QUEENS Park Rangers signed off in front of the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium faithful with a disappointing 3-1 defeat to play-off chasing Sheffield United.
Despite taking the lead through Charlie Austin, second-half efforts from Iliman Ndiaye, Jack Robinson and Conor Hourihane wrapped up the victory for Paul Heckingbottom’s side.
Austin’s fifth league strike of the campaign handed the R’s the lead at the break, but a dominant second half from the Blades ensured Mark Warburton and his side finished their 2021/22 home campaign in disappointing fashion.
Heading into the clash with the Blades, Warburton made four changes to the side which suffered defeat at Stoke last weekend, with Murphy Mahoney replacing Keiren Westwood in goal for his first professional start in W12. Albert Adomah also returned, with Stefan Johansen and Austin returning to the starting XI, too.
Shot-stopper Westwood and defender Yoann Barbet missed out through injury, while George Thomas and Lyndon Dykes took their place on the bench.
The R’s lined up with Mahoney between the posts, behind a backline of Sam McCallum, Sam Field, Jimmy Dunne, Dion Sanderson and Adomah.
Andre Dozzell and Johansen were in the centre of midfield, with Ilias Chair and Luke Amos deployed on the left and right respectively.
Austin operated in the lone striker role.
Paul Heckingbottom’s arrived in west London in sixth place - victory last time out over Cardiff City ensured they headed to the capital with confidence.
Within the opening exchanges, it was the visitors who indeed started brightly. Sander Berge broke through Rangers' defensive line, only for Mahoney to be on hand to mop up the danger.
Norwegian Berge continued to trouble the R's defence. His deflected effort found Enda Stevens who, like his team-mate, saw his shot blocked by a blue-and-white hooped shirt.
Warburton’s side had to wait until the 26th minute for their first attempt on goal – Chair the man to have it.
A direct run from the Moroccan eventually finished in the box, with his shot comfortable for Blades 'keeper Wes Foderingham.
And despite Sheffield United’s early pressure, in the 31st minute it was the R’s who took the lead.
Adomah found space on the right-hand side before picking out Austin, who rose above his marker and expertly nodded home his fifth league goal of the campaign - and his first since January.
After going behind, the visitors looked for an instant response, with Morgan Gibbs-White pouncing on a loose Sanderson ball. However, his goal-bound effort was calmly collected by home debutant Mahoney in the R’s goal.
Despite the visitors' continued pressure, as we approached the final few minutes of the half Rangers continued to lead. Some last-ditch defending from Field and Dunne subsequently ensured the Super Hoops clung onto their clean sheet at the break.
Rangers certainly ended the half with a flourish - Chair producing a moment of magic down the left-hand side before finding Austin, whose effort had to be palmed away by Foderingham. the rebound fell into the path of Amos, but before the Tottenham youngster could pull the trigger, the ball was nicked off his toes.
The visitors started the second half brightly, with Adomah having to be on hand to hack away a Gibbs-White effort on the goal line, while Sanderson had to be alert to cut out Berge’s dangerous cross seconds later.
Moments later, Mahoney produced a world class save to deny former R Jack Robinson, as the 20-year-old continued to impress in the Rangers goal.
Sheffield United continued to pile on the pressure, with Gibbs-White’s looping header cannoning back off the post before the danger was averted.
But from the resulting corner-kick, Ndiaye was able to bundle the ball home and with 54 minutes played, it was all-square in W12 once again.
United’s set-pieces continued to trouble the R’s, with the young Rangers 'keeper Mahoney having to be alert to deny Ndiaye again from close range.
The 61st minute saw the departure of forward Austin, who was replaced by Dykes as Rangers looked for an increased attacking threat.
Boss Warburton then made two more changes in the 72nd minute, with Osman Kakay and George Thomas replacing Luke Amos and Andre Dozzell.
But just a minute later, the visitors who took the lead for the first time.
In similar style to the first goal, a well-worked set-piece - started by Oliver Norwood - found Chris Basham at the far post, who picked out Robinson for the defender to power the ball home with a fine header.
After going behind, Rangers looked for an equaliser and were so unfortunate not to find it.
McCallum’s cross found Kakay and, when his scuffed effort dropped into the path of Dunne, the Irish defender’s header cannoned back off the crossbar and the R’s continued to trail.
This moment saw the Super Hoops grow in confidence, and Rangers had their most prolonged period of possession in the final few minutes of the 90.
An additional eight minutes were signalled by referee Peter Bankes, which was met by a roar of encouragement in west London.
But, it was the visitors who wrapped up the victory, with substitute Conor Hourihane smashing home a thunderous strike in the final few seconds.
The R’s pushed for what would only be a consolation, but it wasn’t to be and Warburton’s side saw their home campaign end in defeat.