Taarabt terrorises Cardiff to lead QPR to the brink
Imagine if they didn’t have him. Imagine if they just had some run-of-the-mill journeyman playing there instead, jogging around behind the front man, knocking in a goal or two every now and then. But they haven’t. Queen’s Park Rangers have got Adel Taarabt, the best player in the Championship this season. And what a player.
It was fitting that an afternoon such as this was treated to a masterclass from the Moroccan. Because QPR supporters don’t have to imagine life without Taarabt, and why on earth should they? Why imagine Barcelona without Messi and Real Madrid without Ronaldo? Some supporters attempt to denigrate teams that are overly reliant on one individual, but Taarabt would be a mid-table maestro rather than a top of the league talisman if not for QPR’s defence.
Rangers have shipped just 29 league goals after 43 games, two of which were scored by Cardiff on this sunny afternoon in South Wales. With less than half an hour remaining, the story looked set to be the impact of Craig Bellamy on Cardiff’s late automatic promotion charge. Bellamy struck the second from close range after Taarabt had cancelled out Jay Bothroyd’s opener. Then, after both Peter Whittingham and Bellamy had wasted good chances to extend the home side’s lead, Taarabt scored again.
It was yet another nervous April afternoon for Cardiff fans, who must be jealous of the breathing space that QPR’s players have afforded their fans. QPR’s day must wait, but it will come. Cardiff’s nervous wait continues after this frustrating draw. Against anyone else, their performance would probably have brought a victory. But twice they allowed Taarabt a bit of space and twice he found the corner of the net.
They were very different goals – the first showcased his invention and self-confidence, while the second demonstrated his coolness under pressure and close-range finishing. Bothroyd’s goal was brilliant but Taarabt struck a leveller that was arguably its equal. Having said that, there is no real need to split hairs between which was the more impressive strike. It is just nice to see players of this sort of quality at Championship level, providing fantastic entertainment and lighting up games on a regular basis.
With ten minutes gone and Cardiff leading, a Taarabt corner was cleared back to the Moroccan and two defenders rushed out to close him down. With the ball under his feet, he lifted it up over Stephen Bywater from a tight angle and hared off to celebrate before it had even hit the net. You can qualify these statements by stating that he may not do it in the Premier League and failed to make a breakthrough at Tottenham, but Championship supporters rarely see a player of Taarabt’s talent. Why can’t we make the most of it?
Neil Warnock provided a fine summary: “When he plays like that, he’s lovely to watch.” Warnock also effectively criticised other sides for kicking Taarabt in recent weeks and referees for not protecting his star man. Perhaps this was a thinly-veiled dig at Derby County’s Robbie Savage, who marked him out of the game last Monday. Perhaps not. Either way, Warnock could have it a whole lot worse.
In previous years, players such as Taarabt would have spent most of their season avoiding desperate lunges and hatchet jobs. There have been a few of the former, but significantly less of the latter and the Championship as a whole can take great credit from that. Any proximity to a season-ending injury for Taarabt has been due to the bamboozling nature of his skill rather than any pre-conceived plan on the part of a defender.
Only the most partisan supporter of a rival club could attempt to downplay Taarabt’s effect on the season. There is some talk of his play-acting and the idea that he can only thrive when given space. What an answer he gave in Cardiff. There was no space on either occasion, but he still scored twice.
For the second equaliser, Wayne Routledge dinked a ball towards the edge of the box. Taarabt was marked tightly by Kevin McNaughton but showed strength to fend him off and admirable composure to slot a finish into the bottom corner of Bywater’s net.
So the champagne is on ice for Queen’s Park Rangers. There is no disgrace in that – they can still seal the title with victory over Hull City on Monday. When Hull manager Nigel Pearson watches this game and sets out his last-minute planning, there will be one man who will dominate his thoughts. But he already knew all about him. Everyone knows all about Adel Taarabt now.