NAHKI Wells and Liam Kelly were the match-winners for Rangers – victorious again following an impressive 1-0 Sky Bet Championship success over second-placed Leeds United.
This really was a spirited, dogged display from Mark Warburton’s QPR side, who were rewarded for their positive first-half performance when Wells struck the game’s only goal on 20 minutes.
Marcelo Bielsa’s promotion chasers came on strong after half-time but could find no way past a determined R’s backline which recorded a third clean sheet of the campaign.
Kelly pulled off a fine 62nd-minute penalty save to deny Patrick Bamford, that following its controversial award, and Leeds – who had midfielder Kalvin Phillips shown a straight red card for his bad 88th-minute tackle on Geoff Cameron – subsequently left the capital pointless.
R’s boss Warburton made three changes to his starting XI following last weekend’s defeat at Brentford.
Goalkeeper Joe Lumley missed out altogether owing to injury, while Ryan Manning and Dom Ball dropped down to the substitutes’ bench.
Jordan Hugill was also missing from Rangers’ 18-man squad because of injury.
Conor Masterson was handed his first-ever league start after some recent impressive displays, while Kelly and Lee Wallace also made their way back into the QPR line-up.
New loan signing Jack Clarke – formerly of Leeds, of course – started from the bench.
The R’s began in a 4-2-3-1 formation: Kelly; Todd Kane, Masterson, Grant Hall (captain), Wallace; Cameron, Luke Amos; Bright Osayi-Samuel, Ilias Chair, Ebere Eze; Wells.
For the second weekend in a row, Rangers faced a team in hot pursuit of promotion to the Premier League.
A disappointing first half at Griffin Park seven days ago ultimately cost the Hoops in the west London derby. So the hosts were no doubt doubly keen to begin brightly on this occasion.
Rangers did indeed start on the front foot, enjoying plenty of early possession in the process.
With the opening effort of the contest in the third minute, Eze saw his cross-shot blocked by visiting custodian Kiko Casilla, who then gathered the ball as it looped up into the air.
Then, in the 12th minute – and after Jack Harrison’s ambitious attempt to catch Kelly off his goal-line at the other end – Wells swiped at his shot following Osayi-Samuel’s burst into the area from the right.
Two minutes later, meanwhile, Leeds’ Casilla was called into action again – tipping Wells’ 25-yard drive around the right-hand post.
But Rangers finally made their early pressure count come the 20th minute.
Another lung-busting Osayi-Samuel run earned the R’s a free-kick 20 yards from goal. Eze then took the subsequent set-piece and, when his low effort deflected off Luke Ayling and into the path of Wells, the in-form forward poked home past a wrong-footed Casilla for his 14th goal of the campaign.
Visitors Leeds so nearly levelled matters six minutes later. The ball deflected into the path of Bamford six yards from goal, before his effort – albeit from an acute angle – forced a smart low stop from Kelly.
At the other end, 11 minutes from half-time, Wells went close to doubling his and Rangers’ tally – dragging wide from Eze’s floated free-kick.
A minute later, meanwhile, Bamford tried his luck once more for Leeds – racing in behind QPR’s defence following a ball from deep. The striker could only fire over as Kelly raced off his line to challenge him, though, with no further goalscoring action to follow before the break.
Leeds – who introduced the attack-minded Ezgjan Alioski for Stuart Dallas at half-time – looked to take the game to Rangers at the beginning of the second period.
After the R’s surrendered possession in their own half in the 52nd minute, Ayling’s flighted right-wing centre was headed wide by Harrison at the back post.
Come the hour mark, chances weren’t exactly free-flowing as the R’s attempted to dig in and withstand some strong visiting pressure.
But a minute later, a real moment of controversy saw Leeds awarded a penalty and with it a chance to level the game.
Video replays suggested that Bamford looked to initiate contact with Kelly as he broke free in the penalty area before attempting to round the QPR ‘keeper.
Justice would prevail, however – Bamford unable to beat Kelly from 12 yards, who tipped the former’s low spot-kick around his left-hand post.
The Leeds pressure continued. In the 64th minute, Phillips’ fierce low attempt was repelled by Kelly, who then gathered the ball at the second attempt.
Rangers then made a double change, in the 74th minute, as they looked to see out the game.
Clarke was brought on for his R’s debut, alongside Josh Scowen, with the pair replacing Chair and Amos respectively.
Leeds went close to equalising once more 10 minutes from the end of normal time, as Pablo Hernandez’s 20-yard free-kick only just evaded the target.
At the other end, Wells fired over – following Kane’s driving right-wing run and cross – in the 82nd minute. The Bermudan international was replaced by Marc Pugh soon after.
The visitors continued to pile on the pressure late on, with Rangers looking to break on the counter attack when opportunities presented themselves.
QPR’s cause was helped in the 88th minute – Leeds reduced to 10 men following a horror tackle on Cameron from Whites star man Phillips. He was given his marching orders as a result.
Five added minutes were signalled at the death and the visitors were ultimately unable to breach a stubborn R’s rearguard, with the hosts providing the perfect response to last weekend’s defeat to Brentford.
One-nil to the Super Hoops.