THE spoils were shared between Sheffield Wednesday and QPR at the end of a dramatic second half of football at Hillsborough.
After a drab first period which gave little indication of the drama that was to follow, Rangers were grateful to Alex Smithies for saving Atdhe Nuhui’s 48th minute penalty, after Nedum Onuoha was penalised for a foul.
Buoyed by Smithies’ save, Daniel Tozser’s spectacular strike from the edge of the box gave the visitors the lead just before the hour, only for Nuhui to equalise just six minutes later to ensure honours ended even.
QPR boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink made three changes to his starting XI for the trip to the Steel City, with the R’s lining up in a 4-4-1-1 formation.
Paul Konchesky, Junior Hoilett and Jamie Mackie made way following Saturday’s 1-1 draw against Bolton Wanderers, with Gabriele Angella, Tozser and Nasser El Khayati coming into the side – the latter making his first start since his January move from Burton Albion.
There was a rare appearance for Samba Diakite amongst the Hoops’ substitutes, but Ale Faurlin’s thigh injury once again prevented him from travelling with the squad.
Owls top-scorer Fernando Forestieri missed out owing to one-match suspension, meaning Aiden McGeady returned to the side, as the hosts looked to bounce back following Saturday’s surprise 1-0 reversal to Preston North End at Deepdale.
Undeterred by Saturday’s defeat, Wednesday were on the front foot from the first whistle.
After Kieran Lee volleyed over inside the first 90 seconds, Ross Wallace flashed a fearsome left-footed drive wide of the upright moments later.
Despite the early onslaught, QPR found their composure as the first period reached its halfway stage – and fashioned their first chance of note on 23 minutes.
El Khayati tricked his way into a position to cross to Matty Phillips, whose header was saved, albeit with the offside flag raised.
The Owls were next to threaten, however, when Nuhui broke clear of the last line of defence and fired on target, but Smithies was equal to it, palming the ball away to safety.
The R’s keeper required treatment a minute later, when Nuhui’s late challenge from an under-hit header back towards goal appeared to wind the R’s stopper, but he was soon back on his feet.
There was a sniff of an opportunity for Rangers on the stroke of half time when Massimo Luongo played a clever ball into Conor Washington, only for the striker’s first touch to evade him, when surely a better touch would’ve seen him through on goal.
Two further minutes of added time failed to produce any further chances of note, as the teams headed into the break on level terms.
The second period was just under two minutes old when Wednesday were awarded a penalty for a foul by Onuoha on Gary Hooper.
Referee Andy Davies was left with little option but to point to the spot – but the drama didn’t end there, as Smithies guessed right, diving to his left to save Nuhui’s weakly-struck spot-kick.
At the other end, El Khayati was challenged inside the box but chose to stay on his feet – making the referee’s mind up for him despite some appeals from the R’s faithful behind the goal that Rangers were attacking.
But the visitors weren’t to be denied just four minutes later, as Tozser fired an unstoppable left-footed drive into the bottom corner, giving Kieren Westwood absolutely no chance.
It was a strike of some class from the Hungarian midfielder – a goal of the very highest order.
Bizarre home chants of ‘we support our local team’ aimed at the QPR fans were greeted with comical laughter (by the R’s media team in the press box at the very least!), as the atmosphere inside Hillsborough became somewhat edgy.
Owls boss Carlos Carvalhal responded by replacing McGeady with Lucas Joao – and within a minute, the hosts were on terms.
Nuhui made amends for his earlier error from 12 yards, heading a powerful header beyond Smithies and into the bottom corner.
Rangers were soon back in the attack themselves, however, with Washington’s shot from an acute angle deflected wide for a corner.
That proved to be Washington’s last involvement, with Sebastian Polter entering the fray with 16 minutes left on the clock.
Polter played provider for Phillips three minutes later following a blistering Rangers counter-attack, but the winger blasted wide from the edge of the box.
El Khayati, who showed glimpses of potential on his first start, was replaced by Jamie Mackie soon after – before referee Davies pulled up with an injury and fourth official Graham Sailsbury took over!
Smithies saved well from Lee as the hosts went in search of a late winner and when the same player went to ground inside the box soon after, Sailsbury adjudged the former Manchester United midfielder to have dived, despite vocal appeals from Owls players and fans alike.
Five minutes of added time were shown at the end of the 90 minutes – yet despite Joao's late header on target which was well saved by Smithies, Rangers looked comfortable, as Hasselbaink’s battling charges returned to West London with a hard-earned and deserved point.