Queens Park Rangers breathed new life into their survival campaign with a dominant three - nil victory over Swansea Wednesday night. With tough clashes looming, the improved form of late has buoyed supporter's hopes that relegation can still be avoided this season.
Captain Joey Barton scored just before half time, silencing his critics (including yours truly) with a curling shot that put the Super Hoops ahead to a roaring cheer from the Loftus Road faithful. January signings Samba Diakite and Taye Taiwo turned in their best work to date, and Championship vets Jamie Mackie and Akos Buzsaky added two more goals to seal a convincing win.
The competition to remain in the Premier League remains fierce after Wigan pulled off an upset against Manchester United, and QPR will have to make the most of their weekend trip to The Hawthorns. With the level the R's raised their game to last night, this looks like a team that can beat the drop amid the tight battle at the bottom of the table.
Throughout a tepid first half that had the crowd chanting "It's just like watching paint dry," the tension was mounting as QPR desperately needed to score and put some distance between themselves and the other strugglers in the relegation zone. The Hoops made decent forays into Swansea territory, and looked in control despite the relatively boring back and forth possession game. Most importantly, they avoided any wasteful tackles or sloppy defending to put themselves at a disadvantage as they have many times this season. Swansea's non-existent offence rarely troubled them, but the self-inflicted wounds QPR so often hand out were eliminated, which in itself was a small victory. As stoppage time began, Adel Taraabt's long cross was weakly cleared and Barton slipped Wayne Routledge's loose marking to tuck the ball inside the net.
For a player who has been the subject of derision and complaint throughout the season, it was a huge moment, shaking off some poor performances and off-field distractions to deliver a critical goal in a must-win match. This column has made no secret of it's discontent with the underwhelming midfielder, but he played a tough, smart game and came through in the clutch when it mattered. Much of the disappointment with Barton stemmed from the disconnect between his previously demonstrated ability and how little of it he's shown since coming aboard. Last night he played like a leader; getting open, distributing carefully and holding up well; things he's struggled to do at times this year. Hopefully he can continue this form and be a part of the solution that keeps the Hoops in the top flight next year.
Diakite is another player that has had his ups and downs since coming to W12, but he played exceptionally, bringing pace and hustle to every play. He looked over-matched upon arrival, but has steadily improved in the last few weeks and was an engine in the midfield to keep the team moving forward. He still has a tendency to tackle late but he's improving, as shown when he rushed back to dispossess a Swansea attacker in the penalty area and executed perfectly, getting the ball and missing the man. Three weeks ago he might have conceded a spot kick, but he got it right and flashed the skills on both sides of the ball that attracted Hughes' attention in the transfer window. He's a solid player with huge upside, and looks to be another building block for future success.
Jamie Mackie did his usual number, getting into dangerous areas and making energetic runs to create chances. His goal had a bit of luck, deflecting off the defender's boot to skirt away from the keeper, but he made a mockery of Ashley Williams to get into position and remains a key part of the QPR forward unit. Buszaky's goal was well taken and capped off the entertaining night, padding the goal differential that separates QPR from the other teams in the bottom quarter. He was set up by Taraabt who continues to make his mark, whether in his own flashy runs or as the distributor from the wings on two of the team's three goals in this match.
Overall, a great win and most of all a complete game from all corners of the squad. Consistency has been the team's bugaboo this season, but they are finally pulling it all together at the crucial moment. They visit West Brom next, and are still in desperate need of points to retain a place in the league. The Baggies have lost three of their last four matches but have shown some grit this season, knocking off the likes of Sunderland and Chelsea at home. If the R's repeat the level they brought against Swansea, they can still take points away from the match and will need everything they can get before returning home to face Tottenham in two weeks.
Come on U R'sss!
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