|Bristol City 0 v 2 Queens Park Rangers|
Saturday, 6th March 2021 Kick-off 15:00
Super City show has QPR right back in the groove - Report
Sunday, 7th Mar 2021 15:55 by Clive Whittingham
After a recent blip, QPR came roaring back into form with a fifth away win of the season at Bristol City on Saturday, thanks to goals from Ilias Chair and Rob Dickie.
For a long time now, Bristol City is a place Queens Park Rangers teams went to die. Karl Connolly scored the last time Rangers won at Ashton Gate, in 2002, and there have been 11 meetings between the sides since Rangers last tasted victory anywhere, in October 2016. There was a League Cup penalty shoot out success in the early days of Mark Warburton’s tenure after a 3-3 draw, but the Robins have completed a league double over the R’s in each of the last three seasons.
A fortnight ago you’d have had good money on the trend finally being reversed. QPR, beating everyone they played, including the Justice League leaders and best team they’d played all season Brentford, starting to dream of a surprise play-off push. Bristol City, a perennially streaky team, on one of their long losing runs where even a one ticket raffle might prove beyond them. Since then, however, some Super Hooped slippage – below par and lucky to escape with a point at Preston, fairly abysmal in defeat to a wretched Birmingham side, and totally outplayed midweek by in form Barnsley. Backing up on the Saturday after a midweek match has not been Rangers’ forte this year – W2 D2 L6 – and Nigel ‘are you an ostrich?’ Pearson’s arrival at Ashton Gate has inspired quickfire victories over promotion chasers Middlesbrough and Swansea.
To combat bad timing, Warbs Warburton rang populist changes: Lyndon Dykes taken out of the firing line in favour of a much sought after start for young Chrissy Willock; the comedy stylings of Dom Ball replaced by the greater finesse of Sam Field; and finally, after starting 29 of QPR’s 32 league games to this point aged 35, some time in a comfortable chair for Geoff Cameron. Jordy De Wijs made his long-awaited debut in Captain America’s stead and the first thing to say about the 26-year-old Dutchman is he looks absolutely fucking terrifying. Take what you want, just don’t hurt my face. A proper builder’s tea centre back, to compliment Yoann Barbet’s skimmed latte. Geezer looks like he should be standing in a doorway wearing a long coat.
For it all, Rangers kicked the game off heavy favourites. You could get north of 2/1 on a home win here and even though City had lost their last four games on this ground – never in club history have they lost five in a row at Ashton Gate – that felt rather like buying money. Old friend of the site Mark O’Haire got the finger puppets out at lunchtime to explain to us this is an xG thing – even the odd games the Robins have won of late they’ve been lucky to do so – but as discussed in the lead up to the Barnsley game, we’re not xG people here, this is a safe place for willy jokes and drunk rants not xGs and scatter graphs. Mortgage on a Bristol win then, QPR kicking from left to right, sunshine high in the sky, draw machine Lancelot, set of balls number five.
Initially, QPR slept through their alarm. Lee Wallace, captain of Queens Park Rangers, sent an early loosener back to Barbet straight out for a corner. Kasey Palmer, on Izzy Brown Highway heading west, strode out of midfield and overhit a through ball for old Lego hair himself Nahki Wells. Rangers snorted themselves awake eight minutes in, started to play, and never stopped from there – a lovely Charlie Austin ball for Willock in the right channel and a low cross that would have provided Ilias Chair with a tap in but for a Kalas interception. Within two minutes it was 1-0, Todd Kane with a David Bardsley cross so good even Chair could head it home five feet and two inches off the ground.
As we know, from our Friday afternoon Warbs Bingo sessions, when we get the ball down and play, when we’re on the front foot and pressing, when the wing backs are able to go forwards, when we win first contacts and second balls, we’re a good team. We looked a good team here. Absolutely bang at it. Austin would have been in with more support than Fulham take away were it not for a very generous decision to let Bristol City off with a free kick from referee Tony Harrington, who you may remember from such Bristol City QPR fuck ups as the disgraceful injury time penalty that lost us this game when we were resident on Steve McClaren’s Hair Island.
What we also know, however, is that you have to take chances when on top to get our rewards, and a prolonged stoppage for Adam Nagy’s minor women’s whiplash gave time to pause and reflect that we’d started well, taken the lead after 11 minutes, dominated the game, and ended up losing 2-1 at Loftus Road in the corresponding fixture. A second goal would be most splendid. Mariappa’s fumble of a free kick from the excellent Stefan Johansen just wouldn’t run our way on 19 minutes. A brilliant ball from Willock got Wallace in on a giant overlap down the left only for Johansen and Kane to rather get in each other’s way at the far post. From a brilliantly worked short corner straight from the training ground Yoann Barbet, just glad to be out of the house for the day and not having to listen to his mrs talk about that chuffing robot hoover, hit the inside of the post. Here we go again on our own, down the only road we’ve ever known. Or not. Rob Dickie as I live and breathe. Into the roof of the net on the rebound for 2-0. A second goal for the club, both against the same opponent.
Much more of this I’d have been in danger of enjoying it. Steven Sessegnon skinning Kane on the byline, cutting the ball back right through a crowded six yard box, and Jack Hunt hitting a powerful low shot towards goal that almost certainly would have halved the deficit but for De Wijs’ big block brought us back to earth slightly. Rangers were much the better side though, pressing high and en masse, denied another run at goal on 25 by another generous Bristol City free kick, in down the left with Wallace and Field again on 42 but having to settle for a corner, spurning a great chance for 3-0 on half time when more cute approach work by Willock got Chair in on goal but he dallied over a decision long enough for defenders to close in. Johansen’s latest corner fell to Dickie, his shot deflected wide.
Three nil would have been a fairer reflection, and to compound matters for an already injury ravaged home team Nagy and Thomas Vyner had both been killed to death and Tyreeq Bakinson (left tackle, Ole Miss) was hooked early in one of Pearson’s trademark passive aggressive power moves. These come with a needlessly stand-offish post match interview as standard, Michelle Owen the lucky, lucky girl to be treated like something Nigel found on the bottom of his shoe for having the temerity to ask whether the change had been tactical or injury enforced. Eight minutes added to the first half – at one point I thought we were going to have to push that Wycombe game back again – and City could now only make two further subs at half time, which they decided not to bother with. Already it felt like they were requiring snookers.
QPR’s biggest enemy in these situations is often QPR themselves. Comfortable half time leads against Cardiff and Rotherham earlier this season were turned into baffling ordeals in the second half, and the manner of the turnaround in the first meeting with City was still relatively fresh in the memory. Hell, the way we blew the whole thing up at Birmingham a week ago was still there front and centre of mind. First job, get through the first ten minutes of the half without doing a large pooh. This was accomplished in most un-QPR-like fashion, with loooooooooooong spells of really good possession football, moving the ball around crisply and effectively, probing the City defence for further openings, dragging the hosts around the pitch burning fuel and time with each passing completion. The addition of Field and Willock, in particular, on top of Johansen who’s been excellent since he got here, really pushed Rangers’ performance onto a different level. Both of them are an upgrade on the players they replaced, and having all our technicians on the pitch at the same time meant we were able to pass the ball so much better than we have done in recent games. Whisper it quietly, but we actually looked really good. There was an opening for Charlie Austin at one point, two De Wijs’ headers from clever corners that could easily have gone in, and a great chance for Chair volleyed over after Willock chased a long cause and fed Wallace who picked Chair out a treat and deserved an assist. Daniel Bentley only just managed to beat Austin to a hospital back pass from Kalas. This was as comfortable as we’ve been in a game all season.
City looked pretty bereft. Dieng had one very routine save to make in the entire match, though Nahki Wells really should have scored midway through the half when the ball landed with him at the back post six yards out and he somehow blasted over – Osman Kakay, on for the tiring De Wijs after an hour, perhaps fortunate a tackle on Diedhiou immediately beforehand wasn’t adjudged a penalty, though as we know there’s a fair chance Wells would have missed that anyway as well. He looked fucking miserable, wasted in a wide left role. Should have listened to the twins and stayed near the zoo Nahki – he knows it, City know it, we know it. Probably still sleeps in QPR pyjamas.
We got a little bit slack when there was no real need. Dickie, Kakay and another sub, Dom Ball, were all yellow carded for tactical fouls to just keep a lid on any potential revival. One of City’s bench boys, Angela Lansbury, saw yellow too, for a needlessly horrible tackle on Stefan Johansen that could well have been a red in its own right. Given Lansbury, not two minutes earlier, had chopped down Chair deliberately after the Moroccan had wound his way around four players to the edge of the box Ebere Eze style, and somehow not been booked, he was incredibly lucky to stay on the field. Johansen blotted his copy book by skying the free kick – we’re still not very good at those.
Diedhiou’s stray arm into Dickie’s face also brought a yellow – referees look for a clenched fist as a sign of intent to elbow on those things, so his splayed palm probably saved him. Only poor finishing from first Chair on the end of more excellent Willock approach work, and then Bonne after Albert Adomah got the key pass in the final third right once again, prevented a breakaway third as time drained away. Rangers would have richly deserved it, Dom Ball’s 25 yard howitzer was an inch away from providing it, and if that had gone in no lockdown would have been strong enough to hold us. Hookers, blow, shots of AstraZeneca, dogs and cats living together. Mass hysteria.
We’ll settle for two. We certainly would have done at five to three. The only frustration was knowing if we'd played anything like this a week ago at St Andrew's the score could have been anything we'd fancied. And now with a whole bunch of home games against struggling sides, either side of an international break, we’re back to dreaming about exactly how far this team can go. Stupid, stupid sport.
Bristol City: Bentley 6; Hunt 5, Mariappa 6, Kalas 6, Sessegnon 6; Vyner 5 (Pearson 37, 6); Palmer 5, Bakinson 4 (Semenyo 23, 5), Nagy 5 (Lansbury 31, 5), Wells 5; Diedhiou 5
Subs not used: O’Leary, Bell, Towler, Moore, Conway, Massengo
Bookings: Lansbury 84 (foul), Diedhiou 88 (foul)
QPR: Dieng 6; Dickie 7, De Wijs 7 (Kakay 63, 6), Barbet 7; Kane 7, Johansen 8, Field 8 (Ball 75, 6), Chair 7 (Thomas 82, -), Wallace 7; Willock 8 (Adomah 82, -), Austin 7 (Bonne 75, 6)
Subs not used: Lumley, Dykes, Hämäläinen, Bettache
Goals: Chair 11 (assisted Kane), Dickie 22 (unassisted)
Bookings: Kakay 71 (foul), Dickie 74 (foul), Ball 76 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Stefan Johansen 8 Central midfield masterclass, controlling the game from deep. Could really do with this Fulham revival continuing, if it means we’re more likely to have him back next season. Ably assisted by Sam Field, with Chris Willock ahead of them both. After some scrappy performances we looked much better for having our more technical players in from the start here.
Referee – Tony Harrington (Cleveland) 6 I thought there were a couple of highly dubious, extremely generous free kicks awarded in the first half when City players had simply been caught up in QPR’s high press and were in on goal but for braver refereeing. How Lansbury isn’t sent off late on is beyond me – even if the Johansen tackle isn’t a straight red, and it’s borderline, how on earth do you let him off with a warning for the deliberate take out of Chair just a moment before that?
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