A VINTAGE performance from Adel Taarabt helped push Queens Park Rangers five points clear at the top of the npower Championship.
Coventry City were looking to punish QPR’s early profligacy and netted against the run of play as the much-maligned Marlon King slid home from close range.
The Sky cameras were looking on as the hosts struggle to assert their earlier dominance, but shortly before half time some Taarabt magic lit up Loftus Road as a stunning solo effort drew matters level.
The Sky Blues were predominantly threatening on the counter-attack and their percentage game tactics saw several key figures packing the area in a bid to produce a goal.
It was Rangers that would have the last laugh however with a sublime Taarabt through ball finding debutante Wayne Routledge, and the fleet-footed wide man stroked home with ease.
Without truly gracing the occasion with class, Rangers ground out a result to remain top of the pile owing much to the effort and commitment of the squad Neil Warnock has assembled.
Warnock opted to make two changes from the side that drew up at Burnley with Wayne Routledge handed a debut and Heidar Helguson re-introduced at the expense of Petter Vaagan Moen and Rob Hulse.
Paddy Kenny started behind the back four of Bradley Orr, Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly and Clint Hill, with Alejandro Faurlín overcoming a thigh complaint to partner Shaun Derry in the middle.
Routledge partnered Adel Taarabt and Tommy Smith behind the recalled lone front-man Helguson. Ishmael Miller was granted a place on the bench, while there was no place in the squad for Pascal Chimbonda.
Coventry started with Keiren Westwood in goal behind a back four of Richard Keogh, Richard Wood, former QPR man Martin Cranie and Stephen O’Halloran.
Carl Baker, Michael Doyle, Aron Gunnarsson and Gary McSheffrey lined up in midfield with Marlon King partnering Freddy Eastwood in attack.
Kick Off: Queens Park Rangers v Coventry City
The R’s came into the clash in the wake of a disappointing away draw at Burnley, where the score-line didn’t perhaps reflect the level of performance that the league leaders displayed. Nevertheless they were looking for a double over the Sky Blues in front of the television cameras.
Rangers were looking for their first victory since the win over Coventry at the Ricoh Arena before the turn of the year. An own goal from Keiren Westwood and a Tommy Smith header secured a crucial three-points for the table-toppers.
Shortly after the game started Coventry’s game became evident as they sought to stifle the R’s before launching a counter-attacking threat of their own. Marlon King was leading the line for the visitors and received his customary reception from the home support.
The QPR side was looking sprightly and refreshed, this owed much to the return of Wayne Routledge who was working Stephen O’Halloran hard down the right. His interchange with Adel Taarabt and Tommy Smith was working effectively as Rangers looked dangerous.
Aidy Boothroyd’s side were predominantly seeking Freddy Eastwood and the aforementioned King directly in a bid to catch out the dominant hosts. Indeed Rangers should have had the lead but for the disappointing profligacy of Heidar Helguson.
Smart work from Routledge down the right saw him beat O’Halloran and clip the ball to the unmarked Icelandic international on the far post. The striker somehow conspired to miss, driving his header into the floor and subsequently over the bar.
King was proving the key players for the visitors with neat touch and control seeing him work a shooting position coming inside from the left. His effort was more than matched by Paddy Kenny who grasped the ball at the second attempt.
Westwood was soon to be worked as more useful interplay between Alejandro Faurlín and Taarabt saw the latter have his shot blocked by the legs of the Sky Blues stopper. He would earn many plaudits for what happened subsequently.
Shaun Derry amused many a fan and pundit at the Ricoh Arena, when his errant air shot went awry. This time around however Westwood would be tested by his right foot as a 25-yard blockbuster was palmed away fantastically by the highly-rated ‘keeper.
While the aerial threat of Clive Platt had been omitted, King was providing a useful presence for the visitors and with Eastwood and McSheffrey foraging away for opportunities in behind what appeared a shaky Rangers rearguard.
On 25 minutes a dominant QPR were punished for their wasteful nature in front of goal as City struck on the counter-attack. McSheffrey worked some space down the left-flank before beating Orr and delivering into the area.
Matt Connolly missed the ball on the front post and Marlon King ghosted in behind Kaspars Gorkss to roll home from close range. The inquisition continued among the defenders as Coventry had a first half lead in W12.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 0-1 Coventry City
It was a bitter blow for Rangers who – like at Turf Moor – had the majority of possession and opportunities, but were ultimately punished by a clinical and ruthless strike force. However Rangers didn’t relent and continued to press the Sky Blues.
Gorkss’ excellent cross-field pass found Taarabt and his jinking run saw him fend off Keogh but unfortunately the presence of mind to utilise his team-mates ostensibly eluded the Moroccan playmaker, as he struck into the side netting from a tight angle.
More naïve defending saw the Sky Blues break through once more as Eastwood latched on to a long ball to attack the Rangers rearguard. The former Southend United and Wolverhampton Wanderers front-man jinked past a ponderous Connolly to drill an effort wide of the right-hand upright.
It sparked yet more inquests among the defenders with Shaun Derry leading the rallying cry from midfield. The midfielder had previously received a booking for a stern challenge and this seemed to affect his state of mind going into subsequent challenges.
It was a moment of magic that justifiably hauled Rangers level and brought the ground from its slumber and back to its boisterous best. A deep ball from Kenny was well-retrieved by Adel Taarabt down the left.
The rest was pure inspiration as he danced past two challenges before curling a stunning right-footed effort beyond Westwood. A truly magical goal as at last Taarabt impressed in front of the cameras and hauled the R’s level.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Coventry City
Rangers continued to press in the latter stages in the first period as the crowd now sensed their side had the bit between their teeth. Invigorated and refreshed Rangers looked the more likely to break the deadlock before the break.
As it was the hosts went inside justifiably level and could now look to a positive second period after the malaise was shattered by a piece of Taarabt wizardry. It left the second half finely poised as the two teams went into the break.
Half Time: Queens Park Rangers 1-1 Coventry City
Rangers wasted little time in picking up where they had left off as Helguson drew a foul outside the right-hand side of the area. It seemed a formality that Taarabt would try his luck, but a heated negotiation between he, Derry and Faurlín ensued.
After the debate it was in fact Faurlín that stepped forward and struck left-footed and it cannoned off the left hand-upright. The ball agonisingly rolled across the line and away to safety as Rangers supporters began ruing their lack of fortuity.
Sadly for Rangers they were forced to withdraw Helguson ten minutes into the half after what appeared a groin injury. Warnock opted for West Bromwich Albion loanee Ishmael Miller ahead of another former Baggie Rob Hulse and he impressed from the off.
His sizeable frame gave him the ability to hold the ball effectively or flick on for the likes of Routledge to chase. While supporters will note that his left-foot is dynamite he was more slight and coy with his touches, opting to create for his fellow players.
Despite his positive showing Rangers were nearly behind once more as King caused havoc in the R’s back-line. His drilled effort was parried by Kenny and only he will know how he spectacularly denied half time substitute Lukas Jutkiewicz twice from point-blank range.
Somehow he grasped the ball at the final attempt and Loftus Road and Neil Warnock breathed a sigh of relief and this prompted a rejuvenated hope for the home crowd. Miller nearly had a maiden goal just minutes later only to be denied with another world-class save.
The ‘keepers were certainly on top as Miller was afforded the time to cut in from the right before drilling a left-footed effort goal-bound. It appeared destined for the bottom corner only for Westwood to match the achievements of Kenny by tipping the ball around the post.
Rangers were still pressing and eventually this dominance told just over ten minutes from time as some frankly unbelievable play saw them take that crucial goal and with it three important points, and it was that man Taarabt that once more instigated the magic.
The Moroccan showed breathtaking skill to work his way down the left and clip a ball with the outside of his right-boot towards Wayne Routledge. The debutante took a sublime first touch to pluck the ball out of the air and place beyond a forlorn Westwood.
GOAL: Queens Park Rangers 2-1 Coventry City
An extra spring was in Rangers’ step following the strike but this would have to be tempered with a steely resilience in the final ten minutes. Fitz Hall soon replaced Tommy Smith epitomising the requirement to defend for the hosts.
Hall sat among the defensive unit, taking his place between Connolly and Gorkss in the back four and a couple of defensive headers repaid Warnock’s faith in the veteran defender as he mopped up opportunities with the minimum of fuss.
There was nevertheless excitement for the travelling 400 or so that populated the upper tier of the School End as the Sky Blues threw everything at the R’s. Clive Platt’s entrance signalled their respective intentions to attack.
As it transpired three minutes of injury time was enough to see Rangers through in what was a gruelling test against the playoff chasers Coventry City. Boothroyd’s brand of football, while archaic, is effective and proved so with the amount of problems created in the R’s backline.
Nevertheless the determination and drive, despite the lapses in concentration in the defence, was enough to see QPR through. Another game chalked off and Rangers have extended their lead at the summit of the npower Championship.
Final Whistle: Queens Park Rangers 2-1 Coventry City
Queens Park Rangers
Paddy Kenny, Bradley Orr, Kaspars Gorkss, Matt Connolly, Clint Hill, Alejandro Faurlín, Shaun Derry, Wayne Routledge (Hogan Ephraim 90), Adel Taarabt, Tommy Smith (Fitz Hall 82), Heidar Helguson (Ishmael Miller 55)
Keiren Westwood, Richard Keogh, Richard Wood, Martin Cranie, Stephen O’Halloran, Carl Baker, Michael Doyle (Sammy Clingan 67), Aron Gunnarsson, Gary McSheffrey (Clive Platt 80), Freddy Eastwood (Lukas Jutkiewicz 46), Marlon King