QPR’s last two seasons have effectively been mirror images of each other. Around this point in 2019/20, the team’s form was about to seriously drop off (with a series of absolutely dismal performances upon the return of football, losing unceremoniously to Barnsley, Charlton, Sheffield Wednesday and a few others). Key players had departed during lockdown, and promising youngsters were beginning to be preoccupied with the idea of a Premier League move and the spectre of David Moyes hovering around in the rafters of the C Club seats.
The 2020/21 campaign, by contrast, started poorly but has picked up pace in recent months. Whilst any play-off hopes are effectively dead and buried, the squad has become more cohesive, with important players arriving rather than leaving.
The last two seasons have featured a notable handful of transfers in and out for QPR, and this time of the season can often give a few clues about what the players’ futures may hold, whether that’s a move away, a place in the first team, or a quiet back-door departure. What follows is a rundown of a number of “genres” of player – the gaggle of strikers, the promising youngsters, the golden oldies, the “Loan Rangers” and… the rest – and a discussion of what we could learn from their final nine games of 2020/21.
STRIKERS TO STEP UP?
We all love Charlie Austin. That’s a point so obvious that it’s not worth labouring. Questions of whether he might remain at QPR next season have been hotly discussed, but any hope of making his loan permanent would require him not just to put his money where his mouth is, but to dispense with around £60,000 of his money every week to fit the club’s wage structure.
Looking ahead to a potentially Austin-less future, QPR have three strikers still needing to stamp their authority on a spot in the starting XI. Lyndon Dykes has shown glimpses of what he’s all about, with an excellent performance against Luton in which he created a number of chances for Austin without having played alongside him before, a similarly solid game against Millwall and a long-awaited goal in the recent 1-1 draw with Reading. It would be reductive to suggest that Dykes has to keep bringing the goals in order to stay in the side – he’s clearly got more than that to his game – but a bit of consistency in the last few fixtures of the season could nicely affirm that he belongs at Championship level.
Dykes has been – by far – best when partnered with Charlie Austin. His games as a lone striker, despite bringing his first goal from open play, have been largely unproductive. However, a Dykes-Bonne partnership is yet to really emerge (previously dismissed by the manager in an odd claim about the training schedule). If (don’t come for me on Twitter, I said if) Austin is a goner next season, Dykes might not be able to achieve much without Bonne. The Zimbabwean forward has, despite rarely finding a solid place in the side, had some headline moments for QPR already, popping up with a few late headed goals earlier in the season, a calm finish from an Albert Adomah cross against Luton, and a bizarre few minutes against Bournemouth in which he easily could have scored four goals but missed each chance. Regardless, it’s good to see him popping up in those positions, and he always looks lively – things look bright, but a few goals off the bench would serve him well heading into the off-season.
Charlie Kelman is the unknown quantity in all this. An exciting prospect when he signed, but very much one for the future, he’s done what Les Ferdinand and Mark Warburton expected and put in some solid performances for the U23s. He hasn’t, however (and I genuinely saw someone on Twitter suggest this when he signed) turned out to be “the new Wazza,” and remained (rightly or wrongly) fourth in the queue for the striker position. At this rate, he seems unlikely to compete with Austin, Dykes or Bonne at this stage in the season. It might become clear in the next few games that, (especially if the club look to Premier League loan strikers once more next season) Kelman deserves a run in the first team of a League One club next season.
With exactly nine games left to play last season, the country had entered lockdown and the tantalising idea of a play-off push was germinating in the minds of QPR fans. As the rest of the country baked banana bread and reluctantly downloaded TikTok, Roy Hodgson was probably already outside Ebere Eze’s house with a boombox and a “say it’s carol singers” sign, and Club Brugge were booking an all-inclusive for Bright Osayi-Samuel and his mum to come and visit. QPR were about to face the reality of being a “selling club,” and get on with the selling. This appeared to impact these players’ performances somewhat – Warburton has cited the impact of lockdown football on young players’ mentality, and this might explain why Eze’s form had a resurgence as lockdown became a more established “new normal,” but Bright never quite looked the same after his two pre-lockdown assists against Preston in March 2020.
In 2021, the picture is somewhat different. All of QPR’s major prospects – in stark contrast to last season – are on long contracts. Dickie only signed last summer, the club squeezed a renewal out of Dieng before he cemented his role as the first-choice keeper (frankly, a great bit of work by Les and his team), and Chair’s new mega-contract ensures the club can still get big bucks for him if he stays for a further couple of seasons. QPR hold the cards this season much more than last. As always, there’s a price for any player, but a Manning/BOS-like departure for a measly sum seems less likely. At the tail-end of the season, it’ll become clearer what these players’ futures are. Arsenal, Leeds and Crystal Palace may well resume their interest in Dieng, but it seems to look like the overhaul of 2019 and the re-overhaul of the 2020 window won’t be replicated this summer, so the side’s star players can hopefully look to continue their form and work towards a strong finish to lift morale for next season.
CAPTAIN AMERICA AND THE EX-GERS SOLDIER
At the other end of the age spectrum, QPR have a number of players who might be playing their final few games for the club. Geoff Cameron, bless him, really ought to be. An assist from a fizzed free kick against Millwall did little to make up for a borderline unprofessional first half performance, and for all the moments of “oh yeah, he did used to play in the Premier League” quality in retaining the ball and making some smart passes, he has enough absolute entry-level howlers up his sleeve to have been a genuine liability in too many games. Pushed out of central midfield by Stefan Johansen and Sam Field, and out of central defence (a position that he’d admittedly been just about alright in), by Jordy de Wijs, Cameron will need a miracle to get the nod to stick around for another season. Bi, den.
Lee Wallace is perhaps a more interesting question mark. He’s been great, in pretty much every way you wouldn’t expect him to be. Marauding runs in behind opposing defences have become something of a trademark of the player formerly seen as the more static defensive option when compared to Ryan Manning. His contract is up this summer and at age 33 with a chequered injury history, one would think he’ll need to play his absolute socks off to get an extension.
Most QPR fans will keep a semi-regular eye on the lower leagues to see how Rangers’ loan players are doing. This season, Mide Shodipo appears to be the major success story, with a respectable ten goals (nine from open play) for Oxford United. He’ll only do himself a favour by continuing this form as United look to push up the table, but (assuming QPR’s 5-2-1-2-ish system persists), it’s unclear where a winger would fit into the side.
Nonetheless, Shodipo has made a stronger case for himself than any other major loanees have, and this doesn’t look set to change. Some of the younger crew (including Charley Kendall, Aaron Drewe and Kai Woolard-Innocent) seem to have had routine loans at non-league level and could easily still be future options for QPR, but Rem Oteh and ‘R’ Gen editor Sam’s darling Paul Smyth might have missed the last bus home, with both of their contracts expiring this summer.
Liam Kelly is an interesting one, having won Motherwell’s Player of the Month award and made some solid saves north of the border. It’s hard to see a future for Joe Lumley at QPR, so a question remains as to whether Kelly will be staying in London or returning to Scotland (with youngster Joe Walsh likely eager to compete for the 2nd-choice spot).
WHAT’S IN THE MYSTERY BOX?
A number of players are still hovering on the fringes of the QPR side – either academy youngsters like Faysal Bettache (who has looked sharp both at the end of last season and off the bench in the first half of 2020/21) and summer transfers like George Thomas (again, all positive signs when he’s played, including a good shift to help create the winning goal against Watford). It’s also been confirmed that Charlie Owens still exists, if that means much. QPR are basically safe from relegation and too far off the play-offs, so these fringe players might find a way into the side, even if off the bench – much like last season, although this was more due to the Grant Hall, Marc Pugh and Jordan Hugill-shaped hole in the post-lockdown side.
There’s a bit more pride involved in this season, for the above reasons that the side looks more equipped to kick on next season than they did at the end of 2019/20, but a bit of a shake-up of the squad in the final few games might be possible.
Written by Ben Summer (@bm_summer)
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