It’s not been the fairytale start to Ian Holloway’s second reign as manager QPR fans were hoping for. A month after his return, Rangers have lost three in a row and slipped to 18th in the Championship table. Reality has quickly bitten.
A different QPR now
While the atmosphere at Loftus Road for the Norwich match was at times reminiscent of Holloway’s first spell, the Wolves game highlighted what it has been like more recently – and the reasons why.
Yes, it was an evening televised game, but the attendance – surely significantly lower than the 12,000-odd advertised – was in large part the product of what has occurred off the pitch as well as on it, over a long period.
Any notion that Holloway single-handedly created the spirit and atmosphere fondly remembered from (part of) his first stint as manager is misguided.
Rangers were a different club with a different ethos, and Holloway – and as a result his reputation – benefited from that.
Attendances and the atmosphere were as much a result of work done behind the scenes, where there was an emphasis on affordable pricing and growing, or at the very least maintaining, the fan base.
Holloway was also fortunate that the players a generous budget allowed him to sign included two lifelong fans in Kevin Gallen and Marc Bircham, who both wanted to play for QPR, as well as others with a similar passion.
That isn’t to take away from the job Holloway did. It’s a reflection of the very different job now facing him. There is no Bircham – in the team at least – or Gallen, and there are plenty of empty seats, notably in the Loft.
It’s a malaise that’s been created over time and while Holloway more than anyone can improve the situation, it probably can’t be radically changed quickly, or by him alone. The club as a whole has to get things right in the way it did previously for things to really change.
The Sandro contradiction
Once upon a time, some were baffled that Sandro was being excluded. Now it’s the rest of us, who regarded that exclusion as obvious, who are baffled.
Sandro’s recall is a very strange contradiction of everything Ian Holloway is supposed to stand for, his spot-on analysis of QPR’s problems during his time away from the club, and more importantly how he wants his team to play.
He’s insisted his team need to be ambitious, brave and committed. And then he’s picked Sandro.
Minds have been made up on both sides of the argument over whether the player has been a victim of the modern-day QPR or the embodiment of it.
What can’t be disputed is that his fitness levels are nowhere near the required standard, haven’t been since the day he was signed, and, crucially, there is no prospect of that changing because unlike most players his fitness tends to suffer rather than improve with more game time.
Leaving aside the purely ethical arguments over whether Sandro should play, his inclusion makes little sense in football terms.
Holloway wants to play open, expansive football. He has placed a huge emphasis on the importance of ‘restarts’, ordering his players to spread out rather than bunch up at goal-kicks for example.
But then he’s put a creaking Sandro in a key position, which was always likely to result in the new open, attacking Rangers being easily cut apart in midfield – and it has.
Retro QPR, or Blackpool?
Holloway has returned amid a wave of QPR nostalgia, which he’s indulged with the inevitable soundbites and rallying calls.
However, it’s been noticeable how much of his core message – more so in dealing with the players than fans – has actually involved him harking back to his time at Blackpool, not QPR.
Perhaps that’s unsurprising given the success he had there, but they are very different clubs in very different situations. And make no mistake, Holloway was specifically appointed to try to recreate something he previously had at QPR, not Blackpool.
Holloway though has placed a huge emphasis on recreating the attacking zeal and willingness of his players to “commit to” his methods that existed at Blackpool, frequently stating that it’s “about being on the best trip I’ve ever been on” – a reference to the song sung by Blackpool fans during his spell there.
The Rangers ‘trip’
Speaking of trips we’re on, QPR’s is an attempted trip back to where it used to be.
This has involved bringing in younger, less experienced players with development potential.
The theory has been widely applauded, but in practice it’s not easy. By its very nature, this ‘trip’ was always going to take time and include bumps along the way.
Rangers have assembled a set of decent players with some promise, but who need a year or two more of Championship football under their belts.
Arguably the last thing they need is to now be bombarded with instructions based on what the manager has seen top European sides do.
That would be a lot to take on board for developing players still finding their feet in the Championship, never mind trying to become the Barcelona of it.
That doesn’t mean Holloway’s approach is wrong. Its success has been proven, it’s in keeping with QPR sides of old and how most players want to play.
But he needs to be careful that his great strength, which is his boundless enthusiasm, doesn’t become his great weakness.
Amid all that goes on in his hundred-miles-an-hour mind, he has to filter his instructions in such a way that empowers his young squad rather than confuses or overburdens it with information.
Wrong results, right approach
Three defeats in a row have made Holloway’s honeymoon a wet weekend, but maybe the outlook isn’t so bad.
There have been some good signs and some progress made. He has already done much of what he was expected to.
He was brought in to raise the morale of fans and players. He has in large part done so, although a win is certainly needed now.
He was brought in to liven things up, play a more entertaining brand of football and frankly end the tedium. He has certainly done that. It’s not boring or negative now, is it?
And, recognising that Rangers are well stocked with central defenders and midfielders, he immediately came up with a system that made the most of this while also playing with two up front.
Correct steps have already been taken to improve things. Now the hope must be that results follow.
So, to coin a phrase, keep calm and carry on. Or at least as calm as is possible with Ian Holloway around.