QPR are back in the driving seat, having overturned their December wobble in style.
After losing their last two games against Watford and Leeds, ending a run of 19 matches unbeaten, Neil Warnock refused to panic and gave all his players the day off on Christmas Day. They rewarded their manager's faith with a dominant performance against promotion rivals – fourth-placed Swansea – to maintain their lead at the top of the table.
A sparkling performance from the temperamental Adel Taarabt made the difference. Warnock likes to maintain that Taarabt's skilful style alone makes a Loftus Road season ticket worth paying for, and yesterday the red-tipped boots of the 21-year-old were indeed a delight. The former Tottenham player created the first two goals, a dazzling run setting up Jamie Mackie for the opener in the first half before going on another weaving trot to force a penalty out of Ashley Williams for Heidar Helguson to hit home.
Taarabt then followed with two more strikes of his own – the second of which was an exquisite effort in which he nutmegged Joe Allen before wriggling into the box to send a ball over the defenders' heads – taking his total for the season to 11 goals. The Swansea manager, Brendan Rodgers, described him in awed tones as "Premier League quality" – although Warnock refuted that he would be a target in the January transfer window: "Who's going to want to put up with him?" he joked of the capricious midfielder. Taarabt, dubbed the Moroccan magician, received a standing ovation as he was substituted late in the game.
Without Taarabt's performance, a more unsavoury incident might have hogged the headlines, as both Clint Hill and Alan Tate were sent off after a melee broke out among the players following a foul on Kyle Walker in the first half. The details of the incident remain under dispute – initially there were accusations of a headbutt and an elbow – but Warnock later claimed that the referee had had second thoughts, with Phil Crossley apparently admitting that he "could have handled it better on reflection" after issuing red cards to both Hill and Tate. Warnock will appeal against the card, additionally arguing that there should have been a sending-off for Williams after the foul on Taarabt that provided the penalty.
Brendan Rodgers may also want to lodge an appeal on behalf of Tate, having questioned whether either player should have been shown a red card. "Both players were trying to get away from each other," said Rodgers. "I didn't think it was a sending-off. It spoiled what was supposed to be a good game. I'll have to have another look at it again and weigh it up [whether to appeal]. There was a wee melee but it wasn't a headbutt. I thought the referee could have just stood and once it calmed down, talked to them. "
Rodgers said the incident – along with Taarabt's penalty which he felt could have gone either way – changed the game, after a promising opening half from his side which displayed the attractive football for which they are so renowned for. Crucially, though, Swansea failed to find the decisive ball in the final third of the pitch, and when QPR attacked they capitulated, suffering their heaviest defeat under Rodgers's leadership. The loss leaves Swansea with just one win in six matches.
"There can't be a hangover against Barnsley," promised Rodgers. "We can't dwell on it too long. I said to the players: 'Remember last season Blackpool going to Crystal Palace and losing 4-0 and it turned out all right for them'. So we have to dust ourselves off. These players have done terrific up until now, so we've just got to keep the faith."
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