Watford & QPR - a tale of contrasting emotions
At Vicarage Road
Two starkly contrasting emotions at Vicarage Road on Monday evening spoke volumes about the current state of Watford and QPR.
There were the scenes of unbridled joy after Hornets defender Lloyd Doyley, who joined the club as an 11-year-old, scored his first senior goal for the club on his 269th appearance..
The 27-year-old did not know which way to run, taking advice from his team-mates before finally heading to the home fans, who chanted: "We were there when Doyley scored".
Doyley (right) gives his thanks after scoring that elusive first goal for Watford
After the match there was genuine goodwill towards Doyley from his manager and fellow players and it all spoke of a club with a great togetherness - everyone is pulling in the same direction.
Then, there was the sight of disconsolate QPR midfielder Akos Buzsaky wandering up and down the asphalt in front of the main stand long after the final whistle like a lost soul in a foreign land.
At one point he sought solace in the relative sanctity of a public toilet, which unfortunately for him was located just metres from a press room full of journalists.
Despite the biting cold the Hungarian, a second-half substitute, was wearing nothing more than his Rangers kit. He must have been freezing but clearly had no intention of returning to the warmth of the dressing room.
Eventually QPR assistant boss John Gorman emerged and put a consoling arm around Buzsaky's shoulder but there seemed to be no assuaging the player's frustration and distress.
Manager Jim Magilton was busy peeling the paint from the walls of the visiting dressing room after his team's 3-1 defeat - and afterwards the Irishman explained that his midfielder's bizarre wandering had been the result of a "difference of opinion".
But as an illustration of how QPR's season is becoming an increasingly stressful quest for answers as they seek an end to what is now a run of just one win in seven games, it was a wholly apt image.
Watford's joy, it seemed, was only matched by Rangers woe.
The result was the Hornets' fourth straight home win and lifted the side to sixth in the Championship table, in the process leap-frogging Rangers.
Watford, like Rangers, are a club with problems. The difference is that most of theirs are happening off the pitch.
Chairman Jimmy Russo last week loaned the club's parent company £1m to allow Watford to continue trading until 22 December. After that date, the future is uncertain.
On the field they play with spirit, determination and no little skill. Emblematic of this on Monday was the performance of midfielder Tom Cleverley, who illuminated what was often a scrappy and fractured match.
Deep into stoppage time the 20-year-old burst forward unopposed from midfield and collected a pass from the right before picking his spot and slipping the ball beyond Radek Cerny.
It was the goal that sealed victory over an expensively assembled QPR side - but more than that, it was further proof of how Hornets boss Malky Mackay is reaping the rewards of his extremely shrewd use of the loan system.
Cleverley is on loan from Manchester United and the quality of his schooling is clear to see. He showed the assured touch and will to win on Monday that I'm told has largely characterised his season to date.
Craig Cathcart is also on loan from United and started in defence. Henri Lansbury was injured but he has caught the eye with his performances since joining from Arsenal in the summer.
Another absentee at Vicarage Road was Heidar Helguson, the striker who is on loan at Watford from QPR.
He could not play under the terms of his loan agreement but nonetheless it must stick in the craw of Rangers fans that their club are still paying half the wages for a player who is at a team that are currently higher in the division.
QPR exist on a different planet financially from the Hornets but their season has also been shaped to a degree by loan signings.
Adel Taarabt (Tottenham) and Jay Simpson (Arsenal) both started on the bench against Watford but have been regulars for Magilton's side this season. The manager has also bolstered his squad with the further loan acquisition of the likes of Ben Watson (Wigan), Tom Williams (Peterborough) and Steven Reid (Blackburn).
Rangers manager Jim Magilton's face said it all after another disappointing result
There are apparently in the region of 200 players on loan at Football League clubs and they are vital to many sides who cannot afford to retain a large enough squad to cover injuries and suspensions.
Often, as with Helguson at Watford, the parent club contributes to the payment of wages.
To an extent QPR have also used the system to try to cover injuries to players such as Martin Rowlands and Gavin Mahon, yet the strength of their bench on Monday - which comprised Buzsaky, Simpson, Taarabt, Williams, Alessandro Pellicori, Kaspars Gorkss and Rhys Taylor - suggests a squad that is not short on quality.
And while Watford are attracting plaudits for punching above their weight in a fiercely competitive division, Rangers are a team for whom promotion is the sole aim.
But Magilton has yet to work out his best side, as illustrated by the number of central defensive partnerships this season, and chants of "you don't know what you're doing" emanating from the away stand on Monday.
"Do you want to talk about the game - I don't," said Magilton as he faced the media on Monday.
I cannot blame him. He had just seen his side surrender a 1-0 lead and there is no doubt that Watford deserved their win.
The manager is clearly frustrated by his team's current run of form. The sensational passing football that saw his side score four goals in each of three consecutive fixtures in late autumn has disappeared like leaves that have fallen from a tree.
He described the loss of confidence in the squad as "scary" and reckons that at times against Watford some of his players looked "shell-shocked".
"We are going through a period that most Championship sides go through," reasoned the Rangers boss.
But Rangers are not most Championship sides and as Iain Dowie found out last October, patience can be in short supply at Loftus Road.
While Mackay can attempt to build on the fine start to his managerial tenure at Watford, Magilton needs to find some answers - and fast, or it might not just be Buzsaky who is out in the cold.