QPR’s chances of automatic promotion suffered a cruel blow at Brighton this evening as the Seagulls recorded a 2-0 victory.
It was a harsh scoreline on the R’s who had dominated much of the game and created numerous opportunities before the hosts grabbed two goals in the final 13 minutes.
Having gone close through Jermaine Jenas, Ravel Morrison and Junior Hoilett, the R’s seemed to be the more likely team to grab all three points in what was an absorbing Sky Bet Championship fixture, but against the run of play the hosts took the lead through Leonardo Ulloa when he prodded home Bruno Saltor’s low drive into the box on 76 minutes.
Stephen Ward sealed the points when he converted Kazenga LuaLua’s corner with six minutes remaining.
Rangers travelled to Brighton aiming to pick up their second win in the space of three days after their 2-0 triumph at Birmingham on Saturday, and in doing so keep the pressure on Burnley who occupy second spot in the Sky Bet Championship.
The Seagulls went into the match with promotion aspirations of their own, sitting just two points adrift of the play-off spots.
Oscar Garcia’s men drew 1-1 in their last outing, with fellow play-off hopefuls Reading. Prior to tonight’s match Matthew Upson had called upon his team-mates to turn the Amex into a fortress for the remaining games of the season in order to aid their push for a top-six finish.
Harry Redknapp made one change for the trip to the south-coast with Will Keane replacing Kevin Doyle, who missed out with a knee injury sustained at St Andrew’s.
It meant Rob Green continued between the sticks, with a back four – from left to right – of Benoit Assou-Ekotto, Clint Hill, Richard Dunne and Nedum Onuoha.
Hoilett lined up on the left wing with Armand Traore continuing on the right and Joey Barton partnered in the centre of the park by Jenas.
The in-form Morrison played just off Keane in attack.
Playing in front of more than 2,000 R’s fans who were watching QPR at Brighton’s new home for the first time, the visitors almost took the lead on four minutes. A good exchange between Keane and Traore created space for Jenas to shoot from the edge of the box, but his low drive flew inches wide of the right-hand post.
Rangers were fully expecting a difficult night’s work against the Seagulls, who had lost only one of their previous ten fixtures at home prior to this evening’s game.
And Jesse Lingard fired a warning shot in the 11th minute but his effort from 20 yards was well off target.
Morrison, noted for his creativity, also showed his industrious side moments later with a fantastic tackle in the middle of the park to thwart a Seagulls attack. Having won back possession for the R’s, he lambasted a team-mate for losing the ball in the first place. It was a show of commitment for the cause which was warmly appreciated by the R’s fans.
On 17 minutes Traore’s long-range effort warmed the palms of Brighton keeper Tomasz Kuszczak before the in-form Leonardo Ulloa shot wide at the other end in an open and entertaining start to the match.
Moments later it was the turn of Hoilett to try his luck from distance after picking the ball up on the left, and it was well worth the effort, as his dipping shot was only gathered at the second attempt by the home custodian.
On the half-hour mark, Morrison almost broke the deadlock with a stunning strike. After leaving two players in his wake on the halfway line, he fired a fierce shot from 25 yards which looked to be heading for the top corner before Kuszczak tipped over.
The openness of the first half highlighted both teams were after maximum points from this fixture, and in the second half that continued with Hoilett forcing a fine save from Kuszczak after a good run by Morrison into the heart of the Brighton area.
Traore cut in from the right before picking out the far corner with a low drive on 57 minutes but again Kuszczak was able to deny the R’s with another excellent save.
Creating chances has been an issue for QPR for much of this season but there was no indication of that on this showing, with the Brighton stopper regularly called into action while Green was a virtual spectator at the other end of the pitch.
As Rangers began to turn the screw, they went close again through Hoilett on 63 minutes. He played a neat one-two with Morrison to create the space before seeing his curling shot deflect wide.
Brighton’s first effort on target came in the 67th minute with Lingard’s shot from distance which was comfortably gathered by Green.
Straight down the other end Hoilett flashed a shot inches wide of the far post following a surging run through the middle of the park by Jenas.
But on 76 minutes it was the hosts who took the lead against the run of play through Ulloa after Bruno Saltor overlapped down the right flank to pull the ball back across the face of goal.
The Argentinian was on hand for the simplest of tap-ins to net his sixth goal in eight games.
The goal prompted Redknapp into an immediate change, with Modibo Maiga replacing Assou-Ekotto.
Morrison saw another effort from the edge of the area saved by Kuszczak before Rangers went even closer with Morrison flashing the ball across the face of goal, but no-one was there to tap home.
Barton then whipped a great ball into the Brighton box which Keane met well on the volley but his drive was straight at the Seagulls keeper.
But the Seagulls doubled their lead through Ward in the 84th minute when he directed a low corner from the left beyond Green from close range. It was only their third effort on target, but demonstrated how clinical they were when chances did come their way.
Morrison saw a late free-kick flash just over the bar in injury time.
The R’s will look to get back to winning ways this Saturday when they host Yeovil Town at Loftus Road.