< JANUARY >
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink`s difficult start to his reign at the club continued into the new year, as Hull City were the visitors to Loftus Road on New Year`s Day, with Steve Bruce`s men firmly in the promotion hunt just beyond the halfway stage of the campaign.
In a game of few clear-cut chances, it was the away side who took the lead, as Mo Diame`s ball inside from the left found Abel Hernandez unmarked on the edge of the box, and he produced a superb first-time low finish past Rob Green just after the hour to give the Tigers the advantage.
As Charlie Austin sat out a fourth consecutive game through injury, Sebastian Polter was again tasked with the lone striker role, and after a taking the ball down well from a Green kick up field, before knocking it out to Matt Phillips on the left, he expertly headed in the winger`s cross to level the scores with 10 minutes to go.
It was his second goal in as many games, but it wouldn`t prove enough to secure a point, as Rangers were done by another late goal, entirely of their own making, as Green came flying out to punch a cross that Grant Hall looked set to clear, only for the ball bounce off Adama Diomande and into the net to give the Tigers a 2-1 win.
That result extended Hasselbaink`s winless run to six matches, who made eight changes to the side for the FA Cup third round tie at Nottingham Forest a week later, including dropping Green entirely from the squad, with rumours having emerged the goalkeeper would be awarded a new deal if he played 30 league games.
In stepped Joe Lumley for the match at the City Ground, a place Rangers have never won, and their dismal record continued as Jamie Ward`s first-half strike proved enough to see the Reds through to the fourth round, with the R`s once again limply exiting a cup competition as the earliest possible opportunity.
Following that defeat, the Rangers travelled to Blackburn three days later, with Rovers heading into the game on the back of three successive 1-0 defeats, and without a goal in their last four matches, presenting Hasselbaink with a great opportunity to break his duck as QPR boss and secure a first win.
Green was again left out of the squad, with his career in West London looking all but over, as Lumley retained his place between the sticks, in a game that saw the R`s take the lead on 24 minutes, as Leroy Fer finished off a Junior Hoilett cross from the right after Phillips had ducked out of a challenge with the goalkeeper.
Having looked on course to record a clean sheet in his first Championship start, Lumley had a moment to forget five minutes from time, failing to deal with a long throw into the box after being muscled out, which allowed the ball to fall into the path of Hope Akpan, who made no mistake by heading home.
It was the fifth game in a row that Rangers had conceded a goal in the final 10 minutes of a match to put a further dent in the hopes of a play-off finish, as the club dropped down to 17th, 13 points adrift of the top six, thanks to a run of seven games that failed to yield a single victory, and five points from a possible 21.
Up next was a trip to a struggling Rotherham side, who sat just five points above the dropzone, but headed into the match on the back of a morale-boosting 2-0 success at home to Brighton, and the pre-match build up was dominated by the news that Austin had left the club in a £4million deal to join Southampton.
Owing to having not played in a month due to injury, and the player having stated he would remain at the club until the end of the season, his sudden departure came as a slight surprise, and represented a great piece of business for the Saints, who were able to take advantage of the striker`s soon to be expired contract.
A replacement would certainly be needed, but the players responded to his departure in emphatic fashion, as they ran out 3-0 victors against the Millers to record their biggest winning margin of the season, while it also marked a much-needed first win for Hasselbaink since joining the club six weeks earlier.
After a first-half in which the hosts had been close to taking the lead, only for the post to deny them, Rangers hit a quickfire double shortly after the restart, firstly through Hoilett, his third goal in six games, as he raced through the Millers` defence to score with a neat finish across the keeper while in the midst of taking a tumble.
Two minutes later the lead was doubled, as Massimo Luongo played a clever looped through-ball with the outside of his boot to release Phillips, who managed to see off an opposition defender, before taking one touch to steady himself, and smash a fierce shot past Lee Camp at his near post.
A fine second-half display was rounded off in stoppage time thanks to Polter`s third goal in four league matches, with the German forward finding himself free at the back post to knock in a Fer cross across the box from the left hand side, moving the side up to 11th and cutting the gap to the play-offs to 11 points.
With the loss of Austin leaving the squad light upfront, and Green`s contract situation effectively finishing his QPR career, it came as no surprise that Hasselbaink added a goalkeeper and striker in the lead up to the Wolves game, with Matt Ingram coming in from Wycombe, and Conor Washington from Peterborough.
Both signings looked positive from Hasselbaink, both young and seeing Rangers as a step up in their careers, and in the case of Washington, who had joined for a fee in the region of £2.5million, the club had fought off numerous admirers after the striker had caught the attention with 15 goals in all competitions during the first half of the season for the Posh.
He started on the bench for the visit of Kenny Jackett`s men in the lunchtime television kick-off, and saw his new teammates get off to a flying start as Polter continued his purple patch infront of goal, expertly heading in a Phillips free kick with just two minutes on the clock to take his tally to the season five in all competitions.
Having been on top throughout the first half Rangers were unable to make their dominance pay, and were punished just after the break, as James Henry`s effort from distance deflected off both Grant Hall and Nedum
Onuoha to deceive Alex Smithies in goal, and earn the Old Gold a point as the score remained 1-1.
Washington almost made an immediate impact for the club having been brought on late on, as he showed great control to bring down a Faurlin ball out to the left first time, before driving at the opposition fullback and cutting back for Tjaronn Chery, who should have netted the winner from yards out, only to hit the post.
The final game of the month saw Rangers travel to the City Ground on a Tuesday evening to face Nottingham Forest for a second time in the space of three weeks, where they earned a creditable goalless draw against a Forest side that had been unbeaten in 12 games heading into the fixture, thanks to a man of the match performance from Smithies.
The gap to the play-offs now stood at 10 points after 29 games, with the majority of sides above Rangers with a game in hand, and a push for the top six still remained the aim for Hasselbaink, who had until the 1st February to add any final new recruits to the squad before the winter transfer window closed.
League position: 13th (P29, W8, D12, L9)
QPR Season in Review – January
< JANUARY >