Helguson’s brace sets up Riverside romp – full match report
Monday, 28th Feb 2011 14:28 by Clive Whittingham
Two goals from Heidar Helguson and a penalty from Adel Taarabt gave QPR a comfortable 3-0 win against Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium on Saturday.
One of the challenges of doing this job is finding something to ‘hang’ the reports and previews on. An incident in a game, a match between the two from years gone by, an incident that happened to me during the week – just something to kick the report or the preview off with and give it that extra bit of colour and humour that I hope LFW is known for.
The default option this season has been to look back to what we were doing this time a year ago, and that’s particularly tempting this weekend because this time a year ago we were going to Middlesbrough as well. As detailed in the match preview that day we lost 2-0 with a team including Carl Ikeme, Matt Hill and Marcus Bent among others. A team you probably wouldn’t want to go in your back garden to see, never mind 250 miles up the East Coast. Had I seen any of those under committed, over paid, sorry excuses for footballers at Darlington station after last season’s game I would have been tempted to give a couple of them a big shove as the train pulled into the platform.
A year on, and after a rebuilding job by Neil Warnock so spectacularly successful few can actually believe it’s happened, the Rangers players waiting for the 1905 service to Kings Cross found themselves mobbed by grown men just wanting to shake their hand. And, in one case, lick Dany Shittu’s ear.
At the other end of the line, nearly three hours and several large bottles of Grolsch later, the players and fans emerged into the London evening – club issue white tracksuits gleaming in the former case, triumphant songs bellowing out from the latter. It really felt we were as one and I found myself hoping there were fans of other teams waiting on the concourse for other trains to see it. We are QPR, and we are top of the league.
The players had earned their first class tickets back to the capital earlier in the day with a five star performance against an admittedly very poor Middlesbrough side. It’s easy to forget that last season actually started with huge promise, and QPR scored 12 goals in three games over a glorious seven days in October with an attacking midfield trio of Wayne Routledge, Akos Buzsaky and Adel Taarabt. As one was sold to Newcastle, one was injured and one was only on loan from Tottenham most never thought we’d see the three of them together again in Hoops but they were reunited for the first time on Saturday with devastating consequences for the struggling home side. With those three on form, Heidar Helguson leading the line majestically, and the footballing version of the best sex of your life Alejandro Faurlin spraying the ball around behind them like some perfect sporting magician it almost seemed a shame that we were wasting it all on a side as limited as Middlesbrough. QPR would have beaten any team in the league on Saturday with something to spare.
Shaun Derry partnered Faurlin in the deep lying midfield positions, walking a disciplinary tightrope with six games to go until the next card amnesty and only one booking needed for a two match ban. The defence remained the same as Tuesday night with Danny Shittu and Fitz Hall at centre half, Clint Hill and Bradley Orr at full back and Paddy Kenny in goal hunting a nineteenth clean sheet of the season.
Boro won 3-2 at Millwall last weekend and didn’t have a midweek game which should have given them a small advantage over a QPR side that had to work like wild dogs to get a 2-0 victory from Ipswich at Loftus Road on Tuesday night. They included former QPR loanee Andrew Davies at centre half and Leroy Lita in attack – a man who has taken great delight in causing QPR problems in the past.
Rangers could have been behind within the first minute. The usually faultless Paddy Kenny made a hash of his first goal kick of the game, sending it far too low and straight at Boro’s former Celtic striker Scott McDonald. The Australian brought it under control well and set off back towards the goal with the QPR players trailing in his wake. Fitz Hall looked for one moment like he was considering chopping him down for what would have been a certain red card but McDonald kept his feet, accelerated into the penalty area, but then thankfully planted a tame low shot within Kenny’s reach and the keeper was able to redeem himself with a save followed by a hands in the air apology to everybody he’d just terrified.
After that, backed by a noisy gang of around 800 QPR fans behind the goal, the R’s set to work.
The R’s forced a couple of corners around the ten minute mark – the first was cleared back to Taarabt at the near post, the return ball likewise and then Wayne Routledge tried his luck from the other side but again couldn’t find his way past the near post. As Middlesbrough brought the ball away Alejandro Faurlin upended Joe Bennett, appearing to slip as he made the tackle, but the accidental nature of the collision didn’t stop referee Keith Stroud from producing the first yellow card of the game. Bennett would go on to be the only Middlesbrough player to put in a reasonable performance for his team while Stroud continued to be inconsistent with his bookings.
QPR have been rather too direct for their own good in some games this season, particularly away from home, but with link man in chief Helguson leading the attack and that brilliant trio of talented players behind him that was never going to be the case here. After a quarter of an hour the four of them combined in a slick eight pass move that created a chance for Adel Taarabt to cut in from the left and deliver a low shot that goalkeeper Steele was able to save quite comfortably. Boro attempted an attack of their own in response but it ground to a shuddering halt when Lita theatrically flung himself to the ground hunting for a free kick which wasn’t so much waved away as laughed off by the officials. Lita spent the whole afternoon either cheating to try and win free kicks or berating his team mates for failing to find him with passes of sufficient quality which he often just refused point blank to chase after.
Rangers were awarded a free kick themselves a minute or so later when Bennett upended Routledge and from Taarabt’s wicked delivery into the box Fitz Hall headed wide of the goal. Routledge and Taarabt were causing the home side problems again at the midway point of the half when a pedestrian Middlesbrough move was brought to a shuddering and uncompromising halt by a bone shuddering tackle from Shaun Derry who fed Routledge in space. Taarabt collected a pass from Routledge on the edge of the area but his shot from distance sailed well wide of Steele’s goal.
In the next attack Taarabt returned the favour to Routledge with an outstanding cross field pass that picked him out in space but his low cross was claimed cleanly by Steele who did well to get down quickly and prevent a dangerous ball flashing across his six yard box.
Just after the half hour the passes were flowing and the champagne corks were popping once again as the irrepressible front four in Hoops strung together six quick fire passes around the edge of the box and Taarabt hit a powerful drive that stung Steele’s hands as he barely parried it away to safety. The keeper looked nervous again three minutes later when a more basic long ball right into the heart of the Middlesbrough danger area induced panic and uncertainty between Steele and Hines – Taarabt nipped in and lobbed the ball over the stricken goalkeeper but could only place it delicately onto the roof of the net much to his own anguish and disappointment. Boro were fortunate to get away with that one, and Helguson stuck another chance over the bar two minutes later when Faurlin found him in the area with a deft header, but the domination was total by this point and the goal was only a matter of time in its execution.
That time was the fortieth minute, and the goal owed much in its creation to the vision of Faurlin and the touch of Taarabt. From ten yards inside the Boro half the Argentinean drew back his left foot and produced a ball of supreme accuracy that landed plum on Taarabt’s foot inside the penalty area. After killing it stone dead with his first touch Taarabt unselfishly (that’s right) teed up Helguson and although he scuffed his shot on the turn it hit Davies’ shin, changed direction and looped over Steele, who’d already committed himself to his left, and into the net.
Middlesbrough’s response to falling behind was a needlessly violent one. From the kick off QPR attacked again down the left through Taarabt but this time he was crudely chopped to the ground by Taylor with a tackle that got nowhere near the ball and cut the Moroccan down just below the knee. I’ve seen players sent off for less, Majewski for Forest a fortnight ago for example, but not only did Taylor escape without a card Rangers were only awarded a throw in by referee Keith Stroud. The official further infuriated Rangers once the ball was back in play with first Taarabt and then Routledge hitting the deck under what appeared to be fouls only to be told to get to their feet. And then to rub salt into gaping wounds Fitz Hall received the game’s second yellow card on the stroke of half time for upending Lita. A ludicrous five minutes of officiating, but a satisfying scoreline as the half time whistle sounded.
The refereeing didn’t improve a lot after half time with a blatant handball on the edge of the Boro penalty box missed by all three officials but it didn’t put QPR off their stride and a nice move between Taarabt, Routledge and Faurlin created space for Buzsaky to try his luck from the edge of the area but he couldn’t keep the shot down. I was quite critical of Buzsaky earlier in the season when he had to fill in for Faurlin in a deep lying midfield position that really didn’t play to his strengths – he was used as one of the more advanced attacking three in this game and it obviously suited him a lot better. Nobody at the top of the Championship has a player as good as Buzsaky to add to their team at this stage of the season and he looks trim and ready for the run in which is fantastic news.
A minute after the Hungarian’s shot Taarabt was back in step over mode as he worked space on the edge of the area and then dragged a shot wide. Again, it felt like only a matter of time before we scored and that’s exactly what it was.
The lead was doubled just after the hour. A weak clearing header to the edge of the Boro box was nodded down to Faurlin by Derry. He in turn found Hill and then Routledge wide on the left and the rest was the loaned Newcastle winger at his absolute best. Perhaps it’s a good thing Taylor wasn’t sent off in the first half because he wasn’t able to live with Routledge’s pace as he pushed the ball into the grass behind the right back, then outstripped him for speed, and finally delivered a high quality cross in with the outside of his right foot that Heidar Helguson gleefully powered home after ghosting in between Davies and Hines.
Two became three five minutes later and although the overworked Middlesbrough defence could point to mental and physical fatigue, Merouane Zemmama had no such excuse for his recklessness as he chopped Taarabt down in the penalty area within seven minutes of coming off the bench to replace the ineffective Marvin Emnes.
The penalties this season have been shared between Taarabt and Helguson with some complex unwritten laws on who takes what and why yet to be figured out by those of us that just watch the team. It seemed likely, hunting a hat trick, that Helguson would be the man to take this and indeed he seemed to think so too – arguing with Taarabt over the ball as the Moroccan collected it and walked to the spot himself. Shaun Derry added his opinion that it might be nice for Helguson to take it but Taarabt was certain he fancied it, possibly aware that he hasn’t scored a goal away from home since October and has been in a bit of a trough of form just lately.
Taarabt calmly beat Steele from the spot, sending the keeper the wrong way, and it was good to see that the first man on the scene to congratulate him was Heidar Helguson. Game over.
Bouyed by his goal Taarabt tried his luck with a first time volley from the edge of the area after Fitz Hall, forward for a long free kick, nodded it down to him but the ball flew into the side netting and wide.
Neil Warnock made his first change of the game with about 20 minutes left for play – Akos Buzsaky, still feeling his way back to full fitness no doubt was replaced by Hogan Ephraim and while he didn’t offer as much going forward as his predecessor he did put an end to the forward runs of Bennett from full back which killed off the tiny amount of attacking intent Boro had shown to this point. I should probably say, this being a match report and all, that Boro had taken off Julio Arca and replaced him with Barry Robson just before the third goal – a change that did more for Rangers than it did for Boro.
Robson’s first real involvement saw him fall foul of one of football’s most ridiculous rules. A foul by Helguson on McMahon presented Boro with a free kick just under 30 yards from goal. Keith Stroud set about moving the wall back but while he was doing so Robson attempted a quick shot that flew straight at Paddy Kenny – as the referee hadn’t blown a whistle to signal the start of play this then resulted in a yellow card for Robson. Why is this a booking? What an absolutely bloody stupid rule that is. If you think he’s doing it to waste time then book him for time wasting, otherwise just make him retake the free kick. It is, after all, meant to be an advantage to the attacking team as a reward for being fouled by their opponents, why book them for trying to maximise their own advantage? We’ve fallen foul of that rule before and it’s a completely ridiculous one.
FIFA are holding a board meeting at Celtic Manor on March 5 to discuss what they see as the most pressing issues surrounding the laws of the game – that two of the agenda items are “the potential dangers caused by the wearing of snoods” and a discussion on whether goal posts should be universally round or square tells you a lot about how such nonsenses are allowed to not only permeate our game, but remain for a long period of time. Next week, a similar rant on the yellow card for over celebrating rule.
Anyway, when Boro did eventually get round to taking a legitimate free kick McMahon guided it skilfully over the wall and towards the top corner but Paddy Kenny successfully scrambled across and produced an unorthodox save with the angle of post and crossbar rather impeding him in his quest to keep the ball out.
And Robson's afternoon didn't get a lot better as he became the latest Boro player to get a tongue lashing from Leroy Lita, who may like to look at his own performance before addressing anybody else's, after a pass into the channel wasn't deemed worthy of a chase by the former Reading striker.
QPR could easily have been four goals up 13 minutes from time as Faurlin laid a ball through for Taarabt but Steele rushed from his goal line and parried the ball at his opponent’s feet to deny him. Then from a free kick Fitz Hall went over in the area appealing for another penalty – appeals that were waved away by Stroud who then had to separate Taarabt and Bennett who had got involved in some sort of disagreement off the ball.
Warnock sent on Connolly for Orr who seemed to have picked up some sort of a knock, and Hulse for Helguson who had asked to come off presumably with an injury of his own although with the job well done perhaps both changes were merely made as a precaution.
By this stage Rangers had the engines on idle anyway and could have been punished three minutes from time when a ball over the top had Scott McDonald in behind the QPR defence for the first time since the opening minute of the game – his finish on this occasion was even worse than it had been then as he volleyed clean over the bar with the goal at his mercy. A subsequent shot from Robson, defelected wide, was as close as the home team came to what would have been scant consolation. The stands, embarrassingly empty to start with, were almost totally deserted by the time the full time whistle was blown after three minutes of uneventful stoppage time.
The 800 or so QPR fans who journeyed to the land of £2 pints and Sunday roasts from a van celebrated this routine victory with a few choruses of ‘Just Can’t Get Enough’ – and I don’t think it would be too unfair to say Depeche Mode were in their prime the last time QPR had a team as good as this one.
Middlesbrough manager Tony Mowbray, a man who has won promotion from this league before as a manager with West Brom and player with Ipswich, was begrudging in his praise and suggested that the final three nil scoreline flattered QPR somewhat. It didn’t. Rangers were so much better than Boro here the game almost took on the appearance of a pre-season friendly for periods in the second half when the home side could do nothing but kick their opponents up in the air in the hope that they might take some time over the free kick and give them a bit of respite. And even that only happened when Boro could get close enough to QPR to do it, and that wasn’t often.
On Saturday we fielded as near to perfection as you’re likely to get at this level. There was not a single poor performance in the QPR team, not a weak link to be found, and after the tension of Tuesday night’s narrow win against Ipswich it was nice to have a game sewn up long before the end. Boro have brought Mowbray in to try and arrest their alarming decline, and he strikes me as a good appointment, but they were even worse here than they had been when beaten by the same scoreline at Loftus Road under Gordon Strachan – threatening the goal only once, in the first minute, in the entire game.
Helguson is the ideal man to play at the top of this formation and deserved his goals, his third and fourth in three matches. The three behind him were sublime and what more is there to say about Alejandro Faurlin?
Now 12 games to go, Sir Neil’s search for his promotion continues.
Middlesbrough: Steele 6, McMahon 6, Hines 5, Davies 5 (Haas 82, -), Bennett 7, Emnes 5 (Zemmama 59, 5), Arca 6 (Robson 59, 6), Bailey 5, Taylor 5, McDonald 5, Lita 5
Subs Not Used: Ripley, Boyd, Grounds, Smallwood
Booked: Robson (taking free kick too quickly)
QPR: Kenny 7, Orr 7 (Connolly 78, 6), Hall 7, Shittu 7, Hill 7, Derry 7, Faurlin 8, Routlede 8, Taarabt 8, Buzsaky 7 (Ephraim 69, 6), Helguson 8 (Hulse 84, -)
Subs Not Used: Cerny, Gorkss, Moen, Miller
Booked: Faurlin (foul) Hall (foul)
Goals: Helguson 41 (assisted Taarabt), 61 (assisted Routledge), Taarabt 68 (penalty won Taarabt)
QPR Star Man – Alejandro Faurlin 8 I set off from my house at 7.30am on Saturday and didn’t get back until after midnight, I spent £100 and travelled 500 miles, I spilled two drinks and felt like death at work on Sunday but it was all worth it just to watch Faurlin go about his business. A majestic performance that it was a privilege to be present for – his form just keeps getting better and better.
Referee – Keith Stroud (Hampshire) 6 It’s now eight matches without defeat with this referee for QPR and for the second time this season he officiated a 3-0 away win for the Super Hoops that included a penalty, but there was certainly no hint of favouritism around this performance. The penalty QPR were awarded was blatant while Faurlin can count himself unlucky to be booked for a first half foul when he appeared to slip. Similarly Taylor can count himself fortunate to have stayed on the pitch for his wild hack at Taarabt after the first goal – a challenge that didn’t even bring Rangers a free kick. While it’s the rule that’s at fault rather than the referee the booking of Robson for taking his own free kick too quickly at 3-0 down was a total joke. That apart, he was reasonable.
Attendance – 16,972 (800 QPR approx) Once again the Riverside Stadium was less than half full, and by God it felt less than half full. It was pretty embarrassing here last season but even then at least there was a gang of singers with giant flags behind one goal, and another load up into the corner to our right. Middlesbrough’s decline seems to have put those at the far end off altogether, while those to our right numbered about 20 and they spent the game bobbing up and down in some weird formation dancing routine or other. Rangers brought twice as many as they did here last season, as you would expect, and they were in good voice with a long musical tribute to Shaun Derry at the end of the game a nice touch for an unsung hero in the team.
Photo: Action Images
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