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Stick or twist? – Column
Friday, 8th Apr 2022 12:40 by Jordan Conte

Troubled by the team’s collapse in form like the rest of us, Jordan Conte thought it might be cathartic to put his thoughts on the question dominating QPR online discussion at the moment down on paper and weigh up the pros and cons...

Like most of us I have been trying to make sense of - even by our standards - a colossal dip in form since February. Dismay seems to have peaked after our latest lacklustre defeat, this time coming at Bramall Lane. Where do we go from here?

There are so many questions: What has happened to us? Why is our midfield a hologram? Why have we become so dull that we look like a JFH era tribute act? Why can we not move the ball around with a bit of pace and tempo that made us so attractive earlier this season? Why has Stef turned into Mikele Leigertwood? Why are we so impotent in attack that we resemble someone turning up to the Battle of Agincourt armed with a frankfurter? And why does Warbs keep dropping two of our most consistent defenders (Dunne & Barbet) for Dion ‘Runaround Sue’ Sanderson?

I certainly do not have the magic answers and as much as we can speculate or listen to Warbs’ post-match soundbites, it is unlikely we will ever find them out. I suppose the only question we can try to answer is – what happens next?

The ‘Warbs out’ drum on social media is getting louder and louder. There were murmurs in the deep of Twitter as early as February. Since our latest defeat at Sheffield United, it is as if Animal is on the drums, thrashing out the #WarburtonOut hashtag at a frantic BPM. Equally, there is still a lot of resistance to Mark Warburton’s tenure ending at QPR. From my timeline, I would say it’s an even split between those wanting blood, and those who want him to stay. I am still undecided, splinters in my arse etc. I do think it is fair to say though, that there are compelling arguments for us trotting back up to the metaphorical managerial blackjack table (again) and deciding whether to stick or twist.

Should Warburton stay? No Qpr fan can deny that Warbs has given us plenty of moments to smile about, plenty of celebratory hangovers and plenty of hours studying the league table and next rounds of fixtures. He has taken us from the horrible Steve McClaren season’s nineteenth place finish to thirteenth, then to a late charge to finish ninth, and then on to this season’s play-off push ninth (at the time of writing). He has given us regular wins away, broken positive records for a change, banished Todd Kane and brought back a level of professionalism to the club which had vanished at times under previous managers.

For the most part, he has improved the quality of football on the park not seen since the Steve McClaren trained Harry Redknapp’s team. More often than not, we have had a clear identity – ball to feet, fast attacking phases of play, overlapping wing-backs, high-pressing and two creative number 10’s on the pitch at once. That has been refreshing beyond belief, especially when you think back to the Sunday league level tactics we have been served up in recent years. Such hits that include ‘Give it to Chery and see what happens’ or ‘Bring on big Matt Smith and lump it up to him’ and my personal favourite JFH’s ‘Just defend if you fancy it.’ I think we sometimes take it for granted how appealing it is that we have a manager who wants to play so expansively. In the Championship, it is often substance over style.

One huge improvement to the club that we as a fanbase have been calling out for years in W12 is having established first team players that have come through the academy. Prior to Darnel Furlong, our last successful graduate that made an appearance was Richard Langley. Though financial constraints have played a part, Warburton has given plenty of opportunities to academy players or youngsters brought in on the cheap. Some have worked, some have not. For the Niko Hamalainen and Osman Kakays, he has nurtured the likes of Ebere Eze, Ilias Chair, Seny Dieng & made Darnell Furlong appealing enough after one season for WBA to come in for him. Not forgetting the recent raw but talented signings that needed a platform. He has turned a few of them into some of the best players in the Championship – Chris Willock, Jimmy Dunne & Rob Dickie. Who knows which genius has brought these lads in, but the work Mark Warburton has done with them on the training ground has got to be applauded. Most importantly, we now have a handful of sellable assets and are sustainable in the transfer market again. Which has been a fantastic turnaround considering we were still paying off that ridiculous FFP fine so recently. We have clearly improved as a squad under Warburton’s stewardship, would it not be mad to get rid of someone who has done such good work?

If all the above is true, why is there a feeling of impending doom? A feeling of a rogue party balloon that cannot go any higher than the ceiling it has hit, that will inevitably pop. The drop off in results and form for most of 2022 has been woeful. Something changed after Christmas for me. Though January brought continued good results (wins against Birmingham, WBA, Coventry & Reading) the standard of our performances dropped off and fortune went our way in some of those victories. Since then, even when we have managed to win, it has been by grinding it out, like seeing waiters with those oversized pepper mills at commercial Italian restaurants. Unlike earlier in the season when we were blowing away of teams. Full of energy, full of goals. Unfortunately, it has got worse and worse.

In the league since February, our form reads – 2-2-8. This seems to have shocked a lot of our fanbase but, it is very Warbs. Streaky. Streaks of unbeaten runs and then streaks of losses. This has been a regular feature during his tenure, though this current half-season fantastic, half-season dreadful streak has been monumental. Teams in this league often get found out after successful periods because they are in the spotlight so much, and in our case had been selected to take over the dedicated Sky Sports Leeds channel. We have been found out, we have been found out for a while. Though, unlike in the past, Warbs has not addressed the growing problems that were emerging and that are now fully present – lack of pace, playing through wing-backs when our first choice ones are injured for a lengthy period, slow sideways passing and strange subs. You can ride these issues out when you are aiming for mid-table mediocrity, but not when you’re trying to get out of such a competitive league. This is why I think so many of our support are prepared to part ways. We are an honest bunch and the post-match interviews certainly do not help when he highlights a big decision that didn’t go our way and hardly mentions the turgid football dished up for the whole match. When you combine everything, there is a feeling that he just isn’t quite dynamic enough to take us to the play-offs. This season or next. Even if he did manage to take us up, it fills me with dread that we would have to go to places like the Etihad or Anfield and set up for some kind of respectable result. I fear our results would read like the current England Test Team.

Of course, the decision lies with the board. That decision is made more complicated by the fact that Warburton recently suggested he was out of contract at the end of the season, though it’s previously been a rolling deal and might still be. If Warburton is here next season then it will feel strange him being rewarded, especially if the season continues to peter out. Whether achieving a play-off spot was the target before a ball was kicked or not, being in the running for so long and then dropping like a stone is at least partially a failure on the manager’s part. It doesn’t bring much confidence going into next season and you would expect the manager to have to be backed substantially again by the board to stand a chance of improving next season. Especially with the sickly amounts of parachute money coming down with the relegated teams from the Premier League.

If Warburton was to leave then the board would have to find an outstanding candidate, because he will not be easy to replace, and I am not sure there is one. Regardless of his faults, we are settled with Warburton and that has benefitted us. The merry go-round of appointing a new manager, giving him X number of transfer windows to ‘build his own team’ is a risky one, a risky one we all know too well. Especially if there are no obvious appointments out there. I have seen Farke and Wagner mooted by our fans on social media but there has to be a long-term vision of taking QPR up and staying there and they both failed doing that long-term. Farke, though commendable in his promotion seasons with Norwich looked all at sea when they were in the Premier League. As for Wagner, he has had torrid times everywhere he has been since Huddersfield. Sometimes a manager and club just fit and said manager doesn’t fit anywhere else. Paul Warne has been solid with Rotherham and Liam Manning has got MK Franchise flying but to go from there to targeting the Championship play-offs is a big step.

What is for certain is that we are rightly or wrongly entering a period of uncertainty over our manager’s future again. Just as it was getting comfortable for a few summers, not having this type of headache going into the close season.

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ozexile added 12:50 - Apr 8
Thank you, good article. I'm 60/40 him staying. However this is the second time in his 3 year stay that we've had dreadful finishes to the season. I know Covid was a unique situation but our attitude stunk towards the end of that season like it does now. Someone way smarter than me will hopefully be making the decision.
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Northolt_Rs added 13:39 - Apr 8
Great write up. I really hope Warbs can turn the results - and performances - around over the next few games.
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Antti_Heinola added 14:01 - Apr 8
Poor Marcus Bean.
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Damo1962 added 14:02 - Apr 9
I'd have Leigertwood over Johansson every day. Don't know why Mikele gets such pelters from a lot of R's supporters - I always quite enjoyed watching him play ( and he could score as well). Don't understand your fear of being destroyed in the Prem, as we are more likely to be looking down than up next season...no matter who is in charge.
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jack10qpr added 16:41 - Apr 9
If Warbs is to go, John Eustace would be my 1st, 2nd and 3rd choice.
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keefarcher123 added 08:53 - Apr 10
Momentum works both ways is a well known phenomenon. We have to stop the downward spiral somehow and for me after yesterday's result we have reached that point . We have a tiny glimmer of home if we win our remaining matches to get in the playoffs but if you are doing the same things and expecting different results you're a fool . If we keep him and we continue to lose our remaining games we go into next season on a low. I vote get Eustace at the helm for the remainder to see if he can continue the good work . For me it's a no brainer ..maybe the players have just heard it all from warbs and it's just like Charlie brown's school teacher :)
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