On his first outing as manager of Queens Park Rangers away at Sunderland, Harry Redknapp earned the club a point. At this stage of a desperate season, when the most important line-up is the one for the lifeboats, three points would have been much more helpful. And last night's game has to go down as one of the least enlightening 90 minutes of football played in the top division. But one point was a lot better than recent form suggested would be obtained.
What Redknapp has to do in his new job is pretty straightforward: revive a corpse. If he manages it, his reputation will be solidified. Even if he fails, given the jeopardy of the situation into which he has stumbled, few will cast him as the one to blame. There are not many outside Dr Frankenstein who could lift QPR right now.
The principal problem at Loftus Road is not one of players, but of morale. There simply isn't any. The story is that Mark Hughes was alerted to the fractious nature of his dressing room by a distressed senior pro and was astonished to discover how bad things had got.
The squad was divided along so many lines — old signings not speaking to new arrivals, English players refusing to have anything to do with foreigners, young players not showing any respect to their seniors — it was almost as if everyone was looking out for themselves.
And this was Hughes's problem. It was not that his squad wasn't good enough on paper. He had brought in some reasonable players — in other circumstances Esteban Granero might have been regarded as the signing of the season. He could add these to a useful bunch of existing players — Shaun Derry, Adel Taarabt among them. Yet somehow the blend was never there. The ingredients refused to gel.
Redknapp will have quickly understood — as he watched from the directors' box at Old Trafford — that nowhere was Rangers' lack of cohesion more obvious than in their defending. At times this season it has been utterly woeful, not so much the occasional dip in concentration as a systematic failure of application.
Hughes may have gone by last Saturday, but the old failing was horribly in evidence against Manchester United. QPR were 1-0 up, with a precious three points but 35 minutes of robust resistance away, and they crumbled, their defending utterly shambolic, characterised by the hapless Anton Ferdinand.
So actually to retain a clean sheet last night on Wearside, albeit it against one of the division's most goal-shy operations, was probably the reason Redknapp insisted there could be grounds for optimism. A bit of organisation, a bit of grit in the form of Ryan Nelsen and the old timer Clint Hill and a bit of time for Ferdinand on the bench, and things could quickly resolve themselves.
But what Redknapp was most keen to tell the media afterwards was that he was pleased with the spirit of the team. And what else could he say? This bunch who could barely speak to each other during the previous manager's tenure is all he has. At least until January.
They have the skill and acumen to extract themselves from the mire. What they need is the will. That cannot come from outside. It has to come from within. From the moment he drove through the gates of the training ground — stopping to give a quick interview through the window of his motor — Redknapp will have known the most important thing he has to do is work on confidence. He will have been cracking jokes, ruffling hair, telling Taarabt he is the greatest player he has ever seen. It is not rocket science, but it is absolutely crucial.
It will only get him so far, however. Even if they are bubbling and bouncy, cheered up no end by the latest of Harry's gags, QPR still need to do something they have not yet managed this season in the league: win. Which means scoring more goals than the opposition. And while it is pretty self-evident what he had to do to shore up his defence — largely not allow Ferdinand anywhere near the pitch — solutions are not as simple in the matter of scoring.
Djibril Cisse, Jamie Mackie and Bobby Zamora are not going to get him the necessary goals. None are sharp enough to be the 15-to-20-goal poacher he will need over the rest of the season to see QPR to safety, while Zamora will not even be fit until February. For a forward, Hughes's judgment when it comes to buying frontmen has not been acute.
Redknapp will need a hefty chunk of Tony Fernandes's capital to resolve that issue. Darren Bent — disillusioned, disaffected and with a point to prove - seems already to be fluttering his eyelids from Villa Park in the direction of his old boss. But Redknapp was never convinced by his claims when they were together at Spurs.
The more likely target is an old friend. If I were Jermain Defoe's agent, I'd be anticipating a very productive start to the new year. For a start he will know he is in the strongest of negotiating positions: in many ways Redknapp doesn't have a lot of choice.
- Sports & Recreation
- Harry Redknapp