Ref finds a Friend in jubilant Rs boss

NEIL Warnock sprang to the defence of referee Kevin Friend after his contentious late penalty decision helped Rangers stretch their lead in the Championship.

Warnock’s opposite number, Dave Jones, was seething at Friend after the official waved away Cardiff’s spot-kick claims when Kaspars Gorkss appeared to trip Jay Bothroyd five minutes from time.

But the Rangers boss was satisfied with the performances of both Friend and his team, saying: “It was a tough game to referee, but I thought he had a good game.

“I thought there were three certain penalties, two for us, and maybe that’s why he didn’t give it – he knew he’d missed the others. We created some good chances and I thought we deserved the win.

“We were super down the middle, with Kenny, Connolly, Derry and Rob Hulse. That was the best Rob’s played since he’s been here – he was a real handful for the defence.”

Warnock’s assessment of the referee was an accurate one, his contention that Rangers were worthy victors less so – a draw would have been fair in this lively encounter.

Despite enduring a largely fruitless afternoon, it was Rs captain Adel Taarabt whose second-half strike ultimately settled the contest, after Kaspars Gorkss had cancelled out Craig Bellamy’s opener.

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“Probably both teams deserved to come away with something – they just got that little bit of luck and we didn’t get the decision we should have done,” Jones reflected. “We feel hard done by.

“They started better, we finished better and in between it was a kind of stalemate. When there’s nothing in the game you do need the right decisions – whether it’s technology in the box or whatever, I don’t know.

“How did he miss it? And if he missed it, how did the linesman and the fourth official miss it? And if he didn’t call it, book Jay for diving. They’ve got to be better than that.”

Jamie Mackie and Peter Whittingham went close at either end early on, but QPR looked vulnerable at the back and were exposed when Gorkss stumbled on 13 minutes, allowing Bothroyd to release Craig Bellamy, who ran on to beat Paddy Kenny.

Gorkss atoned for his mistake five minutes later, when Cardiff could only half-clear Alejandro Faurlin’s cross and Tommy Smith retrieved the ball on the right, returning it for the Latvian defender to glance past Tom Heaton.

Bothroyd almost made it 2-1, but was foiled by a timely Matt Connolly challenge, and then sped away from Gorkss again, only to be denied by the legs of Kenny.

For Rangers, Taarabt’s darting runs fomented optimism – which often evaporated as he gave away possession or took a misjudged pop at goal, and it wasn’t until 20 minutes into the second half that they looked like taking the lead.

Hulse laid the ball off to Mackie, whose ferocious drive was tipped behind by Heaton, but Cardiff were unable to deal with the corner and Taarabt picked Lee Naylor’s pocket, weaving his way into the box to rifle a left-footed rocket into the roof of the net.

Kenny then protected the Rs’ lead by unorthodox means as Chris Burke’s deflected effort smacked him in the face, before a more regulation stop denied substitute Jason Koumas.

Bothroyd’s late tumble then gave Rangers a scare, but they held firm and might even have added a third goal deep into added time as Darcy Blake cleared Fitz Hall’s attempt off the line.

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