CHARLIE Austin’s second-half brace saw QPR come from two goals down to spectacularly draw 2-2 with unbeaten Sky Bet Championship leaders Brighton and Hove Albion at Loftus Road.
After a promising first-half display, the visitors stunned Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s side with two goals shortly after the half-time break, through Dale Stephens and Rajiv van La Parra, to put the Seagulls into the ascendancy.
However, undeterred, Rangers roared back, with Austin leading the comeback following his ninth goal of the season in the 65th minute.
In the 84th minute, Brighton had Lewis Dunk sent off following a second yellow card.
And two minutes from time, Austin netted goal number 10 for the campaign to earn the R’s a dramatic point – and stretch an unbeaten run at home to eight matches.
QPR’s top scorer Austin returned to the starting XI for the visit of the high-flying Seagulls, unbeaten in 20 league fixtures before this one, as Hasselbaink made one change to the side that drew 0-0 at home against Burnley at the weekend. Karl Henry dropped to the bench.
Former Rangers fans’ favourite Bobby Zamora was named on the Brighton bench.
The Hoops enjoyed a couple of chances very early on.
First, Austin forced a fine low save from Albion goalkeeper David Stockdale in the third minute, after driving into space 20 yards from goal.
And soon after, the home side worked another opportunity when a Matt Phillips corner eventually dropped to Junior Hoilett in the box, who shot wide.
Rangers took the game to Brighton in the opening stages and Phillips saw a rasping drive tipped smartly over by Stockdale in the eighth minute.
QPR boss Hasselbaink was forced into a change after just 16 minutes. James Perch fell awkwardly after contesting a header and was unable to continue. So Gabriel Angella came on in his place.
The R’s missed a good chance shortly after. Ale Faurlin swung over a free-kick from the right that found Grant Hall, but the defender could only head over from 12 yards.
The home side had an effort cleared off the goal-line in the 22nd minute.
Austin, Hoilett and Phillips all combined and when the latter eventually got his shot away inside the penalty area, Inigo Calderon saved the day with a last-ditch intervention.
Moments later, Rangers had strong penalty appeals waved away by referee Paul Tierney, after Austin’s blast appeared to strike the hand of visiting defender Dunk in the box.
While the fixture was still contested at a relatively-fast pace, chances dried up a little thereafter, heading into half-time. In fact, no further clear-cut opportunities arrived before the half-time whistle was sounded.
It had been a positive first-half display indeed from Rangers. However, that good work was about to be undone courtesy of a quick-fire double from the visitors soon after half-time.
Albion edged in front on 53 minutes, in spectacular fashion. A corner eventually looped up into the path of Stephens on 10 yards, who produced an overhead effort that crept into the bottom right-hand corner.
Two minutes later came another second-half suckerpunch for QPR. van La Parra caught R’s goalkeeper Rob Green out with a swerving effort from fully 40 yards that crept under the shot-stopper’s body and in.
Having not conceded at home for 508 minutes previously, two goals in as many minutes now made this a real uphill task for Hasselbaink’s men.
As Rangers looked to respond, Austin saw two consecutive efforts kept out by the Brighton custodian around the hour mark.
But the striker eventually got on the scoresheet to haul the Hoops back into contention in the 65th minute.
Phillips crossed from the right, and Austin eventually took possession before hammering home past Stockdale at close range.
Hope yet for Rangers – and Leroy Fer went mightily close to finding an equaliser in the 74th minute when he headed just wide, following a Grant Hall centre.
Ex-QPR crowd favourite Zamora was introduced for Brighton in the 78th minute, and he was given a warm reception by the home faithful.
How the R’s could now do with another late goal like his winner for Rangers in the 2014 Championship play-off final against Derby County.
Brighton next went close, with captain Gordon Greer sending a bullet header inches wide, before the hosts sent on forward Sebastian Polter for Fer.
The German almost had an instant impact, but was just unable to get his head to a Phillips corner.
Albion were reduced to 10 men six minutes from time when Dunk was shown a second yellow card for an extremely-strong challenge on Faurlin.
The Loftus Road crowd were now right behind their team in this search for a levelling goal.
Rangers piled on the pressure in the dying embers and that equaliser duly arrived in the 88th minute.
The scorer? You guessed it. Austin rose highest to head home a right-flank Faurlin corner – and make it 2-2.
Some seven minutes of injury time were then signalled. Could QPR snatch victory from the jaws of defeat?
Paul Konchesky so nearly provided a winner but was denied by some smart goalkeeping from Stockdale for Brighton. And substitute Angella soon lashed over, too.
In the 94th minute, Phillips had a shot from 30 yards that looked in all the way before it agonisingly clipped the left-hand post and went wide.
Unfortunately, a third goal ultimately eluded Rangers but nevertheless, what a comeback from the R’s.