Mark Hughes has made an immediate impact on QPR - reversing their losing ways with an FA Cup victory and a comfortable thrashing of Wigan at home - but his window to sign needed reinforcements is rapidly closing.
Appointed on January 10th to replace Neil Warnock, Hughes set his sights high and wide, chasing quality targets like Chris Samba, Alex, Nikica Jelavic and Brazilian youngster Henrique. To date he has failed to bring any of them in, and despite the masterful stroke to capture out of favour AC Milan left back Taye Taiwo on loan, the squad remains largely the same as the one he assumed control of two weeks ago.
There have been positive developments in his short reign - particularly the re-emergence of Akos Buzsaky - and the team has lifted itself out of the relegation zone for the moment. But strengthening is still needed and without improvement, Queens Park Rangers are far from safe.
The Hughes era is off to a good start - a strong performance at Newcastle kicked things off and showed a more aggressive approach by the R's. The ugly-but-effective win over MK Dons broke an eleven year drought in the FA Cup. This weekend's showing against bottom-table Wigan suggests the page may have turned for QPR, with the team working as a unit to attack the visitors again and again. The chatter about Hughes' impact on the players has been building and their performance - admittedly against the worst team in the league - was a stark contrast to some of their recent outings that were a showcase in poor defending and limp forward play.
The renewed sense of urgency on display on Saturday was a refreshing reminder that when properly motivated and working together, the Hoops can play well. Granted, they were pushing around a club with talent and confidence deficiencies, but Wigan gave them a match and had some nearly moments of their own. As the game progressed, QPR imposed their will, frequently testing keeper Ali Al Habsi and pressing high up the pitch to control the tempo and territory.
Jamie Mackie put in another respectable effort, creating chances and testing the defence. Joey Barton put himself back in the spotlight with some volatile comments about former manager Warnock before the match, but showed the form that appealed to the supporters when he arrived in August. He hustled after balls and played a physical defensive game, and the pairing with Buzsaky choked off passing lanes and forced Wigan to work in the wings for much of the match. Shaun Wright-Philips had a lively day, making good runs and keeping his passes tight and on target, culminating in his set up of Tommy Smith's 81st minute goal that sealed the win.
Buzsaky turned in a man of the match performance, aggressive on both sides of the ball and showing the deft free kick ability he had last season. His goal just before halftime set the crowd on fire - a bending free kick that cleared the wall and clipped the inside of the crossbar as it curled over the keeper. Supporters have been hoping to see another midfielder brought in to replace the injured Ale Faurlin, but the return of Buzsaky may save the club several million pounds and fill that place admirably. He'll get a tougher test against a pacy Chelsea midfield next week to show whether he's truly ready to compete at this level.
QPR have only one fixture before the end of the transfer window, but it's a massive one - the FA Cup Fourth Round clash against local rivals Chelsea. QPR edged a nine-man Blues team 1-0 at Loftus Road in October, in a match that saw Chris Foy's book frequently opened and the controversial intersection of race and sport between John Terry and Anton Ferdinand. There will be an excess of bad blood and West London pride flowing when they meet again, and spectators can expect a spirited fixture. The Taiwo signing is a boost, but one wonders whether it will be enough against a team with such depth as Chelsea. Their recent run of games haven't been a drumbeat to victory, and the continuing misadventures of Fernando Torres might give the Hoops a fighting chance, but they will need to play hard-nosed and mistake free if they hope to make a run at the cup.
As for the transfer market, the waters are murky at best. The move to secure Brazilian starlet Henrique collapsed this week after his work permit was rejected. Blackburn have (reasonably) shunned offers to sell off their best player in Samba. Alex is apparently exploring moves to better clubs, and the rumoured pay cut QPR asked him to take in exchange for regular playing time probably didn't do much to advance negotiations.
The transfer market is as fickle and unforgiving as the league, and there is precious time left to worry over unconsummated deals. News out of the African Cup of Nations suggests that unsettled midfielder Adel Taarabt is positive on the new manager and eager to stay with the team. If his relationship with the club can be salvaged and his talent put to use, he could return to his former status as the key instigator for the R's attack. With the midfield looking less of a priority, money is free to be spent on the other danger areas. The defence is still weak and could use another centre-back; and a striker to aid Heidar Helguson is still a requirement before time runs out.
For now the focus is on repeating the season's highlight moment and beating Chelsea again this weekend.
Come on U R'ssss!