Steve assesses the performances by Queens Park Rangers thus far in a positive start to the Championship campaign.
Half term? I suppose it is, but the trains don`t seem any emptier. However, I think it is an opportune time to gather my thoughts on the season so far.
An overall mark? I guess that depends on the objective. Against progress towards promotion? Probably a C. We`re hovering just outside the play off zone as I write, with a game in hand that could take us within touching distance of an automatic promotion slot. BUT the game in hand is not a foregone conclusion, QPR are adept at finding banana skins in a vegetable patch. Losing that game, and we`re short of a play off spot, which is not particularly good progress, a C in those circumstances could therefore be a shade generous.
On recent form, I would award a B, if not an A, but we took a long time to get going, so taking the half term as a whole this reduces the overall grading. So a C does seem appropriate.
If grading is relative to other teams, then a B fits, but should we be grading ourselves relative to our peers and not against the absolute goal of promotion? I think not.
"What about the football?" I hear you ask. Again a half term of two halves, recently it`s been excellent , but the first 6 games weren`t too good, were they? An improvement on last season though? Definitely! B. Although I must admit to my faith being tested in September.
Looking beyond the Palace game, there are challenges to be faced. Sheff Wed (A), Middlesboro (H), West Brom (A), Sheff Utd (H) could all deliver disappointments, and the rest are by no means certain. But we must maintain our recent form if we are to improve upon our half term grade. Anything less will call for a stellar performance in the new term.
Having said that, I still believe our owners are serious about promotion this season, although I must say that belief took a dent with Crashgate. A dent, I emphasise, not a total write off as some other conveyances may have been. I still hold that "When you are accustomed to the glamour of F1, have a pedigree of success, and a stated goal for your current "project", you are unlikely to tolerate, for long, the mediocrity of a consolidated position mid way down the second tier of English football."
I believe those influences are still present at the club despite Crashgate, albeit muted at present. Barring a disastrous sequence of results, Jim has done enough to secure his job for the foreseeable future.
At the end of September, I suggested we could amass 18 further points by the end of November. We are half way to that total after 4 games with 5 to play. December sees the tough games already mentioned, so where we stand at the start of the new term will be a measure of the resurgence of Rangers. Will it be sustained or was it achieved through meeting weaker opposition?
Crashgate still looms over the club, but the hearing in Paris is not until the end of November. How long it will take and how long before a judgement is handed down, I have no idea. If the League still has to deliberate as a result, it will take a time to convene, assimilate the situation, and come to a verdict. We could be well into January by then.
And by then, the outcome of the December fixtures will be known. If we have faltered, as a result of my conviction that the owners are serious about promotion, I would expect significant activity in the transfer window to put the promotion push back on track. Even if we are flying high, I would still anticipate activity to bolster the squad, albeit on a less grand scale.
But the transfer window brings its own perils. Do we have cast iron guarantees that we will keep Simpson and Taarabt? Might we lose others if the price is right?
Other risks are injuries, disciplinary sanctions, and of course, the winter weather and quagmire pitches which will hamper Rangers (oh so beautiful) flowing style. But I believe that class will out, and with a strong squad, I am not mortified at the thought.
So a C, for the half term`s work, a vast improvement over last year after a slow start, but can do even better. I remain satisfied that the owners mean business this season, and that, on current performance, automatic promotion is a definite possibility.