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Bristol City 0 v 1 Queens Park Rangers
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 17th February 2024 Kick-off 15:00
Prestige performance puts QPR back in the hunt - Report
Sunday, 18th Feb 2024 18:19 by Clive Whittingham

In order to do the most QPR thing you’ve ever seen next week, Marti Cifuentes’ team first had to tee it up with a few QPR things you’ve seen before this.

The first act is The Pledge. The magician shows you something relatively ordinary, like Queens Park Rangers losing to Stoke.

A couple of times this season Rangers have half threatened to get their act together. Even under Gareth Ainsworth there was a strong hour and good win at Cardiff, followed up by an excellent result at Middlesbrough and a couple of near misses against the division’s better sides like Ipswich and Southampton. Despite everything seen, said and done under Ainsworth’s guidance, you just allow yourself that little hope things might be alright after all. Then you get trounced at home by Sunderland, Coventry and Blackburn and that’s the end of that. Marti Cifuentes stuck three wins on the board in a week in December and it felt like the dark days might finally be coming to an end, only for the R’s to set off on another nine-game losing streak. It therefore came as little shock - having gone four unbeaten, won away at Blackburn, added some influential new faces at the end of January, got everybody’s hopes up again - the team would inevitably fall in a hole in a winnable game like Stoke away.

It was also the fifth time in relatively quick succession Rangers have played a team in similar strife to them at the bottom of the table, a side there for the taking almost, where a win would have finally started to move Cifuentes’ men up the league, above their opponent, out of the bottom three, dragging more and more clubs down into the mire with us in the process. Against each in turn – Plymouth H, Sheff Wed A, Millwall A, Huddersfield H and now Stoke A – they’ve done the opposite. Dreadful performances, poor results, opponent allowed to escape and start rebuilding the gap Rangers had worked so hard to close over the previous games. We’ve been in the bottom three so long we’re in danger of drowning in the rain by looking up for too long.

There were a range of emotions, thoughts and feelings floating around the away end by the end of Wednesday’s turgid slog – anger, frustration, disappointment – but nobody could really say they were surprised.

So far, so unbelievably typical. The second act is The Turn: the magician takes the very ordinary thing, like QPR’s performance at Stoke, and makes it do something extraordinary, like go away to a Bristol City team who’d spent their week winning away at Middlesbrough and then ending Southampton’s 25-game unbeaten streak and beating them.

That pedestrian rubbish from during the week, played around almost entirely in front of the opposition at a walking pace, full of sloppy touches and misplaced passes, devoid of idea or incisiveness, replaced within three days by a team mimicking the great Dutch side of the 1970s with its one touch pass and move.

QPR’s improvements were exemplified by the game’s only goal. Hayden expertly handling a tricky midfield situation, Chris Willock thrusting himself into the action in a way we haven’t seen him do for a number of weeks, feeding Lucas Andersen on his first start for the club and the Dane then taking time and care to look up and pick out a teammate in the box rather than just head down hacking a cross into the nearest defender – a perfect cut back put the goal on a plate for Ilias Chair. A proper goal, like what proper football teams score. Enough cum to pebbledash a lighthouse. Four for the season for Chair now, but notably Andersen has already got two assists to his name in 122 minutes of football since signing in January from Denmark’s AaB – as many as Andre Dozzell managed in two and a half years.

There had, in fairness, been substantial changes to the team. Marti Cifuentes switched half his outfielders for this one, leaving out Sinclair Armstrong, Paul Smyth, Jack Colback and Reggie Cannon who’d all been particularly poor at Stoke, as well as Joe Hodge who could perhaps count himself a little unfortunate. Back came Jimmy Dunne in an unorthodox right back role, Lyndon Dykes in attack with Andersen and Willock behind alongside Chair, and Sam Field to anchor the middle with Isaac Hayden.

The word that immediately sprang to mind was ‘slow’. There were plot points in The West Wing that moved quicker, and there were certainly teething problems with it initially. Clarke-Salter laying a pass for Chair up well too short, Hayden recovering the situation then giving it away himself and conceding a free kick. Andersen, struggling initially with the physicality of the game (you’re not in Denmark any more Jack Sparrow), clotheslining an opponent for a free kick wasted. Cook’s loose clearance returned with interest by Ross McCrorie, into the side netting at just such a pace and angle that half the ground thought he’d scored and began celebrating. Delicious. Begovic had a bit of a strange flap at Mehmeti’s routine shot, and the otherwise wholly anonymous Nahki Wells (his kids love that zoo) blasted a very presentable free kick high over the bar after Field committed a foul and Hayden was yellow carded for booting the ball away.

Sam Bell’s early hamstring injury was a bit of a touch because he’d threatened to expose the Dunne experiment in the early exchanges, cutting one back for Joe Williams to bobble wide. City were never quite the same once he’d gone off: former Wycombe trickster Anis Mehmeti a big disappointment; second half Adedire Mebude very much more Dire than Ade; Posh Scott Twine mercifully (and weirdly) left as an unused substitute. Captain, maybe we should turn the runway lights on now? No, that’s just what they’ll be expecting us to do.

QPR grew into the game well after that. Lyndon Dykes was in one of his interested moods up front, winning a good flick on the quarter hour to set in motion an attacking move which was ended by what looked to me from the other end of the pitch like a bit of a foul on Chair. No matter, soon the R’s were piling forwards again and would have worked home keeper O’Leary but for Field’s fresh air shot. Hayden’s recovery tackle on a subsequent counter set the tone further and the opening goal wasn’t too long in coming. Begovic’s save on a tight angle in first half stoppage time, and Steve Cook’s subsequent block, preserved the lead, but it was Rangers in the ascendency by the time the first half came to a close.

In the ascendency and looking good to extend the lead. Andersen was growing in influence more with each touch of the ball and his class shone again with a clever free kick down the side of a sleeping City - Chair seized on the ball and forced a save from O’Leary with a cross shot. A terrific move from right to left across the field then got Andersen in for a shot of his own, expertly parried by the keeper – a nice height for him but travelling through a crowd of players. Chair dribbled 40 yards to the byline but could only cut the ball back to the keeper once he’d arrived there when a queue of suitors awaited a better delivery. The slick and quick move of the game ended with Willock smacking one into O’Leary’s chest, and the winger really should have sealed it all up when a high press win allowed Chair to slip a perfect pass through dying to be hit first time but delayed upon and eventually only dispatched into the side net in front of an away end waiting to dissolve in ecstatic relief. Seven shots on target – steady on lads, we’ve all had a drink.

That profligacy could have cost Rangers two of the three points had City, who’d created next to nothing all half bar one shot dragged across goal by sub Tommy Conway, equalised with the last kick of stoppage time. From a corner (because of course) Sykes was left unmarked (because…) to glance a header past Begovic and what seemed certain to be a goal but for Field’s insane header, up and away over his own goal from virtually underneath the crossbar, at full strength. It would have been underserved, for both teams, and a heartbreaker to rival what happened at Hillsborough before Christmas. That would have taken some recovering from and for all the positives on Saturday it was only Field’s brilliance which prevented it.

As good as a goal itself, and it now brings Rangers back to within a point of Millwall and striking distance of Stoke and Huddersfield. Only the second time in 14 attempts Rangers have won game three in a three-game week. Some really notable performances from some of our most maligned players among it. Chris Willock, perhaps stung by being dropped, was back to being an effective attacking outlet (misses in front of goal notwithstanding), but more to the point he started the second half with two very diligent pieces of defensive work on the track back, just a week after abdicating those responsibilities to such an extent against Norwich it brought his manager almost onto the field of play to dress him down publicly. Dunne, after a slightly shaky start, blossomed at right back, and by the time the second half came around he was steaming through three consecutive challenges to bring the ball away down the right side and have the away end in raptures. Chair was so much more effective here than the bitterly frustrating performance he turned in on Wednesday. Dykes was interested. Field was back to something approaching what we know he can do.

This, of course, is the frustration. Cifuentes might look at this and think ‘ok, Cannon hasn’t been playing particularly well, Dunne has impressed in his position, let’s leave that like that for next week…’ Then next week rolls around and Dunne does exactly the opposite of everything he did the previous game. Willock, from last Saturday’s half-arsed nonsense to this. Chair, from Wednesday, to Saturday, night and day performances. To a certain extent it's just the Championship - how do you explain City playing like this after that high of beating Southampton in the week? - but we're infuriating. Managing this lot must be absolutely mind-blowing. Things that work well, players who perform to a high standard, problems you think are solved, can all flip entirely the opposite way around the next day. Mark Warburton used to talk about narrowing the gap between our best and our worst performances – that not only remains a chasm, but that chasm can exist between a Wednesday and a Saturday. It’s not like we’re terrible in October and then brilliant in February, it’s that we’re terrible 48 hours ago and then fine again. It’s an absolute headfuck.

Which means there remains act three – The Prestige. The magician tops the miraculous surprise from act two, by inexplicably reversing it. The thing you thought had gone… re-appears. With Millwall away at Southampton next week, QPR now have a sixth opportunity to knock over one of the worst teams in the division (in this case the actual worst team in the division) and in all likelihood move out of the bottom three in so doing. Their opponent, Rotherham United, are 14 points adrift of safety, haven’t won in nine games, have won only one of their last 21, haven’t won an away game at all in 15 attempts this season, and in fact haven’t won anywhere on the road since October 2022 – 32 away games ago. Jordan Hugill, once of our parish, comes into the game without a goal in 21 outings.

Never mind Christopher Nolan, we’ll be doing J G Ballard this time next week if they go all QPR on us again.

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

Bristol City: O’Leary 7; McRorie 5 (Sykes 75, 5), Vyner 5, Dickie 6, Roberts 5; James 5, Williams 5 (Gardner-Hickman 58, 5); Mehmeti 4 (Conway 58, 5), Knight 6 (Mebude 58, 3), Bell 7 (Cornick 26, 5); Wells 4

Subs not used: Twine, King, Tanner, Bajic

QPR: Begovic 6; Dunne 7, Cook 6, Clarke-Salter 7, Paal 6; Field 7, Hayden 7 (Colback 78, 7); Chair 7, Andersen 7 (Hodge 69, 6), Willock 7 (Smyth 90+1, -); Dykes 6 (Frey 78, 6)

Subs not used: Archer, Fox, Cannon, Larkeche, Armstrong

Goals: Chair 41 (assisted Andersen)

Bookings: Hayden 37 (delaying restart)

QPR Star Man – Ilias Chair 7 Nice to have a few candidates after Wednesday. Jimmy Dunne, after a nervous beginning and admittedly only once Bell had gone off, grew into the right back role well, and his Danny Maddix-style triple tackle move in the second half was a great moment. Jake Clarke-Salter continues to show that if he can stay fit he’s one of the division’s better centre backs. Lucas Andersen at times struggled with the physicality and frantic nature of a Championship midfield, but every time he got on the ball he did something intelligent with it. Chris Willock was back to something approaching his best, albeit with some poor finishing that kept the game tighter than it needed to be. There were, as ever, pluses and minuses in everybody’s performance – Clarke-Salter gave Chair a justified roasting after rescuing a situation caused by him giving the ball away cheaply on the edge of the box - but for his overall performance the goal just nudges him over the top as the star man for me.

Referee – Sam Barrott (West Riding) 6 We didn’t seem to get a lot out of him, though obviously I’m coming at it from a position of bias. My main issue, and it was the same with Steve Martin in the Huddersfield game recently, is the sudden inconsistency in when we do and do not stop play for an injury. Perhaps I’m misunderstanding, but I was under the impression we stopped play immediately for head injuries and everything else you wait for the next natural break in play unless it’s clearly something horrendous. Now I’m seeing games called to a halt for all sorts of other very minor things. Sam Bell, to be fair to him, was genuinely injured, but he’s not going to bleed to death of a hamstring pull is he? Play wa stopped, Bristol City argued the toss about and then obstructed the drop ball, and we end up with Begovoic shanking a dodgy back pass into the dugout for a City throw when it should have been our ball, on the attack against ten men. Against Huddersfield Michael Helik knew he was injured, knew he was about to be taken off, but trundled up to attack a corner anyway, and then as soon as it was taken sat down on the floor – Rangers should have been allowed to counter attack against reduced numbers, instead Helik was indulged with a stoppage. What’s occurring here?

Attendance – 23,619 (2,457 QPR) Outstanding support on the road again.

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Hastings_Hoops added 19:16 - Feb 18
“…Cifuentes might look at this and think ‘ok, Cannon hasn’t been playing particularly well, Dunne has impressed in his position, let’s leave that like that for next week…’ Then next week rolls around and Dunne does exactly the opposite of everything he did the previous game. Willock, from last Saturday’s half-arsed nonsense to this. Chair, from Wednesday, to Saturday, night and day performances.”

Cifuentes needs / can afford to be more brutal now. With a decent bench and five subs, he can warn said players that they have 40 mins to prove they’re putting in the right type of display or hook them before half time.

plasmahoop added 19:40 - Feb 18
Enough cum to pebbledash a lighthouse. Classic!

tonyQPR added 20:15 - Feb 18
Fields absafcukinlutely amazing goal line clearance actually ended up a free kick in our favour for a change 👍 I’m not being critical by the way sorry but thought it needed a mention as we don’t get much good fortune.


Northernr added 20:57 - Feb 18
Hastings - agreed. Strength on the bench was a huge issue for the squad he took over (see Norwich report). Now we've got some options there. We've seen the power with Chair at PNE and Willock here of leaving a 'star name' out as a bit of a kick.

Tony - Yes, although neither at the time nor on the replay since can I tell you why that is. Any ideas what it was given for?

Philothesuperhoop added 22:11 - Feb 18
Great report Clive, thanks as usual.

I can’t wait for next Saturday now…surely we can’t balls it up again. And being honest we simply can’t afford to as the run of games after that is a bit scary.

I agree Willock was far better, but he has used up any patience I ever had with him now. He almost cost us the points with his awful finishing and again in the first half he let his man run off him three times. Marti clearly came to the touch line to shout at him for the last one of these. He was so much better without the ball in the second half I do wonder if words were exchanged at HT.

He is after some kind of big contract move in a few months time…does he really think other clubs aren’t watching and don’t see this rubbish.

Myke added 23:22 - Feb 18
Great report Clive, but you missed a rare opportunity to use the same heading for your preview and report. There is even a little more pressure to win the Rotherham game as it is the last 'winnable' game for a while. Important to have the psychological boost of being out of the bottom three before we embark on some toughies.

FrankRightguard added 23:55 - Feb 18
@Norf &Tony - Wells offside from the flick on.

snanker added 01:33 - Feb 19
Great work Clive. Encapsulates the R's to a tee. Swab & pickle juice must've worked pre Robins ! Something did, maybe the shame that was called out post Stoke "effort" ? A worthy professional football performance and as a result 3 points to the good. Congrats on the turnaround are due. The pressure ratchets up again over the week with the worst away team in the Div playing the worst home team in the Comp !! Can we finally, finally get the victory that sees us poke our noses up out of the swamp or will we succumb to the home ground hoodoo in front of the disgruntled natives ? A betting man would have quids on the Millers getting something out of the game perhaps ?!

gazza1 added 08:09 - Feb 19
That was a 'proper, proper' team performance out there on Saturday. After a shaky start we moved into gear and slowly started to play, some of our football in the 2nd half was very good indeed. We missed a lot of good chances and should have won comfortably. That passing and move video, which i saw on Saturday was proper 'top dollar', not easy in such a tight space and one touch - it all needs to be perfect - Willock should have scored at the end of it too. Very impressive and what a bit of confidence gives to the players.

Impressive performance, thought you could have given 2 or 3 of them better marks actually.

kingfisher6404 added 14:51 - Feb 19
I was impressed with Jimmy Dunne's performance at RB too. It just shows what a professional player can achieve after weeks of doing well in training but not getting picked. Is he now the alternate to Cannon at RB in Marti's eyes? I also feel Chair deserved the MotM award, but was delighted that JCS, Willock or Hayden could stake a claim to that accolade too. Onwards to the Millers!

Jules4367 added 16:14 - Feb 19
The thing which bothers me most is that we cannot seem to get past the 'being one goal up'. The number of chances (when we do play well ) that are not converted is frustrating and leads to our throwing away points when we let goals in. There were two very close near misses in that game which should not have been allowed to occur. Yes Field was brilliant (or perhaps lucky) but it is so obvious that other teams can see how atrocious we are at defending corners. That game could so easily have turned and all the 'good stuff' been undone by another lack of concentration!
I'll take the 3 points and be pleased, but I consider it more luck that judgement or 'exceptional' team play and hopefully our luck will hold as if it doesn't, I cannot see us avoiding further set piece goals against us!
I wish they could be solid at the back but have run out of wishes!

Loft1979 added 19:23 - Feb 19

YOU predicted this in last report. So, you are my star man this week.

In my contribution to the discussion I would like to note how Chair DOES NOT attempt a spectacular effort but places the shot in the corner- Note to Illias.

Second- I did feel the Stoke (unchanged) line-up was ill=-advised. And I did think the more defensive minded Chair with Hayden might raise the defensive product. I hope this does see our team elevate and go on a protracted deserved run into mid table.

TacticalR added 22:16 - Feb 23
Thanks for your report.

Close games can be decided by a moment of outstanding quality, in this case Andersen's ability to see a pass into the box.

In a way the game was a mirror image of the Stoke game, except this time it was Bristol City who ran out of ideas and couldn't raise their game after going a goal behind.

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