|photo by Ben Sutherland
It's a sluggish start from the away side on their trip to QPR's Loftus Road home in London, with giveaways and sloppy ball handling the apparent early theme of the afternoon. The home side shows some ambition going forward -- despite their two month home scoring drought -- and their game plan seems to revolve around some muddled combination of midfield whiz Adel Taraabt playing the ball and the rest of the squad attempting to win free kicks at any cost.
Nevertheless, it's United with the first whiff of goal on the afternoon: an Ashley Young swerving free kick, which Nani -- rewarded with a rare start for his match winning performance against Reading last weekend -- fails to direct on target. Minutes later, Chicharito shows Nani how it's done, although his backward flick-on from Young's second cross is easily tipped over the bar by QPR's banana-kitted goalkeeper Julio Cesar.
In truth, it's ugly play from both sides that mark the opening 20 minutes -- until the disjointed stretch of play is wickedly shattered, along with the back of the net, by an absolute screamer of a goal from United's young right fullback, Rafael. A contender for goal of the season, the Brazilian returns Julio Cesar's deflection of Robin Van Persie's effort directly back from whence it came -- and then some -- to hand United a 1-nil lead shortly before the 25 minute mark.
Ten minutes later it's the one and same Rafael clearing a headed QPR corner kick off the line to preserve the lead, and -- after charging half the the length of the pitch with the ball -- steering an inch perfect cross onto the outstretched foot of Van Persie. The resulting shot is kept out of goal only by a fine save from QPR's top banana.
The goal mouth action is the last of the day for Van Persie, subbed off before halftime for Danny Welbeck, the Dutchman having picked up a knock that will no doubt send the club's legions of fans worldwide into a state bordering on sheer panic. Although Nemanja Vidic nearly doubles the visitors' lead before the half, his headed effort is just wide and leaves the scoreboard reflecting only the sole goal as both teams revert to the warmth of the halftime dressing rooms.
It's United straight back onto the attack as the second half begins, with both Nani and Chicharito offering efforts which are denied by the QPR 'keeper. Although United have the better run of play, true chances remain at a premium before the hour mark.
It's at this point in the contest that Harry Redknapp exchanges Loic Remy for Bobby Zamora, while Sir Alex counters by swapping Wayne Rooney for Javier Hernandez -- meaning that with 30 minutes left the United strike force has changed completely from the duo that began the contest. QPR's Frenchman makes an immediate impact on the proceedings, with Remy blasting the ball off David De Gea's gloves, which to this point in the game have remained virtually untested.
Young leaves in favor of Antonio Valencia as the clock nears the 70 minute mark, the United bossman seeking to lock down the defense in the event his side is unable to add to their slim lead. Both Welbeck and Rooney miss an opportunity to seal the victory as the away fans keep themselves occupied singing a new work to honor Michael Carrick's finest season at the club. As the strains of "It's hard to believe it's not Scholes / It's Carrick, you know..." the celebration is in full tilt -- until Ryan Giggs finally sends it into overdrive with a second goal that secures the afternoon's points, the Welshman's perfectly timed running placing him in on goal with only the 'keeper to beat.
Two minutes later and the 39 year old nearly outdoes his earlier accomplishment: hitting the bar on a soft chip that bamboozles the banana clad Cesar, who can only exhale after Nani's follow up sails harmlessly over the goal. Although United threaten a third goal it never appears, and the boring but effective victory heaps additional pressure on two clubs: the home side, soon to be relegated back to their proper level in English football, and the erstwhile Champions of England -- now a stunning 15 points in the Reds' rear view mirror.
This is Farlieonfootie for Fenruary 24.