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Queens Park Rangers 0 v 0 Bristol City
SkyBet Championship
Saturday, 11th November 2023 Kick-off 15:00
QPR and Bristol City cancel each other out with new autumn fashion lines - Report
Monday, 13th Nov 2023 16:14 by Clive Whittingham

QPR's improvements under Marti Cifuentes continued apace in a second consecutive draw under the new manager on Saturday, but the Spaniard will need to work miracles with this attack if we're to achieve the goal of survival in the Championship.

“You can see they’re a well-coached side now.” New Bristol City boss Liam Manning, mixing up the loud and the quiet parts there.

Comparing one Queens Park Rangers home game to another is like trying to pick your favourite member of John Terry’s family. I like the shop lifting mum personally. Oooh no, it’s got to be the adulterous brother whose affair with a teammate’s wife preceded his suicide. Which Blackburn defeat did you prefer – the 3-1, or the 4-0? Did having our arse handed to us by Sunderland look better under floodlights or sunshine? Which of Coventry’s six goals gave you most sadistic pleasure? Don’t be nice to me, tell me how much I’m sweating.

Bristol City arrived in town on Saturday with the chance to become the fourth team to have won more games at Loftus Road in 2023 than QPR. Rangers, steadfastly, stuck on one home win in a year, one home win in 22 matches, no home win this season, no home win for a club record run of 13 attempts… Sunderland, Coventry, Blackburn and now, potentially, Bristol City all winning twice here in that time. No wonder the away end is full every week. “People are going to fear coming to Loftus Road” said Gareth Ainsworth. Indeed so, the QPR fans are terrified of the place.

This was, however, miles better. Streets ahead of anything we’ve produced on this ground for weeks. Rangers completed 504 passes, more than in any other game this season. Just 56 of those were counted as ‘long balls’ – 11%, the lowest ratio of the campaign so far. Our average passing sequence was five – a season high. There was coherence and structure to QPR. Some of what they tried worked really well: Kenneth Paal stepping into midfield to increase numbers and ball players there; Osman Kakay filling in for the injured Reggie Cannon on the other side, which before kick off had looked a real blow for Marti Cifuentes to suffer ahead of his first home game in charge. Some of it wasn’t quite as successful: Elijah Dixon-Bonner could perhaps count himself unfortunate not to keep his place after a decent showing at Rotherham, and Andre Dozzell’s return to the team in his position was not a conspicuous success. Too often Dozzell and Colback were content to knock a ball five yards to the side believing their job done, whereas last week Dixon-Bonner wanted to play forward and through the lines.

But you could at least tell what they were trying to do, which makes this a night and day improvement from the recent debacles we have sat through on this ground, and pretty much anything else we’ve been forced to suffer over the past 12 months.

Paul Smyth fairly well terrorised Cameron Pring down the QPR right and City left for the first hour or so. His immaculate touch on the quarter hour allowed him to break inside and threaten for the first time, and that was quickly followed by him bursting away through fair means and foul to stop him, and drawing a half-hearted handball appeal in the City box. More great control and purposeful play at the start of the second half ended with a cross to the back post attacked by Chris Willock with his eyes closed and, when the free kick he’d won himself was cleared back to him, the Northern Ireland international had a shot of his own deflected over. From that corner Colback played a short routine back to Dozzell to strike from the edge of the box but, like everything else he tried and in contrast to Dixon-Bonner’s quietly effective show the week before, he didn't quite get it right. A counter attack that looked like it had failed when the fairly hapless Lyndon Dykes fell over for the umpteenth time on the day was eventually continued through to another Smyth shot over the bar.

Pretty frustrating therefore that having finally got the flailing Pring booked on the hour for his latest foul, Smyth then tired and wasn’t able to continue twisting the torture rack. Not only that, but QPR ceased attacking Pring’s wing altogether. It felt absolutely ripe for Sinclair Armstrong to go on fresh out there and start playing push and run against an ailing opponent on a final warning, but he attacked the centre of the field when eventually introduced and Pring eventually saw the 90 minutes through.

That was QPR on Saturday: sometimes maybe good, sometimes maybe shit. Smyth was something of a perfect encapsulation of that, and the key problem Cifuentes is going to have with this team. For all his threatening dribbles and torment of his marker, he attempted nine crosses on the day with zero accuracy, his passing accuracy was easily the worst on the pitch (50%), and all the shots he did have were off target.

For many, QPR’s hopes of maintaining the flurry of improvements brought about by the change of coach and turning them into Championship survival feel like they rather hang on loaning better strikers in January. The good news is, playing in this style with this coach, clubs higher up the ladder will be 10,000x more likely to trust us with their best and brightest players on loan than they would have been before. The bad news, apart from all the usual stuff about how much budget exists to make such a move, is service. Paul Smyth – nine crosses, zero accuracy. Kenneth Paal – seven crosses, found a team mate with one of them. Chris Willock – four crosses, zero accuracy. Andre Dozzell – one cross, zero accuracy. It was another afternoon of mostly incompetent set pieces, spaffed time and time again straight into the gob of the nearest defender. When Osman Kakay, who’d had a good game, got in behind on a well loaded counter attack late in the game, with time and space to think about what to do, he had a wild first time swing at a bouncing ball and turned a very good crossing position into a maddening hack into the Upper Loft. They brought lesser-spotted Taylor Richards on – he tried seven passes, gave two of them away, and one cross, which set Bristol City up for a monumental break the other way.

Still, for all that, and the obvious caveat that the star of the manager’s first game, Ilias Chair, was suspended, Dykes, for the second week in a row, was really rather hopeless up front. Tony Thorpe, on Bristol City commentary duty, described him as “atrocious” and added: “I’m not joking, I think I’m still a better player than Dykes and I’m nearly 50.” Watching the Scotsralian over the last week it’d be difficult to make a counter argument. Just finding a pair of boots with studs long enough to stand up in would be an improvement at this point.

His scuffed volley, blocked by Rob Dickie who impressed on his return bar an errant clearing header which led to that chance initially, was as near as we came but it wasn’t anything to write home about. His performance rather summed up by referee Geoff Eltringham bringing QPR back for a free kick 40 yards from goal at the end of the first half when Dykes actually had possession up on the edge of the box – referee rightly surmising that was no kind of an advantage to us. QPR would finish the game with an official tally of zero shots on target. Talk about service all you like but is there any point in ordering a corn on the cob if you’ve got no teeth? There was nothing at all wrong with Kakay’s late cross on his left foot, drifting right into the corridor of uncertainty between keeper and defender, and Sinclair Armstrong, on from the bench, missed the ball entirely at the near post when contact anywhere between feather touch and power drive would surely have been enough to divert it into the net.

It could have been a win regardless had a second half penalty appeal gone our way. Armstrong burst into the area with the pace and power we know all about, went up against with Zak Vyner and hit the deck. The Loft appealed long and loud, Geoff Eltringham shook his head.

It’s a pretty good test case for why VAR was never going to work and never will. From the Ellerslie Road side of the ground, and the main camera angle, it looks a penalty. Friends we had watching via the stream were alive on the WhatsApp groups straight away saying they thought it was. From the South Africa Road side it didn’t look one at all, and not a single one of us in the group at the front of F Block thought it was – Sinclair about as subtle as a brick in looking and waiting for contact and then hitting the deck as soon as he felt it.

My frustration comes more from an earlier decision where Smyth was chasing a bouncing ball in behind the panicked Pring, the defender hit the deck under the most meagre of touches – certainly less of a foul than the alleged contact on Armstrong – and was given a free kick immediately. A linesman, standing ten yards away and looking right at it, signalled nothing. Smyth was booked for dissent. Armstrong himself has been penalised in similar circumstances, for far less contact than he suffered in this incident, previously this season – notably when through on goal at Southampton. That lack of consistency is infuriating, but I didn’t think it was a penalty and I’m delighted Cifuentes turned down the opportunities to boot off about it in post-match.

We are too often driven by excuses, too quick to point to refereeing decisions, financial restrictions, FFP rules and the like, to blame and cover up for our own failings. If we’re waiting for a good Championship referee to turn up we’ll be waiting a long time. We didn’t win on Saturday because our attack is crap, not because of the referee. Sinclair could easily have stayed on his feet and crossed the ball, he was looking to go down. It was a 50/50 call that went against us, just as Bristol City’s own shout for a handball when Paal fell on the ball in the area at the other end went against them.

You’ve got to know your referees. Eltringham, in general, waves play-on through most things. Early in this game Jack Colback’s latest bad tackle, which would have brought a yellow from every other referee in the league and maybe more from some of them, was let off with a word on the run – there were two or three like that from either side in the first 15 minutes. In stoppage time Andre Dozzell laid on the floor trying to get the play stopped and Eltringham ignored him – lo and behold, 30 seconds later, when he realised the referee wasn’t buying it, he got up and sprinted after the ball. That’s on us, and him, not the referee. In general, I prefer games to be refereed the way this guy does them. Far fewer players would dive or pretend they’re injured if everybody treated such incidents with this level of deserved disdain. I’d also prefer to go with what he thinks on one viewing than spend five minutes poring over video that nobody will ever agree on anyway. And I was comfortable with a penalty not being awarded in this instance.

All there was left was for Rangers to try and find a way to lose the game. They could have done that in the very first minute when Colback was caught dallying around on the ball, then collapsed wanting a free kick he didn’t get (see above, excuses, know your referee, on us not him) and City were able to break into the box and draw a save from Begovic. Jason Knight missed the target 15 minutes from time when played away in a counter from QPR’s latest botched corner, then Osman Kakay capped his impressive individual performance with a goal-saving tackle on Bell at the back post – fellow substitute Gardner-Hickman saw his shot on the follow up deflected away. In general though, City absolutely starved their striker Tommy Conway of ball, and struggled to pose any real threat on the goal.

It felt like two teams cancelling each other out. The bookings of Field and Knight, for pushing each other in the chest and falling over comedically, were something of a microcosm. Both trying to do the same things, bumping into each other, and coming out of it no better off than they were before.

That QPR are now at least trying to do those things makes the more watchable, their games more enjoyable, and their chances of succeeding in climbing out of trouble this season far greater. This was the best game there’s been on this ground, from a hooped point of view, in sometime. But it really does say something about how we have been playing that Saturday represents such significant improvement, and it’ll all amount to much the same thing unless Cifuentes can find goals in this team.

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

QPR: Begovic 6; Kakay 7, Cook 6, Dunne 6, Paal 7; Colback 5 (Richards 82, -), Dozzell 5, Field 6; Smyth 7 (Dixon-Bonner 82, -), Dykes 4 (Armstrong 74, 6), Willock 6 (Kelman 90+1, -)

Subs not used: Archer, Larkeche, Duke-McKenna, Drewe

Bookings: Smyth 63 (dissent), Field 67 (fight)

Bristol City: O’Leary 6; Tanner 6, Vyner 6, Dickie 7, Pring 4; James 6, Knight 7; Sykes 6, Weimann 5, (Gardner-Hickman 60, 6) Mehmeti 5 (Bell 60, 6); Conway 5 (Cornick 72, 6)

Subs not used: Naismith, Bajic, Knight-Label, Yeboah, James

Bookings: Pring 59 (foul), Knight 67 (fight)

QPR Star Man – Paul Smyth 7 Exciting, purposeful, pacy, old fashioned wing play that, for the first hour, gave Pring absolute nightmares and looked our best chance of scoring a goal. Depending what side of the Dykes debate you come down on probably determines what story you think nine crosses with zero accuracy tells you. Some of the final balls were wayward, much of the striking play was abysmal. I think on this occasion, like at Rotherham, those doing the supplying were entitled to expect more of their centre forward.

Referee – Geoff Eltringham (Durham) 7 And I guess this one also comes down to whether you think the challenge on Armstrong warrants a penalty or not, and your more general preference for how games are refereed. Compared to the foul given against Smyth, after which he was booked for his protests, then of course it’s a penalty all day long, but that aside I didn’t think it was, nor the Paal one at the other end. There were some early challenges in the game, particularly from Colback, that could easily have brought yellow cards. We saw in the Sunderland game that letting stuff like that go can occasionally put a referee in a difficult position of inviting ever stronger and stronger fouls until the game blows up on him – but, in general, I do prefer this style and approach. He’ll never get anywhere with it, the assessors hate it, but I’d far rather come to this guy’s game than, say, James Bell, who’s currently being fast tracked through the divisions past experienced guys like this as reward for his brand of extreme, aggressive, vindictive pedantry. The Dozzell incident at the end sums it up – laid on the ground, apparently mortally wounded, wanting the game stopped while Bristol City launch an attack to potentially win the game against ten men. When he realises the referee isn’t buying it, he gets up and sprints after the ball. Wouldn’t you know it, nothing wrong with him after all. There’d be a lot less cheating, gamesmanship and play acting if games were refereed like this more often.

Attendance – 17,540 (2,800 Bristol City approx.) One home win in a year, none in 13 games, second bottom of the table – biggest crowd of the season. Nutters.

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NewYorkRanger added 16:40 - Nov 13
Thought it was a penalty for the challenge on Sinclair myself, regardless of whether he was looking for it. Haven't watched a replay but in real time from the lower loft me and all around thought it was nailed on. And we're definitely not biased.
The point on comparing this with the dross we've been watching before is a good one. Me and my youngest left the game in high spirits, were looking forward to going for the first time in ages, and came away having really enjoyed the game. But in the cold light of day, zero shots on target, not ever really looking like scoring, we're starting from a very low base. Perhaps we are easily pleased......

ParkRoyalR added 16:58 - Nov 13
Cheers Northern, appreciated

Said in jest...and I know its hard to see the funny side on a wet winters Monday those photo's......

Is that our Centre Forward beasting Dickie and their other Centre Half in the air...and on his toes anticipating an early pass?

Joking aside, with Cannon and Chair due back and EDB breaking line as you say, I am confident we can get out of this if Marti can learn the players strengths & weaknesses + also learn the Championship quickly.

tsbains64 added 17:08 - Nov 13
Had to miss this game but the reports suggest we have got our Rangers back ! What a relief after a year of the maverick in the rock n roll gear
What a crowd too-imagine the place when we are mid table !

Patrick added 17:25 - Nov 13
Two games in, it's clear that Marti has introduced a new idea on the training ground. It's called "not losing". After our recent dire form, I'll certainly take that to go on with.

Marshy added 17:34 - Nov 13
The improvement has been significant over the past couple of matches, albeit from a very low point. At least we’re now trying to play proper football, seeing a lot more possession and less of the long ball. I think that Dykes should be dropped in favour of Armstrong, who at least resembles a striker. I would also drop Dozzell as he just doesn’t contribute enough overall. Dixon-Bonner always looks positive on the ball, and having him in the side will I believe give us more goal scoring opportunities. I have been impressed with Marti so far, and think he will be good for us. Having said that, unless we can start scoring goals, we’ll be playing in Division 1 next season. It’s difficult to see where these goals will come from, but I’m more optimistic now than I was a couple of weeks ago.

Myke added 20:30 - Nov 13
We are seeing improvements, but I believe they will continue to be incremental rather than the stunning turnaround of 20/21 when we went from relegation to promotion form almost overnight. This team has been losing for a long time and it takes a while to remove that mindset. The couple of weeks on the training ground (without Dykes interestingly enough) should prove beneficial.

probbo added 23:02 - Nov 13
Thanks Clive. Things have definitely improved and the timing of this international break is good as it gives Marti 2 more weeks to work with the squad without interruption. But as we all know goals win matches and (if you step back and actually think about it) no shots on target iin 90 mins is a shocking stat for any football team, let alone a professional one. And we've had loads of these. Its the key and if Marti can sort that out (better delivery from midfield and wing backs) hopefully we'll push on. I'm not going to knock Dykes or Sinclair- the former needs more service and the latter should watch videos of Clive Allen when he was 20 and scoring for fun.

extratimeR added 21:29 - Nov 14
Thanks Clive!
Exactly how I saw it, ( including penalty shout).

Thought Willock not bad first half, and really surprised no Dixon Bonnar, ( particularly after viewing Dozzell!).
Excellent piece.

Loft1979 added 15:39 - Nov 16
Clive, thanks for the therapy. I firmly believe this is the early start of something good. 1 goal surrendered in 2 games is epic given the tidal defensive leakage of the last 2 years.

Echoing Marshy: We have TWO strikers who feature for their country. Both have (probably) scored more for their country than club this year. I agree with Marshy but Sinclair and Dykes are such different commodities. I have always seen Dykes as a impact, second half or tactical component. Late game headers and wearing down tired centerbacks. His pneumonia could still be an issue. I would just as soon have Chair or Willock as a false 9.

We need to continue to harp on Elijah's exclusion, who as you point out actually understand the concept of forward play. I think Luke Amos' importance (especially when the team was last winning) is a talking point. I do believe Elijah could be in a diamond in the rough. If only he had netted one of his chances in the last 2 games.

JohnMcCo added 14:23 - Nov 17
This is ace, thankyou. I read a great article in When Saturday Comes about VAR in the week and this is equally as cogent. VAR would have made no difference atall in all likelihood to the Sinclair penalty decision, it was one of those ones where you would have nowhere near a unanimous decision naked eye or with countless replays. VAR has made life worse because there are plenty decisions like this and also because the pendants have taken over. The WSC article rightly spoke about how offside was invented to deter goal hanging but now they are taking out measuring instruments to see if the attacker's hand is in an offside position (for eg) and the writer rightly said this is taking the piss out of celebrating fans and strikers alike. Thank heavens it is not in the championship.

My other point is about Marti, I am totally loving his work, he says exactly what I want to hear as a fan plus the football is so, so much better. He has the advantage for me of following the worst appointment that I think we have made in my lifetime. I am glad that the supporters were kind about GA, it is a minor miracle all in all and actually speaks well of the human spirit. I really, really, really hope that we extend the same patience to Marti if and when things get a bit rocky.

TacticalR added 19:43 - Nov 19
Thanks for your report.

An improvement (at least like we know what we're supposed to be doing), but there wasn't much to write home about in terms of goalmouth action.

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