For the opening 20 minutes, it was good. Excellent even.
But the old adage about having to capitalise on your good spells is an old adage for a reason.
We didn’t capitalise.
As Teemu Pukki’s brilliantly self-made opportunity slammed into the post and escaped the overtures of Seny Dieng’s goal line, so drifted away City’s chance of winning the game. Other chances came and went but none were as good as Pukki’s.
Onel Hernandez had a good one that Dieng did well to save and Grant Hanley’s right boot proved as lethal as his 50p-head in front of goal with the last kick of the game, but it always had the feeling of being one of those nights.
We’ve had too many of those lately.
QPR are a decent side of course – we knew that before the match – and we have no divine right to win any Championship game, but the modicum of momentum garnered from Saturday’s win over Stoke needed to be built upon.
Instead of momentum, we’ve had a small step forward followed by one sideways.
Equally, it was a decent game, certainly by 0-0 standards, so how you feel about last night largely depends on what you’re looking for from your football club.
For me, on a night when Watford and Burnley both won from losing positions, it was two points dropped. And while there are some signs of improvement, overall it doesn’t feel as if any corners have been turned.
You don’t tend to win games of football based on just 15 or 20-minute bursts. That’s not enough. But it remains baffling as to why we appear only capable of playing at an intensity and tempo that hurts opponents for those short periods.
Opponents will, of course, adapt tactically and structurally to try and stifle our progress, but good sides can counter those changes and still maintain the upper hand. When City’s Plan A is neutralised we usually enter periods of struggle or nothingness.
During those spells, any chances or half-chances for City are usually borne only of flashes of individual brilliance or a defensive error. And the palpable uncertainty that accompanies those spells of struggle usually culminates with the ball being shifted with the zip of a sloth.
Then it becomes harder to get out and against a well-executed press, like QPR’s, we enter the second phase of nothingness, which predominantly involves both centre-backs and Angus playing the ball slowly, carefully, and deliberately to one another in ever-decreasing triangles.
With neither Isaac Hayden nor Liam Gibbs being especially comfortable taking the ball under pressure or playing on the half-turn, the only alternative to the pat-a-cake triangles is Angus hoofing it long, and, minus the aerial presence of Josh Sargent, we know how that ends.
It was a shame because in those opening 20 minutes it was all so far removed from all of the above. QPR weren’t allowed to get into their defensive shape as the ball was being zipped. Ben Gibson and Sam McCallum, in particular, were effective in moving the ball with speed and purpose and it all flowed nicely from there.
While Sam Byram and Grant Hanley are less adept at this fizzing-a-pass malarkey, with the left side functioning fluently, it mattered little but problems arrived when QPR blocked off that particular avenue of productivity.
With Smith and Shakespeare unable to find a solution, we entered said hour of stagnation.
In that hour we were grateful to Angus for making a couple of outstanding saves. The decision by Dean Smith to ‘rest’ Tim Krul and replace him with a younger model has been justified by Gunn’s excellence. I wasn’t sure, others too questioned the decision but in the big moments, Gunn Junior has stood tall.
I’ll leave the erratic decision-making of Andy Davies for others to debate, and I don’t believe it was he who cost us two points, but for all the moans and groans we have over officials and VAR when we’re in the Premier League, it’s clear with every passing game that the officialdom in tier two is a massive step down.
I suspect we’d better get used to it.
So it was a point, and performance-wise it was an incremental improvement from Saturday despite yielding two fewer points, but on the quality of chances created it was a game we probably should have won.
That we didn’t and that Burnley are now nine points clear of us tells the story of a side with, realistically, top six rather than top two ambitions.
That, right now, is where we are.
I don’t sense the club’s hierarchy has any appetite whatsoever to question whether or not this group could produce more under a more progressive coaching team. Even two defeats in two leading up to the World Cup break would probably be insufficient to trigger change.
So, I guess we have to suck it up and accept that this City side will have the occasional good spell followed by longer, ordinary spells and will tread water in that area betwixt third and eighth in the hope that something clicks in April and May.
This, with the best will in the world, doesn’t have the feel of a group destined for top two. Maybe we’d all be a little less angry if we reconciled ourselves to that.
So, I’ll try my best. But not promising anything.