My stunned disbelief was instantly overwhelmed by the rush of unadulterated joy. Hoilett’s determination, Zamora’s precisely placed shot, Grant’s despairing dive, the bulging of the net; they were all lost in a blur. As Zamora raced towards a section of QPR supporters before being engulfed by his jubilant team-mates, the eastern half of Wembley Stadium erupted. The tension which had dominated the previous 90 minutes was instantly expelled as the sea of blue and white celebrated with a thunderous roar. Isolated outbreaks of ‘Pigbag’ were lost in the excitement, before everyone united to toast the goalscorer with chorus after chorus of “Oh Bobby Zamora”. Flags were waved triumphantly, hands were stretched up to the heavens, voices were stronger than ever before... “Oh Bobby Zamora”.
Bobby Zamora’s recent retirement has given us all another opportunity to reminisce about that mad, mad day at Wembley, and Zamora gatecrashing his way into QPR folklore with a turnaround of fortunes that would make even Paul Furlong envious. His signing, as the January 2012 transfer window was closing, typified everything that was wrong at QPR in the early years of Fernandes’ tenure: an overpriced player whose powers were waning, one who was susceptible to injury and had nothing to prove at QPR.
Zamora spent so much of his time at QPR managing a hip injury that it is hard to remember if he was ever fully fit. With hindsight, it is testament to his courage that he made as many appearances as he did but, despite stories that he was unable to even sit down at half-time in case he seized up, we cut him little slack until the latter stages of that season, when he finally started to impose himself on matches when coming off the bench. Slowly the irony slipped out of his song until it was sung with fervour in those closing moments at Wembley, and beyond.
It is hard to believe that our Wembley Play-off Final victory is just a little over two years ago now, isn’t it? Perhaps that is because there are so few parallels to our current position. The manner in which our expensively bloated squad has been trimmed beyond recognition, as we struggle with austerity and adjusting to playing football in the real world, actually has more in common with Holloway’s previous tenure at Loftus Road than the Hughes/Redknapp eras. There is, however, a much heavier burden of expectation on the current team, fuelled by our recent forays into the Premier League and inflamed by a sense of frustration at seeing our golden opportunity hopelessly wasted. The patience of at least one of the club’s co-chairmen and many of its supporters will be severely tested while Holloway instils his methods into his team.
The disappointment we all felt watching two consecutive ill-deserved, narrow home defeats in a short space of time masked the evolution of Holloway’s system. While I think that we are yet to see the shape that he is striving for, it was evident that his focus had moved forward from defence to midfield, despite being hampered by injuries and suspensions at the back. The narrow and compact formation of the previous matches had been allowed to broaden - although by playing N’Gbakoto, he kept it tighter than if he had selected Shodipo.
Grant Hall’s emergence as a more viable midfield option than Sandro or Henry has not altered my opinion that getting Borysiuk back is the key. His mobility, hard tackling and decisive passing will give us more natural protection, while offering both swifter service and more freedom to our wingers - who should, in turn, then be able to provide Sylla or Polter the service they will thrive on. I don’t subscribe to the current clamour to play two up front; I firmly believe our current squad is best suited to playing in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Previous seasons would have seen us eagerly turning to the transfer market at this conjuncture - but all the indications are that Holloway’s brief is to work hard to improve any underperforming player or to look to promote from within our academy. Reports suggest that Michael Doughty and Darnell Furlong are being recalled from their loan spells at Swindon to bolster the squad. Hopefully this initiative will not be extended to include Jay Emmanuel-Thomas. If there are to be any other incoming players, the likelihood is that they will be loan signings, as I suspect that any new signings would have to be funded by the sale of a current player. If the club could somehow manage to sell either Sandro or Caulker, I’d be thrilled; but think it is more likely we will have suitors for Smithies and Washington.
I despair of those supporters who are already calling for Holloway’s head. I doubt he has actually been able to field his first choice XI as yet - but they have already decided he has failed. Even if the critics fail to acknowledge the obvious improvements in recent matches, do they really believe that what we are watching now is the final realisation of Holloway’s vision for how his team will play? We have to show patience. Changing a team’s system and attitude takes time; but once we are more advanced with that process, I am confident Rangers will start to regularly pick up points and steadily climb the table - although, even at my most optimistic, I can’t imagine Karl Henry emulating Bobby Zamora this season.
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