Mark Hughes is in a mess and he is not sure how to get out of it.
All he knows is that everything he knew last week could be wrong and he needs to come up with a new plan. Whether he will be given time to do that is unclear, as Queens Park Rangers' owners will meet this week to discuss whether to keep faith with the manager whose team have not won all season and were cast even further adrift at the bottom of the Premier League by Saturday's 3-1 home defeat to Southampton.
The manner of the loss to the team in 19th place seems to have shattered Hughes's confidence in his players and his approach. Just one day before that match he had radiated optimism, declaring that his team were on the right track and, once injuries abated and he was able to field a settled side, they would soar up the table and fulfil the club's pre-season prediction of a top-half finish.
He was able to deploy an unchanged lineup against Southampton for the first time this season and his team were trounced; and now Hughes says they are at risk of relegation and he has to shake up things.
That process began with a dressing-room tongue-lashing from the manager immediately after the defeat. "I think we're at a point where we're so disappointed with what we produced that something needed to be said," Hughes said. "Whatever I said will obviously remain private but I was well within my rights to say everything that I said. We're at a point where we need to understand where we are. We're not talking about a successful mid-table finish now.
"Given the manner of the performance we have to accept that we're in danger of going down. The sooner we recognise that we will get the right mentality to move us forward. And maybe the right players. And I take responsibility for that. Obviously, given the performance, I picked the wrong players."
On Friday he was convinced those were the right players, dismissing supporters' suggestions that some of the glamorous summer recruits seemed to lack the stomach for battle. The Loftus Road crowd repeated those concerns throughout the defeat to Southampton, chanting "you're only here for the money" at various supposed stars and cheering when Hughes withdrew José Bosingwa, the former Chelsea full-back whose displays this season have attracted particular derision.
Hughes says fans are mistaken about the players lacking motivation but right about them being in the wrong frame of mind. He thinks that could be part of the problem.
"I can understand totally the frustration of the fans and they're well within their rights to say that, but I can assure them that's not the case," Hughes said. "Everyone is working really hard to turn this around but we just didn't function as a team. It was an enigma. It was a real puzzle in terms of why we produced what we produced.
"We have to understand that when you go into Premier League games you have to have a certain mentality, you have to get a foothold in the game and then progress from that point. We're finding it very difficult to understand [what happened]. I picked the same team as I did against Stoke, where we played really well, but the same team didn't function. We prepared in the same way – obviously factoring in the strengths of the opposition – but for whatever reason, whether it was the significance of the game in which you need to step up, we lacked the mental strength. We need to understand that we need to compete and give what's required. Sometimes we look a little bit naive and dumbstruck by what's going on."
It was perhaps significant that in the second-half against Southampton Hughes introduced Jamie Mackie and Shaun Derry, two of the players who helped get the club into the Premier League last year but who have featured little since his purchase of perceived more high-profile names.
Is Hughes about to turn back to these players in the belief that they are more likely to have the right mentality? "I have to look at the makeup of the team because [the Southampton match] can't be allowed to pass without changes being made in terms of personnel. We have to look at who we've got and get the balance right."
One part of the personnel that the manager does not think needs to be changed is ... the manager. "Stability is absolutely what this club needs long term," he said. "Along with that, until you get to the point where you're established in the Premier League, you have to go through periods where there are doubts and apprehension about what the future holds. But making wholesale changes again at this club would be the wrong decision. You would expect me to say that but I honestly believe it. We just need to get through this and look back and I think we needed to go through that period to grow stronger. It's difficult for everybody but we're not going to run away from it."
The club's foremost shareholder, Tony Fernandes, left, was not at the game on Saturday but his tweets, previously so effusive in their support for Hughes, have taken a grimmer tone. "Everyone including me let the fans down," he tweeted in the wake of the Southampton debacle. "Many of us need a hard look at themselves. QPR has amazing fans. They deserve better."
This week Fernandes will consider the next step along with the co-owner Amit Bhatia and Fernandes's fellow Malaysian backers Ruben Gnanalingam and Din Kamarudin.
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