QUUENS Park Rangers travel to Luton Town on Saturday for the early morning kick-off in the Sky Bet Championship with a growing feeling that this might be the year they finally return to the Premier League. The west London club have endured a seven-year hiatus from England's top division but their start to this campaign has yielded seven wins from 13 games and they sit joint-top alongside Norwich City and Sheffield United.

Under the former Rangers manager, Mark Warburton, QPR were in contention for much of last season before a raft of injuries took the promotion door off its hinges.

Much of the credit for their fast start to the season must go to another former Rangers man, Michael Beale, who has performed as previously advertised. Steven Gerrard's former Ibrox assistant was pegged as the brains behind the club's tactical set-up during his time in Govan and it was no surprise that he joined Gerrard when the former Liverpool captained moved south this time last year to become manager of Aston Villa. When Beale struck out on his own during the summer, this column speculated on what might be in store for both clubs and a quick glance at the respective league tables – with Villa in 14th and QPR third – suggests that Beale, who took the gold-panner's approach to the summer transfer market to sift for some bargains including former Rangers centre-half Leon Balogun, is the real deal.

Balogun is not the only familiar face in Shepherd's Bush. The former Celtic midfielder Stefan Johansen, Scotland international striker Lyndon Dykes – who scored twice in last Friday night's win over Reading – and erstwhile Hearts centre-half Jimmy Dunne have all made important contributions.

Beale, as you would expect, is refusing to get too carried away. Speaking in the aftermath of last week's 1-0 win over then sole leaders Sheffield United, he said: "It is too early in the season for me to give [his players] too much praise but I am pleased. They are setting the standards and they must improve on them. There were areas of [the Sheffield United] game that I wasn’t pleased with but that’s not important right now. What’s important now is we went away from home, kept a clean sheet and got three points against a team that was unbeaten in 10 games. Let’s just take that for what it is.”

Duncan much more than a great manager

JOHN DUNCAN, who died on Saturday night at the age of 73, was a quiet man who made things happen but without always earning the recognition he deserved for it.

As the obituaries and tributes appeared for the Dundonian, it was his contribution to third division Chesterfield's run to the FA Cup semi-final in 1997 that received most of the attention but Duncan was a footballer of some renown, too.

Recognition of such came with his induction to the Dundee FC hall of fame in 2015. He was a prolific scorer in a seven-year stint at Dens Park and his strike rate of 109 goals in 188 games persuaded Tottenham Hotspur to sign him for £160,000 in 1974, the Londoners returning to the club from which they had signed Alan Gilzean 10 years earlier.

It was a dream move for Duncan, for whom Gillie had been an idol, and while he did not have quite the impact that the latter did at White Hart Lane, he nevertheless put up some solid numbers with 62 goals in 118 appearances despite a four-year spell blighted by injury.

A mark of his qualities as a player, a manager and the technical manager of the League Managers Association, was appreciated by none other than Sir Alex Ferguson, who yesterday said: “I will always remember John with a great deal of respect and affection. When I was playing and managing in Scotland, I remember him playing up front for Dundee and then of course he went on to be an exceptional striker for Tottenham. I know first-hand what an invaluable asset he was to the association, working tirelessly and sharing his superb knowledge of the game. John understood the needs of his fellow LMA members and the importance of a collective voice.”

It's a big week for Scotland women . . . part 1

PEDRO MARTINEZ LOSA sounded a clarion call ahead of Scotland women's World Cup play-off encounters against Austria and the Republic of Ireland a few weeks back. The Scotland manager called on the Tartan Army to come out in their droves – just as they had done for the Nations League encounters against Ireland's men and Ukraine – but it was largely an appeal that fell on deaf ears.

Yes, there was a record attendance at Hampden for Scotland's win over the Austrians but the figure of 10,128 was hardly awe-inspiring. It was an admittedly dank, unforgiving Glasgow night and the match was being televised on BBC Alba but this was hardly a crowd to convince us that the great Scottish public's attitude to women's football has been transformed overnight. One radio programme last week attempted to suggest that women's football was riding a wave of optimism following England's victory at the European Championship in the summer but let's make no mistake here – that was very much English women's football's success. Scotland still has a long way to go to convince the naysayers but it is hoped that with each triumph comes incremental change. If Martinez Losa's side can overcome the Republic tomorrow evening to reach a second successive World Cup finals, it should go some way to weakening entrenched attitudes further.

It's a big week for Scotland women . . . part 2

It's not just the women's football team who have the World Cup on their minds, the rugby side began the 2022 edition of their global tournament in the early hours of yesterday by borrowing a script from the men's team as they crashed to a stoppage time defeat by Wales.

With two teams set to qualify from a group also containing hosts New Zealand and Australia, one a tournament favourite and the other a live outsider, that loss will have in all likelihood condemned Scotland to an early exit. Their path to the knockout stage lay through finishing as one of the best third-placed finishers but Wales will no doubt take that honour given the respective strengths of the hosts and their antipodean neighbours, the No.2 and No.7 ranked teams in the world. Next up is Australia, the latter of those two sides, in Whangarei on Saturday in a game Scotland must win to avoid a tournament departure.

Of course, another part of the story regarding Scotland's participation at these finals is that of former player Siobhan Cattigan whose premature death her parents and partner believe was directly linked to a number of serious concussions she suffered on national team duty and who have been critical of what they call the SRU's airbrushing of Cattigan from history, the fallout from which has overshadowed the build-up to the tournament. Perhaps if the SRU had handled the PR around that particular scenario in a more sympathetic manner, players might not have had preparations so badly disrupted in the lead-up to the finals.

Clan stumble from one disaster to another

When it comes to PR disasters, few have been as spectacular as Glasgow Clan's handling of the signing of Finnish defenceman Lasse Uusivirta, who is accused of rape in the United States.

Uusivirta, 33, formerly of the University of Alabama was arrested in 2013 but left for his homeland before his case went to trial. The district attorney at the time said the player had 'no intention of returning' to the US.

The Clan have lost sponsors over the decision to sign Uusivirta, have faced a backlash from fans, suspended head coach Malcolm Cameron and chief executive Gareth Chalmers, the former of whom has now returned to his role, and lost a media officer who, at face value, seems to have been blameless in the whole affair.

In communication terms, it has been what people in the business call a s***show. The first reaction from the club was radio silence, then a statement that confirmed the reinstatement of Cameron but which gave no indication over what Chalmers' ongoing position is, followed by another statement in which Neil Back, the owner, admitted he is now prepared to sell the club.

A s***show, indeed.


The number of times an anytime goalscorer treble involving Erling Haaland, Harry Kane and Antonio Colak would have paid out in the past six weeks, at odds of approximately 5/1.