|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 2 Bristol City|
Tuesday, 1st December 2020 Kick-off 19:45
Lather, rinse, repeat - Report
Wednesday, 2nd Dec 2020 16:09 by Clive Whittingham
The slick, technical, progressive, forward-thinking, excellent young boys of Queens Park Rangers were beaten in their customary manner by Bristol City at Loftus Road on Tuesday night. Stop me if you've heard this one before.
For all of Queens Park Rangers’ strengths - and there are several – and weaknesses – and there are many – their overall situation on the field at the moment boils down to this. We are easy to score against, you can almost do it by accident, whereas scoring a goal ourselves feels like trying to give birth to a bowling ball. No team wins many football matches while it’s that way around.
To a certain extent this feeling is exacerbated by having to watch on streams. I’ve always found not being at the matches more stressful. When I’m watching on television, or particularly when I’m relying on an audio commentary, every attack we mount looks, feels and sounds futile, whereas every assault we face feels certain to end up in the back of our net. I was like that even when we were good. Problem is, now it’s literally the case on the field, as opposed to a figment of my alcohol riddled imagination.
Bristol City’s visit to Loftus Road on Tuesday night may have been the archetypal example of it, but to some extent I feel like I’ve spent this entire lockdown slumped on a sofa wondering concurrently whether we’ll ever score again, and whether it might just be worth picking the ball up and throwing the fucking thing in our own net to do away with what little tension and mystique we’re able to build up in the short periods of time between shambolic concessions. We need three goals to win and a moment to lose. Even when we do score three we often turn the situation into an exciting game of I Wonder What Would Happen If I Jumped Off The Roof of My House?
Anyway, off we set at a hop and skip once more, looking to build a lead so large even a combination of Bristol City’s powerful attack and our powderpuff defence wouldn’t be able to assail it when they inevitably joined forces for the weekly mass QPR bed shitting in the second half. Four would probably do it, given three was scarcely enough against Rotherham, and to be absolutely fair and clear at this point, Rangers could easily, comfortably have had that many by half time.
Two minutes in, Ilias Chair waddled to the byline and stood up a nice cross which Dykes headed wide when we could reasonably have expected more. Watch how a one-off turns into a theme and then a pattern, maybe hide the sharp objects first. Eight minutes, a successful execution of Barbet’s Diags™ for us to have stuffed, put on the fucking mantlepiece and gaze at fondly through the long winter months of him booting the bloody thing into touch. Bright was in, and then out again, as Dan Bentley, dressed for a pyjama party, rushed from his line and spread effectively to block a shot one on one on the run.
In patchy recent performances against Watford and Reading, one-time QPR transfer target Bentley had been City’s outstanding player, and it was starting to look like he’d need to be again here. Looking for a response to their defeat at Reading, and perhaps chancing their arm with a gung ho approach to try and exploit a leaky back line, City had changed to a three up front with Antoine Semenyo one side, Nahki Wells coming back to his former club the other, and Chris Martin brushing the crumbs from round his gob in the middle. Add in veteran ball player Chris Brunt in a kind of quarter back role and this was a narrow set up, heavily weighted towards attacking players who weren’t likely to fancy too much defensive work. It left City, and particularly their full backs, horribly exposed.
Nine minutes, QPR recycle a corner and Rob Dickie heads wide at full stretch. Two minutes later the former Oxford man made no mistake, powering in on a beautiful cross from Chrissy Willock at another well worked set piece to thump in an opening goal of the game and first goal for the club. Rangers, so poor from their corners of late, produced a number of clever, inventive, eye catching and effective routines from their wide set pieces here. When an odd-looking set up freed Lee Wallace at the back stick for a cross shot, Little Tom Carroll tried to turn it goalwards only for Bentley to save under the cross bar. He should have scored.
He wasn’t alone. Almost immediately Willock had time and space in the area but tried to be too cute with the shot, and found Vyner had tracked back onto the line and was able to clear. Bright Osayi-Samuel, with Jay Dasilva beaten all ends up and drowning in open water thanks to City’s tactical set up, twice pinned and spun his man on the way to the byline only to run out of room, options and ideas almost by the base of the near post. Chair shot an inch wide of that same post on the end of a genuinely lovely move with Carroll at its heart, freeing Osayi-Samuel for another roasting session on the far touchline before his cross found Chair on the edge of the area. Willock’s deft through ball was agonisingly out of Dykes’ reach on 31. Carroll saw a shot deflected wide after Rangers had regained possession on a high press on 38. Dykes skied over from eight yards after Osman Kakay, in for suspended Todd Kane, teed him up with a good cross. God we were playing well.
On and on and on this went. Into Carroll, back out again, centre backs involved, Willock looking slick, Chair finding pockets, Carroll always showing, receiving, giving, getting back, turning round the corner, overloads left with Willock and Chair, overloads right with Bright and Bright, into Dykes and off him again, chipped behind by Carroll, spread wide to isolate full backs. On and on and on and on. Twisting Bristol blood to water. Twirling, twirling, twirling towards victory and freedom. You couldn’t deny it looked absolutely brilliant, if you could keep your hand off your dick long enough to voice an opinion.
All of the beauty and majesty, all of the harmonious movement, all of the interlinking, all of the triangles, all of it, all of it... for the return of one goal. One.
Carroll, Willock, Dykes at least once, for me, should all have scored. For it all, too often the final ball was lacking, frequently played too early or too late, almost always put into an area where somebody might be, rather than placed exactly where a man was. Andy Sinton talks frequently about trying to “do too much” with delivery from wide – always another flick, another trick, another something special we saw on Soccer AM, ooh if you kick through the valve of the ball it moves funny in the air, let’s see if we can get it up and down from here so we can slap our fingers in the air and put it on our Instagram stories. I feel the same about our finishing, we’re either snatching at them, or trying to be too bloody clever with it. Apart from Dykes’ penalties nobody ever seems to just have a bloody proper shot.
But inside the reactor core-- in the space between the centre backs themselves-- something far more dangerous was forming. A poison. The time was 28 past eight.
For all the obvious dominance, the vulnerability was clearly there. Lee Wallace, exhumed especially for the occasion, had reintroduced himself to the team after four minutes by heading a nonsense clearance straight back into the traffic from the corner of the box, onto which Adam Nagy strode and slotted wide when he should have scored. When Willock was also caught in possession in a bad area, only Martin’s overhang poking out beyond the last defender into an offside position interrupted a three v two counter attack which City were able to spring after one tackle and one pass completed 50 yards from goal. That’s all it takes, and all it took on 39 minutes when Martin was given too much space and time to cross low from the left and Nahki Wells was all alone and unmarked a foot from the goal where he took advantage of a slight deflection on the ball that took it past Dieng at the near post. The Caledonian Sleeper, as usual, doing exactly that when charged with marking a man at the far post. Left back rising fast up our list of problems as we’re forced to choose between a retired SPL player or Softy Walter. Still, that £150k we got for Ryan Manning will keep us warm I suppose.
Without a Rotherham-style rescue mission in first half stoppage time QPR now had issues. That was as well as this team can play, and it had only been good enough for 1-1. Maintaining that level for a full 90 minutes would be difficult, as we’ve seen in previous games this season, while City would surely correct their tactical errors from the first 45 and not play as badly again a second time. When they came knocking at the door for their ten minutes, would Rangers just wave them on through? Well, as it turned out, they didn’t even have to fucking knock.
Five minutes into the second half Rob Dickie managed to not only take Osman Kakay out but also play Callum O’Dowda in with a horror pass, and a goal always looked likely from that moment on. It needn’t have done, but the defence panicked and got sucked deep allowing the City man to cross behind them, and then Dom Ball horribly over committed himself to a block allowing Nagy to waltz around and fit a firm, proper shot into the bottom corner. Fuck my life.
To compound matters, City had indeed made proactive moves to plug holes. Dasilva was mercy killed from left back in favour of Tommy Rowe – thighs for weeks – who, short of sleeping with him, could barely have got any closer to Osayi-Samuel through a 45-minute man marking job Danny Maddix would have been proud of. Nagy dropped deeper, to crowd the space Willock and Chair had been frolicking around in. O’Dowda came to life as the high presser, attacking QPR players in possession ceaselessly whenever they crossed the halfway line. For all of Dean Holden's mistakes with the team selection, his half time corrections were masterful. Frustration started to build as chances dried up, and now it was City’s turn to create, picking Rangers off on the break and exposing a fragile back line.
Nagy shot over from a bad angle after Wells had run away from us on a counter from our corner. Later Wells came within an inch of the top corner with a super free kick, clipping the top of the post. Carroll was booked for one deliberate foul to disrupt an attack, Ball lucky not to suffer the same fate after deliberately ankle tapping an opponent Rugby League style. That was the pattern of play now, and Semenyo wasn’t that far wide when he went searching for the far corner. QPR sent on Hämäläinen, Macauley Bonne, Albert Adomah and Charlie Kelman and barely made a dent. Carroll’s chipped pass falling fortuitously for Bonne only for him to bobble a shinned effort wide was about as good as it got. Never mind kicking the cat, it’s a good job I haven’t got any kids.
It’s all very well saying the first half was wonderful to watch and we'll win more than we lose playing that way - but we won't if we finish like that, nor if we cannot resist even meagre pressure when it isn't quite going so well. It's a difficult level to maintain even for a whole single game, never mind a week or month of fixtures. At the moment we don’t make it pay when it happens, and we concede almost immediately when we dip below it. We have to develop some sort of resistance to adversity when it comes in games, at the moment we turn to custard when asked to defend our line for a couple of minutes. You want to be supportive and see the positives and take into account all the mitigation, and I do, but I feel like I’ve sat through that fucking game a dozen times or more in the last 18 months. Same good and bad, same positives and negatives, same pattern of play, same post-match interview, same problems, same victorious opposition manager talking about what a tidy side we are, and most, most, of all – the same type of goals conceded. Goals from set pieces, and goals from wide areas against a defence opponents are able to expose often with one pass through midfield, one giveaway of possession by us, one 50/50 tackle that goes their way, or one half decent corner delivery.
Rangers might have stolen a point regardless. City engaged in clock running late on, when they’d no real need given how they’d taken things over by that point. Wells and Martin aiming for a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the slowest substitutions of all time – nice touch, introducing five subs at the same time as taking the rule away about exiting the pitch on the nearest side, that’ll be fun when we play Preston again won’t it? For once though, in James Linington, we actually had a referee willing to tag extra-extra-time on to make up for that, playing in excess of five having advertised four, and within that a super touch by Kelman carried him into space on debut and he teed up Bright Osayi-Samuel – nice of him to rejoin the action – for what should have been a relatively simple finish into the far corner from six yards, only for him to try and reverse the ball into the nearest bottom corner and miss the goal entirely.
Punished for over-elaborating, end product found wanting, it was a nice microcosm to end with, if rather gut wrenching. I’d made peace with it all by then, all set to head off to bed for an early night with a book about the Lockerbie air disaster to cheer me up. Now here they were again, offering a hand to help me up, then dropping me back to the floor halfway. Cunts. I’ve dedicated my life to this you know.
It was City’s fifth league win in a row against Rangers, and that wasn’t the only familiar sinking feeling about it.
QPR, neither as clever, nor as good, as they think they are.
QPR: Dieng 6; Kakay 6, Dickie 5, Barbet 6, Wallace 5 (Hämäläinen 74, 6); Ball 6 (Adomah 68, 5), Carroll 7; Osayi-Samuel 7, Chair 7, Willock 7 (Kelman 83, -); Dykes 6 (Bonne 68, 5)
Subs not used: Thomas, Masterson, Bettache, Kelly, De Silva
Goals: Dickie 12 (assisted Willock)
Bookings; Dickie 27 (foul), Carroll 69 (foul)
Bristol City: Bentley 7; Mariappa 6, Vyner 7, Kalas 7, Desilva 4 (Rowe 46, 8); Nagy 7, Brunt 5, O’Dowda 8; Semenyo 6 (Bakinson 83, -), Martin 7 (Diedhiou 90+3, -), Wells 7 (Moore 88, -)
Subs not used: Hunt, O’Leary, Edwards, Towler, Massengo
Goals: Wells 40 (assisted Martin), Nagy 50 (assisted Wells)
Bookings: Wells 57 (kicking ball away)
QPR Star Man – Little Tom Carroll 7 What good QPR did, they usually did it through Tom.
Referee – James Linington (Isle of Wight) 8 Good referee this bloke who can usually be relied upon to control a game while giving it every chance, which is exactly what he did here. Even my usual complaint about failure to clamp down on some pretty egregious time wasting was negated somewhat by him sticking an extra 90 seconds onto the advertised four minutes to compensate for the two slowest substitutions known to man on 89 and 93 minutes. Welcome change after some of the rubbish we’ve suffered through in recent weeks.
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Pictures – Action Images
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