QPR boss Gareth Ainsworth admitted his side’s fragility was evident in a 2-0 defeat at home to Preston which continued their awful slump towards the drop zone.
Rangers, who were top in October, have lost nine of their past 10 matches, all but one of their seven since Ainsworth was appointed, and are now only above the relegation places because of Reading’s six-point deduction.
They were promotion challengers before a spectacular decline under Mark Warburton last season and the deterioration this term started during the short tenure of Mick Beale, whose successor Neil Critchley lasted just 12 matches.
Ainsworth insisted he had no regrets about leaving Wycombe after Critchley’s sacking to return to the club he spent seven years at as a player. But he faces a major task to keep them in the Championship.
“I came into this job with my eyes wide open. I have absolutely zero regrets,” he said.
“I love this place, it’s a fantastic football club, but it’s been on a hell of a journey this year and I’m picking up the end of it and trying my best to change the fortunes.
“The slide that this club has been on has been evident for a long time and I think there’s a fragility in some of the players.
“They’ve had such a whack over the past three or four months that they’re now playing within themselves.”
Not even the return of star players Ilias Chair and Chris Willock has halted the side.
Preston were deserved winners, with Tom Cannon’s brace boosting their play-off bid.
Ainsworth said: “You put your superstars out – people would probably look at that and say it’s the best team I could have fielded – and we didn’t really test their keeper enough.
“We looked like we were beaten when the first goal went in, and I was disappointed with the players.
“Heads went down and I think the mental side of the game is the big thing showing at the moment. It’s a fragility in the players that I’ve got to address.
“We’ve got a lack of leaders and characters in the squad and they’ve got to start coming forward, digging deep and fighting for the cause, because that wasn’t acceptable.
“Once the first goal went in it looked like the second one was coming, and I didn’t like that.”