AFTER Ryan Giggs crowned his 999th first-class game with a goal that helped extend Manchester United's lead at the top of the Premier League, temporarily at least, to 15 points, Rafael da Silva offered an assessment of his team-mate's magnificent longevity.
"It is getting boring," said the Brazilian, who opened the scoring on Saturday. Da Silva was not yet a year old when Giggs made his Manchester United league debut, and three when the Welshman last scored at Loftus Road in 1994.
"He is an unbelievable player. Every game you see him, he works hard, scores, makes assists. He is the same in training, he just loves to play the game.
"He is one of the top players that I have played with. He gives us experience, confidence, and when you are feeling bad he comes and helps you, especially young players."
Giggs's continuing excellence may be predictable, but it is the title race that is in danger of becoming tedious. After the last-gasp disappointment of last season, Sir Alex Ferguson's men are turning this campaign into a procession, helped by performances such as Saturday's.
Giggs truly is the wonder of the Premier League age. Over 22 years with United he has matured from unplayable winger, the "Jack Russell chasing a scrap of silver paper" in Ferguson's memorable phrase, into a man capable of controlling a top-flight match from central midfield in the year of his 40th birthday.
There is something almost poignant in watching Giggs these days. His nascent bald spot is a marker of the passing years for besotted spectators, and while age has reduced his pace, it has not withered his football intelligence. Giggs may not be the explosive presence of old but he is just as effective, particularly against opponents as bereft of confidence as Queens Park Rangers, the Premier League's bottom side.
Together with the excellent Michael Carrick, serenaded for almost the entire second half by United fans, Giggs dictated this game, and capped it with a fine goal to kill off home hopes in the dying minutes. He almost added a coup de grace with a right-footed chip that cannoned off the frame of Julio Cesar's goal, but it did not need audacity to underline his contribution.
On a lumpy pitch that mitigated against expansive football, this was an afternoon for United to show their functional side.
With Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic restored to the defence, they absorbed what Rangers threw at them and then looked to Robin Van Persie, Javier Hernández, Nani and Ashley Young to stretch the home side.
For all the attacking talents on display, it was Rafael who opened the scoring. Giggs played his part, snaffling up possession gifted by Adel Taarabt to feed Van Persie on the right of QPR's box. The Dutchman wriggled to the byeline and drove the ball hard across goal, where Cesar pushed the ball firmly away.
The goalkeeper must have been pleased with his work as he watched the ball spin beyond his penalty area, but his reward was to see Rafael return it with interest, slamming the ball into the top left-hand corner with a pure volley.
"I saw the ball coming towards me, I just hit straight through it and I knew when I hit it, you get that feeling, that I just hoped and didn't want to blink," he said.
"He plucked one from the clouds," was Harry Redknapp's rueful verdict. On a difficult afternoon the last thing the QPR manager needed was full-backs scoring career-best goals.
Rock-bottom and seven points short of safety, Redknapp's problems are manifold. His side had two chances at 1-0 to level the game, which were foiled by a Rafael goal-line clearance and a David de Gea save, but a point would have flattered their display.
Drawing on personal experience, Redknapp still believes survival is possible. "We've got nothing to lose, everyone thinks we are gone. You can change it so quickly. At Portsmouth I had a c--- team and we got 20 points from 10 games and stayed up. It ain't impossible."
Possible, but not likely. At the back, despite the presence of £12?million Christopher Samba and the restoration of Jose Bosingwa, a player to whom the phrase "lionheart" will never be applied, Rangers looked vulnerable. The real problem is at the other end, however. With their main creative force Taarabt yet to leave playground habits behind, Redknapp is banking on Bobby Zamora and Loïc Rémy getting them out of trouble. It feels like a long shot.
Next up for Redknapp is a birthday visit to Southampton next Saturday. He is looking forward to it already. "It is my birthday next week, March 2, and I thought there is no better way to spend my birthday than spend 90 minutes getting abuse at Southampton Football Club. They'll be calling me scummer for my time at Portsmouth." His side will have to improve if it is to be a happy return.