|Queens Park Rangers 2 v 0 Birmingham City|
Tuesday, 28th September 2021 Kick-off 19:45
Chair's redemption double dose gets QPR back on the horse - Report
Wednesday, 29th Sep 2021 17:37 by Clive Whittingham
QPR snapped a three-game losing run in the league and avoided a fourth consecutive loss for the first time under Mark Warburton, as Ilias Chair scored twice to down Birmingham at Loftus Road on Tuesday night.
Some points of interest from the Championship table at this point, ten games in, last season. Reading are four points clear at the top – they do not make the play-offs come May. Swansea are second – they are not promoted. Middlesbrough are sixth – their season is over in early March. Bristol City are seventh, level on points with fifth and sixth – they win three of their final 23 games. Brentford are tenth – they’ve already beaten Arsenal and Wolves and given Liverpool the rounds of the kitchen in this year’s Premier League. Barnsley are nineteenth – they will contest a play-off semi-final with Swansea. Derby are adrift at the bottom of the table and about to move onto a second manager – they survive. Coventry have won twice and are bang in trouble – they will finish lower midtable and set the early pace in 21/22.
It’s September. It’s the Championship. It’s the economy, stupid. Had Queens Park Rangers kept their foot on Bristol City’s throat when they really should have done here a fortnight ago then they’d now be fourth, with two narrow defeats away from home to the top two in the league that both could easily have gone the other way. This with several key players missing from the team through injury. And yet, for all that, Tuesday night’s 2-0 home win against Birmingham City felt like an important one. Not for any nascent league tables, because as said they’re irrelevant at this point. Nor because following three narrow and unlucky defeats with a fourth necessarily holes you below the waterline this early into a season, because it doesn’t. But because for the first time in months, possibly the first time since Charlie Austin walked back through our door in early January, this did not look, feel and sound like a confident QPR team and crowd in the opening stages of the game.
Rangers hadn’t beaten Birmingham on this ground in their last three attempts and the first agenda item was exactly what form the destructor would take. The Blues have won at Sheffield United, and 5-0 at Luton, but also lost 3-0 to Peterborough and 4-1 at home to Fulham, with a couple of 0-0 draws chucked in for good measure. Manager Lee Bowyer (Sitts you’re too intense) was trying to turn around a winless run of three games of his own and adopted that sly Jonathan Woodgate tactic of making out like there’d been some sort of bubonic plague blow through their training ground killing his entire squad to death and leaving him no option but to select the grieving wives of the departed players alongside a smattering of excellent young boys from the club’s youth team, only for them all to then – SHOCK AND INDEED HORROR – rise from the grave and turn up in the starting 11. Ryan Woods was in midfield after all – floodlights turned down especially for his complexion. Long thrower Marc Roberts - still on that five-year Harry Redknapp contract and now one of the five richest kings of Europe - was here as well. Carlos Valderrama at the back, Shirley Temple in midfield and Jabba the Hutt up front. Honestly, knock me down with a feather. Who would have thought it? Never saw it coming. This sort of sixth grade drama module 1.1 stuff, like the pantomime of a flat roof theatre in Newcastle-Under-Lyme starring somebody who might once have been in Neighbours, counts as “mind games” in this dog league.
QPR went in without talismanic captain Stefan Johansen, central defensive enforcer Jordy De Wijs, lovely cardiganed Sam Field, Captain of Glasgow Rangers Lee Wallace and Captain of Glasgow Rangers Lee Wallace’s direct replacement Sam McCallum. Cabinet reshuffle. Chrissy Willock trusted to do a job at left wing back, did so much more than that. Yoann Barbet back into the three centre half formation after a little adventure wide left at West Brom on Friday, with Jimmy Dunne shifted into the ‘if it moves boot it’ De Wijs role. Andre Dozzell carried the flag of Norway for the evening. Lyndon Dykes and Charlie Austin led the line from the top. Eric Sandham gave the reading. Sandra Sandham brought the flowers. Eric Pack led the worship.
And, initially, trouble at mill. QPR looked nervous and tentative. Passes, simple passes, went astray and askew. They found the front row of the Ellerslie Road stand a hell of a lot for a professional football team. Dom Ball had a mad half hour, passing the ball to Birmingham players more than most of the Birmingham players did themselves. Any attempts to spark rhythm and tempo in their play, or passion and noise from the crowd, disrupted by Troy Deeney convening a refereeing committee to discuss each decision made in turn, and any Birmingham throw in awarded this side of the Westway putting the match on hold so Roberts could walk forward from centre back, direct the nine other outfield players to the precise position he wanted them in, select a football inflated to a pressure of his liking, find the only dry towel left in the W12 postcode through a biblical deluge, perform the frankly impossible task of getting the ball bone dry amidst an apocalyptic monsoon, fashion a run up through this stadium’s close quarters, and then finally heave the ball off into the night sky. What you don’t need in these circumstances is a referee being particularly pedantic about the placement of everything, and what we got was Michael Salisbury. Already slowed to a crawl, had Birmingham taken the lead this game would have been tumour inducing.
They really should have done. Seny Dieng, perhaps betraying his mood after Friday’s Hawthorns aberration, nervously palmed over an inswinging cross from Roberts after the long throw palaver had resulted in a clearance straight back to him. Just after the quarter hour a lovely reverse pass from Bela got Scott Hogan in behind the QPR defence and although Moses Odubajo got back and recovered well the situation remained critical, the ball was hung up to the back post and returned and Man Utd loanee Tahith Chong chucked himself at a diving header from six yards out that should have been a goal for all money but somehow wasn’t even on target and landed in the grateful arms of Dieng who shouldn’t even have been in the equation. When Ball handed possession over to the visitors for a fifth time in quick succession a low cross flashed through the area without referee Deeney able to get a toe to it and convert.
A very different game, night, atmosphere, outcome and feeling if any of that goes in. Instead, Rangers grew from humble beginnings. Ilias Chair began to exert influence, getting Odubajo into the penalty area down the right side only for him to lose footing on the slippery surface as he cut infield. Chair then got in round the back on the opposite flank thanks to a lovely ball from Yoann Barbet, making a 71st consecutive league appearance, and his cutback was plum for Austin who should have scored rather than give Sarkic the chance to save. A goal wasn’t long in the offing. Call the print hall, it’s a stop, they won’t like it but Moses Odubajo has finally taken on a man for pace down the outside without cutting in prematurely. Front page stuff. The cross provoked panic. Lyndon Dykes and Harlee Dean, a man you can hear thinking, clashed on the edge of the box. The ball ran free to Chair and he shot powerfully into the net, possibly via a slight deflection in front of the keeper though Sarkic’s body shape and attempted save was worthy of a university dissertation.
Before half time Chair had cut a ball back for Austin to have a low drive that was well blocked. On another occasion he probably should have set up Dykes in the six yard box. He was, though, the game’s outstanding player, showing what absolute rot the online reaction to a rare off night at West Brom really was. This boy is a gem to be treasured.
A very wet gem. The weather, kindly described as unpleasant in the first half, progressed to IT’S THE END OF THE FUCKING WORLD in the second. I haven’t seen this much fluid hencing forth since British football’s press pack heard Cristiano Ronaldo was returning to these shores. There’s nothing football fans like more than reminiscing about times they’ve been particularly cold or wet at a game, and so the match became a secondary attraction to misty eyed recollections of that final day of the season at Grimsby, or that League Cup tie with Barnet when Bradley Allen got a hat trick, or that dark day on the open bank behind the goal at Swindon, or that Good Friday night up at Sunderland. You think this is rain? Let me tell you about proper rain. That’s not a knife. That’s a knife. Rudely interrupting, Ilias Chair, who I thought would perhaps have benefited from a set of armbands for the second half, almost scored with the first attack and then Odubajo allowed a cross to come over too easily and Bright Osayi-Samuel’s favourite victim Maxime Colin headed over at the far post – one of six former Brentford players on the pitch by the way.
There was a prolonged stoppage for a dislocated fucking thumb, an injury which clearly prohibits walking ten yards to the touchline for treatment; a yellow card for Dozzell for a deliberate foul; and a shot over by Lukas Jutkiewicz who’d come on for Deeney in time for him to make last orders at Nando’s. No indication yet as to the cup final status or otherwise of this fixture. The game could easily have descended into one of those nailbiting cliffhangers which QPR are, frankly, not very good at. Instead, they grew to dominate. No sign of the earlier nerves as they pressed forcefully for a second goal: Dykes flicked on for Chair who dragged wide; Dunne, up for a free kick, almost chested Dickie in on goal (those two were brilliant all night) and then flicked a Chris Willock cross wide when the ball returned to the area; Willock, whose attitude and application to playing out of position and doing a job for his team was absolutely exemplary, rode through two cyncical attempts to chop him down (Dozzell perhaps head of the queue wondering why Salisbury wasn’t as keen to return to those with a card after the move played out) and set up Charlie Austin for a powerful shot over the bar. It was coming, and when Lyndon Dykes rather brilliantly brought the ball down under pressure and played a cute through ball while falling off balance Chair was in behind a leaden-footed visiting defence to finish calmly for two nil.
It had been QPR’s best period of the game, and it had resulted in the second goal they’d so desperately needed when bumming Bristol City in the gob in the last home match. Substitutions followed that didn’t really help – Andre Gray picking up the lease on Macauley Bonne’s old place in Offsideville – but Birmingham were spent. A late drag across the face of goal from Chuks Aneke as much as they could muster. Sunjic’s hit a 25 yarder so far over the bar some poor bastard in air traffic control at Heathrow shit a large brick. They would finish without a shot on target in the game. Yoann Barbet’s elaborate (because of course) attempt to chip Ilias Chair in at a direct free kick was halted with an indirect free kick the other way because, I think, Chair was too close to the defensive wall.
A later Barbet Diag™ was much more like it, getting Gray in and onside for once so he could tee up Chair whose backflick wasn’t a million miles away from being a first senior hat trick. Albert Adomah, who’d added life to the right side off the bench as always, found the side netting with a late effort. Luke Amos’ skilful and energetic half hour cameo tightened the midfield, hassled and harried Birmingham in possession high up the field, and was an important part of a third clean sheet of the league season.
Big result, big performance, big response, big weather, and little Ilias - write that guy off at your peril
QPR: Dieng 6; Odubajo 6, Dickie 7, Dunne 7, Barbet 6, Willock 7; Ball 6, Dozzell 6 (Amos 63, 7), Chair 8; Austin 6 (Gray 72, 5), Dykes 6 (Adomah 72, 7)
Subs not used: Kakay, De Wijs, Thomas, Walsh
Goals: Chair 34 (assisted Odubajo), 64 (assisted Dykes)
Bookings: Dozzell 54 (foul)
Birmingham: Sarkic 5; Colin 6, Roberts 6 (McGree 71, 6), Dean 6, Sanderson 6, Bela 7; Woods 6, Sunjic 5, Chong 5; Hogan 6 (Aneke 71, 5), Deeney 4 (Jutkiewicz 56, 6)
Subs not used: Friend, Graham, Trueman, Chang
Bookings: Sunjic 86 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Ilias Chair 8 Sorry, what was that you were saying?
Referee – Troy Deeney (Birmingham) 6 I felt Michael Salisbury allowed himself to be worked over. Prior to QPR taking the lead the amount of time the game was stopped so Scott Hogan and Troy Deeney could engage him in a prolonged conference became a bit of a farce – but on almost every occasion a soft appeasement decision for some nondescript pushing offence or non-existent handball followed, rewarding them for the action. Andre Dozzell was rightly booked for a cynical, tactical foul but when Chris Willock managed to ride through two deliberate hacked attempts to bring him down there wasn’t so much as a word on the run for either player once the move had played out. The rules around time wasting were completely suspended for Marc Roberts’ long throw routine – one to bear in mind when Sam McCallum is back in the team and we’re defending a lead in the future, apparently you’re allowed to spend up to a minute fannying around cleaning the ball and marking a run up out as long as the resulting throw is impressively long enough. Allowing the game to be stopped for another ridiculous length of time so a Birmingham player could have his thumb put back into place, not ten feet away from a touchline, was another example of how a weak referee allowed himself to be played. The only thing he was really hot on was the maddening insistence on everything being taken from exactly the right blade of grass. If Birmingham had taken the lead when they should have done, this game would have descended into the father of all ball aches, and this mark would undoubtedly have gone lower still. It’s only as high as it is because he was very good at spotting and ignoring a number of obvious dives – Chong and Austin particularly guilty, potentially Moses as well although I felt that was a slip.
Attendance 12,257 (1,600 Birmingham approx.) First time this season I’ve been slightly underwhelmed by the atmosphere at a QPR game. Admittedly everybody was drenched through and it was a smaller midweek crowd, but often those can be the best nights under the lights here as Alex McLeish’s Birmingham found out in the snow a few years back. Might be reading too much into it but I just felt, particularly to start with when passes were going astray, that it was the first sign of nerves and anxiety in an expectant crowd this season. Big result for more reasons than one.
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