MATT Smith believes he and his QPR team-mates will need to use the Loftus Road atmosphere to their advantage if they are to overcome Aston Villa this weekend.
Rangers play host to Steve Bruce’s in-form side on Saturday, and Smith told www.qpr.co.uk: “They are one of, if not the, strongest team in the division.
“You look at the personnel and the managerial experience they’ve got, someone who has achieved the most promotions out of any manager in Championship history.
“It’s up to us to make sure we give a good account of ourselves. Our home form has been terrific. We have made Loftus Road a bit of a fortress and we want to make sure that continues for the rest of the season.
“We want to use the conditions and use the atmosphere to our advantage. We need to make sure we are on the front foot, up-and-at-them and in their faces.”
QPR went down 4-0 at Nottingham Forest in their last outing before the international break, with that result coming after impressive wins over table-topping Wolves (2-1) and Sheffield United (1-0).
Smith, 28, was introduced at half-time at the City Ground and while frustrated with the result, he says it’s important the dressing room doesn’t get too wrapped up in one performance.
“The Forest game was very disappointing and I don’t think any of us expected that after two terrific wins against the top two sides in the division,” he said.
“But that’s the nature of the Championship, it’s very unpredictable. What we have to do is dust ourselves down and assess where we went wrong, but not lose sight of where we have been in the last couple of weeks.
“We must make sure we also don’t lose the confidence that was bred from beating the top two teams.”
Smith has made 121 appearances in the Championship with Leeds, Fulham and QPR over the past five seasons and he believes such knowledge of the division is crucial.
“Championship experience is really important because it is such a unique division,” he explained. “It’s important to have that bit of nous and understanding about what it takes to win games consistently.
“If you look across our squad we’ve got plenty of Championship experience and that’s an important factor if you want to be successful.”
On Saturday QPR will be facing a side who have picked up 19 points from their last nine games, while on the road the Villans have only lost one of their last six.
Yet the R’s can go into the fixture with confidence, using this season’s displays against the division’s top teams as cause for optimism against sixth-placed Villa.
Victories over Ipswich (then 2nd), Wolves (2nd) and Sheffield United (1st) perhaps offer an insight into the potential of Ian Holloway’s side, while dropped points against Burton Albion (then 23rd), Barnsley (21st), Sunderland (23rd) and Bolton (24th) highlight how tough a division the Championship can be.
“It’s bizarre but you only have to look at the table and see how tight it is, teams are picking up points in unexpected games,” Smith said.
“It’s a tough one to really put your finger on why we seem to do better against teams at the top of the table - apart from the fact that this is the Championship and a very competitive league.
“What we have to do is develop a consistency. We are five points off the playoffs and feel very much amongst it.”
Smith is QPR’s joint-leading scorer this season with four goals, on a par with Conor Washington and Idrissa Sylla.
Impressively for Smith, those goals have come despite starting only twice in the league.
“I am pleased with the goal return in the minutes I have been given but I would like to start games more regularly, as I’m sure all the strikers do,” he said.
“It’s up to me to show what I’m capable of when I am given my opportunity and try to keep my place in the side.”
Smith came off the bench to head home our late winner against Wolves but, like all footballers, the Rangers forward is keen to avoid being seen as an ‘impact sub’.
“You don’t want to be labelled with that tag,” he admitted.
“First and foremost I want to be influencing games and contributing to the team which I feel I have been doing.
“For my own personal development I want to be starting games from the get-go. I feel throughout my career I have always been more influential in games when I have started them.
“I have to show the manager that I can do both sides of the game – with and without the ball – consistently. If he sees that I am sure I’ve got a good chance.”