Middlesbrough verdict: Why Neil Warnock's side started slowly against QPR as tactics backfire
ANALYSIS: Our Middlesbrough writer Joe Nicholson assesses the side’s 2-1 defeat by QPR.
The most frustrating thing for Neil Warnock will be the way his side started this game.
Boro could have few complaints as they found themselves 2-0 down after 18 minutes against QPR at the Riverside, courtesy of goals from Rob Dickie and Lee Wallace.
The Teessiders did respond and managed to pull a goal back through Yannick Bolasie before half-time, yet it was too little too late – despite a red card for Rangers keeper Seny Dieng midway through the second half.
Boro have given their opponents a helping hand too often this season, and that can’t be the case if they’re to challenge for promotion next term.
Warnock made a big call by dropping goalkeeper Marcus Bettinelli, who made some costly mistakes at Barnsley last time out, with Jordan Archer making his first league start for the Teessiders.
Archer could do little about Rangers’ first two goals, though, as visiting centre-back Rob Dickie sent a powerful strike into the top of the net on 15 minutes.
The second goal came three minutes later when Lyndon Dykes’ cross was met by the head of Wallace who reacted quicker than Djed Spence to meet the ball.
Boro reacted well, though, and pulled one back when Neeskens Kebano’s inviting cross was powerfully headed home by Bolasie.
The hosts had more chances to draw level before the interval, with the best opportunity falling to Bolasie who failed to convert Duncan Watmore’s cutback with only goalkeeper Seny Dieng to beat.
Rangers’ goalkeeper was at the centre of attention shortly after half-time when Watmore was released by substitute Marvin Johnson and Dieng was sent off for fouling the Boro forward.
The hosts dominated possession from there, but didn’t test substitute goalkeeper Joe Lumley enough.
Warnock appeared to match QPR up by playing with a back three and wing-backs, with Darnell Fisher operating as a right-sided centre-back and Spence and Marc Bola on the flanks.
Boro’s system was too easy to play against from the start, though, with Rangers’ slick passing through midfield allowing them to cut through the Teessiders’ midfield.
The gap between Boro’s front three – Bolasie, Kebano and Watmore – and the midfield was regularly exploited as Chris Willock and Illas Chair took up dangerous positions.
Boro managed to press their opponents more effectively as the first half wore on, while Dieng’s red card left the visitors defending in numbers.
Hayden Coulson and Britt Assombalonga were introduced as Warnock looked to push players forward, yet QPR kept them at bay.
Bolasie should have added to his first-half goal, especially when he was set up by Watmore before half-time.
The Boro forward was erratic at times but was also the Teessiders’ biggest threat and gave them a route back into the game after a slow start.
Boro have now gone five games without a win and have four games remaining this season.
The Teessiders may not have much left to play for but will face a Rotherham side who are in desperate need of points at the New York Stadium on Wednesday.