Hooper hits the Hoops
RANGERS’ recent unbeaten run was brought to an end at Hillsborough, as QPR went down to a 1-0 Sky Bet Championship reverse at the hands of Sheffield Wednesday.
After five games without defeat, Gary Hooper’s 40th-minute strike was decisive, as Wednesday – just two points ahead of the R’s before kick-off – rose to fifth with the win.
QPR certainly didn’t disgrace themselves throughout but, ultimately, they could find no way back after going behind.
Boss Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink made two changes to his Rangers side following Tuesday night’s 1-0 home success over Bristol City.
Injuries picked up by Joel Lynch and Jordan Cousins in that Loftus Road win meant that both players were forced to sit out of this Steel City clash altogether.
So Niko Hamalainen – making his full league debut for the R’s – and Ben Gladwin came into Hasselbaink’s starting line-up.
Rangers were gifted a chance after only three minutes.
Home custodian Cameron Dawson – making just his first start of the campaign for the hosts following injury to regular Owls goalkeeper Keiren Westwood – miscued his clearance, gifting the ball to QPR’s Tjaronn Chery in the process.
The Wednesday academy product would redeem himself, however, as he got down well to keep out Chery’s subsequent low blast from 20 yards.
In truth, it was quite an open start. In the 12th minute, Carlos Carvalhal’s Owls enjoyed their first opportunity, as Fernando Forestieri drove straight at Alex Smithies following Daniel Pudil’s assist.
Rangers more than held their own early on and, on the quarter-hour mark, fashioned another attempt.
Chery was involved once more, forcing Dawson into another smart low stop when he powered in an effort from 25 yards.
Wednesday should have taken the lead six minutes later.
With the goal gaping, Pudil somehow directed his shot onto the crossbar when the ball eventually fell his way from a home corner-kick routine. It looked easier to score from six-yards out, even though the ex-Watford man didn’t have much time to react.
Even though QPR had done well in the opening stages, the hosts looked dangerous in attack.
Just before the half-hour mark, the ball somehow flashed across the face of goal without a touch, following fine work and a dangerous low centre from Barry Bannan down the right.
As half-time approached, the R’s enjoyed their fair share of time on the ball. The contest had now slowed down somewhat.
Wednesday, however, would take a 1-0 lead into half-time, with a goal that really did come out of nowhere in the 40th minute.
David Jones’ initial, 20-yard effort darted into the path of Hooper who, with only Smithies to beat, fired home from 10 yards – despite the goalkeeper’s best attempt to keep the ball out.
There was little to note at the start of the second half.
But Rangers so nearly levelled matters in the 55th minute – and it was a simply stunning save to deny the R’s.
Following a third successive corner, Nedum Onuoha’s low thunderbolt was brilliantly kept out by Dawson, who pulled off an excellent low reaction stop.
Three minutes later, Wednesday also went close. Adam Reach’s teasing cross from the left almost picked out an unmarked Hooper at the back post who – on the stretch – couldn’t quite get to the ball.
At the other end, Chery then poked a decent opportunity wide in the 64th minute and, just seconds later, Hasselbaink decided to make a change. Seb Polter replaced Idrissa Sylla.
In the 72nd minute, Onuoha went close again, with the skipper’s looping header from a Chery corner held by Dawson.
A second R’s sub arrived in the 74th minute, meanwhile, as Pawel Wszolek came on for Ben Gladwin.
With 15 minutes left to go, the game was very much on a knife-edge. As it stood, earning a point would not have flattered Rangers. The question was, could they get it?
Wednesday almost grabbed a second goal with 12 minutes remaining, as Forestieri flashed a low effort past the bottom left-hand post.
A third and final QPR substitution followed in the 80th minute, as Ariel Borysiuk made way for Olamide Shodipo.
In terms of chances, the final 10 minutes witnessed very few.
Four minutes of added time were subsequently signalled and Forestieri threatened once more, as he sent in another low effort that crept just wide of Smithies’ right-hand post.
Rangers almost equalised in the dying embers.
A long ball forward saw Washington challenge ‘keeper Dawson for the ball but, when it eventually broke to Chery, his shot was cleared off the line.
That proved to be the very-last opportunity, as the referee called time in South Yorkshire.