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Wednesday 14 November 2012

Dowie: Belief key for QPR in 'must-win' Southampton clash

PLTV pundit and former Southampton and QPR striker predicts a high-octane QPR-Saints goalfest

  • QPR's Mark Hughes and Southampton's Nigel Adkins go head to head at Loftus Road

Queens Park Rangers' home match against Southampton is a "must-win" match for R's manager Mark Hughes, according to Iain Dowie, who played for both sides and believes Saturday's Barclays Premier League basement battle will be a free-scoring affair.

In an exclusive interview Dowie told about the pressure of top-flight management, the importance of tactical transition and why being in a dressing-room including Alan Shearer, Neil Ruddock and Terry Hurlock was not for the faint-hearted. There’s a big match at the weekend between two of your former clubs, Southampton and QPR. What sort of encounter can we expect?

Iain Dowie: I don’t think it’ll be a cagey encounter. I think it’ll be quite an open game. Neither side have been blessed with keeping clean sheets and it’s a very important game for both managers.

"After the home draw for QPR against Reading it’s a must-win game against Southampton"
Iain Dowie

I would think as the home side that Mark Hughes is under more pressure and because of Nigel Adkins’s incredible run of two successive promotions I would imagine he would get a bit more time. After the home draw for QPR against Reading it’s a must-win game against Southampton. A draw for either side doesn’t help the points-tally return.

You’ve known both good times and bad times as a manager. What’s it like to be in that position when you’re really up against it?
It’s about belief. It’s about making sure you take the pressure off the chaps. It’s a key element that when times are tough you must be the protector, bat away all the pressure from the players and take it on yourself. Accept responsibility if you get beat and if the lads win, heap the praise on to the players. Plus you must be true to what you are as a manager.  Don’t change the methods that have worked for you in the past; maybe look at the slight adjustments you can make to turn what you perceive to be good performances to good wins.

'Internecine rivalry'

You didn’t have the financial backing Tony Fernandes has given Mark Hughes, when you were at QPR but what do you think of the side he has assembled?
There’s no doubt that he has very good players, but it’s enormously difficult to cope with that amount of change that quickly. The integration of change to a new team takes a lot longer than a lot of people realise. There’ll be some egos and some internecine rivalry. When you bring that many players in so quickly it’s very, very difficult.

There seems to be the forming of a fairly stable team, although Ji-Sung Park was out for the last game, but it’ll be interesting to see who plays. I can pretty much pick the Southampton side, aside from the goalkeeper perhaps, but QPR is a little more difficult to pick. Will he go with [Djibril] Cisse or [Bobby] Zamora? [Adel] Taarabt, [Esteban] Granero and [Samba] Diakite will certainly play and the back four’s starting to take shape as well.

"Southampton will attack QPR and Mark Hughes will like that because he has players who can hurt teams on the counter-attack"
Iain Dowie

It’s a hugely pressurised occasion; the atmosphere will be edgy, and if Southampton can start the game well, that will really pile pressure on the home side. I’ve no doubt that Southampton will attack QPR because that’s the way they play and I would think Mark will quite like that because he thinks he has players in the likes of Granero, Taarabt, Cisse, [Junior] Hoilett who can hurt teams on the counter-attack so I can see it being an entertaining game.

So, if you were manager of Queens Park Rangers you wouldn’t necessarily be tempted to throw Djibril Cisse and Bobby Zamora on together?
No. There is this obsession in this country with playing 4-4-2. Cisse can always play wide because he has the pace to play there but I would probably play Taarabt one side, Hoilett the other, Cissse or Zamora up the middle and then the three would probably by Park, Diakite and Granero, which is very attack-minded and forward-looking. If you put Granero behind the forward he’s going to create chances for you because he’s a very technically gifted player, and that may well be the way he goes.

What approach do you think Nigel Adkins will adopt to get that second win of the season?
They’ve signed decent players in the summer, Adam Lallana’s been very good, [Morgan] Schneiderlin nicked himself a goal last week, Gaston Ramirez could be a very decent signing for them. I wonder whether he will play Ramirez off Rickie Lambert, or maybe play with Jay Rodriguez. QPR haven’t looked very secure defensively at all and maybe Rodriguez would cause them more problems.

Southampton's team shape

Southampton have been struggling defensively in the Barclays Premier League. How do you prevent individual errors or is that just the by-product of the fact they’re such an attacking team?
There was clear error at the weekend [against Swansea], but generally some of the situations have been about the team shape not being quite right.

"There’s no doubt Southampton can pop the ball around, but when they lose possession – a phase called 'transition' – they must be better prepared to cover"
Iain Dowie

There’s no doubt that they pop the ball around going forward, but when they lose possession – a phase coaches call "transition" – they must be better prepared to cover and think to themselves, "What if we lose possession here?" You can’t say, "We’re going to play and play and play" and then suddenly lose the ball and concede a goal; that can’t happen time and time again.

You have to adjust your shape so that when you do lose possession you’re in a position to delay and slow [the other team] down so that goals don’t come against you, and that’s the key for Nigel.

So it’s important to have tactically minded midfielders?
Absolutely. Steven Davis and Schneiderlin know the role. Also, rather than pushing both full-backs on. Have one full-back up, and your two other members of the back four and your two holding midfielders sitting there. So when you attack you’re still attacking with five, it’s still very positive, but don’t attack with just one holding midfield player, two centre-backs [left in defence] and the rest of the seven players bombing forward.

In modern-day Premier League football, that hurts you. You’ve seen Man United earlier in the season playing with Rio Ferdinand and Jonny Evans, Michael Carrick sitting in front and Rafael and Patrice Evra and everyone else bombing forward and against Spurs they got picked off because they had no defensive shape.

So how do you see the match panning out?
There’s goals in it. Both sides are capable of scoring and it’s probably going to be a draw, which won’t help anyone. If you were to press me about who I think is most likely to win it, given Southampton’s recent defensive performances, QPR have a few more game-changers in their team, like Taarabt and Granero and Cisse.

Southampton have Lambert and Ramirez but I’d probably think maybe just QPR, but it really is too close to pick. I’m usually not a fence-sitter but I genuinely don’t know which way it’s going to go.

Memories of yesteryear

What are your fondest memories of Southampton and Queens Park Rangers?
I played briefly for QPR and managed them but I had some wonderful years at Southampton. We were one of those clubs that had only two or three points after 10 games and then would somehow find a way of staying up.

My fondest memories are the players I played with - Tim Flowers, Alan Shearer, Matt Le Tissier, Terry Hurlock, Micky Adams, Neil Ruddock - good characters, we had a great camaraderie. We went to Wembley and played in the Zenith Data Systems Cup final, which we unfortunately lost. We had some wonderful runs.

I really enjoyed QPR, too. What I really love about them is that the late, great Ray Harford got me involved with coaching when I signed there, so I’m very proud that I both played and managed at QPR and I’m proud of my managerial record with them, last time. It’s over 55 or 53% [win ratio]. And working with Gerry Francis really formulated me as a coach.

"We had many a frank discussion, many aggressive training sessions, many times it came to blows but we refused to get relegated"
Iain Dowie

Shearer, Ruddock, those are the sort of characters you want on your side when you’re up against it aren’t they?
That was a tough place. There were no-holds-barred in that dressing room, but we were a very close unit, we had a very close bond on and off the field. We had many a frank discussion, many aggressive training sessions, many times it came to blows but we refused to get relegated. We just found a way of getting out of it. We dragged ourselves up and we had a game-changer.

Shearer was a game-changer but at that time Le Tissier was a game-changer in any situation, from anywhere. He was the best technical striker of a football I’ve ever worked with. The way he struck a football was different to any way I’d ever seen it. It was a natural gift.

And contrary to common perception his work-rate was very good. He was very unselfish, he would always roll the ball to you if you were in a better position to score and had great footballing awareness. The lads adored him and he put many a crucial three points on the board at that time.

Are you itching to get back into coaching?
I’d love to get involved with the right one but I love doing what I’m doing now, you get to see plenty of games. It has to be the right one and I’m not going to jump in unless it’s the right one.

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Key Points

  • Former QPR and Southampton striker Iain Dowie says Saturday's basement battle will be an 'entertaining' affair
  • The PLP pundit believes the pressure is more on Mark Hughes for whom this is a 'must-win' match
  • Ex-QPR manager Dowie tells what it is like to manage under pressure