QPR Batter Beleaguered Boro
QUEENS Park Rangers sit comfortably at the top of the npower Championship after a convincing victory over an underperforming Middlesbrough side.
A canter from start to finish, Rangers displayed why they are the side to chase in this year's second-tier, turning in a performance brimming with confidence and extending their unbeaten run to ten games.
A guilt-edge miss from Scott McDonald in the opening exchange was punished as Heidar Helguson rounded off a well-worked move with a deflected effort beyond the forlorn Jason Steele.
The second was far more accomplished with Helguson crashing home a second half header following excellent work from Wayne Routledge down the left.
Adel Taarabt earned and scored a spot kick late on in the second period to put the score beyond doubt - in truth however the hosts lacked the enterprise and industry offered by the visiting side.
Rangers now maintain their gap with the chasing pack, something of utmost importance considering victories for Welsh duo Swansea and Cardiff City.
A positive performance and result, one sure to make even the most ardent pessimist believe that Rangers have a big chance of paying Premier League football next season.
Neil Warnock opted to make one change from the victory over Ipswich Town, with Ishmael Miller making way for Ákos Buzsáky - making his first start since October following injury.
Paddy Kenny started behind a back four of Bradley Orr, Fitz Hall, Dan Shittu and Clint Hill with the familiar combination of Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Derry in the middle.
Buzsáky made up the attacking trio along with Wayne Routledge and Adel Taarabt, while Heidar Helguson started up top on his own - Troy Hewitt travelled but was not named among the subs.
Middlesbrough started with Jason Steele behind a back four of Tony McMahon, the returning Andrew Davies, Seb Hines and Joe Bennett.
Nicky Bailey sat deep in the middle of the park with Julio Arca, playing in advance while Andy Taylor and Marvin Emnes played wide. Leroy Lita partnered Scott McDonald in attack.
Kick Off: Middlesbrough v Queens Park Rangers
After watching Swansea City triumph over a sorry Leeds United side, Queens Park Rangers had confirmed and reiterated the importance of picking up a positive result against Middlesbrough on a rather grim afternoon in Teeside.
Inclement conditions greeted the R's as they took to the field at the Riverside, expectancy was sizeable around the following supporters but Middlesbrough have displayed their stern battling credentials in recent weeks, following a notable win over Millwall last weekend.
Indeed the Boro fans nearly had cause for cheer in the opening minutes as Paddy Kenny's miscued clearance allowed Scott McDonald to bear down on goal - nothing the defensive unit could do other than attempt to force the Australian wide
McDonald's drive was straight at Kenny and the R's stopper pulled off a useful reaction save to not only spare the lead, but also his blushes. A confidence-boosting kick moments later proved to calm the nerves of the impressive custodian.
Rangers started to play with more creativity and flair and the fluid nature of their game was epitomised by the constant interchange between Wayne Routeldge and Adel Taarabt, the twin pistons of the visitors' attacking unit.
Boro by comparison were sitting deep and allowing the pressure onto them at times, almost like a visiting side - and this displayed varying degrees of success with Marvin Emnes proving their most influential talent in the early offing.
The R's engine room of Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Derry were proving combative and more effective in the middle of the park, and contributed to some swift attacking play down the flanks as the leaders searched for their advantage.
The game ebbed and flowed, but it was Rangers that were starting to assert the concerted pressure - Taarabt's incisive run from the left flank yielded an effort on goal, but his rasping right-footed drive was parried away by Steele.
While they were seeing the majority of the ball, QPR were struggling to create the clear cut chances they required - that was until a goal nearly appeared from nothing just over ten minutes from half time. Taarabt latched on to a speculative long ball from Kenny.
The Moroccan displayed excellent anticipation combined with that arrogance and creative skill to nip between defender and 'keeper and send a lob goal-bound. The ball seemed to be air-borne for an eternity before nestling on the roof of the net.
The chances were now coming thick and fast for the visitors with the Boro' back-line opting to stand off Heidar Helguson. The Icelandic international latched on to a direct ball, allow the ball to drop over his shoulder, before firing an effort on the turn.
The strike flew wide of the left-hand upright, with Helguson arguably able to make the more of what was a difficult opportunity. It didn't take the striker long to atone for his error however as a slumbering Middlesbrough rearguard was punished.
Useful interchange in the middle of the park saw Alejandro Faurlín picked out Taarabt down the left. His trickery took him beyond McMahon before laying back for Heidar Helguson
. The striker saw his effort deflected and loop beyond the grounded Steele for the opener.
A tad harsh on the 'keeper but nevertheless it was just reward for Rangers persistent period of dominance, with relatively little on offer from the underwhelming hosts.
GOAL: Middlesbrough 0-1 Queens Park Rangers
The R's now had their finger on the pulse and were keen to extend their advantage prior to the break. Their attacking talent was certainly more buoyant after a well-worked strike and they attempted to create further opportunities before the break.
The heartbeat of the side was the midfield duo of Faurlín and Derry who continued to dominate the battle in the centre of the park and allow the more creative influence to take hold in the final third. Indeed Routledge appeared threatening at times, and Taarabt was a constant menace.
Middlesbrough seemed to have the wind taken out of their sails by the strike - almost akin to Rangers' disappointing trip to the Riverside this time last year. The confidence was visibly seeping from their pours and the break couldn't come quick enough for the hosts.
Half Time: Middlesbrough 0-1 Queens Park Rangers
Rangers had been in this position before - this was no time for complacency, evidently this is what Neil Warnock would have been telling his charges at the break. A goal to the good at Preston, and matters weren't capitalised on - a fellow relegation candidate in Middlesbrough would not get away so lightly.
The visitors were playing some nice football in the second period, a relaxation and confidence was being exhumed by the R's, without an air of complacency that crept into their game at Deepdale. The relatively anonymous Buzsáky then had an opportunity.
The Hungarian international had a rather understated return to the line-up but after gathering the ball on the right hand side of the area, his audacious curling effort flew just over the left-hand upright. Relative anonymity for the Magical Magyar but nevertheless still displaying those deadly credentials.
It was clear to see that a second for QPR would bury the beleaguered hosts and Taarabt was doing his utmost to strike that decisive blow. His incisive run and left-footed effort didn't match the ambition as he pulled his shot wide of the right-hand upright.
On the hour mark Tony Mowbray made a double switch with Barry Robson and Maruoane Zemmama - while evidently this could not be attributed to what was about to transpire, you had the impression that this was indeed the opposite of the midas touch - whatever that may be called!
The free-kick given prior to the change was lofted into the area, eventually resulting in Routledge beating his man down the left. The cross with the outside of his boot was inch perfect for Heidar Helguson
to crash his header home unmarked and send the R's fans into delirium.
GOAL: Middlesbrough 0-2 Queens Park Rangers
The confidence oozed from every facet of the Rangers line-up, from the supporters to the players, and this was being reflected on the field with some breathtaking passing play and effortless interchange among the more creative talents.
Taarabt and Routledge were roaming and sought more opportunities to strike, while Helguson was leading the line with great expertise, some that his erstwhile replacement Rob Hulse has been unable to do in his stint at W12.
It was proving exhibition stuff at times on the break, as Bailey and Arca were forced to effectively hold the fort single-handedly as the attacking players decided not to contribute their help in defence. Several players were caught forward as the influential Derry ostensibly won the ball in the heart of midfield.
More positive play saw Taarabt break into the Middlesbrough penalty area and a clumsy challenge sent the Moroccan sprawling - Mr Stroud had little hesitation in pointing to the spot. While players and supporters craved Helguson completing his hatrick Adel Taarabt
played his captain's card and decided he would take the kick.
A rather uncharacteristic penalty from the Moroccan saw him smash his effort down the middle and then celebrated the third Rangers goal in front of what were a relieved set of supporters. The game almost seemed academic as Boro looked truly buried.
GOAL: Middlesbrough 0-3 Queens Park Rangers
What must have been disappointing from the hosts' point of view would be firstly the lack of unity in terms of defending, but also the fact that Strachan's men appeared to show more fight at Loftus Road than in this encounter today.
While no question they are better as a team having Mowbray in charge, who will turn the tide at the Riverside given his track record, the standard of play was inferior to Preston by and large, who themselves are tipped by many for relegation.
A more relaxed disposition from both sides appeared to suit the home side, who would certainly have a point to prove given the nature of their lacklustre second half display. Indeed Paddy Kenny had a smart save to make from a late free kick.
Barry Robson was booked for taking the set-piece too quickly, but nevertheless the official would allow it to be taken again and McMahon's curling right footed effort was spectacularly tipped away by the under-worked Kenny.
It served to epitomise QPR's dominance that this was Boro's first effort on target since McDonald's opening effort. It was the Australian himself that tried his luck late on with a chip, but it proved fruitless.
Rangers saw the game out in an efficient manner with some passing play seeing them retain possession and ultimately see themselves through to three-much needed points in the circumstances. The five point lead remains intact as they prepare for Leicester City next Saturday.
Final Whistle: Middlesbrough 0-3 Queens Park Rangers
Jason Steele, Tony McMahon, Andrew Davies (Maximillian Haas 82), Sebastian Hines, Joe Bennett, Marvin Emnes (Maruoane Zemmama 59), Nicky Bailey, Julio Arca (Barry Robson 59, Andrew Taylor, Leroy Lita, Scott McDonald.
Paddy Kenny, Bradley Orr (Matthew Connolly 78), Daniel Shittu, Fitz Hall, Clint Hill, Alejandro Damián Faurlín, Shaun Derry, Wayne Routledge, Adel Taarabt, Ákos Buzsáky (Hogan Ephraim 69), Heidar Helguson (Rob Hulse 84).
There were a few that could have been selected but today Derry and Faurlín were absolutely immense in the heart of midfield - notably Derry who stifled the hosts and helped set up some fruitful counter-attacking play.
His combative style was never in danger of yielding that dangerous tenth booking, that looms large over his game. He picked many tackles correctly and really compliments the style of Faurlín and remaining creative outlets.