A late Grant Leadbitter penalty after a Leroy Fer handball on the line was enough to see Middlesbrough take all three points against QPR on a cold night at the Riverside Stadium.
Middlesbrough were frustrated for large periods of the game by a resolute QPR defence being managed by Kevin Blackwell, who was filling in for Neil Warnock who couldn’t attend for personal reasons.
Middlesbrough struggled to create openings in the first half, with David Nugent turning Albert Adomah’s cross on to the post being their best chance.
After some inaccurate shooting in the second half, the game looked to be petering out, but in the second minute of stoppage time, Middlesbrough swung in a corner kick which Daniel Ayala connected with.
He bicycle-kicked it towards goal, and the effort could only be stopped by the flailing hand of midfielder Fer, who was swiftly sent off and Middlesbrough were awarded a penalty.
Leadbitter is lethal from the spot, and sent the keeper the wrong way to snatch the points.
QPR have now lost their last five away games in a row and have failed to score in their last four, but were desperately unlucky not to get a point.
They were without key striker Charlie Austin, and ended up playing Matt Phillips up front to try and trouble the Boro defence with pace. This worked and they did have a few chances but rarely tested Dimi Konstantopoulos.
FootballLeagueWorld writer Michael Hasan identifies three things we learned from Friday’s game…
1) Two quality defences on show
Middlesbrough’s defence was rarely tested, but they did their job well with Ayala creating the opportunity for the penalty to arise.
They were the best defence in the league last season, and this season they have the second best home defence in the country, with only Manchester United bettering the three goals Boro have conceded at home.
But QPR were also quite impressive at the back, with Nedum Onuoha, Grant Hall and Clint Hill all pretty solid against a good attack, until their work was undone by midfielder Fer.
With Austin missing though it means the side lost its shape which is a shame due to their good defence.
2) Middlesbrough need another striker
Even though QPR’s defence performed well, Middlesbrough had no shots on target until the last ten minutes and their chance conversion was poor.
The game was calling out for two strikers up front – Nugent can’t do it all on his own even with the service he gets.
Kike is too inconsistent, and Christian Stuani is too injury prone, but Middlesbrough need a clinical striker. Names are already being thrown around, like re-signing Patrick Bamford on loan, or loaning in James Wilson from Manchester United to give manager Aitor Karanka more options.
3) Bad tactics
Being a Middlesbrough fan, it is very frustrating to see us passing the ball sideways and backwards constantly as this is a very negative tactic, especially at home.
We need to go two up front to use our midfielders more effectively and start testing the keeper more. Also, Karanka could experiment with Adam Forshaw in the midfield due to a poor performance from Leadbitter, as two defensive midfielders in the midfield starts to backfire massively going forward.
Without Austin, QPR looked like they had parked the bus, but pacey players up front like Matt Phillips threatened to catch Boro out.
But these negative tactics are disappointing as it makes the game one sided.
Middlesbrough and QPR fans… do you agree? How good were the two defences? Do Boro need another striker to get automatic promotion? Should Karanka experiment with his tactics? Let us know your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!