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Queens Park Rangers 1 v 2 Bristol City
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 18th September 2021 Kick-off 15:00
Pivotal week eight - Preview
Friday, 17th Sep 2021 19:21 by Clive Whittingham

QPR return home after a week on the road to face a Bristol City team yet to really show its hand in a season many believed would be a real struggle for them.

QPR (3-3-1 WDWWDL 7th) v Bristol City (2-3-2 LWLWDD 12th)

Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Saturday September 18, 2021 >>> Kick Off 15.00 >>> Weather – Sunny and warm >>> Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium, Loftus Road, London, W12

Trying to make sense of this division and everybody’s place within it is difficult enough eight games out from the end of the season, never mind eight games in from the start. Queens Park Rangers and their opposition on Saturday, Bristol City, are good examples of why.

The Robins were roundly tipped for a season of struggle before we began. The highs of the Lee Johnson era and a run to the semi-final of the League Cup have been followed by a period of decline as the best players from that team were picked off, the money was reinvested unwisely, and the rest of the side grew old together. Johnson came to the end of the road, leaving behind a cluttered, over populated and under performing squad.

Some big transfer fees have flowed into Ashton Gate in recent times, for the likes of Aden Flint, Jonathan Kodija and particularly Adam Webster, but, with notable exceptions like Tomas Kalas and Andy Weimann, it has not been used to replenish the squad as it should. A team that brought in £35m even just for those three players mentioned there should not be this reliant on Chris Martin. The signing of Nahki Wells rather sums up the lack of strategy. Had he been bought on January 1 of the transfer window he moved in, few QPR fans would have been that fussed, and City absolutely wouldn’t have put anywhere near the deal they did on the table for him. Wells, remember, had moved to QPR on loan at the last minute in the previous two summers, he’d been out of favour at Burnley and available for a long while before City, blinded by a hot streak of six goals in four games in the New Year, came crashing in with cash, a player exchange, and a hefty three-and-a-half-year contract for a 30-year-old. They crowed about it long and hard on social media, but have been trying to work out exactly how to fit him into their team ever since, and commenced touting him around to try and shift the foolhardy contract they’ve got him on almost as soon as they’d got him through the door. QPR have got better since he left, City have got worse. Bound to score tomorrow mind.

The Championship favourite “we’re going to appoint a coach not a manager and give the academy boys a go” solution went about as well as it always does in this league and by the time Dean Holden was removed midway through his first season in charge the team was cratering. From the end of January this year they lost 16 of their final 22 games and won just three. Nigel Pearson’s new manager bounce accounted for two of those in a week in February. They won none of their final ten matches, and after a 4-1 defeat at Millwall in that run the home goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski was so appalled by what he’d faced in opposition he departed from the usual media trained banality and said they were the worst team he’d played all season, weren’t bothered, and were already on holiday. The idea that Nigel Pearson turns this all around in a summer because he’s Nigel Pearson seemed fanciful. He’s been good, a while ago, but he’s not a fucking soothsayer.

This all might still be right. City are now without a win at home in 14 attempts going back into last season. They haven’t won any of the first four at Ashton Gate and in Blackpool, Swansea, Preston and Luton you’d have been hard-pushed to hand select a kinder start on your own patch. That said, against Blackpool and Luton they led right down to the final kick of the game, which on both occasions resulted in an equaliser – Luton deserved theirs, Blackpool did not. A goal scored after one minute counts the same as one scored after 95 of course but two equalisers going in like that in such a short period of time is pretty freaky and without them City would now be above QPR in the table on 13 points, with impressive away wins at Reading and Cardiff already banked. They might well turn out to be shit – you’re certainly not going too far up the table with no wins from 14 home games – but there’s enough so far to suggest they might not be. Watch out for the high press - only three teams have won more possession in the opposition half – particularly after what happened at Bournemouth during the week.

QPR, of course, went the other way. Big talent went out of their team too, most notably Ebere Eze for a similar fee to Webster, but the recruitment with those funds has been spot on. While City were nosediving down the table, Rangers were climbing emphatically the other way going from three wins in the first 23 games of the season to 15 in the second – a 2-0 whitewash at Ashton Gate some revenge for City’s smash-and-grab 2-1 win at Loftus Road before Christmas. Optimism and expectation has risen on the back of that run of results, and two strong looking transfer windows. The loss at Dean Court on Tuesday was QPR’s first in eight this season, eleven overall, 14 if you include the friendlies with Cambridge, Man Utd and Leicester, and some 140 days. They’ve gained more points from losing positions than any other team, and came within a whisker of doing so again on the South Coast, and scored more than anybody in the division bar Fulham. The belated awarding of last week’s opener at Reading to Dom Ball means the 15 goals registered are spread among ten first team players already. Four of the next five are at home.

That all said… too many goals being conceded. Problems of varying severity at wing back, where neither option down the right has looked massively comfortable so far, and Lee Wallace is being missed down the left despite Sam McCallum’s drastic midweek improvement. A better central midfielder than Ball - a trier to the last and man of the match off the bench against Barnsley but badly exposed by more talented players in both away games this week - is needed to compete with the very best in this division. They could well be as brilliant as so many expected. The more the dust settled on Tuesday’s defeat, the more confident I was of a good season. Bournemouth are a fine side, chock full of expensive players, and now finally with a permanent manager in charge, so they will go close. QPR lost to an individual error and an outstanding goalkeeping display. If we can maintain that level of performance, effort and intent we will be right there amongst it all in May.

We’ll break from the Peronis just after half two tomorrow, stick our head around the door and look for further clues.

Links >>> Booed after a win – History >>> Who Chairs Wins – Podcast >>> Pearson progress and home woes – Interview >>> Doughty gets first QPR game – Referee >>> Bristol City official website >>> The Exiled Robin – Blog >>> One Team In Bristol – Message Board >>> Bristol Post – Local Paper >>> One Stream In Bristol – Podcast

Below the fold

Team News: QPR should have Charlie Austin back in the fold after he missed the midweek trip to Bournemouth with a family bereavement. He has been, quote, “out of sorts” a little bit since the start of the season, but it’s amazing how quickly the angry, aggressive, online clamour for the club to sign him permanently at all costs has turned into criticism of his performances just eight games into the new season. He made a point of this on his socials last weekend and when the sad news about the death of his grandparent broke during the week his wife also made the point that football fans often jump in with criticism of a player without realising what is going on at home.

Luke Amos made the bench at Bournemouth, a year on from blowing his knee out on that ground, and then came through a full game for the B Team in their 3-1 loss to Brentford during the week so expect to see him as one of the subs again here ahead of a touted outing against Everton in the cup during the week. Moses Odubajo also missed the trip to Dean Court but is likely to be back here, which is just as well given Osman Kakay’s personal struggles in that game against talented opposition. Lee Wallace and Sam Field remain sidelined.

Callum O’Dowda is a doubt for City, Joe Williams is definitely out, and Alex Scott is struggling to combine this game with hosting Football Focus at lunchtime.

Elsewhere: Hey everybody Brett Gunselman here on pivotal week eight of the Mercantile Credit Trophy season.

All dozen games in the second tier land on the Saturday this week, with headline makers Nottingham Florist and their cast of a thousand footballers heading up to Sporting Huddersfield in probably the most interesting game. Seven defeats and a draw make it their worst start to a league season in a century, and Chris Hughton was predictably given the boot after the midweek home loss to Middlesbrough. Plenty to keep The Athletic’s brethren of Forest fans in long reads for the week, with exactly the problem we pinpointed in our pre-season preview about too many executives spoiling the broth high on the agenda, and much-vaunted Barnsley CEO Dane Murphy already said to be close to walking away himself after an “eye-opening” first few months in the job. An exciting January transfer window lies ahead as their nineteenth permanent or temporary manager in the last ten years gets his feet under the desk and his name chalked up on the door. Brave/desperate man whoever takes that one on.

The East Midlands’ other crisis club, Wayne Rooney’s Derby County, are said to be close to “agreeing” a nine point deduction, with a further three suspended, for an unspecified number of their litany of historic disciplinary charges – this is how governance of the EFL works remember. That would put them bottom, though only three points behind Forest on -2 it must be said and that could be improved further if they can continue a surprisingly stubborn start to the season with a result at home to early highflyers Stoke. The bin fire got a surprise point at West Brom during the week, killing the game stone-dead with a 0-0 draw and xG of 0.1, and although the Baggies are trucking along nicely in second, unbeaten with 15 points, there are the first mumblings about Valerian Ismael’s rudimentary style of football after one narrow win at Peterborough in the last four matches. This, remember, a club that has suffered Sam Allardyce, Tony Pulis and Gary Megson in the not so distant past. They’re at Preston Knob End tomorrow.

PNE’s last gasp equaliser at Bramall Lane during the midweek round prevented Sheffield Red Stripe making it two from two after finally getting off the mark with a big win against Peterborough last weekend. They go again in the early game against another newly promoted struggler, Allam Tigers, while the third of the League One alum, Blackpool, get their date away on The Fourteenth Annual Neil Warnock Farewell Tour. No goals in nine hours for Hull now by the way – Josh Maggennis used to be a goalkeeper you know. Bournemouth are the only side apart from West Brom unbeaten so far, they’re at Cardiff, while league leaders Tarquin and Rupert should be able to dispatch Reading at home with a minimum of fuss. Peterborough, meanwhile, try and escape that sinking feeling with a home game against in form Birmingham.

Barnsley v Blackburn is this week’s exciting fixture between two teams beginning with B, Lutown are hosting Swanselona, and The Marxist Hunters are back out on the prowl for any extreme left wingers among Coventry City’s free thinking band of Brit haters.

Referee: Blackpool official Leigh Doughty was promoted onto the Championship list last season in just his second year as an EFL referee, the fourth promotion in as many years for the 31-year-old Blackpool PE teacher. This is his first QPR appointment although Bristol City won’t have fond memories of him awarding Barnsley a last minute penalty in their 2-2 draw at Oakwell last season. Details.

Form

QPR: The defeat at Bournemouth during the week ended several runs, but continued some others. An unbeaten start to the season halted at eight games, the club’s best record since 1975/76. An unbeaten sequence of five consecutive wins, the club’s best since 1927/28, and a draw at Reading also now halted. And a first defeat in any competition since Norwich here in April, some 11 matches ago. But QPR did score for the twentieth consecutive game, and were within a whisker of rescuing a seventh point from losing positions already this season and completing a third comeback from two goals down already. The Dubious Goals Panel (love to sit on this) has now credited Dominic Ball with QPR’s opening goal at Reading last week, that originally went down as an own goal by Michael Morrison. That means QPR’s 15 goals scored (second only to Fulham’s 17) so far are spready around ten different players – a league high. Rangers have won two and drawn two at Loftus Road so far, winning the last two matches here 2-0 against Oxford and Coventry.

Bristol City: Beware, perhaps, Bristol City. Had their home matches with Blackpool and Luton been a minute shorter they’d have four more points on the board and sit above us in the table with 13. Last second equalisers in both have extended a winless run at Ashton Gate to 14 matches stretching back into last season and including our 2-0 win there in March. They were winless in the last ten games of 2020/21, with just three draws, and won just three of their final 22 games in all comps, losing 16. Some signs of life on the road this campaign though, with two wins from their last two away games 3-2 at Reading and 2-1 at Cardiff City. They’ve lost just two of their eight games so far, 2-1 at Boro and 1-0 at home to Swansea. They finished eighteenth in last year’s Championship but their total of eight away wins was easily the best in the bottom ten, more than Reading in seventh and Boro in tenth, and equal with QPR in ninth. A 0-0 draw with Preston at home last Saturday is their only clean sheet so far. It may have been against the run of play, but last season’s 2-1 City win on this ground was their fifth trip to Loftus Road without a defeat, a run that includes three wins and a 3-3 draw in the League Cup which QPR did then triumph in on penalties. Andy Weimann top scores for City so far with four, and is only behind John Swift, Mitrovic and Dominic Solanke in the divisional stakes. He missed both meetings with QPR last year injured but has scored five goals in his last ten appearances against the R’s across spells with Villa, Derby and Bristol City. Nahki Wells has struggled to hit his QPR heights since his big money move to Ashton Gate a year and a half ago (15 goals in 72 appearances compared to 24 in 72 for Rangers) but his goal on this ground last year was the fourth goal he’s scored against us in eight appearances for Bristol City and Huddersfield.

Prediction: We’re indebted to The Art of Football for once again 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 QPR collection here. Here’s last year’s champion Mick_S and his thoughts on Bristol City…

“Again, so tricky to call. If we stay tight, we can win this. Bristol, as yet, aren’t doing too much, and if we can keep the defensive errors down, I think it’s there for us. The lads that have been away on international work should be a bit more relaxed now, so I’m going for a 2-1 Rangers, Willock to score first.”

Mick’s Prediction: QPR 2-1 Bristol City. Scorer – Chris Willock

LFW’s Prediction: QPR 2-0 Bristol City. Scorer – Andre Gray

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Burnleyhoop added 10:50 - Sep 18
Must admit I am becoming a little concerned with our starting line up. Dykes looks isolated up front with only minimal service coming from Chair, Willock and our supposed attacking wing backs.
The early press from opposing teams is also overloading our midfield with the limited Ball and non defensive pair of Chair and Willock unable to cope.
Our strategy appears to require the opposition to burn themselves out with the press and them hit them with our subs. Unfortunately, we keep finding ourselves behind and having to recover from losing positions. This can’t continue. Bristol are another team that applies the high press, so we must adapt our strategy and line up to keep it tight and avoid conceding early.
Love this team and it’s determination, but we have been rumbled and are starting to slide. Will be interesting to see if Warbs takes a slightly different approach for this game.
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TacticalR added 11:30 - Sep 18
Thanks for your preview.

City's travails last season were a bit unexpected as they were considered Championship regulars but it sounds like things eventually stagnated under Lee Johnson.

On paper this looks a good fixture to get us back on track after defeat at Bournemouth, but that's a useful warning about Bristol City being above us if they'd managed to see out those games against Blackpool and Luton. It's also a warning that they have beaten Cardiff and Reading away this season.
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