|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 0 Bristol City|
Saturday, 11th November 2023 Kick-off 15:00
Going through changes - Preview
Friday, 10th Nov 2023 19:08 by Clive Whittingham
It's Marti Cifuentes' first home match, and Liam Manning's debut as Bristol City boss, at Loftus Road on Saturday as the Championship takes a lurching turn towards the modern and forward thinking coaches and away from its traditional old soaks.
QPR (2-3-10 LLLLLD 23rd) v Bristol City (6-3-6 WLWLLW 11th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday November 11, 2023 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Sunny and cold >>> Travel – Five tube lines closed including H&C, Circle, Met, District >>> Loftus Road, London, W12
Marti Cifuentes against Liam Manning then, not Gareth Ainsworth v Nigel Pearson as it would have been a fortnight ago. Did somebody say match preview re-write? No consideration these people.
The transition from Pearson to Manning will take some getting used to over at Ashton Gate.
The work he’d done at MK Dons meant Manning was one of the modern band of young coaches on QPR’s list last summer when Mick Beale got the nod. The attractive, progressive start he’s made with an Oxford side which destroyed us this summer has convinced the City hierarchy a subsequent drop off, and dismissal, at MK was probably more down to the age old football lore that if you remove Troy Parrott and Scott Twine from a League One outfit, and replace them with Will Grigg and Jonathan Leko, that team is going to get considerably worse, almost immediately.
To be fair, ‘Nige’ is pretty far removed from the older managerial dinosaurs he often gets lazily lumped in with. He has overseen a steady rebuild of a cratering Bristol City team with the arrival on the scene of a whole clutch of talented academy players he gave a first team chance to – including Alex Scott and Antoine Semenyo who have fetched the club £30m in transfer fees. There’s plenty for Manning to work with there, presumably some money in the bank again, and he’s doing so from a position of midtable comfort with time on his side.
Then there’s QPR bipolar fever dream switch from Gareth Ainsworth to Marti Cifuentes. Like letting the barman get halfway through pouring your four-pint pitcher of Guinness then telling him you’ve changed your mind and would like an Old Fashioned instead. How do you get into the headspace of a group of people who make those decisions consecutively? Oh, yeh, I’m a vegan actually, apart from veal chops, I love those.
In the club’s defence it was Ainsworth who was the aberration here, rather than the switch back to Cifuentes who’d been in the frame twice before and is a coherent lineage from Steve McClaren through Mark Warburton to Beale and Neil Critchley.
The immediate question is how far the squad has been dragged in the opposite direction to now be unsuited to the new man’s methods and preferred styles of play. Opening pitches, at Rotherham, from Jimmy Dunne and Lyndon Dykes will have brought… some notes. But one of the biggest criticisms of Ainsworth’s latter games was just how unsuited our squad of players is to his chosen method resulting in some of the, frankly pretty embarrassing, numbers and moments of play out on the pitch we saw at Leeds, Huddersfield and West Brom. Most of our players don’t want to stand deep, tight and narrow in the lowest of low blocks with their only outlet a hopeful 80-yard channel ball for either Lyndon Dykes to flick on to nobody or Sinclair Armstrong to chase away into the corner. Watching Ilias Chair dropping 30 yards into his own half to run that one on repeat at Elland Road was ball aching.
Still, it was something of a pleasant surprise to see just how quickly the team pivoted completely in time for the game at the New York Stadium last weekend after just four Heston days with the new boss. It was the first time in ten games, and only the third time this season, we had more shots on target than the opposition (4-3). We attempted 430 passes, more than every other game this season bar Blackburn H and Huddersfield A. Of those, only 57 were counted as long balls – 14%, the lowest proportion in any of our games so far. The 59% possession we had was our highest share all season, again bar Huddersfield away, and only the third time we’ve had more ball than the opponent. We are, suddenly, overnight, a team that does want the ball again after all.
I’ve spent my runs/slogs around Tooting Common this week re-listening to this deep dive with our new man from a couple of years back when he was in charge of AaB in Denmark. Even allowing for the team not being equipped to play Ainsworth-ball, it was pretty remarkable just how much of this was already in the performance against Rotherham.
Most obviously, we immediately switched to playing out short from defence and goal kicks. “In the beginning it was new for our players to build up from our own box but you explain we’re doing it, not to look fancy or produce Twitter clips, but to attract players and open up spaces in behind. The more they push in the first line of the build-up the more space there is behind. You have an advantage of plus one if you use the keeper and plus two because their keeper doesn’t mark anyone. It’s a good trigger to see the space in behind and attack situations where they have to cover bigger spaces.” There was a really good example of this in literally the first serious attack of the game on the extended highlights where Rotherham tried to press with five, QPR worked it calmly through a deep triangle involving Cook and Field to Cannon and from there the American was able to spring a great crossfield pass into Ilias Chair for a shot he should have hit the target with.
Before the game much of the sweating was being done over central midfield. The latest brain farts from Andre Dozzell and Jack Colback, against Leicester, suspended both of them for Cifuentes’ first game. He went with Elijah Dixon-Bonner. Our regular Development Squad watchers have said he’s been playing well at that level but was obviously never going to be suited to an Ainsworth team as shown when he sat out the Blackburn debacle while Stephen Duke-McKenna played (badly) instead. But with a new style of play, completely different attitude to midfield, and exactly the sort of progressive ideas he’ll be very familiar with from his time in the academies at Chelsea and Liverpool he looked something of a natural and earned rave reviews for his performance – probably second only to Ilias Chair in the star man stakes.
“In many teams you see a central midfielder make a long run, and many times they tend to empty the midfield whereas for me you want the opposite. To have good positions when you have the ball, but especially when you lose it - to be able to put immediate pressure after losing it - it’s crucial to have as many players as you can in the central midfield. You can use inverted wingers and full backs and false 9s, there are many ways to fill it, but for me one of the most important things is if you can have many players in that midfield then if you lose the ball 99% of the time you can apply pressure. Then position wise you need them at different depths because if you are flat then it’s difficult to apply this pressure, also when you have the ball you want to find different passing angles. You want to have players positioned to stretch the opponent and the pitch, and to attack space in behind. Then you start to find spaces in between lines because if they want to commit and step up they leave a space behind.”
While Ainsworth’s preference was clearly to sit deep, without the ball, and absorb attacks – and indeed four of his five wins (Watford, Burnley, Stoke, Cardiff) pretty much came in that manner – Cifuentes wants his team high, and an aggressive press to win the ball back when it’s given away. At AaB he set his players a seven-second challenge – basically unleash hell, 100% effort in chasing the ball and pressuring the ball holder, for the first seven seconds after giving it away to try and force an immediate turnover. Again the early fruits of this were backed by Saturday’s numbers. QPR’s average pass streak was four (still pretty poor) but, more importantly to this point, Rotherham’s was only three, and they are far from a long ball team under Matt Taylor. It’s only the second time this season QPR’s average pass sequence has been longer than an opponent’s and a very far cry away from Leicester H, Southampton A (both 3v9), Sunderland H (3v7), Watford A, Cardiff A and West Brom A (3v6).
“In a perfect scenario my centre backs will play extremely high, 20-25 metres in front, because it means we will be playing extremely high, short and close. If the team manages to regain the ball quickly then we will get a second chance and second wave to attack. The main thing to avoid is long counter attacks because we don’t regain the ball high in the pitch and need to backtrack 70-60 metres, it’s not the game we want to build because the game becomes up and down. For technical players they burn energy by tracking back big distances. We want to regain quickly not endure long transitions.”
Again, the highlights show a perfect example of this six minutes in when a progressive build through triangles down the right, with full back Reggie Cannon in the thick of everything, gets Dixon-Bonner into a shooting position in the area which he should really have scored – albeit a great save from the division’s best keeper Viktor Johansson who was excellent on the day again. From there Rotherham have the ball, and try to work their way clear, but within seven seconds and a couple of passes they’ve been harassed back out of it by some hard work by Chris Willock (print that out for a frame) allowing Paul Smyth to put in a sumptuous cross which one of Lyndon Dykes or Ilias Chair really has to be scoring.
The goal, with QPR working some well known combinations down the left this time, getting Kenneth Paal into the space in front of and behind right back Lembikisa, drawing Rotherham players across and leaving space for Ilias Chair to maraud into and score, also chimed with the part of the podcast where Cifuentes talked about the areas he likes to exploit in attack. “Two or three spaces are very difficult to defend for all teams in the world. If a team decides to defend really flat with not a lot of space between defence and midfield then you concede a lot of space in front of you. Or if you want to be aggressive on pressure then the space opens up as little bit more between the centre backs and midfielders and behind wingers, those spaces and pockets are difficult to defend. You can step forward as a centre back but that leaves a risk behind you. When it comes to lower blocks the spaces behind the full backs and the side of the centre backs are always difficult because if you attack that space again and again, behind that full back, then the centre back needs to cover a lot and that means he opens that space in between centre backs.”
In post match Cifuentes was prompted by several interviewers to talk about how pleased he was to see so much of this influence so quickly from his team, and how relieved he was to stop the rot of QPR’s latest six match losing run. He declined. He told ITV’s reporter, in particular, that this wasn’t his mentality at all and he was “quite disappointed actually” because we’d come to win the game and not achieved it. That’s the mentality he wants here now, not talking about mini-leagues at the bottom of the table and the enormous challenges posed by playing Leeds United. “The other teams will not wait for us” he said to the written press, we need wins and the mentality that we’re here to win. And again we jump back three years to the podcast where he talks about how Johan Cruyff switched mindsets at Barcelona: “Johan changed the whole club from one that had always been looking at Real Madrid and trying in some way to be happy every time they could win. He changed the whole mindset looking at the club, the self, how to develop and be better, not to be happy in second, not to be happy looking at other clubs. High, daily demands to develop the whole philosophy of the club.” The only standards there have been at QPR in the last couple of years have been brought by the paper boy.
The problem is exactly as he said, we didn’t win the game. We played one of the teams that is as poor as we are, a team with a severely under pressure manager, a team with only two wins just like us, a team that had comfortably lost to the rabble at Sheff Wed the week before, a team with both first choice centre backs out, and we didn’t win. We missed a sackload of chances, and the lack of goals in this team will always limit its progression. We conceded the standard soft goal off a needless set piece, they hit the post with a header from another corner that looked in for all money, and missed a good few opportunities of their own. As ever, so desperate are we for not only solutions but anything of any note coming out of our development side, we’ve got ourselves into a creamy lather over Dixon-Bonner’s 7/10 performance against the second or third worst team in the league, in a game we didn’t win. The progress was there for all to see, but it was from an absurdly low base that genuinely couldn’t have got much worse if it tried. It wouldn't be the first time a team has responded initially to the ideas of a new manager only to slink back into old habits - this lot don't even usually manage the former, and are very prone to the latter indeed.
The early signs are undoubtedly positive, but the winning has to start soon. Be nice if soon meant tomorrow, when Bristol City come to town looking to see what changes their own new man has brough to bear in half a week.
Is it possible for both teams to have 82% possession?
Links >>> Booed after a win – History >>> Manning the man – Interview >>> Eltringham 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 >>> Fevs Football Analytics - Contributor's page
90’s Football Conspiracy Theories No.14 In The Series – Former Oldham and Everton full back Earl Barrett has been trying to tone down the storms that have swept the UK over the last few weeks, but is worried about the impact the Harp System and Ionosphere Heater he keeps in his garage are going to have on his next eOn bill.
Below the fold
Team News: From last week’s central midfield crisis, suddenly we have something of a glut of options in the middle of the park. Dozzell and Colback are both back from the naughty step, but Dixon-Bonner impressed in their absence alongside Sam Field. Cifuentes has even been talking up the prospect of Taylor Richards playing a game of football, despite his cameo last week including a senseless header that put his team under pressure and resulted in the Rotherham equaliser. Who gets back in and who doesn’t probably involves the position vacated by Ilias Chair whose braindead booking for kicking the ball away moves him onto five and a one match suspension. Sinclair Armstrong, who you'd fancy against the lack of pace in the City centre backs, is one booking away from the same. Reggie Cannon, who you’d think is going to be huge in this Cifuentes system, was limping long before the end and treated extensively afterwards. It’s going to be the most interesting team selection for sometime in which the only certainties other than Chair are Morgan Fox out medium term and Jake Clarke-Salter because of course Jake Clarke-Salter.
Bristol City have once again been beset with niggling injuries this season, to go with the Ayman Benarous and Rob Atkinson ACL explosions they brought into the campaign. Ross McCrorie, one of the summer signings, is yet to make his debut after suffering a bacterial infection during the summer and has been covered by West Brom loanee Taylor Gardner-Hickman. Former Wycombe attacker Anis Mehmeti has only started two league games this season and fallen behind Sam Bell in the pecking order, but given Manning was lining him up for a loan move to Oxford in January he may now get a second chance to kick start a stalled career at Bristol City following his move to Ashton Gate in January. Nahki Wells hasn’t played since October 7 but will be desperate to return, if only from the bench, in a fixture he loves to score in. Kal Naismith made his comeback off the bench against Sheff Wed last week after a month out.
Elsewhere: The Cifuentes and Manning appointments are very on trend for this season’s Championship. Sheff Wed went with Danny Rohl, Huddersfield with Darren Moore, and Millwall this week with 37-year-old England youth coach Joe Edwards. It’s certainly a stark contrast, and abrupt change of general direction, from last year when the teams in the shit went for Gareth Ainsworth (QPR), Neil Warnock (Huddersfield), Mick McCarthy (Blackpool), Paul Ince (Reading) and Sabri Lamouchi (Cardiff).
Like Cifuentes and Manning, two of those newbies face off against each other this weekend with Edwards making his Millwall bow up at Hillsborough. Huddersfield, meanwhile, will have all on stemming their uncontrollable bleed post QPR win with a tough trip to another forward thinking coach, Liam Rosenior, and his Hull City outfit. There’s surely soon to be a change, too, at Norwich, who have the division’s joint worst defence and were dismal in defeat to Blackburn last week. David Wagner remains in charge despite eight defeats in ten and no wins in six, but with the new sporting director starting work there on Monday that surely won’t last to our visit on the other side of the international break, particularly if a likely defeat at high flying Cardiff materialises this weekend.
QPR eyes will also be trained hopefully on the results of another surprise early struggler, Coventry, at home to Stoke, and Plymouth, who are away to Sky Sports Leeds. Rotherham visit Watford, who’ve climbed away a little of late and currently occupy our coveted sixteenth spot.
The weekend starts tonight with the Blackburn Preston derby, and continues tomorrow lunchtime when Wayne Rooney’s Birmingham City could easily continue their descent down the table under Mr Potato Head with a tough lunchtime task away at Sunderland in the Jobe Bellingham derby. Champions Leicester and Ipswich both had wobbles last week – the Foxes finally beaten again, at home to Leeds, Town pretty scratchy in a game in hand at Rotherham – and they return to action away at Middlesbrough and home to Swansea respectively. It’s West Brom’s turn to suffer death by a thousand passes at Southampton.
Referee: Geoff Eltringham usually scores highly on LFW, but QPR have a dire record of 2-3-11 with this official and haven’t won in eight. Bristol City absolutely hate him, have lost seven in a row, and are 4-2-13 overall. Something gotta give. Details.
QPR: The draw at Rotherham last weekend did at least halt the latest six match losing run, but it’s still ten without a win for the R’s which is the longest current sequence in the Football League. Please, dear God/Marti, if you do one thing for me this weekend, make it so I can’t keep copying and pasting the following two paragraphs and just adding one to all the bad numbers. Make me do some work next week. Please. Mercy.
Since we beat Reading 4-0 at Loftus Road at the end of January 2021 to push into the Championship’s automatic promotion picture we have won just 19 out of 87 matches and lost 46. At home we’ve won just eight of 39, losing 22. Since we topped the Championship exactly a year ago by beating Wigan 2-1 at home we’ve won just six times in 47 games, losing 30; at home we’ve lost 17 out of our last 22 and won only once in a calendar year. This season it’s two wins from 16 overall, and six defeats and a draw from seven at home. We are currently on a club record run of no wins in 12 home games and are yet to win at home this season.
We haven’t scored three goals in a game in 48 attempts going back more than a year. We have scored more than one in a game only five times in our last 46 attempts. The last time we came from behind to win was against Reading at home on October 7 last year, 50 games ago – since then we have recovered just three points from losing positions. We are since winless in 29 games when conceding the first goal. We can keep adding one to these numbers, but not to the scoreboard. At the other end only Norwich have conceded more than our 27 goals, and we’re nursing a record of only two clean sheets.
Please make it stop.
Bristol City: Troubled by a succession of injuries and a failure to reinvest the Alex Scott money in the summer transfer window, City have been a bit all over the map so far and Nigel Pearson was controversially ousted after a recent 2-0 loss at Cardiff – a third away defeat in four. City have won seven, drawn three, and lost seven in all comps and are yet to put together three consecutive results the same. They come into this one WLWLLW which rather sums them up – steadfastly midtable in eleventh (which would actually represent a highest league placing since they ended up eighth in 2018/19, just to make that Pearson dismissal all the weirder). They’re 3-1-3 away from home with the victories coming at Millwall, Swansea and Rotherham.
Following his nervous breakdown last season, it was perhaps understandable that Rob Dickie would make a tentative start to life at his new club. But with Rob Atkinson out long term and Kal Naismith also sidelined recently he’s come into his own and started showing some of his early 2021/22 form in red. He scored the winners in 1-0 successes against Coventry and last time out against Sheff Wed having scored none in his previous 55 (including the whole of 2022/23) going back to his late winner for us at Luton – a result that put us fourth in the Championship, sob. He won’t be the only City player tempting fatalistic first goalscorer bets this weekend. Nahki Wells is likely to be back on the bench after injury and the generous decision to award him what looked like a Leon Balogun own goal in the first meeting last season means he’s now bagged six times in 11 matches against Rangers for Bristol City and Huddersfield and twice in the last three. Andy Weimann hasn’t netted in ten appearances so far (five starts five sub) but has five goals in 14 appearances for three different clubs (Villa, Derby, Bristol City) against QPR.
This fixture’s a little bit weird in that the last seven meetings have been won by the away side. QPR have emerged victorious from their last three visits to Ashton Gate, while City have won their last four trip to W12. In fact, the Robins are unbeaten in seven in Shepherd’s Bush, winning six and drawing a League Cup game 3-3 before going out on penalties. Our last win in this fixture was the final day of 2015/16 when Karl Henry scored a rare goal to seal a 1-0 success. That cup thriller is the only draw between the teams in 12 meetings.
If City win again tomorrow they follow Blackburn, Coventry and Sunderland in having more wins (two) at Loftus Road in 2023 than QPR (one).
Prediction: We’re once again indebted to The Art of Football for 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 newly extended QPR collection here. Let’s see what our reigning champion Aston got for us this week…
“Both teams have new managers and both of these managers have a reasonably similar philosophy. It could be a fun game, or more likely we cancel each other out. Either way, this is going to be a big ask without Chair, we desperately need the old Chris Willock back and firing. I think in the end, it ends up 1-1 and Jimmy Dunne bags one from a set piece.
Aston’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Bristol City. Scorer – Jimmy Dunne
LFW’s Prediction: QPR 1-1 Bristol City. Scorer – Chris Willock
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Knees-up Mother Brown #14 by wessex_exile
The blog returns with KMB14, after another awayday last weekend and first visit for me to Edgeley Park to see the U’s pit their wits against the heir apparent champions Stockport County. Despite a stewarding fubar that I’ve probably mentioned more than enough already, it was a good day out overall, with the U’s more than a match for Stockport for most of the game, apart that is from a 90 second lapse in concentration either side of half-time. Certainly no disgrace though, and with the U’s getting straight back on the bike midweek with a comfortable 1-0 victory over League 1 Posh (albeit against largely their second string), I think we can look forward to this afternoon against promotion contenders Barrow with a degree of confidence.
Knees-up Mother Brown #13 by wessex_exile
KMB13, and this weekend I’m sure we will all, in our own way, pause to remember the fallen. With war again raging in Europe, and the Middle East aflame, I’m sadly reminded of the lyrics of Eric Bogle.
Knees-up Mother Brown #12 by wessex_exile
It’s a wet, windy first weekend of November, which can mean only one thing – it’s the magic of the FA Cup again! Today we face a trip to the New Meadow, home of League 1 Shrewsbury Town. I’ve never been to the New Meadow, my last trip to Salop was to watch the U’s win 2-1 in our FA Cup second round match at Gay Meadow back in December 2005 – and what a day that was too. That match was featured in Matches of Yesteryear #20, and it was pleasing to see it was the focus of a club interview with Greg Halford last week. There is also something very noteworthy about today – unless my calculations are awry, this will be our 200th appearance in the world’s greatest cup competition.
Knees-up Mother Brown #11 by wessex_exile
Well, following the U’s has been a bit of a rollercoaster through the last week. Ben Garner’s U’s slumped to a very poor home defeat last Saturday against Harrogate Town, despite taking the lead with a sublime strike from Chay Cooper. Robbie had seen enough, and that evening Ben was let go, with U21 lead coach Matty Etherington announced as the interim Head Coach on Monday. On Tuesday night, Matty Etherington’s U’s put in one hell of a shift, to come away from Grimsby (Cleethorpes – ed.) with all three points and a masterclass from Arthur Read – happy days, could Matty be our man? Well, not right now that’s for sure, after a call to Robbie from Crawley Town yesterday letting him know that apparently Matty is tied up in a contract exit clause from his brief spell at Crawley, seemingly forbidding him from operating in a head coach/ manager role until May 2024 (when his Crawley contract would have expired). So, Matty Etherington is stood down, with Assistant Head Coach Scott Marshall stepping up as our new interim Head Coach for the tough trip to Accrington Stanley.
Knees-up Mother Brown #10 by wessex_exile
Back again, after another U’s-induced matchday ‘experience’ at FGR, and what an experience it was. What was already a poor match between two poor sides descended into insanity after the red card for Mingi, with the U’s dismantled repeatedly to let four second half goals in. I hardly ever leave a game before the final whistle, but as the board went up for nine more minutes I’d seen enough and me and Alfie headed out for our lift home (and as a result, missed the frank exchange of views between players and supporters at the end). However, let’s focus on the positives, whatever was said, a much changed U’s were a different team on Tuesday at League 1 Cambridge. The U’s thoroughly deserved the win and their Pizza Slice Trophy three points, thanks in no small part to an excellent performance from Chay Cooper.
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