|Cardiff City 0 v 1 Queens Park Rangers|
Wednesday, 20th January 2021 Kick-off 19:00
Seny delight for QPR, déjà vu for deposed Harris – Report
Thursday, 21st Jan 2021 17:25 by Clive Whittingham
QPR got Neil Harris the sack for the second time in as many seasons as Seny Dieng and Rob Dickie starred in a 1-0 win at Cardiff City on Wednesday night that would have been far more convincing but for some questionable refereeing.
For a while there, I thought one of us must have sinned.
Fifteenth v twentieth in the Championship, Cardiff five defeats on the spin, Queens Park Rangers one win in eleven, played in an empty stadium during a category five hurricane, with a referee who couldn’t find his own arse with both hands. QPR’s already deficient central midfield dealt a further, fairly savage, blow with the pre-match news that Little Tom Carroll, the best of a mediocre bunch, is currently sporting a Brave Boy sticker from the knee surgeon and is out for three months. Cardiff marking time and going through the motions until Neil Harris is invited to take his wheeled cannon and white funeral jeans back down the M4 for good, only really showing signs of life when set pieces were awarded their way, and even a good number of those were punted into touch by some talentless oik in a fairly convincing Harry Wilson costume. It was, for the first half at least, a veritable assault on the senses. Like one of those ‘here’s what football looks like to Americans’ YouTube spoofs. Play it on a loop in intensive care whenever you need to medically induce a coma in somebody.
Which one of you was it? What did you do? Who’s had their willy out some place they shouldn’t? We’ve all got to suffer the punishment with you, you know? Stupid, vengeful God.
Let’s go through the trauma of the first half together again now. It won’t take long, because next to fuck all happened.
After four minutes Todd Kane crossed into the penalty area towards Lyndon Dykes. Cardiff’s captain Sean Morrison – missing since picking up an injury in a Christmas defeat at Wycombe (yes, really) – marked his return to the side by getting rather confusled underneath it and ended up intercepting the ball with an outstretched hand. Under the new, rather stern, interpretation of the handball rules - all silhouettes and natural body shape - this was a penalty kick. Under the old, rather louche, interpretation of the handball rules - all accidental v deliberate and how the offender was in himself at the time of the incident – this was a penalty kick. Referee Darren Bond, who won his participation in this match in a raffle at his local independent supermarket, stared straight at the incident from a distance of some ten yards and did nothing about it. Shame, Dykes v Alex Smithies would have been quite something.
I’ve made some other notes, though that was more for want of something better to do with my time.
In open play, QPR were by far the better of the two teams. Chair intelligently chipped Dykes in behind a busted offside trap but he rushed a back header straight at the goalkeeper when he had time to do as he pleased. Austin fed a ball into Dykes, didn’t receive it back to his taste, manufactured a big sweep out to Kane, then volleyed over when a cross presented itself from his cross. He comes alive in the penalty area, as we knew already, but his impact is being felt as much in the belief it seems to have given the rest of the team that we might occasionally score a goal when we exert pressure.
At set pieces, Cardiff snorted themselves awake. A long throw from the sex dreams of Dave Challinor, cobbed into reality by Will Vaulks, was glanced wide by QPR’s first choice transfer target of the previous summer Kieffer Moore, himself making a first start since early December due to injury – his absence triggering Cardiff’s winter woes. When Yoann Barbet chucked himself into the sort of needless sliding tackle only Yoann Barbet thinks appropriate or effective and conceded a free kick right on the cusp of the penalty box ten minutes before half time it wrought a yellow card and chance for dangerous delivery. They touched it short first to Ralls who tried a left footed go from 20 yards which Seny Dieng committed for to his right but never reached thanks to a defensive block. With the goalkeeper still regathering himself, debutant right back and friend of the shirt printer Perry Ng struck the rebound back towards goal first time and Dieng sprang right again, producing a remarkable save as the shot appeared upon him through a crowd of bodies. QPR then appealed in vain for offside as Morrison seized on a second rebound and steered it towards what must, this time, be a certain goal, only for Dieng to save again. A rather superb double save, increased in virtue by him committing to that first Ralls shot and having to readjust in the first instance. Goodness me. Stand up Seny. Everybody look at Seny.
Anyway that was half time, and a wonderful opportunity to shake hands on a point and get back on the bus. Nobody wanted more of this, not those involved in the increasingly biblical conditions, not those at home slipping in and out of consciousness, not the managers who’d both be able to talk up a point fairly convincingly post match, and not the referee who was carrying himself like the victim of a rather severe concussion.
Back they came for another stab. And to be absolutely fair to them, all joking aside, and with full and complete understanding that playing football in conditions like that must have been nigh on impossible, something resembling a watchable spectacle threatened to break out. Warbs Warburton had trusted Chrissy Willock out of position in Carroll’s stead and, by and large, he looked a little lost in a congested and physical area of the pitch with Cardiff playing a tight three of Ralls, Vaulks and Bacuna in there – much more Dom Ball’s scene, charging around through the mud and the wind having an absolute whale of a time. But where Willock is better even than Carroll is creating bits in the final third, and even Dykes would have had a hard time missing the two yard header he very nearly teed up for him straight after the restart with a lovely shuffle into space and chipped cross which Nelson just about got to ahead of Robert the Bruce.
At the other end, Rob Dickie was once again excelling, defending well against Moore at the near post just before the hour and forcing the ball away for a corner. The early season kinks – occasionally caught for pace, frequently grabbing opposition shirts when panicked – are quickly dissipating and Dickie is not only playing himself into Player of the Season contention, but also the notebooks of watching scouts.
He needed to be good here because Geoff Cameron, on a difficult day personally, spent the second half on a one-man red card mission. Bond perhaps took pity on a loss of footing, showing only a yellow for a wild and high challenge on 48 minutes, though it was difficult to really follow Bond’s thinking from one blunder to the next. Andy Sinton made that teeth sucking noise he does when bad things are about to happen to us. Having escaped that, Captain America could easily have given a penalty away on the hour. Neil Harris’ role of the dice giving a debut to free scoring Crawley forward Max Watters had fallen spectacularly flat leading to the introduction of youth team product Mark Harris and his first action was to shove Cameron out of the way on the edge of the area and head to the byline – progress interrupted by a fairly petulant return of fire from the QPR man. Harris stayed on his feet, had he gone down that could have been interesting.
There was a further challenge on Harris by Cameron tight to the near touchline that slid neatly into the Not Sensible category that Bond didn’t even award a free kick for. Geoff, like Ball on his team, and Ralls, Vaulks and Morrison in the home colours, seemed to have diplomatic immunity to do anything he wished. Others, Lyndon Dykes in particular, were not so fortunate. The maddening inconsistencies were often so flagrant they came within ten seconds of each other – observe Dykes being fairly obviously pulled to the ground while competing for a ball in the seventy eighth minute for no free kick, which is fine if you want to write that off as a 50/50 in a physical game, only for the ball to bounce loose over halfway and another Cardiff sub Robert Glatzel to win a free kick for far less contact in an identical match up with Yoann Barbet.
When a slick move on the edge of the area got Chair in behind Cardiff and Smithies saved one on one, the ball looped up invitingly for Charlie Austin at the back post and he duly stuck away the opening goal. This was disallowed. If it’s been disallowed for whatever interpretation of the handball rule we were playing to last night, it looks harsh. If it’s been disallowed, as Bond appeared to be indicating, because Austin’s foot was raised in converting it, then it’s good to know that in future all we need to do to have goals chalked off is chuck ourselves face first towards whichever boot is taking the shot on.
Austin was replaced soon after with Macauley Bonne, and he looked renergised after his goal at Luton a week ago, proving to be an absolute pain the arse for the Cardiff defence through the final third of the game. He was involved in the winning goal as well, teeing up Chris Willock for a firm, low shot which you would expect Alex Smithies to do better with but did very nicely for Queens Park Rangers. Willock’s first goal for the club, Smithies in need of some more time on the training ground and less time at Wayne Rooney’s miracle working barber. He did, to be fair, later finger tip an Ilias Chair free kick round the post.
There was a rally and response of sorts. QPR cleared their lines several times in quick succession only for the ball to keep getting pumped back towards them and eventually Morrison was free and onside at the far post but somehow headed down and not only away from the goal, but away from a clutch of team mates waiting to convert. Moore would have been through on goal soon after that with a better first touch, and don’t underestimate the quality of Dieng’s latest save, low and down by the post, as Moore attacked yet another high cross at the back post. One in the top bins from a Bacuna free kick right on the edge of the box after Cameron’s latest foul was more for the cameras, but having spent the formative decade of my footballing education watching Tony Roberts build a wall and then stand behind it I’ll take these all day long.
Dieng was, undoubtedly, man of the match, but all bar one of his interventions came from set pieces. Cardiff have, for years now, specialised in these, with Morrison and Moore particular threats, and as we know only too well they’ve been extremely problematic for QPR who lost 3-0 on this ground last season to a succession of dead ball situations in a game they dominated from start to finish. In open play City were woefully inadequate. This is a team for whom spitting on it counts as foreplay. Harry Wilson, in particular, a kid Cardiff paid £1.2m plus wages just to borrow from Liverpool for a season, was a shadow of the player who frequently lit up this division in Derby colours the season before last. He looked oddly bereft, even when taking the dead balls. As at Millwall, where Harris was also sacked after losing at home to QPR, this rudimentary, bracing approach to football can be effective, can intimidate points out of teams who make the mistake of thinking it’s a bit beneath them, and took Cardiff to the play-offs last year. But it’s basically just making a loud noise by banging metal dustbins together while firing a gun into the air hoping opponents get spooked and run off. Eventually they get wise to it and when they do it’s not something people enjoy paying to watch and patience will wear extremely thin extremely quickly if results slide. QPR were the only team at least trying to play.
Without Dieng, QPR would have lost, Cardiff would have won, Harris would have kept his job. Rangers, as at Derby away pre-Christmas, undoubtedly caught a team at a perfect time, with a manager teetering on the brink and the players barely giving half a toss, and still came very close to not winning the game. But then if the R’s had been awarded the blatant first half penalty and converted, and the Austin goal had stood when it should have done, then Lyndon Dykes storming through the heart of the Cardiff defence and finishing with aplomb in the final minute of normal time would have made it 4-0. This, also, naturally, was pulled back for a pitifully weak free kick after Morrison, realising he was in deep trouble, chucked himself to the ground and pleaded to Bond for another highly dubious and generous out. Never a foul in a month of Sundays and the tinniest of tin hats to place firmly atop the shabbiest of shabby refereeing display we’ve seen this season. Morrison seemed pretty keen to referee the game himself most of the way through, and frankly Bond was stirring a cauldron of incompetence and cowardice so vigorously by this stage I’m not sure QPR would have come out any worse had we indeed just turned the whistle over to the Cardiff captain.
Bonne could have streaked through on goal himself for a score his cameo would have deserved but for the linesman ruling the ball had gone out of play in the build up, but he played a big role in some unusually competent game management and clock running from Rangers late on, able to keep possession of the ball and move Cardiff around methodically for minutes at a time. At least, that was, until Dom Ball Ideas Above His Station No.235 In The Series went all Gentle Ben on us and decided it was an opportune time for a shot from 25 yards out. No Dom, no.
Gritty not pretty, more steel than style, but we’ve been asking for that from this QPR team for a while and they came up with the goods in the most difficult of conditions against a team who play football so far removed from Warbsball it’s almost a different sport entirely. Five unbeaten away from home, two consecutive wins, two consecutive away wins, two consecutive clean sheets, do I care if it’s a walk or a hit?
You do not.
I do not.
Cardiff: Smithies 5; Ng 6 (Glatzel 76, 5), Morrison 6, Nelson 6, Bennett 5; Bacuna 6, Vaulks 6 (Ojo 76, 6), Ralls 6; Wilson 4 (Murphy 85, -), Moore 6, Watters 5 (Harris 55, 6)
Subs not used: Phillips, Sang, Bagan, Hoilett, Patten
QPR: Dieng 8; Dickie 8, Cameron 6, Barbet 6; Kane 6, Ball 7, Chair 6, Willock 6 (Kakay 83, -),
Subs not used: Lumley, Thomas, Bettache, Kelman, Adomah, Duke-McKenna
Goals: Willock 71 (assisted Bonne)
Bookings: Barbet 36 (foul), Cameron 48 (foul), Chair 89 (time wasting)
QPR Star Man – Seny Dieng 8 It’s strange, I thought Cardiff were particularly poor, clearly marking time until a new manager arrives, and yet their potency at set pieces meant they were able to fashion enough shots on goal to win the game regardless. That they didn’t is mostly down to Seny Dieng, with a double save in the first half particularly impressive given he’d already committed himself one way for a blocked shot a split second before it happened, so he effectively had to reset and go again three times in a couple of seconds. The save down by the post from Moore’s header isn’t easy either, though he made it look relatively routine with excellent footwork. The one from the free kick was for the cameras, having seen the shot all the way, but having spent ten years of my life watching Tony Roberts build a wall then stand behind it I’ll certainly take that. Rob Dickie excellent as well. Both will certainly be attracting attention elsewhere soon.
Referee – Darren Bond (Lancashire) 3 Morrison seemed quite keen to referee this one himself and, frankly, such was Darren Bond’s grip on proceedings/reality we probably wouldn’t have come out of it much worse off if we had just turned the whistle over to the Cardiff captain. Several key decisions in the game called incorrectly or missed entirely; certain players (Cameron, Morrison) allowed to do as they pleased while others (Dykes) were penalised for everything; inconsistencies so flagrant they often came within a few seconds of each other, such as the seventy eighth minute Dykes/Glatzel farce. QPR were incredibly unlucky to have two goals disallowed for nothing very much at all, and had a blatant penalty waved away in the first five minutes. They should almost certainly have been down to ten men, if not for Cameron’s first lunging horror for which he was only booked then for a succession of fouls by the same player thereafter. Vaulks’ and Ralls’ diplomatic immunity carried over from the game at Loftus Road – I think those two would actually have to shoot somebody to get a booking. Three, four, five fouls in a row given for pitifully little contact, then suddenly one waved away. Absolutely all over the show. As bad a refereeing performance as we’ve seen for some time.
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Letters from Wiltshire #35 by wessex_exile
As many were predicting, time finally ran out for Steve Ball mid-week, after the U’s lost 2-1 at home to Exeter City. Although a considerable improvement in score-line compared to the 6-1 thrashing they handed out at St James Park earlier in the season, apart from the first 10-15 minutes and very brief glimpses throughout the remainder of the game, it was a poor performance, leaving Robbie Cowling with no choice. After a brief interlude, Robbie named Wayne Brown as our new Interim Head Coach (that’s caretaker as far as I’m concerned), and after an even briefer interlude, Robbie and Wayne in a joint statement put to rest any lingering concerns about Wayne’s attitude to race. If Wayne can show the same sort of leadership on the training ground and in the dressing room as he used to show for the U’s on the pitch, I am certain he’s going to do very well in the job.
Letters from Wiltshire #34 by wessex_exile
I won’t dwell on Robbie’s latest message to the supporters – we’ve all read it, and we’ve all probably drawn our own conclusions about what it doesn’t say as much as what it does. To me, bottom line, I suspect the clock is now ticking for Steve Ball (at least), turn around this terrible form pretty damn quick, or start clearing out your locker. Regardless of personal opinions on any of the individuals concerned, I would like to think none of us actually wants to see people made redundant in the current climate. But, these are difficult times that require tough decisions. If Steve Ball is up to the job and can turn this around, I’ll be more than happy to support him. If he’s not, he has to go before irreparable harm is done…and we all know what that will look like, we’ve been there before…
Letters from Wiltshire #33 by wessex_exile
Today we face a trip to Crawley, not usually a venue that bears fruit for the U’s it has to be said. In nine visits we’ve only won once in the league, and once in the League Cup. Of course, we’ll all remember that League Cup victory, indeed many of us were probably there to see us progress through to 5th round and the dream fixture against Manchester United at Old Trafford. All of our goal-scorers that night, Luke’s Norris and Gambin, and Cohen Bramall (okay, technically an O.G.), are no longer with us, so let’s hope at the very least that recent departee and subsequent returnee Frank Nouble can bag another like his late equaliser against Mansfield. Steve Ball commented during the week about how tight the league is at the moment, and he’s right that a couple of back to back victories would see us move significantly up the table away from danger – but we’ve got to win them first Steve – something we’ve failed to do since our 1-0 victory at Scunthorpe on December 8th.
Letters from Wiltshire #32 by wessex_exile
Fifty years ago yesterday, Colchester United of the 4th Division pulled off the greatest cup giant-killing ever, beating 1st Division Leeds United 3-2 at Layer Road. Watched by 16,000, and the Match of the Day cameras, Dick Graham’s U’s, a rag-tag band of mostly aging journeymen, defied the odds to defeat arguably the greatest club side in Europe at the time. “The greatest cup giant-killing ever” is a bold claim, and over the years various football magazines and websites have run their own polls of which was the greatest. Whilst that day at Layer Rd always features, as the years have gone by other feats fresher in the memory have been put forward as a candidate – we probably all remember Ronnie Radford’s screamer against Newcastle, Sutton’s exploits, or even Bradford City quite recently at Stamford Bridge – but these pale into insignificance when you pause to reflect on the Don Revie side that we beat that day. Sprake, Cooper, Charlton, Hunter, Lorimer, Giles etc – all full internationals, all household names – the only one missing was Billy Bremner, and that was because he was injured. By comparison, all we had to offer was Ray Crawford – at his peak arguably on a par with some in the Leeds side, but that peak had been ten years earlier playing for Ipswich and England. Eleven heroes didn’t just try and hold out against Leeds United, they took the game to their illustrious opponents with such tenacity, grit and no small amount of flair, and before we knew it, the U’s were 3-0 in the lead. As legs tired, Leeds got back into the game with goals from Hunter and Giles, but we held firm – typified at the death by Graham Smith pulling off an impossible save to ensure the U’s achieved the greatest cup giant-killing ever!
Letters from Wiltshire #31 by wessex_exile
And so the dust settles on another transfer window closing, and despite (my) expectations that the possibility of incoming business was going to be remote, we have instead seen a veritable flurry of activity, with no less than three coming in. Big Frank Nouble, making a very welcome return on loan from Plymouth Argyle, of course needs no introduction. Neither really does feisty Brendan Sarpong-Wiredu, here on loan last season, and this time signed full-time from Charlton Athletic for an undisclosed fee. Actually paying hard cash for someone did come as a surprise, presumably offset by the sale of Cohen Bramall to Lincoln for a similarly undisclosed fee. However, the fact that the Addicks have insisted on not only a sell-on clause, but a rarely used buy-back clause too, suggests (a) Wiredu’s signing fee probably wasn’t too high, and (b) Charlton are protecting those finances with these clauses. The last one, which would have been a complete surprise for me were it not for a contact leaking me the news earlier yesterday, is left-back Josh Doherty on loan from Crawley. Josh was only announced once outgoing left-back Bramall was confirmed, and presumably his loan is directly related to part-time fashion model, TV and radio celeb and former left-back Mark Wright signing for Crawley on a non-contract game-by-game basis in December. We have also released seven from the academy, Ollie Kensdale, Miquel Scarlett, Sammie McLeod, Michael Fernandes, Ollie Sims, Danny Collinge and Matt Weaire, and I’m sure we all wish them the best for the future.
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