QPR’s 2020/21 campaign will go down as a tale of two seasons which ultimately ended on the positive note of securing a ninth place finish – their highest Championship finish since 2016.
It could have been so different though with the Hoops’ mediocre 2019/20 campaign coupled by the departure of the talented Eberechi Eze to Crystal Palace in the summer bringing a sense of unease around W12 before a ball had even been kicked.
And despite the Hoops beating Nottingham Forest on the opening day, a subsequent seven match winless run would have done little to alleviate the fears.
Had it not been for a stoppage-time screamer by Dominic Ball in a 3-2 win against Cardiff City at the end of October, the Hoops and Mark Warburton may have found themselves in an even more precarious position.
The victory sparked QPR into life, going on to pick up important wins against Derby County and Rotherham United, before once again struggling to kick-on.
With the loss of Luke Amos to a ruptured ACL, and an ongoing transfer saga with contract rebel Bright Osayi-Samuel, Warburton’s side began to look short of both points and personnel.
Ending the calendar year in poor form, QPR failed to win any of the nine league games following the Rotherham victory, and teetered precariously over the relegation zone.
However, the turning point of the campaign was undoubtedly the shrewd January transfer window activity, where the club was tasked with replacing the departing Osayi-Samuel in an attempt to turn their fortunes around.
Constrained by their record-breaking £42m Financial Fair Play fine from 2014, it left QPR in a position where loan deals were by far the most beneficial, and likely, pieces of business.
Speaking to London Football Scene earlier in the year, Mark Warburton said: “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.”
In the case of QPR’s January window though – it can be said that they did very well indeed.
The announcement of their former talisman Charlie Austin joining from West Bromwich Albion was followed by the additional loan signings of Norway captain Stefan Johansen from Fulham, Hull City’s Jordy de Wijs and fellow West Brom player Sam Field.
Austin’s impact was almost instantaneous, with the 32-year-old scoring on his second QPR debut away at Luton with a typical poacher’s goal – the first of eight in the 21 appearances he’d make after re-signing.
The stats only tell half the story as his work rate, experience and natural ability to find space to create goalscoring opportunities made him the perfect player to lead the line.
QPR managed to maintain the momentum from the Luton game to win five out of their first six games of 2021 – including an impressive 2-1 victory over then second-placed Brentford.
Austin also appeared to have an impact, both directly and indirectly, on his fellow forwards with Lyndon Dykes in particular coming into form.
Despite scoring in back-to-back games in the first two games of the season, the forward had endured a 22 game goalless run that stretched from November until the end of March.
But after playing alongside Austin for a few weeks, Dykes’ confidence in front of goal began to show with the Scotland international scoring six goals in the final eight games of the campaign – the same amount he had mustered in his first 34 outings for the club.
His most impressive performance came in QPR’s 4-1 home win over Sheffield Wednesday, picking up a brace on the day.
On top of his 12 goals, the forward notched up five assists in the campaign which will bode well for Scotland’s Euro 2020 squad as well as next season whether Austin stays or not.
Fellow January recruit Stefan Johansen had a similar impact on the team, slotting into a midfield pivot with either Ball or Field and his experience proved vital, picking up four goals and two assists during his time at the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium.
One of those was a victory that epitomised QPR’s Jekyll and Hyde season, as the Hoops put in a scintillating second-half display to overturn a two goal deficit to beat Millwall 3-2.
Perhaps the most impressive of QPR’s additions this season has been centre-back Rob Dickie, who signed from Oxford United in the summer and quickly became a fan favourite.
The 25-year-old played all but three league games, barely putting a foot wrong to pick up the Player of the Year and Players’ Player of the Year awards at the end of the season.
Owner Tony Fernandes has already teased the possibility of QPR turning their four loan deals into permanent ones, with Jordy de Wijs and Sam Field already putting pen to paper at the club.
And if they are able to retain all four players for next season, alongside the return of fans to the ground, then QPR have a solid foundation on which to build a bright future.