With a two-week break to stew over that performance against Wycombe Wanderers, the focus now moves onto the run-in as it begins in earnest. Anything less than 50 points – 11 more than we currently have – is likely to put our fate in the hands of other teams. To get even close to that, we are going to have to improve markedly on the performances we have produced over the past month or so.
Given the poor results we’ve had on the road this season, anything we can pick up in our remaining away games will be a bonus that will help take the pressure off our home games. It won’t be an easy task against a Queens Park Rangers side that have the sixth-best home form in the division since the turn of the year, however, it underlines that we are likely to have to get results off good teams if we are to be successful in our survival bid.
It was strange that Mark Robins stuck with the 3-5-1-1 formation last time out in a game where we had to take the initiative, but with Tyler Walker and Matt Godden short on fitness, his options were limited. After those two key strikers made it through an under-23 game last week unscathed, it would be bizarre for the manager to persist with a system that has seen us generate just five shots on target and two goals over our past four games.
The question for this game is who is sacrificed in favour of an extra forward. An injury to Liam Kelly seemingly made this a straightforward decision to Robins, but the captain has reportedly been back in training this week and could be in contention to start either this game or the one on Easter Monday. If Kelly is fit, the manager is going to have to make a decision in dropping either him, Matty James, Gustavo Hamer or Callum O’Hare which he clearly doesn’t want to do. The alternative may be to switch to a back four, which the under-23 team appeared to use on two occasions last week.
Given Michael Rose’ lack of sharpness and Josh Pask’s lack of experience, a back four makes further sense while Kyle McFadzean remains suspended. The question is just how much attacking threat we would gain with a back four and diamond system versus the potential cost to defensive solidity – especially if Liam Kelly isn’t fit enough to play the holding role.
The other selection consideration will be who steps into Fankaty Dabo’s place in the side after the right-back suffered an injury that will keep him out for much of the rest of the season. That debate starts and ends with Julien Dacosta, especially given the need to supplement our attacking threat as much as possible.
Last Time We Met
The meeting between these two teams back in September is likely to have represented to Mark Robins just how he wanted this Coventry City side to play this season. After a concerning first-half where QPR side dominated while seeming to barely break a sweat, the game’s key incident proved to be Kyle McFadzean’s cheap concession of a penalty, from which QPR scored, which sparked the Sky Blues into life.
It helped that an equaliser was scored just before half-time, with Ryan Giles making a surging run down the left to set up Matt Godden, however, it was encouraging just how much the team stepped things up in reaction to falling behind. The second-half saw Gustavo Hamer, Fankaty Dabo and Callum O’Hare in particular play with the confidence of players who had just realised that they belong at this level.
Dabo stole past three QPR defenders to play in Callum O’Hare, who, just about, managed to juggle the ball into the back of the net. Despite QPR pouncing on some sloppy set-piece defending to level, the Sky Blues recovered from a potential hammer blow with Gustavo Hamer striking the killer blow, with his corner delivery landing square on Kyle McFadzean’s head to win the game.
The Manager – Mark Warburton
Having built his career as someone who has perhaps had bigger ideas than he could execute, Mark Warburton’s has impressed this season with a hitherto unseen level of pragmatism to his management style. After losing his leading goalscorers from last season in Jordan Hugill, Nahki Wells and Ebere Eze, Warburton set about making QPR a more defensively-solid team. It led to an inconsistent first few months of the season but laid the groundwork for an impressive run since the middle of January, where his side have the fifth-best form in the division.
QPR’s ascent over the second half of the campaign has been aided by some key additions of experience and quality in January in Charlie Austin and Stefan Johansen. That extra clinical touch in the final third and presence in the middle of the pitch has turned a solid, but unconvincing, QPR side into one that looks like a potential top six contender heading into next season.
Who To Look Out For
As important as those additions of Austin and Johansen have been, it is the solid defensive core built on the relationship of Rob Dickie in central defence and Seny Dieng in goal that has been equally as vital to QPR’s strong form over the past few months. Dickie, who impressed for his quality on the ball at Oxford United in League One, has been invaluable for QPR this season for his more traditional defensive qualities. Dieng is possibly the most complete goalkeepers in the Championship, dominant in his area, an excellent shot-stopper and capable with the ball at his feet, he can’t be too far away from a move to the top-flight in the near future.
Attacking midfielder, Ilias Chair, has perhaps seen his star shine a little less brightly this season as a result of the move to a more solid defensive structure. However, Chair is starting to benefit from that tight unit behind him, with his ability to produce the unexpected helping QPR to some important wins recently that have completely eliminated any lingering threats of relegation.
Alongside Charlie Austin in attack is the battering ram that is Scotland striker, Lyndon Dykes. Brought in to replace Jordan Hugill’s goals this summer, Dykes has struggled for form in front of goal but his work-rate and physicality make him difficult for defenders to deal with. With Austin alongside him, Dykes’ work off-the-ball has become increasingly valuable to this QPR side.
Where The Game Will Be Won Or Lost
Just how Mark Robins looks to set the team up in this game is hard to tell at this point. For all the calls to add a striker to the team to improve our attacking threat, a point from this game could be pretty valuable in the context of our season and it wouldn’t be too surprising if Robins is more concerned with limiting QPR’s threat than enhancing our own.
As such, the key task for the team in this game will be limiting the influence that Ilias Chair and Charlie Austin. To do that, it will be as much about keeping close attention on that duo as it will keeping a handle on the physicality of Lyndon Dykes to prevent QPR’s target-man drawing attention away from his team’s match-winners.
With our creative struggles and QPR’s defensive solidity, this is a game that is likely to come down to a handful of key chances. As great as it would be to see this team suddenly step up and overwhelm an opponent with possession and creativity, the most important thing our attack will have to do in this game is to be clinical knowing that may be their only chance in the game to score.