It was an unhappy end to 2021 for Bristol City as their final game of a tough year saw a fifth home defeat of the campaign. With Derby County continuing to win, Championship survival is not a given for any team languishing in the bottom six.
The Robins did play well on Thursday evening, and if they could score more goals at home then 2022 may include more happier times.
Unable to net more than one goal for a third time this season at home, the West Country men slipped to a 1-2 loss at Ashton Gate.
Here are our key takeaways from the match.
Referee irks Pearson
It wasn’t just the crowd livid after the game with referee Andy Davies.
The only referee to have been contracted as a player as well as a referee sent off Andy King, denied Bristol City a penalty but gave QPR one and was deemed by many in BS3 to have got many decisions wrong in the 1-2 defeat.
Nigel Pearson walked into the referee as he left the pitch following the game, telling him that it had been a dismal performance.
Afterwards, Pearson called it “dodgy refereeing” and labelled Davies “We should have had a penalty that we didn’t get,” he said. “We had it all on playing 11 against 10, but the decisions just continued to be awful. It was a terrible performance. I’m not someone who moans a lot but let me tell you that was awful. And I told him as well.”
Davies was not down to referee the game originally - Andy Woolmer was - but Pearson did not know why the referee was switched before the match, with Woolmer not involved in any other top or second tier games.
Semenyo adds electricity to front-line
The Bristol City fans (well, a big proportion of) got what they asked for. Chris Martin was left out of the starting XI for the first time this season and instead 21-year-old Antoine Semenyo lead the line.
Andi Weimann played off the right and Callum O’Dowda on the left, as the men in red started the game well and played the better football in the first half.
But City were pegged back, first when defender George Tanner limped off injured, then when referee Andy Davies awarded QPR a penalty and then once more in the second half as Andy King was sent off. Set-pieces were a regular weakness in 2020/21 and a late corner saw Yoann Barbet net the winning goal two minutes into injury time.
Semenyo was impressive however, if unable to convert two good O’Dowda crosses in the first half, the first a brilliant flick that had Seny Dieng diving low at his near post to keep the ball out.
The former SGS player’s high pressing meant that City could keep QPR at arm’s length for long periods, and there was an energy about the front line not often seen in these parts, since arguably the days of Bobby Reid.
Bentley not for sale
Bristol World asked manager Nigel Pearson after the game if goalkeeper Dan Bentley had transfer interest in him, with the club captain surprisingly dropped for this defeat. And coming in the wake of a record financial loss announced and on the eve of the transfer window.
The former Leicester City manager explained that that was not the case and that he plans to keep hold of Bentley for some time yet.
“No. Not that I’m aware of - and frankly I’m not interested in that type of an issue,” said Pearson. “My job is to select the best side for every game. Whether people agree with that I don’t really care.“
I do what is right for the team,” said Pearson, saluting his team’s performance, and in particular their work with the ball. He bemoaned late goals. “My reflection on the game is good performance, committed, lots of energy, quality out there as well. If we do that every game, we’ll be fine,” he added, also hinting that Bentley’s non-appearance may have been because of a disciplinary or training ground performance issue issue: “The rules apply to everybody at the football club”.
How good are QPR then?
As Bristol City remained in 18th position, the victors are just where City aspire to be, attacking the top six, up to seventh and a point behind Huddersfield and Middlesbrough who are fifth and sixth respectively.
QPR did not play well here and if the Robins had been more clinical in the first half then the game would have been beyond the team from the capital.
Mark Warburton explained following the game that his resources were stretched with defensive midfielder Dominic Ball unable to play due to being ill but still named on the bench in case of an emergency. Only five subs were named.
And but for the occasional Luke Amos foray forward, with the energetic central midfielder thrust into a more advanced position because of absences, QPR did not do a whole lot. And that will disappoint City fans, who will see that a decent team can play badly at Ashton Gate and still nick the points.
The Robins must now copy QPR, recruit well and then be going for the upper echelons of the league themselves in a year’s time.