QPR v Nottingham Forest
SECOND half goals from Conor Washington and Joel Lynch secured a vital three points for QPR against Nottingham Forest at Loftus Road.
On a day when the R’s knew victory would guarantee their status as a Sky Bet Championship club, Ian Holloway’s men bounced back from a six-match losing sequence to run out worthy winners in W12.
After a nervy first period, Washington opened the scoring on 49 minutes with a well-taken finish, before Lynch doubled the Hoops’ advantage on the hour mark with a fine close-range header.
Victory was no less than the Hoops deserved for their fast-start to the second half, as Holloway’s side got over the line on the penultimate weekend of the season.
The R’s boss made two changes to the Rangers side that succumbed to a 3-1 defeat to Brentford last weekend.
Ryan Manning and Pawel Wszolek were both recalled, with Sean Goss and Jamie Mackie making way.
Alex Smithies – fresh from winning three Player of the Year gongs in the club’s end of season awards – started in goal, behind an unchanged back four of James Perch, Nedum Onuoha, Lynch and Jake Bidwell.
In midfield, Manning and Wszolek occupied the wide left and right roles respectively, with Massimo Luongo partnering Luke Freeman in the middle of the park.
Washington and Matt Smith led the line for the R’s.
Former QPR defender Michael Mancienne made his 100th appearances for the Tricky Trees at the heart of the Forest defence, with top-scorer Britt Assombolonga leading the line for the visitors.
On a bright Spring afternoon in W12, the first incident of any note involved R’s skipper Onuoha, who was booked inside four minutes for a rash challenge on Mustapha Carayol.
The hosts were the first to create any chance of note, however, when Wszolek’s fine solo run three minutes later ended with him forcing Jordon Smith into an excellent full-stretch save at his near post.
Soon after, Washington saw his shot blocked, before Manning’s follow-up was easily held by Smith.
Forest’s first major foray into the QPR penalty box arrived on the quarter hour, when Carayol’s dipping effort from 16-yards was tipped over by Smithies.
After a lively opening, the tempo dipped midway through the half, as a cagier battle ensued.
Clear-cut chances remained at a premium as the clock ticked past the half hour mark, with Luongo’s speculative drive from distance saved with some ease by Smith.
Forest’s best chance of the half arrived on the stroke of half-time, but Ben Brereton – with time and space – miscued his header wide from the edge of the six-yard box.
It remained goalless at the break – a half-time scoreline that reflected the lack of clear-cut goalscoring opportunities inside the opening 45 minutes.
The second half was only 60 seconds old when Smith wasted a golden opportunity to hand the hosts the lead.
Freeman’s sublime free-kick was flighted perfectly towards the back-post for the big front-man, but his header flew inches wide.
Undeterred, the R’s made their fast-start to the second period count three minutes later!
Luongo’s ball over the top wasn’t dealt with by Forest centre-back Joe Worrall, who hesitated on the ball, allowing Washington to nick in and calmly slot the ball over the advancing Smith.
It was a fine finish from the Northern Ireland international, for his eighth goal of the season.
Buoyed by their goal, Rangers were enjoying their best spell of the match – and the sun shone again on the R’s on the hour mark.
Forest only half-cleared a Freeman corner to the edge of the box and when Manning returned the ball back in with interest, Lynch was in the right place at the right time to head past Smith, giving the visiting keeper absolutely no chance from six-yards out.
The celebrations told their own story, as the Hoops edged ever closer to a priceless victory.
Moments later, Manning’s 25-yard drive flew inches over the bar, before Forest made a triple substitution, with Jamie Ward, Matty Cash and Matt Mills entering the fray.
Holloway responded with his first substitution, replacing goalscorer Washington with Mackie, on 66 minutes.
But it was a Forest sub, Mills, who went closest next, firing a shot on target that was spilled by Smithies, only for Smith to hack the ball clear to safety.
With results elsewhere going against them, Forest were throwing caution to the wind and Cash squandered a glorious chance on 74 minutes, thrashing the ball wide from a well-worked move.
Smithies’ goal was being peppered and David Vaughan was next to test the R’s number one, who was again equal to it, tipping the ball around the post.
Holloway made a double substitution eight minutes from time, with Yeni Ngbakoto and Michael Doughty replacing Smith and Freeman respectively.
Doughty settled in nicely, keeping possession well and winning the ball back in crucial areas, as the Hoops – despite six minutes of added time, in which Smithies saved well from Cash and Ngbakoto volleyed over – dispelled any looming fears of relegation by seeing out a vital victory.