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Fulham 3-2 QPR Prem30 1213 Daily Telegraph

last updated Wednesday 03rd April 2013, 12:10 AM

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Jonathan Liew at Daily Telegraph

Fulham (3) 3 QPR (1) 2

So this is how it ends.

Played off the park for 45 minutes, inspired for the other 45. It was Queens Park Rangers 's season in microcosm.

They did many good things at Craven Cottage, but many more bad. That, ultimately, is why relegation now looks inevitable for them.

Harry Redknapp will question why it took so long for his side to start playing. He will ask how a defender as accomplished as Chris Samba could make two such grievous errors. He will wonder whether he should have started with a 4-4-2. One thing not in question, though, was the match-winning genius of Fulham striker Dimitar Berbatov.

There is barely sufficient space to list all the ridiculous things Berbatov did. His goals were simply window-dressing to a sublime individual display. His touch was exquisite, his vision unparalleled, his audacity breathtaking. At times, it was if he was playing a different, simpler game. Then, as his team-mates floundered and flagged in the second half, Berbatov prowled impatiently in search of the ball, the conductor waiting for someone to hand him a baton.

The Bulgarian has been in fine form for some games now, but this was where he truly cast off his earthly cares and drifted away. His penalty gave Fulham the lead after seven minutes. As Giorgos Karagounis played the ball into the right channel, Berbatov and Samba jockeyed for position, the sports car and the Hummer aggressively tussling for the same parking space. Berbatov got a toe to the ball, but Samba kept his balance, only to lose control with a heavy touch.

To his horror, Samba spotted the rapidly advancing Ashkan Dejagah about to seize possession. With his considerable momentum already making contact inevitable, Samba thrust out a boot in an attempt to nick the ball. He nicked the man. Penalties have seldom been more clear-cut.

Berbatov adjusted his socks, side-footed the ball past Julio Cesar and jogged away.

Redknapp stayed seated, sadly shaking his head.

Catastrophe does strange things to an athlete. Even players as boundlessly self-confident as Samba can find the trauma of a grave error debilitating. While Berbatov floated around the pitch in an untroubled, Zen-like state of calm, Samba played like a man who was suddenly beginning to question everything. On 22 minutes, in his own half under pressure from Bryan Ruiz, Samba momentarily forgot everything that had once made him good at football.

He dithered on the ball, allowing Ruiz to steal in and find Berbatov, who shot insouciantly, with the outside of his foot, into the bottom corner.

Berbatov's nonchalance was catching. Four minutes before half-time, John Arne Riise gathered Brede Hangeland's back-heel and fired the ball in low from the left byline. The ball cannoned into goal off the shoulder of the unfortunate Clint Hill. Three-nil and, it seemed, game over.

But nothing about QPR's season has quite been that simple. Even their defeats have been laced with a certain drama. So perhaps Karagounis' inexplicable error on the stroke of the break was not quite as surprising as it seemed at the time. Attempting to pass the ball back into his own half, he found only Bobby Zamora, who laid the ball off to Taarabt.

Taarabt's shot was low, hard and impeccably placed, past Mark Schwarzer's outstretched hand and into the corner.

At half-time, Redknapp played his trump card. Loïc Rémy was shifted from the wing to join Zamora in the centre. Like a favourite sweater, Redknapp was returning to the 4-4-2 that had served him so well throughout his career. The effect was immediate. Taarabt toyed with Karagounis and drew a needless foul. Remy took the penalty low to his right; Schwarzer went low to his left - and saved.

All of a sudden, Fulham were losing their heads, just as their opponents had done earlier. The normally languid Martin Jol got to his feet and began to prowl the touchline, nerves eating away at him. Dread spread around Craven Cottage like a virus.

Two minutes after missing from 12 yards, Rémy scored from roughly the same distance, turning Philippe Senderos far too easily to receive Stephane Mbia's pass and thrashing the ball past Schwarzer, off the bar and in.

Then, with 12 minutes left, Intrigue upon intrigue. Steve Sidwell flew at a Armand Traoré and was harshly sent off by Lee Probert. It looked horrific at first glance, but that was due largely to the speed at which Traoré had been moving. "A bit harsh," was Jol's verdict.

But by then, Fulham were home and dry. "Going down," their fans sang gleefully. Their indelicacy was understandable. It may be some time before these sides meet again.

Fulham (4-4-1-1): Schwarzer; Riether, Senderos, Hangeland, Riise; Dejagah (Emanuelson 38, Frimpong 80), Sidwell, Karagounis, Duff; Ruiz; Berbatov. Subs: Etheridge, Hughes, Richardson, Frei, Rodallega.

Booked: Riether, Senderos.

Sent off: Sidwell

QPR (4-2-3-1): Cesar; Bosingwa, Samba, Hill (Onuoha 46), Traoré (Mackie 83); Jenas, Mbia; Remy, Taarabt (Hoilett 74), Townsend; Zamora. Subs: Green, Ben Haim, Granero, Park

Booked: Hill

Referee: L Probert (Wiltshire).

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