Why QPR might be ready to end six years in the wilderness as they target the Premier League with Michael Beale

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QPR captain Stefan Johansen is targeting a promotion push in the Championship this season  (QPR)
QPR captain Stefan Johansen is targeting a promotion push in the Championship this season (QPR)

Nottingham Forest’s Play-Off Final success back in May ended the Championship’s most notable outstanding wait for a top-flight return, 23 years in the making.

Two seasons earlier, it had been Leeds United, like Forest finally back in the big time having sunk to the depths of the lower leagues, while in between it was Brentford for whom ascension had, after their near-miss 12 months previous, begun to feel overdue, despite the fact the Bees had never played in the Premier League before.

As at 10 Downing Street, there is no standout candidate to inherit the mantle this term, but QPR might just be the best fit.

Last relegated from the top-flight six years ago, only Reading and Birmingham have been in the Championship longer than the Rs and while both of those clubs came extremely close to dropping out of it last season, for much of the campaign Rangers looked playoff-bound at the least, until a dismal run of two wins in 14 from the start of February derailed their promotion hopes.

“Around Christmas time everything was looking bright but after Christmas we just didn’t perform well and got a bit unlucky with injuries,” captain Stefan Johansen tells Standard Sport.

“We didn’t perform well enough in the bigger games, as a team we just couldn’t get back to that rhythm of winning games again. Suddenly, you find yourself chasing the pack in front of you instead of them chasing you.”

QPR’s off-a-cliff trajectory followed a resurgent Forest’s in reverse, the two clubs sliding past one another like old friends heading in opposite directions on a tube station escalator, one en route to the limelight, the other consigned to another gruelling, 46-stop venture underground.

A veteran of two promotions with Fulham, Johansen appreciates the toughness and toil of the second tier and says its appeal resonates even far afield in his native Norway.

Even so, there will be an abnormal Norwegian focus on English football when the new season begins following the arrival in the Premier League of Johansen’s former international team-mate, Erling Haaland.

“When I spoke to him last I told him I want to see him in England,” Johansen says. “He came up from the Under-21s when I was with the national team, played a few games, and you could just see his power, it was incredible for a young player. Every time he came to a national team camp he had gone up another level and in the end he just became a machine.

“It took him, I think, 11 minutes to score his first goal [for Manchester City, in pre-season]. He’ll end up with a few this season, I reckon.”

How Johansen and his team-mates (perhaps centre-halves excepted) would love to be looking forward to a meeting with Haaland and City this time next year.

In their quest for promotion, the Rs have turned to Michael Beale, a first-time head coach best known for his work on Steven Gerrard’s staff at Rangers and Aston Villa, in a marked shift from a club that have relied on proven Championship managers in Mark Warburton, Steve McClaren and Ian Holloway for their last three appointments.

“I knew him because, having played for Celtic, I was keeping an eye on what him and Gerrard were doing up in Glasgow,” Johansen says. “They did an incredible job in going from Celtic winning the league to come back and compete with them.

Michael Beale is best known for his work on Steven Gerrard’s staff at Rangers and Aston Villa (Getty Images)
Michael Beale is best known for his work on Steven Gerrard’s staff at Rangers and Aston Villa (Getty Images)

“I know a few players that have worked under him and they’ve only got positive things to say. From day one, when I had a chat with him, you would see his eye for details, see he’s worked at a top, top level.”

Johansen says the Rs have “already come a long way” in the “18 or 20 sessions” since Beale took the reins, and the 31-year-old feels ready to rediscover his best form, after admitting he “didn’t come up to the level I know I’m capable of” last season.

There is particular onus on Johansen to do so given one of the division’s youngest squads has been made even more so by the departures of experienced heads like Lee Wallace and Yoann Barbet this summer.

"We have spoken about it,” Johansen adds. “A lot of the experienced players have gone but everyone talks about experience in terms of age - there are people here now who have played a lot of games in the Championship and that’s experience as well.”

The hope heading into the new season is that many of them play only 46 more.

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