RANGERS shared a 3-3 thriller with Aston Villa in a game that swung in either direction for the very duration.
The R’s took the lead, went 2-1 down and then came back to edge themselves in front once again before Christian Benteke completed his hat-trick – and the scoring.
It was a tremendous effort from QPR, whose goals came from Matt Phillips, Clint Hill and Charlie Austin to put Rangers only two points from safety.
Hoops boss Chris Ramsey was forced into two changes for this crunch Barclays Premier League basement clash.
Absentees Yun Suk-Young and Eduardo Vargas were out with concussion and a knee ligament injury respectively.
That saw both Hill and Niko Kranjcar drafted in, as the R’s looked to build on Saturday’s impressive 4-1 victory against West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns.
Villa manager Tim Sherwood dubbed this fixture his side’s ‘biggest match for years’ before kick-off. Villa were 17th in the table and three points ahead of 19th-placed QPR.
There was no doubting the significance of this one.
The game ebbed and flowed in the early minutes. The Villa Park crowd appeared up for the fight – though, importantly, Rangers settled well.
The 1,300-strong travelling R’s faithful were in good voice early on and they were in even-greater spirits come the seventh minute, as their team took the lead.
Bobby Zamora took control of an Austin ball forward and when he found space to cross for Phillips, the in-form midfielder – unmarked – headed past Brad Guzan.
However, three minutes later, Villa drew level.
The home side broke on the counter attack and when Benteke strode into the box, his subsequent effort deflected up off Mauricio Isla and into the back of the net.
R’s goalkeeper Rob Green was forced into a smart save in the 13th minute, stooping low to catch Jack Grealish’s dipping free-kick.
But Green made an even-better stop in the 16th minute, denying Grealish again at point-blank range on 10 yards after Rangers desperately tried to clear their lines.
Six minutes later and another home chance arrived, this time as Fabian Delph’s shot deflected wide. Ron Vlaar’s effort then crashed off Sandro and out for a corner.
Villa were now buoyant and Isla had to concede another corner kick in the 28th minute to thwart Benteke at close range.
The hosts eventually added a second goal come the 33rd minute – again on the counter attack.
Rangers lost possession on the edge of the Villa penalty area and when Sherwood’s side broke to free Benteke, he kept his composure when in the box to dink the ball past an onrushing Green.
Not long before half-time, QPR went close when Nedum Onuoha headed Phillips’ corner towards goal, but the ball crept just wide. Gabby Agbonlahor also nodded just past the target in the 40th minute.
Just seven minutes of the second half had passed when the Hoops made a double substitution, reverting to a 3-5-2 formation in the process.
Armand Traore replaced Isla, Kranjcar made way for Karl Henry. Two minutes later, Grealish drove straight at Green.
Rangers levelled matters in the 55th minute, reward for Ramsey’s positive switch.
Phillips crossed and Hill got himself in front of his marker to crash home a header.
The 60-minute mark passed and this game was now on the ultimate knife-edge.
Michael Doughty was introduced for the R’s in the 70th minute, Sandro came off. Two minutes later, Austin dragged wide on the break.
With 15 minutes left, a period of calm had ensued. Could someone go on to win this?
Well Austin put QPR into a 3-2 lead in the 78th minute.
Phillips deserves much credit, he chased down a lost cause to cross for the forward, and Austin took a touch before sliding home.
But Villa piled the pressure on thereafter, and Benteke completed his hat-trick in the 83rd minute, curling a free-kick in off the post after Hill was penalised for a foul on substitute Charles N’Zogbia.
Incredibly, Benteke could have added a fourth goal two minutes from time, but he fired handsomely over from just inside the box.
Villa continued to probe but time was eventually called, bringing this breathless spectacle to a close.