• Manager hails his striker after win over Sunderland
• 'He can't get in the car after games … but he's a proper bloke'
Bobby Zamora used to be denounced as the symbol of Queens Park Rangers' problems, now he is being hailed as the inspiration for their survival fight.
Eyebrows were raised when Mark Hughes paid £4.5m to sign the striker from Fulham in January last year and heckles were raised when the 32-year-old was ruled out with a hip injury early this season, with some citing him as a costly example of the former manager's misguided faith in veterans and cast-offs.
Even more scorn was directed at Zamora when, during his convalescence, he gave an interview in which he said that he did not regularly watch football on television, a declaration that was misinterpreted by some supporters as proof that he did not care about sport and was only interested in pocketing lucre. Fans wondered aloud whether he was even bothered about getting fit enough to play again. All that has changed. Now he is considered the embodiment of the warrior spirit that QPR need if they are to pull off the great escape from relegation. Zamora did not score against Sunderland but he led the line strongly, combined well with his new strike partner Loïc Rémy and, most of all, lifted his team-mates by battling manfully through pain.
Harry Redknapp reckons that Zamora is currently only 60% fit, with his persistent hip trouble aggravated by the ankle ligament damage that forced him to miss last week's win at Southampton. The striker soldiered on for 73 minutes against Sunderland before being replaced by Jamie Mackie, and was so sore afterwards that he could not drive home. But he is still determined to help steer QPR to safety.
"That's the sort of character we need," said Redknapp. "He's waiting for a hip operation and he has torn ankle ligaments but he's played through that. At half-time we have to keep him on the move because if he sits down he'll seize up. So he puts a water bottle on his hip and stands at the wall doing stretches. He can't get in his car after the game. But he's a proper bloke. He's not an idiot, he's a sensible guy. He's good for the team. He talks to people and is a big influence in the dressing room. He travelled with us to Southampton last week [even though he couldn't play] because he wanted to be around the boys. You need people like that."
QPR's chairman, Tony Fernandes, was equally eager to acclaim Zamora, tweeting: "There are many young professionals who could learn a thing from Bobby Zamora. He's an ultimate club man. Thank you Bobby."
Adel Taarabt used to be held up as QPR's talisman, but there was no sign of the 23-year-old against Sunderland and there are questions about how much he will contribute to the rest of the campaign. The Moroccan has extraordinary skills but was named as a substitute for last week's win at Southampton and then, according to Redknapp, he "suddenly" suffered "a little bit of a thigh strain or something" during midweek and declared himself unavailable for the Sunderland match.
Redknapp did not dwell on Taarabt's problem, choosing instead to praise the commitment of Zamora and others, including Andros Townsend, who was also dropped for the Southampton match but shrugged off that disappointment to perform brilliantly here and hit a superb goal in the 70th minute. That goal, coming after Rémy had cancelled out Stephen Fletcher's against-the-run-of-play opener for Sunderland in the 20th minute, effectively sealed QPR's victory. Jermaine Jenas crowned it by blasting the ball into the bottom corner in the 90th minute to make the score 3-1.
"Andros is focused," said Redknapp. "Nothing's going to sidetrack him. You've got a chance with people like that."
There was a message in there for certain squad members whom Redknapp feels are not so focused. "You know who they are," he said. "You know the ones you want in and the ones you don't want around you because they let you down."
Redknapp stressed that not all of the players who were omitted on Saturday are considered unhelpful and suggested the ones who were "injured or unlucky" could feature again soon. However, others will not.
Man of match: Andros Townsend (QPR)