EDUARDO Vargas’ stoppage-time equaliser couldn’t prevent QPR succumbing in the cruellest of circumstances from Sunday’s five-goal thriller with Liverpool.
The R’s substitute – scoring his first goals in English football – twice looked to have earned a point for Rangers late on, cancelling out Richard Dunne’s own goal and Philippe Coutinho’s 90th-minute strike.
But there was to be one final twist with a fourth goal in seven dramatic minutes, as Steven Caulker inadvertently turned Raheem Sterling’s cross into his own net with virtually the last kick of the game.
Rangers were ultimately left to rue a succession of missed chances from a one-sided first half which saw Charlie Austin go close and Leroy Fer twice smack the crossbar.
Redknapp made five changes for the Reds’ visit. Alex McCarthy replaced Rob Green – missing through illness – for his R’s debut between the sticks behind a back four which saw Dunne return alongside Yun Suk-Young making his first Premier League appearance.
Further afield, Mauricio Isla lined-up on right-hand side of midfield while Bobby Zamora replaced Niko Kranjcar to wear the captain’s armband and partner Austin in attack.
It didn’t take long for the R’s front two to combine, as Austin volleyed over inside two minutes following Zamora’s cushioned lay-off from Yun’s lofted pass.
The R’s bright start saw Austin come even closer to breaking the deadlock on 10 minutes. The striker shrugged off challenges from Glen Johnson and Martin Skrtel to force an opening but, after Simon Mignolet saved the initial effort with his feet, Austin could only find the side netting from the rebound.
At the other end, it took 26 minutes for Mario Balotelli to force McCarthy into his first save. The Italian’s deflected strike was comfortable enough for the R’s goalkeeper.
But it was Rangers who wasted a gilt-edged chance to go ahead just before the half-hour mark. Zamora’s pull-back from the by-line fell perfectly into Fer’s path eight yards out, but the R’s midfielder’s first-timed effort crashed off the top of the crossbar with the goal gaping.
Just as the Loftus Road crowd were catching their breath in disbelief, Fer incredibly found the woodwork again just six minutes later. Fer rose highest from Zamora’s cross but his glancing header bounced down off the underside of the bar, while neither Austin or Sandro could force the ball home from the goal-line scramble which ensued.
Zamora was next to take aim, but couldn’t prevent his free-kick from 25 yards flying over.
Steven Gerrard almost delivered a sucker punch on the stroke of half-time, but the former England captain curled his effort inches wide as the first-half somehow finished goalless.
Redknapp was forced into a change at the break, as injury ended Nedum Onuoha’s afternoon early. Matty Phillips was introduced, while Isla reverted to right-back.
Meanwhile, Rangers continued where they left-off after the re-start. It took less than two minutes for Mignolet to be called upon, palming away Sandro’s snapshot at full stretch.
From the resulting corner, it was Liverpool who almost caught Rangers out on the counter-attack but Jordan Henderson sliced high and wide from Adam Lallana’s through ball.
Austin threatened soon after, latching onto Karl Henry’s hopeful pass before flashing a half-volley past Mignolet’s goal from the tightest of angles.
Sandro was the second R’s player to depart due to injury, replaced by Armand Traore on the hour-mark.
Moments later McCarthy came to the R’s rescue. Lallana looked to guide his shot from 12 yards into the far corner but McCarthy flung himself away to make a tremendous one-handed save, while Rangers were relieved to see Balotelli blaze the loose ball over.
Brendan Rodgers made a double change of his own with 25 minutes remaining, replacing Lallana and Emre Can in midfield with Coutinho and Joe Allen.
Shortly after the deadlock was finally broken after a quickly-taken free-kick caught out Rangers down their left. Glen Johnson’s drilled cross found Dunne, who couldn’t prevent turning the ball into his own net from a couple of yards out.
Rangers looked for a quick response and again Zamora was at the focal point. His next lay-off allowed Austin a shot on goal, but again Mignolet was on hand to deny the R’s striker – diving away to his left to beat the ball away.
Zamora made way 12 minutes from time, as Redknapp thrust Vargas into the fray in search of an equaliser.
Chances continued to fall at either end, as Traore was next to be thwarted by Mignolet with a close-range header while McCarthy blocked with his feet from Balotelli.
Just when there seemed no way through, Rangers finally found the goal their efforts deserved. Vargas’ driven cross was headed back into the danger area by Austin, where Vargas was on hand to convert at the back post.
Vargas almost had a second in similar fashion moments later, but Skrtel’s last-ditch clearance denied the Chilean converting Caulker’s looping header.
Instead, it was fellow substitute Coutinho who next found the net as Liverpool caught the hosts on the counter. Countinho took aim from the angle of the box, burying his shot into the far, bottom corner.
The goal only sparked Rangers back into life – equalising almost immediately at the other end. Fer’s corner was met by Vargas at the front post, whose glancing header squirmed over the line.
The drama wasn’t over, though, and after Balotelli had spurned wide from six yards, there was still time for one final twist. Sterling broke clear, seeing his cross ricochet off Caulker and agonisingly into his own net.