Middlesbrough had to come from behind twice for the first time in nearly 12 years (a 3-2 win v Fulham in 2005) to maintain their unbeaten home record this season – this time a hard-fought 3-2 win over QPR.
Ian Holloway’s side took the lead at the beginning of each half when David Wheeler and substitute Jamie Mackie scored in the second and 50th minutes respectively at the Riverside. But Boro pegged them back twice courtesy of a Lewis Baker goal nine minutes before the break and then Ashley Fletcher’s header in the 56th minute and, despite a few other late scares, Boro sealed all three points thanks to Britt Assombalonga’s diving header on the hour.
Holloway could not have asked for a better start. He knew Middlesbrough had not conceded in any of their opening four matches in all competitions on home soil but it only took 101 seconds to end that.
Boro without the wing-wizardry and pace of the suspended Adama Traore following his sending-off in midweek, were slow out of the blocks. The Boro defence was caught napping when Luke Freeman rolled a pass into the penalty area and Wheeler arrived undetected before finishing low and beyond Darren Randolph.
Randolph was called upon occasionally but by and large he was left to monitor events at the other end of the pitch in the first half, where QPR did what they could to prevent Middlesbrough from testing his opposite number Alex Smithies.
There was a harmless effort from Stewart Downing which rolled into the arms of the goalkeeper, while the lively Marvin Johnson saw a shot fly wide after a lovely turn and pass from Downing.
Holloway’s game-plan appeared as if it would work to a tee and keep QPR ahead at half-time, only for Baker to strike and make things even for the second half.
Baker, on loan from Chelsea, was picked out in acres of space by Johnson’s reverse pass and he took a touch before carefully dispatching a low finish beyond Smithies that levelled things up.
Baker had another chance before the break too, but this time Smithies, diving low to his left, was equal to his half-volley from the edge of the area.
Middlesbrough, who boldly threw on a forward in the shape of Ashley Fletcher for midfielder Adam Clayton in the second half, suffered further frustration conceding a poor goal.
QPR’s own substitute put them in front again. Mackie was left to tap into an empty net with a simple finish after Randolph and Ben Gibson got themselves in a muddle outside the box.
The lead lasted just five minutes because Fletcher timed his run to the near post to perfection to glance in Cyrus Christie’s perfect delivery – and Boro suddenly had lift-off.
Assombalonga, who also wasted an opportunity for his second, dived to head Middlesbrough in front on the hour mark when Johnson picked him out with a beautiful chip into the six-yard box following a run to the byline. QPR went within an inch of levelling late on when an unmarked Pawel Wszolek crashed an effort against the post, but Boro held on.
This victory followed the hard-earned point at Aston Villa on Tuesday, when Boro were reduced to 10 men, and last weekend’s 3-0 triumph at Bolton.
“We gifted them the first goal and made it difficult for ourselves. We didn’t affect the game how we wanted to. We were disappointed at half-time, and second half we changed a couple of things.
“That put us on the front foot but we made another mistake from an avoidable goal. Credit to the players to face those situations. We had a good 25-minute period where we got our lead and if anything we should have extended it after that.
“In account of all that, we have had a hard week. There is always a debate in my mind, that freshness, physical side of it… should you change things?
“But they deserved to play in that game. Credit to those that did. It’s an important trait to win when you are not at your best. We were clinical in the right areas at the right times.”
QPR made it extremely difficult for Boro, and would have claimed a point had Pawel Wszolek found the net instead of the post in the closing stages. Nevertheless Rangers boss Ian Holloway, whose side have only picked up a point on their travels so far this season, was satisfied with his team’s display.
“It was a fantastic game of football,” he said. “As a neutral, that’s what you want to see. After our early goal, they moved the ball and we knew they would.
“To be fair, I am scratching our head how we lost it. You have to say it’s down to the changes Garry made – they had that on the bench.
“It’s fine margins. We hit the post. Did the ball go out for their winner? That’s the new QPR. I thought they gave me absolutely everything.
“When this place gets going, it’s tough. Last time I was here I was unbiased, watching a couple of games when they got promoted. This year I saw my team at least deserve something, maybe a point.”