QPR’s unbeaten run may have come to an end at the weekend but with the return of talisman Charlie Austin and a host of other fresh faces they have started 2021 with a new lease of life, collecting six wins and a draw from their opening nine matches.
It has seen the club lie sixth in the form table with their 19 points hauling them away from immediate relegation concerns and even fleetingly flirting with thoughts of a Play-Off surge.
What has perhaps made the immediate impact of these acquisitions even more impressive is they are not only set amidst the backdrop of coronavirus but also the club still wrestling with a Financial Fair Play (FFP) fine they were issued with in 2014.
Back in January, QPR chief executive Lee Hoos wrote a letter to the other 23 Championship clubs to try to get the club’s £42m fine reduced due to the impact of the global pandemic, asking them to “consider the fairness of payments from a club competing in the second tier of a football competition”.
Although it was reportedly met with a positive response in a ‘short, terse debate’ at a subsequent league meeting, the club are still very much restricted to what they can do in the transfer market.
On QPR’s January signings, boss Mark Warburton told London Football Scene: “Recruitment is so difficult. You always hear about the good ones but you don’t hear so much about the bad ones.
“You say ‘that club is fantastic at recruitment’, but they never tell you about the five or six bad ones that are loitering on other pitches.
“That’s the way it goes, if you can get seven out of ten right then you’ve done very well.”
Being held by these constraints, the club have been forced to adapt from their previous big money spending and now turn to the lower leagues to pick up players with potential.
Joining a defensive line-up alongside Geoff Cameron and Yoann Barbet, Rob Dickie has been a revelation since signing from League One Oxford in the summer transfer window.
The 24-year-old has not only quickly established himself as a fans’ favourite and one of the first names on the team sheet but has already helped the Hoops to eight clean sheets this term – two more than they accrued all last season.
Whilst fellow summer signings Macauley Bonne and Lyndon Dykes have also become regular starters, they have perhaps failed to hit the ground running as much – scoring just seven Championship goals between them before January.
With the Hoops ending 2020 with just one win in their final ten games, it was clear where Warburton needed reinforcements.
And who better than a man with a record of 48 goals in 89 games for the club?
Sporting the number 45 shirt, cult hero Austin returned to QPR on January 9th on loan from West Bromwich Albion for the remainder of the season.
The 31-year-old’s impact was almost instantaneous, scoring on his second QPR debut away at Luton with a typical poacher’s goal – the first of four in nine appearances since re-signing.
Austin’s return came days before the announcement Bright Osayi-Samuel had signed a pre-contract agreement with Turkish Super Lig side Fenerbahce, with the 23-year-old entering the final sixth months of his current contract and able to negotiate a free transfer move abroad in the summer.
At the time, Warburton made it clear the club would be looking for some form of compensation by negotiating a January departure from W12 and just a week after the initial announcement it was confirmed the winger had left the club early for an undisclosed fee.
With QPR already losing Eberechi Eze to Crystal Palace last summer, many would have been dismayed at the thoughts of losing another creative outlet such as Osayi-Samuel but the side have not only managed to score goals and win games but look more balanced overall.
Key to this have been the loan arrivals of Fulham’s Stefan Johansen and Sam Field from West Brom, slotting into midfield alongside Dominic Ball.
Johansen in particular has already established himself as a key component in Warburton’s side, starting all six games since his arrival and netting the opener in QPR’s 2-1 victory over promotion challengers Bournemouth.
Field’s contribution has been more of a supporting role off the bench so far but nevertheless, vital in the Hoops’ engine room whilst also finding the net in the 2-1 West London derby win against Brentford.
Speaking to London Football Scene on Johansen, Warburton said: “You don’t become Norway captain, making 55 caps, without having the necessary experience and quality needed.
“Think of the Brentford game, in the last minute. Stefan (Johansen) going out to make that tackle on Rico Henry on the far side of the pitch that goes unnoticed, but it’s that type of moment that is so important.
“Those types of additions are really helpful, when you bring in Charlie (Austin), when you bring in Stefan for example… you need those names to help the younger players on and off the pitch.”
One of those younger players Warburton may be referring to is goalkeeper Joe Walsh, the 18-year-old who signed from Gillingham for an undisclosed fee at the end of the January window.
It was one which may have gone unnoticed by many but he is regarded as one of the best players in his age group across the country. Previously linked with the likes of Everton and Celtic, Walsh may become an absolute bargain in years to come.
Of course, Walsh is one for the future while the trio of Austin, Johansen and Field are only currently temporary solutions to QPR’s problems of being competitive under the financial constraints they have to deal with.
The real test will be what happens in the summer but for now, lets just enjoy the moment of having a QPR side that are playing well and winning games.