Three games into 2013, Queens Park Rangers might still be bottom of the Barclays Premier League, but unlike the majority of 2012, there seems to some small light for long-suffering Rangers fans. So far the new year has seen back-to-back clean sheets for the first time since September 2011, a win against their local rivals Chelsea followed by the Premier League 0-0 draw with Tottenham Hotspur, and even hope that they won’t succumb to their traditional FA Cup third round exit – all though that maybe stretching things a tad too far, with a replay to come on Wednesday night.
It all means that so far Rangers are yet to taste that bitter pill of defeat that had dominated most of the first half of the season, with the latest display providing yet more encouragement in their battle against the dreaded drop.
It wasn’t vintage by any standards, not for QPR, not for Spurs and especially not for the Premier League. But the goalless draw, coming off the back of the win at Stamford Bridge, has given Harry Redknapp’s men renewed belief that mission impossible can be achieved this season. It might have been billed as a fiery battle between Redknapp and his old employers, but the game failed to live up to that billing - and much of the credit must go to QPR for doing so in a game that the side would easily have lost under Mark Hughes.
Rangers battled and scrapped for every ball, and for most of the game kept Jermain Defoe and Emmanuel Adebayor at bay. While Aaron Lennon and Gareth Bale weren’t afforded space to exploit on a tight Loftus Road pitch, thanks to solid performances from Nedum Onuoha and Fabio on the flanks.
And when Spurs did manage to breach the Rangers backline, Julio Cesar was up to the task, pulling off some top-draw saves – including a stop from Defoe’s 20 yarder that will no doubt be among the season’s finest. No, it wasn’t all perfect, with the home side’s attacking threat limited to Adel Taarabt’s ‘false number nine’ role, but the collection of four points from games against two of the tables top four is a much better haul than most QPR fans expected.
Last season the R’s great escape hinged on games against the league’s top-six teams, (to everyone’s surprise), and having amassed points against Chelsea and the white half of North London, Redknapp’s next concern is to build on that momentum and pick up points in games like next weekend’s trip to Upton Park. QPR were comfortably out-played by the Hammers in the reverse fixture earlier in the campaign, but with renewed vigour and a back-four that finally looks like it won’t concede a goal every time someone attacks, this writer would like to think that Rangers could go there with genuine expectations of keeping the unbeaten run going in 2013.
What will be interesting to see is if Redknapp keeps to the same system that has worked reasonably well in the last two games. As mentioned, Rangers maverick Taarabt currently finds himself in this new role as the point of the side’s attack. With Jamie Mackie offering the endeavour and industry one side, and Shaun Wright-Phillips at least trying to pose an attacking the threat the other (for what it’s worth I thought he had a decent game yesterday despite the boo-boys constantly on his back).
It worked well enough to earn three points at Chelsea, but at times yesterday attacks often broke down quickly when Taarabt came deep to receive the ball. With three strikers on the bench it may have been surprising that Harry didn’t at least try and change things up, but in the end the risk was seen as too big, and the need to keep Bale and co at bay was much more of a priority. At Upton Park, it may be different, and we could well see DJ Campbell get the chance us R’s fans desperately want him to have – he’s one of us after all.
What is for certain is that we’re in January and thanks to the positive start to 2013, Rangers are still in with a shout at the bottom of the table – and with two weeks of a transfer window to improve the squad too. QPR fans have come accustom to the roller-coaster ride of this football club, but 2013 is already proving to be a lot more fun than its predecessor. Fingers will be crossed it continues.