QPR went down 3-1 to Premier League bound Norwich City at Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium.
Xaxi Quintilla’s long-range strike gave the visitors the lead at the break, and they doubled that advantage on 57 minutes through Max Aarons.
Lyndon Dykes pulled one back for Rangers on 71 minutes but Emiliano Buendia ensured maximum points for the Canaries when he tapped home from close range with eight minutes remaining.
It could have been so different. Three minutes before Norwich went 2-0 up, Dykes had a chance to level from the penalty spot when Chris Willock was felled in the box but the Scotland striker’s effort was saved by Tim Krul.
He made up for that miss with his 11th goal of the season but the R’s were unable to turn the game around.
Mark Warburton made three changes from the side that beat Swansea on Tuesday evening. Seny Dieng, Lee Wallace and Jordy De Wijs came in for Joe Lumley, Niko Hamalainen and Dom Ball respectively.
It meant the R’s lined up with Dieng behind a back three of Yoann Barbet, De Wijs and Rob Dickie, with Wallace and Osman Kakay as wingbacks.
Stefan Johansen protected the back three behind an attacking trio of George Thomas, Ilias Chair and Chris Willock.
Lyndon Dykes led the line for Rangers.
While QPR’s aims were to cement their position in 8th place while continuing to build momentum ahead of the 21/22 campaign, Norwich City arrived in W12 looking to add the cherry of being champions to the icing of winning promotion.
With an immediate return to the top flight safely secured, the Canaries knew victory over the R’s combined with Watford not beating Millwall would see the Championship title heading to Norfolk.
But it was Rangers who flew out of the blocks and could have had the lead within 30 seconds when a mistake in the Norwich backline allowed Kakay the opportunity to shoot but his effort fizzed inches wide from 20 yards.
Emiliano Buendia and Teemu Pukki went close for the visitors moments later, and the hectic start certainly suggested we could be in for an entertaining game at Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium.
On 16 minutes, Thomas was afforded space on the edge of the box and had a go, forcing Tim Krul to push the ball over the bar.
Five minutes later, Xavi Quintilla got down the left and picked out Kieran Dowell, but the visiting No.10 pulled his effort wide of the far post from 18 yards.
Norwich almost caught Rangers on the break on 25 minutes but this time Dieng was there to deny Dowell, diving to his right to comfortably gather.
But on 32 minutes a rare mistake from Dieng saw the Canaries take the lead when Quintilla’s low drive from 25 yards somehow squirmed underneath the R’s keeper and into the net.
Dieng didn’t let it affect him, however, and just three minutes later he dived full stretch to his left to push Dowell’s shot to safety as the visitors looked to take the game away from QPR during a sustained period of possession.
On 37 minutes, Dykes almost levelled with his seventh goal in eight games when Chair found him with a perfectly-weighted pass, but the Scotland international’s toe-poke was well saved by the outrushing Krul.
Warburton made a change at the break, bringing Sam Field on for Thomas.
Chair and Willock, who seem to have a telepathic understanding on the pitch, combined well in the 50th minute to create a chance for Chair, but his curling effort went beyond Krul’s far post.
Rangers had a great chance to get back into the game on 54 minutes from the penalty spot when Johansen ran the length of the pitch before feeding Willock on the right side of the box, and the R’s winger was felled by Norwich skipper Grant Hanley.
Dykes stepped up to take it but recorded his first failed attempt from the spot for QPR when his low effort was saved by the legs of Krul.
Just three minutes later, Rangers were made to pay for that miss when Quintilla’s deep cross from the left was brilliantly converted at the far post on the volley by Max Aarons.
Johansen saw a free-kick from 25 yards fly over the bar as QPR looked to get themselves going again following a difficult few minutes, while the Canaries were playing with a freedom which they have earned over the course of the season.
A lovely, flowing move released Pukki on 64 minutes but, one-on-one with Dieng, he flashed the ball a foot wide.
Warburton brought on Charlie Austin and Albert Adomah for Chair and Kakay respectively as he looked to find a way back into this game.
On 70 minutes, Rangers thought they had halved the deficit when Willock converted from close range after Barbet had flicked Johansen’s corner goalwards, but it was ruled out for offside.
But just a minute later they did pull one back, with two of the subs combining. Austin got on the end of Adomah’s centre, knocking the ball into the path of Dykes who gratefully slammed home to continue his impressive goal-scoring run.
Rangers were now in full flow and looking dangerous while Norwich, who perhaps thought the game was dead, were suddenly pulled back into a real battle.
With 15 minutes remaining, Dom Bal was brought on for De Wijs.
Adomah, who looked threatening every time he got the ball, produced a stunning delivery from the right on 77 minutes which Austin met at the near post but his deft header went just wide.
Austin almost picked out Dykes with a similar delivery moments later, but the ball just evaded the Rangers No.9 as the hosts finished the game strongly.
But the chance of a comeback ended when Norwich capitalised on a misplaced pass out of the QPR backline, and Cantwell found Kenny McLean who pulled the ball across the face of goal for Buendia to tap home from close range on 82 minutes.
It was cruel on QPR but Norwich displayed a clinical edge which has served them well throughout the campaign.