Queens Park Rangers made nine changes to the side that lost to Norwich in their Carabao Cup defeat to Blackpool on Tuesday night, and it brings to the light the challenge that lies ahead for Steve McClaren in the run up to the end of this calendar year.
An extended Cup run seemed not impossible after previous victories over League One leaders Peterborough United in the First Round, and Bristol Rovers in the Second. A Third Round defeat though has condemned QPR fans to an all too familiar feeling – McClaren would’ve been the first QPR manager to make the Fourth Round of the League Cup in 10 years, a feat the club has achieved just once since 1994.
This season started with a run of four straight defeats, including a 7-0 defeat at West Bromwich Albion, has been the club’s worst start to a League campaign in over 50 years. But after a six-game unbeaten run in all competitions, and a couple of key loan acquisitions in forward pairing Nahki Wells from Burnley and Tomer Hemed from Brighton, the early question marks around McClaren’s future at Loftus Road have been laid to rest. A disappointing exit from the Carabao Cup however was “frustrating for everyone” at the club, McClaren told, coming as a successive defeat after the 1-0 loss to Norwich last Saturday.
The former England boss described his sides 2-0 defeat to the club whom his predecessor, Ian Holloway, reached the Premier League with in 2010 as a ‘real eye opener’, after making nine changes to the side that fell short to Norwich. As in the First and Second Round’s of this year’s Carabao Cup, McClaren opted to give a host of players the opportunities to showcase their ability.
But on this occasion he was left reeling at the ‘physicality’ of an 11-game unbeaten Blackpool side, he told www.qpr.co.uk, “We made nine changes, giving certain players an opportunities to play. However, we couldn’t cope with the physicality of Blackpool… It’s always a risk (making changes) – It’s worked in other rounds but tonight it didn’t. However a lot of players who played have ambitions and have their eyes on the first team – and it was a bit of an eye-opener for everyone tonight”.
It’s pure frustration. I was frustrated on the sidelines, the senior players were frustrated with what was happening on the field. The supporters have also travelled a long way and were understandably frustrated, too.
The eye-opener and ‘pure frustration’ for Steve and his squad, was the dominance of their midweek opposition. Rangers barely registered a shot on goal and even ended the game with ten-men, after midfielder Jordan Cousins was shown a red card with 20 minutes to play. It serves an eery reminder of the highly-competitive, and highly-physical season that lies ahead for not only QPR, but for every team in the English Second Tier.
With the signings of Wells and Hemed the club now has eight registered strikers in a thirty-man first squad, a figure that’s easily forgotten given the pre-season anxiety in finding a new goal-scoring options. A nine-man midfield and an eleven-strong defence makes up the rest of the numbers in the QPR first team.
Cousins has recently returned from injury, but will be suspended for this weekend’s game at Swansea. Returning also are defender Grant Hall, and former Manchester United midfielder Sean Goss. The trio will add a certain depth to the QPR squad that wasn’t there just a few weeks back, especially within the central area of the pitch where the number of first team quality players is particularly thin on the ground.
Fourteen games now stand between QPR and 2019, and the club stands proud in 16th place of the Championship table after it’s worrying start to the season.
The challenge now for McClaren, though, is sort of a waiting game – making it to the January transfer window, which will be embargoed after their Financial Fair Play case was settled earlier in the year, with this current squad at his disposal. If the club is to maintain any sort of form into the New Year, it will be done so by making use of every player they have.