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Bristol City 1 v 2 Queens Park Rangers
SkyBet Championship
Thursday, 30th December 2021 Kick-off 19:45
The year that was - Preview
Wednesday, 29th Dec 2021 16:19 by Clive Whittingham

Two defeats to nil from the last two home games has soured the mood and raised questions about QPR's credentials, but the progress made over the last 12 months should not be lost amidst raised expectations.

Bristol City (7-6-10 DWLWDL 18th) v QPR (10-5-7 DWWWLL 7th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Thursday December 30, 2021 >>> Kick Off 19.45 >>> Weather – Mild, wet, windy >>> Ashton Gate, Bristol

It was this game last year, the final one of 2020, that things started to turn around for Mark Warburton’s Queens Park Rangers – a very hard fought 1-1 draw at eventual champions Norwich, with Bright Osayi-Samuel scoring from the spot late on. Although subsequently beaten by Premier League Fulham in the FA Cup, that was only after a 90 minutes where Rangers had been the better team and missed a catalogue of chances before substituting key players for extra time. They then won six of the next seven, including victories against eventual top-six dwellers, Watford, Bournemouth and Brentford.

It has been that inability to make a similar dent in the league’s best teams this season that has come into focus since the defeat at home to Bournemouth. Much like the game at Dean Court, Rangers were in the contest to the end, lost by only a single goal, and had plenty of grievance with the league’s worst referee, but were nevertheless beaten by the better team on the day and felt a level or two away from Scott Parker’s team. That was certainly the case when we played against Fulham at Craven Cottage, arguably the same when we lost at home to Stoke in early December, and although I didn’t think much to West Brom when we played them (and nor what I’ve seen of them since) I thought we were poor that night having changed our tactics to try and counter their kick and rush and deserved what we got, even though the goals went in late. These are the sort of teams we’d be playing if we made the play-offs, and what’s gone on so far doesn’t bode particularly well for our chances.

There are plenty of mitigating factors. Specific to the Bournemouth game we obviously don’t know who had Covid, how bad it was, how much it affected them. We do know that they haven’t really been able to train until recent days, and that once again all three of our substitutions were driven by injury and fitness levels rather than tactics (Chair and Wallace unable to finish the game, Adomah unable to start it). I’m not sure I quite buy into the three weeks off being a big problem, and to go from moaning about three blasts of seven games in 21 days to then bemoaning an impromptu three weeks off in December does feel a little bit Goldilocks and the three bears to me – but, again, where’s my medical degree or pro-licence to give me the authority to comment? In general, you look at not only the money spent on players by those four teams (Bournemouth and Fulham both have a midfielder who cost them £25m) but also the wages they’re paying out relative to us and it’s knife to a gun fight stuff. Wages paid is usually the best indicator of who’s going where in football and on paper, and the balance sheet, QPR should be losing to these teams.

How we go about narrowing that gap is trending topic number two, behind Keith Stroud, as we head into the January transfer window. With Ilias Chair heading off to the African Cup of Nations for January, and potentially also now injured for these two quickfire away games at Bristol City and Birmingham, there’s a problem to be solved there. We saw in the second half on Saturday, like Millwall on the opening day, how the creativity in our team can dry up rather when Illy and Willy becomes simply Willy. With both of them we can stretch an opposition defence right across the pitch, creating space for the forwards, and preventing them doubling up on our two best creative players. Willock cut a really frustrated figure through that second half with Bournemouth – I thought he got a bit stroppy at times to be honest, but if you’re besieged by three midfielders worth £47m between them everytime you get the ball I guess you’d have a bit of a face on as well. Even with Chair, the attack does lack that blinding pace we used to boast when Bright was here and on song. The wing backs, too, were another issue against the Cherries – when they’re fit and in form, Adomah and Wallace make us fly, but given their age and respective records how often is that going to be the case through the second half of the season? Could additions be made there? Is another striker required, with Dykes, Gray and Austin flitting in and out of form and fitness?

But let’s take that step back and go back to Norwich a year ago. If you’d said that night, don’t worry about it, QPR are going to absolutely blitz 2021, they’re going to win 26 of 49 games, they’re going to be in the play-off hunt at the turn of the year, this is what the team is going to look like… I can’t imagine any of us wouldn’t have taken that. Also remember back to the summer when we didn’t think it possible that all four loans would be made permanent and when the club not only did that but also added Andre Dozzell, Jimmy Dunne, Sam McCallum, Andre Gray and others everybody was ecstatic, and enormously optimistic for the season ahead. Because Austin and Johansen haven’t reached the levels of last season, and De Wijs and Field haven’t been fit, there’s been criticism and sniffiness about all of them, and social media is now awash with demands that we sign this player or that player, replace this one or that one, spend more money, strengthen the team, and so on. But that summer did not come cheap. It felt at the time like we’d really pushed the boat out and had a bit of a gamble. Is the budget there to be making big additions in January as well? Yes, a younger, fitter, pacier version of Wallace and/or Adomah would be lovely for wingback but when you’ve already got Adomah, Wallace, McCallum, Odubajo, Kakay and Hamalainen contracted for those positions, do you, can you, add another wage to that still? Just because Dykes, Austin and Gray haven’t fired quite as we would like doesn’t mean they’re any cheaper, or getting paid any less, can you layer another striker on top of that? Or do you just have to go with what you’ve got? Remember, also, the club is existing under the omnipresent threat of that incompetent horny bagpuss calling a press conference and belching some more restrictions our way at no notice at all, removing all our ticket and hospitality revenue for the rest of the season. I’m surprised, to be honest, that an experienced player like Steve Cook looks to be as close as he is to moving here in a position where, again, we have four senior players contracted and a fifth with first team experience out on loan.

I guess you could say that having played ourselves into contention, it’s worth another gamble to see if we can push ourselves over that line into the Premier League at which point the club’s income becomes potentially transformative, if you’ve got the right people spending it. If it fails, we do at least now have sellable assets in the squad who could be used to recoup the money in reasonably short order. Careful though, because it’s exactly that sort of “show some ambition” talk that said we should pay what Burnley, and the player, wanted when Nahki Wells’ six goals in five games suddenly turned him from ‘take him or leave him’ to demigod in the supporters’ eyes and Bristol City came calling. Bristol City’s £38m loss in their accounts revealed this week exactly what happens when you go around dolling out transfer fees for players coming out of contract and eye-watering three-and-a-half-year deals to 30-somethings with no sell on value based on them having a decent month somewhere else. City thought it was worth the gamble too, it’s exactly what we used to do, and they’re now mired in eighteenth, which is exactly where we used to be. Score tomorrow though won’t he? He’s on one for the season, and we all know when that was.

The fact we’ve lost the games we have, nor really strung too many full-90-minute performances together, doesn’t have to matter at this point, you just need to be in a position to crack on at the business end of the season – hell we won the play-offs in 2013/14 having been mostly complete crap from October onwards. We have also beaten Blackburn, who seemed delighted with the nil nil they held here for a while and have since won eight and drawn one of ten, and Middlesbrough (albeit pre-Wilder) and Huddersfield, who all currently occupy top six spots. The team feels like it’s got a ceiling to it, but it’s not a solid concrete one.

I said in the summer I worried the big problem in 2021/22 would be the rising expectation levels, and people’s reaction to perceived catastrophes that actually aren’t even really set backs at all. This time last year we were nineteenth, we’d won four games, and two of those had been like trying to shit out a snooker table. Now here we are, well in contention, with games in hand, without ever really having a fully fit team, nor really playing to our full potential. Overall, step back, big picture, it’s been a great year, we’ve made huge strides, we’re nicely placed, and we’d all have been very happy indeed with this outcome if offered it 12 months ago.

Links >>> Rangers strike late – History >>> Woolmer in charge – Referee >>> Bristol City official website >>> The Exiled Robin – Blog >>> One Team In Bristol – Message Board >>> Bristol Post – Local Paper >>> One Stream In Bristol – Podcast

Below the fold

Team News: Difficult to say. Ilias Chair left the Bournemouth game at half time with a kick to his calf so must be doubtful here ahead of his departure to AFCON which is now due to occur after the Birmingham game. Andre Dozzell is banned for one match after his sending off in stoppage time. Albert Adomah was given just the last 20 minutes to try and preserve some availability for this game.

Bristol City had their Boxing Day game called off for Covid-19 reasons. Nathan Baker was hospitalised with concussion for the second time this season in November and hasn’t trained since. Callum O’Dowda and Andy King were due to return from knocks for that postponed Luton game. Centre back Ryley Towler has been recalled from a loan at Grimsby to cover the middle of defence. Robbie Cundy is due back soon from a long term knee explosion.

Elsewhere: Four of the seven games due to take place tonight have been postponed but three of the teams around QPR in the table do all play today, and have decent chances of posting points. Middlesbrough looked absolutely superb against a strangely out-of-sorts Forest in the last round, and they’ll be a strong fancy for an away win at Blackpool. Likewise Blackburn who are home to lowly Barnsley looking to get themselves into the top two for the first time on this incredible run of eight wins in ten games. Coventry are sliding the other way, and drawing 1-1 at home to Millwall this evening. Swansea v Luton, Birmingham v Peterborough, Sheff Utd v Hull and Reading v Fulham are the games off.

As it stands, four fixtures survive tomorrow including our own. Bournemouth return home to face Cardiff, Florist and Huddersfield is a battle of two top six contenders, Stoke are the latest to come up against Derby’s spirited attempt to overhaul their 21 point deduction – West Brom, the latest victims of that at the weekend, were meant to play Preston Knob End but it’s been called off on grounds of taste and decency.

Referee: Finding the whole thing absolutely hilarious as always, it’s outing number two of the season for QPR and Chuckles Woolmer. Details. Although there is some suggestion he may have been replaced by Andy Davies at the eleventh hour.

Form

Bristol City: Prior to their home win against Barnsley on October 30, Bristol City hadn’t won at Ashton Gate in 17 attempts going back to January 26 – a run that includes QPR’s comfortable 2-0 win here last season. This season, on three separate occasions, they led into the last minute on this ground only to draw (Blackpool and Luton 1-1) or lose (Forest 2-1) to goals in injury time. However, since that 2-1 success against Barnsley things have looked up a little bit, with three wins and a draw prior to the most recent 3-2 loss to Huddersfield Town. Overall though, only Cardiff and Barnsley (two each) have won fewer home games than City this season, and form has been middling at best. They have won four of 15 since their last gasp win at Loftus Road in September, and go into the final game of the calendar year having won just 12 of 47 league games, with 26 defeats, in 2021. They do have a couple of forwards who love playing against QPR, mind. Nahki Wells has only scored 17 goals in 85 appearances since his eye-watering move there in January 2020, but two of those have been against QPR meaning he has now scored five goals in nine career appearances against Rangers for Huddersfield and Bristol City. His goal at Loftus Road in September is his only one in 18 appearances this season – albeit 12 of those as sub. Andy Weimann has nine goals in 23 games this season, though they tend to come in pairs – braces against Huddersfield, Barnsley, Reading and Cardiff so far. He too enjoys playing QPR with five goals in his last 11 appearances for three different clubs (Villa, Derby, Bristol City).

QPR: After scoring in 32 consecutive league games, QPR have now fired blanks in two in a row either side of an enforced Covid break. It’s the first time they’ve lost consecutive games since September when Bournemouth, again, and then Bristol City did the damage. That loss at Dean Court ended an unbeaten away run of eight games, and started a new one of four consecutive defeats, but since the last of those at Peterborough Rangers are unbeaten in three on the road with wins at Cardiff and Derby. Rangers’ 2-0 win here towards the end of last season was their first in 11 visits to Ashton Gate dating back to 2002/03 when Karl Connolly got two and Kevin Gallen one in a 3-1 success for Ian Holloway’s team.

Prediction: We’re indebted to The Art of Football for once again agreeing to sponsor our Prediction League and provide prizes. You can get involved by lodging your prediction here or sample the merch from our sponsor’s QPR collection here. Congratulations to DerbyHoop for topping the table at Christmas and taking the first prize of the season. Here’s last year’s champion Mick_S and his thoughts on Bristol City…

“It’ll be very interesting to see how we respond to a deserved defeat against Bournemouth. I’ve just been reminded via this site of Nahki Wells who must not be given the opportunity to score a penalty against us and this stuff gives me bad vibes because that’s what happens. I’m sorry to say I’m not too confident about our chances of a win just at this moment. A while back, I wouldn’t have taken a 1-1 unless we were one down with ten to go. I’m just not sure given all the distractions, so a draw away from home will do for me.”

Mick’s Prediction: Bristol City 1-1 QPR. Scorer – Lyndon Dykes

LFW’s Prediction: Bristol City 1-2 QPR. Scorer – Chris Willock

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thehat added 17:36 - Dec 29
Great stuff Clive - so very true its been a very good 2021. The year we finally got our house in order and started to benifit from the last few years of tightening our belt. We are a club with a clear plan in place just like we used to have, however even now our owners still need to put in about £10M a year to keep us financially operational.

Anyway I’m heading to Bristol tomorrow with my 13 year old Daughter who has been to 6 away games and yet to see us win. It would be nice to break that run tomorrow chaps!
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TacticalR added 18:10 - Dec 30
Thanks for your preview.

A useful reminder of where we were this time last year. As I commented after the Bournemouth game, the disappointing thing about our last two matches is that we haven't shown that creative spark that had us on a run of scoring in 30 games in a row.
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Burnleyhoop added 18:58 - Dec 30
Can’t disagree with any of that and in the cold light of day, with the emotional investment subdued, yeah, it’s been a great year.

The problem is, having had the carrot dangled and been within an inch of licking the thing, it now feels like it is slipping away. Our forward line isn’t breaking any pots and the injuries are taking their toll.

Yes, we are still in with a shout, but the bruisers of this league are making bigger strides and passing us on the rails heading into the last furlong. I just hope we can dig deep and make a final push for home.



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Loft1979 added 03:10 - Dec 31
In the spirit of your post I would like to add my support for all the club has done and achieved this year. The team is a throwback to the past teams we have loved. And though hardly a finished article are a great lot to support. Looking to the near term I am expectant that we might see a couple of departures in Jan but hopefully if that happens it still moves QPR up on the chess board.
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