KARL Henry’s sumptuous long-range volley tightened QPR’s grip on second spot in the Championship with victory over Bolton Wanderers on Tuesday night.
Goals either side of half-time from Charlie Austin and Henry – his first in a Hoops shirt – provided the perfect ending to January courtesy of a fourth straight win.
Jay Spearing’s late strike set up a grandstand finish but maximum points were reward for a much-improved second-half showing by Harry Redknapp’s side, who had the woodwork to thank early on for preserving the R’s 100 per cent start to 2014.
Redknapp made two changes from victory over Huddersfield Town 10 days earlier. Armand Traore deputised in the absence of Danny Simpson – sidelined with a back injury – while Matty Phillips was preferred to Gary O’Neil in midfield.
It was the visitors forced into an early reshuffle, though, after a clash of heads left Tim Ream flailing. After a lengthy stoppage, Ream was replaced with Hayden White his replacement in the Trotters back four.
Despite the delay, it was Dougie Freedman’s men who created the opening chance. Mark Davies’ pull-back from the byline fell dangerously for Darren Pratley, whose effort eventually sailed into Rob Green’s grateful arms courtesy of Benoit Assou-Ekotto’s despairing block.
Pratley came even closer with his next effort on 15 minutes. After bursting onto a loose ball, the midfielder flashed a shot just wide of Green’s far post from 20 yards.
Concern came at the other end moments later as Austin seemed destined to follow Ream’s departure. However, after receiving treatment and hefty strapping on his right shoulder the R’s talisman returned to the fray.
Meanwhile, an uncharacteristic misplaced pass in midfield allowed Bolton another shooting opportunity on 25 minutes. Craig Davies this time took aim, only to ripple the side netting beyond Green’s near post.
The woodwork came to Green’s rescue next time as Davies came within a whisker of a stunning opener. The striker let fly from 30 yards only to see his thunderous strike cannon back off the underside of the crossbar.
Rangers made the most of their good fortune to break the deadlock against the run of play on 41 minutes. Phillips was the provider, floating a delicate cross to the back post for Austin to steer his header firmly into the far corner.
The goal breathed fresh life into the R’s attack, finishing the half on the frontfoot. Tom Carroll almost provided the perfect ending to a sumptuous move but had his low, skimming shot clawed away by Andy Lonergan with the final act of the first 45 minutes.
Rangers continued where they left off after the re-start, doubling their lead on 50 minutes with devastating effect. After a corner was only partially cleared, Henry reacted with a sublime first-time volley from outside the box which nestled into the bottom right-hand corner.
Pratley tried his best to provide an immediate response but his effort from similar range flied harmlessly wide of Green’s goal.
Green was called into action, though, twice in successive minutes to preserve his clean sheet on the hour mark. Substitute Chung-Yong Lee forced the R’s goalkeeper into a fine save from 20 yards, tipping over in acrobatic fashion, before palming away Mo Kamara’s testing drive from equal distance.
Austin, who battled on bravely following his early collision, made way for Bobby Zamora on 69 minutes as Rangers freshened their attack.
The change almost paid immediate dividends as strike partner Andy Johnson raced onto Phillips’ through ball. Johnson was beaten to the ball by Lonergan, while the striker’s appeals for a penalty were waved away by referee Andy D’Urso.
Shaun Wright-Phillips was introduced for the final 11 minutes, replacing the ever-industrious Niko Kranjcar on the left-hand side of the R’s four-pronged midfield.
The changes did little to deter Bolton, who set up a nail-biting finish seven minutes from time. Spearing’s shot made its way through a sea of defenders before heading past Green’s outstretched arm with the aid of a deflection.
Three minutes of injury time ensured a nervy finish in W12 but there was to be no final twist as the R’s rearguard held firm for all three points.