QPR's golden start continues in Cardiff - Report
Monday, 15th Aug 2016 17:47 by Dave Thomas
Two wins from two and no goals conceded, A Kick Up The R's editor Dave Thomas was in South Wales on Sunday to see QPR extend their perfect start to the new season.
While Team GB were doing their bit for the nation's Gold Reserves in Rio, and the two Premier League games were producing plenty of goals and even more talking points, perhaps the real story of the sporting day was in South Wales, with QPR going to the top of the table. Well, perhaps. Or maybe perhaps not.
Either way, the one-time custom of newspapers only printing the league table after three games - not one, not two - can be consigned to the dustbin, with Queens Park Rangers sitting proudly on top of the pile, almost certainly destined to stay there for the rest of the season. Or until Barnsley on Wednesday.
Either way, it's good to be up there amongst the pacesetters, even if it's (ahem) a marathon not a sprint.
For once the Met Office had got it spot on: Cardiff and the surround, they had predicted, was all set for a dull afternoon; and for well over two-thirds of a game that was seemingly heading for stalemate, you would have struggled to find any of the 15,869 souls rattling around inside the Cardiff City Stadium disagreeing with that forecast.
Two teams, fairly evenly matched, both doing the best work defensively, neither able to find a rhythm or deliver an end product, were largely cancelling each other out. Four passes sideways to every ball played forwards, which Rangers seemed content to do as they probed for an opening, doesn't tend to get spectators on the edge of their seat, and it wasn't doing so here either.
Neither goalkeeper was being unduly tested, and a whistle-happy referee wasn't exactly helping what flow there was to the game with his constant interuptions, the majority of decisions seeming to go against Rangers. It was all, much like the weather in South Wales, pretty dull.
As the home side, the onus of course was on Cardiff to take the game to Rangers, which in the early stages is what they did. Whether by default or design, on the evidence of the two league games to date, Rangers seem to be content to allow their opponents plenty of room on the flanks, employing a narrow defence and, with Hall and Caulker both comfortable in that role, happy to deal with the resulting crosses.
That task was made easier by the fact that, like Leeds last weekend, the quality of those crosses into our box was not very good. Sterner tests from better teams will surely lie ahead.
Another noticeable aspect to Rangers this season is the way individual defenders are now throwing themselves in the way of opposition attempts on goal, blocking the ball and, literally, putting their bodies on the line. Not only is it excellent play in itself, if executed cleanly (of course), it must eventually have a dispiriting affect on the opposition. It sends out a clear signal that Rangers mean business.
So for all their early dominance, Cardiff proved unable to carve out any real chances and long before the game had reached the hour-mark it was now largely being played in the middle third of the pitch, the ball mostly moving sideways, sideways, sideways. Meanwhile, on this dullest of Sunday afternoons, many in the crowd were struggling to keep their eyes open.
And then, metaphorically at least, the sun came out - and one small corner of the ground well and truly woke up. A cross into the middle and there was Steven Caulker, a man largely forgotten in the past two years, rising higher than anyone to plant a firm header into the back of the Cardiff net and give Rangers a lead that their second-half improvement deserved. Cue celebrations amongst a modest but decent-sized away support and the inevitable chants about being top of the league at that precise moment.
It felt like the last-gasp win away at Huddersfield very early last season, although here there were still another 14 minutes, plus stoppage time, left to play. Plenty of time for Cardiff to equalise or even go on to win, if you were a QPR fan - no chance of the home side scoring, even if the match went on until midnight, if you happened to support Cardiff. Such are the slim margins of winning and losing football matches.
In truth, the Cardiff view probably held more sway. A graph charting their effort and belief on the afternoon would have started high and then steadily fallen to rock bottom over the course of 90 minutes. Like a lot of sides in this most average of Championship seasons, Cardiff will probably win, draw and lose games in roughly equal measures this season, while struggling to find any kind of consistency.
That's not to be overly-concerned here with what Cardiff might or might not do this season, but to underline the simple fact that Rangers, especially with the start they have made, have as good a claim as any other team in the division - including the media darlings on Tyneside, the much-fancied Norwich and the could-go-either-way basket case that is Aston Villa - of automatic promotion, or a play-off place at least.
Now ahead, Rangers continued to press in search of a second goal. It duly arrived, from the penalty spot, after Polter had been unceremoniously upended inside the area. Even with the new directives in place, there were few arguments from Cardiff.
A year ago, against Rotherham at Loftus Road, Polter had tried to claim the ball from Charlie Austin to take a 90th minute penalty. Charlie, being Charlie, was quite rightly having none of it. He duly dispatched that particular penalty. However, for all that he scored more than he ever missed from the spot, you could never be totally sure that Charlie Austin would be successful when stepping up.
And then came Leeds away at the back end of last season, and Charlie Austin now long gone. Stepping up that evening was Tjaronn Chery, who hit the ball so high and so hard into the top corner, if it hadn't have been for the net stopping it, it might now be in permanent orbit around Earth. So no arguments this time around. Chery struck a now trademark spot-kick powerfully passed Marshall - and Rangers were just about home and hosed.
A dull afternoon was suddenly looking much brighter from a QPR perspective. Those, like myself, who had been hoping Rangers would approach the game in the same manner that had despatched Leeds so clinically, pressing them high and other than a short spell at the start of the second-half not allowing the visitors to get into any kind of rhythm, might have been a bit concerned to see the team here against Cardiff set up more to contain than entertain, but that's something we'll almost certainly have to get used to this season. It will be far easier on the eye if results continue to go our way.
It was a workmanlike performance from Rangers, solid rather than spectacular. Those moments will come, and that's what it takes over a long season. Here the game was won by an excellent header from a player who was just as impressive in his duties at the back. Indeed, with only one shot on target in the entire game, Cardiff could very well have played on until midnight without scoring.
So two wins out of two, five goals scored, none conceded. To paraphrase a comedy genius, we've had worse starts. The question is, if not now when exactly do we begin believing that anything's possible for us this season?
Cardiff: Marshall; Peltier, Manga, Connbolly, Richards (Noone 77); Whittingham, John, Ralls; Immers (Huws 75), Pilkington, Gounongbe (Zohore 75)
Subs not used: Morrison, Gunnarsson, Moore, Ajayi
Bookings: Ralls 90+4 (foul)
QPR: Smithies 7; Onuoha 7, Caulker 8, Hall 7, Bidwell 6; Cousins 6, Luongo 6, Henry 6, Gladwin 5 (N'Gbakoto 25, 7); Chery 7 (Washington 91, -), Polter 6 (Perch 90+2, -)
Subs not used: Ingram, El Khayati, Shodipo, Kpekawa
Goals: Caulker 76 (assisted Bidwell), Chery 85 (penalty, won Polter)
Bookings: Onuoha 8 (foul), Chery 21 (dissent), Luongo 61 (foul), Henry 86 (repetitive fouling)
QPR Star Man – Steven Caulker 8 This was very much a team performance. Smithies had relatively little to do all afternoon, and was well protected by the central partnership of Caulker and Hall. Whether he will soon be the last of the big earners off the wage bill, only time will tell, but if he can continue in the form shown both pre-season and to date, Steven Caulker could be a key player, and effectively a new signing. After setting his own standard last week, Luongo was a bit disappointing. A surprise starter, Ben Gladwin was forced to leave the field on 25 minutes after a nasty looking tackle from behind that went unpunished. He was replaced by new boy Yani N'Gbakoto, who showed plenty of pace and decent movement but who will need time to gel, if indeed he starts regularly. Up front, Polter was his usual self, but without really seeing a great deal of the ball. Rangers got more and more on top as the game wore on, and were rewarded by the two goals. But for scoring with a well-placed header and keeping Cardiff at bay at the other end, for me Caulker was easily the outstanding QPR player on the day.
Referee: James Linington (Isle of Wight) 6 Somewhat fussy early on in the game, he was clearly keen to follow the FA directives in using his card to clamp down on dissent. Normally, and unlike Clive in this respect (you might have noticed!), I don't normally take much notice of, or get riled by referees; but one inexplicable decision left all of us in the away end fuming. It was during the second-half, when Nedum Onuoha charged in to intercept the ball and launched a powerful run, only to be clearly and physically pulled back. For reasons only he will know, the referee gave the free-kick to Cardiff. Barmy.
Attendance 15,869 (800 QPR approx) Around 800 QPR fans in attendance, and far and away the happiest on the way home. Indeed, the boos rang out loud from the home support at the final whistle. From those still left inside the ground, that is. The second and decisive goal from Rangers had prompted a mass exodus of home supporters, none too keen on hanging around any longer than was necessary, their side have failed to score yet again.
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