Taarabt delivers knockout after Boxing Day punch up – full match report
Monday, 27th Dec 2010 00:26 by Clive Whittingham
QPR returned to winning ways in some style on Boxing Day, thumping fourth placed Swansea 4-0 at Loftus Road in a game that featured two red cards.
A year ago today Paul Hart, our second manager of the season already at that point, attempted to cling to a narrow win at Bristol City by playing a flat back six protected by three defensive midfielders. The victory his negativity squeezed out felt like a defeat and drew boos from the home crowd.
Today felt like a beautiful redemption from that game in so many ways. Not least because last Boxing Day, in the sixty second minute of the game, Hart started making his substitutions that would result in the most negative QPR side ever fielded. Today, in the sixty second minute, QPR were still attacking despite already holding a lead and being down to ten men. Adel Taarabt won a penalty for Heidar Helguson to score from and kill the game off.
Taarabt, two assists and two goals today hardly telling half the story of his performance, was an unused substitute a year ago. A supremely talented individual, but one Paul Hart could not find room for in his team ahead of his four full backs, two centre halves and three defensive central midfielders. The home crowd, rather laid back and subdued despite the thrashing being handed down to one of our closest rivals, possibly because such performances have become a routine this season, spent the closing stages serenading Neil Warnock with various songs of thanks and praise. He deserves it, you’d never believe this was the same team from a year ago.
Following a second straight defeat at Leeds last weekend Neil Warnock recalled Heidar Helguson to his side in attack with Adel Taarabt, Jamie Mackie and Tommy Smith providing support. Alejandro Faurlin, poorly last week, played in midfield with Shaun Derry ahead of the usual back four of Kyle Walker, Kaspars Gorkss, Matthew Connolly ad Clint Hill. Paddy Kenny started in goal.
Swansea’s form had also dropped off a little coming into this match – seven matches unbeaten, five of them won culminating in a 1-0 success at arch rivals Cardiff, had marked them out as genuine title contenders in November but they had won just two of seven since then coming into this game and slipped to fourth. To make matters worse, in 15 previous visits to Loftus Road they had never managed a single victory prior to this match. Brendan Rodgers started human water buffalo Craig Beattie as his loan striker with support from wide areas supplied by former R’s loanee Scott Sinclair and the villain in pantomime season Nathan Dyer. In midfield though he sprung a surprise – Darren Pratley seemed to be much more advanced than he usually is with Joe Allen a talented and spiky sidekick. Kemy Agustien took up Pratley’s usual deep lying position and as they played out from the back in the early stages it quickly became apparent that this set up was designed to outnumber Derry and his partner in the QPR midfield as Watford and Leeds had done so successfully.
Nicely set up on paper Swansea were quick out of the blocks and purposeful in their early work. Within three minutes Beattie had lumbered in behind Connolly with the ball at feet and produced a low cross looking for Darren Pratley who had outpaced Derry and presented an attractive option in the centre of the penalty box. Kaspars Gorkss saved the day with a clearance behind for a corner but that was only temporary rest bite for QPR’s defence as the resulting set piece was played low and behind the crowd in the six yard box to Scott Sinclair who had been left unmarked. Sinclair’s low shot wormed its way through the heaving mass of flesh and required a save from Paddy Kenny and although he didn’t hold onto the ball as he may have liked to Rangers’ were able to muscle up and clear their lines during the subsequent scramble.
Four minutes later Beattie was grazing on the wide open pastures behind the QPR defence again. This time he found Sinclair all alone on the edge of the box with a pull back but the Swansea winger badly miscued his attempted left foot drive and sent it spinning out by the corner flag.
In between those two early scares QPR had launched their first probe to the School End and the behaviour of Swans’ goalkeeper Dorus De Vries gave an early indication of what was to come. Jamie Mackie set the chance up, winning a foul just the Swansea side of the halfway line and giving Adel Taarabt a chance to float a high ball up in the general direction of the far post where his taller team mates were waiting for their opportunity. De Vries set off from his goal line as soon as the ball was kicked, to where I’m not even sure he knew, and that left the goal gaping. As the Dutch keeper asked for directions back to the six yard box Gorkss won his header, powered the ball into the ground and such was the lousy positioning of the Swansea goalkeeper it almost bounced into the unguarded net but De Vries just about managed to get back and make an unorthodox save to spare his own blushes.
The game then settled down into a worrying pattern from a QPR point of view. Swansea, as we have come to expect of them over the last two seasons since their promotion, played the ball out from the back at every opportunity. This presented Rangers with terrible difficulties because with Pratley and Allen pushed forward and occupying Derry and Faurlin there was a huge space right down the middle of the park where Agustien could simply pick the ball up from De Vries and charge 50 yards down the field without facing a single challenge. He wasn’t the only one to try it either – Alan Tate and Marcus Williams both had marauding runs through this huge vortex in the QPR side, both looking a little surprised they’d been allowed to go so far and subsequently sending weak, scuffed efforts in on goal. Allen had a better crack, firing a volley over the bar, but although the shots at this stage were barely worthy of the jeers they received the way the chances were created was of huge concern.
And then, just as I was starting to worry that we had a very serious problem on our hands, QPR took the lead. For the first quarter of an hour in this game I felt that Swansea had been the better team, and more worryingly Adel Taarabt looked like he was going to have one of his days where nothing he tried came off. A couple of gratuitous flicks and tricks around the Swansea area had brought the usual over the top groans, moans and shouts of abuse from the F Block but you have to take the rough with the smooth with Taarabt and the smooth on Sunday was very smooth indeed. In the sixteenth minute, after he’d actually picked the wrong pass and gone back to Hill when he should have gone forward to Smith, the Moroccan picked up the ball, glided past three men as he sauntered to the edge of the area and then teed up Jamie Mackie who finally broke his barren run with a crisp finish past De Vries and into the net from 20 yards. Mackie’s first goal in 15 QPR appearances, and some redemption for the former Plymouth man after his two missed sitters at the Liberty Stadium in the first meeting between these two sides this season.
With excitement still buzzing around the ground and much talk of just how games, and Adel Taarabt, can change from one minute to the next floating around the tale took another dramatic twist. Few could have predicted what was to come as Kyle Walker collected the ball in his own half, in the right back spot, with heavy traffic ahead of him. Most, if pushed for a guess, would have said that Walker would set off on a run with the ball because that’s what he likes to do, but in recent weeks teams have been very wise to this and cut him off at the halfway line whenever possible. Whether Swansea’s scouts had failed to spot the importance of this, or the visitors were just suffering from a momentary lapse in concentration, it was hard to tell but Walker did indeed set off on a run, and he kept running.
The loaned Tottenham full back seemed to be gathering speed as he dribbled through two challenges and suddenly he was closing in on a rather startled and scared looking Swansea defence. There were options for a pass, but he’d gone too far to be considering anything other than a George Weah like wonder goal and that looked a distinct possibility as he showed tremendous touch and skill to beat the last man Alan Tate and race through on goalkeeper Dorus De Vries. Well, he would have raced through on him had Tate not clumsily hacked him to the ground for a clear and obvious red card.
Tate was the last defender, of that there can be no doubt, and Walker had the ball well under control and was all set for a one on one with the Dutch goalkeeper. It was the pure definition of a sending off and referee Phil Crossley should have had the card out of his pocket and in the air before Walker had even hit the ground. Instead the referee seemed keen to give himself some thinking time after blowing the whistle. This enabled all hell to break loose on the edge of the Swansea penalty area. Shaun Derry was in the referee’s face as usual demanding a red card, and while that was going on Jamie Mackie clearly said something to Tate that the defender did not approve of.
Suddenly Tate was rabid, flying at Mackie like a dog on a South London council estate. Why Clint Hill was there nobody could be quite sure, and his Rufus Brevett like trek 50 yards across the field just to get involved in a tear up would cost him badly in a few seconds time, but it was left to the Scouser to get between Mackie and the crazed Swansea man as he executed the classic Glasgow kiss. Initially Hill seemed to have been a successful peacemaker, moving Tate away from the hassle and into space near the referee, but his mission turned nasty when Tate then set sail on him with elbows flailing and teeth gnashing.
Eventually things settled down, and Tate was sent straight off. Perhaps that was for the tackle, or fighting with Mackie, or fighting with Hill, or because he needed neutering – whatever the reason, it was one of the more straightforward decisions Phil Crossley will have to make this season. However the referee was also less than impressed with Clint Hill’s roll in it all and as the official clearly pointed out that Hill had started in the QPR left back slot only to end up right across the far side of the field purely for the purpose of fighting and getting involved it became somewhat inevitable that the Scouser would be following Tate down the tunnel and into the bath.
The sendings off changed the whole complexion of the game. Both teams made immediate and almost identical changes introducing replacement defenders for their right wingers – Neil Taylor came on for Nathan Dyer in the visiting team, Bradley Orr for Tommy Smith in the Rangers line up although there was some suggestion that Smith was injured and would have been going off anyway.
Down to ten men, Swansea were no longer able to run their three v two pattern of play down the middle of the pitch. They instead adopted a new tactic of passing the ball to death – not necessarily going anywhere with it, but keeping it, moving it around, trying to pull QPR around and pick holes. QPR’s tactic in response was to set up in a clear and solid shape in their own half and stay in that shape at all costs, waiting for a chance to pick Swansea off on the counter attack. It was this discipline and patience that really won the game for QPR because Swansea struggled to create a serious opportunity after the sendings off, while Rangers looked lethal on the counter.
It’s worth pointing out that Taarabt, for once, beat the wall with the free kick when we did eventually get back underway some four minutes after play had first been stopped but De Vries read his intentions and clawed the ball out of the top corner with his left hand. Thereafter the new pattern of the game took hold and just before the half hour Joe Allen drove over the bar after a prolonged period of Swansea possession.
With 13 minutes left for play in the first half Heidar Helguson, dominant against Williams all afternoon, flicked the ball on for Taarabt who raced into the area one on one with Monk but took too long to decide whether to shoot or return the ball to Helguson and ended up farcically stumbling out of play with the ball still in his possession.
Swansea then resumed their possession game – Paddy Kenny got a nice full length catch in for the cameras as Williams marauded forward from the back and tried his luck, and Beattie wasn’t far wide of the top corner as he cut in from the left onto his right foot and unleashed an effort on goal. At the other end a soft free kick awarded by the corner flag for what looked like a Taarabt dive resulted in a free kick crossed to the back post, over the hapless De Vries and onto the head of Helguson but he could only guide the ball wide at full stretch.
The last five minutes of the first half, supplemented with four minutes of added time, turned out to be a frantic, end to end affair. First Adel Taarabt picked out the wrong pass as team mates poured forward in an attack that subsequently left Rangers short at the back when Swansea won the ball back. Luckily for Rangers centre back Williams again took it upon himself to shoot – Kenny made a low parried save and was up quickly to deny Beattie with a fine double save, although the striker had been flagged offside so it wouldn’t have counted had he scored.
Offsides didn’t really seem to be a strong suit of the linesman on the Ellerslie Road side apart from that. Twice before the half time whistle Swansea, first Beattie and then Allen, seemed to be several yards offside only to be waved on. On the second occasion Paddy Kenny raced from his line and conceded a corner which then led to a counter attack with the ball again at Taarabt’s feet – this time Orr was overlapping and although the Moroccan did tee him up, he perhaps waited too long and Orr dragged his shot across the face of goal anyway. Kyle Walker wasn’t bar wide with another shot in the never ending half.
Eventually, three and a half years after it had begun, the first half drew to a close.
I’m reliably informed by somebody who spent his Christmas watching QI that back in the day when you wanted to sell a horse you would jam a lump of ginger up its ‘fundament’ and that would, understandably, make it look a little bit lively for potential buyers. In the first half Adel Taarabt, while brilliantly setting up the only goal, had picked the wrong option more often than not. It’s probably best we don’t ask where Neil Warnock stuck the ginger at half time, but by God he was superb in the second half – absolutely, completely unplayable.
Two minutes into the second stanza Jamie Mackie won a free kick in the right channel giving Taarabt a chance to loft a perfect free kick right into the heart of the penalty area – he had good cause to question why nobody had moved into the space on the edge of the six yard box, although his team mates could have replied with some justification that his set pieces have been so awful of late that they didn’t feel the need.
No matter, he was on the ball in open play two minutes later; tricking, spinning and wriggling free of three defenders on the edge of the penalty area when there seemed to be no way through and then sending a through ball in towards Kaspars Gorkss of all people but although the Latvian stretched every sinew, De Vries had raced from his line and claimed bravely.
Four minutes later Taarabt collected the ball on the halfway line, used his body intelligently to turn his man and set off on a purposeful run into the left channel that ended with a perfect pass for the onrushing Kyle Walker to seize on, race to the edge of the area, and fire a low shot that De Vries palmed wide. Amazingly Kyle Walker has never scored a senior goal in his career, he really deserved a goal for his all round performance in this match which was excellent from start to finish.
From the resulting corner Kaspars Gorkss rose majestically and headed powerfully for goal only for his effort to strike Mackie on the head in the six yard box and balloon up into the air and into the goalkeeper’s hands.
There was only one team in the game at this stage and although QPR had to survive a scramble in the area at the School End when first Beattie and then Sinclair were crowded out of possession just before the hour the game was put to bed once and for all moments later. Again it was Taarabt at the heart of it all, running at Williams, turning him this way and that, and finally teasing him into a clear foul in the penalty area for an obvious spot kick. At first I thought Phil Crossley was going to book Taarabt for diving, such was the way he ran towards him and the drama of Adel’s collapse to earth, but it was a clear penalty and the only mystery in the end was how Williams was spared a red card himself. The formalities of a fortunate booking completed, Heidar Helguson calmly rolled his penalty in as if he was shelling peas.
Helguson has six goals for Rangers this season, and this one was just rewards for an excellent display of lone striker play on the day – after several weeks of long balls being knocked up to him and Hulse, it was wonderful to see a return to the early season tactics of Helguson working as a link man, bringing the support runners into play. It was no surprise, with him in this form, to see us hit four for the first time since the opening day of the season.
Helguson had a big hand in the third goal as well, which came 20 minutes from time. Swansea’s patient passing approach was starting to look a little ragged by this stage and when Faurlin steamed in to win the ball back on halfway Helguson calmly played in Taarabt and his low shot squirmed under De Vries and into the net. A well worked goal, but one almost entirely of Swansea’s own creation thanks to poor play in midfield and park standard goalkeeping.
Within five minutes that Helguson and Taarabt combination was linking up again. Again swasea were masters of their own downfall, Williams playing a ludicrous crossfield pass in his own half that landed plum on Helguson’s chest and gave him a clear run through into the area. The Icelandic international drilled a low shot across the goal that De Vries saved but didn’t hold and a goal looked absolutely certain as Taarabt arrived on the rebound and he was as astonished as everybody else when his low shot was subsequently saved at point blank range by De Vries as he dived desperately back onto his line.
Swansea briefly threatened in response – Derry fouled Pratley and Williams, keeping up his monopoly on efforts on goal for the visitors, headed over the bar. But it was one way traffic by now and Taarabt delivered some more football porn for a fourth goal ten minutes from time. As ever there didn’t seem to be much on for Taarabt when he collected the ball tight to the left touchline. First he laid the ball off with an outrageous back flick, then he got it back with three touches provided a comprehensive humiliation for Joe Allen who hung his head an accepted his fate as Taarabt then stormed forward and unleashed a wild shot into the bottom corner of the net – De Vries got a full hand to the ball and maybe should have done better, but that doesn’t take away from a superb goal.
QPR were really in the mood now and looked capable of racking up a big score. Jamie Mackie profited from more liberal application of the offside law at the Loft End when he was able to race in eight minutes from time but he dragged his shot wide.
Taarabt and Helguson were then withdrawn to richly deserved hero’s receptions, Rob Hulse and Martin Rowlands were the popular replacements and within a minute both of them had a great chance to get their names on the score sheet. Swansea, looking like a team that was well ready to be back on the bus home, allowed Walker another swashbuckling run to the heart of the area where Hulse was waiting to hammer the loose ball goalwards. De Vries palmed that into the air, and then Rowlands volleyed over from the edge of the area as he seized on it.
Hulse had a further chance in four minutes of added time but the ball was bundled away from him by Monk for a corner. In the end Rangers declared at four.
This result was all the more impressive coming against a perceived title rival, and after two surprisingly convincing defeats on the bounce which had brought an unbeaten start to the season to a shuddering halt. QPR looked fresher, their attitude was better, they passed the ball more crisply than they had been doing, Helguson was superb, Walker was able to pose an attacking threat again for the first time in a few weeks, Taarabt’s second half performance was as good as you’ll see and the positives go on and on.
I did wonder though, as I sat in the never ending gridlocked traffic after the game, just how different the story would have been had Swansea made their early dominance count with a goal. Against Watford we could have had a penalty after three minutes, at Leeds last week Tommy Smith could have scored in the opening ten minutes, and truth be told had Swansea been at least one goal up after 20 minutes here then we could have had few complaints. The attitude and performance of the QPR players today was vastly improved, compared to the previous two games, but in the strange world of Championship football where so much importance can be placed on simply competing and winning second balls we could easily have won the previous two and then lost today.
Taarabt had an astonishing game - moments of pure incompetence and greed, moments of sublime skill and invention, and rarely anything in between. But having picked him out as a poor performer in the last two games I feel it would be remiss not to mention Shaun Derry who went about his work very well today – albeit benefitted by Swansea going down to ten men and no longer being able to continue with their initial formation that had outnumbered QPR in midfield consistently for the first 20 minutes. That was a well thought out tactic from Brendan Rodgers, but I thought defensively Swansea were at best naïve and at worst arrogant. Every side we have played for the last two months has concentrated on crowding Taarabt out, and preventing Kyle Walker from charging forwards. Swansea did neither of these things, even with 11 men, and that cost them very dearly.
A vital win for Rangers, an ideal Christmas present for the supporters who may have been getting a little twitchy after two defeats, and a much needed confidence boost and gap at the top of the table going into two very difficult away games this week.
QPR: Kenny 7, Walker 9, Connolly 7, Gorkss 7, Hill 6, Derry 7, Faurlin 6, Mackie 7, Taarabt 9 (Rowlands 83, -), Smith 6 (Orr 21, 6), Helguson 8 (Hulse 86, -)
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Clarke, Agyemang, Ephraim
Sent Off: Hill 19 (fighting)
Goals: Mackie 16 (assisted Taarabt), Helguson 62 (penalty won Taarabt), Taarabt 70 (assisted Helguson), 80 (unassisted)
Swansea: De Vries 3, Rangel 6, Tate 4, Monk 4, Williams 6, Agustien 6 (Dobbie 71, 5), Allen 6, Pratley 6, Dyer 5 (Taylor 20, 5), Sinclair 6, Beattie 6 (Easter 71, 5)
Subs Not Used: Ma-Kalambay, Orlandi, Serran, Gower
Sent Off: Tate 19 (fighting)
Booked: Williams (foul)
QPR Star Man – Adel Taarabt 9 A straight choice between Taarabt and Walker, with Heidar Helguson not far behind. Walker was terribly unlucky not to score, Taarabt’s two goals and two assists mean he takes the award ahead of him. His performance in the second half here was about as good as he’s ever been for us after a bit a curate’s egg of a first half.
Referee: Phil Crossley (Kent) 6 Well let’s see. I don’t think Clint Hill should have been sent off, and the whole fracas would not have occurred had he sent Tate off straight away for the foul and having watched replays of the incident I’m not convinced he was even going to book him. I thought Williams was lucky to stay on after conceding the penalty because he was definitely the last man. I do like the way he will try and apply some common sense though, rather than being a stickler for the rules – Bradley Orr could have been booked for a deliberate handball, and Taarabt technically for celebrating with the crowd, but both escaped. Overall not great.
Attendance: 15,963 (800 Swansea approx) A lot of late arrivals with tube strikes and Westfield morons clogging the roads up, and presumably the weather played a part in the smaller than usual number of travelling Swansea fans – many of those that did come came in fancy dress with bananas in pyjamas, the three Amigos and various super heroes all in evidence. Loftus Road should have been rocking towards the end, but it was rather subdued despite the scoreline.
Photo: Action Images
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