QPR suffered late heartache at the Riverside Stadium, going down to a last–minute defeat against Middlesbrough.
Grant Leadbitter slammed home a 94th minute spot-kick, after Leroy Fer was penalised for handling the ball on the line and was sent off.
Defeat was harsh on the R’s, who more than matched the Teessiders, in a game of few clear-cut chances.
In a drab first half, Boro’s David Nugent hit the post from close range, as Rangers – despite failing to create too much in the final third – successfully stifled the threat of Aitor Karanka’s side.
The R’s grew in stature in the second half, and on another day, could’ve been a couple of goals to the good inside the opening 10 minutes of the half.
Matty Phillips, Leroy Fer and Alejandro Faurlin all mustered decent efforts on goal, but Boro’ keeper Dimi Konstantopoulos denied them.
Rangers appeared to be coasting towards a plucky point, but
In the absence of Interim Head Coach Neil Warnock, who was absent owing to personal reasons, Kevin Blackwell took charge.
The 56 year-old, who was brought in last week to assist on an interim basis, selected the same XI Warnock had planned to pick, with two changes to the side that drew 0-0 with Preston North End prior to the international break.
James Perch and Yun Suk-Young returned, with the latter starting on the left hand side of a five-man midfield.
Rob Green was named in goal, behind a back four of Perch, skipper Nedum Onuoha, Grant Hall and Paul Konchesky.
Karl Henry, Faurlin and Sandro joined Suk-Young in midfield, with Fer playing just off Philips, who led the line.
Charlie Austin missed out owing to a calf injury, whilst Junior Hoilett didn’t travel owing to his recent international excursions with Canada.
Michael Petrasso and Tyler Blackwood were named amongst the QPR substitutes.
The hosts, in the wake of a 3-0 defeat at the hands of table-toppers Hull City late time out, made three changes, with Emilio Nsue, Ben Gibson and captain Grant Leadbitter returning to the starting line-up.
On a bitterly cold evening on Teesside, Rangers fashioned the first chance of note, when – following fine interplay on the left hand side of the pitch – the ball found its way to Fer, whose tame 20-yard effort was easily saved by Dimi Konstantopoulos.
With the R’s keeping a solid defensive shape in the opening exchanges, Karanka’s men were reduced to regular long balls forward, which Onuoha and Hall swallowed up with comparative ease.
Indeed, the hosts were forced to wait until the 16th minute to create their first opportunity, but Onuoha came to the R’s rescue, stifling the threat of the roaming Nugent, just as the former Leicester City front-man set himself to shoot inside the box.
Moments later, the woodwork denied the hosts. Albert Adomah left Konchesky for dead down the Boro’ right, but Nugent – with the goal gaping – somehow skewed his close-range effort against the foot of Green’s right hand post when it appeared easier to score.
On 25 minutes, Sandro stung the palms of Konstantopoulos with a piercing drive from distance, as the home crowd became increasingly restless with their sides’ performance.
The hosts frustrations grew as the half wore on, with skipper Leadbitter the first name into referee Mr Kavanagh’s book for pulling back Fer on the edge of the box.
Faurlin’s resultant free-kick from an acute angle was on target, but Konstantopoulos was perfectly positioned to punch clear.
Diego Fabbrini threatened on the stroke of half-time, but his effort was always drifting wide of Green’s left hand post, as the two sides’ headed into the break on level terms.
Quite how the scoreline remained 0-0 inside the opening 60 seconds of the second half is anyone’s guess.
Fer and Faurlin combined in the middle of the park, with the latter playing a textbook pass into the path of Yun. His low, fizzing cross seemed destined to be met by Phillips, but Boro’ somehow cleared their lines, with the ball landing at the feet of the grateful Konstantopolous.
Buoyed by that early opening, the R’s created another chance just three minutes later, but Fer could only shoot straight at the Boro’ keeper from ten yards, after Phillips played provider.
Rangers were enjoying a purple patch, and Faurlin was next to try his luck for the visitors, curling a powerful left-footed strike at goal, which Konstantopoulos did well to save at the first attempt.
Remarkably, the R’s fashioned another golden opportunity on 55 minutes, when Faurlin lofted the ball over the top for Phillips, but the make-shift striker failed to apply the all-important touch with the Middlesbrough defence all at sea.
Boro’ responded on the hour, with Friend capitalising on some poor defensive play, only to fire a yard or so wide, before Karanka made his first change.
Christian Stuani replaced Fabbrini on 62 minutes, to the biggest cheer of the night from an otherwise quiet home Riverside faithful.
Stewart Downing flashed wide a minute later, as the hosts began to find some momentum.
Soon after, Faurlin signalled to the bench that he needed to be replaced, with Daniel Tozser coming on at the Argentine’s expense with a quarter of an hour to play.
Boro’ threw caution to the wind with 13 minutes remaining, with a striker replacing a winger, as Kike entered the fray.
Jay Emmanuel-Thomas replaced Sandro in the final 10 minutes, with Philips – who worked tirelessly throughout the game – reverting to his more accustomed right-wing role.
Boos rung around the Riverside late on, to the delight of the 316 travelling Rangers fans, but the hosts would have the final say.
Fer was adjudged to have handled Ben Gibson’s goal-bound shot on the line and was given his marching orders as a result – and Leadbitter stepped up and slotted home to break Rangers’ hearts.