London – As a player Mark Hughes never shirked a challenge nor backed away from confrontation. Dreaded by defenders throughout Europe, the Welshman enjoyed a fearsome reputation as a fighter.
Rarely in his playing days, however, can the bellicose Hughes have encountered the enormity of challenge now facing him as he bids to cling on to his job as manager of rock-bottom Queen's Park Rangers.
Saturday's home defeat to fellow Premier League strugglers Southampton left Hughes's team as the only team in England's four professional divisions without a win this season.
It also left the manager squarely in the firing line.
“HARRY COME AND SAVE US” read a placard held up by fans at Loftus Road, beseeching former Tottenham manager Harry Redknapp to rescue the ailing West Londoners.
Chants of “You're only here for the money” rang out at the club's Shepherd's Bush stadium, accompanied by the more direct “Hughes Out”.
The manger, though, remains defiant in the face of fans' criticism. “I don't run away from challenges, and this is a huge challenge,” he told reporters.
“(The performance) was unacceptable. We have to take it on the chin... it is my intention to see it through.”
Most pertinent, though, has been club owner Tony Fernandes's response. Usually publicly very supportive of his manager, the Malaysian airline tycoon took to Twitter in the wake of the defeat, but pointedly for once failed to back his man.
“I feel gutted,” wrote Fernandes, who also owns the Caterham Formula One motor racing team.
“I have put my heart and soul into this with my other shareholders. And done all we can to give support to players and all management. I can only apologise to the QPR fans. We keep fighting.
“Let me tell you fans come first. Everyone including me let the fans down. Many of us need a hard look at themselves.”
On Sunday night, he took to Twitter again. “On my way home from America,” the chief of Air Asia wrote. “Long long flight to think of many things.”
QPR talisman Phil Parkes poured oil on the fire.
Goalkeeper during a 1970s heydey when they finished runners-up in the league to Liverpool, Parkes urged for a change of leadership.
“They have some tough games coming up and if he (Fernandes) carries on backing Mark Hughes and they keep losing it is very difficult to get yourselves out of that position,” he told the BBC.
“Harry (Redknapp) is hovering in the background and he is a guy who will come in and make a difference straightaway. You may have to bite the bullet and say it is time for Mark Hughes to move on.
“The longer he (Fernandes) leaves it the worse it will be for a new manager coming in and unfortunately that is what they need now, a new direction.”
Redknapp did little to dampen the speculation surrounding Hughes's position and the possibility of him replacing the Welshman.
“It wouldn't be fair to comment about it until something happens,” he said on the BBC's Match of the Day programme. “We will wait and see.” – Reuters