|Birmingham City 1 v 2 Queens Park Rangers|
Sunday, 2nd January 2022 Kick-off 14:00
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Saturday, 1st Jan 2022 19:47 by Clive Whittingham
A hard fought win from a poor performance at Bristol City on Thursday rounded out a great 2021 for QPR, and they'd absolutely take exactly the same again from the first game of 2022 tomorrow at Birmingham.
Birmingham (7-6-10 17th) v QPR (11-5-7 WWWLLW 7th)
Mercantile Credit Trophy >>> Sunday January 2, 2022 >>> Kick Off 14.00 >>> Weather – Damp, breezy >>> St Andrew’s, Birmingham
Rangers managed to sneak a final win of the calendar year in under the wire at Bristol City on Thursday night thanks to Yoann Barbet’s last-gasp winner. Rangers won 26 Championship games in 2021, drew seven and lost 14. Barbet’s strike joins injury time goals from Charlie Austin against Barnsley, Stefan Johansen at Reading and Andre Gray at Reading for a gain of six points this season, and Albert Adomah against Luton and Watford, Lyndon Dykes against Swansea, Chris Willock against Sheff Wed and Macauley Bonne at Luton in the second half of last season. There was also a Jordy De Wijs winner against Millwall four minutes from time. Leaving games involving this QPR team early is ill-advised, they go to the end.
Only Norwich and Watford won more games in the second half of 2020/21 than QPR’s 15 and with them promoted to the Premier League no other Championship team won more than our 26 across the year. We have the best points-per-game ration in the division, and are behind only the seven teams you’d expect from the Premier League and Oxford across all four divisions. Our 26-7-14 record is bettered only by Bournemouth’s 26-10-14, and they’ve played three games more than we have. The 85 points we took across the 12 months and 47 league games would have been enough for a play off place every season since the 1992/93 split, and automatic promotion in 2019/20, 2012/13, 2010/11, 2008/09, 2007/08, 1996/97, 1995/96, 1994/95 and 1993/94.
Of course you could say it’s all rather typical of QPR to do that over a January-December period straddling two seasons, rather than an August-May football year. There is some fear, given how well we were playing through March, April, May, July and August, and then how lacklustre we were against first Stoke and Bournemouth and then again at Bristol City, despite the result, that we may have peaked at the wrong time. Compare, for instance, just how dominant and slick we looked in the 2-0 at Ashton Gate last season with our performance on Thursday which, however hilarious the outcome, was a long way shy of our best. Several other clubs, notably Blackburn and Middlesbrough, but also Forest, Huddersfield and maybe Sheff Utd to certain extents, all getting their act together at once has the professional pessimists indulging in their favourite pastime.
QPR don’t win many promotions, and if they are to go on and get one this time it would in many ways mirror the Ian Holloway team of 2003/04 which came up from the Second Division behind Plymouth after winning its final two matches against Swindon and Sheff Wed to hold off a challenge from Bristol City. That team, like this one, started their run the previous season after a dire autumn when it looked like the manager might be replaced. Mark Warburton approached the end of 2020, like Ian Holloway did 2002, without a win in 11 matches. The arrival of QPR favourites, Lee Cook back then and Charlie Austin more recently, helped galvanise both teams at the turn of the year. Holloway’s team won one, lost one, then won four in a row to get going. Warburton’s men won two, lost one, and then won four in a row themselves. Both sides won 15 times in the second half of their seasons, Holloway’s side then started the following campaign with 12 wins through to New Year and Warburton’s version has 11. The class of 2003/04 wobbled slightly through the winter, losing at Oldham, Bournemouth and Chesterfield, scraping a win at Blackpool only through Chris Day’s remarkable heroics in goal, and the present day lot also now have a couple of defeats (including one against Bournemouth) and a scraped away win on their card. Ollie’s lot won just ten games through the second half of the season, but with a host of draws and City’s choke, that was enough.
Then there’s that old football cliché about it being a sign of a good team to play poorly and win regardless. You’re obviously never going to play well every week and while that Ian Holloway team produced some sparkling displays at home to Plymouth, Blackpool and Barnsley, there were also some absolute grinds for three points at Wrexham, Blackpool and particularly the Eric Sabin-themed Grimsby awayday. Likewise Neil Warnock’s 2010/11 heroes were capable of shining brightly in a 4-0 home win against Swansea or 3-0 away successes at Sheff Utd and Ipswich, but they also got a 1-0 win at Barnsley where they only got out of their half once all night, a 1-0 at Reading with ten men, a last minute 1-0 at home to Leicester and so on. This team, too, particularly at Bristol the other night, has shown it is capable of winning both ways.
I think that’s particularly important at the moment. There are Covid and injury issues which mean Rangers only had four outfield subs at Ashton Gate. All three of the changes we made in the Bournemouth game were injury and fitness related rather than tactical. Three more players are about to leave for anything up to six weeks in the African Cup of Nations. Games are being postponed all over the show so getting fixtures played whenever you can, and picking up enough results to stay in touch, however you can, really is the name of the game at the moment. As I said in the week, don’t worry if it’s a walk or a hit at the moment, whether it looks pretty or not, just get the game played and get the result by hook or crook.
QPR already have two games in hand, away at Sheff Utd and at home to Swansea. With the Swansea game now booked in for the end of January it’s worth saying at this point there are only ten more available midweek slots between now and the end of the season, with Sheff Utd to take up one of those. Should either us or Millwall win in the FA Cup next week then our meeting on February 4 would have to go in one of those, and should we make the fifth round there's another midweek slot gone in the first week of March. I know that’s a little bit ‘if my gran had wheels she’d be a bike’ but Swansea haven’t played since December 11 and are off again this weekend against Fulham leaving them with five new dates to find, and potentially seven if they progress in the cup. You do not want to be in this position. Billy Davies’ Nottingham Forest waved their three games in hand around at Neil Warnock’s QPR like it was the biggest dick in porn, won none of them, and crashed in the play-offs. Everybody accused Rotherham of picking and choosing when they played last season, and assumed they’d stay up because at various points they had five or six matches in hand over fairly crap Birmingham and Coventry teams, as well as home games with Birmingham and Coventry, and in the end the task of trying to play them all in such a short period of time proved overwhelming – ultimately the only one they did win was against our silly lot.
I think there’s going to be a lot more games like our last two against Bournemouth and Bristol City to come in the next few weeks. It’s not a sign of crisis, or a downturn, or anything to get upset and worried about, necessarily. It’s just a sign of the circumstances. Some January additions may help, but I’m hoping I’ve seen enough over the last 12 months to think this team’s got plenty left in it yet.
One of the worst performances of 2021 was at Birmingham, where even leading 1-0 late in the game QPR had played poorly, talking themselves into a grim long ball tactic because the playing surface was so bad, and eventually lost to two late goals against a team that didn’t even want to win themselves, so desperate were the players to be rid of friend-of-the-site Aitor Karanka. It would be nice to pay them back for that with a handsome win tomorrow but, frankly, at this point I don’t care if it looks like Niko Kranjcar or Iain Dowie.
Links >>> League Cup semi – History >>> Hard slog – Interview >>> Donohue in charge – Referee >>> Birmingham City official website >>> St Andrew’s – Ground Guide >>> Small Heath Alliance – Message Board >>> We Are Birmingham – Podcast >>> Birmingham Mail – Local Press
Below the fold
Team News: The signing of Steve Cook from Bournemouth continues to be linked, though Nottingham Forest are naturally trying to hijack that one, and stories are now emerging from Bristol that City’s Kasey Palmer could also be heading our way in a cut price deal as they start to eat into the monstrous wage bill they’ve built up at Ashton Gate – he was left out of the matchday squad for our win there on Thursday. Neither, however, are through the door in time to be involved here. Ilias Chair missed out on Thursday with a bruised calf and is now racing to be fit for this one, which was already his last game for the AFCON. Osman Kakay and Seny Dieng are also available for the final time before flying out. Andre Dozzell is back available after his one match ban.
Birmingham have a big, physical forward line with Troy Deeney, Lukas Jutkiewicz and Scott Hogan to pick from, but craft and guile to support that has been in short supply since early season hit Tahith Chong got injured in a win against Swansea in October. Riley McGree has done a reasonable job of replacing him as the creative force in the team, but his complicated loan deal is now over so he can’t play here either. Australian-born McGree joined MLS expansion side Charlotte 18 months ago but has been on loan with Birmingham ever since while that team is set up, they’re finally now keen for him to join them ahead of the MLS starting in the New Year and he’s on his way over there now. Brum haven’t played since a 4-0 loss at Blackburn on December 18 owing to Covid postponements, and have been training with a bare ten players topped up by youngsters including Jobe Bellingham. Scott Hogan was due to train today after ten days laid low by the virus, he’ll race against time to be ready for the game tomorrow. Brum have finally got Marc Roberts off that five year contract Harry Redknapp gave him, a new deal signed at the start of December, but he’s out here having strained a bicep lifting his wallet. Maxime Colin, Jeremie Bela and perennial QPR scourge Ryan Woods are all in line for recalls after the 4-0 loss at Ewood Park.
Elsewhere: Blackpool scraped a 1-0 win against Allam Tigers (probably the last time we’ll be able to call them that with that particularly malignant tumour finally being removed with a Turkish takeover next week) in the only game that took place on New Year’s Day. City’s four wins in a row through October has now drained off into two draws and two defeats in their last four games. Sheff Utd v Boro, which would have seen a couple of QPR’s play off rivals taking points from each other, was off today along with faltering Coventry v Lutown.
There are four games tomorrow and as it stands all of them are currently going ahead, staring with Bristol City’s inspection from The Marxist Hunters at 13.00. Joining us in the 14.00 slot is another one of those “well they can’t both win can they?” clashes between Blackburn who are flying in third, and Sporting Huddersfield who are sixth. Six wins in a row for Rovers, three for Huddersfield. Just two wins in eight for West Brom but Daryl Dike on his way in to sign for them once they’ve got a homer with Cardiff out of the way tomorrow – he made such a difference to Valerian Ismael’s Barnsley side last season when he joined from Orlando and Ismael’s new team have gone all out with a deal to beat out competition for his signature from several teams around Europe. You can get Cardiff as long as 7/1 for a win there as the early flurry of Steve Morison excitement has, rather predictably, flopped into one win and three defeats from five games. He was winning friends and influencing people post midweek hammering at Bournemouth…
There are then another four games on Monday with Nottingham Florist, already lining up their latest seven or eight through the door with Middlesbrough’s Djed Spence already done, Keinan Davis from Villa not far behind him, and Steve Cook (because of course) also being linked there. One defeat in 16 has given way to two defeats to nil, meaning we’re only another two away from a deep dive in The Athletic outlining where it’s all gone wrong for them this time. Annoyingly, it’s only hapless Barnsley at the City Ground on Monday which is as near to a gimme as you get in this league at the moment. The Tykes now so bad they risk being overtaken by Wayne Rooney’s Derby County, just four points away now despite having 21 taken off, and a very winnable game at Reading who look very much like they’re going to do their usual thing of skating along the top of the bottom three all winter and then get some spawney result sometime in April that nudges them safe. Stoke, now one win in five (bastards) host Preston Knob End and then go straight to Barnsley on Wednesday. Bournemouth v Peterborough is off as is Swanselona, who haven’t played since December 11, against Tarquin and Rupert.
Referee: David Webb was down for this one but appears to have been replaced by Matt Donohue. Going to be a lot of this around at the moment for obvious reasons. Referee.
Birmingham: After three consecutive wins at the end of October it’s been a poor winter for Birmingham, with a scrappy late 1-0 at home to Blackpool their only victory in the last seven games. That run culminated in a 4-0 loss at in form Blackburn last time out on December 18, meaning the Blues have conceded 13 goals across those seven games and scored just four of their own, firing blanks in four of those seven games. Only the bottom three and Hull have scored fewer than Birmingham’s 22 goals. They have, however, only lost one of their last five home games with three wins against Swansea, Bristol City and Blackpool. Overall they’re 4-3-4 at home with Reading, Forest, Fulham and Bournemouth the victorious sides. Scott Hogan is top scorer with six.
QPR: Rangers lost four away games in a row through September and October at Bournemouth, Fulham, West Brom and Peterborough. That ended a record of eight away matches without a defeat which began towards the end of 2020/21. Since the loss at London Road, however, Mark Warburton’s side has quietly been building up another run on the road, culminating in Thursday’s win at Bristol City – now unbeaten in four with three wins. Two of those victories, at Derby and Bristol City, came after going behind early in the game, moving Rangers to a league-leading 15 points recovered from winning positions this season. They were also the latest examples of Rangers coming on strong in the second half of games – only Blackburn have a better second half record than QPR so far this season. Goals from Charlie Austin and Yoann Barbet at Ashton Gate made it 19 consecutive away league games scoring at least once, just shy of the 22-game club record set in 2000. It was also QPR’s first win in December in 15 attempts, the previous one coming at Birmingham in 2019 with that Bright Osayi-Samuel goal. Only the top three have scored more than QPR’s 35 goals and four of those have now come in injury time for a gain of six points against Barnsley H, Reading A, Derby A and Bristol City A.
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. Congratulations to DerbyHoop for topping the table at Christmas and taking the first prize of the season. Here’s last year’s champion Mick_S and his thoughts on Birmingham …
“I’m still finding us confusing but great fun. On the back of the Bristol win, I’m going for another awayday victory so I’ll have a go at 1-2 to us with someone who may or may not be injured to score; so it’s Willock for our first. I believe we are taking a few up to the Midlands so let’s all hope the team do us proud.”
Mick’s Prediction: Birmingham 1-2 QPR. Scorer – Chris Willock
LFW’s Prediction: Birmingham 0-2 QPR. Scorer – Lyndon Dykes
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When Saturday Comes #23 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes, and the U’s have a new management team in charge for a tough trip to Salford. Football is a results business, and sadly Hayden Mullins and his assistant Alex Dyer couldn’t deliver those results on the pitch. Yes they’ve had some tough breaks when luck and competent officials have just completely deserted them, but bottom line is we haven’t been good enough, and it was the right call by Robbie Cowling to no doubt reluctantly let them go after seven defeats in the last eight games, our solitary point a dour 0-0 at Bradford City.
When Saturday Comes #22 by wessex_exile
It’s the 15th of January, and still the U’s are attempting to play their first home match of 2022. Weather looks good (check), players have returned from injury (check), no on-day Covid testing to get in the way (check), so barring fire famine or flood, I reckon we must have at least a 50:50 chance of a game at the JobServe this afternoon. Whether it’ll be three much-needed points or not, and if you’ll pardon the pun, I at least did see green shoots at the New Lawn on Tuesday. We still lost, and the table doesn’t lie, but definitely signs to encourage me that whilst it’s not going to be a comfortable journey, we’ll be alright by May.
When Saturday Comes #21 by wessex_exile
Here we are then, what should have been the first home game of 2022, and I discover seconds before posting this that the game is called off because of a waterlogged pitch. Having gone to the trouble of writing this, even though we’re not playing I’m going to post it anyway – it’s not like you’ve got anything else to do this afternoon.
When Saturday Comes #20 by wessex_exile
Finally, When Saturday Comes…and the U’s (for now at least) have a match to play. Mind you, I’m writing this on Friday afternoon, so there’s still time yet for yet another Covid/ injury postponement, I guess. I certainly hope not, as I’m planning on heading over to Crawley for this one. Mind you, now that the EFL have decreed there will be no on the day testing to eliminate the possibility of last-minute cancellations, I think I’ll defer buying a train ticket until this evening. Needless to say, a repeat of our last visit to Broadfield (The People’s Pension Stadium under the terms of a sponsorship deal) would do very nicely indeed.
When Saturday Comes #19 by wessex_exile
When Saturday Comes…and the U’s find themselves fixtureless again, following Hartlepool’s request to postpone the game because of positive Covid tests amongst their squad. To heap further fixture congestion problems on the U’s, in short order Forest Green Rovers did likewise for our already rearranged match at the New Lawn on Tuesday night, and for the same reason. They’re not on their own either, with in all (so far) four Premier League and 19 EFL matches postponed today – all for positive Covid tests in their squads.
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