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Knives out for Mark Hughes?

By Bradley King



Only six league matches have been played by each Premier League team this season but, fairly or unfairly, the first managerial casualty may not be too far away. In the wake of Queens Park Rangers' 2-1 defeat to West Ham United Loftus Road on Monday, the knives are already being sharpened for Mark Hughes.

Hughes' star-studded QPR team, containing Julio Cesar, the former Internazionale goalkeeper, and Park Ji-Sung, the former Manchester United midfield player, surrendered to the hardworking Hammers after conceding first-half goals from Matt Jarvis and Ricardo Vaz Te. And while on reputation alone the players at the West London club should be enough to keep them up, status does not ensure survival.

It almost seems that QPR have undertaken a spontaneous recruitment policy defined by whoever has been surplus to requirements at larger clubs this summer. Jose Bosingwa and Fabio, for example, were among the 11 players drafted in despite Hughes' men already possessing adequate options in the likes of Clint Hill and Nedum Onuoha. The improvement in quality of player, when offset against other financial or morale factors, must be almost negligible.

As well as that, QPR's squad is enormous. When selecting their 25-man squad for the coming season, as per Premier League rules, they left out DJ Campbell, Luke Young, Radek Cerny, Jay Bothroyd and Rob Hulse. Only the latter two have been loaned out, along with serial dissenter Joey Barton, leaving the others to rot in the club's second string.

Surely the upheaval at the club must create an uncertainty. QPR have not started consecutive games with the same line-up so far this season. Jamie Mackie, who proved his worth last season with a series of dazzling performances on the wing, has found his opportunities harder to come by. Rob Green was brought in as first-choice goalkeeper, only to be ousted days later by the arrival of Julio Cesar in farcical circumstances. These scenarios sum up the cobbled-together nature of the team.

Is all of this a ruthless selection policy that keeps every player on his toes or does it actually stultify players' desire? Results and performances so far indicate the latter is the case.

It is still early days, however. Hughes left Fulham in a bid to fulfil his lofty ambitions and he clearly believes QPR offer him the platform to do so. Similarly, chairman Tony Fernandes has invested heavily in Hughes, and int he manager's philosophy. and so is not ready to sink the knife in just yet.

After the defeat to the Hammers, Fernandes tweeted: "Mark (Hughes) will sort it out. Look at his record . . . I am relaxed and confident . . .Keep calm. Six games does not make a season."

It is still too early to judge Hughes and six games do not make a season. But the Welshman will not get much longer to make a positive impression and, with West Bromwich Albion, Everton and Arsenal matches coming up, Hughes' disparate squad will have to show signs of drastic improvement. Otherwise, he will be favourite to win the dreaded sack race.