|Queens Park Rangers 0 v 0 Bristol City|
Saturday, 11th November 2023 Kick-off 15:00
QPR and Bristol City cancel each other out with new autumn fashion lines - Report
Monday, 13th Nov 2023 16:14 by Clive Whittingham
QPR's improvements under Marti Cifuentes continued apace in a second consecutive draw under the new manager on Saturday, but the Spaniard will need to work miracles with this attack if we're to achieve the goal of survival in the Championship.
“You can see they’re a well-coached side now.” New Bristol City boss Liam Manning, mixing up the loud and the quiet parts there.
Comparing one Queens Park Rangers home game to another is like trying to pick your favourite member of John Terry’s family. I like the shop lifting mum personally. Oooh no, it’s got to be the adulterous brother whose affair with a teammate’s wife preceded his suicide. Which Blackburn defeat did you prefer – the 3-1, or the 4-0? Did having our arse handed to us by Sunderland look better under floodlights or sunshine? Which of Coventry’s six goals gave you most sadistic pleasure? Don’t be nice to me, tell me how much I’m sweating.
Bristol City arrived in town on Saturday with the chance to become the fourth team to have won more games at Loftus Road in 2023 than QPR. Rangers, steadfastly, stuck on one home win in a year, one home win in 22 matches, no home win this season, no home win for a club record run of 13 attempts… Sunderland, Coventry, Blackburn and now, potentially, Bristol City all winning twice here in that time. No wonder the away end is full every week. “People are going to fear coming to Loftus Road” said Gareth Ainsworth. Indeed so, the QPR fans are terrified of the place.
This was, however, miles better. Streets ahead of anything we’ve produced on this ground for weeks. Rangers completed 504 passes, more than in any other game this season. Just 56 of those were counted as ‘long balls’ – 11%, the lowest ratio of the campaign so far. Our average passing sequence was five – a season high. There was coherence and structure to QPR. Some of what they tried worked really well: Kenneth Paal stepping into midfield to increase numbers and ball players there; Osman Kakay filling in for the injured Reggie Cannon on the other side, which before kick off had looked a real blow for Marti Cifuentes to suffer ahead of his first home game in charge. Some of it wasn’t quite as successful: Elijah Dixon-Bonner could perhaps count himself unfortunate not to keep his place after a decent showing at Rotherham, and Andre Dozzell’s return to the team in his position was not a conspicuous success. Too often Dozzell and Colback were content to knock a ball five yards to the side believing their job done, whereas last week Dixon-Bonner wanted to play forward and through the lines.
But you could at least tell what they were trying to do, which makes this a night and day improvement from the recent debacles we have sat through on this ground, and pretty much anything else we’ve been forced to suffer over the past 12 months.
Paul Smyth fairly well terrorised Cameron Pring down the QPR right and City left for the first hour or so. His immaculate touch on the quarter hour allowed him to break inside and threaten for the first time, and that was quickly followed by him bursting away through fair means and foul to stop him, and drawing a half-hearted handball appeal in the City box. More great control and purposeful play at the start of the second half ended with a cross to the back post attacked by Chris Willock with his eyes closed and, when the free kick he’d won himself was cleared back to him, the Northern Ireland international had a shot of his own deflected over. From that corner Colback played a short routine back to Dozzell to strike from the edge of the box but, like everything else he tried and in contrast to Dixon-Bonner’s quietly effective show the week before, he didn't quite get it right. A counter attack that looked like it had failed when the fairly hapless Lyndon Dykes fell over for the umpteenth time on the day was eventually continued through to another Smyth shot over the bar.
Pretty frustrating therefore that having finally got the flailing Pring booked on the hour for his latest foul, Smyth then tired and wasn’t able to continue twisting the torture rack. Not only that, but QPR ceased attacking Pring’s wing altogether. It felt absolutely ripe for Sinclair Armstrong to go on fresh out there and start playing push and run against an ailing opponent on a final warning, but he attacked the centre of the field when eventually introduced and Pring eventually saw the 90 minutes through.
That was QPR on Saturday: sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe shit. Smyth was something of a perfect encapsulation of that, and the key problem Cifuentes is going to have with this team. For all his threatening dribbles and torment of his marker, he attempted nine crosses on the day with zero accuracy, his passing accuracy was easily the worst on the pitch (50%), and all the shots he did have were off target.
For many, QPR’s hopes of maintaining the flurry of improvements brought about by the change of coach and turning them into Championship survival feel like they rather hang on loaning better strikers in January. The good news is, playing in this style with this coach, clubs higher up the ladder will be 10,000x more likely to trust us with their best and brightest players on loan than they would have been before. The bad news, apart from all the usual stuff about how much budget exists to make such a move, is service. Paul Smyth – nine crosses, zero accuracy. Kenneth Paal – seven crosses, found a team mate with one of them. Chris Willock – four crosses, zero accuracy. Andre Dozzell – one cross, zero accuracy. It was another afternoon of mostly incompetent set pieces, spaffed time and time again straight into the gob of the nearest defender. When Osman Kakay, who’d had a good game, got in behind on a well loaded counter attack late in the game, with time and space to think about what to do, he had a wild first time swing at a bouncing ball and turned a very good crossing position into a maddening hack into the Upper Loft. They brought lesser-spotted Taylor Richards on – he tried seven passes, gave two of them away, and one cross, which set Bristol City up for a monumental break the other way.
Still, for all that, and the obvious caveat that the star of the manager’s first game, Ilias Chair, was suspended, Dykes, for the second week in a row, was really rather hopeless up front. Tony Thorpe, on Bristol City commentary duty, described him as “atrocious” and added: “I’m not joking, I think I’m still a better player than Dykes and I’m nearly 50.” Watching the Scotsralian over the last week it’d be difficult to make a counter argument. Just finding a pair of boots with studs long enough to stand up in would be an improvement at this point.
His scuffed volley, blocked by Rob Dickie who impressed on his return bar an errant clearing header which led to that chance initially, was as near as we came but it wasn’t anything to write home about. His performance rather summed up by referee Geoff Eltringham bringing QPR back for a free kick 40 yards from goal at the end of the first half when Dykes actually had possession up on the edge of the box – referee rightly surmising that was no kind of an advantage to us. QPR would finish the game with an official tally of zero shots on target. Talk about service all you like but is there any point in ordering a corn on the cob if you’ve got no teeth? There was nothing at all wrong with Kakay’s late cross on his left foot, drifting right into the corridor of uncertainty between keeper and defender, and Sinclair Armstrong, on from the bench, missed the ball entirely at the near post when contact anywhere between feather touch and power drive would surely have been enough to divert it into the net.
It could have been a win regardless had a second half penalty appeal gone our way. Armstrong burst into the area with the pace and power we know all about, went up against with Zak Vyner and hit the deck. The Loft appealed long and loud, Geoff Eltringham shook his head.
It’s a pretty good test case for why VAR was never going to work and never will. From the Ellerslie Road side of the ground, and the main camera angle, it looks a penalty. Friends we had watching via the stream were alive on the WhatsApp groups straight away saying they thought it was. From the South Africa Road side it didn’t look one at all, and not a single one of us in the group at the front of F Block thought it was – Sinclair about as subtle as a brick in looking and waiting for contact and then hitting the deck as soon as he felt it.
My frustration comes more from an earlier decision where Smyth was chasing a bouncing ball in behind the panicked Pring, the defender hit the deck under the most meagre of touches – certainly less of a foul than the alleged contact on Armstrong – and was given a free kick immediately. A linesman, standing ten yards away and looking right at it, signalled nothing. Smyth was booked for dissent. Armstrong himself has been penalised in similar circumstances, for far less contact than he suffered in this incident, previously this season – notably when through on goal at Southampton. That lack of consistency is infuriating, but I didn’t think it was a penalty and I’m delighted Cifuentes turned down the opportunities to boot off about it in post-match.
We are too often driven by excuses, too quick to point to refereeing decisions, financial restrictions, FFP rules and the like, to blame and cover up for our own failings. If we’re waiting for a good Championship referee to turn up we’ll be waiting a long time. We didn’t win on Saturday because our attack is crap, not because of the referee. Sinclair could easily have stayed on his feet and crossed the ball, he was looking to go down. It was a 50/50 call that went against us, just as Bristol City’s own shout for a handball when Paal fell on the ball in the area at the other end went against them.
You’ve got to know your referees. Eltringham, in general, waves play-on through most things. Early in this game Jack Colback’s latest bad tackle, which would have brought a yellow from every other referee in the league and maybe more from some of them, was let off with a word on the run – there were two or three like that from either side in the first 15 minutes. In stoppage time Andre Dozzell laid on the floor trying to get the play stopped and Eltringham ignored him – lo and behold, 30 seconds later, when he realised the referee wasn’t buying it, he got up and sprinted after the ball. That’s on us, and him, not the referee. In general, I prefer games to be refereed the way this guy does them. Far fewer players would dive or pretend they’re injured if everybody treated such incidents with this level of deserved disdain. I’d also prefer to go with what he thinks on one viewing than spend five minutes poring over video that nobody will ever agree on anyway. And I was comfortable with a penalty not being awarded in this instance.
All there was left was for Rangers to try and find a way to lose the game. They could have done that in the very first minute when Colback was caught dallying around on the ball, then collapsed wanting a free kick he didn’t get (see above, excuses, know your referee, on us not him) and City were able to break into the box and draw a save from Begovic. Jason Knight missed the target 15 minutes from time when played away in a counter from QPR’s latest botched corner, then Osman Kakay capped his impressive individual performance with a goal-saving tackle on Bell at the back post – fellow substitute Gardner-Hickman saw his shot on the follow up deflected away. In general though, City absolutely starved their striker Tommy Conway of ball, and struggled to pose any real threat on the goal.
It felt like two teams cancelling each other out. The bookings of Field and Knight, for pushing each other in the chest and falling over comedically, were something of a microcosm. Both trying to do the same things, bumping into each other, and coming out of it no better off than they were before.
That QPR are now at least trying to do those things makes the more watchable, their games more enjoyable, and their chances of succeeding in climbing out of trouble this season far greater. This was the best game there’s been on this ground, from a hooped point of view, in sometime. But it really does say something about how we have been playing that Saturday represents such significant improvement, and it’ll all amount to much the same thing unless Cifuentes can find goals in this team.
QPR: Begovic 6; Kakay 7, Cook 6, Dunne 6, Paal 7; Colback 5 (Richards 82, -), Dozzell 5, Field 6; Smyth 7 (Dixon-Bonner 82, -), Dykes 4 (Armstrong 74, 6), Willock 6 (Kelman 90+1, -)
Subs not used: Archer, Larkeche, Duke-McKenna, Drewe
Bookings: Smyth 63 (dissent), Field 67 (fight)
Bristol City: O’Leary 6; Tanner 6, Vyner 6, Dickie 7, Pring 4; James 6, Knight 7; Sykes 6, Weimann 5, (Gardner-Hickman 60, 6) Mehmeti 5 (Bell 60, 6); Conway 5 (Cornick 72, 6)
Subs not used: Naismith, Bajic, Knight-Label, Yeboah, James
Bookings: Pring 59 (foul), Knight 67 (fight)
QPR Star Man – Paul Smyth 7 Exciting, purposeful, pacy, old fashioned wing play that, for the first hour, gave Pring absolute nightmares and looked our best chance of scoring a goal. Depending what side of the Dykes debate you come down on probably determines what story you think nine crosses with zero accuracy tells you. Some of the final balls were wayward, much of the striking play was abysmal. I think on this occasion, like at Rotherham, those doing the supplying were entitled to expect more of their centre forward.
Referee – Geoff Eltringham (Durham) 7 And I guess this one also comes down to whether you think the challenge on Armstrong warrants a penalty or not, and your more general preference for how games are refereed. Compared to the foul given against Smyth, after which he was booked for his protests, then of course it’s a penalty all day long, but that aside I didn’t think it was, nor the Paal one at the other end. There were some early challenges in the game, particularly from Colback, that could easily have brought yellow cards. We saw in the Sunderland game that letting stuff like that go can occasionally put a referee in a difficult position of inviting ever stronger and stronger fouls until the game blows up on him – but, in general, I do prefer this style and approach. He’ll never get anywhere with it, the assessors hate it, but I’d far rather come to this guy’s game than, say, James Bell, who’s currently being fast tracked through the divisions past experienced guys like this as reward for his brand of extreme, aggressive, vindictive pedantry. The Dozzell incident at the end sums it up – laid on the ground, apparently mortally wounded, wanting the game stopped while Bristol City launch an attack to potentially win the game against ten men. When he realises the referee isn’t buying it, he gets up and sprints after the ball. Wouldn’t you know it, nothing wrong with him after all. There’d be a lot less cheating, gamesmanship and play acting if games were refereed like this more often.
Attendance – 17,540 (2,800 Bristol City approx.) One home win in a year, none in 13 games, second bottom of the table – biggest crowd of the season. Nutters.
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