Ray Wilkins would have been proud to send out QPR's victorious side against Sheffield Wednesday
In some ways, the composition of QPR’s line-up against Sheffield Wednesday was as fitting a tribute to Ray Wilkins as the football itself.
Rangers’ 4-2 win was spearheaded by two exciting, attacking young players in Paul Smyth – whose strike launched an early blitz of three goals in seven minutes – and Bright Osayi-Samuel.
A third player who comes into the same category, 19-year-old Ebere Eze, remained on the bench this time along with another homegrown youngster, Osman Kakay.
Nurturing youth was such a significant feature of Wilkins’ years at Loftus Road – initially as senior pro in the Rangers side that finished fifth in the inaugural season of the Premier League.
That was demonstrated in the glowing tributes paid to Wilkins by so many of his former team-mates, citing his influence on their own careers at QPR and beyond.
Later, as Rangers’ manager, Wilkins was never afraid to promote young players to the first team – with the likes of Nigel Quashie, Trevor Challis and Matthew Brazier emerging amidst an ultimately unsuccessful battle against relegation.
That would never happen at a Premier League club today, nor would a manager pin his faith in two youngsters – as Wilkins did in Kevin Gallen and Danny Dichio – to lead the attack after the sale of Les Ferdinand to Newcastle.
It’s also hard to imagine that any other manager of a relegated side would retain such deep affection among the club’s supporters more than 20 years later.
During the post-Wilkins era, QPR ignored youth development entirely, instead posturing and seeking big-name signings and short-term solutions, with disastrous consequences.
It may be true that financial circumstances have forced the club to focus again on bringing through young players, but it represents a welcome change of direction nevertheless.
Players such as Smyth, Osayi-Samuel and Eze – along with Ryan Manning and Darnell Furlong – have played their part in steering Rangers to Championship safety when many feared they might struggle against the drop.
But Ian Holloway’s side have never really looked in danger and a strong finish to the season could now nudge them up towards halfway in the table.
Wilkins would surely be delighted to see his old club moving in the right direction, with young, hungry and talented players at their core once again.