|Birmingham City 1 v 2 Queens Park Rangers|
Sunday, 2nd January 2022 Kick-off 14:00
Willock brilliance brings QPR home on the road again - Report
Monday, 3rd Jan 2022 13:08 by Clive Whittingham
Not exactly one for the purists, but more brilliance from Chris Willock was enough to get QPR over the line for a fourth away win in five trips and move them back into the play-off places at Birmingham on Sunday.
Got the game played, got the game won. In the current climate and circumstances, that really is the beginning, middle and end for Queens Park Rangers. Find a way to win, and get the hell out of there.
The bit where Chef Gordon tastes the food and immediately identifies it’s been frozen and microwaved; the bit where Chef Gordon inspects the walk-in and finds an open jar of mayonnaise from 1964 stewing at a balmy 23 degrees; the bit where we consider whether this is the most stubborn owner Chef Gordon has ever met; the bit where Chef Gordon simplifies the menu using fresh, local, seasonal ingredients (is there a burger? You best fucking believe it.); the bit where there’s a complication on relaunch night (of all fucking nights, not tonight, Jesus Christ); and the bit where it all turns out ok in the end… Give a shit. Is the restaurant still open or not, yes or no? I do not need to see your working out at the moment.
Was Sunday in ‘the second city’, at times, immensely frustrating? Of course. Birmingham, who have suffered from the loss of Man Utd starlet Tahith Chong to injury and have now lost his makeshift replacement Riley McGree to an ill-timed end of his loan deal, were just about as bad as you’ll ever see a Championship team be. Obviously low on confidence with one win from seven and a 4-0 loss at Blackburn last time out, I can rarely recall a team kicking the ball straight out of play while trying to complete a pass quite as often as this. They had two 17-year-olds in the team, Jordan James and George Hall, with the latter making a full debut, and three teenagers on the bench without a league appearance between them, including Jude Bellingham’s 16-year-old brother Jobe. Other letters are available. You couldn’t help but feel bad for 21-year-old left wing back Juan Castillo, the obligatory Chelsea loanee who looked like he’d won his first league start in a competition in the local paper and whose half time substitution was more mercy killing than tactical, but he was far from alone. Experienced players who those kids needed to help them out were mostly woeful: Ivan Sunjic taking brief time out from constantly giving the ball away to launch into a horrible late tackle designed to injure Yoann Barbet which was the thickest of thick yellow cards from stand in referee Matt Donohue; Troy Deeney about as mobile as The Royal and Ancient Golf Club of St Andrew’s, and almost as wide; Gary Gardner with his boots on the wrong way round. Goalkeeper Martija Sarkic, attempting to throw the ball out to get a final attack going in injury time, inadvertently amputated his own arm, which rather summed the whole thing up. Springfield Isotopes, I'll go and warm up the car. Lee Bowyer’s promise of improving the standard of football here feels a distant memory – QPR’s critics take note, improving your football, and your league position, while reducing your wage bill, is very bloody difficult to do.
QPR produced three moments of real, genuine quality in the entire match and with that had themselves two goals, that really should have been three. Chris Willock, charged in Ilias Chair’s absence with being the main man at ‘ten’ behind a physical front two of Lyndon Dykes and Andre Gray, looked in the mood for the task early and when he sauntered into acres of space on the quarter hour and teed up Lee Wallace perfectly the Scottish full-back’s low cross deflected its way to Albert Adomah. So often I’ve stood behind goals at Rangers matches and seen the gaping spot begging for one of our players to calmly slide the ball into only for it to be hacked high over the bar, but on this occasion Adomah’s composure was on point and he placed us calmly into a one goal lead and then celebrated as if he’d won the World Cup. The locals did not take kindly to this.
Twenty minutes from time Willock decided to do the whole thing himself, collecting the ball with his back to goal out wide on the QPR left he feigned to pass, turned into the space that created and then Bright Osayi-Samuel-style effortlessly glided his way around the final challenge before dispatching the ball around Sarkic and into the top corner. Soon after that a brilliant combination between Wallace – the spirit is willing but the flesh is spongy and bruised - and substitute Stefan Johansen had the Norwegian into exactly the same clear blue water that Willock had scored from, but his finish wasn’t as cute and Sarkic was able to save.
You couldn’t help but wonder what might happen if QPR got the ball down on the floor and passed and played as we know they can more often. Three occasions had nearly brought three goals, so if they could perhaps have done half a dozen more times they’d have been looking at, if not quite a cricket score, then certainly one of those cricket scores that England like to post. Instead they made very, very heavy weather of a lousy opponent, inviting them in with poor maintenance of possession and a lack of ability to make the ball stick up front. Insert all of the mitigating factors about Covid, fitness, injuries and AFCON here – Mark Warburton without his entire senior coaching staff this week, all of them off with the virus.
An early cross to the back post was intercepted by Adomah, but he then nearly kicked it against Castillo and into his own net. Deeney then nodded a similar delivery back for James to smash high over the bar. One from the other side deflected off Dickie into the path of Gardner who skewed probably the most presentable chance of the half horribly wide. At the start of the second half a series of generous looking calls from Donohue presented Brum with some attractive set pieces around the Rangers penalty area: what looked, I thought from the other end of the ground, like a perfectly fair tackle from Rob Dickie set up the first on the corner of the box which eventually worked its way to half time sub Ryan Woods whose chip behind required Deeney to move three yards to receive and was therefore out of reach; then a more obvious foul, again by Dickie who this time was booked, right in the centre of the goal 22 yards out, gave Deeney a chance to enact one of the strangest and most inept free kick routines I’ve ever seen – technically it hit the bottom of the wall, though for a long while it didn’t look like it would reach the wall at all.
I thought Sam Field played reasonably well, particularly first half, and his lung busting closing down in the final moments were a marginal gain worthy of note. Lovely Luke Amos nutmegged Sunjic so beautifully at one point that I could hear his little voice politely apologising for it from where I was standing. Probably didn’t sleep last night worrying about it. Dickie was back to something like his early season best with the ball – carrying it out of defence with confidence and causing panic in the oppo midfield. Apart from Brum’s superb centre half Dion Sanderson – recalled by Wolves straight after the game, Christ this lot really can’t catch a break – there really shouldn’t have been anything to worry about here and yet QPR kept inviting the monkeys in with their typewriters, and when you do that you run the risk of them at least accidentally penning an episode of Eldorado. This happened here last season, when Rangers led 1-0 without playing well, and ended up sucker punched in the last ten minutes. This time there was a big Barbet clearance right in front of Dieng just before Chuks Aneke (Chuks Aneke, fuck me) found enough space between a confused Dickie and Adomah to blast in his second goal of the season. If it wasn’t bad enough conceding a goal to Chuks Aneke (Jesus Christ), Rangers looked well capable of letting him do it again moments later when it seemed he’d turned in behind the final defender for a clear sight of the goal only for a rush of bodies to crowd out the situation – it looked, at least, like a corner, but Donohue kindly gave a goal kick.
Four minutes of stoppage time was dragging by anyway, even without Sarkic’s accident which looked bloody horrible and we wish him all the best with it. Birmingham finished with ten men, and without a goalkeeper at all – defender George Friend nominated to put the yellow jersey on, but not actually moving from his left centre back position. QPR, now with Austin on for Dykes but still with Dom Ball on the bench who I thought might have been useful for this, clung gamely on through to the ninety seventh minute and beyond.
The R's have won five and drawn one of their last eight visits to this ground. This one won't take up much disk space on the end of season review, but it's a fifth match unbeaten on the road now, four of those wins, and a maximum point haul from two awkward away games over Christmas. The mighty Rangers, we never win away – no more. QPR go back up to fifth ahead of a home game with faltering West Brom in a fortnight. Will they need to play better than this to get a positive result there, and move above the Baggies in the table for the first time this season? Absolutely. Do we care about that for now? Guys, check the reports or I’m going to point at Pete again.
Birmingham: Sarkic 6; Colin 5, Sanderson 7, Friend 6, Pedersen 5, Castillo 2 (Woods 46, 6); Gardner 4 (Aneke 67, 6), Sunjic 4, James 5; Deeney 3, Hall 5 (Hogan 85, -)
Subs not used: Etheridge, Bellingham, Walker, Campbell
Goals: Aneke 75 (assisted Colin)
Yellow cards: Sunjic 87 (foul)
QPR: Dieng 6; Adomah 7, Dickie 7, Dunne 8, Barbet 7, Wallace 6; Field 6, Amos 6, Willock 8; Dykes 5 (Austin 85, -), Gray 5 (Johansen 63, 6)
Subs not used: Kakay, Ball, Archer, Thomas
Goals: Adomah 14 (assisted Wallace), Willock 71 (unassisted)
Yellow Cards: Dickie 59 (foul), Amos 74 (foul), Field 87 (dissent)
QPR Star Man – Chris Willock 8 I nearly gave this to Jimmy Dunne, who was a tower of strength in the middle of the defence, is just going from strength to strength at the moment and looks like another fantastic signing, but Willock really looked in the mood to begin with culminating in the first goal, and although he faded in the second half the goal which won the game is truly outstanding so you can’t look much beyond him. Just one or two moments of late where he hasn’t tracked back when I felt he should have done, got a bit stroppy with team-mates when it didn’t go as he’d liked, been a bit mardy and stopped influencing things as he can, and there was some of all of that here in the middle portion of the game – but he’s the matchwinner for us on this occasion.
Referee – Matt Donohue (Manchester) 7 Not tooooooooooo bad overall. Veered from letting lots of stuff go, to clamping down harshly, and back again. Birmingham seemed to get some generous stuff to me in the second half, mostly (coincidentally I’m sure) in the minutes after Lee Bowyer had gone through the mother and father of all meltdowns with the fourth official on the sideline. I certainly thought Sunjic could have been sent off for the late horror lunge on Barbet.
Attendance – 18,279 (1,900 QPR approx.) Large parts of Birmingham’s home ground remain closed, with the concrete pilings that hold them up rotting in the ground making it unsafe. Questions about what work is being done on this, and when the ground might be expected to be back up to full capacity, fall on deaf ears and go unanswered by the club’s ownership. High on my list of queries before I pay money to sit on it would be what kind of concrete rot is this which means it’s safe to sit in the higher-up seats at the back but not the lower ones at the front?
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