Although I'll admit, even I thought QPR were going to earn their first win of the season on Saturday.
The team is still the same group of players. There are still those who don't look like they want to be there. There is still a lack of strikers and the defense is far from solid. However, Harry Redknapp has made a start on reinventing Queens Park Rangers as the type of side they ought to be.
The first thing Redknapp did when he was appointed manager was to criticize the players (via Evening Standard):
The players have to be at it. The buck stops with them. I know Mark [Hughes] lost his job, but it's down to the players. He could only do what he could do. The players have not performed to their potential. There are some good players here and they really need to step up and start performing. They are man enough to know they're to blame for the position we are in.
Blaming the squad probably did not endear him to them right away, but it was something that needed to be said. The Rangers' players are the ones on the pitch, and it is ultimately down to them as to whether they earn three or no points.
This was a sign of intent from the ex-Tottenham boss, and his philosophy regarding his team selection was music to many fans' ears (via The Sun):
I need 11 people with ability to put effort in. If they don’t, they’re not going to play and I’ll get 11 who do. I’m looking for people to graft and work. I’ve got no time for people who lose the ball and throw their hands up in the air or stand around with their hands on their hips.
This statement has rung true with many players already. Those in the blue-and-white hoops have already showed themselves to be playing with more heart in the games against Sunderland and Aston Villa. And Redknapp has noticed this as well, saying "QPR worked their socks off against Sunderland" (via BBC) and "We played well, and after a difficult start we came back and dominated the game" (via BBC).
Redknapp is also sticking by his ''put effort in or I'll drop you'' mantra: choosing players who are all hard-working on the pitch. The inclusion of Jamie Mackie and Clint Hill in the past two games are prime examples of that. With neither being given much of a chance by Mark Hughes, they have come into their own under Redknapp.
Dropping the only recognised striker in Djibril Cisse could have backfired, but Redknapp put his trust in Mackie against Villa, and he took his chance with both hands (and his head). His stellar performance and his sublime goal left Redknapp singing his praises, telling talkSPORT: "I thought [Mackie] worked hard. He gives you effort. He runs around. He works hard. He gives you honesty. If you had 11 Jamie Mackies, you wouldn’t be in this trouble, would you.''
However, he doesn't have 11 Jamie Mackies. He has a squad of past-successes and large egos, and has to find a team and a formation which gets the best out of the 10 other players standing beside Mackie on the pitch.
Redknapp played Esteban Granero on the left-side of midfield against Villa, and the Spaniard looked uncomfortable (via Sky Sports). After his fine start to Premier League life, Granero seems to have become disenchanted with the QPR ''project.'' Redknapp will need to find a position which enables him to play the football he wants.
Redknapp's decision to play Samba Diakite and Stephane Mbia as the holding midfielders, however, was a masterstroke (via Daily Telegraph). After Mbia had been placed in a variety of positions under Hughes, Redknapp seems to have found them both their ideal place on the pitch.
Redknapp's decision to play Adel Taarabt behind the forward was also a very good one tactically. Taarabt needs a free reign to be able to express himself and make the most of a situation. The Moroccan Magician did not have the greatest game in a QPR shirt in the first half vs. Villa. However he turned it around in the second and earned himself a place in the top-three ranked Rangers players (via WhoScored.com).
If Taarabt is consistently allowed the freedom from Redknapp that he so dearly wants, he could recapture some of the form that earned him the Championship Player of the Year Award in 2010-11 (via BBC).
Although the positives mentioned above are all well and good, there are still distinct failings in the QPR team at the moment. The lack of goals and the lack of confidence remain the two biggest concerns. And Redknapp is a realist and does not think getting out of trouble will be easy (via Daily Telegraph).
The biggest challenge the manager faces is not to fall foul of the Beverley Knight syndrome: Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda.
If the post-match press conferences continue into late December with sound bites such as "we shoulda won, if that goal had gone in we woulda got three points," and "we played like we coulda taken something from that," not long from now, Rangers will be out of time. And time is not something they have if they want to turn their season around.
So, what's the verdict so far for Redknapp? He's trying. He has started to get the players to resemble something of a team. He has them fighting for their shirt. He has a clearer idea of the starting XI. And he has a large group of the fans believing again.
But he will need to start his Houdini act fairly soon for that to mean anything come May.