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The Lockdown Diaries #7

QPR fan Sam Taylor gives his thoughts on the impact of Mark Warburton.

To keep me from losing my mind in this football-less time, I’ve been doing whats lots of other football fans have been doing – and that’s re-watching old games to keep myself sane!

I’ve been watching quite a few highlight videos from some of our games this season and It has come to my attention that there is something quite different about the way QPR have been playing football.

It seems that for some odd reason QPR are actually quite good at it! Over the past few seasons I’m sure we can agree that there have been some truly below par performances, some disappointing results and some underwhelming losses.

This year, however, I have written quite a few times in this column that QPR have been incredibly above-par over the months of the 2019/20 campaign.

I’ve given praise to some players - the goal-scorers, the hard workers, the leaders and more. But I think it’s time to talk about the man who’s been the driving force behind our successes this season. Mark Warburton.

Coming in just over a year ago to the day, Mark was known for his time at Brentford, Forest and Rangers. From what I read he was big on possession, attacking from the back and defending from the front, as I believe he put it earlier this season.

He came in on an almost non-existent budget, managed to sign 15 new players and offload some dead weight at the same time.

It’s always risky to re-assemble your squad during the summer but it seemed Mark Warburton was willing to take that risk. So, when the first game against Stoke came around, there was pressure for Mark to justify the means to overhauling the side, and a chance to introduce his new philosophy.

We all know what happened on that opening day and that Eze goal was a perfect introduction for what seemed to be the first demonstration of what many R’s fans have called ‘Warb-Ball’. (Honestly, I don’t know if anyone’s actually called it that but it sounds good and makes it sound like a real thing so let’s go with that.)

Mark’s tactics involve keeping possession, playing out from the back and working the ball forward. Last year our tactics seemed very much get it up the pitch and see what happens, so when our goalkeepers started looking around for a pass rather than smashing it 100 yards up to the centre forward, it was a bit of a shock to the system.

The Championship is a very manic league. It’s like the Premier League, but better. In the Prem you get teams like Liverpool and City who pride themselves on their intricate passing, and tiki-taka-esque football.

Sure it’s fun to watch some truly beautifully crafted football, but I feel I get more joy from watching a Champ side dribble the ball back into their own net because, why not?

The Championship is a tough, tough league, and consequently, each side must have their own way of playing that can cope with the physical opposition and challenges so inherent to this league, and find a way of getting the ball forward as swiftly as possible.

Warburton has instructed the R’s to play it on the floor, or switch it over to the opposite flank when going forward and this combination of attacking football has been entirely beneficial to our successes this year.

That Eze ball to Nahki Wells against Cardiff shows how well the long, put precise, balls can open up a defence and create an attack.

Toni Leistner’s repeated long ball to the left flank from the defence has also been an example of how counter-balancing possession based football with swift and precise attacking balls can truly create a dangerous attacking game for a side in the Championship.

The team goals have come hot and heavy as well. Eze against Stoke, the goals against Cardiff in January and many more have shown how Warburton’s, now signature, style of play can be utilised to create some seriously impressive moves.

It’s a dangerous game however and looking for that pass forward from the back has cost us quite a few goals this season.

I wrote an article on how a new team adapting to a new style is incredibly challenging for a side to do, especially in the Championship. I labelled QPR very nearly very good, because what we are learning is that to master the very good style of football that Mark wants us to play, you have to be able to get very good over time and ween out those mistakes and mishaps that may occur in the early stages of adaptation.

However, you cannot become a master of the game without training, learning, and growing and QPR were essentially a brand new side coming into this season and it has been a massive over-achievement to get us where we have got to considering the freshness of the side coming into the year.

Proof of our growth shows inherently in the way we finished off this season. Something you must have in this ever so competitive league is a hunger and appetite to fight back when you inevitably go behind in some games.

We had a fantastic start to the season and were flying high, but as the season wore on, we lost our steam a bit and reality hit us after a poor November and December, pushing us back down the wrong end of the table.

However, something Mark has inspired in the R’s this year is that comeback attitude. We started January off with 11 goals in two games, we went through the next month pretty well but were hit when our star striker left us at the end of January.

We needed to bounce back and throughout February we truly proved that we are a formidable side on our day. That last game in March against Preston proves just what a fighting spirit this squad has in them.

To go from one nil down, with ten men, to win 3-1 away from home, against a top six side, is truly sensational. I don’t think we would have been capable of such results in recent seasons but Mark Warburton seems to have inspired something in this year’s side that has truly propelled them to unforeseen heights and passed any expected expectations.

I remember the odds for us to be relegated at the beginning of the season were something ridiculous like 4/1, but after watching those first couple of games under this new type of manager, I was certain we were going to prove the bookies remarkably wrong.

The last thing I’d like to mention about Mark Warburton is just how good a guy he seems to be. Not naming names, but we’ve had some managers over the past few years that have gone into a press conference and said it how it’s not.

Waffling on about referees, weather conditions and the like, avoiding responsibility and ignoring mistakes.

Mark goes into each post-match interview and says it how it is. It seems Mark has that rational viewpoint of a neutral in the sense that he goes into that interview and he will say, ‘We were really poor and deserved that result’, or ‘We put in a fantastic shift today but there is still a lot of work to be done’.

I don’t quite remember what game it was this season but after coming out of a really scrappy victory and thinking we really shouldn’t have got away with that win, Mark goes into that interview and echoes those feelings exactly!

There are many managers in this league who succumb to the scrappiness and mediocrity that these games can sometimes inspire and do that bare minimum, drop their integrity and heap relentless praise onto their undeserving sides.

Mark is aware that QPR have potential, have talent and have promise. He is also aware that as a team, we are still gelling, and are a raw group of players adapting to a game that is one of the most challenging in the footballing world.

QPR have held their own more than often and despite many mistakes and many preventable errors, we haven’t let it affect our game and we have more than often lifted our heads up and made two steps forward after taking one step back.

Mark has gone into an interview after 14 games without a clean sheet and quite frankly side, ‘if we can get more goals than they do, I’ll be pretty pleased’, that’s paraphrased, I’m sure he’d say it a lot more literately and professionally.

But the point is, Mark is a realist and his grounded personality and hard-working persona has really inspired this team full of talent and full of youth to come together and put on a show each week.

Sure, there have been some lousy weeks, but it’s the Championship, and it’s QPR, there has to be some weeks we aren’t winning 6-1.

We have scored goals galore, inspired fresh talent in our youth and brought out the best of our senior players and I think a lot of the credit must go to the man behind the mission, Mark Warburton.

He’s been brilliant so far and I look forward to seeing that white hoodie and navy gilet pacing up and down the touchline once again when the season re-starts.

Cheers Mark, you’re pretty good at your job, we appreciate it. An R through and through.