Promotion or failure for Redknapp
Nick Miller looks at QPR, Nottingham Forest and Birmingham in his latest Sky Bet Football League column.
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It would be a fairly spectacular understatement to say that the Sky Bet Championship is an unpredictable division.
Watford narrowly missed out on promotion twice last season (once automatically, once through the play-offs), but have spent much of this term nervously looking down rather than hopefully looking up. Leicester spent years throwing money at every conceivable problem, but after spending virtually nothing last summer, they're now by a distance the best team in the league. Burnley sold their best player, didn't sign anyone to replace him and are second.
This chaos is most neatly summed up by QPR, who began the season with a squad that looked stronger on paper than half a dozen teams in the Premier League, and with a manager who narrowly missed out on the England job, having taken Tottenham to fourth, fifth then fourth in his last three seasons there. They should, in theory, be the team 13 points clear of second place, rather than Leicester.
As it is, they are in fourth and, if their current form doesn't turn round pretty dramatically and pretty quickly, they are more likely to slip out of the top six than jump back into the top two. It was therefore not a massive surprise that stories emerged in the press (most notably The Times, not a paper prone to hyperbole in these things) that the QPR board were at least considering making a change.
Redknapp was, of course, bullish in his rebuttal of such talk. "There is always somebody who people talk to and they don't like you and want to stick the boot in," he told TalkSPORT, whose presenter admirably managed to stop themselves bursting into fits of laughter at the idea of Redknapp complaining that the press might harm his career.
"This is the first blip we've had all season, it can happen. We have put a new team together and if you said at the start of the season that we'd make the play-offs, we'd have been quite happy."
Redknapp cannot possibly think that, given the investment made and the experience in his squad, anything other than a rapid return to the Premier League was acceptable to the Rangers hierarchy. Obviously his words were an attempt at self-preservation, but his assertion that the naysaying only stems from QPR's recent run (they have collected just two points from the last five games) is misleading.
QPR have in fact been living off their outstanding start to the season for a couple of months now. Since the start of December, they have won six from 15, collecting 22 points from a possible 45, a points-per-game ratio that if applied to a full season would give 67 points, a total only enough for eighth place last season and one that Leicester reached after 29 games this term. They have scored just 38 goals, fewer than any team bar one in the top half, and fewer than Bolton, who are in 18th place.
Redknapp also points to injuries, especially to top-scorer Charlie Austin, and squad turnover (18 players left in the summer while 19 came in) for their sluggish performance, which are both understandable excuses, but again both are misleading.
The change in personnel is of course a problem, but logically one would think that would only be an issue at the start of the campaign, when the high turnover would make it difficult to knit a team together. However, QPR won nine and drew two of their opening 11 games, which would seem to suggest this was not the case, and Redknapp actually dealt with the churn pretty well, so to blame it for their latter struggles does not make much sense.
The injury situation is another that Redknapp seems to have exaggerated the impact of. Niko Kranjcar, Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Gary O'Neil, Bobby Zamora, Charlie Austin, Matt Phillips and Danny Simpson all missed the draw against Leeds at the weekend, and Joey Barton was suspended, but Redknapp was still able to field a team that, including the three substitutes, had 354 international caps between them. Every team suffers with injuries, but few in the Championship are so well-equipped to deal with them as QPR.
Austin's shoulder injury, which Redknapp is now more optimistic about after initially predicting he would miss the rest of the season, is of course a blow, but his absence merely serves to highlight how over-reliant QPR were on him for goals. Austin has 14 league goals to his name, and their next highest scorer is Matt Phillips, who has three, then six other players have two apiece.
A neat summary of QPR's situation came when they recruited Ravel Morrison from West Ham on an 'emergency' loan. All but one or two other clubs in the division would mend and make do when faced with injury problems - QPR spent who knows how much on the wages of a player touted for the England World Cup squad not too long ago.
The play-offs would not be a disaster. After all, West Ham used that route to go up in 2012 when in a similar position and they're doing well now, but QPR really should not be in this situation. Given their resources, if QPR do not win promotion this season, Redknapp will have failed, no matter how many excuses he gives.
Another manager bemoaning injury problems is Billy Davies at Nottingham Forest. Jack Hobbs was the latest to go lame this weekend, when an ankle problem ruled him out for the remainder of the season.
Davies said after Forest's 4-1 defeat to Wigan on Saturday: "If somebody had said to me that this football club would lose eight or nine of the players we are missing and still be in the top six with 13 games to go, I would say they would probably think we were delusional. Absolutely delusional."
As with Redknapp, Davies is overstating things somewhat. It's true that Forest have been struck with not just injuries, but injuries to key players, with Kelvin Wilson, captain Chris Cohen, Henri Lansbury, Hobbs and player of the season Andy Reid out for periods of varying length.
However, Hobbs, Lansbury and Reid have respectively played 27, 26 and 28 league games this season, and the form of youngster Jamaal Lascelles has lessened the impact of Wilson's injury. Only Cohen's absence has significantly impacted on Forest's performance, and even that problem was solved to an extent with the recruitment of Danny Fox in January.
Forest's injury issues could extinguish any faint hopes they might have harboured of automatic promotion, but with the players Davies has had at his disposal, to say expecting a top six finish is delusional is, well, delusional itself.
Yeung was found guilty in a Hong Kong court after he could not account for how around £7.7million came to be in his bank account, with the judge describing him as "self-contradictory" and "not a witness of truth."
Given that Yeung stepped down from all his roles associated with Birmingham in February it's unlikely that this will make too much material difference to the running of the club, but it might be a further step towards its sale, and thus hopefully loosening the financial constraints that have hampered manager Lee Clark for the last two seasons.
A spokesman for fans' organisation the Blues Trust told the BBC: "We hope that today's verdict marks the beginning of a new era, where we are able to put this troubling period behind us as soon as possible."
Alas, given the recent history of Birmingham and Yeung's involvement, that hope might not come with too much expectation.