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Birmingham City 0 v 0 Queens Park Rangers
SkyBet Championship
Friday, 22nd September 2023 Kick-off 20:00
Everything but the goal - Report
Saturday, 23rd Sep 2023 15:16 by Clive Whittingham

All of that effort, commitment and buy-in QPR's supporters and management have been talking about since a collapse began at Birmingham City a year ago were present in spades on the return to St Andrew's on Friday - but, as ever, a lack of quality in attack meant it wasn't enough for a win.

When Queens Park Rangers last came to Birmingham City they were top of the league. Top of the league and really rather smug about it.

They’d won eight of their prior 11 matches and boss Mick Beale had a fantastical story to tell about how Premier League Jorge Mendes FC had come for a Championship manager a dozen matches into his career and he’d turned them down without ever speaking to them once despite allowing the speculation to drag on for a week and whatever it may or may not have said in The Athletic about two rounds of interview. So drunk on the Kool Aid and wrapped up in the form of the team the R’s faithful swallowed this unbelievable horseshit to the extent of commissioning a flag for the St Andrew’s away end with Beale’s mug next to the words “loyalty will always be rewarded”. Rather than travel back with his team after the game, or go and watch one of his next opponents, Beale spent the following day Instagramming his day out in the Ibrox director’s box as pressure mounted on Gio Van Bronckhorst.

The collapse of the team started before his defection. You and I may find it absolutely unreal, but QPR fans walk among us who would still take Beale back at Loftus Road given the chance. They presumably choose to forget that we’d taken one point and scored one goal in five games before he left, and that ever steepening downward curve in form – that would quickly turn into a cliff face – started in front of the Sky cameras on a Friday night in the second city. Jake Clarke-Salter, Tyler Roberts and Stefan Johansen would all sit down and surrender before half time that night with trivial bits of nothing much at all which would to all intents and purposes rule all of them out for the rest of the campaign. In Roberts’ case, so keen was he to get off the field that he departed before Rangers had even had chance to prepare a sub, leaving the team with ten men for a period – if only the little twat had ever moved that quickly during a game.

The losing became chronic. In the end QPR won two of 28 matches. They took in, chewed up, and spat out Neil Critchley double lively. They took what was left of their chips and stuck it all on the notion that master motivator Gareth Ainsworth could galvanise a broken dressing room. As his erudite, QPR-supporting assistant Richard Dobson says, however, the pair “love to help players who want to help themselves”. The squad they inherited mostly didn’t want to be here – they’d come to compete for promotion with Daddy Mick and their interest in a relegation battle without him stretched only as far as how much of it they could sit out so as not to jeopardise a summer escape somewhere else with a pesky injury, or their big Saturday night out in Mayfair.

When football teams go rotten in that manner their disillusioned and depressed fan bases go through phases of bewilderment, anger, vitriol, aggression, acceptance and resignation. Once you’ve progressed through the pointing of fingers and ripping out of seats in the Wigan Athletic away end, you’ll find these individuals kicking back with a beer on the train back from wherever the humiliation took place this week and saying words to the effect of “all I want is a team that tries its best”. As long as they’re trying, so this story goes, as long as they’re making the effort, as long as they’re running, as long as they’re tackling, as long as they’re doing their best, that’s all I ask. The implication being, of course, that they’re currently not doing those very, very basic things, which is why they’re losing every week, and if they did start to look and behave even vaguely half arsed the results would improve accordingly by themselves.

Back at St Andrew’s this week, Gareth Ainsworth and his team look absolutely determined to give this stereotypical football fan cliché a thorough examination. In stark contrast to last year, they went into the fixture with two wins and five losses from eight games played so far – enough for twentieth place in the nascent Championship league table. They’d spent the week extending a dire home run to one win in 19 matches by self destructing having taken a lead against Sunderland, and then dropping their levels just enough for a desperately poor Swansea side to escape with a draw.

They weren’t about to improve the mood with a win here either. It was to be an evening where, despite teaming Sinclair Armstrong and Lyndon Dykes in attack from the start as many thought we should have done on Tuesday, chances of varying levels of difficult came and went for the visitors with fair old regularity.

Armstrong, who our former loanee Dion Sanderson had real difficulty hanging onto all night, got away with a handball in a move that led to Paul Smyth crossing low and a scramble in the box which eventually ended with Armstrong heading over. Soon Dykes was accidentally deflecting a brilliant ball out to Smyth in acres of space on the right once more, but he fiddled about too long after cutting in and Ruddy saved the resulting shot. A terrific corner routine at the start of the second half saw Dozzell and Chair combine immaculately to pull a ball back into the six-yard box where a goal simply had to be scored but through a mixture of poor finishing by Field and brave goalkeeping by veteran John Ruddy the ball trickled agonisingly past the post. When Sanderson was booked for fouling Armstrong after being beaten again, Chair stuck a presentable free kick straight into the wall. The decision to bring Albert Adomah on for the effective Paul Smyth looked absolutely mental on paper, and hs presence enlivened a home crowd that had long since drifted out of the match. When Adomah let an early pass roll under his foot and into touch it was eye-rolls all around but his cross to Dykes 12 from time was pinpoint and the Scotsralian rather botched a free header straight at Ruddy. The last time QPR scored more than two goals in a game was almost a year ago to the day, and you can see why.

Everything else, though, was there. The effort levels, the dedication, the running, the caring and the trying was here in spades. The shape, the buy-in, the willingness to work for each other, the bodies going on the line when required, all present and correct.

The performance hung on a strong spine.

Asmir Begovic, who I haven’t been quite as enamoured with as some so far, had an excellent game in goal. He saved at his near post from overlapping full back Cody Drameh in the end of the first half, then started the second with a super full length dive to parry a 20 yarder from Bielik aside after his team had been caught rather asleep at the first corner since the restart. An even better save still stopped Hogan scoring on the end of Miyoshi’s pass when, just like Tuesday, Morgan Fox losing a header in the left channel sparked a complete collapse of the defence. When Miyoshi and sub Olly Burke were allowed to escape too easily by Paal and Dozzell, Begovic bailed them out with another strong stop to deny the lively Jay Stansfield. He didn’t put a foot or a glove wrong all night

Steve Cook stood in the centre of the back three like the rock of Gibraltar. Brum, like others before them, visited the corridor between the makeshift right side of Smyth and Kakay often, but also posed threat down the other side where Fox had a poor game. This gave Cook a lot to do, and he was up to every challenge. When Fox inexplicably stepped over a through ball allowing the home side a clear run Cook stepped in with a block in the first phase, a desperate near post header in the second, and a big fuck off out of it in the third. Later Fox, Cook and Sam Field produced successive blocks from three quickfire shots in the penalty box. You couldn’t help but wonder how different things may have been had we got the Cook signing over the line in January 2022, rather than relying on the wild and rakish Sanderson – the difference between the two on clear show here.

Sam Field took home the broadcaster’s man of the match award. He and Dozzell were far more effective as a midfield combination here than they had been against the Swans, and as well as the blocks already mentioned Field produced a goalline clearance of extreme acrobatic excellence when Begovic palmed Cook’s interception up, into the air, and behind him towards the goal.

And this is what we said we wanted, isn’t it? As long as they are doing this, we told ourselves, we’d be happy with that. Even Chris Willock, on as a substitute late, sprinted half the length of the pitch on a huge recovery run worthy of note nine minutes from time, winning first the ball back and then a free kick for his team. There’s that buy-in Gareth talks about a lot.

We didn’t score, because we don’t score, and we didn’t win, because we don’t win, but the team was applauded from the field by a vocal and upbeat away end and deservedly so. I’d like to see Clarke-Salter come in for Fox if he is indeed finally fit, the rumoured signing of Reggie Cannon can surely do nothing but improve a rather makeshift right sided set up that teams are targeting, and Jack Colback is a big miss for us, but basically I think Ainsworth is getting everything he can out of this group. So poor for so long, that’s enough for us fans at the moment. Whether it’s enough to avoid another relegation scrap, or succeed in one, remains doubtful. Whether the implication that improved effort and commitment will beget better results, we’ll find out in the coming weeks. But I know what I hate and I don’t hate this.

Links >>> Ratings and Reports >>> Message Board Match Thread

Brum: Ruddy 8; Drameh 6, Sanderson 5, Long 6, Buchanan 6; Bacuna 6, Bielik 7; Miyoshi 7 (Dembele 71, 6), Stansfield 7, Anderson 6 (Burke 43, 7); Hogan 5 (Jutkiewicz 71, 6)

Subs not used: Etheridge, James, Gardner, Longelo, Sunjic, Aiwu

Bookings: Bacuna 54 (foul), Sanderson 67 (foul), Stansfield 90 (foul)

QPR: Begovic 8; Kakay 6, Cook 8, Fox 5; Smyth 6 (Adomah 65, 6), Dozzell 7, Field 8, Paal 6; Chair 7, Dykes 6, Armstrong 6 (Willock 75, 6)

Subs not used: Clarke-Salter, Dixon-Bonner, Larkeche, Kelman, Duke-McKenna, Walsh, Kolli

Bookings: Field 45 (foul), Smyth 61 (foul)

QPR Star Man – Steve Cook 8 Slightly contrary to spend my whole time giving Sam Field the star man award most weeks only to the ignore him when the host broadcaster makes him man of the match and he saves the day with a remarkable goalline clearance, but I just thought with the left side of the defence somewhat compromised by Fox, and the right side held together with prayer and bits of string, that Cook was absolutely enormous in the middle of the three. Big praise for Asmir Begovic as well.

Referee – Matt Donohue (Manchester) 7 Some frustration that, having been comprehensively schooled and nutmegged by Ilias Chair tight to the touchline ten before half time, Scott Hogan was just allowed to deliberately pull the Moroccan back to stop the counter attack and was not shown a yellow card – that stuff is usually mandatory – and then when Field did the same thing in first half stoppage time he was booked. That’s the sort of maddening inconsistency that’s difficult for the refereeing fraternity to justify and defend. A pretty small moment in the overall context of the game though, which was well refereed. Two minutes added to the first and three to the second suggests that either the predicted climbdown from the summer clampdown is either well underway, or Donohue was on the 11pm train with the rest of us.

Attendance 19,803 (1,237 QPR) The travelling support very much with this team and management at the moment.

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LazyFan added 16:17 - Sep 23
Did you mention our clean sheet?

Those are as rare HS2 trains these days!

062259 added 20:37 - Sep 23
8/10 for the header; 11/10 for the save.

Chair’s delivery was, at times, well average.

Phil_i_P_Daddy added 22:42 - Sep 23
"...but his cross to Dykes 12 from time was pinpoint and the Scotsralian rather botched a free header straight at Ruddy."

"The emporer is naked!" Accept it FFS!

RsinWales added 10:32 - Sep 24
The report really captures my big takeaway from the game. It was great to feel the support for the team from beginning to end. I think our expectations have been lowered to the extent that a whole-hearted effort and an attempt to try and play some decent football is enough at the moment.

The marked difference in player attitude was summed up for me by watching Dozzel sprinting for all he was worth to track back and break up an attack in the 92nd minute. He's not perfect, but to be balanced, Ainsworth has certainly done a great job in turning around the temperament of the team.

I thought we were the better side overall, and I travelled home pretty happy with what I'd seen.

hopekillsyou added 17:34 - Sep 24
I groaned when Adomah came on …but it turned out to be an ok substitution. And it’s the best Willocks been post Beale. With JCS, Colback and the new guy, there’s real possibilities. A couple of wins at home - maybe the odd bit of luck ( we are due it specially after the handball goal from Swansea) and …who knows?

Loft1979 added 15:41 - Sep 27
Thank you. This read was better than a trip to the therapist

Loft1979 added 16:10 - Sep 27
Thank you! That read was better than a trip to a therapist.

1. Gareth: Just as he did at Wycombe he is DEVELOPING players. Sinclair, Dozzel, Paal, all raising their stock.

2. Agree that Jake starting for Fox plus bringing in Reggie Cannon is going to really make an impact to the defense.

3. Offense. Please move Sinclair to outside right where his pace and power (ala Cardiff) will frighten the opposing defense and Lyndon can see more crosses. Paul Smyth has done well but could he better as a sub (the role Adomah occupies)?


TacticalR added 13:09 - Sep 30
Thanks for your report.

I have only seen the highlights, and there didn't seem to be many of those, except for some very determined last ditch defending by us. Last year our collapse at Birmingham started with a goal that looped over Dieng, so it seemed fitting that Field was somehow able to keep us in it by preventing a looped goal.

vernakuhlman added 09:51 - Apr 8
It didn't look like there were many of them, except for our strong last-ditch defense, which I have only seen in footage. Last year, our loss at Birmingham started with a goal that went over Dieng, so it made sense that Field was able to keep us in the game by stopping a goal that went over Dieng.

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