Rangers are watertight at the back but lack of goals remains a concern
QPR’s narrow win over Charlton Athletic on Saturday afternoon neatly encapsulated their season: solid, stubborn and unspectacular.
It is hard to remember too many occasions this season when Harry Redknapp’s side have thrilled their own fans with breath-taking displays of attacking football.
Home wins against Derby County, Barnsley and Middlesbrough all produced quality in fits and starts, but QPR’s campaign thus far has been epitomised by hard work, perspiration, and not too many goals, a recipe which has taken them joint top of the Championship.
Saturday was a case in point; a largely forgettable 90 minutes lit up by one moment of outstanding quality from striker Charlie Austin, a 30-yard strike into the top corner which was enough to settle the contest. Another three points achieved with the minimum of fuss.
But should Redknapp be concerned by his side’s lack of goals? With Austin surrounded by such figures as Junior Hoilett (who was, admittedly, absent against Charlton through injury), Niko Kranjcar and Matt Phillips, there should be no problem in providing and scoring goals.
Yet Rangers have still managed only 18 goals this season. Of the top 14 sides in the division, only Wigan Athletic have scored fewer. Certainly it is a concern, and Rangers assistant manager Kevin Bond admitted it is a perplexing position for a team packed with so much quality.
“Harry’s teams have never been purposefully built on defence,” said Bond. “They have been built on flair and letting people play and he still wants that. But this situation has evolved. It puts pressure on the defence but as long as you keep your concentration you can keep clean sheets.”
That is, of course, the saving grace for QPR, a defence which looks among the most sound in the Championship this season. With Clint Hill and Richard Dunne at its heart, and full-backs as effective in attack as in defence, Rangers are virtually watertight at the back.
But it is goals that win games, and Redknapp will be hoping that Austin stays fit and injury-free, because if he does not, QPR may have a problem. The biggest concern is that while QPR have plenty of players capable of providing goals, they have few actual goal-scorers.
Austin has scored seven of their 17 goals. Joey Barton and Andy Johnson each have two, but Hoilett, never a frequent scorer, has notched only once in nine games. Phillips is yet to find the net in four appearances, and Kranjcar has one goal to his name in six matches.
None of this is cause for panic. QPR are functioning well as a unit, with a good balance between attack and defence. Redknapp may, of course, dip into the transfer market in January. Rangers are missing an Adel Taarabt-type figure, capable of unpicking defences.
Yossi Benayoun, the former Liverpool and Arsenal playmaker, was a name mooted, but that move failed to materialise.
A regular contributor from midfield is just about the last piece of the puzzle for Redknapp to fill. Until he finds it, QPR may face a few more difficult afternoons in front of goal.
image: © joncandy