NIKO Kranjcar celebrated his comeback to Loftus Road with a dramatic late equaliser as QPR rescued a share of the spoils against Stoke City in Saturday’s early kick-off.
Harry Redknapp’s side twice came from behind after Steve Caulker’s first goal for the club cancelled out Mame Biram Diouf’s early opener before half-time.
Peter Crouch’s second-half strike looked like proving the match-winner against his former club, before Kranjcar’s fantastic free-kick two minutes from time denied former boss Mark Hughes all three points on his first return to W12.
Redknapp made four changes from last weekend’s defeat at Manchester United. Armand Traore, Joey Barton and Jordon Mutch returned, while Eduardo Vargas – scorer for the Under-21s in midweek
– was handed his home debut.
Vargas partnered Austin in attack, while Leroy Fer and Kranjcar lined-up alongside Barton and Mutch in midfield. Rob Green remained between the sticks, behind a four-man defence consisting of Mauricio Isla, Rio Ferdinand, Caulker and Traore.
Vargas took just 69 seconds to net on Monday night, and almost made another instant impact from kick-off. Barton and Austin all were involved as Vargas stung the fingers of Asmir Begovic with a low drive from 18 yards.
Despite a promising start from Rangers, it was Stoke who struck first inside 11 minutes. Victor Moses’ dinked ball into the box was met by Crouch’s towering leap, whose knock down was headed over the line from close range by an unmarked Diouf.
Rangers were relieved not to fall further behind less than 60 seconds later. A quick counter-attack from the visitors saw Moses threaten down the R’s right, but his shot fizzed into the arms of Green.
Austin and Barton both fired wide from distance in an attempt to restore parity quickly, but Rangers remained vulnerable on the counter. Twice in quick succession the Potters found space in behind but Diouf both times saw moves break down in the final third.
Another slick counter-attack exposed the R’s rearguard on the half-hour mark. Moses and Crouch combined again, resulting in the former Rangers frontman flashing a shot inches wide of Green’s left-hand post.
Rangers responded through Kranjcar. The Croatian tried his luck from long-range, swerving a speculative shot just past Begovic’s right-hand upright.
Injury ended Barton’s afternoon prematurely shortly after, replaced on 34 minutes by Matty Phillips as Ferdinand took over the armband.
Just when the first half looked like ending in frustration, though, Rangers levelled three minutes before the break. Mutch’s corner was headed back towards goal by Caulker at the back post, while the best efforts of the City defence on the line couldn’t prevent the ball finding its way into the net.
The scores remained level going into half-time, before Rangers lost a second midfielder through injury five minutes after the re-start. Mutch this time was forced to make way, as Karl Henry took his place in the centre of the park.
Mutch’s departure coincided with Stoke retaking the lead, who added insult to injury with a second goal. Moses outmuscled Isla on the byline before digging out an inch-perfect pull-back for Crouch, who duly thumped home to notch against his boyhood club.
Moses almost created a third from City’s next attack. The winger’s delicious through ball gave Erik Pieters a sight at goal, but he could only scuff his shot straight at Green while Steven N’Zonzi wasted another clear-cut chance seconds later. The midfielder arrived onto Adam’s pull-back but skied over as the R’s faithful breathed a sigh of relief.
Austin looked to make City pay at the other end, but he could only fire over from 20 yards before Kranjcar and Phillips both failed to find the target from similar range either side of the hour-mark.
In search of an equaliser, Bobby Zamora was introduced for Vargas as the Chilean lasted 70 minutes on his home bow.
The second goal almost came from Henry’s free-kick five minutes from time, but Begovic was on hand to claw away Fer’s deft header.
Begovic was left clutching thin air from the R’s next attempt, though, as Kranjcar found the net in dramatic style. After being brought down on the edge of the area, the midfielder made City pay by bending the ball into the top corner from 25 yards.
The goal sent Loftus Road into raptures where, after four minutes of injury time, the home faithful could greet a fourth point of the campaign.