QUEENS Park Rangers picked up their first maximum of the campaign, as an Adel Taarabt-inspired side edged out neighbours Fulham at Loftus Road.
The irresistible Taarabt stole the show with a performance brimming with confidence and his trademark repertoire of skills, and ultimately make himself the difference between the two teams.
The Moroccan first slammed home via the aid of a deflection to open the scoring before a remarkable solo effort, taking on all-comers before prodding home nonchalantly with the outside of his right boot.
Even the late nerve-jangling consolation from the scourge of England’s doomed European Championship Qualifying campaign, Mladen Petric, didn’t dampen spirits as Redknapp’s Rangers go four unbeaten and move off the foot of the table.
For the first time in months, supporters can watch Match of the Day and take a celebratory sup of their favourite tipple as QPR cut the gap at the bottom to five points, while claiming the all-important first three points of the season.
Harry Redknapp made three changes from the side that drew at Wigan Athletic last week with Jose Bosingwa, Samba Diakité and Shaun Derry dropping out at the expense of Nedum Onuoha, Alejandro Faurlín and Djibril Cissé.
Rob Green continued behind a back four of Onuoha, Clint Hill, Ryan Nelsen and Armand Traoré. Faurlín, Stephane Mbia and Adel Taarabt started through the middle with Jamie Mackie and Shaun Wright-Phillips playing off Cissé.
Martin Jol made one change following the win over Newcastle United – with Alex Kacaniklic making way for Kieran Richardson, as the Cottagers looked to extend the misery at Loftus Road.
Mark Schwarzer started behind a defence of Sascha Riether, Aaron Hughes, Brede Hangeland and John Arne Riise, with Damien Duff, Chris Baird, Steven Sidwell and Richardson making up the midfield quarter. Dimitar Berbatov played off Hugo Rodallega in attack.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v FULHAM
The long search for a win continued back to Loftus Road after failing to take maximum against Wigan Athletic. The omens weren’t particularly appealing, given that Rangers hadn’t defeated Fulham since 1983 as a more expansive visiting side visited W12.
Fulham fans historically haven’t had the best of times on their travels, but Jol seems to have given his team that creative influence in an attempt to build upon the positive foundations set by Roy Hodgson and continued by the ever-popular Mark Hughes.
In this particular encounter it was Rangers that started the brighter and took the fixture to their loftier perched neighbours and seemingly adopted a shoot on sight policy. First Djibril Cissé latched onto a fine through ball to bear down on goal.
The forward was knocked off his feet, but was able to execute an effort that was ably fielded by Mark Schwarzer. Cissé vehemently protested however that he was fouled in the build up to his eventual effort.
It wasn’t just Cissé that tried his luck, with Adel Taarabt surging forward with some purpose before unleashing an effort wide of the right-hand upright. Cissé once more latched onto a fine cross from the left only to volley wide of the left-hand post.
While Rangers looked predominantly to Taarabt to carve out some attacking threat, Fulham looked to the languid but measured Dimitar Berbatov to create their chances. The Bulgarian seemingly playing where he fancied at times in order to drag markers out of position.
QPR were tight on the centre forward and didn’t afford him the space that he craved and much to his chagrin, defenders were able to bully the Bulgarian and pick his pocket in a bid to build a counter-attacking threat.
Still Rangers pressed and they will be wondering quite how they didn’t have the lead when Jamie Mackie seized upon a loose back-pass from Aaron Hughes. Mackie put himself between the defence and the ‘keeper but inexplicably placed wide of the right-hand post.
It was a chance that Rangers supporters hoped they would not come to rue, as Mackie didn’t dwell on the issue and instead restored himself back to his right-wing berth and in typical fashion charged around to make amends for his error.
Taarabt appeared a man possessed at times as he played a sublime through ball for Wright-Phillips – something he was deterred from doing by Mark Hughes – but the touch was just a tad heavy for the ex-Manchester City wide-man.
As far as the game was concerned there was only one team in the encounter as Rangers continually pressed their troubled opposition. Mbia was barged over on the cusp of the area following some neat interplay and despite bearing down on goal, Fulham somehow evaded a caution.
Cissé powered an effort straight into the wall before Taarabt took two attempts to win a corner for the hosts. At the other end Rob Green was a relative spectator but nearly imploded to hand Fulham the easiest of advantages.
Green and defender Ryan Nelsen got themselves in a muddle for the ‘keeper to hack clear with his weaker foot, right into the path of Hugo Rodallega – the Colombian’s heavy touch somewhat thwarted the move with Green having fallen over following the rushed kick.
Still Cissé powered forward with a skip in his step and looker brighter than ever – his resultant shot was rather tame but too hot to handle for Australian Schwarzer, but the spill wasn’t disastrous enough to present a chance to the baying Taarabt.
It was one way traffic for vast swathes of the opening period with Fulham having to withstand heavy periods of pressure. Rangers could only look to a glorious missed opportunity from Mackie as their golden chance spurned in a positive opening period.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-0 FULHAM
Riether was replaced at half time by Martin Jol, which can presumably only have been an injury with Stephen Kelly – a former QPR loanee circa 2002 – coming on in his stead and slotting in at full back.
Rodallega was warned about his conduct with referee Mr Atkinson pointing to five areas of the pitch for quite unfathomably failing to produce a card. If Rodallega indeed committed that many fouls, surely a caution would be forthcoming?
It mattered little as Rangers took the advantage, fashioned from one popular player to another. Ryan Nelsen set ADEL TAARABT away and the Moroccan laid siege to the Fulham goal. His eventual shot skipped up off Brede Hangeland and beyond the forlorn Schwarzer.
It sparked wild celebrations in W12 and while you’ll note that Mr Atkinson – not booking the busy Sidwell or the aforementioned Rodallega – clearly had Taarabt in his sight-lines – brandishing a booking for the Moroccan for over-celebrating.
Quite what he would have done if Cissé had converted moments later heaven only knows as Loftus Road was rocking. Nelsen once again won the ball high up the pitch and passed to the French forward – he in turn unleashed a venomous drive inches wide of the left-hand upright.
The ineffective Richardson was replaced by Mladen Petric – quite why he didn’t start is open to debate as he sparked something deep within the visitors that had been lacking throughout the encounter – clearly to the anger of boss Martin Jol.
The Croatian’s free-kick was well fielded by Green, who once again was a relative spectator in a half bossed by the home side. Berbatov gesticulated angrily and despite one flash of skill that seemed to excite the visiting support was proving relatively anonymous.
Excellent strength from Mackie produced the next in a string of QPR chances – holding off his marker before a sharp spin and shot didn’t test Schwarzer, flying over the target from the edge of the six-yard box.
Eventually the pressure told and QPR had the deserved second goal, and it was created and finished by the Moroccan marvel ADEL TAARABT. He strode forward after receiving the ball from Mackie before bamboozling the normally reliable Hangeland.
It wasn’t the Norwegian’s day, it ultimately belonged to Taarabt. He strode with purpose towards three defenders and was afforded time to flick the ball with effortless precision with the outside of his right foot as it fairly trickled beyond Schwarzer and nestled into the corner.
Delight unbridled, Loftus Road was wild with joy as the referee followed Taarabt into the corner, keeping a keen eye on just how he was to celebrate his second of the game. A referee clearly with his priorities going awry for the day.
Ashkan Dejagah rather perplexingly came on for Rodallega, a midfielder for a forward despite Fulham chasing the game. His first action was to pick up a yellow card for rather petulantly kicking the ball away after conceding a foul.
Sidwell received his caution for the day after what seemed his tenth or so bad challenge – as Mr Atkinson opted to distribute the card like confetti compared to previously in the game where only a celebration was deemed worthy of a caution.
Fulham started to display some impetus, probably presented in truth by by a decision to throw a defender in Fabio da Silva, on for Wright-Phillips – who in truth despite his effort was very poor in possession of the ball.
Rangers were now pinned back as Sidwell passed to MLADEN PETRIC who was able to drift into the space afforded by a very deep home defence to unleash a classy dipping shot beyond Green and spark nerves among the home crowd – surely this wouldn’t threaten to snatch a defeat from the jaws of victory.
Hangeland was thrown into the forward line as Rangers brought on their sixth defender of the day with Anton Ferdinand replacing Cissé. Four minutes of added on time had to be rode out with Fulham threatening, Rangers manfully blocking at point-blank range to preserve the points.
Mr Atkinson blew the final whistle to the delight of the home crowd, a defining win irrespective of the opposition saw Rangers off the bottom and given a new lease of life heading into the clash against a beleaguered Newcastle United next week.
FULL TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 2-1 FULHAM