CHARLIE Austin’s late reply couldn’t prevent QPR suffering a single-goal defeat to Arsenal on Wednesday night.
Austin – scoring for the 15th time in the Premier League this season – renewed R’s hopes of salvaging a point after falling behind to two second-half goals.
Chris Ramsey’s side came closest during an evenly-contested opening 45 minutes but were undone by quick-fire strikes from Olivier Giroud and Alexis Sanchez after the hour-mark.
Defeat wasn’t for the want of trying from Rangers, who had Rob Green to thank for tipping a Mesut Ozil shot onto the post before Austin’s 82nd-minute strike set up a grandstand finish.
Rangers, who dropped back into the drop zone following Tuesday night’s top flight action, made three changes from defeat at Hull City last time out.
Nedum Onuoha returned as Rio Ferdinand missed out though illness while Junior Hoilett was preferred to Niko Kranjcar, who dropped to the bench.
Sandro also made his long-awaited comeback from injury, replacing the suspended Joey Barton – sitting out the first of a three-match ban after seeing red at the KC Stadium.
Meanwhile, Darnell Furlong – son of R’s legend and Under-18s manager Paul – kept his place at right-back as the 19 year-old made his home debut under the Loftus Road lights.
After a relatively quiet opening, Austin fashioned the first shot on goal after 11 minutes with a dipping 20-yard volley which was well held by Gunners goalkeeper David Ospina.
Ospina was called upon again to fist away Furlong’s teasing cross soon after with Austin and strike partner Bobby Zamora waiting with intent.
The front pair combined again from Karl Henry’s hopeful long ball. Zamora shrugged off his marker to head down into the path of Austin, whose fierce half-volley was collected at the second attempt by Ospina.
Ospina’s opposite number Green was finally called into action on 23 minutes, showing a safe pair of hands from Giroud’s low shot 18 yards out.
It was Ospina who continued to be the busier of the two ‘keepers, though. After Furlong found Phillips with a pinpoint cross-field pass, the winger’s teasing cross from the left had to be clawed away by the Columbian.
The visitors were also forced into the first change of the night when Gabriel departed nine minutes before the re-start. Laurent Koscielny took his place.
The change was almost followed by the opening goal as Austin again came close. This time the R’s striker let fly from 25 yards only to see the ball flash inches the wrong side of the left-hand post.
There was still time in the half for Rangers to be dealt a defensive blow of their own. After Onuoha inadvertently collided in the air with team-mate Steven Caulker, he had to be replaced by Clint Hill.
Before Hill’s arrival, though, Green had to be alert to push away a half-volley from Santi Cazorla after a neat exchange with Giroud on the edge of the box.
Arsene Wenger’s men continued where they left off after the interval. Tomas Rosicky beat Sandro to the by-line inside two minutes, and Rangers were fortunate Ozil couldn’t direct his attempt on target from the midfielder’s pull-back six yards out.
Meanwhile, Sandro made way after lasting the best part of an hour on his return as Kranjcar took his place in the centre of midfield in the R’s second change of the night.
Soon after Phillips provided the R’s next effort, fizzing a half-volley just past the right-hand post to lift the volume levels another notch around a buoyant Loftus Road.
The mood was dampened, though, when Arsenal made the breakthrough just after the hour-mark. Sanchez led a quick counter-attack and after Kieran Gibbs’ cross broke to Giroud at the near post, the Frenchman slid the ball past Green to break the R’s resistance.
It was almost two but for a superb double stop by Green. The R’s number one dived low to his right to keep out Sanchez bending the ball beyond his near post, before smothering the same player seconds later after finding himself through on goal.
Respite didn’t last long, however, as Sanchez doubled the Gunners’ tally next time around. The Chilean cut inside from the by-line before somehow squeezing his low shot inside the near post.
Rangers responded by making a third and final change, introducing Mauricio Isla for Hoilett.
But it was Green who the R’s had to thank again, tipping Ozil’s deflected shot onto the post as Arsenal threatened a third goal.
They were even more grateful when Austin halved the deficit with eight minutes remaining. With the contest seemingly all but over, the striker fired a rasping effort beyond Ospina at his near post to set up a grandstand finish.
Austin’s response made for a nervy finish for the visitors, but one they saw out in the closing stages including four minutes of stoppage time to secure victory at the R’s expense.
As for the hosts, Ramsey and co. will quickly turn their attentions to the visit of another north London side in the shape of Tottenham Hotspur on Saturday and another chance to pick up precious points in the battle for survival.