QPR endured a night to forget on the south coast on Tuesday evening, losing 4-0 to high-flying Brighton.
After an evenly-contested first-half, which saw both sides go close to breaking the deadlock, the hosts scored with virtually the last kick of the half, Anthony Knockaert firing home an excellent free-kick from the edge of the area.
The Seagulls made it 2-0 just after the interval, Jiri Skalak scoring the goal of the night with a sensational long-range effort.
With Brighton now full of confidence, it became a very difficult night’s work for QPR and the hosts made it three mid-way through the half with a header from Connor Goldson, while Knockaert got his second of the evening to make it four with five minutes remaining, hitting home from 18 yards beyond Alex Smithies.
Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink made four changes from the side that drew at Cardiff City on Saturday, bringing in Smithies, James Perch, Junior Hoilett and Conor Washington for Matt Ingram, Paul Konchesky, Tjaronn Chery and Seb Polter respectively.
It meant the R’s lined up with Smithies between the sticks behind a back four, from left to right, of Perch, Clint Hill, Grant Hall and Nedum Onuoha.
Mass Luongo partnered Ale Faurlin in the centre of the park, with Hoilett on the left and Karl Henry on the right.
Matt Phillips played just off Washington in attack.
The R’s knew they would face a stern test against a Brighton side who went into this match unbeaten in ten, having won seven of those games. They also hadn’t lost at the Amex Stadium since a New Year’s Day defeat to Wolves.
With Burnley hosting Middlesbrough at Turf Moor tonight, the Seagulls will also have identified this as a great opportunity to make up crucial ground on the top two, with just three fixtures remaining after this evening’s round of games.
It made for a great atmosphere on the south coast, and the hosts started strongly, winning a corner in the second minute. Smithies had to be alert to punch Anthony Knockaert’s dangerous delivery to safety.
At the other end of the pitch, Luongo tried to thread the ball through to Washington, but Seagulls keeper David Stockdale read the situation and smothered the danger.
In the tenth minute Phillips won a free-kick on the left and his subsequent delivery was cleared invitingly for Faurlin, but his half-volley skewed over the bar from 20 yards.
The best chance of the game to this point came in the 18th minute, and it was Brighton who had it, Knockaert heading over from six yards out, to the frustration of the home fans.
Rangers went straight down the other end and almost opened the scoring, but Washington shot over the bar after a great initial piece of control and turn to find space in the box.
On 28 minutes, Hill saw his header from Faurlin’s corner saved by Stockdale in what was a very-evenly contested affair, while Tomer Hemed’s overhead kick cleared Smithies’ crossbar.
Phillips brilliantly dispossessed Bruno Salter in his own half before going on to force a great save from Stockdale, as QPR really started to grow into the game and cause the Seagulls defence some problems.
The pace of Phillips and Washington on the break was certainly cause for concern for Chris Hughton’s side.
But James Wilson went ever-so close to firing the hosts in front on 35 minutes following a great run. His shot seemed to have beaten Smithies but it flew just wide of the far post.
Five minutes later and it was the turn of QPR to go close, again through Phillips, his curling effort going beyond the despairing dive of Stockdale but just cleared the crossbar as well.
Shortly before half-time, Smithies pulled off an excellent save from close range, denying Lewis Dunk’s header following Knockaert’s corner to the far post.
Just as the game appeared to be heading into the interval all square, Brighton took the lead through Knockaert, who hit a stunning free-kick into the top corner from the edge of the box after Onuoha was adjudged to have fouled Beram Kayal.
It was a cruel end to the opening 45 minutes after Rangers had more-than matched their promotion-chasing opposition.
Things got worse for QPR just after the break, as Brighton doubled their lead on 51 minutes with a thunderbolt of a strike from Jiri Skalak. After Hall had cut out Saltor’s initial ball, it fell invitingly for Skalak and he wasted no time in unleashing a shot from 30 yards, which fizzed into the top corner of Smithies’ goal.
All of a sudden, having started the game well, QPR had a mountain to climb. Hasselbaink reacted immediately, bringing on striker Polter for Hoilett.
Phillips switched to the left, with the German partnering Washington in attack.
Chery joined soon after, replacing Hill. It meant Onuoha moved alongside Hall in the centre of defence, with Henry playing at right back.
Chery played in the hole behind Washington and Polter.
With the hosts full of confidence, they played some good football as Rangers battled hard to work their way back into the game.
QPR began to enjoy periods of possession as Brighton sat deeper, and Hasselbaink soon made his final change of the night, replacing Washington with Nasser El Khayati.
But it was Brighton who added another, their third of the evening coming in the 73rd minute, Connor Goldson heading home Knockaert’s centre, looping the ball into the net.
On 77 minutes, Polter headed Henry’s cross just wide of the upright, while Goldson fired over moments later following good work on the edge of the QPR box.
With five minutes to go, the hosts – and Knockaert – struck again, this time the Brighton man guiding the ball into the corner of the net from 18 yards to complete the scoring and compound Rangers’ misery.