RANGERS put breathing space between themselves and the Sky Bet Championship relegation zone, moving nine points clear, following a welcome 3-1 victory at Burton Albion.
QPR – who enjoyed plenty of possession throughout at the Pirelli Stadium – took a 32nd-minute lead when Aramide Oteh scored on his first-ever Hoops start.
Former R’s loanee Lloyd Dyer levelled matters for the Brewers when he netted at close range just two minutes later.
But Ian Holloway’s charges came strong towards the death to ultimately take all three points.
First Conor Washington displayed composure to regain the lead for Rangers in the 74th minute, before Massimo Luongo struck to add gloss to the scoreline three minutes from time.
R’s boss Holloway made five changes to the team knocked out of the FA Cup by Milton Keynes Dons at the third-round stage last weekend.
Injury forced Alex Baptiste (back), Jordan Cousins (hamstring) and Paul Smyth (thigh) to sit out, while Matt Smith dropped down to the substitutes’ bench. There was no place in the 18 for Ilias Chair.
So into the XI came Darnell Furlong, Joel Lynch, Luongo, Oteh and Washington.
Meanwhile, there was also a spot among the subs for James Perch, following a lengthy spell on the sidelines with a knee injury.
QPR – in their usual 3-5-2 formation – lined up as: Alex Smithies; Nedum Onuoha (captain), Lynch, Jack Robinson; Furlong, Josh Scowen, Luongo, Luke Freeman, Jake Bidwell; Washington, Oteh.
Hosts Burton were able to head into this important fixture towards the bottom of the Championship in positive mood.
Indeed, despite their own FA Cup exit last Saturday, at the hands of Birmingham City at St. Andrew’s, three wins and a draw from their previous five league fixtures pointed to a productive festive and New Year period.
Clough’s Brewers were also able to take heart from having never lost to Rangers previously during their history, a run spanning four fixtures since our League Cup meeting in August 2014.
September’s reverse league fixture between the teams was a largely-uneventful, 0-0 Loftus Road draw.
But the R’s should have been ahead inside a minute this time around.
Washington’s fantastic through-ball put Oteh in the clear, who then blazed over from inside the box – albeit with his weaker left foot.
The contest was a lively one early on and, in the fifth minute, Washington latched onto Freeman’s deflected effort before forcing a fine one-handed save from Stephen Bywater, after shooting on the angle from 12 yards.
Rangers started well, enjoying the better of the possession up to the midway point in the first half, but chances dried up somewhat after that.
Things were more even once the half-hour mark arrived. Though Burton hadn’t really posed a threat, they managed to weather the early R’s pressure.
However, the game soon sparked into life with two goals in as many minutes.
QPR took the lead courtesy of a decent move. Scowen clipped a ball over the top of the home defence that was headed back across goal by Furlong, before Oteh stole in to bundle home from close range.
But scenes of celebration in the away end were quickly dampened.
Lukas Akins played in Dyer inside Rangers’ area, who raced onto the ball before side-footing in from six yards.
That was Albion’s only shot on target before half-time – though it was enough to see them level going into the break.
The second period began in untidy fashion.
Indeed, there was extremely little to note up to the hour mark, with Akins’ 63rd-minute header for Burton – that drifted well wide – the first effort at goal following the interval.
But the R’s went closer two minutes later.
Oteh showed good skill on the halfway line to eventually put Washington in the clear and, after the latter’s first shot was blocked by the home defence, the ex-Peterborough striker followed up to strike the foot of the left-hand post.
With the game becoming finely poised, Holloway used his first sub in the 73rd minute – introducing Smith in place of goalscorer Oteh.
And Rangers were back in front only a minute later.
Freeman won possession on halfway before slotting in Washington with a lovely through-ball. The forward then kept his cool to put the visitors in the driving seat, rounding Bywater before sliding home from all of six yards.
The smile on Washington’s face said it all as he wheeled away to celebrate a first goal since October – and a big one at that in this crucial fixture towards the bottom of the Championship table.
Sub Smith then threatened to add an R’s third when his half-volley from 20 yards was tipped over by Bywater.
But Luongo, on his return to the side, would later wrap up the win in the 87th minute.
The Aussie international played an unorthodox one-two with Washington, before sliding home past standstill Burton ‘keeper Bywater from 10 yards.
Three-one to the Super Hoops.