The play-off pipe dream is over… What now?

In his first column for ‘R’ Generation, Ben Summer takes a look at the situation QPR find themselves in proceeding our second consecutive 1-0 loss after the lockdown period.

QPR’s playoff hopes died not with a bang but with a whimper. It was probably too optimistic to even entertain the concept in the first place, but it was fun enough and there’s no predicting anything with this team. In the dismal last two games, though, there wasn’t a definitive moment when the dream died. A first 1-0 defeat meant a late push was resigned to a dark corner of the imagination, with another quietly condemning it to near-impossibility. It would be all too QPR for a push in the opposite direction to be on the cards, but realistically the situation is this: we’re not going up, we’re not going down, we’re not going anywhere. I’ve said throughout the campaign that Warburton deserves a chance at a second season regardless of where we end up, but now he’s faced with 7 fixtures to play with no real consequence.

There’s a pretty clear opportunity here to give youth a chance– but as demonstrated by the totally directionless second half at Charlton, it’s not quite as simple as swapping out the first team for the Under-23s throughout the course of a match and praying. Doing this would throw any hopes of a coherent team performance out the window and is a huge reason behind the floundering lack of consistency in some low-table sides with bloated squads. Take the story of our four centre-backs as an example. Hall-Barbet was a comfortable first instalment in this season’s series of defensive pairings, Hall-Leistner was the competent but uninventive sequel, and the trilogy was capped off (as many are) by an inventive yet flawed instalment with Hall-Masterson. Masterson-Barbet, then, is the shaky reboot with the main cast members nowhere to be seen (Ghostbusters, Jurassic World, Fant4stic, etc – just to really wring the analogy to death). The difficulties of this centre-back pair trying to settle in could so easily be replicated across the field if Warburton isn’t careful. Bettache, Shodipo – there are some real talents in the squad, but dropping them directly into the cogs of a well-oiled machine leads to the situation against Charlton where Shodipo is admirably charging up the wings, unaware that the gameplan is currently a mixture of “lump it down the middle” and “pass it to Rangel.”

On the other hand, there comes a point where there’s not much choice. I don’t want to fall into the comfortable trap of equating bad form to bad players – and lord knows I’m not about to call Eze and Bright bad players; they’re half the reason I fell in love with football. But does anyone else think they’ve looked a bit… odd? Usually a bad day out for Eze is when he’s quadruple-marked by the opposing team, and a bad one for Brighty when his pace is outmatched by a full-back’s capacity to hack at his ankles without getting booked. The problem is, the pair’s bad form since the restart can’t really be attributed to this – Eze’s been no more marked, and Bright no more harangued, than usual. It would be a bit presumptuous to say their heads have been turned – both seem like team-oriented, down-to-earth guys and to suggest their loyalty has been eroded wouldn’t be giving them enough credit. However, no player wants to see his value eroded by a poorly-timed injury, and they’re both realistically at the peak of their Rs careers with their footballing futures hanging in the balance. Contrastingly, Chair (who has every potential to be a sensation next season but still has to fight for his place), is looking nippy, energetic and expressive in the way that his counterparts really haven’t been.

In that sense, maybe youth is a better option – Bettache, Shodipo and Oteh at very least showed some hunger when they came on, but youth for youth’s sake isn’t enough; there needs to be a setup that includes them. Maybe this all starts with sneaking one of them into the starting lineup and seeing if the pace and energy that they bring in can be the foundation of something bigger. I’ve never really been sure if Jack Clarke is “all that” – what we’ve seen of him has done nothing to shake the “coddled academy kid out of his depth” image, but at this point even he might deserve a chance (he said, begrudgingly). Oteh for Hugill seems a safer option, although Warbs will have his reasons for not letting Oteh into the side already. Hugill has been a great servant and decent on his day, but if Oteh’s willing to adopt Hugill’s tactic of charging at any and every ball in the hope of connecting with it whilst defenders wet themselves with fear, he might be able to do it whilst not missing sitters from two yards out.

Above all, the message is an uncontroversial one. We’ve lost our pre-match pints, camaraderie and Pigbag goal celebrations. We’ve got no hope of getting anything significant out of the season, and these might be our last seven games with a number of key players. All that’s left to do is make the football entertaining – let’s hope that we get this at least.

Written by Ben Summer

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