Matthew Crichton: After guiding QPR to 11th last season, Mark Warburton left the club at the end of the season - what was the reasoning behind his departure?
Nicholas Tunney: A multitude of reasons came into Warburton’s departure but the main one is results. They fell off a cliff towards the end of February and with Chris Willock, Seny Dieng and Rob Dickie sustaining season-ending injuries, it was just too much for a thin squad.
Also, the fact he was on a rolling deal meant the board could get rid this summer without any recompense. Warburton’s departure divided the fanbase. He did a fantastic job for us and was the best manager since Neil Warnock, but I believe he took us as far as he could with the budget he was on. But he was just the right man at the right time for us.
MC: The man to replace him was Steven Gerrard’s assistant at Aston Villa and Rangers, Michael Beale, how did his appointment go down with your fanbase?
NT: I think a lot of supporters were intrigued and excited. This is a road we have never gone down before in terms of a managerial appointment and he came in with glowing praise from the likes of Gerrard and players who had worked with him.
He comes across as very level-headed and down-to-earth bloke and we secured a fantastic win over Middlesbrough at the weekend. I think he has the potential to be a real find for us.
MC: In terms of league aspirations, are you expecting your side to mount another playoff push or are supporters happy around mid-table?
NT: Interesting one. With Warburton leaving, it was perceived that he had taken us as far as he could and the new manager would have a chance at a play-off push.
However, we operate on a very small budget as you will see from our signings this summer.
The key is keeping our best players and so far we have. Willock, Ilias Chair, Seny Dieng, Rob Dickie, Sam Field, Luke Amos and Jimmy Dunne are all still here and I believe all of them will be come the end of August.
MC: Looking at your recruitment, it seems as though many experienced heads were released, with younger players joining both permanently and on-loan, has it been a case of trimming the wage bill or just freshening things up?
NT: A bit of both. We had one of the oldest first XIs in the division last season and a lack of pace was a real weakness for us at both ends of the pitch.
The likes of Charlie Austin, Lee Wallace, Yoann Barbet and Andre Gray, who was on loan, were all on big wages and the guys who have come in are all considerably younger with real potential.
I think this is the right way to go, especially as we still have older heads such as Stefan Johansen and Albert Adomah contributing.
MC: Following an inconsistent spell with Sunderland a few years back, Jimmy Dunne appears to have been performing well at QPR, how is the Irishman viewed amongst your fanbase?
NT: He is a real fan’s favourite!
He was brilliant when he came into the side last season and hasn’t looked back. He is an absolute warrior, strong and brilliant in the air. He shows unbelievable commitment and comes across as such a likeable bloke.
Ironically, he was unlikely to be in the side on Saturday but Jake Clarke-Salter picked up an injury and lo and behold, Dunne also scored. After Willock, he has been our most consistent performer in the past 12 months.
MC: Speaking of ex-Sunderland defenders, Jake Clarke-Salter suffered a horror loan spell on Wearside, which probably came too soon in his career - now that he is older and more experienced, were you delighted to recruit him?
NT: Yes very pleased.
He was excellent at Coventry last season and we needed a left-sided centre half following Barbet’s departure. He looked good in pre-season and has a bit of pace which is vital in this division given the quality of strikers on show.
However, he has picked up an injury so not sure when he is back and that seems to be his weakness - he does pick up quite a few knocks.
MC: Jack Clarke endured a short loan spell with Queens Park Rangers back in 2020, how would you summarise his time at Loftus Road and did you expect to see him in the Championship again?
NT: Unfortunately, Clarke didn’t really get the chance to show what he is capable of on loan to us.
He played only a few minutes here and there and didn’t really shine.
Clearly a player with a lot of ability, I think he needed to settle down at a club and it looks like he is doing that with Sunderland.
MC: Aside from the above-mentioned players, which QPR players should Alex Neil’s side be wary of?
NT: Without question, Willock is the main man.
Saturday’s win over Boro was his first competitive game for five months since sustaining a bad hamstring injury against Forest in March, which required surgery.
It was as if he had never been away, scoring a truly world-class goal to open the scoring. For me, he is the guy that makes us tick and is a truly outstanding talent. He will end up in the Premier League sooner rather than later.
Other key players are goalkeeper Dieng and Ilias Chair. Chair possesses a lot of talent and he and Willock could wreak havoc for any side whilst Dieng is a calm head in goal.
MC: What style of play have you seen from Beale’s side in your first league matches?
NT: We seem to be pressing a lot higher with a change in formation also helping.
The team looked like they were enjoying it and looked like the shackles were off. The work rate off the ball was superb with Lyndon Dykes leading the line brilliantly.
We also have a set-piece coach in place for the first time since any of us QPR fans can remember! That reaped rewards as after Willock’s blockbuster, two goals were from set-pieces, which has been lacking at times.
MC: Following an excellent 3-2 win over Middlesbrough last Saturday, do you think your side will be unchanged?
NT: Well, unfortunately, Beale has confirmed we will have some key players missing so there will be some changes.
However, the return of Tyler Roberts is timely and he scored a rocket on his debut against Charlton in the Carabao Cup on Tuesday, so expect him to start as well as Andre Dozzell in the midfield.
MC: Sunderland knocked QPR out of the Carabao Cup last season on penalties, what is your score prediction this time around?
NT: That was a very tight game that evening. Obviously, Charlie Austin’s “goal” was wrongly chalked off but you looked a decent team that night.
I expect another very tight game so will sit firmly on the fence and pick a 1-1 draw.