By Chris Davie at Loftus Road
With 32 games to go, it's not time for Mark Hughes to panic just yet. But the QPR boss will be struggling to find the light at the end of the tunnel after a dark defeat against West Ham on Monday evening.
QPR are still without a win in the Premier League this season and despite a solid performance against Chelsea, as well as a promising first half in their 2-1 defeat away to Tottenham last month, Hughes' men look short of ideas required to reverse their current predicament which sees them propping up the table with two points from six games.
The method which Hughes opted to dissect a sturdy West Ham defence at Loftus Road was a 4-4-2 system which paired Djibril Cisse and Bobby Zamora together in attack for only the second time this season. The duo were starved of service for the majority of the encounter, only linked up on the rare occasions they were given passes into their feet, and came away from the match with little more than a half-chance between them.
In the first half, Shaun Wright-Phillips on the right flank looked bright when in possession but the winger carved QPR's significant chances through cut backs towards the edge of the area, rather than flashing low balls across the six-yard box for Zamora and Cisse.
On the other side of the pitch, Park Ji-Sung showed why he was recruited from Manchester United as a central midfielder, rather than a wide player, as the South Korean struggled to make inroads going forward, while he frequently failed to help Clint Hill deal with the threat of Ricardo Vaz Te.
Taking the place of the QPR captain in central midfield were the duo of Esteban Granero and Alejandro Faurlin, who both looked uncomfortable in possession, a shadow of their first-half display against Tottenham, and were overwhelmed by the superb trio of Mohamed Diame, Kevin Nolan and Mark Noble.
Granero's performance in particular will be of concern for Hughes. Brought from Real Madrid, the Spaniard is schooled in the art of retaining possession and effectively distributing the ball to launch attacks, as well as finishing chances in the final third. On Monday evening, Granero failed to deliver on all counts. However, Hughes' 4-4-2 system must take some of the blame as his midfield was flooded with West Ham players from the outset.
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Adel Taarabt, the player who QPR fans pinned their hopes on this time last year to secure the club's Premier League survival, made an instant impact 81 seconds after coming on as he laid the foundations for a revival with his stunning effort leaving Jussi Jaaskelainen rooted to the spot.
But the Moroccan struggled to influence proceedings further as West Ham clammed up to protect their lead. Cisse and Zamora's movement became too predictable but the frustration born out of failing to create clear-cut chances was met with QPR pushing their direct approach further. Samba Diakite's dismissal for two bookable offences within 19 minutes of coming on as a substitute further took the wind out of the hosts' resurgence.
QPR's biggest worry however, aside from a lack of creativity, is their defence which is in need of major repair. After the match, Hughes conceded that he is still unaware of his best starting side at Loftus Road, pointing to a squad riddled with injuries as to why he couldn't grant a more specific answer.
Perhaps he has a case though. Ryan Nelsen and Stephane M'Bia, who made his debut for QPR on Monday, was Hughes' fourth different centre-back pairing in the league this season and we're only six games into the campaign. There hasn't been a continuity which needs to flow through a defence which in turn breeds confidence and assuredness.
M'Bia's debut was positive, however, and the Cameroon international looked a cut above his midfield team-mates when in possession and under pressure at the back from Carlton Cole, who spent most of the evening hunting down loose balls.
What Hughes can take from his side's defeat to West Ham is the knowledge that he hasn't the personnel to play a 4-4-2 to counteract a 4-5-1 formation - even at home. If every team mixes guile with relentless work rate in the same manner as Diame, Nolan and Noble, QPR will struggle to control the midfield in any game they play in this season regardless of venue.
West Ham fans know all too well the position QPR find themselves in at the moment. The start Hughes' side have made to the campaign is worse than that of Avram Grant's opening six fixtures at Upton Park two seasons ago which subsequently let to the club's demotion to the Championship.
QPR have spent a vast amount revamping the squad but it's now up to Hughes to finally pin down his first-choice side and inject cohesion and continuity into a team which currently looks like a relegation candidate in a tailspin.
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