Tony Fernandes’ pre-match pub crawl gave some Queens Park Rangers’ supporters the opportunity to raise their concerns about the direction the club’s campaign is taking directly with the Malaysian owner.
Unfortunately for Fernandes and those anxious fans, the subsequent 90 minutes offered little in the way of positive answers.
The consensus view, one articulated by manager Mark Hughes and defender Nedum Onuoha, was that, nine games into Hughes’s reign, there were at last signs of a greater cohesion within the team and, after a flurry of recent red cards, tighter discipline.
That wasn’t enough, however, to overcome a decidedly average Everton side and with Rangers now firmly established as one of a gang of five cut off from the mid-table mainstream, their deficiencies in front of goal could prove their undoing as they fight to avoid an immediate return to the Championship.
Onuoha was one of three players drafted in by Hughes after he was appointed in January, joining the clutch of new faces signed by Neil Warnock, Hughes’ predecessor, in the frantic, final days of the summer transfer window and it is clear the combination of new players, a new manager and new ideas has still not gelled properly.
Hughes remains confident the results will come but with Rangers set to face six of the current top seven in their final 11league games of the season, including the final day visit to Manchester City, leaving them with little margin for error.
The worst-case scenario, then, is that they visit the Etihad Stadium with the title race and relegation battle still hanging in the balance. That would be particularly poignant for Onuoha who left City for Loftus Road in January, swapping a club with title aspirations for one clinging on to the top-flight status.
Onuoha, though, insists he wouldn’t have it any other way. Reduced to a bystander at City by Roberto Mancini, the defender insists he will have harbour no feelings of jealousy towards his former teammates if they end the afternoon parading the Premier League trophy.
The right-back made just one league appearance for his old club this season and would not receive a medal if City do finish top, insisting instead that escaping relegation with Rangers will provide even greater reward.
“I didn’t play enough games so I wouldn’t get a medal,” he said. “But to be honest I don’t think I would want one anyway. I played five minutes in the league or something. I helped them get a win but I don’t deserve a medal just for that.
“I would get much more satisfaction from helping to keep QPR up. It would great for me if we were safe and they were being presented with the title as well. But obviously it could go the other way as well.”
He added: “I don’t regret coming here at all. I knew I had to get away and start my season as soon as I could. I hope City do win the league but it wasn’t that difficult a decision to leave because I wasn’t really part of it.”
Onuoha’s teammates will have to show similar focus if they are to survive and there was comfort to be drawn from the way they reacted to Royston Drenthe’s 31st minute opener, equalising through Bobby Zamora five minutes later and continuing to press throughout the second half.
The quality was missing when it was needed most though against an Everton side who were there for the taking. Comfortably in mid-table, they can enjoy a stress-free run-in which David Moyes hopes will showcase more of Drenthe’s talent.
“It’s taken him time to settle,” said the manager. “He came from Real Madrid and you think they will come and understand what we do here. But they don’t straight away. There’s a lot more of the defensive side of the game we need him to part of. He can’t just do what he wants.
“He’s beginning to do a bit better. He can still do much better. But he has that ability to score a goal, to create a chance.
“We’re beginning to trust him much more now. He’s starting to understand what we want.”
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