|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 1 Bristol City|
Saturday, 1st February 2020 Kick-off 15:00
Clarke-inspired rally comes too late for QPR against Bristol City - Report
Sunday, 2nd Feb 2020 20:45 by Clive Whittingham
QPR, inspid for the most part, inspired in the end, slipped to a 1-0 home defeat against Bristol City on Saturday at the end of a difficult week for the club.
A trying week in the People’s Republic of Shepherd’s Bush finished with a predictable defeat for the local team. An ambitious pass out from the back by Grant Hall trying to free Ebere Eze was read and picked off by Jack Hunt who crossed well from deep for Famara Diedhiou who bent his back and planted a firm diving header into the net on 16 minutes with Hall out of position and goalkeeper Liam Kelly splayfooted. It was Diedhiou’s tenth of the season, and fourth in the last eight games, crowning a man of the match performance for the visitors. It was also the 3,459th goal Queens Park Rangers have conceded from crosses this season.
Rangers are in a bit of a bind, through a combination of failing to mend the roof when the sun was shining, and the since-installed financial fair play rules of the competition they play in. They are trying to get the wage bill from its ruinously excessive high of north of £80m down to a more Preston North End-like level between £10m and £20m. This takes time, is very difficult to do without the team collapsing completely, and at the last check had reached a creditable but still excessive level of £30m-ish. That should come down again in the next set of accounts, due any day, unless Steve McClaren’s late “team of men” bail out last August blew it up completely. It should be down again, significantly, in 12 months’ time when the paperwork starts to reflect the first summer overhaul under Mark Warburton.
In that environment, a player in the last six months of his twenties and last six months of his contract going on the block for a significant transfer fee and a multi-year, multi-million pound contract well into his thirties is not a sound investment, however spectacular his January form was while on loan at your team. QPR would once have been all over this like a donkey on a waffle, but they were right to demur this time however testing it was to see Nahki Wells’ Lego hair glistening in the winter sunshine in W12 bedecked in different colours. Actually, as it turned out, he headed two very presentable chances to finish the game at 2-0 over the bar. Maybe he did love us after all.
The exit from the FA Cup, the loss of Wells, the total of 38 points that makes QPR all but safe but never threatening the top six, has triggered a pragmatic approach to the second half of 2019/20. Everything that isn’t tied down has been thrown overboard. Josh Scowen, a bit part player under this manager and his predecessor, has been jettisoned to shed a wage and bring in a nominal transfer fee. The emergence of Conor Masterson, a player Rangers hope to develop and sell, has allowed them to loan out somebody else rather than him, and a portion of Toni Leistner’s wage has been swallowed by somebody else potentially saving us up to £500,000 over the next six months. Loan players that aren’t free, but we weren’t using, have gone elsewhere. Why spend money now, trying to get from sixteenth to twelfth, or even eighth, when it can be saved and banked for the summer? Money spent now is money spent to placate an unplacatable, angry section of the fan base who point blankly refuse to acknowledge the plain facts of the situation we’re in. QPR are doing it right.
The challenge you have with that, as I said in the preview, is taking the common or garden die hards with you. Football is expensive to attend, QPR’s lovely, entirely local Christmas fixture list now leaves them facing distance trips to Blackburn, Swansea (Tuesday), Huddersfield, Middlesbrough, Preston and Wigan between now and May. Bar Charlton and Luton, even Nottingham Forest and West Brom feel nearby. There is a sense, even among the realists who support what’s being done by Lee Hoos and Les Ferdinand, and also wouldn’t want to see money wasted now trying to move to another bit of the midtable, that there is a long three or four months ahead, and another expensive season ticket renewal at the end of it. That miserable apathy manifested itself in spades for a thick hour at Loftus Road on Saturday.
QPR have started this year winning 6-1, 5-1 and then thrillingly 1-0 at home to promotion chasing Leeds at home. They have one of the division’s most exciting young forward lines, and have been mostly riotous fun to watch this season. But you would never have known that on or off the pitch for in excess of 60 minutes at Loftus Road on Saturday. There was a palpable listlessness, none of the vim and vigour and verve among the vibrant attack that we’ve come to expect, an atmosphere more akin to an abandoned morgue, a visiting team miles on top without really trying. From the Cardiff and Swansea thrashings and the Leeds cliffhanger to this, utterly bereft, furiously depressing waste of an afternoon in one fell swoop of transfer window reality. Notify the Crown and Sceptre, incoming wounded.
Diedhiou had already gone straight through a powerpuff Luke Amos tackle and drawn a good save from Liam Kelly before he opened the scoring. A good cross that narrowly evaded Rangers’ lone striker Jordan Hugill set up a lethal looking counter attack that only the sterling, determined, committed piston-pumping drive back down the field from Conor Masterson and Dom Ball prevented from turning into a goal. After taking the lead City had a further chance when the outstanding Jay Dasilva had time to bring a ball down on the edge of the box and fire in a blocked shot. When Amos tried to get Hugill in but misread his run, City countered again and another Diedhiou shot was blocked.
There was a late rally of sorts in the first half. The first prolonged, composed, concentrated, purposeful spell of possession in the half ended with an Eze shot into his own team mate’s face. Hugill got in shortly afterwards and fell over the ball. That, and the crowd jeering as said persistent period with the ball briefly and necessarily ended up back with Liam Kelly, rather summed things up. QPR were unhappy, with themselves, with their team, with their situation, and with this game. It felt like work. Dawn, I’m fed up.
A bit of a “come on you R’s” at the start of the second half carried all the conviction of one of those farts you quietly release into the bed clothes hoping the other half doesn’t notice. The team’s response was similarly unconvincing, and constantly hampered by referee Dean Whitestone’s persistent and ongoing belief that you can play advantage through a foul on the edge of the penalty area if the team that’s been sinned against has retained possession back in their own half. I know we’re not shit hot with direct free kicks Dean, but throw us a fucking bone mate. Eze shot wide, then on the hour clever movement from Hugill at a corner got him free enough to head down into the ground, over the goalkeeper Daniel Bentley and eventually away to safety via a clearance on the line. City’s two centre backs, Nathan Baker looking like the world’s tallest human and Ashley Williams so round I was surprised not to see a moon in orbit around him, stood up big and strong all day. Conor Masterson headed wide of the top corner when I thought he’d scored.
In truth, a second City goal looked likely. Diedhiou, a man on a mission, flicked one up for his own bicycle kick which Kelly saved smartly at the near post. Then he got in down the right but shot too low and tame and Kelly saved once more. Nahki Wells’ introduction felt like the start of an episode of Friends you’ve seen a thousand times before – entirely predictable, deeply unfunny, but somehow comforting in a troubled world. Sportingly, he headed two highly presentable chances over the bar to keep his former employers in the game.
QPR couldn’t get going. Ebere Eze was as anonymous as he’s been all season, prompting fears of a similar burn out to the one we saw this time last year when Steve McClaren, like Mark Warburton, asked him to carry the team in every minute of every game. I actually thought that when Ilias Chair - livelier, more inventive, more threatening throughout – went off to get Jack Clarke on the pitch it should have been Eze that was hooked. The other star of recent weeks, Bright Osayi-Samuel, was also played extremely well by Dasilva, barely making an impact at all. At Ashton Gate earlier in the season he’d torn Jack Hunt a new arse so deep and wide you could have built a new garden city within and started to solve the country’s housing crisis – I’m not sure whether City just moved Hunt out of his way, or we weren’t quick/shrewd enough to cotton onto the potential, but Bright kept banging away on Dasilva for mere scraps while Hunt had an untroubled hour on the other side. Bristol City filed back into shape quicker, more effectively and with more discipline than I’ve seen a team all season, frequently crowding out QPR counter attacks with a solid blob of seven red shirts and a goalkeeper in the shot around their own box. Lee Johnson is a marmite figure among the Robins faithful, but his team looked supremely well set up and coached here. This was thier third 1-0 win in a row, and you could see every reason why.
So far, so depressing. But QPR have been phenomenally entertaining to watch this season, with 101 goals scored in their 30 league games so far. They attack in numbers, with excellent young players. They play the game the right way, on the ground and on the front foot. They try hard, and are both inventive and instinctive in all the good ways. They probe teams, and threaten opponents, and if you want to know how you keep the people that care about them most engaged through a four month accounting exercise, then you got your answer in the final quarter of an hour here.
Marc Pugh’s introduction for Luke Amos did nothing for anybody, one horrendous air shot from a presentable chance deep in the penalty area particularly galling, but Jack Clarke’s addition to the fray really enlivened things. Clarke was so appallingly bad against Sheffield Wednesday you could have legitimately registered a charity dedicated to his care and improvement, but here he was an entirely different and far more effective small blond child. On for the last nine minutes, and a disgracefully skinny five minutes of stoppage time given all the shithousery Whitestone had allowed to go on unchecked, he electrified the game, his team and the crowd, cutting in and delivering lethal service to the back post time and time again.
Diedhiou, pressed into service at the back, got in a crucial header to stop Jordan Hugill converting one at the far stick. Daniel Bentley, a very good keeper with immaculate stats but somebody that historically does have a flap in him, started panicking and doing exactly that under heavy pressure, with one spill sparking a goal mouth scramble that could easily have wrought an equaliser. Osayi-Samuel received one ball deep in the danger area with his back to goal, spun, shot and missed the target. Pugh’s airshot came after the winger had forced Bentley into an improvised flicked clearance.
Come on you R’s, COME ON YOU R’S, this time with real feeling, like we fucking meant it, like we fucking believed it. The crowd was there now, with their young team, urging them on. It felt like Cardiff, and Swansea, and Leeds again. It felt like last week had never happened. It felt like football is meant to feel, whatever your circumstance, and wherever you are in the league. It felt, honestly, like we might be able to suck an equaliser in ourselves, just through sheer drunken will. It was enjoyable, as so much of this season has been. Jack Clarke, came for the GCSE revision tips, stayed for the widow-making back post inswingers. Go on boy. More. MORE.
Match Gallery: 18 photos
Bentley saved in thoroughly unorthodox fashion from Hugill’s header off an Eze cross. An equaliser was coming, and who knows had Whitestone added the seven, eight or nine minutes the events of the second half warranted we may have got one. The final kick of the game saw Clarke deliver a vicious free kick that provoked another scramble which City were lucky to survive. The final whistle followed, prematurely, immediately.
The “announce Ravel” mouth breathers will never come with you regardless, but you can take the faithful with you with more of this. Less forlorn, beaten-before-we-start, down-in-the-mouth, isn’t life so unfair first 75 minutes. More aggressive, attacking, purposeful, backs-to-the-wall come-out-swinging pugnacious resistance. More of this week’s Jack Clarke and less of last week’s Jack Clarke. More QPR being QPR, and less of QPR being what they think QPR have become.
I’d rather fellate John Prescott after he’s spent a long, hot, sunny Sunday tending to his garden in old cords than watch the first three quarters of this match again. If you offered me a ticket for the last 15 minutes I’d be there first in the queue in the morning.
Chin up R’s.
QPR: Kelly 6; Kane 6, Hall 5, Masterson 6, Wallace 7; Ball 7 (Shodipo 88, -), Amos 5 (Pugh 63, 5); Osayi-Samuel 5, Chair 7 (Clarke 81, 7), Eze 6; Hugill 5
Subs not used: Lumley, Manning, Rangel, Barbet
Bristol City: Bentley 6; Hunt 6 (Pereira 63, 6), Williams 7, Baker 7, Dasilva 8; Smith 7; Eliasson 7, Massengo 6 (Rowe 78, 6), Paterson 6 (Wells 63, 5), Weimann 7; Diedhiou 8
Subs not used: Nagy, O’Dowda, Wollacott, Palmer
Goals: Diedhiou 16 (assisted Hunt)
QPR Star Man – Dom Ball 7 Between him and Chair for me, but with City well on top for the majority of the game and Luke Amos doing his lightweight little boy routine alongside him in midfield I thought Ball’s endeavour and constant attempts to turn the tide in his team’s favour nudged him ahead. To be honest, it’s as close as we’ve ever come to awarding star man to somebody who came onto the field nine minutes from time.
Referee – Dean Whitestone (Northants) 5 Sigh. Big decisions, the few that there were, correct. Bookings, none, gave the players every chance, letting Lee Wallace and Eliasson battle away gamely without getting over fussy and involved. But the festering epidemic of clockrunning in the Championship, with the referees complicit and at times exacerbating it, was excruciating here in the second half. We had instances where Bristol City free kicks were awarded, and all their players walked away from the ball and just left it there – nothing done. We had play stopped for injuries which were clearly, obviously, players faking it to stop the game. We had an inordinate delay to execute a simple drop ball in neutral territory – just GET. ON .WITH. IT. We had fouls committed in the final third and an advantage waved when QPR had the ball back in their own half – where’s the pissing advantage there? We had a prolonged ceremonial booking of Bristol City’s assistant manager – I bet he was absolutely fucking devastated, oh no, a yellow card, whatever will I do, I must modify my behaviour, another 45 seconds pissed away. And for all of that and more, we had five minutes added to the end of the game. Disgraceful. It’s the same every single week, and for any Bristol City fans looking in who thinks this is a salty QPR fan trying to pin a deserved defeat on a referee it’s absolutely not, I say the same thing when we do it to other teams. In the Championship, as soon as your team goes in front, the clock running begins, blatant and flagrant, and the referees not only do nothing about it, but actually contribute to it. Five minutes of added time, do me a bloody favour.
Attendance – 13,713 (2,296 Bristol City) Third lowest attendance of the weekend in the Championship in one of the league’s smallest, oldest grounds.. Birmingham and Charlton both significantly higher. Only Hull, in the midst of a stand off with the board, and Preston, fractionally and with a far lower wage bill, were lower. Read the FFP rules, read the freely available club accounts, look around you every Saturday, and get real.
The Twitter @loftforwords
Pictures – Action Images
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