The Thursday Preview: Bristol City Vs QPR
It can sometimes be surprisingly difficult to pick out a half-decent game for The Thursday Preview across 36 Football League fixtures, but tomorrow evening’s Sky televised match under the Ashton Gate floodlights between Bristol City and QPR is, at least on paper, a corker.
This is the fourth consecutive season that the two clubs have met, but I doubt that players and supporters will have any problems getting up for the match. In the top flight, such repetition more often than not means stagnancy but this fixture suffers from no such troubles; bookending the Championship table in bottom and top place respectively, City and Rangers are both in need points, but for quite different reasons.
Both have had their highs and lows since they returned to the Championship from down below, and they couldn’t be further apart right now. The Robins’ opening two months have been a shambles, whereas Neil Warnock has, to date, brought a steeley consistency rarely witnessed around Shepherd’s Bush. Going into the game, the Londoners have conceded just once in eight and, aside from a minor League Cup blip, remain unbeaten. On the other hand, City can’t stop conceding and it looks like it’ll be a long season for the Championship’s surprise relegation package.
It was all so different when the Cider drinkers, buoyed by a last day promotion from League 1 the year before, first arrived in the second tier. However, as Billy Davies is currently finding out with Forest, momentum is difficult to recapture once it’s left you, and City have been infected by the dreaded slow decline since the play-off final defeat to Hull in 2008. Marked by taking pops at Lee Johnson and local boy done good Cole Skuse, there’s been a whiff of in-fighting for some time now at Ashton Gate and one wonders whether supporters may have played an ever so small part in City’s descent through their (albeit mild) self-flagellation.
There’s reason to be a little more cheerful, though, after the Robins recorded their first home win in six months on Tuesday night against Reading. As slender as it was, the 1-0 victory has provided a morale-boosting base from which to make a belated start to the season and captain Louis Carey has spoken about how he even shed tears at the end of the game. With emotions raw and confidence fragile, this really is a pivotal game and a win in particular could be the making of Keith Millen as the club’s permanent manager. He’ll no doubt hope to settle the team down after a good result so, barring injury, expect the same eleven to start against the R’s. The performance of Jon Stead and rookie centre-half Steven Caulker, one of a legion of Spurs players on loan to Football League clubs, will be key to the outcome for me.
You can expect Warnock’s battle-hardened side to make it difficult, though. They may have struggled creatively after two of their attacking triumvirate, Ákos Buzsáky and Alejandro (Alejandro) Faurlín, were ruled out in recent weeks, but your Clint Hills, Shaun Derrys and Jamie Mackies have still been around to ensure that no team is given an easy ride. There is a suggestion that Rangers have rode their luck on occasion, however, and just today an article on the Guardian Football Blog from Barney Ronay compared the R’s unfavourably to previous second flight winners (with apologies to Reading).
I’m sure they’ll all make some money from this ‘venture’, but it’s a circus behind the scenes at Loftus Road, which no doubt undermines the strides being made on the pitch. One silly comment about Marcello Lippi coming in as manager and another about having no enthusiasm for QPR “at all” are this week’s offerings from the boardroom, which will have reopened supporters’ wounds. Warnock has dealt with worse before, though, and he’ll use his experience to turn this week’s events in his favour. With that in mind, I’d be surprised if his team didn’t come away with anything, but not completely. With Buzsáky still sidelined, there is a question mark lingering over the quality of the R’s attack and they will need to answer those before I start getting too carried away.