Saturday’s visit of Blackburn is perhaps the most important match of Gareth Ainsworth’s QPR managerial career – as unwanted history beckons.
In an ironic twist, Rovers were lifelong Blackburn fan Ainsworth’s first opponents after his appointment in February, and potentially might be his last should there be a repeat of the comfortable 3-1 win by Jon Dahl Tomasson’s side.
Failure to beat a Blackburn team that sit two points above Rangers would not only keep Ainsworth’s side in the bottom three, but also make it 11 matches without a home victory – the longest run by any manager in the club’s 141-year history.
Since Ainsworth’s arrival Loftus Road has continued to be a happy hunting ground for opposition teams.
Coventry, twice, Sunderland and Blackburn have each scored three goals on their trips to W12 and there have been comfortable 2-0 wins for Preston and Bristol City.
A 1-0 victory over Watford on March 11 was the last time ‘Hi Ho Silver Lining’ rang out at Loftus Road and there is a growing supporter frustration at the style of football being served up by a team that under Mark Warburton was once among the highest-scoring and most entertaining teams in the division.
Rangers again offered little in attack in Wednesday’s 1-0 loss at Leeds and once more the only evident game plan seemed to be to hit Sinclair Armstrong over the top, with Lyndon Dykes occupying the role behind the young striker.
The promising Irish forward still has just one goal to his name and remains a raw talent, but there is a danger of him being physically burnt out before Christmas with Ainsworth seemingly intent on using the 20-year-old as a battering ram to unsettle defenders.
His direct approach has also reduced the impact of Ilias Chair, who last season ranked third in the Championship for chances created for his team.
This has not gone unnoticed by Morocco coach Walid Regragui, who has left Chair out of his past two squads despite the 25-year-old being part of the World Cup squad that reached the semi-finals last year – a feat that earned QPR a not insignificant sum of money in compensation from Fifa.
It would be unfair not to point out that Ainsworth has had to work with a tightened budget and a slimmer squad as the club try to tread the FFP threshold and prior to his arrival the team had lost seven times at home under three different managers.
He also inherited a fractured group of players lacking in confidence, and while his emphasis on culture-building should not be dismissed – team spirit is ultimately fostered on the back of winning games of football.
No-one would argue that it has generally been tough going for QPR fans since the club fell out of the Premier League in 2015, but the home form has always been largely solid.
Steve McClaren and Ian Holloway both had underwhelming reigns, albeit with arguably less talented squads than Ainsworth.
But the pair still managed to chalk up memorable home victories against an Aston Villa side containing Jack Grealish, a Norwich City team boasting James Maddison, Marcelo Bielsa’s Leeds and a Wolves team that romped to the Championship title in 2017.
Since Ainsworth’s appointment it has been genuinely hard to see any positive on-field progress in both defence and attack, with his team picking up just 19 points from a possible 69, scoring 18 goals and conceding 42.
If that form continues there is a definite chance of the club being in League One next season.
There would also lead to the potential ignominy of having to face Chelsea, Crystal Palace or Fulham’s Under-21 sides in the EFL Trophy.
With the possession-based approach of Warburton and Michael Beale very much a thing of the past, QPR now find themselves only ahead of Rotherham and Huddersfield when it comes to keeping the ball.
Only fellow strugglers Huddersfield have made less progressive forward passes in the opponent’s half, and QPR’s inability to unlock defences could be down to the fact that Rotherham are the only team to have attempted less through-balls in the final third of the field.
But none of these statistics should be surprising given that Ainsworth’s Wycombe side had one of the lowest possession rates in League One.
However, that team was synonymous with their prowess from set-pieces – but that has not transferred to QPR this season.
The team are the joint-lowest scorers in the Championship from dead-ball situations, with one goal – a throw-in from Paul Smyth that led to Kenneth Paal’s strike against Sunderland being their one success.
But this can possibly be explained by the fact that the team are averaging just 3.7 corners per game – the third lowest in the division.
Although the pressure is firmly on the 50-year-old, there is no genuine desire at board level to wield the axe despite the dreadful run of results.
Chairman Amit Bhatia made the decision to appoint him and wants to give him time in the job.
The club are also yet to appoint a director of football since Les Ferdinand’s departure in May, which could earn him a stay of execution.
But something has to change and fast. Otherwise Ainsworth’s spell in the job he long coveted will turn out to be a nightmare both for him and the club.