Late QPR rally in vein as Seagulls edge closer to promotion
RANGERS were just unable to complete a second-half comeback, against a Brighton & Hove Albion side who took a step closer to the Premier League with victory.
Following a close first half, two quick-fire goals after half-time – from Glenn Murray and Sebastien Pocognoli – put the Seagulls in the ascendancy in W12.
That left the R's looking down and out – but Matt Smith’s 74th-minute header sparked fresh hope.
And QPR piled on the pressure thereafter but, unfortunately, couldn’t find an equalising goal, as Chris Hughton’s side held on for their first win at Loftus Road since September 1957.
After Tuesday night’s 1-0 defeat at Aston Villa, Rangers boss Ian Holloway made seven changes to his starting line-up for the visit of promotion-chasing Brighton.
Ravel Morrison was handed his first start since returning to the club on loan from Lazio, while Jack Robinson was named in the XI for the first time since early December, following injury.
There were also starts for Joel Lynch, Ryan Manning, James Perch, Smith and Conor Washington.
That meant Jake Bidwell, Luke Freeman, Sean Goss, Yeni Ngbakoto and Idrissa Sylla all dropped down to the bench, while Darnell Furlong and Jamie Mackie sat out altogether.
In a 3-5-2 formation, QPR lined up as: Alex Smithies; Nedum Onuoha, Grant Hall, Lynch; Perch, Massimo Luongo, Morrison, Manning, Robinson; Matt Smith, Conor Washington.
Once the contest got underway, chances were extremely-limited in a tight opening.
The first shot on target took 12 minutes to arrive and saw Rangers’ Manning take aim from 20 yards, though the Irishman’s attempt was comfortably caught by Brighton goalkeeper David Stockdale.
For the visitors, their maiden effort at goal came six minutes later when Solly March’s half-volley, following a corner, flew well wide of the right-hand post.
And it was March who also fashioned the Seagulls’ next attempt, the England Under-21 international’s fierce distance effort held well by Smithies.
Rangers then went the closest yet.
Washington broke with pace and when the striker slipped the ball past full-back Bruno, he continued to drive towards the Brighton box before crashing a shot just over from 20 yards.
The visitors had the ball in the net for the first time in the 33rd minute but, thankfully, an offside flag came to Rangers’ rescue – once Murray touched home Anthony Knockaert’s left-flank centre.
After a slow start, this game began to come to life and, two minutes later, Manning’s curling effort from 20 yards forced a smart take from Stockdale.
QPR were also presented with a good chance four minutes from half-time.
Manning’s free-kick from deep fell kindly for Perch in the penalty area – but his subsequent blast, that looked to be heading on-target, crashed back off his own team-mate in Washington.
Luongo then thundered over from the edge of the box just seconds later.
Brighton had the ball in the net once more in the 43rd minute but, just like the first time, the effort was ruled out for offside.
Tomer Hemed finished Knockaert’s flick-on from 10 yards, before the assistant referee’s flag was raised to deny the visitors again.
All in all, a close half, then – and it was a similar story at the start of the second period.
Brighton produced the first attempt, with March’s 51st-minute effort tipped around the post by Smithies.
And three minutes later, Murray blazed some way over from just outside the box.
But Rangers continued to hold their own. In the 55th minute, Morrison’s left-wing corner saw Smith head straight at Stockdale at the back post.
However, it was the visitors who would open the scoring, taking the lead come the 58th minute.
The R’s surrendered possession on the halfway line and, when Murray played a neat one-two with March, the former raced through on goal before slotting calmly past the advancing Smithies.
Six minutes later, Brighton doubled their advantage in spectacular fashion.
Referee Simon Hooper awarded Hughton’s men a free-kick on 20 yards, despite video replays showing that Murray actually slipped on the ball.
And the visitors then took full advantage from the resultant set-piece, as Pocognoli curled home a stunning effort, off the underside of the crossbar.
An uphill struggle now faced Rangers – and Holloway wasted little time in making a double change. Ngbakoto and Freeman replaced Robinson and Morrison in the 65th minute.
Perhaps understandably, the R’s looked deflated against a now-buoyant Brighton.
But the hosts almost pulled one back in the 73rd minute.
Great wing play from Freeman ended with the substitute crossing from the left, before Smith’s header was parried by Stockdale and then cleared for a corner.
The former Fulham forward probably should have scored – but he didn’t disappoint from the subsequent set-piece.
Freeman’s in-swinging corner from the right saw Smith rise highest to flick the ball home with his head – despite the best efforts of March to keep the effort out on the line.
From nowhere, Rangers were now back in the game and, soon after the goal, a lifted Loftus Road saw Holloway use his last sub, bringing on Sylla for Lynch.
In the 81st minute, Washington spurned a decent opportunity to bring QPR level, blasting over from just inside the box following a goalmouth scramble.
As did Sylla only moments later when lovely skill from Manning saw him pick out the Guinean on 10 yards, but he couldn’t get enough purchase on his shot.
The atmosphere inside Loftus Road was now electric. Could Rangers complete what initially looked like an unlikely comeback?
Well, five minutes of stoppage time were added on at the end to aid QPR’s cause – but they were just unable to do so, ultimately.
Ngbakoto had the chance to level matters deep into injury time, but skewed wide – following a long ball forward – from 12 yards.