THE fine margins in football.
With 93 minutes passed and a remarkably uneventful second half meandering to a close, marauding full-back George Friend whistled an effort past the post.
It was the only real opening either side had managed to carve out in a rather uninspiring second period –which was somehow still to burst into life.
Just seconds later, from a desperate punt up field by former England stopper Rob Green and Greek tragedy struck; a combination of a cruel bobble and a wild swing of Dimi Konstantopoulos’ left boot left grateful substitute Bobby Zamora to walk the ball into an empty net.
Fury to delight on the visiting bench in a matter of seconds, Rednapp and co had settled for a point, assistant Kevin Bond admitted as much afterwards.
As Kenneth Omeruo played the ball back to Konstantopoulos expecting to launch one final assault up field, QPR’s management team were still berating their own keeper for quickly taking the goal-kick after Friend’s near-miss – they wanted to see the game out and head back to the capital a point better off.
To rub salt into a gaping Boro wound, in-form Ravel Morrison added a third in the sixth minute of stoppage time.
Football. Had Friend’s strike been directed six inches the other side of the post, QPR would have been left mulling over another defeat in a faltering promotion chase.
Instead, a concerned Aitor Karanka was left looking back on another example of what might have been in a run of games which now boasts just one win in 11.
“It’s easy to explain but difficult to understand,” said the deflated Boro boss.
“It’s another game we deserve to win, we had a chance in the 92nd minute and if we had scored we would have won the game, 10 seconds later we conceded.
“It’s difficult, we need to forget as soon as possible. The players need to forget about this and think about the next game.”
Late goals and costly errors have become a frustrating element in Boro’s make-up this year. Former boss Tony Mowbray bemoaned the individual errors which ultimately cost him his job on a number of occasions.
Under Karanka, the most notable swing of change has been a far less charitable back-line, but late goals have still cost his side.
Birmingham, Brighton and Bolton all struck deep into the game to cost Boro points. Add QPR to that list – an equaliser in the 46th minute, before the late show at the Riverside.
Considering Boro are a team with one win since mid-January, they started brightly taking the game to a QPR side fragile themselves after a shocking run.
A show of support for injured winger Muzzy Carayol preceded kick-off, the players all wearing ‘Get Well Soon Muzzy’ t-shirts after the flanker was ruled out for six months last week with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
Carayol was replaced on the left by Kei Kamara with Jacob Butterfield replacing Lee Tomlin and Nathaniel Chalobah returning to the side in place of the suspended Grant Leadbitter.
Jason Steele once again sat the game out on the bench with Karanka preferring Konstantopoulos between the sticks,
And the 35-year-old was called into action with the game just a minute old, palming out a goalbound Joey Barton effort from distance and making a smart stop to deny Tom Carroll from stroking home the rebound.
Boro began to grow into the game. Friend probed down the left while Butterfield had an industrious opening half, looking more like the player who caught the eye of Premier League bosses during his time at Barnsley.
And the home side had their fine start rewarded on 18 minutes.
He may well be a left back but Friend was a menace going forward.
And it was his persistence which led to him putting Boro ahead.
The 26-year-old picked the ball up on the left near to the touchline but darted inside, beating two men.
Admittedly the full-back got a stroke of luck when at attempted clearance hit up against him and landed back at his feet but he stayed cool and composed to get his short away, the ball squirming underneath Rob Green.
The visitors were on the back foot, Boro were pressing.
Adomah threatened down the right and teased a couple of inviting balls across the face but Boro couldn’t add to the opener.
Other than his stop in the first minute Konstantopoulos had been barely tested. But he did well to get his finger tips on a rasping drive from loanee Morrison on the stroke of half-time.
But he couldn’t keep Boro ahead moments later. The classy Nico Kranjcar did well to get a shot away in the box, which was half-blocked but landed at the feet of Yossi Benayoun – level with the Boro defence despite their offside protests – who hammered the ball into the gaping net.
The goal appeared to kick the stuffing out of Boro but barely inspired the Hoops.
For the 15,075 at the Riverside, the second-half was barely edge-of-the-seat stuff. If anything, it was leave your seat early stuff with a dull 45 minutes edging towards a seemingly inevitable conclusion. Joey Barton did his bit to raise the heart rate of those gathered by collecting his token yellow card by getting involved in a fracas which didn’t involve him in the slightest.
And Adomah and Ravel Morrison both tried their luck from distance with the clocking ticking away towards the 90-minute mark.
But even for those who have become accustomed to Boro’s late lapses in concentration, many will still be scratching their heads as to quite how the home side managed to plunder two late goals.
While Konstantopoulos looked on in shock at the turf which sent the ball bobbling over his left boot, he was probably hoping that same bit of pitch would swallow him up in that very moment.
And with players and fans alike still stunned, Ravel Morrison ran in on goal before striking a beautiful hit into the net for his fifth strike in seven games since joining Rangers on loan to secure the points.
Kevin Bond said he hopes the good fortune can be a turning point for QPR. For Aitor Karanka, it was that same sinking feeling of a late sucker-punch which continues to haunt his Boro side.