The 2022/23 Queens Park Rangers season painted a picture of how quickly things can change in the span of a few months, from the top of the league to near relegation.
The Hoops were topping the Championship table after 16 games under the rule of manager Michael Beale, with hopes of a Premier League return after nine years.
Yet at season’s end, QPR recorded their worst finish since 2005/06 in 20th place, had three managers, and came within six points of relegation.
Neil Jackson, the Media & Communication Board member of the QPR1st Supporter Trust, gave his thoughts on a difficult season for the fans.
He said: “We’ve had steady growth for the last few years and expected that to continue.
“There was a general optimism so for us to end up fighting relegation was really shocking and we’re not the fans who expect constant wins so it’s a very disappointing season.”
A dream start for the Hoops
The appointment of a young manager for his first crack as head coach is regarded as a high-risk, high-reward gamble in football, yet Beale delivered.
With a run of eight wins in 11 games, Queens Park Rangers were top of the table ahead of Burnley as the season neared the halfway point.
As the graph displays, QPR at this point had not only the most points but also the third most goals scored per game (1.56) and fifth lowest goals allowed per game (1.06).
The R’s hit a three-game losing prior to the World Cup break, which became Beale’s last three games in charge as the temptation to return to Glasgow Rangers proved too irresistible.
Jackson said: “He did the business of talking to Wolves, said he would stay and then he buggered off to Rangers.
“I think he’s done himself a lot of damage where clubs won’t trust him anymore.”
By this point, QPR had slid down a few places from the perch to seventh and the season was paused for the 2022 World Cup.
QPR’s nightmare begins
In place of Beale, Neil Critchley was hired to steady the ship and steer the Hoops back into the promotion playoff places, though it proved the opposite.
In his first 12 games as manager, he won only once, and Queens Park Rangers fell to 17th with only nine points collected since his appointment.
Critchley was sacked in favour of appointing former QPR player and Wycombe Wanderers manager Gareth Ainsworth on the 21st of February.
Ainsworth’s Hoops fared little better, as their abject form lasted until the end of the season, only collecting 11 points in their final 13 games.
There were signs of optimism as eight of those points came in the last six games, including an emphatic 2-1 win against champions Burnley.
By the end of the season, they fell to 22nd in goals for (0.96) and 23rd in goals allowed (0.96), a drop of 0.6 goals scored and a 0.48 increase in goals allowed.
As for the points per game, QPR went from 1.88 to 1.09, a drop of 0.79 points, meaning they had the biggest decline in all three stats of all teams in the Championship.
They lost more points than anyone, they conceded more than anyone and they scored less than anyone over the last 30 games of the season.
What went wrong according to the fans
The managerial merry-go-round was a key reason for the massive drop according to Jackson, particularly after the unexpected departure of Beale.
He said: “The players have to get to these managers, coaches and teams, it’s not just the managers they have to get used to.
“Beale took some of the coaches from Warburton’s time to Glasgow, Critchley comes with his two coaches and then they go and then Ainsworth comes with his coach and analyst.”
Jackson also pointed to injury misfortunes, connected to the club’s policy of bringing in injury-prone talents on the cheap.
He explained: “Beale and Les Ferdinand attempted to sort out the medical department but it doesn’t seem to have made a difference.
“Another problem is we pick up players on the cheap because they’ve had injuries.
“It doesn’t matter how good they are, if they can’t get on the pitch.”
Of the 29 players to play minutes in any of the 48 games this year (cups included), only nine played over 75% of the games.
The only two to play every game were goalkeeper Sany Dieng and fans’ player of the season Sam Field.
Key man Chris Willock played only 29 games and struggled to recapture his early season form due to two long-term injury spells.
Looking forward to better fortunes
Ainsworth and the QPR board face a much-needed rebuild of the club to avoid a similar or worse fate than this past season.
With financial concerns looming, the event of one or more players leaving is more realistic than most QPR fans would hope.
Ilias Chair and Dieng have seen their names appear in the rumour mill, particularly the latter as he enters the last year of his contract.
Jackson hopes for stability and exciting football for next season, though has his hopes grounded with the current circumstances.
He added: “One of the things I always say is football fans like the misery.
“Let’s see some goals, let’s see some excitement, let’s enjoy the misery instead of suffering in it.”