|Queens Park Rangers 1 v 2 Bristol City|
Saturday, 18th September 2021 Kick-off 15:00
City's smash and grab sucker punch stuns QPR - Report
Sunday, 19th Sep 2021 17:17 by Clive Whittingham
Former hometown favourite Nahki Wells returned to W12 with an injury time winner totally against the run of play on Saturday as QPR slipped to their second defeat in a week, this time in heartbreaking fashion against Bristol City.
This, we tell people and try to convince ourselves, is why we do it. What is the point in supporting a team that wins all the time? Where is the joy of cheering the multiple monotonous victories of a team doped out of reach of the rest of the league by some Middle Eastern billionaire? Is it really fulfilling, going around telling everybody you support Manchester United, or Liverpool, or Chelsea, never actually attending any of their games, watching them steamroller Burnley, or Palace, or Newcastle from the comfort of your own home? Could you ever possibly bring yourselves to even be friends with somebody for whom Red Monday is a thing, and when that thing arrives it merely means they’ll treat themselves to watching it in the pub swilling Carling out of a pump, instead of their living room swilling Carling out of a can?
No. It’s the worst of football. The worst of sport. There’s not only honour in supporting your local team, your family’s team, the team your dad bestowed onto you, but the victories taste so much sweeter when they arrive. The rush is more intense when the success is achieved against odds, by a team and a manager that had to work hard for it rather than just go out and spunk £100m on another midfielder they don’t really need. There’s something so much more personal to you about being in that ground, that away end, that seat, with the few thousand other kindred spirits, experiencing it together, rather than being just one of a 100m people all over the world demanding 100% winning records via some global megaclub’s Instagram account. It feels special when it happens because it happens so rarely. You fall down a set of concrete steps celebrating an injury time equaliser at Reading because you didn’t expect it, injury time goals are something that happen to you not for you, yours isn’t a team that can bully and harangue officials into adding time on until you score on the very rare occasions it looks like you might not win a game. It feels so good because it happens so seldom, the long periods of darkness making the occasional moments of light burn so bright.
But, by that same token, there are going to be long periods of shade, and some horrendously cruel sporting moments to sit through on the journey to the highs. Sometimes you’re going to have to be the fall guy for the loyal supporters of some other similar also ran to have their day in the sunshine. On Saturday at Loftus Road, it was simply time for Bristol City – five wins in 30 matches across eight months – to have their moment of glory and for QPR – the best 2021 record in the country bar Man City and inflictor of two crucial last minute goals on opponents themselves already this season – to suffer a heartbreaker. Blame will be sought, fingers will be pointed, players will be targeted, managers will be criticised, because to lose in these circumstances is one of the hardest things to bear in your whole existence as a football fan, and the immediate reaction is to lash out with your anger and frustration. This will be magnified horribly by social media and its platforming and amplification of moronic stupidity. In the end though, it was just one of those days that happens sometimes when you dedicate your heart and soul to a football club like QPR.
You certainly couldn’t accuse Warbs Warburton of holding back on the team selection. The oft-called for cure all of two up front was here, with Lyndon Dykes and Andre Gray paired in unison. Dynamic duo Ilias Chair and Chris Willock teamed up behind them which, with the wing backs and three centre halves still in situ, meant a real test for the notion that football games are won and lost in midfield – QPR’s numbered one, Stefan Johansen. Sun’s out guns out – what could possibly go wrong?
Initially, nothing very much at all. There were a couple of nervous early moments at the Loft End when it looked like the one man midfield mission may be too much to ask even of the mercurial Johansen, City’s French 20-year-old Han-Noah Massengo an electric presence in the space Rangers had gambled on leaving, but this didn’t last. Chair crossed for Gray to score but Tomas Kalas got their first and headed behind for the first corner of the match. Lyndon Dykes miscontrolled the ball but Gray then turned it into a shooting chance and blasted over. A super cross from the left by Sam McCallum was attacked by Dykes at the near post but he stuck wide what looked a very decent chance to me sitting on the South Africa Road side of the ground. Lovely combination between Chair and Willock down the left saw the latter stand a cross for Dykes to angle off the post with his head. That was all in the first 20 minutes.
And it continued. Dykes to the byline, a shambling cut back, ball returned to the area, header straight at the keeper. Three minutes after that another good cross from the left was returned right through the goal mouth by right wing back Moses Odubajo. Soon Yoann Barbet was executing nutmegs (don’t encourage him) in a move that got Gray in on goal at an acute angle and overworked visiting goalkeeper Daniel Bentley saved well down low. Dykes then impressed down the right hand side and would have presented Gray with a tap in from a low cross had Rob Atkinson not stolen in first and cleared behind for another corner. That one was wasted but Ilias Chair’s track back on the resulting counter was worthy of high praise and soon Rangers were pouring forwards once more – De Wijs winning the ball high up the field, Willock feeding Johansen, Bentley alert to tip over from 20 yards. Willock, fed by Johansen, stood the ball back up into the area after that corner was cleared, and De Wijs headed wide.
Then, a minute before the break, a disaster. Odubajo, whose passing had already been erratic prior to this, cut infield and lost his way in heavy traffic setting up a counter attack with too many QPR players committed the wrong side of the ball. Massengo got free down the left and crossed for first Weimann and then Chris Martin in the six-yard box and that was one nil with City’s first serious shot on the goal. Working backwards, Barbet’s marking of Weimann in the middle isn’t good enough, and Johansen and Dickie both point to Massengo’s run without actually tracking it, so the goal was eminently preventable even once the ball had been given away, but Odubajo’s single trick play has been causing Rangers problems before this. Odubajo’s best game for QPR so far was a pre-season friendly against Man Utd when he cut in from the right and scored a spectacular goal with his left foot from long range bringing about an online clamour for him to be signed immediately. In the league, however, he’s been fairly ropey so far, and his insistence on cutting infield looking for that shot again makes him predictable and narrows our attack. One of the reasons Albert Adomah makes such a difference when he comes on to replace him is the variation in his play, keeping the full back guessing. With Odubajo they’re able to set up a welcoming committee and just lie in wait for his arrival at the party. In this incident there was a piece of land big enough for our much vaunted new stadium to be built on to the left of the City defence through which he could happily have progressed to the byline for a cross, instead he came infield for the umpteenth time and it didn’t need a player of Massengo’s ability to read what was coming.
No matter, necessarily. QPR have recovered six points from losing positions already this season and were playing more than well enough to do so again. Gray was played in on goal by a sublime Dykes ball five minutes into the second half and very harshly flagged offside – he’ll want us to believe the spaffed finish was because he knew the whistle had already gone. Soon after a dangerous cross from the left was headed clear at full stretch only as far as Sam McCallum who scored for the second time in as many games from left wing back with a really smartly taken first time shot. Now there was seriuous momentum and in the five minutes that followed Dykes was played clean through on goal and tried to curl an early shot around the keeper only for Bentley to make a superb save, then Barbet cracked a left footer from range inches wide of the top corner, and Willock went seeking the side netting on the other side of the goal from a similar distance out but missed by a gnat’s cock hair.
QPR were not only piling the pressure on, but looking really good doing it. Charlie Austin was summoned from the bench with Albert Adomah to try and press the advantage further – again, you couldn’t accuse the manager of not going for it. Immediately Austin got in off Dykes but shot straight at Bentley. Then a delicious move carving right through the heart of City’s giant central defenders saw Willock and Chair get Dykes in for a first time toe-poked shot that was turned behind by Bentley. The save of the game by far, brilliant reactions and strong wrist, but Dykes has to be scoring. When the manager talks about ruthlessness, he’s talking about this. A ridiculous volley from Barbet flew straight to the keeper – is it just that sort of day? Johansen’s ball to McCallum was outrageous, and his cross was just out of Dykes’ reach. Bentley saved from Adomah at the far post on the Ellerslie Road side of the ground, Chair was cleaned out by a superb covering tackle as he seemed certain to score from the same spot on the other side, and Bentley’s outrageously good afternoon concluded with a dramatic injury time stop from Johansen. The ghost of Danny Coyne, stalking the hallways of Loftus Road once more.
QPR passed, and probed, and pressed, and created chances, and kept going to the end, and poured in bucket loads of effort. And couldn’t budge the needle. For the second time in a week, you couldn’t help but doth your cap to a magnificent goalkeeping display from the opposition number one. Bentley, so nearly of this parish during his Southend days, was absolutely unbelievable and deserved what was coming to him – albeit, QPR shouldn’t have even had him in the equation with a couple of the opportunities. They would lose the game trying to win it, one of those things football supporters say they won't ask more than, then do when it happens.
Warnings signs, such as they were, were few and far between. Martin chested down for Weimann just before the hour and De Wijs came back with a monstrous covering tackle – but the flag was already up. City brought on Antoine Semenyo, who’s been on the 100% pastry lockdown diet by the looks of things, and former QPR loan hero Nahki Wells, but it was a good 20 minutes before they crafted another chance – half time sub Dasilva in at the back post on an overlap from the left side of the defence but for some reason taking an age over a shot that should have been scored long before he got it away. Dieng tipped a free kick over after Barbet fouled Semenyo right on the cusp of the penalty box ten from the end. A note of caution was sounded when Dom Ball replaced Lyndon Dykes, possibly a fitness thing, perhaps to shut down the threat of the counter, but nevertheless the first substitution my untrained eye would question of Warbs’ this season. It would, inadvertently, have dire consequences.
The afternoon ticking on through five minutes of added time, and QPR seemingly were to be left frustrated with their point. They’d had 26 shots, and 11 on target, to Bristol City’s nine and soon to be three. Johansen’s challenge on Massengo barely existed, and the free kick awarded by the corner flag was a rare misstep from excellent new referee Leigh Doughty – Johansen’s yellow for dissent puts him on four already for the campaign as he races towards a one match ban. How we were only getting a draw from all of this was an irritating mystery, and when Ball’s block tackle inadvertently diverted the ball to Weimann with only the green grass of home in front of him it became clear that we might not even be getting that. De Wijs’ slip sealed the fate. Wells, a financially ridiculous signing by the Robins based on a four-match hot streak for QPR a couple of Januarys ago, has cut a miserable figure in City colours as successive managers have struggled to work out what to do with him and how to fit him into their team. You never felt like he was going to miss here though. Bang. Far corner. Two one. Game gone. Away end ablaze. A feeling like few others, for them, and for us. We’ve been there, in that away end, only a week ago. Now it’s our turn to stand here and feel like this. Sure, the lows make the highs, you get used to it following QPR, gut punches come with regularity as part of the experience. But still, if I slug you in the stomach it’s going to hurt, even if I’ve done it before, even if I tell you it’s coming. City now unbeaten in six on this ground, this one a smash and grab even more outrageous than the one they escaped with last season. This one really, really stung.
It’s a damaging defeat in as much as defeats eight games into a season can be damaging – i.e. it’s not really. There’s a very difficult game at West Brom on Friday and were QPR to fail there, making it four without a win, it puts pressure on similar home matches to this one against Birmingham and Preston. That problem with expectations raising around the team and manager for the first time in seven or eight years, and how the team copes with going from one that’s expected to merely compete to being one anticipating a top six finish might come into play for the first time. There are all sorts of questions, around Odubajo, the midfield, substitutions, team selection, whether this set of strikers is going to be clinical enough to get us where we want to go. But, there are 38 games to go. At this point last year eventual play-off semi-finalists Barnsley were only just winning their first. As at Bournemouth on Tuesday, when home keeper Mark Travers played the Bentley role, I couldn’t help but think that 999 times out of 1,000 this exact same QPR team selection, performance and set of chances results in a win. Much like we enjoyed riding the crest of a wave through August, with several positive results that could easily have gone the other way with one fewer save, miraculous goalline clearance or 30 yard goal from a centre back, now we could replay the Reading, Bournemouth and Bristol City games over in exactly the same way and end up with seven points instead of one.
It’s trust in the process time. Albeit while kicking the cat around a bit. Or that bloody stupid pigeon.
QPR: Dieng 6; Odubajo 5 (Adomah 65, 6), Dickie 6, De Wijs 6, Barbet 6, McCallum 7; Johansen 7; Chair 6, Willock 7; Dykes 5 (Ball 80, -), Gray 6 (Austin 64, 5)
Subs not used: Thomas, Dozzell, Dunne, Walsh
Goals: McCallum 54 (unassisted)
Bookings: Gray 51 (foul), Barbet 79 (foul), Ball 85 (foul), Johansen 90 (dissent)
Bristol City: Bentley 9; Tanner 6, Kalas 7, Atkinson 7, Baker 6 (Dasilva 45, 6), Pring 6 (Semenyo 71, 6); James 6, Bakinson 7, Messengo 8; Martin 6 (Wells 62, 7), Weimann 7
Subs not used: Simpson, Williams, O’Leary, Palmer
Goals: Martin 44 (assisted Messengo/Weimann), Wells 90+3 (assisted Weimann)
Bookings: Bakinson 53 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Chris Willock 7 I initially went for Johansen here but have reflected some more and have sided with Willock. The strikers certainly couldn't complain about lack of service in this game, much of the best of that came through Willock who was our outstanding attacking player and desperately unlucky to finish on the losing side.
Referee – Leigh Doughty (Blackpool) 8 You’re never going to agree with everything, and nor is a referee going to get everything right – the late decision against Johansen resulting in a booking for dissent was a bit of a joke, and many of the the usual complaints about lack of action on time wasting apply – but overall I rated this the best refereeing display we’ve had this season. Calm, unfussy, uninvolved, right up and on top of play, built like an absolute brick shit-house, very confident and assured. Absolute chalk and cheese from the Keith Stroud-chaired chimp’s tea party on Tuesday night and easy to see why he’s been promoted four levels in five years.
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