Coming off two strong performances, the question facing QPR now is - are they for real?
Following a strong showing at home against Newcastle and a dominant performance at Wolverhampton, the fresh faces at the club have improved QPR's form and rallied the fan base. Now they are set to welcome an Aston Villa team that has drawn four times against only one victory in the league this year. Ambitions are running high, but QPR need to avoid the hangover of success, as demonstrated last month when they came off an upset victory at Everton only to flop against a lesser opponent at Wigan.
Given what we've seen so far, QPR are capable of winning this game, if they can maintain their pace and defensive discipline. Aston Villa are a proud club, and despite their struggles, this will be a test of the quality Warnock's men can produce week in and week out. If they continue to play with the urgency and focus that they brought to the pitch against Newcastle and Wolves, three points should come on Sunday. If they're complacent, or thinking about the fixtures against some of the league's best that loom just ahead, this has the danger of becoming a trap game and a missed opportunity.
Alex McLeish's run at Aston Villa has been tough sledding so far, with his side's only victory coming at home against Blackburn a month ago. Since then, they've stumbled to a draw against Wolves; had to battle back to earn out a point against Everton; were held on to a one-one draw against Newcastle at Villa Park and were knocked out of the Carling Cup by Bolton earlier this week.
QPR fans need to temper expectations a bit heading into this fixture, as Villa, despite the departure of their core talent this summer, are still a tough opponent. Their strike force is not as intimidating as past seasons, and the Hoops chances are bolstered by the injury to Darren Bent which will sideline him for this week's tilt. The task of breaking through for Villa will fall to Gabriel Agbonlahor, who has stepped up his play this year, scoring in three of his last four league games.
However, with the way the R's have been playing, they have a good chance to take a point here if not more, but will have to continue their strong mid-field and defensive play. If the same starting eleven come out of the tunnel at Loftus Road this weekend, victory is possible. Expect to see aggressive defender Armand Traore test the half-backs, adding another dimension to the R's attack that has steadily improved in the last two weeks. Hopefully Adel Taarabt can get more involved in play this week, after a match where he seemed too tentative trying to defer to his teammates. His game is adjusting a bit this season, but when he starts clicking with rest of the offense, he can be as dangerous as anyone in this match up.
This should be a good contest, and the importance of coming away with points has to be reiterated, as the schedule only gets tougher from here. Following Villa, QPR face Fulham, get a brief respite against Blackburn, and then square off in a West London Derby against Chelsea, followed by matches against Spurs, City and Stoke. This is going to be one of the toughest stretches QPR face all year. Going in with a head of steam is crucial to keep the team competitive in the league table.
Come on you R's!
What's all the fuss about?
I'm late getting back to this, but let me close with a few thoughts on this "controversy" surrounding Joey Barton.
Barton riled the Twitterati this week, taking to cyberspace to lambaste Wolverhampton captain Karl Henry as a 'Sunday league player' following their contentious meeting last Saturday.
The pious denouncements and endless "when will it end?" columns wasted on this latest dust up involving the QPR skipper glossed over a minor detail - that he was right.
If Karl Henry doesn't want to be called an amateur, he should stop acting like one.
None of the coverage I've read bothered to mention the countless unnecessary fouls against Barton and other QPR players as the game went on, including the nasty tackle in the corner Henry committed at the end of the game. It was a foul in any league or language, yet the ref standing right over them ignored it. Call that reputational karma - a bit of "see no evil" in response to Barton's conspicuous personality. Were it Barton doing that to Henry, he'd have been shown the exit immediately. The fact is that Wolves were unprepared from the whistle, and took to dirty play rather than trying to get back in the game. Barton tossed gas on the fire - bad PR I suppose - but he wasn't off-base.
Henry responded later, complaining of Barton's motor-mouth during the game and taunts to his opponents. Was number seventeen mocking Wolves players about the number of zeros in his paycheck? I don't doubt it. Unless my television was broken, I saw him on a field with grown men. Are their skins so thin that a colorful comment or jape should cut so deep? Or are we to intuit that the "professional" response then was to send reckless tackles when the game was out of hand?
Barton's no innocent, nor would I claim him to be. His opening day tangle with Gervinho was a reminder that he's a passionate footballer and not someone to expect a quiet day at the office from. Frankly, that's what I like about him. Call him whatever you like, but you can't call him boring. More often then not that tenacious spirit puts his club in a position to win, not lose. If he starts seeing red and costing us goals, then we can talk about a controversy.
The biggest consequence of this "story" was the distraction it created from QPR's great performance. Neil Warnock summed it up perfectly, saying:
"The disappointment for me was that all that was talked about was Barton and Henry when the performance was the best team performance I've ever had as a team. I thought the individuals in the team were absolutely magnificent but that only got one paragraph, which was disappointing. I explained that to Joey and he understood that. I think it was just a one-off because of the previous that they have had together."
Warnock's point - the match was more important than the feud - is right. Barton's post-match talking took the focus off the game, and the media noise machine sprung up around this little spat to make much more of the "event" than it really was. I too would rather be talking about the evolution of Alejandro Faurlin's skills or how a DJ Campbell / SWP pairing up front in a 4-4-2 would look (answer: deadly fast, no headers).
In the end this affair should be chalked up to the long history the two players came into the game with. I'm sure this isn't the last ride we'll have on this merry-go-round, but for now QPR have bigger things to focus on.
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