CHARLIE Austin was the hero once again, scoring a hat-trick as QPR overturned a two-goal deficit to claim a precious win over West Bromwich Albion on Saturday.
Victory looked unlikely when Rangers fell behind to strikes from Joleon Lescott and Silvestre Varela, but Austin – netting at Loftus Road for the fifth game running – hauled Harry Redknapp’s men level.
The R’s number nine halved the deficit from the penalty spot following a foul on Leroy Fer before completing the comeback with his 10th goal of the season early in the second half.
There was still time for Austin to claim the match ball, heading home Joey Barton’s corner four minutes from time to clinch victory and lift the R’s back out of the Premier League drop zone.
Redknapp made four changes from Monday night’s trip to Everton. Steven Caulker returned amongst a four-man defence without Mauricio Isla who missed out following his temporary return to Chile for personal reasons.
Karl Henry came into the centre of midfield at the expense of Jordon Mutch, while Bobby Zamora – on target at Goodison Park – started alongside Austin in attack, as the R’s talismanic striker returned from suspension. Junior Hoilett and Matty Phillips made way, dropping to the bench as a result.
The visitors, three points above Rangers ahead of kick-off, began well in west London. Stephane Sessegnon carved out a chance inside 90 seconds, from which Green was called upon to fist away Craig Cardner’s first-timed shot.
Sessegnon was the creator again six minutes later. This time his pull-back found Brown Ideye, who could only blaze over from 12 yards.
Albion were rewarded for their bright start with the breakthrough on 10 minutes. Sessegnon’s flick-on from Sebastien Pocognoli’s corner was met by Lescott, who arched a header of his own beyond Green from six yards.
Alan Irvine’s men doubled their lead 10 minutes later, counter-attacking to devastating effect. Varela led the charge, exchanging passes with Sessegnon before sliding the ball underneath Green with the Rangers defence exposed.
No sooner had the R’s fallen 2-0 behind, they were given the perfect chance to half the deficit less than four minutes later. After James Morrison was penalised for impeding Fer from a corner, Austin took full advantage by sending Ben Foster the wrong way from the penalty spot.
Rangers were dealt a blow moments before the half-hour mark when injury ended Yun Suk-Young’s afternoon early. Clint Hill, making his first appearance since September, took the Korean’s place at left-back.
Shortly after, Austin threatened an equaliser. The R’s number nine profited from Zamora’s knock-down, fizzing a 30-yard volley into the arms of Foster.
At the other end, Green was alert to claw over Craig Gardner’s deflected free-kick before pulling off an even better save to tip over Sessegnon’s fierce shot five minutes before the break.
There was still time for Austin to threaten an equaliser. The frontman took aim from a loose ball 20 yards out but lofted his attempt agonisingly over Foster’s crossbar.
Austin wouldn’t have to wait long for a second, though – bringing Rangers level less than three minutes after the re-start. Richard Dunne’s header from Barton’s corner came back off the crossbar but, after Zamora headed the rebound goalwards, Austin added the finishing touch from close range.
Rangers were aggrieved not to be awarded a second penalty from the R’s next attack. Barton went to ground inside the area but this time referee Craig Pawson was unmoved, despite the midfielder’s protests.
As both sides went in search of a decisive fifth goal, Redknapp made his second change midway through the second period by introducing Junior Hoilett at the expense of Eduardo Vargas.
Hoilett almost had the intended impact as Austin was denied a hat-trick 12 minutes from time. The striker was first to Hoilett’s cross from the right but saw his toe-poke smothered by Foster.
Meanwhile, Niko Kranjcar replaced Zamora for the final 10 minutes with the win still there for the taking for both sides.
Saido Berahino, a second-half replacement for Albion, came close for the visitors but couldn’t direct Varela’s looping cross on target.
Instead, it was Austin who provided the telling touch once again. After rising highest to Barton’s floated corner, the striker slammed his header beyond Foster to send Loftus Road into raptures.
Rangers had to withstand late pressure from which Berahino fired against the woodwork, but the R's faithful were on their feet again as the final whistle brought the curtain down on another exhilarating afternoon in W12.