A win away at Middlesbrough yesterday, was a cagey, calamitous yet joyous affair – a true Queens Park Rangers spectacle if there ever was one. The win took us to 10th, something unexpected of myself and on behalf of the fanbase after enduring the loss of Ebere Eze this summer to Crystal Palace and more to the point, the abject start we had produced under the bellows of Nick London and Andy Sinton’s voices- experiences of chuckles and laughs and Crowdie Bingo [‘You can join R crowd for just £25 and when, and I repeat when, fans come back, you may have the delight of taking them as your own’]. *Sighs*. Four wins from the first 22 games meant we sat in 20th position. Fear, relegation worries and the hemisphere of QPR twitter seeped toxicity as calls for Mark Warburton’s head were on every hashtag, every @ and every post. Something I must reiterate not everyone did, but of the people who you most see moan violently about a defeat to Rotherham and are stunned of silence once we win comfortably.
The main point is that yesterday we surpassed our points tally of last season. Under Warburton we finished 13th with 58 points, admittedly we had the chance to finish higher if it wasn’t for the dire lockdown form that was so painful to watch whilst having little else to do, something to us fans which is ironic of QPR- expect the unexpected. But anyway, last season was good, For the negatives, many positives outweighed it. Hugill and Nakhi Wells firing form in a partnership so promising and so volatile, the rise of Ebere Eze briskfully dancing and gliding past players from Stoke away at the start of the season to individual performances of pure class such as Hull away, where at the time I was going with my mate to see Palace and jeering as I see the penalty go in. Little do the fans surrounding me know that this gem of a player was to be in their hands and probably tearing up the Premier league had not in been for Risky Roy (Jonathon Ross style). But nonetheless it was a season well done for Warburton who had been stripped of a Mclaren squad in low confidence and having to bring in 15 new additions at low cost was never going to be a simple feat- one where at times he did make it look seamlessly.
Come the summer just gone we did not have those luxuries we took for granted in the summer. Hugill was gone, so too Eze and Ryan Manning departed us on deadline day for peanuts- it looked somewhat bleak. In came Bonne and Dykes, both unfinished projects for a decent chunk of budget had the difficult and ever anticipated job of filling Hugill and Wells’s goalscoring shoes. This was going to be something of an ambition considering both players career trajectories but nonetheless possible. The likes of Dickie, Little Tom Carroll and Adomah were promising signings and statements made by the board whilst Willock and Thomas were seen as periphery additions, but boy has Willock proved me wrong and what an enjoyable experience watching him has been.
Like I alluded to, to begin with we ended up with four wins from 22 games, sticking to Warbs’s preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. The system perhaps was the downfall, Barbet in a back two rather than a three has somewhat of a hit and run factor where you can only sit back and enjoy the ride. But to the dismay results wise our performances were promising had it not been for the odd or few defensive mistakes that cost us the ‘fine margins’ in a league brimmed with brutality. We’d lost Amos to an already depleted midfield playing with an injury prone Tom Carroll and Dominic Ball, who’s consistency with work rate should be desired but his quality has been shown up since Sam Field’s arrival. One thing that I have been critical of is Warburton’s stubbornness in general despite my liking of him. He was tactically inept to our situation, his stubbornness with players such as Chrissy Willock was obvious, even at times not when he may be the typical Adam Le Fondre for Reading back in the day, but when he continued to play Dykes through his bleak sixteen goal less run, at that point for Dykes confidence really had hit rock bottom.
It was on Boxing day at home to Swansea where the system changed to a 3-5-2, not a game of particular quality as a result of unforced errors and capitalisation from Jamal Lowe, but where it had its promising signs. Fast forward to Luton away, our first game of the new year, and within a click of the finger it was our turning point. The arrival of the messiah, Charlie Austin, Rangers famous number 9- number 4+5=45. Dykes sticking strong to his number! But anyway, Luton was the collected performance we had craved. Dykes the provider in that game, a performance a number 10 produces but early signs were the partnership was blossoming and all strikers contributed something. Along came during that month a package of parcels. Johansen and De Wijs on loan (De Wijs however disappeared off the face of the earth) and managing to bring in a late Field on deadline day after the exuberant comeback clinched at Vicarage road. *Cues Cup Final Joke*- Be wise with your words, Troy!
Six wins in seven against top opposition too, even the victory over Brentfarce and Thomas Franks bemoans to the Messiah, Austin who put him back down to earth. Not only had the atmosphere changed, the songs of Stefan, Charlie and even Todd Kane (Yes Kane) were sung as we finally had some belief in this team. For all the jokes and the bemoans we were and are a good team with good talent but for whatever reason could not pull the results out the bag. Warbs in this system was really able to get the best out of the unexpected players too. A back three helped Barbet utilize his ability on the ball, it allowed both wing backs Wallace and Kane to express their offensive ability and use the width to provide attacking outputs, it felt a monumental moment of finishing the puzzle, the system itself was the missing piece.
After yesterday’s win, we sit 10th with 59 points with four games to play and a decent display to finish with. Of late it’s been positive; the partnership of Willock and Chair has been a great spectacle- even seeing Thomas play as an auxiliary midfielder with the gung ho attack in yesterday’s first 25 minutes was something of promise that perhaps we can build on next season. Fair play to Warburton for sticking with Dykes who is now in a fine run of form having netted five goals in six and two assists also. The fact he showed his faith throughout, perhaps by chance of a lack of squad depth, but his all-round game has brought faith for a striker in a rich scoring vein. Warburton is a likeable character, someone who is of an asset to the club, the reason why many have joined this club through Warbs’s man management and philosophy rather than the clubs name and the price of the pay cheque.
Its brilliant to see to some relief that he is staying beyond this season through his rolling contract. His attention to detail, his development of young players as shown through Manning, Eze, Chair, Bright, Willoc and Kakay. The opportunity he presents to players such as Seny Dieng, Other managers have overlooked him in the past, but not Warbs who had half an eye on him, gave him his opportunity which he grasped and has now become to be arguably our most influential player this season. On reflection of this season, if you’d have told me, we’d have lost Eze, Bright and Manning for peanuts whilst finishing better than last season, in the top 10 and beating our points total with four games to spare, I’d have snapped my hand off for it, something of a remarkable feat and something realistically dream able at the halfway stage. Credit does go to the board however for the backing of the loan signings which have been a big coup and have shown to back Warburton within the uncertainty of his contract issue, even after a rough patch of form.
The season isn’t over and whilst I’m writing this optimistically, we could be with four defeats to round a successful season off but would somehow be turned into a negative had we slipped further down. But next season is looking fruitful, our squad is not in need of major surgery, a few revamps, loans could be turned permanent ( a big could however, cue the twitter meltdown….) and a further improvement on this season will be demanded. But for the excitement of league positions and the ever-asked question of ‘Can we make the Playoffs?’, we have some brilliant young players coming through, we have a system where at our best are unplayable and for all the moans, sarcastic groans and begrudges we have a good side at our disposal. The return of fans back too, the cascade of beers drunk, thrown and bought again and the celebrations, roars and cheers of the dulcet tones of
“Come on URRRRRRRSSSSSSSSSSSSS”.
Perhaps, and a big perhaps, we can build on our form of 2021 and become the antithesis of Queens Park Rangers, consistent!
Written by Daniel Lambert