After surviving relegation by a stroke of good luck last season, Queens Park Rangers (QPR) is mounting a serious promotion chase. Although seventh with 13 points, Rangers is only three adrift Championship leaders Leeds United. Mark Warburton’s charm isn’t a mystery anymore. His attack led by Ebere Eze is firing on all cylinders.
Warburton urged fans to keep their expectations in check after his young QPR side won their third league game in a row. The R’s were 3-0 up after half an hour against Luton Town but goals either side of half time, the first down to a Joe Lumley mistake, meant an uncomfortable second half for Rangers.
“We’re seven games in. It’s a long, long season and we’ve got one of the smaller budgets,” he said. “It’s a young group, 15 new players coming in and it’s important that we keep expectations in check.”
While it is still early days, Rangers’ faithful can dare to dream. Loftus Road hasn’t had such an exciting crop in a long while. Eze, Nahki Wells and Jordan Hugill are lighting up England’s second tier. The trio tallied 11 out of the club’s dozen.
From just three starts, Wells contributed four (3 goals, 1 assist). The Bermudian poacher is proving his Burnley critics wrong in the Championship. Hugill, too, on loan from West Ham. The 27-year-old has been exceptional for QPR so far, hitting five goals in his first six games for the club.
The pair partly owe their upswing in fortune to Eze. The Greenwich-born has taken up the burden of becoming his team’s creative spark with aplomb following Luke Freeman’s switch to Sheffield United. In seven appearances, he has been involved in five goals. Eze is the link man for everything positive QPR conjures.
Playing in the No10 role, he moves the ball in intelligent positions at speed, ghosts past defenders and brings others into the game. He still has plenty of room for development, but already has a good understanding of the game.
Eze delivered another masterclass in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over Luton. The 21-year-old opened the scoring in the third minute and contributed an assist 25 minutes later as Wells struck his second to give the Hoops a 3-0 advantage. He had 72 touches on the ball, distributed 40 passes with 90 per cent accuracy and hit the woodwork twice.
Eze’s journey has been gruelling. Released by Millwall in 2016, he struggled as a youngster, deemed too small by Arsenal before unsuccessful spells with Fulham and Reading. After convincing Chris Ramsey, the QPR technical director, Eze has not looked back since arriving at the club two years ago.
The England U21 star could be the difference between promotion and another mediocre campaign. The latter is achievable should Eze maintain this form.
Follow Toby on Twitter @prinzToby