6:00am Saturday 28th September 2013
By Richard Mason
QUEENS PARK RANGERS may be the bookies’ favourites to be promoted to the Premier League, but a Middlesbrough victory at the league pacesetters today would not register as a massive shock, believes defender George Friend.
QPR have accustomed to life in the Championship well with 20 points from their first eight matches, unbeaten so far since relegation from the top flight last season.
But in Middlesbrough, Friend believes Rangers will meet their match at Loftus Road today - so long as Boro eradicate the defensive errors that have blighted some otherwise-encouraging performances this term.
Boro recovered from going 2-0 down at home to Bournemouth last weekend and led 3-2 until Jonathan Woodgate scored an 83rd minute own goal, days after the Teessiders threw away a 2-0 lead at Nottingham Forest.
Tony Mowbray’s team sit 16th in the Championship having drawn five games - the most in the league - while QPR have dropped just four points so far this season. But Friend is confident that Boro can pick up a result in the capital.
“They’re going well. They’re beating teams 1-0 with professional performances,” admitted Friend. “They’ve got some skilful players and some Premier League quality chucked in there too.
“It’s not going to be easy, it’s a small compact stadium with a good atmosphere but we fancy our chances.
“Anywhere in this league, we’ve got to, really. It’s not as if it’s Manchester United away, it’s QPR, so we’ve got to get the points.
“While they’re still finding their feet as a squad, and there has been a lot going on at that club over the last couple of years, it can’t be easy to be a player down there.
“Harry Redknapp’s a good manager and he’ll have them well-drilled, hopefully we can catch them unawares.”
Despite being seldom under pressure against Bournemouth, Boro conspired to concede three times, and Mowbray has made defending a top priority in training this week.
“You’re always going to make mistakes as a defender,” said Friend, who will see Ben Gibson replace the suspended Rhys Williams at centre-half this afternoon. “The best ones don’t make the same mistakes and eradicate them.
“That’s what the manager was getting at. If the same people keep making mistakes it’s going to have to change but we’ve got a lot of good defenders here, with experience of winning, and we’ve got players at the other end of the scale with Gibbo, he’s young but he’s a talent.
“You hope as a defender you’re not going to make mistakes that cost goals and cost games and there have been a few times this season that a game has ended up being a draw when perhaps we could have gone on to win it.
“Going 2-0 down so quickly last week, we showed real desire to come back, so when we took the lead only to concede again it felt like a loss. It’s a bit of a shame. We just hope to eradicate the mistakes and put them behind us.”
QPR, who, under Redknapp have a squad the envy of the rest of the division, will be a different prospect to Bournemouth, promoted from League One last season, and left-back Friend is expecting a busy shift at Loftus Road.
“We looked at the running stats for Bournemouth and it wasn’t quite as high as other games, but I’m sure QPR will attack down the flanks and cause us problems, it’ll be different to Bournemouth,” said Friend who, with two goals to his name this season is Boro’s joint top-scorer. “We don’t know the team they’ll put out, likewise they won’t know ours so we’ll go down to get the points.
“It’s no surprise I’m top scorer, I’m sure everyone else understands,” he joked. “Obviously I’m enjoying it, everyone else is chipping in, Kei’s [Kamara] come in and scored twice, Juke got off to a good start, hopefully they’ll keep on firing and keep on going. If I pop up with a few more then it’s a plus, but ultimately I’m a defender and I need to be preventing goals.”
Eight points from eight games is a solid enough start for a team that started well last season only to collapse in the second half of the campaign, and Friend feels that the team spirit on Teesside will stand them in good stead this year.
“We had a pretty good team spirit last year but it is even better this year,” Friend said. “All the lads are really close, everyone meets up outside of training, just to get together.
“It helps that Rhys has been a really good captain. When I first joined he brought me in straight away, I got to know him and his family. It helps to be settled.
“Hopefully the new boys feel settled, we’ve gelled really quickly. There are some big characters in Albert [Adomah] and Kei that have come in and I think that’s helped the atmosphere in the dressing room.
“When we were 2-0 down we needed those characters to come together. If we’re getting on well on the training ground it makes it easier to gel on a Saturday.”
© Copyright 2001-2013 Newsquest Media Group