TSG welcomes back Women’s World Cup stalwart Maura Gladys with a report on the Barclay’s minnows at the direction of Neil Blackmon.
They’re full of spirit, courage and pluck. They’re punching above their weight, a trio of little fish in a big pond. They’re Queens Park Rangers, Norwich City and Swansea City, the three debutantes in this season’s English Premier League.
It seems like that’s always the tag attached to the teams that emerge from the Championship at the start of the Premiere League season. They show courage and spirit when they run up against the big dogs, and then, at the end of the season, they struggle to stay up, we say they were just overwhelmed by clubs with more cash and talent. While that stereotype is often true, there’s more to the minnows than just pluck, spirit and hard luck and long days at the bottom on the table. So far, each squad has shown, not only the requisite doses of pluck, but actual ability, and while it’s not likely that all three will avoid relegation, they have intriguing stories and styles to make their time in the EPL an interesting ride.
Nowhere were the ups and downs of the Premier League more evident than with Queens Park Rangers. At the end of last Saturday’s 4-0 drubbing by Bolton, which included an own goal, a red card and an injury to a newly signed star, the team was in the midst of an ownership crisis. It looked like it was going to be a long season at Loftus Road.
Quite a contrast to the mood after this weekend’s 1-0 win over Everton, which was accomplished despite a nasty stomach bug which sidelined DJ Campbell and affected several starters, including capatain Adel Taraabt. The win injected a renewed sense of belief into the club, bolstered by the mid-week ownership switch to Malaysian mogul Tony Fernandes. After Saturday’s win, bringing in transfers was not only going to happen, players would want to come to QPR! With a new owner, ready to open the purse strings, with a team that could slay a giant like Everton, who knows what QPR can do next!
Manager Neil Warnock even acknowledged the rollercoaster ride. “This just demonstrates how fascinating this game can be. Last week we were all fearing that we would not get a point before Christmas; now some of them are talking about Europe.”
While it’s super to be optimistic, QPR probably shouldn’t be booking their tickets to Europe quite yet. The defeated Everton, essentially because they showed up and Everton didn’t, and after taking the lead off Tommy Smith’s goal, they grinded out the win. However, the takeover by Fernandes, as well as the renewed sense of belief will help draw at least a few signings, which are desperately needed. If the club can add four to five fresh faces, the mood swings might be more positive than negative for QPR.
Drawing comparisons to Barcelona last season because of their intricate passing game, “Swanselona” has failed to score a goal in the Premiership this young season. But it’s goalkeeper Michel Vorm’s form that will most likely determine the trajectory of Swansea’s journey through the Premier League. Swansea picked up the Dutch international just before the start of the season, a move which has already paid off. He had 11 saves against Manchester City, despite conceding 4 goals, and made several key saves against Wigan, including a penalty kick save late in the game to preserve the scoreless draw.
While Vorm will no doubt be a bright spot for the Swans, the squad has the potential to establish a more formidable style if they can turn that impressive passing game into goal-scoring opportunities and goals. They dominated long stretches against Wigan and held their own against Manchester City until a certain high-profile Argentine striker entered the game. However, they failed to create real goal-scoring chances.
With solid talent, including Nathan Dyer and Scott Sinclair in the midfield, the Swans should be able to out-class some of the less-organized teams in the league, and pick up points. If nothing else, Swansea should be a joy to watch between their precise passing and Vorm’s inspiring play.
As QPR’s fortunes reversed for the better, Norwich City, the feel-good story from last week, suffered a blow. The Canaries drew with Wigan last week for a surprisingly positive result, and expected to get a win their home debut. It looked to be heading that way after Ritchie De Laet gave Norwich the lead in the 37th minute. But, Kenwyne Jones sent a painful reminder to the club that it’s not that easy to win in the EPL, when he headed home a free kick in the 93rd minute to tie the game.
Norwich should draw the support of NBA fans around the world for their fluid, end-to-end style and weak defense. Their game, which is reminiscent of Blackpool’s, is exciting, fast and sends more of a “We’re just looking to have fun and score goals” message. It’s worked so far, especially on the wings, where the likes of Anthony Pilkington and Elliot Bennet shut down Stoke’s wingers and dominated the flanks, creating waves of attacks.
With Wigan, Chelsea, and Sunderland up next for QPR, Norwich and Swansea, respectively, each team will need to maintain that ever-important spirit and pluck, but also be true to their own style and strategy, if they are to survive the challenges of being a little team in the world’s biggest league.