QPR off the bottom after Taarabt master class – full match report
Sunday, 16th Dec 2012 21:01 by Clive Whittingham
A virtuoso display from Adel Taarabt inspired QPR to their first victory of the season at the seventeenth attempt against Fulham on Saturday.
Harry Redknapp cut a disconsolate figure in the after match press conference at the DW Stadium in Wigan last weekend. Reflecting on a draw his team was lucky to get against a team also struggling at the bottom of the league and missing eight first team players the former Tottenham boss wore the look of a man who’d bitten off more than he could chew.
As Wigan laid siege to the Rangers goal after half time Redknapp’s first attempt at plugging the dyke was removing Adel Taarabt before the hour mark. The Moroccan trudged off through the northern rain, at least partly to blame for the first goal and ineffective in attack despite his best efforts, and had the long train journey home to consider what the arrival of Redknapp, who’d sold him on the cheap when they were together at White Hart Lane, might mean for his QPR career.
After three draws against poor teams stretched his team’s winless run to a Premier League record 16 games at the start of the season and the gap to safety stretched out to eight points, Redknapp had some thinking to do as well once he’d calmly posed for everybody’s photographs against the desolate backdrop of Wigan North Western station. The obvious conclusion was that a win against Fulham at Loftus Road this weekend was absolutely vital, and despite the early hook in Lancashire the best way of achieving that was to get Adel Taarabt on the ball in areas where he can hurt opponents.
A week later the Moroccan was in from the start, playing centrally behind Djibril Cisse. Jamie Mackie and Shaun Wright-Phillips were willing runners right and left with Stephane Mbia a dominant midfield anchor in between them which meant Taarabt had more license and less responsibilities. Redknapp had initially secured his midfield by picking Samba Diakite alongside Mbia to prevent other teams from enjoying an easy game against Rangers as had been the case for several opponents under Mark Hughes. He hadn’t selected Ale Faurlin at all in his first three matches but, in need of victory, the Argentinean was given an overdue recall and added a guile and creativity to the midfield that the R’s have been lacking so far in the new manager’s brief reign.
The whole thing turned out to be a masterstroke. Mbia dropped deep so that when Fulham’s enigmatic striker Dimitar Berbatov peeled away from centre halves Clint Hill and Ryan Nelsen to collect possession and link the play he found a mentally unsound Cameroonian trampling all over him. Having almost single handedly destroyed Newcastle on Monday evening the Bulgarian international striker cut a frustrated figure at Loftus Road, often forced out onto the flanks to hunt for quality possession and regularly berating his team mates for the service he was receiving. With Jose Bosingwa mercifully dropped from the squad altogether in favour of Nedum Onuoha – who for all his faults is a good deal more honest and hard working than the former Chelsea mercenary – down the right and Armand Traore on the up cycle of his recent good game-bad game pattern even the wide areas proved to be lean hunting ground for Berbatov and Damien Duff who’d also impressed against Alan Pardew’s side. As well as setting QPR up in a more adventurous way, Redknapp and his coaching staff had clearly done their homework on the opposition. Not only did he finally achieve a victory that proved elusive to Mark Hughes for the best part of six months, Redknapp also showed exactly what the “meticulous preparation” his predecessor used to babble on about should actually look like.
Rangers were on it right from the first whistle, marching to the tune of the Great Escape which rolled down from the stands at a packed Loftus Road. Within a minute and 30 seconds of the kick off Djibril Cisse had accelerated towards goal onto a through ball from Taarabt and hit the deck in the penalty area after a brief wrestling match with Aaron Hughes. The Fulham man looked unable to cope with his opponent’s pace and the home team screamed for a penalty but referee Martin Atkinson, rightly, waved the appeals away. It looked like six of one and half a dozen of another to me.
Undeterred QPR came again, Cisse volleying a Faurlin cross wide after four minutes when Atkinson played an advantage through a foul on Taarabt by Steve Sidwell – a running theme as it would turn out.
Fulham seemed uncomfortable with the pace of the game and the high tempo induced a nervous back pass from John Arne Riise which he might have got away with against an opponent less keen on chasing lost causes than Jamie Mackie. Sadly having done the hard work and seized on the ball in the penalty area Mackie contrived to roll it past goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer and wide of the post when it seemed easier to score.
The caretaker back at Craven Cottage probably heard the groan that greeted the miss, and I think it affected Mackie for the next ten or 15 minutes at least, but his team mates carried on in the same vein. Taarabt burst past two and shot straight at Schwarzer then when Chris Baird barged over Stephane Mbia as he threatened to run through on goal – a foul that really warranted more than just the ticking off Atkinson delivered – Cisse found the wall with two powerful shots and Taarabt hit a third effort wide via a deflection. Those two were certainly combining better than any other striker partnership Rangers have tried this season.
There was only one side in the match at this point and it seemed it would take a QPR mistake to allow Fulham into the contest at all. Sadly the not-so-Super Hoops have been rather adept at creating such catastrophes this season and sure enough at the mid point of the half Ryan Nelsen and Robert Green became rather too absorbed in a foolhardy game of to-me-to-you in their own penalty area which was ended with a poor clearance from the goalkeeper straight to Hugo Rodallega. As 16,000 QPR fans performed a mass face-palm Rodallega quickly laid the ball back into the danger area for Berbatov who was onside, but decided he was probably off and so stood with his hands in the air so as not to draw a flag. Had he played to the whistle and popped the ball into the empty net I suspect he may have found the goal would have been awarded. Clint Hill marched onto the scene and delivered stern bollockings all round.
Mackie, mentally recovered from the early miss, won the ball back high up the field as per the game plan in the twenty fifth minute allowing Taarabt to advance and shoot wide. Then Cisse tried his luck from range and Schwarzer – usually reliable but a little unsteady, particularly with his clearances, in the Newcastle game – was fortunate his fumble didn’t present Taarabt with a tap in.
That propensity for self destruction reared its ugly head on the half hour though when Mbia executed a bizarre clearance in his own penalty area that appeared to be him trying to control a fizzing cross with his chin but looked suspiciously like a handball that Fulham appealed for loudly to no response from Martin Atkinson. Riether collected the loose ball and delivered a fine cross into the corridor of uncertainty between goalkeeper and defence but Robert Green showed excellent awareness and handling to claim the ball cleanly and snuff out the danger.
Mbia is becoming something of a cult hero to the QPR fans, and not only because he spends time at the end of each game picking a child out of the crowd to send home with his shirt. A subplot to last season’s unlikely escape from relegation was the mad Africans sideshow with Diakite trying to kill innocent bystanders while Taye Taiwo tackled people with his face and poured litre bottles of water over Joey Barton at the final whistle. Mbia certainly has all the crazy attributes you want in a QPR player: he’s amusing to watch – wild at times and often playing beautiful passes into areas of the pitch where no QPR player has been for several minutes as if he’s seen a hooped ghost – but he’s also very effective in midfield. He’s a better player than Diakite, and Faurlin is a better player than Granero – the effect of pairing the two of them for the first time was there for all to see in by far and away QPR’s best performance of a lousy season. Both of them were superb here from the first whistle. Redknapp has stumbled across something that works, now just don’t touch anything.
Sadly the half rather petered out thereafter as Fulham got some sort of hold on proceedings and QPR ran out of ideas slightly. Martin Jol sent on former Rangers’ loanee Stephen Kelly for German full back Sacha Riether at half time – a straight swap due to injury presumably, rather than a tactical change, but one that helped the visitors start the second half much the brighter of the two teams. John Arne Riise got in behind Onuoha early and Rangers had to fight hard to scramble his cross away.
Step forward Adel Taarabt once again. His teammates often appear infuriated with his propensity to shoot rather than pass whenever he gets within sight of the goal and indeed a couple of supporters sitting near us at Old Trafford recently all gave him some serious abuse for trying his luck from long range when other options were available. But Taarabt is a serial scorer of spectacular goals and he’s shown in the past that lotteries are won first and foremost by buying a ticket. When he let go of a scuffed 25 yard effort in the fifty second minute here, having been found intelligently by Faurlin as he so often is when he is at his best, you could almost hear the beginning of the groans but for once this season QPR’s luck was in and with Schwarzer already committed to his right the ball took a heavy deflection off Brede Hangeland and rolled into the Loft End net.
Ridiculously, considering not only some of the bad challenges he allowed to go without a card or even a warning, Martin Atkinson showed his first yellow of the afternoon to Taarabt for over celebrating. Considering he didn’t remove his shirt, or hurdle any advertising hoardings to get into the crowd, which seems to be the two interpretations of this joyless, draconian, pointless, evil law of the game it seemed even harsher and more pedantic than usual.
No matter, the goal lifted a weight from every hooped shoulder and rather than inspire a panic and immediate collapse as it did at Wigan, taking the lead actually seemed to galvanise QPR this time. Within five minutes the imperious Ryan Nelsen caught Baird dallying on the ball in his own half after Fulham had half cleared a corner and after winning possession back for his team Nelsen fed Cisse who beat Schwarzer all ends up with what looked like an absolutely perfect curling side footed finish until it flashed agonisingly wide of the post.
That would have lifted the roof off this tiny, atmospheric stadium but the crowd was well into the game by this point anyway and they bayed for blood – or at least a yellow card – as Steve Sidwell hauled down Adel Taarabt and then chopped down Shaun Wright-Phillips without receiving so much as a word on the run from Atkinson. The mood only darkened when the ginger haired Fulham midfielder fell theatrically to ground to win his own free kick at the other end which Mladen Petric – sent on for the ineffective Kieran Richardson - smacked straight at Rob Green.
But Jol’s biggest problem was that nobody on his team was able to cope with Taarabt. Sidwell hauling the Moroccan to the ground was the only way the Whites had found to actually stop him spreading havoc amidst their defence, and even then the reprieves were only temporary. Taarabt is far from a fragile show pony that can be intimidated and kicked out of games. He bustles past players not only with skill, but with deceptive strength across his shoulders that makes him hard to knock off the ball or ease out of situations. It gives him a swaggering style, but it also means he tends to bounce straight back up from any undue physical contact and rather than frighten him out of games it actually seems to serve as encouragement.
This whole performance felt like him coming of age as a Premier League player and he crowned it with a magnificent second goal in the sixty eighth minute. He used a mixture of strength, skill and good fortune to play his way through Hangeland and then having wrong footed what remained of the Fulham defence with a neat touch over the top of the ball he rolled it into the far corner of the net with the outside of his right foot from 20 yards. This was genius, there’s no other word for it. It was so well executed that he was able to beat one of the league’s better goalkeepers from long range with a shot that carried so little venom it barely hit the net after rolling over the line. I could watch it a thousand times. In the battle of the maverick forward players Taarabt was outplaying Berbatov comprehensively, and the Fulham man surely couldn’t help but admire a goal of such beauty from somebody who is still, remember, only 23 and mercifully tied down to a long term deal in W12.
Taarabt is unplayable when he’s like this, and having nutmegged Sidwell for the umpteenth time to draw a fifth foul of the afternoon from his demoralised opponent even Atkinson was forced to concede defeat in his attempt to allow the Fulham man to referee the game and issued a yellow card that brought a cheer almost as loud as the one that met the second goal. Bizarrely, two minutes later, Ashkan Dejagah committed his first offence since replacing Hugo Rodallega five minutes previously and was booked immediately. Now I appreciate that it’s the seriousness of the offence that determines the punishment, and not the time a player has been on the pitch or the number of previous infringements, but I didn’t think Dejagah’s trip on Ale Faurlin was anything worse than Sidwell had done several times over for the previous hour. Rodallega too had committed three similar fouls in quick succession immediately after half time without being spoken to and yet having done everything in his power not to book two other Fulham players Atkinson was now flashing a yellow card at another for little reason whatsoever and just to really put the tin hat on it all Sidwell then hacked Taarabt to the floor yet again just five minutes after being booked and was once more let off without a word from the official. A poor refereeing performance from an official who really seems to have lost all form and confidence during 2012.
Had the former Reading and Chelsea man then scored, as he very nearly did six minutes from the end of regulation time, the sense of injustice would have burned bright but Ale Faurlin read the danger and when the ball dropped in the area he was able to execute a fine last ditch block and keep Robert Green’s sheet clean.
QPR had worked hard throughout the match. You couldn’t fault a single one of the players in what was clearly the best performance of the season by some distance. Even the much maligned Shaun Wright-Phillips received a standing ovation when he left the field five minutes before the end to be replaced by Fabio as Redknapp sought fresh legs and defensive security. QPR fans are notorious for picking out one of their own players as a boo-boy target and Wright-Phillips has certainly done more than enough for be the latest subject of such treatment in recent weeks, but you really couldn’t fault him here. He put more hard work in this game than he has in the last nine months put together and was a good deal more effective than he has been since the very beginning of his time at the club. I was impressed, and judging by the reaction of the crowd when he left so was everybody else.
Sadly though any hopes of cruising through to full time with a two goal cushion were about to be punctured. For the first time in the whole game Fulham found space in between the QPR defence and midfield and although Faurlin did his best to get back and challenge Petric, he succeeded only in deflecting his speculative shot out of the reach of Robert Green and into the bottom corner.
You could feel the fear; the air was thick with panic. Somehow amongst it all Armand Traore found himself in an attacking position and swung over a hopeful cross that Cisse did amazingly well to not only angle himself and get a solid header on a ball that seemed to be behind him, but also direct it up towards the top corner where it seemed certain to nestle in the net until Schwarzer thrust up his gloves and palmed it out of the night sky.
Redknapp did little to reassure the massed faithful by introducing Anton Ferdinand. This was presumably to mark Hangeland who was now being utilised as a makeshift centre forward but given Ferdinand’s recent form and what happened when he came off the bench at Old Trafford I think most would have been happier if he’d kept his tracksuit on and yelled encouragement from the sidelines. Petric was awarded a free kick when Faurlin appeared to win the ball cleanly and Robert Green rushed from his line to punch clear a cross from Sidwell. It was agonising – panic and chaos reigned where just moments before the R’s had seemed so confident and assured.
Only Taarabt, who bought a further 45 seconds of time by spurning the chance to run to the corner himself and feeding a pass that oozed class and natural awareness right across the field to unmarked Jamie Mackie instead, seemed unaffected by the blind fear that was gripping everybody involved with the Premier League’s beleaguered bottom side.
When the whistle finally went after what seemed like several years it felt like a cup semi final success. Pathetic to an outsider, but unashamedly joyous to those who have suffered six long, hard, lean months since the last league win here against Stoke. It was tempting to ask exactly where this team has been hiding – suddenly passionate, hard working and creative after weeks of half arsed attempts to play something sort of resembling football – but it was no coincidence that it came with a balanced team containing just three of the 12 big name signings Mark Hughes inflicted on Loftus Road during the summer. This was the first time this season none of Jose Bosingwa, Julio Cesar, Ji Sung Park, Esteban Granero, Junior Hoilett, and Bobby Zamora had started for QPR and the result was there for all to see.
The question is now, can Harry Redknapp somehow find nine or ten more performances like this to pull off the Premier League’s most unlikely relegation escape of all time? On this evidence you shouldn’t put it past him.
QPR: Green 6, Onuoha 7, Nelsen 7, Hill 7, Traore 7, Wright-Phillips 7 (Fabio 85, -), Faurlin 8, Mbia 8, Mackie 6, Taarabt 9, Ciise 7 (Ferdinand 90, -)
Subs not used: Cesar, Derry, Diakite, Granero, Hoilett
Goals: Taarabt 52 (assisted Faurlin), 68 (unassisted)
Bookings: Taarabt 52 (overcelebrating)
Fulham: Schwarzer 5, Riether 6 (Kelly 45, 6), Hangeland 5, Hughes 5, Riise 6, Duff 6, Sidwell 5, Baird 5, Richardson 5 (Petric 63, 7), Berbatov 6, Rodallega 6 (Dejagah 72, 5)
Subs not used: Etheridge, Senderos, Karagounis, Kacaniklic
Goals: Petric 88 (unassisted)
Bookings: Sidwell 75 (repetitive fouling), Dejagah 77 (foul)
QPR Star Man – Adel Taarabt 9 Nothing further to add. Magnificent. Humiliated Steve Sidwell so often, so comprehensively and in such a wide variety of ways that it almost seemed wrong to have them on the same pitch together.
Referee – Martin Atkinson (West Yorkshire) 5 Now as I’ve said plenty of times before I’m all for a referee keeping his cards in his pocket and trying to allow a game to flow, staying out of the action and letting the players get on with it, and I presume that’s what Atkinson was trying to do here. What he actually did was create a bit of a farce where Steve Sidwell was allowed to rampage around the field doing pretty much as he pleased while Adel Taarabt and Ashkan Dejagah were immediately booked for much less serious offences. Whether you think he got the Cisse decision right in the opening minute or not – I think he was correct not to give a foul – this was a distinctly average refereeing performance overall.
Attendance 18,233 (3,000 Fulham approx) A fantastic atmosphere inside Loftus Road until, the Petric goal went in at which point a terrified hush descended. Silver Lining, played for the first time in more than six months, sounded very, very sweet indeed.
Pictures – Action Images
Photo: Action Images
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