Gareth Ainsworth insists his side must divert all efforts and attention towards Saturday’s crunch Championship tie at Queens Park Rangers in order to bring home three points, and avoid being distracted by the visit of Tottenham Hotspur to Adams Park in the FA Cup the following weekend.
Wanderers have no league fixture for a fortnight after the clash with the R’s due to postponements of games against Sheffield Wednesday for Covid-19 protocol purposes, and Birmingham City due to a clash with the cup tie.
“All the focus is on Queens Park Rangers – that’s the big one,” he said. “If you asked me to choose, I’d rather stay in the Championship than win the FA Cup. The Tottenham tie is brilliant for us, but it’s all eyes on going to the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium and we can’t wait for it to come around.”
“I loved my time there,” Ainsworth said. “The club means a lot to me and it’s probably where I’m best known as a player. It was my home for seven or eight years and I built up relationships with people that will last forever. We had some real special memories, winning promotion at Sheffield Wednesday, going top of the Championship for a while, surviving on the last day. I remember I broke my leg playing against Luton but tried to run it off because the game was so important. We had such a spirit and camaraderie there.
“But what we have here is the same, if not better. My boys will be reminded very strongly about the importance of this game because we need to get points on the board and we firmly believe we can do it after the results and performances we’ve had in the games against Cardiff and Preston.
“It’ll be awesome to go back there. I haven’t been back there as a player or manager since I left. It’s a fantastic club; having no fans there will be a killer for me because I enjoyed giving my all for them and it would have been nice to see the place full. l might’ve got a decent reception but unfortunately it’ll be an empty stadium for our biggest game of the season so far.”
Ainsworth was a spectator as QPR collected a first league win since November with a 2-0 triumph at Luton in midweek, and was impressed with what he saw:
“I was fortunate enough to be at the game at Luton in midweek; as manager of an upcoming opponent you’re allowed to go to these games and I thought QPR seemed to have a little bounce about them, maybe because of Charlie Austin going back there and giving them something extra.
“We’ve got to be on it. They’re a decent side; I thought we had the better of them at Adams Park but didn’t stick the ball in the net enough and only got a point from it. Mark Warburton is a fantastic guy and a really good manager, and they’ve changed system recently which we’ll need to combat, but we’re looking forward to it.”
The ongoing situation with the pandemic means fans remain absent from grounds across the country, but Ainsworth has a message for the Wanderers faithful:
“Please cheer us on from home, just like you did in the play-off final and have done throughout the season. We felt your support at Wembley and we know you’re right behind us, whether it’s a league game against QPR or an FA Cup match against Tottenham. We’re doing everything we can to make sure that when fans are allowed back in, this club is in the strongest place it ever has been, and that means staying in the Championship.
“We’re giving everything to achieve that. We know that means collecting a lot more points than we’ve already got, but there’s no reason why we can’t, starting with Saturday. I believe we’ve got what it takes, with my strongest team, to match most teams in this league. There’s a real battle across the division, and we need to stay amongst it.”