TWO late goals condemned Rangers to defeat against promotion favourites West Bromwich Albion at The Hawthorns.
Things looked like they would end much differently for QPR for so much of this contest, leading for 74 minutes after Andre Gray netted for the Super Hoops just 45 seconds into this live Sky Sports encounter.
But Albion would turn up the heat late on to snatch victory.
First, Karlan Grant’s fierce attempt was too hot for Seny Dieng to handle, as West Brom levelled things up on 75 minutes.
And it was Grant who proved to be the match-winner with his and the home side’s second goal in the 88th minute, as Valerien Ismael’s team returned to the top of the Sky Bet Championship with victory.
Skipper Stefan Johansen, Moses Odubajo, Jordy de Wijs and Andre Gray all came into Rangers' starting XI for the trip to the Black Country, with the quartet all sitting out of Tuesday’s Carabao Cup win over Everton in W12.
Two-goal hero Charlie Austin – on his return to The Hawthorns – was on the bench, as were Albert Adomah and Andre Dozzell. Sam McCallum missed out through injury.
QPR lined up as: Dieng; Odubajo, Rob Dickie, de Wijs, Jimmy Dunne, Yoann Barbet; Dom Ball, Johansen; Ilias Chair, Chris Willock; Gray.
Following the drama of victory on penalties in midweek, a buoyant R’s went into this one looking to create another special night under the lights – and return to winning ways in the league in the process.
Well, they certainly made the best possible start – edging in front after just 45 seconds!
On his return to the side, it was Gray who netted his second QPR goal since an August switch from Watford. Odubajo’s defence-splitting pass put the striker in the clear and, when Sam Johnstone raced off his line, Gray confidently slid the ball under his legs to make it one-nil.
A dream start for Rangers – with this contest turning into a somewhat frantic affair on the back of the early goal.
West Brom looked to throw bodies forward as a result and, after just four minutes, so nearly levelled matters when Grady Diangana’s fourth-minute effort only just cleared the foot of the right-hand post.
It took a while for the next big opportunity to arrive after that.
Diangana and former R’s right-back Darnell Furlong fired straight at Dieng for West Brom, as did Ilias Chair for QPR down the other end.
But it was the hosts who should have made it one apiece come the 34th minute.
Matt Phillips got away from de Wijs down the right and, when his centre was met by Adam Reach on 10 yards, Dieng reacted with a stunning point-blank stop to preserve Rangers’ lead heading into half-time.
R’s boss Warburton will have been delighted to see his team lead come the break, and the way in which they defended in the first half, though would’ve hoped to see them keep the ball a little better amid an expected home onslaught to come.
Hosts West Brom looked to shake things up in attack with a double change shortly after the interval, as former R’s loanee Jordan Hugill and Callum Robinson were thrown on in place of Phillips and Diangana.
But Rangers continued to defend their goal well and, on the hour mark, went close to adding a second goal.
The visitors eventually worked the ball to Odubajo on 20 yards, whose stinging effort forced a flying stop from goalkeeper Johnstone.
QPR made their first change on 66 minutes. Lyndon Dykes replaced the departing Willock.
As the clocked ticked down, this game was now finely poised and on 73 minutes, Chair’s lung-busting run from deep ended with the Moroccan international firing into the arms of Johnstone.
However, West Brom would level matters only two minutes later.
Tidy approach play from the hosts ended with Robinson slipping in Grant on the left-hand side of the box, whose subsequent blast was spilled by Dieng before it trickled over the line.
Rangers had led for some 74 minutes and moments after being pegged back, Robinson himself flashed an effort just past the upright in front of a buoyant home crowd.
The R’s would also have to contest the final minutes without Johansen and de Wijs, who both picked up knocks and were replaced by Dozzell and Ossie Kakay.
Nine minutes from time, Albion's Jake Livermore threatened a home second when he dragged his shot just past the post from 18 yards.
West Brom subsequently upped the ante even further and, heading into the final stanza, Rangers were firmly up against it.
That pressure finally told on 88 minutes.
Rangers lost possession on the halfway line and when Robinson eventually slipped in Grant, the ex-Charlton striker arrowed his left-footed attempt into the bottom right-hand corner.
Having led for so long, this was tough to take for the R’s and, despite some six minutes being added on at the death, Warburton’s men couldn’t ultimately recover.