First things first. I was lucky enough to miss Friday’s horror show. As I drove home, I listened to the first 10 minutes on TalkSPORT2. It was a close run thing which was worse – the game or the coverage. Then I remembered good old Radio Norfolk on the medium wave and got my answer.
So David Wagner reacted by bringing in Isaac Hayden and Dimi Giannoulis in an effort to shore up the defence. For those of you who have criticised Grant Hanley and Ben Gibson throughout the season, I do hope you can now see what they bring to this team.
City began in control, tidy but slow, and with little threat or progression into the QPR half. It took nearly five minutes for the possession to be turned into a threat. Liam Gibbs set Onel Hernandez free and from his cross, Josh Sargent hit a looping header onto the top of the net.
Sargent was involved again a few minutes later when Max Aarons played the ball down the right channel. The American battled Clarke-Salter for the ball and as it went out of play, some unnecessary pushing and shoving broke out.
City then moved forward again. Hernandez played a nice ball to Gibbs who burst forward and elected to shoot when there were better options, Dieng taking the ball comfortably.
Then, after nine minutes, from an innocuous position, QPR scored. Marquinhos stood off Chair, allowing him to cut onto his right foot. His curling ball was chested down by Dykes for a simple finish. Jacob Sorensen was in no man’s land, allowing Dykes in between him and Giannoulis. More woeful defending.
The after-effects of that chastening Friday immediately became apparent. QPR looked up for it and hassled, harried, and hurried a shell-shocked City. The tactic was clear. Get balls in the box. City looked vulnerable every time they did so.
After 20 minutes, Andrew Omobamidele should have seen a ball out but somehow he allowed Iroegbenum to get past him. His shirt tug bought him a yellow and a free kick for QPR on the edge of the penalty box – which City cleared.
Then Gabriel Sara was beaten way too easily and QPR broke down the right. This time Hernandez dived in with a poor tackle and conceded a free kick in a mirror-image position. This one was whipped in, deflected off Sorensen, and off the inside of the post.
After a religious interlude where Wagner probably used some decidedly un-religious words, City finally got forward. Aarons played a great ball to Marquinho on the right. His cross was cleared just as Sargent was about to pull the trigger.
Then City went forward again. It started with a very risky ball across the back by Marquinho to Aarons. City then built purposely and the move ended with Aarons cutting in and hitting a shot that was well saved by Dieng.
Moments later, Giannoulis took a throw. As the ball was returned to him, Dykes crashed into him and he fell backwards, sustaining a nasty blow on the advertising hoardings. Given the ease with which referee Keith Stroud brandished a red card for Marquinhos a few weeks ago, I was surprised to see only a yellow. Giannoulis had to go off and Sam McCallum came on as a concussion substitute.
Then Hayden went in for a 50/50 ball and, much to the fury of the crowd, didn’t even concede a free kick. To me, it looked like his boot stopped and his knee followed through on the QPR player, making it look much worse than it was, but chaos broke out on the benches as a result.
Towards the end of the half, City finally gained some momentum, winning three corners. As the half drew to an end, City broke quickly down the left. Sargent did well to take the ball, shield it and then work a shooting opportunity, his shot flashing across goal and going inches wide.
At half-time, Wagner switched Marquinhos for Idah – the Arsenal loanee again offering little in the way of an attacking threat.
With the half only seconds old, Hernandez did well to keep the ball in on the left, and then set Sargent free. He pulled the ball back to Sara who hit a shot that Dieng could only parry to the far post where a grateful Idah touched it home to equalise.
From then on, it should have been City’s chance to seize the game. They applied pressure, forcing QPR back and winning a succession of corners. Andy Hughes may have masterminded two great routines at Millwall but since then, no others have come off. Last night was the same as every corner only found a player in a hooped shirt.
Sara did his best to let QPR back into it, giving away a dreadful pass right on the edge of the area, but Gunn saved well from Amos.
Idah was injecting a bit of pace into the attack, and as he broke, Chair hauled him down taking a yellow but saving QPR from an awkward moment.
The longer the game went on, the more frantic it became, neither side could afford not to win. It went from end to end at times, but neither side had the quality or the confidence to build a real threat.
QPR came closest with a corner that Gunn was happy to tip over the bar. City, in reply, forced a couple of saves from Dieng.
Wagner then took a leaf from the old Daniel Farke playbook, throwing on Teemu Pukki, Sam Byram, Marcelino Nunez and Christos Tzolis.
In the last few chaotic minutes, City were camped in the QPR half, winning corners in quick succession before Nunez delivered a peach of a cross that Dieng had to punch clear before the final whistle went.
This looked what it was. A fragile, shell-shocked, shot-shy City side, struggling for a creative spark. In the first half, we looked like we could have conceded another five. Against better opposition, we would have. The second half finally bought a bit more fight and passion, but these things alone don’t bring you goals.
Mathematically at least, the play-off places are still possible. I dread to think what would happen if we met Middlesborough again with this defence, so we are now firmly into ‘plan for next season’ territory, with maybe a local derby to look forward to at least.