Several teams have managed to put together some pretty decent runs in the Championship this season. All of them, though, are susceptible to poor form and bad results. This is partly because this is a tight league with little difference between top and bottom – especially compared with the Premier League – but also because few teams have the resources to really cope with injuries or suspensions.
Newcastle apart, it’s Queens Park Rangers who have probably received the most praise and media coverage over the last couple of months. Goals have been flying in from all angles, Derby were humiliated on terrestrial television and the passing style insisted upon by Jim Magilton has led to the club being dubbed ‘The Arsenal of the Championship’ on more than one occasion.
QPR, though, have problems. First of all they failed to find much flow against Leicester live on Sky and their winning run came to an abrupt end. A few days later they were denied again by a hard working Palace side who held them to a 1-1 draw. Even Rangers’ recent victory at Sheffield Wednesday needed a late winner to patch over a lack of fluency.
The cliche is that the top teams win even when they are playing badly, so in that respect the win at Hillsborough was an encouraging sign. Yet despite the individual brilliance of Akos Buzsaky, Adel Taraabt amd Wayne Routledge, QPR fans harbour concerns about how far their team can go this season.
The reason for this is The Captain Curse. Five separate players have already led the team out this season. Four of those players are currently injured. If Mikele Leigertwood was to be crocked in training this week, the chances are a sixth name would be added to that list. It’s only November!
Rangers are currently chronically low on genuine leadership. That’s not to say there isn’t plenty of endeavour. Defender Peter Ramage has a tremendous attitude. Wayne Routledge’s work ethic is outstanding for such a creative footballer. Jay Simpson is a tireless worker up front. But it feels like a quiet dressing room. Teams going for promotion need defiance, they need players in the team that will drive them forward when the going is tough. Sometimes, just playing great football isn’t quite enough.
It all started when poor Martin Rowlands suffered a second cruciate injury in a year while playing in a friendly for the Republic of Ireland, ruling him out for the rest of the season. It was a cruel blow for the QPR captain and also for the team because his energy, his drive and his snappy tackling add an extra dimension to the squad. Gavin Mahon took over the armband and the matchday programme notes as Rowlands prepared for a season watching from the sidelines. Mahon will have been with the club for two years in January and during that time he never missed a game through injury – until about a fortnight ago. He’s now out for four months following knee surgery. While not always a first team regular, Mahon is nevertheless a real leader and was captain of Watford the last time they paid a brief visit to the Premier League.
With defender Fitz Hall seemingly unable to put together a run of games in a QPR shirt without suffering injury, Rangers are certainly lacking a genuine captain. The possible signing on a permanent deal of current loan player Ben Watson in January would help (not least because QPR’s central midfield is now looking a bit thin), but ideally Rangers probably need something extra.
If the club is still in the top six after Christmas, it seems likely that Jim Magilton will be asking Chairman Flavio Briatore for a little more investment (Russell Martin of Peterborough is one name that has already been rumoured in the press). A couple of wise additions in January may well be enough to push Rangers over the line and back into the top flight for the first time in 14 years… unless The Captain Curse continues to strike down QPR’s leaders.