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  • Writer's pictureBy Dan Evans

Ainsworth's QPR return spoiled by his boyhood club

QPR (1) 1 Iroegbunam 24

Blackburn (2) 3 Gallagher 14, 60 Szmodics 45+2

Failure brings disappointment, discontent and often a great deal of embarrassment. No one likes to lose. Doing so consistently is near-on unforgivable in a world as ruthless as that of professional football.

But failure also brings with it opportunity. A fresh start, the chance to regroup and go again.

With Queens Park Rangers not winning a Championship game since before Christmas and not tasting victory at home in four months, the opportunity to start travelling in a new direction remains a sizeable one.

Even this gaping aperture still may not be big enough for their new head coach though.

All long hair, leather jackets and open collar shirts, Gareth Ainsworth made his return to Loftus Road this week. The one-time industrious winger made over 150 appearances for QPR before spending more than ten years and 500 games in charge of Wycombe Wanderers.

Following the end of Neil Critchley’s 12 games and one win as R’s boss, it was time for Ainsworth to go back to his other footballing home.

A rock star manager in a very real sense, he admitted on Thursday that he is yet to find somewhere in west London for his band to practice, yet the football his new side served up in the first half of an unfortunate debut defeat provided enough to suggest he will soon have his former stomping ground bouncing once more.

In his first press briefing as Rangers boss, he also made it clear that only two clubs meant enough to him to be able to lure him away from Wycombe. QPR were of course one, but the other was Blackburn Rovers – the side he faced in his first game in charge.

Born in the Lancashire town, Ainsworth was released by Rovers as a scholar on his 18th birthday, and the club of his heart gave him further cause for upset at Loftus Road on Saturday afternoon.

Both Sam Gallagher’s opener and Sammie Szmodics all-important second goal came against the run of play and were imbued with an element fortune, arriving either side of both a Tim Iroegbunam equaliser and some promising attacking play from a depleted QPR outfit.

With the sun shining on a very early spring afternoon, Rangers started with a confidence typical of a new manager making their mark.

There was plenty of effort and endeavour yet little genuine quality with Chris Willock absent through injury and Ilias Chair joining him on the side lines after pulling his hamstring on the half hour.

Ethan Laird, Tyler Roberts and Lyndon Dykes were also missing, but that did little to limit the fight shown by Ainsworth’s new charges.

However, the Lower Loft had only managed to get through a single chorus of ‘Gareth, give us a wave’ before they saw their team fall behind once more. A Tyrhys Dolan cross was heavily deflected into the path of Gallagher to head home.

Fittingly, the rain began to fall before QPR could even restart. Although, after a ten-minute spell where it appeared that all hope had been lost to such an extent that even the enthusiasm of Ainsworth could do little about it, the home side fought back.

Iroegbunam has struggled as much as anyone since Mick Beale’s departure in November, yet his drive in midfield soon offered a foothold in the game. When Blackburn could only half-clear an Osman Kakay cross, the Aston Villa loanee was well-positioned to sweep a shot into the net.

Ainsworth continued to cajole and encourage as though the score had not changed, and his team looked to be the one building towards the next goal.

With the half-time whistle a matter of seconds away, Szmodics somehow found himself free in the penalty area and picked out the bottom corner.

The goal ultimately proved decisive. With Chair no longer on the field and replacement Andre Dozzell forced into an unfamiliar left-wing role, QPR’s creativity disappeared entirely in the second half.

A game that was meandering was essentially decided on the hour mark, as a mazey Joe Rankin-Costello dribble was given the finish it deserved by Gallagher in the six-yard box.

The new boss was subject to ironic taunts from the away supporters before the afternoon was up. Whilst Ainsworth will be able to take plenty from how his injury-hit new side applied themselves in the first 45, the fact QPR currently sit 18th in the league table shows there is plenty of work to do in the weeks ahead.

QPR: (4-3-3) Dieng – Kakay, Dickie, Dunne, Paal – Iroegbunam (Richards 88), Field, Johansen – Lowe, Martin (Adomah 75), Chair (Dozzell 33). Subs not used: Archer, Amos, Dixon-Bonner, Gubbins

Blackburn: (4-2-3-1)Pears – Rankin-Costello, Carter, Hyam, Brittain – Travis, Buckley (Phillips 90+4) – Thomas, Szmodics (Hedges 69), Dolan (Morton 80) – Gallagher. Subs not used: Hilton, Pickering, Brereton Diaz, Garrett


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