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RANGERS’ Under-21s lost out in the Professional Development League Two national play-off final following defeat to Crewe Alexandra.

QPR, who had recorded four straight wins prior to the showdown at Loftus Road, were edged out when Max Clayton scored less than a minute after half-time.

There was little to choose between the teams in the first half, though Crewe just about deserved their victory on the balance of play after the break.

Nevertheless, Steve Gallen’s side can take pride from a season that ultimately saw them reach the final.

The opening exchanges were fast-paced though tight all the same, as both teams battled for supremacy.

Indeed, chances were few and far between early on, with the first opportunity of note not arriving until the 18th minute.

Josh Laurent’s ball put David Fitzpatrick in the clear on the edge of the box, but he was unable to pull the trigger in time as the Crewe defence recovered.

Two minutes later, Michael Petrasso danced past three challenges before Laurent lashed over. 

Visitors Crewe fielded a number of players who have played for their first team. The Alex had already played some intricate stuff, though Gallen’s young charges were more than holding their own. In the 25th minute, Aaron Mitchell blasted over a Mo Shariff corner.

Chances were limited for the remainder of the first half. Fitzpatrick saw an effort deflected wide for Rangers around five minutes before the interval – but that was as good as it got.

Crewe opened the scoring just 52 seconds into the second period.

Clayton gave the away side the advantage, turning on an Ajay Leitch-Smith cross before firing past Joe Lumley.

Rangers had to hang on somewhat following the goal. Coll Donaldson produced a superb last-ditch challenge after Leitch-Smith found space in the penalty area.

Crewe should have extended their lead come the 61st minute.

A long ball over the top of the Hoops defence freed Leitch-Smith, but he was unable to find a way past Lumley, who produced an excellent block.

The hosts went their closest yet in the 65th minute. Petrasso cut in from the left before his effort arrowed inches past the upright.

But Lumley was called into action again in the 69th minute. Leitch-Smith was involved once more, feeding Billy Waters whose shot was parried wide.

At the other end, Shariff’s corner found Cole Kpekawa unmarked, but he could only shoot tamely at veteran Steve Phillips.

Lumley had already enjoyed a busy closing half and he soon came to Rangers’ rescue once again to deny Brad Inman. James Jones then shot straight at the goalkeeper from the resultant corner kick.

QPR captain Jordan Gibbons went close when he forced Phillips into a smart save in the 80th minute.

For Crewe, Waters almost added gloss to the scoreline but saw his drive palmed against the post by Lumley.

Four minutes of stoppage time went up on the board – though Rangers were unable to find a way back into the contest.

QPR: Lumley, Comley, Kpekawa, Donaldson, Magri, Gibbons, Laurent, Mitchell (Ehmer 81), Shariff (Furlong 74), Petrasso, Fitzpatrick (Grego-Cox 62).

Subs not used: Lennox, Carreiro.

Goals: Crewe – Clayton (46)