Rejuvenated and refreshed Chris Willock ready to fire QPR to Championship safety

4 min

Perhaps one of the most important jobs Marti Cifuentes had when he first arrived at Loftus Road as head coach was helping QPR score more goals.

Under Gareth Ainsworth, it had increasingly become a struggle in a rigid and predictable playing style with the Hoops in desperate need of more creativity and bravery in the final third.

Fortunately for Cifuentes, his appointment coincided with the return of Chris Willock, who was slowly returning to the matchday squad following the latest in a long line of niggling injuries.

Willock’s impact has already been on show in each of Cifuentes’ only wins as QPR boss so far – finding the net in the three games against Stoke, Preston and Hull.

The 25-year-old has always had the potential to be a matchwinner but the QPR faithful have been starved of those moments due to a series of unfortunate injuries and set-backs.

Under Michael Beale, Willcock was a key cog in the side that started the 2022/23 campaign so impressively, notching six goals in his first nine appearances before picking up a hamstring injury that saw him sidelined for the whole of October.

His return the following month looked rushed but the winger nevertheless continued to play week-in/week-out under new boss Neil Critchley before another hamstring injury saw another lengthy spell on the sidelines.

Once again Willock returned to another new manager in Ainsworth who never quite utilised the player properly, playing a total of 48 minutes over the final six games of the season and being an unused substitute three times.

READ MORE: Marti Cifuentes’ QPR reign already feels a million miles away from Gareth Ainsworth’s tactics

Things didn’t improve at the start of this season either, Willock being used sparingly in cameo roles and starting just three times in 14 games.

Cifuentes’ appointment seems to have revitalised the forward, with Willock exclusively telling London Football Scene: “The manager has given me a lot of freedom. He wants me to attack and create, so I’m trying to do that every game. 

“I’m really enjoying my time on the pitch and hopefully there’s more to come.”

One of Cifuentes’ changes has been to unleash Willock alongside Ilias Chair, who has been playing a more central role. 

The pair have always combined well together but it’s a relationship that appeared to have been lost at times over the last year or so due to its stop-start nature because of injuries and tactical changes under an array of different managers. 

“Ilias (Chair) is like my brother so it’s good to play with him,” Willock added. “We understand each other, he’s a terrific player, and hopefully we can get many more games together.”

The last few games has once again seen Willock frustratingly hit with a niggling injury, picking up an issue against Southampton which saw him sidelined for the festive games against Millwall and Cardiff.

READ MORE: Football Finances – how Brentford, Fulham, Millwall, QPR, Charlton Athletic, AFC Wimbledon, Leyton Orient and Sutton United fare

With QPR in a relegation dogfight, keeping Willock fit and contributing will be crucial – something the player is acutely aware of and prepared for: “It’s what you want to do as an attacking player, score goals and get assists. I have to keep going, get in the box more and finish my chances.”

And if Willock can recapture his 2021/22 form which saw him score seven goals and add 11 assists, there’s every chance QPR will survive with the 25-year-old making a pledge to fans for the remainder of the season.

“You can expect that attacking flair I like to have, a lot more goals and assists, taking us up the pitch as well as working hard for the team. I’m committed right now and I’m really enjoying my football.”

For QPR fans with little to cheer about in 2023, it’s one New Year’s resolution they will undoubtedly hope remains intact as the end of the season approaches…

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