By Phil Harding
Next time you are in Shepherds Bush and walking near the QPR ground on Loftus Road, pause for a moment and listen. Aside from the background throb of Westway, there is something else. A definite sound but one not often heard around these parts and often easily dissipated. There - that’s it - it’s the whisper of quiet optimism.
After one of the strangest seasons any of us can remember there’s a real sense that Rangers are on the up. The 2020-21 season was certainly one of two halves: first half, dire; second half much more promising.
That we struggled at first was perhaps not surprising given that the club, still crippled by the excesses of our last visit to the Premier League, had to sell or let go of most of the players who had scored most of the goals in the season before. We began with some flashes of decent football totally undone by poor finishing, slapdash defending, poor refereeing and just plain bad luck. A fatal combination. Wins and points dried up. Something had to change or we were heading for relegation. It looked as though the club might be about to indulge in its annual ritual sacking of the manager. But for once the club held its nerve and Mark Warburton stayed. He in turn kept his faith with the players and the playing style.
The turning point came with the arrival of some loan players in January. Loan signings are risky. Often with loan players you can tell right from the off that they don’t want to be with you. The body language stinks, the football no better. First to arrive was the talismanic Charlie Austin. A Rangers goal-scoring darling seven years ago, but now marooned at West Brom and surely past his prime. He scored on his debut and then just kept on shooting. But more than that, he had an effect on the whole team. He vocally encouraged his team mates, notably his striking partner Scotland international Lyndon Dykes, who had been having a miserable time up front. Charlie definitely cared and showed it. He lifted the whole team. They started playing some classy football. Dykes started scoring. Stefan Johannsen’s arrival from Fulham was another key signing, bringing much needed guile and solidity to the midfield. Someone had been doing their transfer homework.
Former number three goal-keeper Senny Dieng became a revelation, producing strings of match winning saves. Ilias Chair started to show off his midfield brilliance. The leaky defence started producing clean sheets. By the end of this season we had climbed to ninth after starting out at nineteenth at Christmas. That’s promotion form over a full season.
Can QPR sustain this into next season? Well, as the fine print on the financial ads says, past results are no guide to future performance. QPR have made a good start and are close to getting Charlie Austin to sign on for next season. Good business, done early. Persuading Fulham, just relegated and now of course our Championship rivals, to sell us Stefan Johannsen for a reasonably low fee could be key.
It won’t be easy: we are still strapped for cash with a small squad, players get injured, no one knows what impact bringing back crowds will have on results and the Championship is a notoriously difficult league to climb out of. But there is now a real sense of togetherness at the club: players, board, fans. Maybe, just maybe, this year that tiny whisper could turn into a Premiership Loftus roar.
Phil Harding is a journalist and writer. He is a season ticket holder at QPR and has supported the team since the early 70s.
The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and unless specifically stated are not necessarily those of Hammersmith & Fulham Council.
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