|Bristol City 2 v 0 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 27th January 2018 Kick-off 15:00
QPR slump against City’s supposedly tired ten men – Report
Sunday, 28th Jan 2018 16:31 by Clive Whittingham
Another low point in QPR’s 2017/18 campaign sees them lose 2-0 at a Bristol City side that went 12 rounds with Man City during the week and played an hour of this game with ten men.
A midtable finish, sadly, is the limit of the ambitions at Queens Park Rangers this season as they try and clean house and finally start moving forwards again in 2018/19 after years of decline.
To end up in the middle of the league table you will meet with triumph and disaster, and by and large you must treat those two imposters just the same. Each defeat is not the end of the world, for which heads must be skewered and walls ripped down, nor are the victories reasons for medal ceremonies and statue erections. Though the hype that official channels pump out after wins and youth team strikers scoring goals may trick you into thinking otherwise, QPR weren’t that good in victory against Burton, Cardiff or Birmingham over Christmas. And though the vicious, aggressive, gnashing, calls for sackings and abuse of other supporters on social media may confuse you, they haven’t been that bad in most of the defeats they’ve suffered this season. In the Championship, games are often two teams just bumping into each other for 90 minutes with a result at the end that easily could have gone to the other two outcomes. QPR could have drawn or lost the Cardiff, Burton and Birmingham games, could have won or lost at Ipswich or against Bristol City at home and so on.
QPR are generally quite rubbish at this. They get all bombastic over a couple of good results, a good month or a good streak of form from a player. Then they riddle themselves with self loathing if it goes the other way for a few weeks. Managers get sacked, and further sackings are demanded, after what is often little more than a bad run of form, often with extenuating circumstances like injuries.
DLLWDDLWWLL – that’s the league form since the start of December. Picking patterns, reaching conclusions, making demands… on the back of this… it’s like knitting fog. What you’re looking for in amongst the mediocre sludge is genuine, tangible goodness, improvement and hope that things are or can move in the right direction; or red lines, black marks and amber warning lights which tell you no amount of hoping or wishing or patience is going to make this work.
Ipswich at home, back in September, was one of the former, for instance. QPR were excellent that day, far better than the 2-1 scoreline suggested, and with Josh Scowen, Luke Freeman and Massimo Luongo combining well in midfield and the football attractive and entertaining you could reasonably conclude that given time, given a few more Freeman and Scowen-type signings, this nostalgic dream team in the dugout might take us somewhere. Millwall away, over the New Year break, was a prime example of the latter. An utterly braindead approach to tackling a rudimentary opponent, a second half spent pumping long balls down the middle against the division’s most physical, direct and long ball team, rank stupidity that bordered on the moronic. You really have to start asking questions of a manager whose team does what QPR did in the second half at The Den, even if that manager wasn’t too busy acting the clown in front of the home fans all night.
And sadly, the approach to Saturday’s game at Bristol City was every bit as thickheaded, every bit as cry-yourself-to-sleep, every bit as soul destroying as the second half at Millwall. Here we were again, against a ginormous, physically imposing defence, slinging Matt Smith on at half time and pumping long balls up to a narrow attack in a crowded space for Aden Flint and Bailey Wright to head back at us – a tactic we tried on this ground last season with similar results, only this time we were doing it against ten men.
The sending off really colours this one against Holloway, his team and the approach they took. It was a red card as well – Nathan Baker airborne, two feet, scissor motion, hours late on Josh Scowen as the two chased a loose ball in midfield. Daft tackle in the modern game and current climate, daft tackle in the 1970s come to that. A proper Mark Dennis vintage. There’s a replay of it from behind where the facial expression of Baker’s team mate Joe Bryan tells you everything you need to know.
That became the new narrative for this game – QPR against ten man Bristol City. But let’s not forget the original context that Rangers thought they may have a chance at Ashton Gate because City hadn’t won in seven and were coming into the game on the back of an emotionally and physically draining two-legged cup semi-final against the best team in the country. They’d won only one of six games preceding their League Cup ties this season and Rangers, with a week of rest under their belts, were supposed to be coming here to take advantage. They began that attempt by planting their own kick off straight on the head of Aden Flint with a long punt down the field to nobody in particular. Two Bristol City headers later and Alex Smithies was having to rush from his area to skew a shanked clearance into the new main stand. That was the first ten seconds, that was from QPR’s kick off, and that set the tone for the whole performance.
City were far, far better than Rangers before the sending off. The only tiredness on show was in a lame tackle from Alex Baptiste – recalled instead of Turnstile Lynch – on Bobby Reid which allowed the home striker to turn the ball round the corner for Famara Diedhiou to charge onto but Jack Robinson covered across with a tackle before he could get a shot away. Down the right flank, City like so many other teams were getting in behind QPR’s wing back system with ease, most notable when one set back pass dragged Jake Bidwell forward allowing another ball to be plonked into the space he’d vacated for Jamie Paterson to run onto – Diedhiou just out of reach of the cross at the back post.
Cup hangover, tired legs, bad run of form… there’d been no evidence of that at all for the first half an hour. QPR hadn’t registered a serious shot on the goal at all in that time. But surely City would have to wilt slightly playing for an hour with ten?
Sadly, another of QPR’s favourite tricks this season reared its ugly head soon after – conceding a goal immediately before or after half time. Rangers have shipped 14 goals now between the 40th and 55th minute, either changing the momentum of the game against us right at the death, or blowing up everything that was said at half time about the approach to the second 45. This was the fifth of those to occur in first half stoppage time (Forest away, Cardiff away, Villa home, Derby away) and Rangers have kept just four clean sheets all season – the league’s lowest total.
There may be some complaints about Keith Stroud’s award of a free kick for an alleged foul by Darnell Furlong on Jamie Paterson who rather seem to just kick the ball away from the QPR man and then run into him – one of those the ex pros ask “is he supposed to just disappear?” but the referees always award. But what about Alex Baptiste’s piss weak attempt at winning the header in the first place? What about his appalling marking from the resulting corner which Diedhiou beat him to at the near post and flicked home? Where’s the intensity, the concentration, the determination, the aggression, with a minute to go to half time to make sure we don’t concede? Absolutely pathetic. Needless to say this was the injury-plagued striker’s first goal since September. Sick of this shit yet?
Baptiste, deservedly, was hooked for Smith at half time, and so began another 45 minutes of John Beck football to try and salvage something from the game. Injuries to Pawel Wszolek and David Wheeler give Holloway some get out, but we’ve spoken about the weird aversion to playing with any width in the team whatsoever almost as much as we’ve talked about conceding goals around the 45th minute mark this season and here we were again, trying the same thing that had failed at Millwall. What doesn’t a tired team with a man less want you to do? Stretch them widthways. What did QPR do? Went long and narrow. It reminded me of a game in Holloway’s first spell in charge where Luton had two players sent off and we ended up drawing 0-0, and nearly losing 1-0, to nine men after an hour of pumping long balls towards Brett Angell and Callum Willock. Dark days indeed, but it wasn’t much lighter here.
There was an initial flurry of chances, and had one gone in as it easily could have done, then who knows where the final score would have ended up and what I’d be saying here. Oteh dragged a shot through the goal mouth from a tight angle after good approach work by Luongo initially. Then when Stroud awarded a free kick on the edge of the area for a foul on Smith when it actually looked like the big striker had simply taken a fresh air shot at the ball a complicated set piece routine ended with Jack Robinson smashing a shot into the wall. As the ball was lofted back in stand-in keeper Jason Steele flapped at the ball, Luongo tried to convert with a diving header and Wright blocked on the line with his chest. Later Onuoha wasn’t a million miles with a near post flick at a Freeman corner but City broke four v two from that despite their numerical disadvantage and Smithies did well to deny Corey Smith. From there QPR died away once more, and Lee Johnson’s side grew in stature.
There’d been half a chance for Oteh who couldn’t get Washington’s cut back to sit at a nice height for a shot, and then Smith headed wide from Bidwell’s cross but the second goal, when it did come, went to City’s ten men. First Oteh in the air and then Luongo on the ground were far, far too weak against Bailey Wright – just as Baptiste had been twice in the lead up to the first goal. Wright got Diedhiou into clear space and although Smithies saved well from him one on one, the rebound fell to the ever-excellent Joe Bryan to slam into the empty net off the post.
Two nil then and although there was an Oteh volley and a Smith header that unluckily flew straight at Steele when they’d have flown either side of him on other days, and a Luongo shot off a cleared corner that Onuoha stabbed wide when it seemed easier to score, the game was up and QPR got what they deserved.
Ian Holloway didn’t pull any punches afterwards, criticising his team and particularly his senior players, saying it was one of the worst performances he’d ever seen from one of his teams and so on. He said he was ashamed, as he should be, but he also said it ‘wasn’t his team’ and I’m afraid there we’ll have to differ in view. No width, amateur defending, too much long ball to Matt Smith, goal conceded at crucial time just before or after half time… this is Holloway’s team. We’ve seen this bollocks repeatedly throughout this season.
We need five or six more wins to stay up this year, and we’ll need to play a lot better than this to get them. I’m not too concerned about that, with the home games we have left. But as we look to next season we need hope that it will get better, that we can trade this summer when contracts come to their end and improve the team, that the results will improve next season. Seeing another 45 minutes spent pumping it long to Smith against giant centre halves fail again, so soon after the MIllwall debacle, makes me much less optimistic on that front.
Match Gallery: 15 photos
City: Steele 6; Wright 7, Flint 6, Baker 5; Bryan 8, Kent 6 (Magnusson 64, 6); Pack 7, Smith 7, Paterson 7 (Brownhill 64, 7); Reid 7, Diedhiou 7 (Diony 74, 6)
Subs not used: Walsh, Woodrow, Eliasson, Wollacott
Goals: Diedhiou 45+1 (assisted Paterson), Bryan 66 (assisted Diedhiou)
Red Cards: Baker 32 (serious foul play)
Yellow Cards: Reid 84 (foul)
QPR: Smithies 6; Baptiste 3 (Smith 46, 5), Onuoha 5, Robinson 6; Furlong 5 (Osayi-Samuel 74, 5), Bidwell 5; Scowen 5, Luongo 5, Freeman 5; Oteh 5 (Eze 74, 5), Washington 5
Subs not used: Lynch, Ingram, Manning, Perch
Yellow Cards: Luongo 80 (foul), Smith 83 (repetitive fouling), Onuoha 83 (foul)
QPR Star Man – N/A
Referee – Keith Stroud (Hampshire) 7 Sending off absolutely correct despite lack of appeals (why are we the only team that doesn't surround referees?) and although the free kick for the first goal was harsh they always get given.
Attendance 21,491 (1,100 QPR approx)
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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