WE’RE GOING TO WEMBLEY!
Rangers came from behind to complete an incredible, extra-time comeback win over Wigan Athletic – that thanks to a 2-1 victory on an unforgettable night under the famous Loftus Road lights.
Charlie Austin was the hero on the night, scoring both goals to send QPR through to the Championship play-off final.
The striker netted his first from the penalty spot in the 73rd minute after Junior Hoilett was felled. Earlier, James Perch gave the Latics a ninth-minute lead.
And then came THE moment in the sixth minute of extra-time.
Substitute Bobby Zamora crossed from the right – and Austin powered past his marker to touch home and send the Hoops faithful into ecstasy.
Following Friday evening’s 0-0 draw in the semi-final first leg at the DW Stadium, Harry Redknapp made two changes to his QPR side for the visit of the Latics – one enforced.
Armand Traore missed out altogether owing to injury, while Ravel Morrison dropped to the bench.
Niko Kranjcar and Kevin Doyle – who both appeared as substitutes up at Wigan – came into the starting XI, in what was an unchanged 4-4-1-1 formation.
Rob Green was in goal for the R’s, behind a back four of Danny Simpson, Richard Dunne, Nedum Onuoha and captain Clint Hill.
In midfield, Doyle was deployed from the right, alongside Joey Barton, Gary O’Neil and Hoilett.
Supporters' player of the season Austin was the lone striker, with Kranjcar operating just behind.
The atmosphere was simply electric as both teams were welcomed onto the pitch for kick-off.
Rangers applied some pressure early on and O’Neil lashed a fierce shot over in the third minute.
The visitors opened the scoring with their first attack in the ninth minute.
The ball was worked to James McClean down the left and when his centre darted across the six-yard box, Perch applied the finishing touch at the far post to put Wigan ahead.
The R’s responded by almost registering a carbon-copy strike six minutes later. Kranjcar crossed from the left – but Doyle was denied by a last-ditch intervention at the back stick.
Despite the goal, there were few opportunities – despite QPR’s best attempts to get back into the contest.
At the other end, McClean was booked for a dive after a mistake put the Irish winger through on goal, while Shaun Maloney saw a deflected shot collected by Green in the 25th minute. Onuoha took a hefty knock to the head during that particular move that saw him need bandaging.
Rangers edged closer in the 33rd minute. A dangerous Kranjcar corner was touched away by a Latics defender, before the Croat – from the resultant set-piece – then saw a bullet effort wonderfully saved by Scott Carson.
O’Neil, fed by Simpson, also went close three minutes later, sending a low effort just past the left-hand post after patient approach play.
QPR – backed by a fantastic, sell-out Loftus Road crowd – got better as the half wore on. Onuoha almost scored with a freak effort from a corner, though the ball dropped agonisingly wide of the goal.
Austin then skewed a decent chance wide in the 43rd minute.
There were five minutes of first-half stoppage time while O’Neil received treatment for a mouth injury.
Doyle fired wide in that added period – and Wigan went in at half-time with the initiative.
In similar vein to the end of the opening period, Rangers came out for the second half full of attacking intent. Hoilett blasted just wide a minute after the break.
Redknapp opted for an early change to his side. Yun Suk-Young replaced Hill in the 50th minute – so Barton took the armband.
The R’s continued to attack thereafter. The home side saw appeals for hand-ball and a penalty waived away following a Kranjcar shot in the 55th minute, while Doyle headed an awkward chance wide from a corner following Dunne’s initial effort.
Four minutes later, Hoilett’s cross-come-shot was smartly tipped away by Carson in the visiting goal.
Rangers fans continued to will their team on. The hosts made a second substitution in the 65th minute, bringing on Zamora for Doyle.
Wigan so nearly put the tie out of reach in the 68th minute. McClean raced through on goal and when his initial effort was parried by Green, he again couldn’t take advantage at the second opportunity to shoot wide from a tight angle.
It proved to be a crucial save.
Morrison soon replaced O’Neil, before Hoilett smashed an effort past the upright.
QPR were then awarded a penalty. Hoilett again in the action – scythed down by Gary Caldwell in the box before referee Mr Clattenburg pointed to the spot.
Austin stepped up to take the kick and dispatched in typically-cool fashion, sending Carson the wrong way to slide the ball into the bottom left-hand corner.
Loftus Road was now rocking – and Rangers were level.
Substitute Martyn Waghorn shot straight at Green in the 76th minute while, at the other end, Morrison dragged wide after a Rangers counter attack.
R’s fans thought Zamora had put their side into the lead when muscling past his marker to lob Carson – but his looping effort dropped onto the roof of the net. Barton then forced a fine one-handed stop from the Latics goalkeeper.
The closing stages made for a nervy affair as both teams continued to attack. Wigan improved towards the end – though chances were scarce.
Four minutes of additional time were signalled – though extra-time was needed.
Hill – taken off early in the second half – took to the field in the driving rain to rally the crowd before extra-time commenced.
But the home fans needed no encouragement to go wild when Austin put Rangers into the lead for the first time.
Zamora showed great strength to hold off his marker and feed our leading scorer, before Austin stole in to divert home in the 96th minute.
Cue chants of ‘Que Sera, Sera, we’re going to Wembley’ – R’s fans could now believe.
In the second half, Austin almost had a hat-trick but for the intervention of Carson.
Much like the end of normal time, the final minutes of extra-time were tense.
The Latics thought they had equalised in the dying embers, Rob Kiernan seeing a shot deflect only inches wide.
But Rangers prevailed – holding out as the match continued to ebb and flow to spark some scenes of celebration inside Loftus Road.