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Cardiff City 1 v 2 Queens Park Rangers
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 12th August 2023 Kick-off 15:00
An entirely different kind of flying, altogether – Report
Sunday, 13th Aug 2023 20:36 by Clive Whittingham

Kif, QPR have won away from home, inform the men.

We were chatting about other things at the time, as is often the way with these things.

There’s a new landlord at The Crown, we should meet and greet this individual. Look at that bloke down there, in the white t-shirt, some poor sod’s dad probably, having a massive, apocalyptic head loss with a steward. Absolute spectacle of yourself mate. Hang on a minute though because The Third Coming of Aaron Ramsey has given the ball away (you’re not in Nice any more sweetheart) and Ilias Chair has swooped in to steal possession, execute a wall pass with Lyndon Dykes, accelerate into a pocket of space to the right and send the sort of ball down the touchline that gets Sinclair Armstrong very aroused indeed. There’s no full back at home, so Dimitrios Goutas is forced to journey out from centre half to try and cut the thing out but he’s Southern Rail kinds of late and Armstrong’s pace and power easily carries him beyond the wild challenge and off into the wide open spaces of the Cardiff penalty box.

In the away end there’s the collective intake of breath, the unison and uniform “goooooo onnnnn”, and then the long, beautifully agonising wait, teetering right on the precipice of ecstasy, to see whether yet more disappointment awaits, or if you’re going to be allowed to tumble, literally and metaphorically, over the edge into your happiest place.

That’s right kids, it’s that most wonderful of things, the slow-motion goal. It’s happening here and now, in front of our eyes, on a long trip to South Wales. And it’s better than Lego.

There were certainly no guarantees of a score even once Armstrong had rounded Goutas with ease and squared up what dregs remained of the home rear-guard. Armstrong is better when acting instinctively. When given time to think you can see, hear and feel the man frantically pedalling the bike in his brain. When played into a near identical situation with time on his side at Huddersfield Town last season he ended up burning an old folks home down and killing hundreds of people. This time, crowning a performance that potentially announced his arrival as a force in this team and division, there was calmness and composure previously entirely absent from his game. Significant development and progress. He bided his time, surveyed the pieces in motion before him, picked exactly the right option, played the pass with precision, and presented a chance to smash the ball back past the despairing Jak Alnwick in the home goal to Kenneth Paal. Two QPR goals now for the Dutch left back, both against Cardiff City. This probably our most complete performance since his last. It's been a long ten months

In the away end, among the 1,000 dangers who still wanted to traverse the country with this team after an opening day more hate crime than football match, dogs and cats were indeed living together once more.

How on earth did we get here, from there? Last week at Watford was all kinds of Suella Braverman levels of hideous. Tactically, performance wise, effort levels, attitude… the stench we gave off lingered in the nostrils all week. It didn’t look like a team remotely capable of even competing in games at this level, never mind sneaking the odd result or two. We didn’t appear to have ever even heard of a Watford, never mind popped a tape in the VHS to have a look at them play. Ooh they have the internet on computers these days. Four nil, and lucky to get it, it’s been a brutally bruising week for everybody involved at Queens Park Rangers, and particularly manager Gareth Ainsworth. The difference, albeit against a far inferior opponent, between that and this, in every facet of the game, was remarkable. It didn’t look like the same team. The same club even.

There were, inevitably, changes to the line-up card. There had to be. That rabble last week was The Dog & Duck but the duck’s fucked off and the dog’s incontinence has the owner eyeing a final trip to the vet. Steve Cook, freshly in from Nottingham Forest, without a senior appearance anywhere since January 7, straight into the middle of the defence alongside Morgan Fox. He made a huge difference right away. Up top Charlie Kelman, who unfortunately looked particularly out of his depth at Vicarage Road, didn’t travel, but there was a start for Sinclair Armstrong after his impressive cameo from the bench on day one. We conceded off our own kick off last time out, this time when invited to start the game again we banged it straight into touch – wallop, that’s that problem sorted.

The total absence of Chris Willock from the travelling party with a “minor injury picked up in training” – particularly poor episode of Frost this one – was the big pre-match talking point but actually of far more interest once things got under way was the set up. Ainsworth held his hands up to getting things all wrong last week, and here QPR played two very different systems to the one that had collapsed just 30 seconds in – one in, and one out of possession. Without it, Rangers slipped into a back three, with Osman Kakay playing the right centre back role many feel he’s better suited to, and Paul Smyth dropping in as a right wing back. With the ball, Smyth bombed forward to play as a right winger in something between a 4-4-2 and 4-2-3-1.

Smyth ordered the final boilers lit and attacked the task with typical gusto. He hugged that touchline like he'd found himself accidentally waking up next to Jennifer Lawrence. He always was an exhilarating, loveable player to watch whenever he was fit enough to perform like this in his first spell and it made for an exciting, heartwarming watch to see him back at it like this. When Callum O’Dowda, so good in Cardiff’s opening weekend draw at Leeds but utterly lousy here, laboured under the misapprehension he’d be afforded some time on the ball after a sloppy Cardiff pass, Smyth used that burst of acceleration over the first five yards to pick his pocket, get to the byline, and cut a low cross back for Sinclair Armstrong’s first ever QPR goal in four starts and 22 sub appearances. That landmark, and his later assist, mark him out as an obvious star man, but Smyth’s influence throughout was critical, effectively playing two positions at once and doing it so well it felt like we were playing with 12 men. The ball in here was so on the money Armstrong was able to convert it while his contact lens was rolling round his eyeball and he couldn’t see what was going on.

Rangers also, as hinted following the midweek press rounds, altered their mindset from Ainsworth’s previous Wycombe MKII attempts to actually wanting to get on the ball and play a little bit. Some of the numbers from the Watford game were bleak. Andre Dozzell (17) and Sam Field (22), two central midfielders attempting less than 40 passes between them in a game of football. Bar the strikers, and James Morris who went off at half time, every single Watford player did more. Most of them had more than those two combined: goalkeeper Daniel Bachmann 48 passes, 81% accuracy; centre back Ryan Porteus, 99 passes, 90% of them accurate. Here Field and Dozzell combined for 66 passes at 75% and 86% accuracy. QPR attempted 323 passes compared to 241 the week prior. It’s not going to have “Pep” making a new deposit in his wank bank any time soon, but it felt like something of a sea change in approach. For a good hour of this game we looked like a proper football team, and certainly a great deal better than the hosts. Remarkable when a week prior we’d resembled a particularly explosive beer shit.

This is all caveated, of course, by the quality of the opposition. Cardiff have been two bob for years, and only QPR and Stoke lost more home games than them in 22/23. Rangers have a great record here: only four defeats in 18 visits since the fixture was rekindled in 1999/00 and now eight wins. If you want to know how and why, you only needed to watch the Bluebirds here – an insipid performance played in a mausoleum atmosphere.

The hosts threatened almost entirely through a string of corners, each corner more terrifying than the last, and had new striker Ike Ugbo turned the ball home when he probably should have done from one of these on 18 minutes you wonder how differently things might have gone. QPR have conceded first in ten of Ainsworth’s 14 games in charge and recovered just a solitary point from those losing positions. They don’t respond well to adversity so getting through the early stages of the game without collapsing again - a task completed with no little help from a much calmer and more experienced central defensive trio of Cook, Fox and Begovic than we’ve been able to field for a while - felt key to any success we may enjoy here.

Cook was everything Ainsworth promised he would be, and might have had a goal of his own when Ebou Adams clattered through Ilias Chair for an obvious yellow card and one of several clever set pieces Rangers worked on the day got the centre half ghosting in around the back for a firm header well saved by Alnwick. Unfortunately, referee Oliver Langford took against Sinclair Armstrong standing next to the goalkeeper at our corners and whistled them all as immediate Cardiff free kicks until he eventually booked the young Irish striker. He is allowed to stand there mate.

Ramsey struck the crossbar on the hour, and Callum Robinson coming on from the bench felt like a problem waiting to happen. But new boss Erol Bulut couldn’t muster much else by way of a response from his players. I was expecting a Blitzkrieg after a deserved half time bollocking, but they delivered a wet fart instead. Cardiff looked sluggish and the manager admitted as much.

At two nil the game was effectively there for Rangers to just play out but problems occurred immediately after the removal of star pair Armstrong and Smyth who’d both run themselves into the ground. QPR do not have strength in depth, and without those two are a chronically slow team. Their energy and pace made 70,000 metric tonnes of difference on what had gone before. They were replaced by a Football Manager regen and somebody’s dad. The legs, energy, pace on the break, support for Lyndon Dykes, control of the ball and domination of the game dissipated entirely and immediately. Ainsworth, at one stage, had Stephen Duke McKenna stripped and ready to come on, then decided against it – right first time Gareth, get him on, let him rat, exactly what we needed at that point. By the end the possession stats had skewed into a much more Ainsworth-like 65-35 split, but unlike previous games it certainly didn’t feel like that, and I suspect these numbers are heavily slanted by what went on at the end rather than the first hour or so.

It took barely two minutes for Albert Adomah to take a job Paul Smyth had been doing immaculately all afternoon and turn it into an open goal for Ugbo to halve the deficit. Gareth says he’s learning all the time. Buster Merryfield’s guest lecture on playing right wing back will hopefully have been noted down in detail.

Ten still to play, and ten beyond that by way of added time, QPR had turned an episode of Saturday Kitchen into a remake of the Human Centipede. Couldn’t get out, couldn’t get on the ball, couldn’t compose themselves, couldn’t do anything at all really other than sink deeper and deeper still while staring at the stadium clock and muttering “come on for fuck’s sake”.

There was another woodwork strike: McGuinness off the bar. A couple of very valuable scrambled saves by Begovic – had a shock of orange goalkeeper kit, went by the name of Asmir. Kakay went down over easy and was singularly fortunate Langford gave him a free kick rather than let the home team run clear on the goal. Josh Bowler, already pissed off at having to play some football despite his ongoing attempts to manoeuvre his career into places that will never be necessary, was booked for his protest. A full slate of five substitutions included man child Ruben Colwill, and brick outhouse Ollie Tanner. Robinson’s dribbler hit Cook, beat Begovic, but skewed past the post. Adomah was booked for making an attempt on Robinson’s life – Brick killed a guy. We’d been having such a lovely time as well. All fun and games until somebody spots some graphite on the roof.

From bouncing around singing Kenneth Paal songs to a collective recreation of the Guinness surfer advert. He waits… That what he does… And I tell you what; tick followed tock followed tick followed tock followed tick. I’ve seen old school cricket scoreboards, operated by your mate’s dad hanging numbered boards from metal hooks, turn over and update faster than this. Tick you bastard, tick. Followed tock. Followed tick. We're not allowed nice things.

Tick, agonisingly, it did, all the way down to the second reading of the classified football results and, eventually, full time. Trust QPR to learn about shithousing and dark arts just as the PGMOL stages a clampdown on it. Begovic, at times, seemed to be happy to take a yellow card just to slow it all down, and under what we’re told are the standards this season it was amazing he didn’t get one. The day, though, belonged to Rangers, and to Sinclair Armstrong whose post match interview typically veered all over the map, describing last week as “complete crap” one moment, bursting into tears the next. A very QPR player this: monstrous physique, lightning fast, terrifies defenders; blind as a bat, can't see a fucking thing, possibly a little bit mad. His fiery passion and intensity at full time could turn enough turbines to solve an energy crisis. A cult hero in the making, but more importantly a potentially very useful weapon for us just when we’re at our most desperate. Having two or three academy/B Team players capable of stepping in and doing 20 games this season would make a world of difference to the situation we’ve worked ourselves into – Armstrong playing like this is certainly one, and Sideshow Rayan made the bench for the first time here having been, I thought strangely but perhaps he was injured, ignored for the pre-season games.

The relief, and strain of this most difficult of jobs, was plain to see on an emotional Gareth Ainsworth in his post match. He took his “lay it all on me” act to the next level by publicly stating he’d been trying to force these players into being a new Wycombe, when what he should have been doing is playing to their strengths and getting the best out of what he has now rather than what he had before. Lyndon Dykes with service and support around him was a different beast to last week: a physical, quick striker to run beyond him; Ilias Chair flitting around behind for lay offs; Paul Smyth hugging the touchline for spreads. The central midfield, this week, was disciplined and hard working. The defence grizzled and streetwise. The goalkeeper confident and commanding. This - shape, system and style - was much more of what I thought we might get when Ainsworth took over. Whatever in the name of Gary Penrice's moustache that was last week who will ever know?

It felt like we’d come a long way in seven days.

Links >>> Ratings and Reports >>> Ratings and Reports

Cardiff: Alnwick 5; Big Dick Ng 5, McGuinness 6, Goutas 4, O’Dowda 4; Wintle 5, Adams 6 (Robinson 54, 6); Bowler 5 (Collins 84, -), Ramsey 5 (Colwill 84, -), Grant 5 (Tanner 73, 7); Ugbo 6 (Etete 84, -)

Subs not used: Romeo, Simpson, Luthra, Rinomhota

Goals: Ugbo 78 (assisted O’Dowda)

Bookings: Adams 25 (foul), Bowler 83 (dissent)

QPR: Begovic 7; Kakay 6, Cook 7, Fox 7, Paal 7; Smyth 8 (Adomah 77, 3), Field 7, Dozzell 6, Chair 7 (Richards 88, -); Dykes 7, Armstrong 8 (Dixon-Bonner 73, 5)

Subs not used: Archer, Larkeche, Gubbins, Duke-McKenna, Aoraha, Kolli

Goals: Armstrong 34 (assisted Smyth), Paal 65 (assisted Armstrong)

Bookings: Armstrong 27 (standing next to the goalkeeper), Adomah 90 (foul)

QPR Star Man – Sinclair Armstrong 8 Newly found calmness and composure in the assist, on top of the goal, nudging him just ahead of Paul Smyth.

Referee – Oliver Langford (West Midlands) 7 Nonsense Armstrong booking apart, very decent.

Attendance 21,230 (1,072 QPR) So many happy, smiling faces on so many grown men at full time. Savage amusement. Silly existence. Nowhere else we’d rather be.

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Pictures — Ian Randall Photography

The Twitter @loftforwords

Clive Whittingham

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Hooparoo added 21:50 - Aug 13
Great report as always Clive. What a difference a week makes. We should be called Roller Coaster Park Rangers

probbo added 22:20 - Aug 13
Thanks Clive and we'll done to you and everyone who travelled down and got to enjoy an R's away win (esp so early in the season). It does lift the mood!

I honestly don't know how we do it, go from basket case one week to a half decent looking team the next. And as such I've no idea what QPR will turn up next week. Yesterday was a great confidence booster but it needs following up.

Gleni1977 added 23:41 - Aug 13
From “explosive beer shit” to something that would drop out of Joe Wicks’ arse in a a week. Ainsworth deserves a lot of credit. Gary O’Neil must be glad he took the Wolves job instead of holding out for Rs job.

simmo added 01:15 - Aug 14
Only watched on a stream, but the formation looked more 541 out of possession, with Dykes moving to right mid - be interested to see his heat map - either way great to see things that have clearly been worked on reflected on the pitch.

I also thought Paal was really good, combined with Chair in the way Willock used to, both moving around to create angles.

I think Cardiff expected, as we all did, to just turn up and roll us over, hopefully teams keep underestimating us until we improve and get some depth. A huge win and well deserved.

DesertBoot added 09:20 - Aug 14
A week is a long time in politics, blimey the past week seemed an eternity in QPR Land as we waited for 3pm after the "complete crap" at Watford.
Quite the turnaround, albeit against mediocre opposition, but Je Suis Armstrong. Those tears....

QPRski added 19:30 - Aug 14
What a brilliant and enjoyable read.

What a contrast from the last match report.

qprninja added 11:42 - Aug 15
A Simpsons General Sherman reference and an explosive beer shit analogy. The perfect write up. Nice one chap.

snanker added 10:16 - Aug 16
Top write up and less down a lot easier to scribe ! Thought we rode our luck and used up a bit of football god credits but what a skitso change yet again in attitude within a week !! 2 games down and we've already seen performances miles apart ! Who'd try and second guess this lot. Cook made a huge difference for sure and hopefully Colback will do likewise putting a bit more steel & backbone in the team. Lets hope East Anglia is feeling a bit sea sick !!

extratimeR added 16:34 - Aug 16
Thanks Clive

yes, was gobsmacked at performance, very pleased for Sinclair, great to see Ilius really back in it, finished looking very happy and oozing confidence, Field deserves a shout for well just being class!

Kakay is a different player at right wing back, no more full back!!!

Great report Clive! Very funny!

TacticalR added 11:18 - Aug 19
Thanks for your report, and at last you had something positive to report.

Paul Smyth created the first goal with his persistence.

Armstrong created the second goal by not blasting the ball and waiting until the right moment to pass.

The goal we conceded was a mess, with Adomah looking as though he was going to knock the ball out and just getting in Begović's way.

Cardiff had their chances, hitting the bar twice, and we were holding on for dear life at the end, so it could have gone a different way, but we all needed that. Hopefully this result will have a big impact on our season.

vietchochet added 17:15 - Nov 28
The match was amazing and just as the fans expected, I was at this match and it was really exciting.

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thediscountcodes added 15:02 - Feb 14
Thank you for your kind words, Clive. I'm glad you enjoyed the report.

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