For a five-goal thriller, there was relatively little thrill in terms of chances as Coventry City gained their first win back in the Championship by defeating QPR 3-2.
Both teams are likely to come away from the game feeling like they could have prevented the goals that they conceded and were perhaps a touch fortunate to score the goals that they did. QPR dominated the first-half but only had a goal from a penalty to show for their possession. The Sky Blues grew into the game and were ahead early in the second-half from two of the five chances that had been created up to the 50th minute. Flourish was added to the final scoreline via a set-piece goal apiece for the two sides.
A Lesson In Championship Football
The first-half of this game was a demonstration of the gulf between League One and Championship football that we are looking to bridge. Queens Park Rangers were seen by many as potential relegation candidates this season but were able to dictate play fairly comfortably. Much of the opening 45 minutes felt like a cup tie between a higher division side and an underdog.
Perhaps Mark Robins is looking to move away from the possession-oriented style as a reaction to the higher quality of opponent we’re facing this year but we struggled to exert much pressure on the ball in the first-half. QPR looked fitter, stronger and more confident on the ball than we were. To make matters worse, no-one in Sky Blue looked to have any time on the ball, meaning that QPR had little to worry about defensively.
As the first-half wore on, it became apparent that QPR were offering very little threat for all the possession they had. Just when it looked like the game could be winnable if we could nick something at the other end, we gave away a penalty from a situation of little threat. Similarly, the frustration with the second goal conceded was that QPR had created little after scoring that first-half penalty.
It is likely that this team will be able to get up to speed with the pace of Championship football, the bigger challenge is likely to be that teams at this level are better able to punish defensive lapses than we’re used to. The disappointing thing about all four goals we’ve conceded thus far has been that they haven’t reflected the pattern of games, they’ve stemmed from individuals losing concentration.
After such a one-sided first-half, what changed in the second to allow us to win?
The most obvious thing was that we were more assertive without the ball and more composed with it. Without really dominating the game, it felt like we had QPR just where we wanted them as they struggled to find a balance between getting back in the game and not leaving themselves open to the threat we posed on the counter.
The same as last week, a lot of our assurance in possession stemmed from Gustavo Hamer being able to get on the ball. The Dutch midfielder is a delight to watch, his ability to receive the ball under pressure, casually turn away from opponents and have the presence of mind to pick out team-mates in space marks him out as someone who could prove to be better than the level of football we’re currently playing at.
Aiding Hamer was the threat we had on either flank through our wing-backs. If it had just been one of Giles or Dabo in the team, it might have been a little easier for QPR to focus their efforts down one side of the pitch. Having that dual threat meant that their defence constantly had to be aware of what might happen were play to be switched via Hamer. Even when they had multiple defenders around Giles or Dabo, they both possessed the quality to surge past them and thus stretch the game that bit further – that is the difference between them and their back-ups, Brandon Mason and Josh Pask.
Additionally, after the front three struggled in the first-half – struggling to figure out where and when to press QPR’s defence – the energy, movement and inter-play was much brighter leading up to the equaliser and into the second-half. Callum O’Hare’s tireless energy without the ball really stood out here against a team attempting to dominate possession – this is where he could be an essential player for us this season. Matt Godden not only grabbed himself a goal but seemed to understand when he needed run in behind and when he needed to drop deep and allow Allen and O’Hare to run past him. Allen hasn’t taken to Championship football yet but his energy and movement complemented his attacking team-mates.
Our Set-Piece Threat
It is something of an enigma that a team can simultaneously be bad at defending set-pieces and so threatening attacking them. Perhaps it’s the first-team that works on the attacking drill while the second-string has to defend them.
Against Bristol City, many of our better chances came from set-piece situations and it was the same this time out – only, we managed to score from one. It appears that a major difference from last season is the quality of delivery that Gustavo Hamer provides. He seems to be able to put the ball in with both pace and precision that is difficult for opponents to defend.
Whether that is the sole reason or because extra work has gone into our attacking routines is hard to tell, it has been apparent from the opening two games that our centre-backs seem to be having a much easier time getting into space to attack set-pieces than they were last season. Kyle McFadzean possibly mistimed his jump for the winning goal but it didn’t matter because he had gotten a run on the opposing defence and the ball in was so accurate.
If we are to struggle to control games at this level, having a threat from set-pieces is an important way that we are going to be able to keep ourselves in games. As we saw this evening, it can turn a frustrating result into a positive one.