Discipline is key to any side's success. Lose your head, see red, and the best-laid plans go out of the window. It is a lesson that Queens Park Rangers do not seem to have learned and, thus, they hang precariously over the Premier League trapdoor, clinging to safety by goal difference only.
Five times QPR have had a player dismissed this season – all at their Loftus Road home, three before the match had reached 40 minutes and two in their last three games. From those fixtures in which they have finished numerically challenged, they have collected just one point.
Samba Diakité, the latest to leave early, will have his excuses. It was the Mali midfielder's debut for QPR, in a mediocre scrap against Fulham, and adjusting to the hurly-burly of the Premier League – let alone a west London derby – can take time.
Yet after a series of wild tackles, he left the referee, Phil Dowd, with little option but to send him off shortly after the half-hour, for two bookable lunges on Bryan Ruiz. If Dowd's shrug of the shoulders said it all, the observations of Clint Hill, the QPR defender, offered a warning for a probably fraught run-in to the campaign.
"We've had a good few red cards now, especially early in the game as well," Hill said. "It really is incredible. That gives us a mountain to climb and playing with 10 men for 60-odd minutes against a Premier League team is always going to be difficult. We feel the whole world is against us, we're having no luck at the moment. Time is running out, we say that every week, but there's always belief. The mini-league [at the bottom] is getting smaller after every game and there's five teams involved. But if we can finish first or second in that league, it will be a massive achievement."
It was Hill on whom the red mist first descended, against Bolton Wanderers in QPR's opening match of the season in August. Head-butting Martin Petrov in the chest did not exactly set an example for the months ahead but, at 4-0 down and in the fourth minute of stoppage time, QPR were long gone, anyway.
Mark Hughes, the new QPR and former Fulham manager, is hardly a figure of outstanding virtue, either, to judge by his petty squabble with Martin Jol, his successor at Craven Cottage, after the game. After a shake of the hands, Hughes took exception to Jol trying to pat him on the head. Oh dear, boys …
Hughes's record of one win in six matches since he succeeded Neil Warnock does not bode well and nor does the anonymous display of Bobby Zamora, the £4.5m former Fulham forward, who laboured in frustrating isolation up front. Fulham, though, after only a second victory on the road, appear comfortably clear of the relegation struggle. A neatly taken second goal in as many games from Pavel Pogrebnyak, Zamora's replacement, settled the issue.
Andrew Johnson, Pogrebnyak's strike partner, could also settle the issue of his new contract soon. "There are on-going negotiations," Johnson said. "Hopefully, we will try to tie that up in the coming weeks. Of course I would like to stay. If we can get something done that would be great."