With the play-offs approaching and just two regular games left for Queen’s Park Rangers, they must hope that this late turnaround win over Watford will spark some confidence and momentum.
Rangers certainly need to find belief after another limp home performance in which they were outplayed by the visitors for long spells. It took a Joey Barton free-kick with 14 minutes left and a Charlie Austin goal in the final moments to earn them the three points that secured their hold on fourth place.
The disappointment, though, at Loftus Road, is that fourth is as good as it will probably get for now. Burnley and Derby County both won yesterday; Austin, who left Turf Moor for west London in the summer, must wonder whether he made the right choice.
There is no doubt, though, of Austin’s vital importance to Rangers. Their slow slide from second to fourth coincided with his 10-week injury absence and they have already improved since the £4m striker’s return. He scored the thrilling last-minute winner here, finishing off a fast break by beating Manuel Almunia from the edge of the box.
The goal devastated Watford’s players, leaving them with almost no hope of making the play-offs. On the balance of play they were the better side – manager Beppe Sannino said “for the first 60 minutes there was only one team on the pitch” – but they did not take advantage.
Both teams played 3-5-2 systems but only Watford looked like they knew how to operate it properly. Rangers made eight changes from Saturday’s 1-0 defeat at Leicester but had almost too much energy and not enough thought. Troy Deeney missed the best chance of the first half but six minutes after the restart he nodded down for Mathias Ranegie to finish.
Watford, though, could not score a second and when Rangers started to improve Ravel Morrison, as ever, was the catalyst, winning a series of free-kicks on the edge of the box. He could not find his range but Barton did, clipping one over the wall and past Almunia. Watford threw too many forward for a winner, and Austin did the rest.
Queen’s Park Rangers (3-4-1-2) Green; Onuoha, Dunne, Hill; Simpson (Hoillet, 72), Barton, Carroll, Traore; Morrison; Doyle (Zamora, 72), Austin (Henry, 90). Substitutes not used Keane, Yun, Hughes, Murphy.
Watford (3-5-2) Almunia; Angella, Cassetti, Ekstrand; Riera, Abdi, Toszer, McGugan (Battocchio, 63), Pudil; Deeney, Ranegie. Substitutes not used Merkel, Doyley, Murray, Faraoni, Bond, Hoban
Referee J Linnington (Isle of Wight)