And that man is Adel Taarabt.
QPR came back from behind twice to share the points with Cardiff in what turned out to be the best game of football this amazing season has seen. Adel Taarabt was the star of the show for QPR as he showed to any doubters why Warnock gave him the captain’s armband back in August with a performance that will be remembered for years to come.
Rangers’ fans came by coach, car, train and plane to hopefully see the R’s clinch promotion at one of our main rivals’ grounds, but they still left delirious as the party now moves to Loftus Road where over 17,000 fans will get to see us rather than the 2,000 who were at Cardiff. I doubt that the 17,000 will make as much noise as those at Cardiff or see a better game, but I hope I’m wrong. QPR came to town with a clear advantage over the hosts which would mean that Cardiff would have to come at us which would also mean a far better spectacle than the Derby match last Monday.
QPR were unchanged for the third game running with what could be described as our strongest starting X1 with Tommy Smith fitting into Jamie Mackie’s position like a glove these last four months. As the players took to the pitch, you couldn’t hear yourself breathe with a cacophony of noise coming from all sides of the ground.
Within 50 seconds, Faurlin found himself in the inside-left position and found Taarabt with one of his trademark reverse passes, Adel took a couple of paces and as he reached the 18-yard line, he tried his luck with a curling shot, but he lifted it a yard over the bar with Bywater not worried. Ninety seconds later, McPhail cut in from the right-wing and sent a curling cross into the 6-yard box which eluded everyone including Bothroyd and Kenny had to show sharp reflexes to get down to his right to prevent the opening goal.
On 3 minutes, Bellamy fed Whittingham running behind our back-four and as he approached the goal, Kenny closed down the angle and made an excellent save from close range. Then on 6 minutes, Cardiff took the lead with a goal of outstanding quality. Bellamy was found in the middle of the park and he supplied Bothroyd who had drifted out by the right touchline. There didn’t seem to be any danger as he controlled the ball and reached the angle of the box. But then he turned inside Hill on to his favoured left foot and then hit a shot that three keepers wouldn’t have saved as it screamed like an exocet missile into the far corner via the bar/post. I looked at JJ and we both agreed that it was a brilliant goal. Bothroyd may want to ask for a new vote for Cardiff’s goal-of-the-season as I doubt that any of his previous 19 this season were any sweeter.
Looking at the players you could see that they were unfazed, in fact, many of them were geeing each other up including our captain. Then looking at the screen behind me, Warnock didn’t look too worried either. There was a long way to go in this game and I reckoned there were more goals as it was very open. A minute after the goal, Routledge got the ball out wide and showed it to the left-back and then burst past him very easily and put a ball into the box for Helguson, but his first touch was too heavy and then the ball wouldn’t come down for him and a defender cleared. Then if anyone had thought that our players were showing nerves, Hill went to take a throw in front of the home fans and was getting dogs abuse so he turned round and laughed in their faces. We looked like we were ‘up for it’.
On 10 minutes, Smith got the ball down out wide left and ran into the box and tried a cross from the bye-line that was blocked by a defender and it rolled out for a corner. From that corner, Adel delivered the ball into the 6-yard box which was headed up in the air and as it came down Cardiff cleared it to the edge of the box. Then as the ball dropped to Faurlin, everyone expected the ball to be just lumped back in the 6-yard box for another bout of head tennis, but Faurlin’s brain doesn’t work like that. He found Adel again with his header which was no mean feat as they were 20 yards apart. Adel took two strides and as again we expected a cross to the far post where Gorkss and Helguson were our main aerial threat, he chose to plant the ball in the net with a sublime curling shot that left Bywater flapping at thin air. As soon as the ball left Adel’s foot he raised his arms in celebration as he knew what was coming in the next seconds. Cue absolute pandemonium in the away end and the afternoon’s first rendition of ‘Taarabt’s Too Good For You’. Adel had a look of ‘anything you can do, I can do better’. As good as the goal was, it still wasn’t his best goal by a long chalk, which tells its own story.
As we were still celebrating, Kenny kept us in the game again with another outstanding save. This time it was Bothroyd’s turn to release Bellamy and as he burst clean through on goal, try as he might, Gorkss tried to keep up, but then Kenny came to the rescue with a save to his near post as Bellamy hit a left foot shot at an angle. On 16 minutes, there was a huge shout for a Cardiff penalty when Connolly and Keinan ended up in a heap following what looked like a bout of Greco Roman wrestling. Get a room lads !
We then began to retain the ball a bit better for the next 15 minutes and this period saw the emergence of Routledge as an influence on the game. Gorkss had a glancing header from a Taarabt free kick go just wide on 19 minutes then in quick succession Routledge took on and beat the left-back with ease. The first time his cross found Faurlin at the far post, but his header back across the face of the goal saw not one QPR shirt within yards and the ball was allowed to roll out for a corner. Then following a lucky ricochet, Routledge hit a cross which bounced down and over the defenders and although Smith got the better of his marker, the defender did enough to put him off and it was a routine save for Bywater.
Once again Bothroyd drifted out wide right and was found with a decent pass. This time Bothroyd elected to cross and sent the ball just over the first couple of defenders, but all seemed okay as Connolly went to intercept, but made a right cock-up. First he missed the ball with his foot and as it flew past him it struck his outstretched arm for a stonewall penalty. Before the referee could even purse his lips to blow the whistle, Bellamy thumped an unstoppable shot into the roof of the net. As gutting as it was, the home team had had four clear cut chances to our one so it was no surprise in all reality. Once again, the captain was seen to be geeing up the rest of the team as we once again took the kick-off and Warnock didn’t have the look of a worried man either, neither did I.
As the minutes ticked down to end the half, Shaun Derry ‘My Lord’ almost scored his first ever goal in Hoops. Faurlin fed Derry 20 odd yards out and he looked up and took aim with a crisp shot. The ball appeared to hit Taarabt and sent the keeper scrambling to his left to prevent the goal as he palmed the ball away from the goal. Taarabt closed in on the ball and the goal, but he just couldn’t make it as the away fans collectively held their heads in their hands. The 1st half was played at a blistering pace and although we were only one goal behind, it could and should have been more. We were carved open twice by simple balls behind our back-four and it has to be said that our two centre backs were struggling to cope with Bothroyd’s strength and Bellamy’s pace and runs into the channels. Thankfully we have the best keeper in this Division. Half time: 1-2.
With no let-up in the temperature, the players were always going to find it hard to live up to the 1st half’s performance. Cardiff immediately took the game to us with the ball going down the right and as Quinn crossed it, Olofinjana was found in space and his pile driver thankfully was blocked by Orr for a corner although the deflection could’ve ended up anywhere including the net. It was the last that Olofinjana was going to feature in the game, as like the match at Loftus Road, Shaun Derry decided to clamp down on his younger counterpart every time he got the ball. Derry and Faurlin were also becoming more influential in the middle as was Routledge. On 70 minutes, Warnock took off the ineffectual Tommy Smith who got no change out of the superb McNaughton all game, and replaced him with Agyemang.
Within a minute we had equalised for the second time although the substitution had nothing to do with it. Routledge went on one of his numerous runs and lifted a ball over the defence for Taarabt who was being shepherded by McNaughton. The captain showed Tommy Smith how to get the better of his marker and using his body strength he created a yard of space and placed a left-footed shot beyond the dive of Bywater for his 18th goal of the season. And once again the away fans went mental. ‘Taarabt’s Too Good For You’ indeed.
For the next 20 minutes we controlled the game with Routledge more or less running at Cardiff at will and all the home players appeared to be more affected by the searing temperatures than we did. But Cardiff were still a danger and once again Kenny showed why he is the best keeper in this Division by thwarting Bellamy when one-on-one, Kenny picked up a knock in the process. In the dying seconds we almost snatched a win as Taarabt teased the right-back and hit a cross-cum-shot to the far post, but the ball was just too far in front of Helguson and as he stretched, his shot hit the side netting. The game ended with the away fans more happy than the home fans especially with ‘You’re Gonna Lose in the Play-Offs’ ringing in their ears for the last 10 minutes. Cardiff knew that this was their missed opportunity. We however, march on with a cushy gap in points from Cardiff in third place.
This was a monumental result with great effort from all 13 players used. The crowd played their part as well. Apart from the first 10 minutes of the 2nd half, we sang our hearts out and the players responded in kind. And although our centre-backs didn’t have their best games admittedly, we didn’t lose which is the important thing. Try as they might, Cardiff couldn’t beat us with possibly one of their best performances of the season. And what can one say about Adel Taarabt ? As I jokingly said after the game, with a knowing glance to John Cleese in ‘Life of Brian’, ‘apart from the two goals, what did Adel do ?’ Well I’ll tell you. He led by example from the word go. He played with a smile on his face as did Kenny, Hill and Derry. Even when Adel got ‘involved’ with Bellamy at one point they both shook hands and had a laugh. This was without a shadow of doubt the best game of football I’ve seen all season. And in Bellamy and Bothroyd, Cardiff have possibly two of the best players outside the Premier League. But that kid Adel is something else. It was a privilege being there.
Team: Kenny 8, Orr 7, Gorkss 6, Connolly 6 (Hall 7), Hill 7, Derry 8, Faurlin 8, Routledge 8, Smith 6 (Agyemang 7), Taarabt 9, Helguson 6.
MOTM: Adel Taarabt, Captain Fantastic. Those who doubted that he was really the captain were proven wrong.
Referee: Mason 7, luckily the game was played in a good spirit by both teams which was no mean feat considering what was at stake here. I doubt that home fans will agree as three times in the 1st half, Burke was clearly fouled, but the ref waved play on and they appeared to have a decent shout for a penalty in the 1st half.
Attendance: 26,058 (a new stadium record with approx 2,000 very noisy away fans)
I must finish by commenting on the home fans. For anyone who has ever been to Cardiff, be it the CCS or Ninian Park, it has been known to be a bit unsavoury in the past. But the club have made huge strides in eradicating unruly behaviour. They recently won the Family Club of the Year. At the end I noticed numerous home fans to our right clapping us at the end with some even clapping our players as well. Not once did I feel intimidated either inside or outside considering I was wearing a St. George cross/3 Lions shirt, I wasn’t exactly inconspicuous !
(The above pics were taken by Martin Percival and used with his permission)