Queens Park Rangers returned to Championship duties with a 1-0 defeat at home to Barnsley at the weekend.
Having gone into the temporary break in football on the back of a six game unbeaten run – the last being a fine comeback win over play-off hopefuls Preston – many R’s fans expected their side to mount a late surge for the top-six.
That ideal was supposed to start with a routine home win over Barnsley, who went into this weekend at the foot of the Championship table.
But Elliot Simoes would put the Tykes a goal ahead inside the first ten minutes of the game, and they managed to hold on for an impressive win on the road.
Mark Warburton’s side looked like a shadow of their previous selves back in March, but what changed? Here we take a look at three changes we noticed in QPR during their defeat to Barnsley:
Lacking a leader
QPR are one of the more youthful sides in the league, and it took Warburton a while to find the right blend of youth and experience to truly get the best out of his side.
He managed to do just that by introducing the likes of Angel Rangel, Geoff Cameron and Marc Pugh more regularly after New Year, but that experience was the biggest miss for QPR at the weekend.
Another absentee was former club captain Grant Hall. The centre-back rejected a new contract with the club just days before the restart, and although some fans grew disapproving of him, his leadership at the back looked to be a sore miss for QPR at the weekend.
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Hesitant on the counter
One thing that QPR are good at is the counter-attack. With 58 goals scored and 63 conceded in the Championship this season, Warburton has no doubt brought entertainment to QPR, who again did their fair share of defending against Barnsley.
So with the explosive players they have – the likes of Ebere Eze and Bright Osayi-Samuel – fans were expecting some more intensity to their counter attacks at the weekend, but that wasn’t the case.
Eze had his moments on Saturday and was probably QPR’s best player on the day, but the Barnsley players restricted him and Osayi-Samuel, doubling up at every chance.
It restricted QPR from breaking at pace and feeding Jordan Hugill, who had a dogged day in front of goal.
More focus on centralising play
In Hugill, QPR have an all-round striker, but what the West Ham man is best at is getting on the end of crosses in the box. Warburton has played to Hugill’s strengths throughout the season – especially after January – but against Barnsley, they seemed more interested in playing the ball centrally.
That proved inefficient against a compressed Barnsley side who, as stated above, kept numbers on the likes of Eze in the middle of the park, and did well to win the ball back before QPR could ever really trouble them.
One man who had a particularly poor game was Manning. The left-back has been one of the league’s most creative players from the left-hand side this season, but he looked almost scared to take on his man and try his luck down the line.
Instead, he kept playing stray balls into the middle of the pitch, contributing to his side’s demise on Saturday.