CHARLIE Austin opened his top flight account as QPR’s Barclays Premier League campaign got up and running with victory over Sunderland on Saturday.
The striker’s header in first-half stoppage time proved the match-winner, rewarding Rangers for a much-improved performance which also saw Leroy Fer rattle the woodwork from distance.
Harry Redknapp’s side remained resolute at the other end, bouncing back from two opening defeats to head into the international break with three welcome points on the board.
Redknapp recalled Austin to a new-look 4-3-3 formation, but the R’s boss was without Ale Faurlin after news the midfielder faces a lengthy spell on the sidelines after suffering a third anterior cruciate ligament injury in as many seasons.
Fer was handed his home debut alongside fellow new recruit Mauricio Isla after both made their Rangers bow in last weekend’s defeat at Tottenham Hotspur. Clint Hill also made his first Premier League appearance of the season at left-back.
The game came too soon for Eduardo Vargas, though, as the Chilean awaits a work permit following his arrival from Napoli.
It was the visitors who settled first, firing in the first shot on goal within 30 seconds. Connor Wickham’s burst down the left created space for Patrick van Aanholt, whose left-footed effort rippled the side netting.
Wickham showed off his defensive qualities shortly after, denying Rangers a third-minute opener. Charlie Austin met Joey Barton’s corner but saw his goal-bound header hacked clear by the striker.
Rob Green was called into his first piece of action on 11 minutes. Adam Johnson’s slide-rule pass picked out Steven Fletcher inside the 18-yard box, whose first-timed strike was expertly palmed wide by the R’s number one.
Another Johnson through ball caused Rangers problems from the Black Cats’ next attack. Van Aanholt was the recipient but the defender couldn’t prevent his snapshot from sailing over.
Sunderland would enjoy the better of possession thereafter, but had the woodwork to thank for keeping the scores level on the half-hour mark. Fer let fly from distance, seeing a thunderous shot from 30 yards come crashing back off the crossbar as the midfielder came agonisingly close to opening his R’s account in spectacular style.
At the other end, Wickham took aim from similar range but dragged his effort just wide of Green’s near post, while Junior Hoilett’s half-volley moments later stung the hands of Sunderland goalkeeper Vito Mannone.
Mannone had to be quick off his line to thwart Austin seconds after, smothering with his body as Rangers ended the first half on top in search of an opener.
The R’s reward came in stoppage time. After Barton’s corner was headed back into the danger area by Fer, the ball was lashed into the roof of the net by Austin to give Loftus Road lift-off with virtually the last kick of the opening 45 minutes – and the striker’s first in the top flight.
Sunderland started the second half on the frontfoot, testing Green twice in quick succession after the re-start. Jack Rodwell could only fire straight at the R’s goalkeeper from 12 yards, but Green was at full stretch to thwart Santiago Vergini, clasping the Argentine’s skimming shot at the second attempt.
Redknapp made his first change midway through the second half, as goalscorer Austin made way for Bobby Zamora. Meanwhile, Gus Poyet responded with a double substitution of his own. Emanuele Giaccherini and Will Buckley were introduced at the expense of Fletcher and Rodwell.
Zamora’s instructions were clear and his hold-up play almost carved out a chance for Hoilett. The winger’s run was cut off by Mannone, while Steven Caulker blocked Wickham’s long-range thunderbolt.
Poyet made his final change for the visitors 10 minutes from time, as Jozy Altidore replaced Vergini. Redknapp, meanwhile, introduced Armand Traore to take Hoilett’s place for the closing stages.
There was a scare soon after for the home defence as Johnson found space in behind the R’s backline. His teasing cross, though, was superbly cleared by Hill over his own crossbar.
Two of the R’s substitutes then combined with four minutes remaining. Zamora released Traore through on goal, but the wing-back scuffed his shot wide with his unfavoured right foot.
The miss made the closing moments nervy, as Sunderland piled on the pressure late on. Van Aanholt saw a shot flash inches wide, while Green had to beat away Giacharrani’s explosive volley.
Adel Taarabt replaced Fer in the 90th-minute, while the R’s looked to defend their lead during four minutes of injury time.
And defend they did, as Rangers celebrated their first victory back in the top flight to rapturous applause all around at the final whistle.