By Jacob Steinberg
Sometimes in a business as unpredictable as football, it is best not to make promises. After QPR’s unlikely escape act last season, Mark Hughes vowed that they would never struggle under him again but that pledge is starting to look increasingly dodgy with his side rooted to the bottom of the table after five matches without a win and having made an early exit from the League Cup.
QPR and Hughes have grander ambitions than another scrap against relegation. Clubs who sign players from Inter, Manchester United and Real Madrid are not meant to lose 5-0 at home to Swansea City, they are meant to challenge for Europe, a prospect that seems a long way away now.
West Ham's summer signings
|Yossi Benayoun (Chelsea - loan)|
|Andy Carroll (Liverpool - loan)|
|James Collins (Aston Villa)|
|Mohamed Diame (Wigan)|
|Alou Diarra (Marseille)|
|Stephen Henderson (Portsmouth)|
|Jussi Jaaskelainen (Bolton)|
|Matt Jarvis (Wolves)|
|Modibo Maiga (Sochaux)|
|George McCartney (Sunderland)|
|Raphael Spiegel (Grasshoppers)|
There have admittedly been encouraging signs in recent weeks. For instance, QPR are the only side to have held Chelsea this season, while they were excellent in the first half against Tottenham last week, Alejandro Faurlin and Esteban Granero running the show, before succumbing to a fightback from Spurs in the second half.
Although it was not initially clear what style of football Hughes wished to play this season, QPR’s slick passing in midfield hinted at better things to come. One encouraging half does not make a season though and isolated moments of togetherness might not be enough against West Ham on Monday night.
While there have been accusations that QPR are getting ideas above their station, with questions raised about how exactly a club with a stadium that holds 18,000 people can afford such high-profile talent, West Ham’s target this season is simply to stay up after winning promotion from the Championship and there are few managers better suited to that task than Sam Allardyce.
Whereas QPR are seeking a new identity after years of turmoil, Allardyce is increasingly comfortable in his own skin at West Ham. The Hammers have had the sort of start that Hughes can only envy and are in 10th place with eight points from five games; a first away win of the season would move them level on points with Tottenham and West Brom, fifth and sixth respectively. When West Ham went down under Avram Grant two years ago, they failed to win any of their first five matches. QPR are warned.
|WEST HAM LATEST
|10/1||West Ham are 10/1 to beat QPR 2-0 with bet36|
Hughes has often been scattergun in his dealings at QPR, as evidenced by ditching Robert Green in favour of Julio Cesar because of a haphazard debut and the arrival of 14 new players since replacing Neil Warnock in January. There seems to be more coherence at West Ham under Allardyce at the moment.Allardyce’s methods have not always been popular with supporters who have drooled over the likes of Paolo Di Canio, but he has been successful so far. His teams are unapologetically direct, adept at getting the ball forward quickly in a bid to get Kevin Nolan into threatening positions from midfield and lack creativity.
The Allardyce blueprint is well known: his team is packed with strong, physical players and are difficult to defend against at set-pieces. Allardyce’s response to those who bring up the West Ham Way? The West Ham Way has been more about losing than beautiful football in recent years.
Certainly there is a resilience and organisation to this West Ham side that has not always been present in the past. Sides have found them difficult to break down – there have been three clean sheets in five matches - and three of the four goals they have conceded have been down to individual errors rather than the side being taken apart by the opposition. QPR will hope Jussi Jaaskelainen and James Collins are as erratic as they were against Swansea last month.
West Ham last visited QPR in the Premier League in April 1996 and despite winning 3-0, scores elsewhere conspired to send the home side down. The stakes might not be quite as high 16 years on, but this is a match QPR dare not lose.
Follow Jacob Steinberg on