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Zamora’s freakish late show seals win at Boro – report
Monday, 24th Mar 2014 01:42 by Clive Whittingham

An astonishing period of stoppage time at the end of Saturday’s game with Middlesbrough saw QPR go within an inch of losing the match only to end up winning it 3-1.

A moment to restore faith in the unpredictable beauty and tragedy of professional football. A moment to turn QPR’s topsy turvy 2013/14 back onto a positive track? Time will tell.

Middlesbrough and Queens Park Rangers have, at times this season, come to personify everything that is maddeningly frustrating about the modern British game. A sport that used to be about kick and rush and light ales on Thursday after training has been permeated by foreign coaches, and as more have arrived, so English football has become mired in a weird identity crisis.

Now we see sides in the Championship, which used to be particularly bloody and thunderous, attempting poor-Spanish tribute acts, tapping the ball this way and that like they’ve seen on the television, playing not to lose rather than going to win. QPR keep possession in their own half with such steadfast rigidity that you’d think five completed passes counts as half a goal while Middlesbrough, who have hired former Real Madrid coach Aito Karanka as their new manager since these sides last met, had won only one of their last ten but kept clean sheets in six of those matches prior to this team.

Neither side has been at all good to watch this season and apathy and stony silence rose from 20,025 empty seats in Middlesbrough’s soulless Riverside Stadium and hung in the air on the early spring fog. For a long time this game looked like it would follow the script to the letter. QPR were abject before half time, arguably their worst 45 minutes of the season, but Middlesbrough struggled to take advantage, showing all the attacking inclination and ability of the French navy, and the sides were deadlocked at the break. Rangers improved in the second period but rarely threatened or were threatened themselves.

Games like this have gone away from QPR in the final minute on more than one occasion this season – Doncaster Rovers and Charlton have both won turgid battles with Harry Redknapp’s side with the last kick before now – and when more scrappy defending saw the ball drop to George Friend on the edge of the area with time and space to pick his spot the Rangers manager, under increasing scrutiny of late, must have feared the worst. Friend set himself, drew his foot back, executed his shot perfectly, and sent the ball screaming an inch wide of the post with returning goalkeeper Robert Green totally beaten.

Redknapp has been quick to say how unfortunate his side has been with injuries this season, and indeed you could make up a very useful starting 11 with substitutes of the players QPR had missing for this game. Richard Dunne’s one match suspension and Karl Henry’s flu bug added them to a list that already includes Charlie Austin, Andy Johnson, Matt Phillips, Ale Faurlin, Armand Traore, Benoit Assou-Ekotto and half a dozen others.

But his luck was in here. Not only did Friend’s shot miss the target, but Rangers then concocted a farcical winner in the second minute of added time. Boro, disappointed not to have won but still with time to search for that crucial second goal, looked set to attack again when Ken Omeruo rolled the ball back to his keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos to, in theory, launch another aerial assault on the penalty box at the other end. Bobby Zamora, on as a second half substitute and departing from his usual lazy carthorse MO, decided to run the ball own ad hurry the keeper’s kick. The big Greek was suitably worried by this to stride out of his area and try to take the ball first time but as he did so it hit an invisible divot on an otherwise pristine playing surface, leapt a couple of inches off the ground and left the keeper to swing at fresh air and fall to the floor. Zamora calmly walked the ball into the empty net and then stopped. Up in the corner of the stand, 600 bemused QPR fans also stopped. Everybody looked at the referee, looked at the linesman, looked at the goalkeeper, looked at the linesman again… and then a comically huge smile spread across Zamora’s lips. QPR had won.

There was still time to seal the victory in some style as well. Zamora involved again, climbing high to flick on Green’s clearance into the path of Ravel Morrison who took a touch on his thigh, accelerated away from Omeruo heading laterally across the pitch just to the point where you thought the angle had narrowed too much for him, then unloaded a pure strike across Konstantopoulos and into the far corner like a bullet. The jubilant faithful in the away end had only just stopped moshing after the Zamora goal and a game-sealing third meant the East Coast mainline was awash with drunken Rangers fans on the way home. Five from five for the West Ham loanee.

Whether this proves to be a turning point for QPR, or merely papers over cracks, remains to be seen. The first half performance suggests it’s very much the latter. Although QPR could and perhaps should have scored in the first minute when Konstantopoulos saved Barton’s powerful volley and then leapt up to save Little Tom Carroll’s follow up with his feet, Rangers were truly horrendous before half time. Carroll was back in midfield, so some forward ambition was at least shown with the occasional pass, and Yun Suk-Young was an impressive addition at left back, strong defensively an swift on the counter attack, but mostly this was more disjointed, aimless rubbish from the London side.

The Middlesbrough goal, scored after 19 minutes, summed the whole thing up. George Friend came forward from left back and cut inside with the ball. Right back Aaron Hughes never got anywhere near making a tackle and although the recalled Yossi Benayoun was in a position to do so he decided to stand with both hands in the air and do nothing at all instead. That was almost as pathetic as Barton lazily thumping the loose ball straight at Friend having reached it first, allowing the Boro man to continue on his way to opening the scoring with a shot that Robert Green got two hands to and should have kept out. Four QPR players at fault, Barton, Benayoun and Green particularly culpable, and you wondered if it was going to be another one of those days.

Prior to that only a fine save diving off to his right by Green denied Jacob Butterfield from 25 yards, then when Rangers fell fast asleep at a Middlesbrough throw in – just as they did for a Burnley goal in the recent meeting with the Clarets – Butterfield was allowed to skip into the area unchecked and tee up Whitehead for a shot that deflected over the bar. Friend’s ambitious long range volley was held by Green.

Harry Redknapp made six changes before the game following a midweek thumping at Hillsborough, and added youth teamers Coll Donalson and Michael Petrasso to his bench for the first time, but it didn’t seem to have made a blind bit of difference. QPR struggled for shape in midfield, with Benayoun lightweight and ineffective and Niko Kranjcar unable to get on the ball in dangerous positions. Carroll impressed while Barton toiled and the struggles of lone striker Will Keane, back in for Bobby Zamora, continued. On four different occasions either side of half time the R’s tried to execute a short corner routine only to make a mess of it, including one particularly ball acheing moment where Morrison toed the ball straight out for a goal kick having received it short from the set piece. On the one occasion they did toss the ball into the box it was cleared and, despite only committing three men forward for the set piece, the R’s somehow allowed a dangerous counter attack to develop at the other end. I wanted to rip off my face and eat it so I didn’t have to watch them any more.

But the R’s came back into things in the final five minutes of the half and, crucially, got a goal before half time. Morrison had fired a powerful warning shot that Konstantopoulos acrobatically tipped over with one hand before the Super Hoops levelled matters. Morrison’s probing running set up Kranjcar for a shot that was blocked into the path of Benayoun on the six yard line and he smacked a first time shot into the roof of the net. Boro appealed for offside, the replays showed he was level, the goal stood.

That was perfectly timed from a QPR point of view. The R’s couldn’t possibly be any worse in the second half and yet they were going in level. Boro would surely be punished for their lack of ambition in attack. Well, eventually, yes, but for almost the entire second period a draw looked the most likely, and fairest outcome.

There was certainly more shape and purpose to Rangers after the break. Suk-Young grew into the game as an attacking force down the left while Kranjcar, Benayoun and Morrison actually assembled into some semblance of pattern behind Keane. Kranjcar dragged an early shot wide, Hughes whipped a cross into the near post that Keane was an inch away from converting, Carroll went over in the penalty area as he attempted to twist away from two would-be tacklers but referee Keith Hill (probably correctly) said no penalty.

But at times it was a niggly, frustrating period of football. Kei Kamara conceded a foul on Morrison deep in the QPR half a quarter of an hour from time and, not wanting to be caught out by a quick free kick, picked up the ball on his hands. Morrison tried to retrieve it only to become embroiled in an argument that quickly turned into a push and shove match with all the usual suspects wading in for a say. Hill showed yellow cards to Kamara, Morrison and Barton.

Earlier Friend and Nathaniel Chalobah had been carded for fouls, and Niko Kranjcar had to be replaced by substitute Junior Hoilett when, after picking up a yellow card after half an hour, he set off on a one man fouling mission for the early bath water which included a dive that sparked arguments between the two benches, and a deliberate handball that would almost always bring a booking in the modern game.

There was a booking too for Friend for a foul in back play in a QPR move that ended with Junior Hoilett’s weekly injury scare and, much to the chagrin of the home fans and half the Middlesbrough team, Boro kicking the ball out of play so he could be treated.

Boro were utterly toothless in return. Danny Graham, a shadow of the player who used to terrify QPR in Watford and Swansea colours, was entirely isolated in attack – almost as if trying to score a goal or two if a total afterthought for the team from the north east. Only really Chalobah, on loan from Chelsea, carried any real purpose and forward momentum in his game. The addition of former QPR club-shop favourite Emmanuel Ledesma for Kamara with a few moments left made little difference. Had Karanka known of QPR’s previous struggles against former players he’d perhaps have been tempted to start the Argentinean.

Rangers sent on Zamora for Keane with 25 minutes left, which suggested they fancied their chances of a win, and Gary O’Neil for Yossi Benayoun ten minutes later, which hinted they were happy with a point. Morrison lashed wide from 25 yards with the keeper beaten as we ticked into five minutes of time added on at the end of the game.

Zamora continued a pattern he has been running since Christmas – impressing as a second half substitute, winning a starting place for the following game and then playing like a tart. It’s almost got to the stage now where you don’t want him to come on and play well because it means he’ll start the following week and he’s clearly, with years advancing and fitness declining, best suited to that cameo 20-25 minutes at the end of games these days. He was decent here, which no doubt means he’ll have to try and do 90 minutes against Wigan on Tuesday night now.

His final act in this game was extraordinary. It’s significance will only be known in nine game's time.

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Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos 5; Varga 6, Omeruo 5, Gibson 6, Friend 7; Whitehead 5, Chalobah 7; Butterfield 6 (Tomlin 63, 6), Kamara 6 (Ledesma 88, -), Adomah 6; Graham 4

Subs not used: Steele, Williams, Main, Morris, Atkinson

Goals: Friend 19 (unassisted)

Bookings: Chalobah 65 (foul), Friend 71 (foul), Kamara 75 (unsporting conduct)

QPR: Green 6; Hughes 5, Onuoha 6, Hill 6, Suk-Young 7; Carroll 6, Barton 5; Benayoun 5 (O’Neil 76, 6), Morrison 7, Kranjcar 6 (Hoilett 61, 6); Keane 5 (Zamora 64, 7)

Subs not used: Simpson, Murphy, Donaldson, Petrasso

Goals: Benayoun 44 (assisted Kranjcar), Zamora 90+2 (unassisted), Morrison 90+5 (assisted Zamora)

Bookings: Carroll 22 (foul), Kranjcar 31 (foul), Morrison 75 (unsporting conduct), Barton 75 (unsporting conduct), O’Neil 90+1 (foul)

QPR Star Man – Yun Suk-Young 7 From nowhere the South Korean reappeared on Tuesday night as a second half substitute at Sheffield Wednesday and was poor. Here he started and was a different player: strong physically and in his positioning defensively and capable of putting some crunching tackles in as well, he also impressed bombing forward down the left hand side. With any luck this form will continue, and Benoit Assou-Ekotto won’t get back in. Creditable mentions to Ravel Morrison and Bobby Zamora.

Referee – Keith Hill (Hertfordshire) 7 A hell of a lot of cards for a game that didn’t have a lot of needle to it, but looking bac on them all it’s hard to disagree with any of the decisions. In fact given that Niko Kranjcar committed a foul, a dive and a deliberate handball after his yellow, Tom Carroll also went down theatrically in the penalty area after he’d been booked, and Joey Barton got away with a bad foul while on a yellow, you could knock points off for him being too lenient.

Attendance – 15,075 (600 QPR approx) A ground with more empty seats than supporters, and atmosphere akin to an old morgue. It’s another one for the case file on what we don’t want QPR to end up playing in under any circumstances.

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Kaos_Agent added 03:01 - Mar 24
"apathy and stony silence rose from 20,025 empty seats in Middlesbrough’s soulless Riverside Stadium and hung in the air on the early spring fog"

Very good Clive. Brrr. Nice report. I presume that the fiery ending dispelled some of the gloom. YSY is the revelation here, if he can follow it up. It would be great to see him seize BAE's spot and be a positive influence on the work rate. But there are certainly a lot of other cracks that still need some mortar.

Kiwi76 added 03:16 - Mar 24
Thanks Clive and well done the QPR 600 - given midweek performance had 0-0 as best we could hope for so pleasant surprise taking the 3pts.
For all our chucking money away it looks like Morrison is going to be key in at least ensuring we get to Play Offs with chance of some reinforcements returning.
Some encouraging signs with Suk-Young performance and Donaldson/Petrasso on the bench.
Hopefully more midweek.

timcocking added 03:19 - Mar 24
"showing all the attacking inclination and ability of the French navy" tis a good one.

qprmick added 04:57 - Mar 24
I am glad I didn't get up to watch it, waiting for some juicy bits until the 90 minute would have been mind numbingly boring. I would have gone to bed halfway through the second half. Much nicer seeing the score and then the highlights. I will watch on Tuesday to see if a spark had been ignited. Got my Alec Stock memorial programme today, I look forward to reading your contribution, Clive.

HastingsRanger added 09:38 - Mar 24
Got to take the positives here - Morrison's goal was quite outstanding!

Of course, his loan deal allows a recall at no notice just as he proves invaluable (in contrast, Harriman's is a full season loan). Ho hum.

morgantwin added 10:08 - Mar 24
once more redknapp puts out a terrible first half performance,we were lucky that borough didnt exploit our most vulerable concept
why oh why cant we come out full of beans,and go on the attack,
but if zamora got back his confidence he could guarantee us promotion

pedant added 10:51 - Mar 24
"apathy and stony silence rose from 20,025 empty seats"?
Leaving the zen like concept of silence rising for another day, I see you have noticed it's impossible to get an empty seat to summon up enthusiasm for anything, let alone an end of season second tier football match. Why it's like banging your head against a brick wall. Come to think of it, brick walls can come across having a detached or perhaps a semi-detached attitude to life in general.
See you next year.

DesertBoot added 11:06 - Mar 24
Ohhh Bobble Zamora. Recently we haven't been a team to "turn a corner" or "build on this result". Given how awful we were in the first half, Christ that had better change against Wigan tomorrow night. The rollercoaster trundles on.

TacticalR added 11:43 - Mar 24
It was daylight robbery...or maybe daylight suicide by Middlesbrough. As you pointed out, just before the keeper's howler George Friend should have finished the game when he was completely unmarked on the edge of the box and in a central position, and ended up shooting wide.

Hughes. I don't mind that he can't cross, but I am becoming more and more concerned that he can't defend. He certainly couldn't handle George Friend.

Morrison. Had some good shots and scored an excellent goal. He really does know how to place the ball. Also, his persistence and pass to Kranjčar whose shot then fell to Benayoun led to the first goal.

Benayoun. For the goal kept his eye on the ball and took his chance. Seemed to have a completely free role as he was roaming all over the pitch.

Kranjčar. I thought he played ok, although he does get caught on the ball every now and then. Redknapp was right to take him off as it looked as though he was getting frustrated and might lash out at an opposition player.

Yun. Looked composed on the ball, and gave us a lot of energy and drive. Played a lot better than he did on Tuesday night. He worked out in a game what Traoré couldn't in a season - there's little point in overlapping Hoilett as Hoilett never passes to the overlapping player.

enfieldargh added 13:35 - Mar 24
amazed you could remember anything!

Great report as usual and thanks for not mentioning the boro ultras, wished we had scored the goals a bit earlier just to shut their racket up

stainrodnee added 13:43 - Mar 24
"A ground with more empty seats than supporters, and atmosphere akin to an old morgue. It’s another one for the case file on what we don’t want QPR to end up playing in under any circumstances." I hope TF takes notice before he signs his name on the 40,000 seater stadium he dreams of. It will be a nightmare for us.

onlyrinmoray added 15:18 - Mar 24
For me man of the match was Clint Hill along with Nedum they didnt miss a tackle or block all afternoon. Graham didnt get a kick
As for Boro I thought they were even worse than us The George Friend shot was about their only chance other than the goal
If we were playing anyone decent eg Wigan we would have lost, jammy win but dont you just love a last minute goal

isawqpratwcity added 19:49 - Mar 24
Thanks for the report, Clive.

Jeez, were we watching the same game? "QPR were abject before half time, arguably their worst 45 minutes of the season"?

I thought we were competitive in a moderately exciting back-and-forth first half until their goal, when they were suddenly twice the side that we were until the equaliser.

After that we were slightly better-than-even, but Boro will still rightly think that we nicked it, albeit spectacularly.

Every single minute of last Saturday's game after the sending off and first goal was worse than any single minute of this game.

Noelmc added 22:15 - Mar 24
Must have been a bit of a football culture shock for you Clive from providing text commentary on the brilliant El Classico for The Telegraph to writing up this report on Rangers where 3 mins of enjoyment were preceded by 92 mins of relatively boring Championship fare. Well done for your efforts!

For me it's now vital that if we make the play offs we finish 3rd or 4th so that we have home advantage in the 2nd leg. It played a huge role in our win against Oldham in 2002-03 and feel it could do the same this year. A win tomorrow night will give us a big advantage over Wigan in the race for these spots so it becomes a very important game.

Recoilboss added 11:07 - Mar 25
Normally spot on with your reviews Clive but this one is very harsh. Agree with isawqpratwcity above - no way were they 'abject' at any stage - in fact there was a marked improvement on last Tuesday (which was appalling). A much better performance, entertaining game generally and a lot more enterprise/positivity from R's. Harry had clearly thrown a few teacups late Tuesday night. Credit where due...

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