Hoilett’s return to form not enough for QPR in Bristol – Report
Monday, 21st Dec 2015 15:12 by Clive Whittingham
Plenty of positive signs, but still no first win for Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink as QPR were held 1-1 at struggling Bristol City on Saturday.
Three games, three draws, three results that could easily have gone either way… QPR’s apparent determination to remain slap-bang in the middle of the Championship remains, despite the arrival of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink who cut a frustrated figure as he walked across the pitch at Ashton Gate after Saturday’s game.
Bristol City, fourth bottom at the start of play, was the easiest of Hasselbaink’s opening matches on paper. City have struggled with the step up to the Championship since storming to the League One title last season and were soundly thrashed 4-0 by Derby during the week after which manager Steve Cotterill admitted his team wasn’t good enough to live with a side of that quality.
QPR aspire to a promotion push this season which will mean matching, and beating, the likes of Derby themselves. They too could have beaten City here on another day, despite losing Charlie Austin and Sandro to training ground injuries before kick off, forcing a recall for Karl Henry and a first league start of the season for Seb Polter in attack.
After a quiet first half in which Grant Hall’s header off target from a fine Ale Faurlin free kick was the only meaningful chance for the visitors, the R’s started to move through the gears after the break. Matt Phillips, again looking far more at home on the right wing than he ever does up front or wide left, picked up on a poor clearance from home keeper Frank Fielding, once a team mate at Wycombe, and returned the ball with interest and venom, forcing a fine save.
Two minutes after that, Junior Hoilett broke the deadlock. Picking the ball up wide on the left, the Canadian executed a one-two with Polter on the edge of the area which worked space for a low, right-footed shot that caught Fielding on his blind side and nestled into the bottom corner. Hoilett, who’s had a dreadful time of things since joining QPR from Blackburn three years ago and had essentially been written off entirely as a Rangers player until a month ago, showed how fuelled by confidence he can be. A decent performance stepped up another level after the goal, and soon he was smacking one against the cross bar from 20 yards out as belief coursed through his veins.
The goal also showed the value of having a striker up front. Nobody can pretend Seb Polter was particularly good here, although the abuse he continues to attract from a section of the QPR support is totally out of proportion not only with his performance level but also the amount of time he’s actually spent on the pitch for the club. He does have an annoying habit of always being five yards short of where he needs to be as a cross comes in or long ball is played, but hopefully that will improve if and when he gets more time on the field with the other QPR players. Even if it doesn’t, having one poor striker up there is better than having none at all – a nonsense that QPR have been experimenting with of late. He occupied the centre halves, enabled Rangers to play higher up the pitch, and got a very decent little assist for his troubles. He can yet be our new Devon White to Charlie Austin’s Les Ferdinand.
Phillips, too, looks revitalised after a mediocre start to the season. Fielding denied him for a second time with a decent leg save as the winger pressed into the right side of the City penalty box and let fly with a low shot. The new and exciting threat posed from corners of late – three of Rangers’ last four goals prior to this match have been scored from the wide set pieces – continued with Gabrielle Angella heading wide from Faurlin’s delivery.
But in truth, City had no trouble living with Rangers and could easily have won the game themselves. Robert Green’s weekly disaster came early here as he nervously tried to put his foot on a routine back pass and ended up toeing it several yards in front of him allowing Jonathan Kodjia to nip in but fail to get a shot away on goal.
The French forward has been a real find for City this season – nine goals in 21 starts in a struggling team should be peaking scouts’ interests. His battle with Green was only just getting started with that eighth minute incident. Soon the keeper was beating away a powerful shot from the edge of the area after the defence had allowed Kodjia too much time to turn and get an effort away.
Then, early in the second half, Grant Hall was caught dallying on a bouncing ball out by the corner flag and Kodjia was able to run away from him with the ball at his feet, deep into the penalty box before Green produced a fantastic save with his feet, one on one, from a tight angle. A great strike from the edge of the box on 70 minutes drew a more routine camera save from the keeper and with frustration growing among the home ranks, and just two wins to their name on this ground all season, it started to feel like it might drift away to an away win.
Not so. Seconds after Hoilett had struck the bar Karl Henry was unfortunate to lose a prolonged tussle for the ball on halfway. That set City up for an attack down their left flank where, with Nedum Onuoha pressed into service out of position at right back by James Perch’s injury, they’d had some joy all afternoon and had recently introduced tiny Joe Bryan from the bench to exploit further. Three, slick, one-touch passes later and Bryan’s low cross was rolling invitingly through the goal mouth for Aaron Wilbraham to slide in and convert at the far post. A very decent goal, probably unpreventable once Henry had lost out in his 50/50 challenge. It made you wonder why City were quite so direct the rest of the time, as they caused Rangers far more problems when they got the ball on the floor for the likes of Freeman to work with.
Just as Hoilett’s goal had imbued the Hoops with belief, so City’s equaliser introduced an element of doubt. In a swirling squall, panic started to set in among the QPR defence. Onuoha was caught dribbling the ball out of his own box but Kodjia fired wide. Then a cleared corner was returned to the danger area sparking lower league-style chaos in which Freeman looked to have a sight of goal, Wilbraham took a wild air shot at the ball, and eventually a free kick was awarded by referee Mark Haywood. Green’s dalliance over that, and every other goal kick he had in the final ten minutes, showed Rangers were now happy with their point and concerned about losing it.
Rarely has a game had such pronounced spells of pressure, alternating so regularly between the sides. QPR would have their ten minutes, then Bristol City would have theirs, and back again. It was evenly matched, end to end at times, and a draw was a fair result. With Kodjia up front, Freeman in midfield and a very solid, uncompromising back line it is difficult to see why City are doing quite as badly as they are. But overall this doesn’t bode particularly well for what I still think is a hopelessly optimistic idea that this QPR team can be promoted this season.
Bristol City: Fielding 6; Ayling 7, Flint 7, Baker 7, Williams 6 (Bryan 78, 6); Bennett 6 (Little 87, -), Smith 6, Freeman 6, Pack 6; Wilbraham 6, Kodjia 7
Subs not used: Cox, Reid, Moore, Burns, O’Leary
Goals: Wilbraham 80 (assisted Bryan)
QPR: Green 7; Onuoha 6, Hall 6, Angella 7, Konchesky 7; Phillips 7, Henry 6, Faurlin 6, Hoilett 7 (Chery 90, -); Fer 5, Polter 6 (Emmanuel Thomas 81, -)
Subs not used: Smithies, Hill, Toszer, Petrasso, Luongo
Goals: Hoilett 56 (assisted Polter)
QPR Star Man – Paul Konchesky 7 Much maligned, and rightly so, since he signed in the summer but this was his best performance of the season by far, without all the random possession concession that has blighted his time at the club so far and with plenty of very decent defensive work.
Referee – Mark Haywood (West Yorkshire) 8 Nothing really by way of a controversial incident. Controlled the game nicely, no cards shown, hardly noticed.
Attendance 15, 754 (1,337 QPR) Ashton Gate is a bit of an odd place to watch football at the moment, with a building site stretching all the way down one side of the pitch and a huge new stand being built quite a distance back from the playing surface. While that’s going on the away fans get a few blocks on the end of the old home end, at the opposite end to where they used to be housed. This only holds 1,300 supporters, and QPR sold all of those tickets, which makes the decision to make the seating unreserved very odd indeed. The stand was full well before kick off and as people made their way up nearer to kick off they were forced to stand in the aisles and gangways. Given that the tickets all had allocated seat numbers on them this seemed completely needless, and with so many people having to stand on steps for the duration of the match you couldn’t help but wonder whether more tickets had been sold than there were actually seats for. Not a particularly pleasant experience if you’ve paid £25 for a seat, without getting into the high and mighty “what if we’d had to evacuate?” argument. Understandably there were plenty of objections, and people were angry not only at the situation but at being told “you have to sit down” by stewards without them actually providing anything to sit on, or any solution at all really. People were cross but good natured about it, and there was never any hint of trouble, but those who did become involved in conversations with stewards about why they were having to stand in gangways were then filmed by police officers with video cameras which was completely unnecessary, over the top and incendiary. All the huge, vast away ends at new stadiums where we’ve been forced to sit in our allocated seats despite 4,000 seats sitting empty, and then we get an unreserved section as tiny as this. Seemed weird.
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