrissa Sylla has netted 4 times since his summer move from Anderlecht and there is a sense that the goals could flow regularly if Holloway addresses the imbalance and creative inertia that has carved out 144 chances so far, the fourth-lowest total in the league.
To achieve that, Holloway will need to regularly use a system that allows Massimo Luongo to slot in support of the influential Chery, a combination that has 5 assists between them this term.
Seven players under the age of 25 started the game with Norwich and with only 6 other clubs registering a lower average squad age than QPR’s 25.5, Holloway will be aware that he must add more experience alongside the wise heads of Lynch, Onuoha and James Perch at the back.
“We need young, hungry up for it people with a sprinkling of experience,” he said.
“We need a bit TLC and a bit of self-belief this season”, comments that would have struck a note with anybody who witnessed the Hoops’ late collapse in the 3-2 loss at Barnsley or the meek home surrenders to Brentford and Newcastle.
Holloway is the man
The fragile confidence within his squad was highlighted by Holloway in his first press conference back at Loftus Road, but in the ever-exuberant Bristolian they have just the man to restore the belief and inject buoyancy to a club that has endured many troubles in recent years.
Written by Adam Gray
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