WACKO Jacko standing guard over Craven Cottage and Jose Mourinho being beaten at home. Planet Football truly is a strange place right now.
Normal service was resumed at Loftus Road last night, though when Queens Park Rangers, who continue to blaze an unstoppable trail through its most unpredictable division, comfortably dispatched a Sheffield United team seemingly destined for League One.
Micky Adams, their beleaguered manager, insisted that survival remains a possibility with seven games left to play.
But the Rangers crowd delivered its own damning indictment of United’s prospects as two goals from Wayne Routledge and Alejandro Faurlin’s audacious finish edged Neil Warnock’s side another step closer to the Premiership and cut Adams’ adrift in the relegation zone.
“We’re going to Liverpool,” they goaded United’s disconsolate support at the opposite end of the ground. “You’re going to Hartlepool.”
Paddy Kenny, who eight months ago controversially swapped South Yorkshire for West London after serving a lengthy suspension for a doping offence, was not inclined to disagree.
With Rangers now 13 points clear of third-placed Cardiff City and United seven adrift of safety in 22nd, he said: “We’ve always kept that gap between ourselves and the others.I want to go up as champions.”
Adams admitted: “We are a soft touch away from home I couldn’t fault their workrate but it’s been the same old story all season. We make too many bad errors”
Warnock, who spent nearly 400 matches in charge of the visitors and led them to the Premiership in 2006, expressed sadness at his old club’s plight on the eve of this match.
While their former employer enjoys life at the top of the Championship, United travelled south having suffered five consecutive defeats on the road and worried by events at the opposite end of the table.
Sadly for Adams, that sympathy did not extend to leaving Adel Taarabt on the bench. The Moroccan magician, whose performances have reportedly attracted admiring glances from some of the capital’s swankiest teams, was named in Rangers’ starting 11 for the first time since being granted compassionate leave following the death of a cousin.
He celebrated his return with another virtuoso display which will have his suitors at Stamford Bridge and the Emirates Stadium reaching for their cheque books.
But not before being dumped unceremoniously on the turf by Michael Doyle who had been handed the unenviable task of shadowing him.
United, who breathed a sigh of relief when Kaspars Gorkss headed an early chance wide, selected a three-pronged strike-force as they attempted to become only the third team to beat Rangers on home soil this term.
Defender Neill Collins featured alongside Ched Evans, Daniel Bogdanovic and Darius Henderson in Adams’ plans when a thigh strain prevented Shane Lowry’s involvement.
But if the ploy was designed to stifle Rangers attacking threat it failed to have the desired effect as Clint Hill flicked a Taarabt cross wide and Faurlin blazed over during a frenetic opening period.
Predictably, against a rearguard which began the contest looking to record its 22nd clean sheet of the campaign, chances for United were at a premium.
Matthew Lowton and Henderson tried their luck from close range but failed to trouble Kenny as Rangers back four smothered both attempts.
Steve Simonsen, the goalkeeper’s replacement at Bramall Lane, has not been afforded anywhere near the same level of protection of late and it was with worrying ease that Routledge opened the scoring after 29 minutes.
Faurlin swept a raking pass out towards Heidar Helguson on the flank and when his colleague peeled away from Nyron Nosworthy and Collins, the Iceland international simply hooked a first-time centre back into the box which was duly turned home.
As Adams hung his head in frustration, Bradley Orr went within a whisker of doubling Rangers’ advantage with an audacious attempt from long distance..
Faurlin punished Bogdanovic for a glaring miss by netting Rangers’ second after 53 minutes.A needlessly-conceded corner was only half cleared by Lowton and the Spaniard threaded a curling shot between Simonsen’s outstretched palm and the post.
Routledge rubbed salt into United’s wounds by adding a third just past the hour.
“I don’t enjoy seeing my old team in that situation,” said Warnock. “But we were simply better on the night.”
QPR: Kenny, Orr, Hill, Derry (Buzsaky 85), Hall, Taarabt (Agyemang 70), Helguson, Faurlin, Gorkss, Routledge, Smith (Miller 80). Not used: Cerny, Ephraim, Chimbonda, Shittu.
UNITED: Simonsen, Nosworthy (Riise 59), Montgomery, Henderson, Doyle, Evans (Bent 79), Bogdanovic (Yeates 65), Mattock, Collins, Quinn, Lowton. Not used: Aksalu, Cresswell, Kozluk, McAllister.
Goals: Routledge (29, 66), Faurlin (53).
Referee: K Stroud (Dorset).
Bookings: Montgomery (9), Hill (44), Yeates (70).