NE­DUM BE­COMES MARATHON MAN

One-time speed­ster in for the long-haul with Rangers

The Football League Paper - - NEWS - By Paddy von Behr

LIFE in the Cham­pi­onship has been a marathon for for­mer sprinter Ne­dum On­uoha who beat Team GB’s Craig Pickering in a 100m dash when they were both 14.

On­uoha, 27, is now pre­par­ing for a play-off cam­paign with Rangers, des­per­ate to turn out in the Pre­mier League again come Au­gust.

He’s had his chance in the top flight be­fore, play­ing 95 games for Manch­ester City and cap­tain­ing the side.

But the bril­liant stu­dent, who re­ceived three A-grades at Alevel in maths, busi­ness stud­ies and IT, was not wanted by Roberto Mancini and left on loan to Sun­der­land be­fore join­ing QPR two years ago un­der for­mer City boss Mark Hughes.

With Harry Red­knapp in charge this sea­son, Rangers had been ex­pected to storm the sec­ond tier with their squad packed with talent and the ex­pe­ri­ence of Richard Dunne, Niko Kran­j­car and Rob Green.

Ath­leti­cism

But cen­tral de­fender On­uoha says it is easy to un­der­es­ti­mate the strains of what could now be a 49-game league sea­son for the R’s.

“It is a dif­fer­ent type of tough­ness in the Cham­pi­onship – there are so many games and there is al­ways a quick turn­around,” he said.

“Most of the squad had never played in the Cham­pi­onship be­fore. We might have some of the best play­ers but if you have not played in the Cham­pi­onship, you don’t know what it’s about.

“It is very, very dif­fer­ent. In terms of the ef­fort you could ar­gue that you have to do more phys­i­cally than in the Pre­mier League on a week-by-week ba­sis.”

On­uoha re­tains the ath­leti­cism which saw him clock 11.09 for sec­ond place in the fi­nal of the 2001 English Schools’ Ath­let­ics As­so­ci­a­tion Ju­nior 100 me­tres, beat­ing Pickering in the process.

He is also still the co-na­tional record holder for boys un­der 15 stand­ing triple jump.

He says: “I have been play­ing pro­fes­sional foot­ball now for ten years so this is a time when you have learnt a lot about the game and about yourself and you un­der­stand the game a lot more.

“My­self and lots of other play­ers wanted to play in the Pre­mier League with QPR. We do have a duty to get the club back in the po­si­tion we want it to be.”

One thing QPR can boast above all else in the di­vi­sion is depth – Ju­nior Hoi­lett, Kevin Doyle and Bobby Zamora all came off the bench against Mill­wall last weekend.

On­uoha him­self has been bat­tling for a cen­tral de­fen­sive berth with vet­er­ans Dunne, Clint Hill and Aaron Hughes but he knows fewer per­sonal op­por­tu­ni­ties are a good omen for the fi­nal stretch.

“Very few play­ers have played ev­ery game this sea­son so hope­fully things work out our way,” he said. “There will be play­ers who have been rel­a­tively fresh com­ing into it and they can add some­thing dif­fer­ent.

“I would have liked to have played more. I got quite a se­ri­ous ham­string in­jury at the start of the sea­son and when I came back in Richard Dunne and Clint Hill were do­ing very well. You can’t ar­gue with that.

Im­por­tant

“It is time to knuckle down and show you de­serve a place. I think it is one of those things in sport – you can’t take your foot off the pedal be­cause then you have missed your op­por­tu­nity.”

For On­uoha, main­tain­ing those lev­els is not just im­por­tant to stay in the team, but also to en­sure Rangers have hit their stride by the time that semi-fi­nal first leg kicks off.

Fol­low­ing de­feat in all three away trips last month, the for­mer Eng­land U21 in­ter­na­tional knows prepa­ra­tion has not been per­fect – but any­thing can hap­pen in the play-offs.

He added: “You tend to see in years gone by that it is the teams who have won seven out of their last ten that are the teams to avoid in the play-offs – the ones that slip into that last spot off the back of a good run. It is only go­ing to give you more con­fi­dence.

“It would be dis­ap­point­ing not to go up. At the start of the sea­son that was the one clear goal. But that goal is still within our grasp.”

PIC­TURE: Ac­tion Im­ages

CON­CEN­TRA­TION: Ne­dum On­uoha, left, and Wat­ford’s Daniel Tozser in ac­tion

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