For a team that has only won two games all season, the term ‘must win’ has become as common in W12 as Korean visitors to QPR’s club shop. It goes without saying that it’s been a horrible season for Queen's Park Rangers, as they conduct their A-Z of how not to stay in the Premier League, but this weekend sees the club cling to their faint survival hopes when they travel to St Mary’s to face Southampton.
After last weekend’s lacklustre display against Manchester United, manager Harry Redknapp called his belief in Rangers survival hopes as ‘crazy’ and you’d be close to crazy if you are thinking of backing the R’s to avoid the drop given their current predicament. The majority, both inside and outside of west London, have almost given up hope of Harry pulling off his Houdini mission, but the one ray of hope lies with Rangers' next run of games.
Starting with Saturday’s trip to the south coast, QPR then face a run of fixtures that includes away days at fellow strugglers Aston Villa and Reading, as well as home matches with Wigan and Stoke. Throw in an Easter Monday derby battle at Craven Cottage, and it gives you a number of winnable encounters that Rangers could realistically save their Premier League skins with. Problem is Rangers have been in these potential points winning games position before, and failed the test miserably.
That run begins at a ground Rangers have enjoyed some good days at since it’s opening in 2001, in fact they are unbeaten in their three visits to St Mary’s. However, the Saints team they’ll be facing this weekend will be easily the strongest they’ve faced on the South Coast, and one that has already beaten the R’s on their home turf earlier in the season. It was after that defeat in November, that Mark Hughes was relieved of his duties as QPR boss, so how poetic would it be now if Rangers beat Southampton and kicked-off a run that got them out of the mess that Hughes was ultimately responsible for.
With seven points now separating QPR from safety, and ten points between these two teams it’s easy to see why most Rangers fans are labelling this last chance, and yes that key phrase again ‘must win’. A victory would not only boost their survival hopes, on a weekend where Reading and Aston Villa face arguably tougher tests, but also drag Southampton back into the battle at the same time. Most in football condemned the club for getting rid of Nigel Adkins in January, but Mauricio Pochettino has carried on his good work, including out-playing champions Manchester City in the 3-1 win last time out at St Mary’s, and will be easy favourites come Saturday afternoon.
At the start of the season many would have predicted that it would be Southampton who would be more likely scrapping for their Premier League lives, but Saints have adapted to the top-flight by doing something QPR have failed to ever since being promoted; by sticking to system and players who earned them promotion, and adding players who both fit the ethos of the club and are hungry to do well for them. Compare that to Rangers summer activity and player turnaround since 2011, and perhaps gives an idea why the clubs find themselves in the positions they are in.
One of those players who has risen-up the leagues Rangers will have to watch is Rickie Lambert, who’s 12 Premier League goals this season makes him the divisions top English striker. While QPR will be relying on a strike-force they can barely get on the pitch, let alone score goals - even if Harry is now resting QPR’s hopes on injury hit pair Bobby Zamora and Loic Remy. Chris Samba should provide a meaty match for Lambert, but it will be only in vein if the R’s once again look so toothless in attack - Manchester United's Robin van Persie has scored the same amount of league goals as QPR this season.
For a team who’ve only won two games all season, every game really is a must win, and it’s hard to see how they are going to manage to double that total before the end of the season - but they are going to have to. Last season everyone wrote off QPR ahead of a ‘nightmare’ run-in that included the divisions top six teams, this time around the task looks much less difficult, yet the team looks much less quipped to repeat the great escape. A win at St Mary’s could change all that, and give Harry’s mission impossible a brand new lease of life.