QPR’s slim playoff hopes suffered another setback as they went down 2-1 at Preston.
A goal either side of the interval was enough for the Lilywhites to seal back-to-back wins while inflicting upon Rangers their seventh loss in eight.
R's striker Andre Gray netted from the spot deep in injury time but it proved little-more than a consolation strike.
Despite making a bright start to the match and dominating for large spells of the first half, QPR went in 1-0 down at the break courtesy of an Emil Riis effort from close range, while some felt defender Jimmy Dunne may have got the final touch.
Any hopes the visitors had of turning the game on its head in the second half were reduced shortly after the restart when Cameron Archer slammed home from inside the box.
In the final seconds of the game, Gray scored from the spot after Sam Field was fouled at the far post following a Rangers corner.
QPR were forced into no fewer than five changes for this trip to Preston from the side that lost 1-0 at Sheffield United on Tuesday evening.
Lee Wallace, Rob Dickie, Yoann Barbet and Jeff Hendrick were all ruled out owing to injury while, incredibly, Keiren Westood became the FIFTH injured goalkeeper for QPR when he was withdrawn during the warm up.
It meant the R’s lined up with Murphy Mahoney making his professional debut between the posts behind a conventional back four, from left to right, of Sam McCallum, Jimmy Dunne, Dion Sanderson and Moses Odubajo.
The midfield setup in a diamond formation with Sam Field at the base behind Andre Dozzell and Stefan Johansen, while Luke Amos played in a more advanced position behind the attacking threat of Ilias Chair and Lyndon Dykes.
After a solid start by QPR, the first real chance of the game came in the 14th minute when Dozzell’s persistence got him in on goal, but his low effort from 12 yards was well saved by the outrushing Daniel Iversen.
The R’s continued to push forward and were causing problems for the Preston backline. Chair was next to go close when he got down the right in the 17th minute but his effort from a tight angle flew over the bar.
Chair had a great chance to break the deadlock just after the half-hour mark when a mistake in the Preston backline gave him a sight at goal but after being forced wide, the Moroccan’s low effort was deflected wide.
Mahoney’s goal was being well protected by those in front of the 21-year-old while the movement of QPR was a constant threat, with Dozzell next to go close when he was picked out by Amos but his shot curled just wide.
On 34 minutes, the hosts had their first clear-cut chance of the afternoon when Cameron Archer’s flick found Alan Browne, but his deft chip over the outcoming Mahoney was brilliantly blocked by the back-tracking Odubajo.
But on 43 minutes, it was the Lilywhites took the lead against the run of play when Andrew Hughes fired the ball across the face of goal and Emil Riis applied the touch to divert the ball into the corner, giving Mahoney no chance.
That was the last action for the goalscorer as he was replaced moments later with an injury, with Sean Maguire coming on.
As the half drew to a close, Dunne almost netted a leveller for Rangers when he found space at the far post from Chair’s delivery, but the centre-back’s volley was tipped to safety by Iversen.
The R’s went in 1-0 down at the break but must surely have felty aggrieved at this point, having looked so good for so much of the opening period.
But the visitors got off to the worst possible start in the second half when Archer blasted the ball beyond Murphy to make it 2-0 after cutting in from the right and evading two QPR challenges.
Recent results have obviously impacted on confidence in the Rangers camp and such a setback presented another test of character as they battled in front of more than 650 R’s fans who had made the trip to support them.
George Thomas was introduced at the expense of Amos just before the hour-mark as Warburton sought to add more creativity to the attack.
And moments later the R’s came so close to pulling one back but Dykes, Field and then Dykes again were thwarted in a frantic goalmouth scramble where it just wouldn’t drop kindly for the Hoops.
As QPR looked to get back into the game, they were always at risk of being caught on the break and they were grateful to Murphy for a fine double save to deny Archer and then Maguire to keep the score at 2-0.
Chair and Dykes were replaced by Gray and Austin respectively by Warburton for the closing 20 minutes of the game.
And they wasted little time getting into the action with Thomas warming the palms of Iversen with a fierce drive from 20 yards after Austin teed him up.
Thomas then played a superb ball for Gray to run onto but his low effort from 15 yards was smothered by Iversen.
At the other end, Mahoney denied Alan Browne with an excellent save after the Preston skipper was put clean through on 86 minutes.
Deep in injury time, Field was hauled down at the far post and the referee pointed to the spot after a period of consideration.
Substitute Gray stepped up and made no mistake but, ultimately, the home side were able to see the contest out and inflict a potentially terminal blow on QPR’s top-six chances.