|Bristol City 1 v 2 Queens Park Rangers|
Thursday, 30th December 2021 Kick-off 19:45
Sacré bleu - Report
Friday, 31st Dec 2021 18:55 by Clive Whittingham
QPR returned Bristol City's September smash and grab to sender at Ashton Gate on Thursday night, picking up a scarcely deserved three points thanks to a Yoann Barbet header in injury time. Laugh snort.
I’ve come to the conclusion that I cannot adequately describe it to you, which I admit is going to be a drawback for somebody whose job it is to describe things to you.
In this case the ‘it’ is a winning goal in injury time, or more to the point what it does to the innards of those emotionally invested in the outcome. Sometimes I’ll even say to whoever I’m at the game with, ‘imagine if we scored now’, as somebody is lining up a free kick, or a corner, or a cross into the box, with the time up. Just the mere thought of it cannot help but make us both smile, but unfortunately by speaking about the possibility you diminish its likelihood of actually happening by a ratio of a couple of million. It’s like erectile dysfunction – do not speak of the melty man, or he will come and you will not.
There was certainly no chance of my cursing things at Ashton Gate on whatever bloody day of the week it was yesterday. QPR’s performance against an eighteenth-placed Bristol City had been so sub-par for so long that with three minutes left, having played against ten men for the thick end of half an hour, I actually said a small prayer to myself that we didn’t find a way to contrive a defeat, never mind a victory. Within that, the delivery from wide areas, particularly by the usually reliable Albert Adomah, had been so wayward that in the end Stefan Johansen pulled rank on the situation and belatedly started to take the corner kicks himself. The idea that we might get one right, score, and win the game, in the final minute, felt about as likely as City getting a 50/50 call from unusually Rangers-leaning referee Andy Davies. And that’s when the ball entered my field of vision.
The general consensus is that Stefan Johansen hasn’t been as good as last season, and that’s a big part of the reason that QPR aren’t quite firing as we know they can. Well, QPR are in play-off contention, and in that team Johansen is behind only Ilias Chair for chances created, has a better rate of chances created than he did last season, has a better passing accuracy than he did last season, and is running at the same rate of possession recovery. He's in the top ten for chances created in the entire division, from a deep-lying midfield position (hat tip @AnalyticsQPR). Your eye candy exam doesn't pass the smell test, isn’t backed up in fact, and my God did he get the delivery right at the end of an evening of hard toil in Rangers’ midfield here. There was a bend and a whip and a shape on that ball, much like the one Junior Stanislas put into our box for Bournemouth at the weekend, that made you know instinctively that whoever was charged with defending against it was going to be in trouble immediately. Yoann Barbet attacked the near post. It’s one we like; he’d hit the bar like this against Huddersfield. This time the header was better. Firmer. More accurate. More powerful. It was in the second it left him, City goalkeeper Max O’Leary airborne but scooping at something no longer there.
And when that’s your team, at your end of the ground, and you’re there to see it, up at the back of the stand with the other believers, staring right at the ball as it crosses the line and bulges into the net, like I say, I’m not sure I can adequately describe it to you. Birth of kids, promotions at work, falling in love, acing final exams, keys to your first house, best sex of your life… I don’t know mate, does any of it make you scream? Does any of it make you grab hold of strangers you’ve never met and swing them around in the air? Does any of it rush you like this? It’s like an explosion in your brain. It’s like everything you ever wanted in your whole life happening to you all at once in a single second. I misread my lottery ticket once you know - went online to check the results and accidentally called up a previous ticket of mine instead which, naturally, had numbers matching the one I was checking. I stared at it, stared back at my ticket, stared at it again, tried to remain calm, but for a good minute or two, thought I’d won the fucker. £3.2m, or thereabouts. I was on £12.5k a year and driving 75 miles a day to write cricket reports and obituaries for the Ripley and Heanor News at the time. I’ve got to be honest, I think I was only about three fifths as excited and happy as I was when that goal went in last night. Yoann Barbet scoring a last minute winner in a mid-season league game at Bristol City and that trumps the birth of your first child? Sorry, I don’t make the rules.
For every last minute scorer, there is a last minute conceder, and if the former makes you feel like you’re going to ejaculate so much it’ll make doom-laden predictions about rising sea levels look like best case scenarios, the latter feels very much like somebody has taken those same balls and stamped on them very hard indeed. Bristol City know this only too well – six of these they’ve suffered this season already, five of them at this end of this ground, two of them in the same period of stoppage time against Nottingham Forest turning a 1-0 win into a 2-1 loss. Fuck me I think I’d die of dehydration if QPR ever came out on the right side of one of those. If you’re inclined to feel sorry for them, cast your mind back nary but three months ago to the meeting at Loftus Road when short of burning Daniel Bentley’s fucking house down I’m not sure what else QPR could really have done to win that game, and win it handsomely, only to then in fact lose it with the last kick when their old charge Nahki Wells stormed through at the opposite end on the counter attack. To the Bristol City fan whose stomach overhang is somewhere between an imminent health crisis and a cry for help, who stood on the corner of South Africa Road that day doing that thing people with high opinions of themselves do where they voice their vital takes very loudly to nobody in particular so everybody around them can hear, talking about his precious “smash and grab, we’ll take that, lovely lovely”, I say kindly take this and stuff it back up your arse. QPR scoring in stoppage time at the end of both halves, just as City had done, all the more poetic still.
From that game, certified weirdo Nigel Pearson took the two outstanding City players – Bentley and Messengo – and left them both out here. He said he wanted to give his team “a different feel” and far be it from me to argue with a man who spends his holidays wrestling wild Romanian wolves but I still can’t shake the idea that somewhere out there is a man in a lab coat with a clipboard looking for this guy. Initially, to be fair, it looked like a masterstroke. QPR spent the first three minutes giving the ball away remorselessly and that swiftly led to Football Focus host Alex Scott sending the opening goal into the top corner via a double deflection off Rob Dickie and Jimmy Dunne. Thereafter the game settled down into an attack-v-defence training routine down the City left – QPR gave them the ball, they switched Callum O’Dowda in behind Albert Adomah, he crossed, a chance was created, and then QPR gave them the ball back and we ran the drill again. Semenyo thought he’d scored with a cute back flick on ten minutes but Seny Dieng telegraphed and saved brilliantly, should have scored with a header from the same source 60 seconds later, and then nodded up in the air for Andy Weimann to shoot straight at the keeper when the goal gaped either side three minutes later still. QPR all over the show, City really deserving to be further ahead, the home fans screaming for a penalty when Scott got in behind Dunne and hit the deck but I thought that was just good, albeit robust, defending.
If you think QPR’s general crapness in any way masks the joy of the win, give your head a wobble immediately. Or, come here, and I’ll wobble it for you. Yes, yes, of course, play like this against other teams in other matches and blah blah blah, yadda yadda yadda. We’ll do that in future match previews. For now, pour yourself a drink and pull up a chair. In this unique set of circumstances, the joy is incrementally increased by the shitness of the performance. In many ways, I wish we’d played even worse still, and then I could have belly laughed even harder when Luke Amos, added to the midfield with Ilias Chair injured and Andre Dozzell suspended, hit the deck under a clumsy challenge from Cameron Pring and referee Davies pointed decisively at the penalty spot. City fumed, Andy King was cautioned for his anger, and it felt much like the Johansen one we weren’t awarded against Bournemouth earlier this Christmas – you get a free kick for that outside the box, so technically it’s a penalty, but… really? Anyway, like I say, I hope it wasn’t a penalty. I hope it’s a dreadful decision. May I drag you all back to 2019 at that end of this ground when Darnell Furlong was falsely accused of a foul by referee Tony Harrington for the award of a penalty the other way, dispatched by Diedhiou to win the match, something the Bristol City’s social media accounts trumpeted pre-game as “LATE, LATE drama when QPR visited Ashton Gate in 2019 head exploding emoji”. Goodness karma’s a spiteful arsehole today isn’t she? Charlie Austin, hapless penalty miss against Stoke still front of mind, much more accurate with the pork sword this time. Get that into you. This is funny. Again, sorry, again, I don’t make the rules.
Rangers’ second half was better than their first, and it's probably worth mentioning at some point injuries, illness, Covid and fitness issues that meant only four outfield subs were named here - the lack of a Stephen Duke-McKenna or Aaron Drewe making up the numbers, I would guess, because they've once again isolated the first team from the B team/U23s to try and restrict the spread of the virus through our camp. The team, and Chris Willock in particular, miss Ilias Chair terribly when he’s not around, which doesn’t bode well for January’s AFCON absence. I’d come round to the idea that Luke Amos was probably our best player on the night, and then he had a mad five minutes where he couldn’t stand up for falling down. Johansen battled and scrapped admirably, but couldn’t make things click. Sam Field a spare prick at a midfield orgy. There are too many chefs here, and it’s ruining the product. Willock peripheral, Adomah no longer getting torn asunder by O’Dowda but now crossing like that old drunk that hangs around the park shouting at the dog poo bin (my word, how different the reception from the away end/Twittersphere would have been had Osman Kakay been playing like this), Austin struggling to make inroads. But, then, Lee Wallace’s meaty volley from the edge of the box looked in for all money until it hit somebody square in the head and killed them to death.
Tired of firing wayward blanks at one end, City then decided to turn the gun on themselves. Andy King lost a physical struggle with Johansen in midfield, but then instead of letting the Norwegian be on his way (as might have been the sensible thing to do having already been booked) he grabbed hold of his shirt and wrestled him away from the ball for a mandatory second yellow. Didn’t even wait to see the red, just kept walking off and away down the tunnel. Well, cheers Andy, couldn’t have done any more for QPR’s cause if he’d pulled on a hooped shirt and started kicking in the opposite direction. If I’d known you were feeling this benevolent I’d have maybe asked for an own goal as well or something. The home fans harangued referee Davies all night, and I guess I’d have done exactly the same given the amount of 50/50 calls that went QPR’s way, but on the big decisions – two penalties and a red card – I think he was right. I guess I would say that, wouldn’t I? But King was fucking moronic and deserved everything he got.
City recently went 16 home games without a win, and although they’ve turned that around slightly of late, introduced some very promising youngsters to their team, and are beginning to untangle a financial disaster their previous CEO wove for them with monstrous deals for the likes of Nahki Wells, Nigel Pearson struggles to make significant headway with this difficult task. This team is significantly less than the sum of its parts and when one of your most experienced players, who this manager brought here presumably for that nous and knowhow, does that at this point of a game like this, having earlier been booked for dissent, and then just walks straight off the field because he knows what’s coming, you’ve got a culture problem for yourself there father.
Semenyo continued to threaten, City gave it a good go with ten, but QPR did at least start to put some bits and pieces together. Lyndon Dykes, on for Wallace, looked to be through on goal at one stage but delayed a split second long enough for Kalas and Atkinson to tag team a superb covering challenge. Johansen crossed from the left and Amos rather snatched and panicked at the chance. Dickie crossed from the right and Amos headed it straight up in the air. Calm yourself Luke, it’s ok. Willock, auxiliary wing back by this stage but being starved of the ball out there by Rangers’ insistence that everything must go to the right, got a late shot away that deflected and was held by O’Leary with Austin right there awaiting a tap in. It was, nevertheless, City pressing forward in those closing stages, as successive corners built pressure, and sloppiness in possession and first touches in their own penalty area betrayed QPR’s nervousness at the narrative that seemed to be building. It was then that the prayer we escape with a draw was filed for consideration. Three minutes after that, the killer punchline was delivered. City wanted a handball given against Johansen in the build up, despite him facing the wrong way and the ball seeming to hit him in the back. Again, I hope very much it was handball. Fifteen points now from losing positions this season, a league best. Do I care if it’s a walk or a hit? I do not.
Hook this shit to my veins and I’ll see you at Birmingham on Sunday.
Bristol City: O’Leary 6; Tanner 6 (Atkinson 39, 7), Vyner 6, Kalas 7, Pring 6; King 4, James 6; Weimann 6, Scott 7, O’Dowda 7; Semenyo 7 (Wells 90+1, -)
Subs not used: Bentley, Dasilva, Martin, Benarous, Massengo
Goals: Scott 3 (unassisted)
Red Cards: King 56 (two yellows)
Bookings: King 45+2 (dissent), King 56 (foul), Weimann 67 (foul)
QPR: Dieng 7; Adomah 5, Dickie 6, Dunne 6, Barbet 7, Wallace 6 (Dykes 60, 6); Field 5, Johansen 6, Amos 7 (Thomas 85, -); Austin 6, Willock 5
Subs Not Used: Kakay, Ball, Archer, Thomas
Goals: Austin 45+3 (penalty, won Amos), Barbet 90+3 (assisted Johansen)
Bookings: Dunne 22 (foul), Dykes 65 (foul), Field 74 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Yoann Barbet 7 Difficult to pick really on a night where the whole team was well below its best. I thought Luke Amos played well bar a late five-minute brain explosion. Barbet was the pick of the defenders though, brought his diags game with him, and won the game in stoppage time so that’s probably enough. He's going to be very difficult to replace if he's not sticking around at the end of this contract.
Referee – Andy Davies (Hampshire) 6 Welllll, look, if I was writing for the Bristol City equivalent of this site then I strongly suspect my report would look much like it did for the Bournemouth game, with my big, angry, pointy foam finger retrieved from under the stairs and aimed square at Davies awarding QPR a reasonably soft penalty, but waving away City’s appeal for one of their own, giving benefit of doubt to several QPR challenges, and not doing the same for City. It is true that QPR, historically, seem to get a lot out of this guy (bar one aberration at Hillsborough), in the same way they seem to get a very raw deal from the demonic midget we had in charge against Bournemouth. That felt the case here as well, with every 50/50 seeming to go our way. I’d probably go three, or four at most, and describe the whole thing as diabolical, shambolic, scandalous, inept, all of those overused words I trot out in the fire and fury of the moment after my team has been supposedly wronged. But, then, I thought ours probably was a penalty, theirs probably wasn’t, and the red card cannot be argued against, and so he got the big decisions right, and I’ll settle on a six, which is almost certainly what I would have said, and the mark I would have given, if I was assessing Keef’s latest beer fart for a Bournemouth website instead of a QPR one. Having painted myself into that hypocritical corner there’s probably nothing left for me to do than hold my hands up and admit it. Another beer?
Attendance TBC (1,700 QPR approx.) Were they saying boo, or boo-urns?
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