After another solemn week for Bluebirds fans, amid the murmurings of “Harris Out” getting louder and more poignant, the Capital had the task of welcoming fellow league strugglers QPR. With the signings of Max Watters from Crawley, who’d scored 16 times in 18 games for the League Two outfit, and Perry Ng from Crewe Alexandra, an out-and-out right back, there was reason for City to be hopeful. However, old habits die hard, unable to truly threat a poor Rangers team, Cardiff slumped to yet another 1-0 defeat.
After a subsiding performance against Norwich on the weekend, Neil Harris’ men were once again searching for their first league win of the new year, and the first in 4 games, having not won since the 16th of December against a struggling Birmingham City.
In the return fixture, the Rs were dominant against City, an accolade that hasn’t been uncommon for Cardiff’s opposition. Though a Joe Ralls double looked likely to undeservedly steal a point from the Londoners, a Dominic Ball winner for the hosts broke Bluebirds hearts in the 90+1 minute – a trend all too synonymous with the Welsh team this season. Cardiff were, or at least should have been, licking their lips at the opportunity in front of them, the visitors had only won 1 game in their previous 11 attempts, only picking up 7 points in that time.
The return of captain Sean Morrison to the heart of the defence, and top scorer Kieffer Moore to forward the side had Bluebirds fans more optimistic than they had been in previous weeks. Add to this the addition of Watters and Ng, two of the English leagues hottest properties, Cardiff were, on paper, looking like a strong team once again. Leandro Bacuna slotted into his natural midfield birth, lining up in an unconventional diamond alongside Joe Ralls, with Harry Wilson playing in front, and Will Vaulks just behind.
Mark Warburton made two changes to the side that beat Luton Town, Chris Willock replacing former Swansea City midfielder Tom Carroll, and American native Niko Hämäläinen coming in for Fenerbahçe bound Bright Osayi-Samuel.
Once again, City started the game with attacking intent, stringing together a promising move. Although lively, the away side had the first attempts of the match, with both the Rs experienced strikers spurning early opportunities.
Charlie Austin, normally prolific at Championship level, volleyed an effort wide of the post, while Scotland international Lyndon Dykes nodded a header over the bar, beating the offside trap.
These early chances spurred City into life, building neat phases of play, coming increasingly close to finding the net. A brilliant chance came to Moore, who rose highest from a corner, meeting the header, but nodding it downwards past the post.
Again, the home side threatened, Ralls relishing from a more balanced midfield, turning well in space, getting a powerful shot off, however it was held comfortably by Dieng.
City’s best opportunity of the half came moments later, Harry Wilson teed up Ralls from a freekick after being cynically fouled by Yoann Barbet. The Cardiff midfielder’s shot was blocked on the edge of the box, rebounding to debutant Ng, who’s whipping shot was destined for the top corner had it not been for a superb fully stretched Dieng, who then saved again from a Morrison follow-up.
One final opportunity came the way of the hosts, Ralls lofting a ball behind the QPR defence towards the on-rushing Watters, the bounce the only thing denying the striker from a debut goal, Dieng gathering easily.
Halftime: Cardiff City 0-0 QPR
Goalless going into the second half, the visitors looked the livelier, turning the tides of the game in their favour.
Firstly, Austin saw a clear-cut opportunity sail over the bar from within the area, with a Dykes header moments later coming to the same conclusion. These were warning signs for Cardiff.
Austin did see his shot in the back of the net on 65 minutes, only for it to be disallowed for a high-foot earlier on in the play, as Ilias Chair’s dink was diverted goalbound by the Englishman.
Though, the Bluebirds didn’t heed these warnings, finding themselves trailing only a few minutes later. Poor defending and lacklustre closing-down allowed newly introduced Macauley Bonne to tee up Willock on the edge of the area, who slotted his effort past former R Alex Smithies.
An instant impact by Bonne, who nearly added to his assist with a goal of his own, meeting a Chair cross with his head, only to be denied by a brilliant Smithies stop. Both keeper’s were proving imperative to their side’s performance.
This was furthered by yet another succession of excellent Dieng stops, firstly denying Wilson a clear goal-scoring opportunity, then tipping a Bacuna freekick wide, and finaly diverting a downwards Moore header that looked destined to nestle in the back of the net.
With that, the final whistle blew, with Cardiff coming to their sixth consecutive loss since September 2018, dropping to 15th in the table. At the start of the season, the club had set the reasonable target of being within the playoffs by the midway point, but the Bluebirds now find themselves in serious threat of entering a relegation battle. Things need to change.
Fulltime: Cardiff City 0-1 QPR.
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