QPR boss Mark Warburton insists the decision to leave Sam Field and Ilias Chair out of the starting line-up against Millwall was simply a case of ensuring they are fit enough to push for a top-10 finish this season.
Field, who was arguably Rangers’ stand-out player in the dismal 1-0 home loss to Huddersfield on Saturday, had started the previous three games, but against the Lions he was on the bench alongside top goalscorer Chair.
Without the pair in the team, Warburton’s side turned in one of their poorest first-half displays of the season to trail 2-0 at half-time.
Field’s replacement Geoff Cameron, who has largely been employed as a centre-back since Christmas, struggled on his return to the middle of the park as Rangers were outmatched by Millwall’s physical midfield.
However, the introduction of the on-loan West Brom man early in the second period and Chair, whose corner set up the winner for Jordy de Wijs, for the final 25 minutes helped overturn the deficit and secure a memorable 3-2 victory.
But Warburton, who admitted he considered making three changes at half-time such was the poor performance from his team, said keeping players fresh is key to the team’s push for their highest league finish since relegation from the Premier League in 2015.
Rangers currently sit on 49 points with 10 games to play, nine points less than last season’s total and 11 shy of the amount they accrued when they finished 12th – the position they currently occupy – in 2015-16.
“I have to hold my hands up and say I thought about changing the formation at half-time,” admitted Warburton.
“But I thought I would give it five minutes and see where we were at. I was about to make a sub and we scored the first and just before we made the subs again we scored a second goal.
“But we have got to look after these players.
“In Sam you’ve got a player that has been injured a lot over recent months and hadn’t played much this season (at West Brom).
“He played his first (back-to-back) 90s with us recently and we are easing him into games.”
Rangers have an option to buy Field from West Brom at the end of the season and Warburton said he has been hugely impressed with his displays since arriving on January transfer deadline day but keen to make sure he does not have to spend any more time in the treatment room following the serious knee injury he sustained last season.
“I am really pleased with his performances but we have to look after him,” he said.
“The last thing I can afford to do is see a player get injured and be away from us.
“We try and look after the squad. Geoff is vastly experienced and against Millwall you need that physicality.
“But I have to look after Sam, Ilias all of these players, Lee (Wallace) Chas (Austin) up top.
“It’s very easy for people to sit away from the pitch and say ‘He should play, he should play.’
“But when the loadings are so high and they are playing every three days, if we don’t look after them we may lose them for a long time, simple as that.”
Rangers complete a run of 12 games in 49 days at Reading on Saturday before the 10-day international break kicks in – and they have been largely fortunate with their injury toll this season.
Only long-termers Luke Amos and Tom Carroll have spent significant time away from the squad due to serious knee injuries, with muscle-related problems largely avoided by Warburton’s players.
“Without tempting fate and touching wood we haven’t lost anyone during this busy spell and the rotations have worked OK,” he said.
“That is down to us looking after the players and using the squad.”