There’s no away day slip-up for City as they secure a win on the first day of 2016. Mark Sellers reports.
Away to QPR and live on Sky – It was difficult to know what to expect from the first game of 2016. The last away performances of 2015 were pretty abject, yet memories of a recent victorious visit to West London were still fresh in the mind. Had the team made a New Year’s Resolution to play away as they did at Brentford, or could this be another Preston?
Steve Bruce picked the same starting eleven that beat Burnley 3-0 at the KC on Boxing Day, with Hernandez leading the line and Diamé playing slightly deeper.
Odubajo Maguire Davies Robertson
Elmohamady Livermore Meyler Clucas
QPR have not made a great start to the season, and the new manager Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s squad is now shorn of some of the overpaid stars from last year’s Premier League campaign. Charlie Austin was still injured, so their main strike threat was the German Sebastian Polter.
The game kicked off in front of an oddly quiet Loftus Road crowd of 16,205, 900 or so of which were supporting the Tigers. The home side had marginally the better of the opening salvoes, but the game started slowly, and the Sky TV audience were not richly entertained.
On 17 minutes Livermore gives the ball away in midfield and QPR sweep downfield. Polter takes a touch more than he needed but got a shot off which Maguire blocks, and then stops the second shot from the rebound.
After 21 minutes Grant Hall puts a cross in and Polter again shoots left footed from the centre of the box. This time Davies blocks and City quickly counter attack with Meyler putting the ball through to Clucas, who shoots from outside the QPR area. The attempt is blocked by Onuoha, and spins out for a corner.
On the 41st minute a cross from Elmo is met by Onuoha who swings a boot at the ball, but miss-kicks spectacularly. His sliced clearance spins towards the goal but is caught by Green.
The last attack of the half come from City, with Maguire heading the ball to Robertson following a City corner. The Scotsman shows good composure but his shot fizzes just wide of the right post.
Moments later the referee blows for half time. Both teams are showing little quality, but City look slightly the better. Clucas and Robertson stand out as they link up well down the left flank, but Hernandez cuts a lonely figure upfront and has looked rather isolated throughout the first half.
No changes are made after the break, and City start the better of the two. On 51 minutes Livermore puts a great ball through for Hernandez. The Uruguayan back-heeled deftly to Elmo who whipped a great ball into the box. Unfortunately there was no one to meet it and the score remained goalless.
City progress through the second half looking increasingly comfortable, with the home side barely troubling them. On the hour mark an Elmo cross found Clucas whose shot flashed just wide.
Then on 61 minutes the stalemate is broken. Diamé wins the ball well in his own half, takes the ball all the way up to the edge of the QPR box before sliding an inch perfect ball across to Hernandez who finishes with style, slotting the ball into the bottom right corner of the goal. City lead 0-1 after the first real piece of class in a poor game.
Bruce made his first substitution on 65 minutes with Snodgrass replacing Elmohamady. On 69 minutes Hoilett puts in a long ball which McGregor blocks, but the ball falls to Konchesky who then shoots wide. At 75 minutes Harry McGuire blocks a pass in his own half and then chases down the loose ball. He dives and wins the ball cleanly, but wipes out two QPR players in the centre circle – much to the amusement of the travelling City fans!
With ten minutes remaining there’s a second substitution replacing the goal-scorer Hernandez with Huddlestone. This meant that City had no recognized striker on the pitch and QPR attack more to try to regain a point. The third substitution was made on 85 minutes with Diomande replacing Diamé. The Norwegian hardly had time to get involved though when QPR equalized. An excellent cross is whipped in from Phillips which finds Polter in the middle of the box. The German is un-marked and directs a powerful header past McGregor to make it 1-1.
City keep pressing for the three points though, and straight from the restart Meyler shoots just over the bar. Then on 89 minutes a mix up in the QPR box gives City the win. Clucas put in a great ball which Diomande chased down. Keeper Green and defender Hall collide, and the ball ricocheted into the net of the foot of Diomande. The Norwegian didn’t know much about it, but he was in the right place at the right time. 1-2 and after the added 6 minutes were done City left with all three points.
A good friend of mine told his Canadian wife with a straight face that it’s an English football law that all QPR players are employees of the Queen, and when not playing they work as Park Rangers in Regent’s Park. She still believes this to be true to this day, and judging by the quality shown by the home side that tall tale looked almost believable. City on the other hand were good in parts, rode their luck somewhat, but were certainly more resolute than in other recent away trips. They start 2016 third in the table with the January FA Cup weekend approaching.
Mark Sellers @mrmarkseller