CHARLIE Austin came off the bench to seal a 1-0 victory over promotion rivals West Bromwich Albion on a memorable afternoon at Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium.
In a close encounter, both sides had chances to clinch victory but Austin’s 90th-minute strike against his former side was the difference as Mark Warburton’s side moved up to fourth in the Sky Bet Championship table.
As the R’s marked 140 years since the foundations of the club were first laid, with a unique commemorative strip, this clash will be remembered for a fine performance from Rangers’ current crop of stars who are creating history themselves.
Heading into this one R’s boss Warburton made four changes from our recent FA Cup victory over Rotherham United, which saw David Marshall making his QPR debut in between the posts, Sam Field returned in midfield, Chris Willock was back in the number 10 role and Lyndon Dykes regained his place in the starting XI.
Rangers headed into this one in fine form, with an away league victory over Birmingham City and a place booked in the fourth round of the FA Cup already under their belts ensuring for an impressive start to the new calendar year.
Opponents West Brom travelled to W12 in faltering form, having only picked up two victories from their last nine league games.
But it was Valerien Ismael’s side who started brightly, with former R’s winger Matty Phillips instantly forcing a Baggies corner kick – this ultimately came to nothing but certainly signalled an early sign of attacking intent from the visitors.
And with 10 minutes on the clock, it was the Baggies who continued to dominate the early chances - Matt Clarke heading straight at Marshall, before Adam Reach saw his dangerous-looking set-piece cleared.
The visitors continued to threaten, with Karlan Grant at the forefront of their attacks. However, in the 20th minute the former Charlton man turned provider, with a wicked cross unlucky not to be met by the outstretched Phillips who could only divert his effort wide.
Rangers’ first chance arrived in the 27th minute, Johansen the man to have it. But his speculative free-kick was comfortable for David Button and the moment quickly passed.
The game’s intensity had certainly slowed, with both sides wasteful in possession. Willock initially lost the ball in a dangerous-looking position before Taylor Gardner-Hickman overhit his searching cross.
Warburton’s side did begin to grow, with their first corner kick of the half arriving in 37th minute. Johansen looked to pick out Barbet at the far post only for referee Simon Hooper to deny the French centre-half in bizarre fashion.
The W12 faithful did have to wait until the closing stages of the first half for what was arguably the Super Hoops’ best chance of the opening period.
It fell to Norwegian Johansen, but the R’s captain could only fire straight at Button and the former Fulham man was able to palm the ball away signalling the end of a tough first half.
After the break Rangers started on the front foot, with Willock quickly becoming hugely influential.
Gray then had the ball in the back of the net in empathic style in the 49th minute, but referee Hooper was quick to blow for an earlier foul in the build-up.
The R’s continued to push forward and when Dykes latched onto Dickie’s low cross the Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium was rocking with belief that opening goal wasn’t too far away.
Moments later full-back Wallace whipped in a dangerous looking cross which somehow was unable to find a QPR man and was headed away at the final moment.
Johansen then chipped in a delight through ball to the on-rushing Dykes but the outstretched Scottish international couldn’t get enough on it to poke it over the Baggies keeper and it remained goalless in west London.
Warburton’s side continued to test the Baggies backline with Johansen testing the reflexes of Button once again.
And as we approached the hour mark, the visitors were quick to make a change with new arrival Daryl Dike replacing Phillips - and his arrival almost made an instant difference.
The former Barnsley loanee flicked the ball on to Grant with his first touch of the game, but Barbet came to Rangers’ rescue with a fine last-ditch sliding tackle.
The 64th minute saw the arrival of frontman Austin who came on to replace Gray, as Warburton continued to push for that illusive opening goal.
In a game which quickly became end-to-end, the chances for both sides kept coming. Jake Livermore fired over after a run from Dike before Dickie headed over for the R’s.
Debutant Marshall then had to use all of his experience to expertly tip away Grant’s deflected cross before it trickled agonisingly across the byline and out for a corner kick - ensuring it remained goalless in W12.
There was a lengthy stoppage in west London as defender Barbet - who hasn’t missed a minute’s football in over 100 appearances - received treatment following a clash with the advertising hoardings.
Fortunately, the 28-year-old was able to return to the field with a hefty bandage around his head, and both sides knew they had 10 minutes to find a winning goal.
The Baggies had a claim for a penalty waved away, with Grant going down after feeling the presence of Johansen.
But in the 90th minute, Rangers were ahead!
That man Austin - against his former side - was picked out by Willock at the far post, and his fine stooping header nestled perfectly into the bottom corner for his fourth strike of the campaign.
After the rapturous celebrations, seven additional minutes were signalled - courtesy predominantly of the lengthy stoppage to allow Barbet treatment - and the R’s knew that they would feel the full force of West Brom’s physical presence.
Dom Ball arrived for Willock to help with our defensive solidity and after an agonising number of set-pieces thrown our way, the referee’s whistle blew around W12 and the famous old ground erupted.
Rangers had clinched three consecutive Sky Bet Championship victories and lifted themselves above West Brom into fourth position - as the hunt for promotion continues to intensify.