Queens Park Rangers host Southampton in what is ominously being billed as the Premier League's managerial death match between Mark Hughes and Nigel Adkins.
Both managers have been found guilty of the same transfer vice with slew of attackers arriving at Loftus Road and St Mary's over the summer, only Hughes and Adkins forgot about the defenders. QPR have conceded 20 goals while Southampton have let in 29 after just 11 games.
The Saints have at least won three points. They have actually scored more than Liverpool, Newcastle and West Ham United as well but cannot solve their defensive porousness.
Adkins has been Saints manager since 2010
Adkins' decision to begin the campaign without a new goalkeeper predictably backfired. Kelvin Davies may have saved penalties from David Silva and Robin van Persie (both feeble efforts, admittedly) in his first three games, but memories of his 2005-06 Premier League season are still fresh. He floundered in an abysmal Sunderland side that lost 29 of their 38 games and finished with 15 points.
'Naive' complements Adkins often in columns. At 47, that is inevitable, but his decision to substitute Jason Puncheon, Adam Lallana and Rickie Lambert in the 3-2 loss to Manchester United when they were the team's three best players (and 2-1 up) was amateurish. So is the post-match positivity he exudes irrespective of the result. The stadium announcer should have 'Always Look on the Bright Side of Life' on repeat.
The pressure on Hughes is greater than on Adkins because QPR were, unlike Southampton, expected to stay up. Some even touted them for Europe, but now the Welshman is in danger of being haunted by that quote he gave after the Hoops survived on the final day of last season.
"As far as I'm concerned, we will never be in this situation again while I am manager." Few would have disagreed when Esteban Granero, Júlio César, Junior Hoilett and Stéphane Mbia arrived, but they were just four out of 12 players who joined the club in the summer. Hughes was allowed to spend £17m with seven players joining on frees, but too many already serve only to drain the club's resources.
Hughes vowed QPR would "never be in this situation again"
Hughes spent £260.7m in the 15 months he had under the watchful eyes of the Abu Dhabi United Group at Manchester City. For every Vincent Kompnay, Carlos Tévez, Gareth Barry and Joleon Lescott there was a Roque Santa Cruz, Kolo Toure, Emmanuel Adebayor and Wayne Bridge. Lescott and Barry, good players though they have been for City, were grossly overpriced, and Hughes' ambivalent form in the transfer market has deteriorated at QPR.
The Rs have not won a league game since 6 May when Djibril Cissé avoided a red card and instead scored a crucial winner in their penultimate fixture of the season against Stoke. They are at least unbeaten in their last two matches at home, having unluckily drawn with Everton and fought back to earn a resilient point against fellow winless strugglers Reading, but the anxiety is endemic.
But owner Tony Fernandes' post-match thoughts haven't helped the club's predicament when after losing to Stoke last week he tweeted:
"We got to cut out errors. One error cost us and we got to take our chances. Team played as planned. Must win next win. No panic. Table is compressed. Defense was awful now fairly solid. Midfield strong. Got to score now."
That after "Mark has my backing" was the previous week's soundbite. At least Hughes' superiors at Eastlands remained reticent. It will be an awful lot louder if Fernandes pulls the trigger.
Suggested For You
Get top stories and blog posts emailed to me each day. Newsletters may offer personalized content or advertisements. Learn more