Two goals from Heidar Helguson gave Queens Park Rangers victory over Crystal Palace yesterday as Neil Warnock’s side inched closer to the Premier League. Despite Helguson’s two goals it is not the Icelandic striker at the heart of Rangers’ attempts to escape the Championship. Instead, the mercurial talents of Adel Taarabt, harnessed by Warnock, have taken the London side to the brink of promotion.
Taarabt created both of QPR’s goals at Loftus Road on Saturday, the first directly via a cross which Helguson tapped in at the far post, the second more indirectly, fouled by Paddy McCarthy for a penalty converted by the aforementioned forward. The Moroccan midfielder may not be officially credited with an assist for Helguson’s second but he hardly needs the boost in his statistics – according to the BBC,
Regardless, Taarabt is the assist-leader in the Championship, as well we being QPR’s top scorer with 15 goals. Combined, Taarabt has either played the decisive pass or found the net himself on at least 26 occasions – 53% of the team’s goals, based on the lowest number of assists.
Credit for Taarabt’s excellent form must not go only to the player but also his manager. Warnock, who has just celebrated his one-year anniversary as QPR boss, inherited Taarabt, then on loan from Tottenham Hotspur. Spurs signed Taarabt as a 17-year-old and the club’s then sporting director, Damien Comolli, said at the time: ”We know his talent is unbelievable.” The praise continued from former Rangers boss Jim Magilton, who, after a stunning Taarabt goal in a 4-0 win over Preston North End, described the player as a ”genius.”
Despite the glowing tributes, however, Taarabt failed to find a manager to make full use of his talents until Warnock arrived. Juande Ramos in particular came in for heavy criticism from Taarabt in an Evening Standard interview in January, when he said: “Ramos nearly killed me,” adding, “he never spoke to me.” Taarabt also admits Warnock has had a special effect on his career: “Neil is the first manager who really knows how to treat me. I hope to get into the Premier League because Neil deserves it.”
Warnock’s usual approach to players of Taarabt’s ilk – the creative but defensively suspect playmakers – would, says the ex-Sheffield United boss, have been to get rid. “Five years ago, I wouldn’t have had a Taarabt in my team because of formations and being solid. He’d have been gone.” he told The People, but Taarabt revealed in the Evening Standard: “Last summer, Neil rang me and said ‘…even if you lose the ball I will have some players behind you to do the job for you defensively.’”
The change in tact is reaping rewards, for the player, the manager, and the club, who, with nine games until the end of the season, are now 10 points clear of second-place Swansea City. After Warnock’s controversial relegation with the Blades in 2007 and Taarabt’s struggle at Spurs, next season they will both have the chance to right a few wrongs.