| 7°C Dublin

Hughes and Adkins go head-to-head in 'El Sackico' six-pointer

WHEN Neil Warnock was sacked in January as manager of Queens Park Rangers, the clue as to why could have been found 48 hours earlier on Twitter.

Tony Fernandes, the QPR chairman and a prolific contributor to the microblogging world of 140 characters, had delivered an uncompromising statement about life at Loftus Road.

"It is important to note no one's job is safe," he wrote. "Results are key. If I don't deliver, I would be the first to step down as chairman. We owe it to all the fans."

Warnock, with QPR 17th in the Premier League and averaging 0.85 points per game, was duly removed from his post. Mark Hughes (pictured below) was appointed, money was lavished on 13 new players, but results have actually deteriorated.

So far this season, QPR are without a Premier League win, bottom of the table and averaging just 0.36 points per game. It seemed significant and potentially even ominous, then, that Fernandes should take to Twitter last week and describe today's match against Southampton as a "must-win" fixture.

The same could be argued for Southampton. They have lost all five of their games this season away from St Mary's, have the worst defensive record in the division and are only one point ahead of QPR.

It has all led to this match being christened 'El Sackico,' a descrip-tion that prompted laughter from Southampton manager Nigel Adkins when it was put to him on Thursday.

Adkins was "pretty sure" that both he and Hughes would still be in a job come Monday, but he will also know that the losing manager today will be shortest-priced with most bookmakers to become the first Premier League casualty of the season.

In his defence, Hughes can justifiably point to past experiences with Blackburn and Fulham where he has reversed poor starts to the season. Yet it is perhaps also significant that Fernandes's credibility has become so intertwined with Hughes.

Hughes has had more public votes of confidence from Fernandes this season than QPR have points.

The danger, then, is that Fernandes's judgment could become clouded by the fact that he would look daft if he now does make a change.

Southampton chairman Nicola Cortese, in contrast, has kept his cards close to his chest. He has made no public comment on the managerial situation, and will be aware that Adkins has already built up consider-able goodwill with the supporters by overseeing back-to-back promotions.

Financially, there is so much at stake for both clubs. In their most recently published accounts, for the 2010-11 season, QPR's wages to turnover ratio was already a whopping 183pc.

Subsequent signings over the past three transfer windows are unlikely to have made the model any more self-sustaining.

Even with two-thirds of the season remaining, today's match is likely to be a defining moment in both clubs' campaigns. El Sackico? Maybe. A relegation six-pointer? Cert-ainly. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent