Middlesbrough gave their automatic promotion hopes a huge boost with a last-gasp victory over Hull prior to the international break but the gust of wind provided by the second coming of Aitor Karanka might not stretch beyond Easter because the Teessiders have an unforgiving task in front of them at Loftus Road. Take the 9/2 available on QPR to win to nil.
It’s taken Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink a while to put his stamp on things at Rangers but performances are steadily improving and starting to bear the hallmarks of his time at Burton with a clean sheet accompanying all five victories to date, four of them in the last five home games. Only a last-gasp Eoin Doyle strike denied them a third straight win at Preston last time out.
When you consider that Boro have tasted defeat seven times on the road already this term (six of them to nil), the market merely reflects the importance attached to the points rather than relative strength of the two teams but we can rest assured QPR will be up for a televised game under lights at their tightly-packed stadium.
Hasselbaink has talked of a greater desire among his players in recent weeks, the desire to build a platform for next season and finish a forgettable campaign on a high. The R’s can hardly claim to be emotionally fatigued having fallen short of their potential for so long and the fortnight break should only facilitate the high-intensity pressing game the Dutchman demands.
Despite the dramatic U-turn that strengthened Karanka’s position last month, concerns remain over the mindset of the Boro players and whether they have the mental strength to deal with the nerve-shredding tension of a promotion run-in. And comments provided George Friend earlier this week offered little in the way of reassurance.
In just a few short sentences, Friend raised about half-a-dozen red flags from the international break coming at a bad time, to bodies being sore and the daunting prospect of playing eight matches in April. Best of all, though, he then went on to suggest that the pressure will be on QPR in this game, as though anyone in their right mind would actually believe him.
All in all, it was a clumsy interview that did little to inspire confidence in Boro’s ability to negotiate the mental obstacles that lie ahead and the importance of the first goal in their matches has been illustrated time and time again. If QPR get it, there’s added value in the 17/1 quote about them eventually prevailing by a 2-0 scoreline.
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