Neil Warnock was of the opinion that no other player on the pitch was capable of scoring the goal with which Queens Park Rangers' Moroccan playmaker Adel Taarabt settled the Championship's match of the season so far, a meeting of the top two at Loftus Road that left Rangers five points clear of Cardiff City and still unbeaten in the league.
This was perhaps a rather pointed remark after a match that featured the three outstanding attacking talents in the division, in Taarabt and Cardiff's own home international duo of Craig Bellamy and Jay Bothroyd. But then a sense of mild personal needle between the two benches – Warnock and Dave Jones disagreed a little cattily over late Cardiff appeals for a penalty – only added to the spectacle in a rousing game that had pretty much everything, including some fine passing football and the bonus of both teams pressing for a win when a draw might have been settled for.
"We feel hard done by," Jones said after a match that was topped and tailed by periods of slickly constructed Cardiff pressure, in between which Rangers hustled more effectively in midfield and asserted themselves through a combination of set-piece expertise and Taarabt's rarefied, drifting presence on the ball.
The prime target of Jones's ire was the referee, Kevin Friend, who waved play on in the 85th minute after Bothroyd had seemed to be tripped by Matthew Connolly. He might have directed at least some of his frustration at Bothroyd himself, whose uneven performance demonstrated both why he has been recently picked for England and why reservations remain.
The best of Bothroyd was lovely to watch: his perfectly weighted pass to play Bellamy in for the opening goal after 13 minutes following Kaspars Gorkss unfortunate slip (Gorkss would have his revenge, heading the equaliser five minutes later); the sprint from halfway that forced Paddy Kenny into a brave save; and the control and jink that drew the penalty-that-might-have-been. In between Bothroyd often swaggered listlessly. At one point he engaged in an extended finger-jabbing argument with Chris Burke over a misplaced lay-off.
Perhaps he might yet learn something from Bellamy, who worked extremely hard and constantly troubled the Rangers backline, or indeed from Taarabt, who can be scattergun in the application of his undoubted vision and fine touch but who was never discouraged by misplaced passes or faltering dribbles, constantly sought the ball and was rewarded on 68 minutes when he bundled through Lee Naylor's attempted tackle on the left, jinked inside and out and finished thrillingly.
Rangers rely heavily on Taarabt for craft but they are playing with great spirit and are defensively very solid. After Saturday they already look, if not exactly unbeatable, then perhaps something close to unassailable.
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