QPR v Fulham - Sky Bet Championship - Saturday, 30th September 2017 - Loftus Road
IT was a west London derby full of drama – but unfortunately one that Rangers fell to a 2-1 defeat in, despite their best efforts.
In truth, a draw would have been a fairer result in this end-to-end Loftus Road affair, in which Fulham opened the scoring in the 41st minute. Ryan Fredericks’ shot fortuitously skipped off the leg of Jack Robinson to wrong-foot Alex Smithies - and slowly creep over the goal-line.
Slavisa Jokanovic’s charges then missed a penalty in the 83rd minute, with Rui Fonte firing over from the spot, ahead of eventually extending their lead two minutes later through Stefan Johansen.
That looked to be that but, after substitute Conor Washington pulled one back for QPR at the start of some nine minutes of second-half stoppage time, the R’s proceeded to lay siege to the visiting goal.
However, despite a number of subsequent attempts – including fellow sub Matt Smith seeing his header cleared off the line – a deserved equaliser just proved beyond the Hoops, to mean a first home Sky Bet Championship loss of the campaign.
Following Tuesday night’s 1-1 draw at Barnsley, Rangers boss Ian Holloway made two changes to his side for this derby contest.
Joel Lynch and Idrissa Sylla were drafted into the starting line-up, at the expense of Steven Caulker and Bright Osayi-Samuel. The latter dropped to the substitutes’ bench, while Caulker missed out altogether.
That meant the R’s, in a 3-5-2 formation, lined up as: Smithies; Alex Baptiste, Robinson, Lynch; Pawel Wszolek, Josh Scowen, Massimo Luongo, Luke Freeman, Jake Bidwell; Jamie Mackie, Sylla.
QPR started brightly, pressing high up the pitch, but it was the visitors who were first to go close.
Sheyi Ojo, on loan from Liverpool, led the fifth-minute Fulham attack, racing clear of Robinson before fizzing a low effort past the right-hand post from 15 yards.
But Rangers would soon threaten with an effort of their own two minutes later.
Freeman drove at the Cottagers’ defence, before his 20-yard blast was deflected just wide.
There was a good tempo about the game early on and, in the 14th minute, the R’s probed again following a sweeping home move.
Sylla, Freeman, Luongo and Wszolek were all involved, with the latter dragging an effort past the post from 10 yards.
Moments later, Baptiste pulled wide from a similar distance, then Fulham went close in the 17th minute. Johansen crashed an effort into the side-netting from 12 yards.
The best chance of the contest yet arrived in the 25th minute – and it came for the visitors.
Fredericks slid in Fonte, who in turn latched onto the ball before thundering his 12-yard shot past the upright. The forward really should have done better.
Then came Rangers’ best opportunity yet, in the 29th minute.
First Bidwell’s 15-yard attempt was cleared off the line by Fredericks, following Freeman’s cut-back, before Luongo’s follow-up effort was deflected wide.
This had become a very-open spectacle, that point exemplified when Fulham soon broke on the half-hour mark. Ojo shot straight at Smithies from the edge of the box.
And the fast-paced football continued – right up until the deadlock was finally broken four minutes before the interval.
Following a first half of enthralling action, it was actually a huge slice of luck that helped Fulham into their half-time lead.
Fredericks’ distance effort deflected off Robinson, therefore wrong-footing Smithies, before the ball painfully tricked into the Loft End net.
Into the second half, and it was similarly open once more from the get-go.
Fulham custodian David Button was forced into a smart low save in the 50th minute, following Luongo’s 20-yard blast.
A lengthy stoppage soon after – when the Whites’ Ojo received treatment before subsequently being stretchered off – interrupted the breathless flow of the game. Neeskens Kebano took his place.
Rangers then made a change of their own on the hour. Former Fulham man Smith replaced Wszolek.
The home side went oh so close five minutes later.
Luongo was felled on the edge of the penalty area, before Freeman clipped a free-kick only inches past the upright.
Three minutes later, sub Smith headed another Freeman set-piece over, and you felt that QPR were perhaps starting to gain a little bit of momentum.
But they needed a goal to go with it and, with 14 minutes of normal time left to play, Holloway made a second change.
On came Washington, in the place of Mackie.
That being said, Fulham could well have doubled their lead in the 77th minute.
Johansen broke away down the right before squaring to Ryan Sessegnon, whose six-yard attempt forced an excellent, goal-saving block from Robinson.
And Rangers were given an even-bigger let-off when the visitors missed an 83rd-minute penalty.
Lynch’s mis-control allowed Kebano to nip in, before a combination of the R’s defender and Robinson conspired to bring the Fulham man down.
Fonte stepped up to take the resultant spot-kick but couldn’t capitalise from 12 yards, sending his effort well over.
However, Jokanovic’s men weren’t to be denied a second goal, and got it just two minutes after the penalty miss.
Fonte made up for his error somewhat, breaking down the right before his low centre was turned home by Johansen from 16 yards.
A seemingly-killer blow for the R’s – but a goal just into nine additional minutes at the end made for a grandstand finish.
Washington put Rangers within a goal of their visitors, eventually sending home a deflected effort following Bidwell’s free-kick from deep.
And QPR probably should have forced an equaliser in the dying embers.
Freeman, Luongo and Smith all went close – the latter probably closest when his header was hacked off the line.
But a levelling goal just got away from Holloway’s side, who were applauded off at the end by the home faithful following their efforts.