At half-time there were reasons to be optimistic. After two straight defeats at the start of the season, maybe – just maybe – their fortunes were about to turn. Joel Lynch had cancelled out Matt Phillips’ opener just ten minutes before the break, but QPR’s start to the season went from bad to calamitous in a horror-show second half. The QPR defence was overwhelmed every time West Brom went forward. It was a display which saw defenders tackling each other, shameful positioning and desperate dives on the goal-line. It was a performance which would have made a dandelion look firm.
This 7-1 beating was their biggest defeat for 45 years and compounded QPR’s worst start to a season. Things were not looking good for the R’s and their manager Steve McClaren, mockingly dubbed the ‘Wally with the Brolly’ after his miserable tenure as England manager. After less than five games into the job, the manager faced resounding calls to be sacked. But since their first four defeats, they have picked up 37 points from 20 games and are just two points outside the play-offs.
Key additions and new-found belief
Bizarrely, the 7-1 defeat was the catalyst for QPR’s turnaround. That loss did manager Steve McClaren a favour, in the sense that it clearly highlighted all that was wrong with his team. It forced him into finding replacements. In came Geoff Cameron, Angel Rangel, Nahki Wells and Tomer Hemed, who are all equipped with Premier League experience. Those four changes have been the difference between a basket case and a respectable side. Had QPR lost by a smaller margin, those changes may not have come so soon, and they may have been in an unsavable position by the time it was realised.
A switch of goalkeepers from Matt Ingram to Joe Lumley has been seen as a masterstroke. The team that had conceded 13 goals in four games, have now kept clean sheets in nine of their last 20. Before that they had just nine in 70. Geoff Cameron and Angel Rangel have also helped in transforming QPR’s defence. Freeman and Eze were the main creators in this side and with Hemed and Wells now there to get on the end of their creativity, the attack has become a force to be reckoned with. The new arrivals gave the current squad a new-found belief that they were going to pick up points, despite being rock bottom of the table.
January litmus test
The decision to replace Ian Holloway with Steve McClaren now looks a shrewd one, after a succession of failed managerial appointments. Last year, QPR managed just 15 points on the road, but this year they have already matched that tally, and are only halfway through the season. However, next month will be the real indicator as to whether QPR have what it takes to keep up with the top six. Struggling Premier League sides and ambitious championship clubs will be looking to add to their squads and players like Luke Freeman and Eberechi Eze have many suitors. Keeping hold of those will be pivotal.
Whilst other teams can go out and strengthen their squads, QPR do not have that luxury. As part of a £42m fine for overspending, they have also been hit with a January transfer ban meaning there can be no new additions, including loans and free transfers. This means prizing players away from QPR would come at a hefty cost, but clubs may be prepared to pay over the odds as they grow more desperate,
To add insult to injury, they will lose key player Massimo Luongo while he plays for Australia in the Asian Cup, and will be without Geoff Cameron for the foreseeable future. Hemed faces at least a month out, leaving Nahki Wells the only fully fit forward to have scored a goal this season.
As parachute payments run out next season, wage bills will have to come down to keep within the rules of Financial Fair Play. Should QPR face a situation like the one they had at the start of the season, solving it would become much harder.