A TV TURN OFF
Aston Villa are on the box today... but that is not good news for Steve Bruce
JAMES PERCH knows exactly what relegation smells like. Two years ago, he was playing for Wigan when the toxic stench settled over the DW Arena.
FA Cup winners in 2013 and Championship play-off finalists 12 months later, budget cuts and managerial upheaval saw the Latics form take a nosedive the following season. And while Perch’s heroic efforts at the back clinched a second consecutive player of the year award, the former Newcastle defender was powerless to prevent Wigan slumping into League One. Fast forward to the present and Perch’s new side, QPR, find themselves in an equally unexpected dogfight. Since the end of August, the not-so Superhoops have won just three times, and only once in their last eight. They started the weekend three points above the dropzone and, depending on results yesterday, could yet spend Christmas inside it. Like the Latics in 2015, the Hoops boasted Premier League status two years ago. Like the Latics, they have resources and big names. And, like the Latics, they ditched their manager in November, swapping Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink for old favourite Ian Holloway. Do QPR need to worry about the parallels going further? Not according to Perch, who insists nobody at Loftus Road harbours a “too big to fail” mentality. “Maybe that’s what some people think but it’s certainly not the case from my point of view,” he insists. “I’ve seen what can happen to big clubs who get complacent. “Having said that, though, I’m not panicking about being down the bottom of the table. I’ve been in relegation scraps where you’re fighting desperately to get points and they just won’t come. “Week in, week out, there’s a real sense of ‘Where’s the next win coming from? How do we get out of this?’ You can’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. It was like that at Wigan. “Obviously it hasn’t gone well here and we are in a bad position. But I’ve never got that sense of desperation we’re so close to getting results. “We lost 1-0 to Derby in midweek but if you ask Steve McClaren or any
of their players, I’m sure they’d say we absolutely battered them. They’re one of the best footballing sides I’ve ever faced but we dominated.
“We went to Rotherham, outplayed them for 89 minutes and they ended up beating us thanks to a sloppy goal. On paper it looks bad but they lumped it for 90 minutes and we dealt with it really well. I’m convinced it will all click soon.”
Key to Perch’s confidence is the arrival of Holloway, back for a second stint at Loftus Road following a decade away that yielded Premier League promotions with Blackpool and Crystal Palace.
After the rigid fitness-focussed regime of Hasselbaink, Perch says Ollie’s famously offbeat and effervescent personality has lifted the dressing room.
“He’s really enthusiastic, really energetic,” adds Perch. “I was like everyone else – you see him on TV and you think ‘Is that really what he’s like or is it just a persona?’ But it really is him.
“He’s bouncing around, full of life. If anything, it’s a bit toned down for TV. In the flesh, he really is larger than life.
“I wouldn’t say it’s any easier, but it is perhaps more enjoyable. I’ve got no qualms with Jimmy. He brought me to the club and I would never criticise his work.
“But he had his own ways and the new manager has his. Now the focus is on getting everyone together, making them happy and getting everybody to feel more like a team. He wants everyone to love coming to work as much as he does. “I know some of the old Blackpool lads – I played with Keith Southern at Huddersfield and I’ve talked to others. They absolutely loved it and did everything together, on and off the field. “When you get an environment like that, it spreads onto the field. If one person is struggling in the game, the other dig in and help their mate out. “Looking at QPR in the past, it was a lot of talented individuals on big money but they weren’t really a team. Blackpool were the opposite of that and I think that’s what’s he’s trying to recreate.
“It’s completely different to the previous manager, so it will take a bit of getting used to. But once it clicks, results and confidence will follow.”
A fortnight ago, the visit of Aston Villa would have promised scant chance of breaking the dismal run. But the momentum garnered from Steve Bruce’s arrival in October has stalled of late, with two defeats in the last three damaging hopes of an immediate return to the top flight.
“When we saw them coming down you immediately think ‘Wow, Aston Villa, that will be a proper test’. You put them in the same bracket as Newcastle but they didn’t really live up to it.
“But you have to remember how much pressure they’re under. After what happened last season, it’s tough for those players. They’ll improve, I’m sure – but so will we.”
UNITED FRONT: QPR are more together now under Ian Holloway, says James Perch
BOUNCING: Ian Holloway has brought the fun back at QPR