CHARLIE Austin’s match-winning double against Aston Villa breathed new life into QPR's Barclays Premier League return on Monday night.
The striker – doubling his tally to four for the campaign – opened the scoring in style, firing a 25-yard thunderbolt past Brad Guzan with the R’s first effort of the evening.
Austin converted Eduardo Vargas’ cross to extend the lead midway through the second half, before a sublime double save from Rob Green ensured Harry Redknapp’s side celebrated maximum points for a second time this season.
Redknapp made two changes from the R’s cruel defeat to Liverpool. Green returned in goal in place of Alex McCarthy – missing with a groin injury – while Nedum Onuoha’s failure to shake off a hamstring problem sustained against the Reds handed Vargas his first start at Loftus Road following his impressive goalscoring cameo last time out. Meanwhile, Bobby Zamora kept his place alongside Austin in attack along with the captain’s armband.
Rangers made a fast start against Liverpool eight days earlier but it was Villa who fashioned the first effort on four minutes. Ashley Westwood’s half-volley sailed harmlessly into Green’s clutches, though. Green was called upon again ten minutes later, safely keeping hold of Carlos Sanchez’s sweetly struck volley from 25 yards.
Despite edging the opening stages, it was Rangers who struck first and in some style. Zamora’s chest control from Richard Dunne’s long ball fell perfectly into the path of Austin, who arrowed his first-timed shot past Guzan and into the bottom left-hand corner.
The goal brought Loftus Road to life, though the R’s faithful were relieved when Christian Benteke’s glancing header from Westwood’s deep cross drifted just wide just three minutes later.
At the other end, Sandro came close to doubling the R’s lead but clipped his effort from the edge of the area just over Guzan’s left upright. Guzan’s opposite number Green was busy 60 seconds later, diving bravely at Benteke’s feet to claim Andreas Weimann’s dangerous cross.
Villa continued where they left off after the interval, shading possession without seriously threatening. Rangers were lucky to escape ten minutes after the re-start, though, when Ciaran Clark bundled Westwood’s free-kick the wrong side of Green’s left-hand post.
Meanwhile, Redknapp made his first change of the night on the hour-mark as Zamora made way for Junior Hoilett whilst restoring Vargas to a more advanced role.
Hoilett almost made an instant impact, with the woodwork denying the R’s a second goal on 67 minutes. After being freed down the left by Mauricio Isla, Hoilett’s curling effort came back off the far post.
Rangers wouldn’t have to wait long to double their tally, though. Just seconds later, Vargas’ venture forward down the opposite flank saw his cross met by Austin, who beat his marker to slam the ball inside Guzan’s near post.
Two so nearly became three 15 minutes from time as Vargas broke Villa’s offside trap. The Chilean collected Hoilett’s deft through ball but saw his attempted chip blocked by Guzan.
Villa responded soon after and only an incredible double save from Green preventing the visitors pulling a goal back. The R’s goalkeeper could only parry Tom Cleverley’s long-range attempt before somehow smothering Clark’s follow-up shot from six yards with his legs.
Armand Traore was introduced in the closing stages, as Vargas was withdrawn to a standing ovation. Likewise Leroy Fer, who made way for Niko Kranjcar in stoppage time as Rangers safely held onto their two-goal cushion through to the final whistle.