QUEENS Park Rangers were left to rue defensive errors and set-piece frailties as Middlesbrough took all three points from Loftus Road for only the second time in the club’s history.
First Grant Hall saw his weak back header seized upon and punished by Jordan Rhodes, helping to break a recent drought of goals. Rangers by comparison had someone desperate to break their own duck – Jamie Mackie. His spin and shot on the turn levelled matters albeit with the aid of a linesman’s flag.
Rangers were then blown away in a breathtakingly poor opening to the second half – first conceding a penalty which Grant Leadbitter saw spurned by the inspired Smithies, only for the midfielder to lay on a goal from the resultant corner – Gaston Ramirez with the glancing header.
The lead was extended barely moments later as Ramirez turned provider with an early short corner and Ben Gibson stole a march on the ponderous Nedum Onuoha to slam his header beyond an unfortunate ‘keeper.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink made two changes from the side that was held at the death by Preston North End – Grant Hall and Matt Phillips came back into the side at the expense of Clint Hill and Junior Hoilett.
Alex Smithies started behind a back four of Nedum Onuoha, Hall, Gabriele Angella and James Perch – Ale Faurlin joined Karl Henry in the middle with Jamie Mackie, Tjaronn Chery and the aforementioned Phillips starting in behind Sebastian Polter.
Middlesbrough meanwhile were forced into one change owing to the recent international break – Christian Stuani was left out with Stewart Downing returning to the side in his stead.
This meant that Dimi Konstantopoulos started behind a defence of Emilio Nsue, Tomas Kalas, Ben Gibson and George Friend. Adam Clayton and Grant Leadbitter were the holding midfielders with Albert Adomah, Gaston Ramirez and Downing playing in behind Jordan Rhodes.
ONUOHA – ANGELLA – HALL – PERCH
HENRY – FAURLIN
MACKIE – CHERY – PHILLIPS
NSUE – GIBSON – KALAS FRIEND
CLAYTON – LEADBITTER
ADOMAH – RAMIREZ – DOWNING
A newly resurgent QPR had now firmly settled for life in the Championship, despite the recent flurry of points that have accompanied their improving displays. They welcomed a talented if fractious Middlesbrough team having elected to retain boss Aitor Karanka after a stint away from the club.
It was the home side that started brightly and created the opening chance – Ale Faurlin picking up the ball after a break in play, only to fire straight at Konstantopoulos from distance. It was up the other end that Rangers had to be watchful however, with the lively Albert Adomah in typically fine form.
His cut inside from the right and left footed cross would have picked out Jordan Rhodes but for a well-timed nudge in the back by Nedum Onuoha – nothing doing for referee Simon Hooper despite the appeals of the former Blackburn Rovers front-man.
Just short of 20 minutes into the half and Boro took the advantage. A fine ball over the top from Grant Leadbitter had Grant Hall in a quandary and his tame back header was pounced upon by JORDAN RHODES – the forward nodded the ball beyond Smithies but was fortunate to see a bobbled effort bounce over the ‘keeper and past the despairing dive of Hall to open the scoring.
Both sides moved the ball quickly to varying degrees of success – but the stark difference between the two sides was the orthodox full-backs. Boro were able to call upon Friend and Nsue to support their attacking endeavours while Rangers were somewhat labouring with Onuoha and Perch in their respective roles.
Chery saw an effort blocked valiantly before Rangers did eventually level the encounter. Ale Faurlin’s searching free-kick was only half cleared by the visiting rearguard and JAMIE MACKIE produced an effort on the turn can cannoned down back off the bar – but the eagle-eyed official spotted the ball had crossed the line.
Chances were at a premium with Boro having the majority of the ball in attacking areas. Only Downing managed an effort as the half wore on, but his left-footed curling drive was executed poorly – and drifted high over the bar.
Boro came out lively after the break and should have re-taken the lead when man of the moment Adomah saw his cross headed over by Jordan Rhodes. If this was a tale of two wingers, Adomah was showing the frustrating Matt Phillips all he needed to know.
Adomah made his mark when his one-two with Leadbitter saw him get the better of Ale Faurlín – who hauled his man to the ground. A relatively clear-cut spot-kick. Grant Leadbitter stepped up but found Alex Smithies in astounding form from the spot again – saving low to his right.
The joy was very much short-lived as the defenders were presumably busy sighing with relief and patting each other on the back when Leadbitter’s resultant corner found GASTON RAMIREZ – who glanced home expertly, albeit totally unmarked.
It was a lesson in remaining focused and switched on – one that was wasn`t adhered to as barely moments later the home support was left even more disappointed. First Smithies had to thwart an unmarked Friend before the resultant corner saw Ramirez cross for BEN GIBSON who lost Nedum Onuoha with embarrassing ease to extend the Boro advantage.
Ramirez’s low centre threatened to add another nail into the coffin of Rangers’ performance, but once again it was Smithies to the rescue, once again palming wide from the curling effort.
Boro were rampant, Rangers were rocking and on the verge of sinking and the way that the visitors threw themselves into the attacking third rather sent chilling flashbacks to Jim Magilton’s side that were royally thumped a few years ago by Leroy Lita and co. QPR fan Adomah was playing with the freedom of W12, while the man who could have taken his place in Phillips could hardly trap the ball – a harsh assessment but a very real one.
Rangers could muster little in the way of a riposte. Searching for Polter where possible but the big German struggled to bring his team-mates into play consistently despite showing vast improvements in his touch and hold up play. Exemplified by when he was able to knock back for Chery on the volley, but the Dutchman couldn’t hit the target from a close-range volley.
With Middlesbrough throwing on Adam Forshaw, Rangers responded by freshening up their attacking options – Nasser El-Khayati coming on for the tiring Mackie. His first action of the game was to cut inside from the left and let fly – his shot was comfortably saved by the underworked Boro ‘stopper.
Then came a discussion point – Junior Hoilett managed to reach the by-line before cutting back to Polter to tuck home. The linesman had adjudged the ball had left the field, but with the naked eye it appeared to remain on the pitch – something borne out by replays. A mistake by the officiating team – its costliness would remain to be seen.
But for Alex Smithies it could have been far more comprehensive – Adomah pick-pocketed the ponderous Angella only for Rhodes to gallop clear, with only Smithies to beat it was the ‘keeper that triumphed in the battle of former Huddersfield players.
Boro seemed to have full control of the encounter with Adomah remaining the key architect of the home side’s downfall. To add insult to injury Aitor Karanka was able to withdraw Jordan Rhodes and introduce David Nugent to the equation. Rangers meanwhile threw on Washington for Faurlin.
With chances at a premium Karanka tried to close things out by bringing on another defender in Ayala to replace Downing. It set an intent to play in a far more conservative fashion. Out of the blue Rangers managed what could have proven to be more than a consoltation.
Polter ventured in field before laying off to TJARONN CHERY – who curled a fine effort into the top right hand corner – game on a Loftus Road and fully five minutes of added on time added on.
Forshaw should have sewn the game up on the counter attack with the final chance of the game with Nsue forcing the mistake from Hall – he fed Forshaw who could only clip wide with Smithies in attention
It could have been different for both sides, but a fair result in the end.
QPR: Smithies, Onuoha, Angella, Hill, Perch, Faurlin (Washington 79), Henry, Phillips (Hoilett 62), Chery, Mackie (El-Khayati 69), Polter.
Subs not used: Ingram, Luongo, Petrasso, Robinson
Middlesbrough: Konstantopoulos, Nsue, Gibson, Kalas, Friend, Leadbitter, Clayton, Adomah, Ramirez (Forshaw 67), Downing (Ayala 84), Rhodes (Nugent 78).
Subs not used: De Laet, De Pena, Sart, Agazzi.
Referee: Mr S Hooper