QPR’s initially joyous but recently spirit-sapping Championship return is best understood by dividing it into two sections: the cheery period with Charlie Austin and the dreary stretch without their star striker.
The Hoops’ masterful start to the season was a consequence of purchasing the proven second-tier destroyer from Burnley, with the 24-year-old delivering 14 goals in his first 24 league starts.
The last of those was the 2-1 victory over Bolton on January 28, in which Austin opened the scoring to assist a fourth straight Championship triumph and put three points between them in second and Burnley in third.
Austin was injured in that game though and, despite Harry Redknapp trying to salvage the situation by loaning four forwards on deadline day and later bringing in Ravel Morrison too, it completely derailed their campaign.
Since that day, their record reads four wins, three draws and seven defeats from 14 fixtures.
In that time, they have tumbled from second to fourth and from three points above the Clarets to 13 behind them.
Morrison has been a valuable addition, contributing five goals, but none of the other QPR players who have been there all season have managed more than three.
The one positive is that their play-off place is fairly secure owing to a seven-point lead over Brighton, Ipswich and Bournemouth in joint-seventh with five to play, and now Austin is finally back to safeguard it.
It is also a huge help that Nottingham Forest, their opponents for this televised Saturday lunchtime clash, have seemingly written 2013/14 off.
The one-time top-two hopefuls are managerless, winless in 11 and have lost six of their last ten.
QPR are 21/20 favourites to obtain a 14th Loftus Road win in 21 Championship outings – and ninth in 11 with Austin in the starting line-up – with Forest 5/2 and the draw 9/4.
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