CHARLIE Austin secured QPR’s play-off place in dramatic fashion with a last-minute winner to overcome Watford on Bank Holiday Monday.
Victory seemed unlikely after Mathias Ranegie’s second-half opener separated the sides but Joey Barton’s leveller set the stage for Austin to complete the comeback.
The talismanic striker – netting his first since returning from injury – left it late at Loftus Road, where three points confirm the R’s spot in the Championship top six with two games to go.
Redknapp – who made no fewer than eight changes from Saturday’s trip to Leicester City – welcomed Kevin Doyle back from injury, as well as Joey Barton and Armand Traore. Benoit Assou-Ekotto served a one-match suspension following his red card at the King Power Stadium, but Richard Dunne, Clint Hill, Tom Carroll, Ravel Morrison and Charlie Austin all returned to the R’s starting XI.
Watford, still harbouring hopes of a play-off place of their own, began brightest in W12. Lewis McGugan and Troy Deeney tried their luck from distance early on but both failed to find the target from long range.
Deeney forced Rob Green into action on 13 minutes, though. The striker raced onto Mathias Ranegie’s flick but his low shot was expertly tipped around the post by the R’s goalkeeper.
Charlie Austin fashioned the R’s first shot at the other end, but his 20-yard effort on the quarter-hour mark was comfortably collected by Manuel Almunia.
Rangers were fortunate moments later when Deeney dispossessed Dunne on the halfway line. Deeney seemed set to race clear but, after being halted in his tracks, McGugan could only blaze the striker’s lay-off harmlessly over.
Danny Simpson provided the next meaningful attempt on the half-hour mark. The defender’s dipping volley was well held by Almunia while Green repeated the feat at the other end to deny McGugan from similar range less than 60 seconds later.
Green had Traore to thank for keeping the Hornets at bay eight minutes before the break. Daniel Pudil bore down on goal after breaking the R’s offside trap, only to be denied by Traore’s heroic last-ditch sliding challenge.
The final chance of the first half fell the hosts’ way. Carroll guided his free-kick goalwards but Almunia was on hand to beat the ball away to safety.
Rangers found themselves on the backfoot at the start of the second half. Barton this time showed his defensive qualities, clearing Ranegie’s dangerous header away from underneath his own crossbar.
Deeney was next to threaten, forcing Green to palm over his volley as the Hornets continued to cause the R’s backline problems.
The Hornets’ pressure eventually told six minutes after the re-start. Deeney’s flick-on found strike partner Ranegie, who outmanoeuvred Dunne before firing home from six yards.
Rangers rallied in response, battling their way back into the encounter as the hour-mark passed. Morrison saw a curling shot saved by Almunia while Austin’s glancing header from a Barton corner was hacked off the line.
Redknapp went in search of an equaliser by making a double change 19 minutes from time. Bobby Zamora and Junior Hoilett were introduced, while Doyle and Simpson made way.
The substitution spurred Rangers on, as Austin came agonisingly close to levelling matters moments later. The striker was denied again by Almunia, flinging away to his left to palm the shot away.
The R’s were finally rewarded for their efforts 14 minutes from time. After Morrison was upended outside the box, Barton dispatched the resulting free-kick into Almunia’s bottom left-hand corner.
Parity almost lasted less than a minute, however, as only a goal-line clearance from Onuoha prevented the Hornets regaining the lead immediately. After Green failed to hold a cross, Abdi’s follow-up shot was goalbound until Onouha’s header diverted the ball over.
The final decisive blow would come at the other end, though, as Austin took centre stage once again. After his ball to Morrison fell back into his path, the R’s talismanic frontman found the bottom corner with a sumptuous finish from 18 yards.
Austin was duly replaced by Karl Henry, who helped protect the R’s lead in stoppage time for another three points on home soil.