QUEENS Park Rangers’ return to the field for the first time in 22 days ended in disappointment, with Dominic Solanke’s late first-half effort condemning the R’s to an agonising 1-0 defeat.
The R’s huffed and puffed but ultimately table-toppers Bournemouth returned to the South Coast with all three points, with Mark Warburton’s side eventually ending up with 10 men following Andre Dozzell's late dismissal for a second yellow card.
Rangers boss Warburton made two changes from our last outing all the way back on December 5th. This saw Lee Wallace and Lyndon Dykes returning to the starting line-up.
The R’s began with Seny Dieng between the posts, behind a back three of Rob Dickie, Jimmy Dunne and Yoann Barbet.
Osman Kakay and Wallace occupied the right and left wing-back positions respectively, while captain Stefan Johansen was partnered in central midfield by Sam Field.
Ilias Chair and Chris Willock sat behind frontman Dykes who returned to the starting XI for the first time since our away draw with Blackpool in early November.
Opponents AFC Bournemouth headed to west London off the back of their recent away defeat to Middlesbrough, which extended their winless run to six games, but stuttering form from the league leaders Fulham too meant that a victory this evening would see the Cherries leapfrog the Whites into top spot.
In what was an electric atmosphere under the lights in W12, both sides started positively. Rangers’ counter-attacking move in the fifth minute eventually came to nothing, but certainly signalled some early intent from the Super Hoops.
Kakay began to trouble down the right-hand side, and Rangers and the game’s first attempt on goal eventually came in the 19th minute, with Chair firing straight at Mark Travers in the Cherries goal.
But, only moments later it was the visitors who produced the moment of the game so far. A fine passing move eventually found Junior Stanislas on the edge of the Rangers box, but the former West Ham United youngster's shot was calmly collected by Dieng.
On the half-hour mark, Solanke passed on an even-better opportunity.
A run and cross from Philip Billing eventually found the ex-Chelsea man at the far post, but from just a couple of yards out he could only head over.
However, with the half seemingly petering out, Bournemouth took the lead.
A free-kick on the left-hand side, which was awarded in somewhat dubious circumstances, was eventually swung in by Stanislas and nodded home by Solanke.
After going behind, Rangers tried to find an instant response, but as the half-time whistle blew it was greeted from jeers by the R’s faithful aimed at the referee - with the visitors leading at the break.
Warburton was forced into a change at half-time, with Dozzell replacing Chair. The R’s number 10 was seemingly unable to shake off the knock he picked up in the first half, and the switch also saw Johansen moving into a more attacking role.
The R’s began the second half well, with Warburton’s side maintaining possession of the ball. Bournemouth appeared comfortable to sit back and aim to catch the hosts on the counter attack. For the R’s, it was about turning that possession into clear cut goalscoring opportunities.
In the 63rd minute, substitute Jaidon Anthony had the perfect opportunity to double the visitors' lead.
A wicked ball fizzed across the Rangers box eventually found the young attacker at the far post, but he somehow turned his effort over the bar.
After some growing pressure from away side, the 70th minute saw the arrival of Albert Adomah and Andre Gray, who replaced Kakay and Wallace respectively.
This instantly lifted the crowd and when Johansen’s corner was swung in in the 72nd minute, a chorus of ‘come on you R’s’ rung round W12 - highlighting the belief which had seeped into the home faithful.
But, as Rangers pushed for an equaliser this consequently created gaps at the back which Solanke was first to exploit - however Dozzell’s superb and timely block ultimately denied the visiting striker.
With the clock ticking down, QPR's frustrations began to grow, with Johansen the culprit of multiple fouls.
But a weary-looking Rangers - who of course hadn’t played since early December - pushed for an equaliser and were unlucky not to find it.
Captain Johansen initially had a claim for a penalty waved away before Field saw his close-range header blocked at the final moment. A scramble in the box quickly followed, only for the assistant official’s flag to be raised.
Five minutes were added at the death, and Warburton’s side continued to push but were ultimately missing that final ball.
However, a major talking point did arrive in the 95th minute when a scuffle broke out from Solanke and Barbet’s initial tussle for the ball. This period saw the French centre-half receive a yellow card, while sub Dozzell was sent off for a second yellow. He will miss Thursday’s fixture at Bristol City.
The defeat leaves the R’s in the seventh place, with attentions now quickly switching to the trip to Ashton Gate.