Queen’s Park Rangers 2 Wigan Athletic 1: Charlie Austin strikes twice to take Harry Redknapp's QPR to play-off showdown
Tuesday 13 May 2014
Queen’s Park Rangers kept their season alive last night as they overcame Wigan Athletic in extra-time to reach the Championship play-off final against Derby County at Wembley in 11 days' time.
It was an engrossing game and one of the great Loftus Road nights of recent years, ending in a raucous pitch invasion in the soaking rain. It pits Harry Redknapp against Steve McClaren, who coached at QPR at the start of the season. Derby are in better form but Rangers, as they showed again last night, have a very dangerous set of players.
It was Charlie Austin, Rangers’ reliable man, who scored both goals last night to win the game. The biggest impact, though, belong to substitute Bobby Zamora, who helped win the penalty for the equaliser before setting up the winner. Ravel Morrison, who came on four minutes after Zamora, helped pin Wigan back. Niko Kranjcar, who played through a hamstring injury, was instrumental in everything that Rangers did well.
Those were Rangers’ best players and ultimately this was a triumph of individuals. For most of the night, Wigan Athletic had been the far more cohesive team, tactically superior to Redknapp’s side. Uwe Rosler played an enterprising 3-5-2, with two wingers up front, and was 17 minutes away from a second trip to Wembley this season. Rosler said that his players “squeezed out every little drop” today but after a draining season, the final minutes of this tie were just beyond them.
Wigan had started as by far the better team and could probably have won the tie in the first half. The opening goal illustrated the difference between the two sides. Wigan strung together a long patient sequence of passes before one of their nominal strikers, James McClean, pulled wide to take a pass from Jean Beausejour. With enough time to cross well, McClean whipped the ball to the far post where James Perch darted inside Clint Hill and tapped it in.
Wigan continued to look the likelier to score. McClean, hunting an under-hit back-pass by Gary O’Neil went down too soon and was booked, while Rob Green had to dive to save from Shaun Maloney after a clever link with Perch.
It was a far more imaginative move than anything Rangers could produce in a frustrating first-half. They had more than enough possession but their attacks never developed far beyond balls into the box, corners, and the hope that Niko Kranjcar might do something special.
Kranjcar did force one good save from Scott Carson, and McClean had to hack a Charlie Austin header off the line, but the pressure was ultimately blunt and Rangers needed more. Wigan had three solid centre-backs and Rangers found it hard to pick them apart. Wigan threatened on the break, McClean just failing to capitalise on a Richard Dunne slip, to his later regret.
It took the introduction of Zamora and Morrison for Rangers, finally, to break through. Hoillet exchanged passes with Zamora too quickly for Caldwell, who stuck out a leg and brought Hoillet down. Austin did his job from the penalty spot. As the ball bounced out of the net Carson tried to kick it away in frustration but connected with Zamora’s ankle instead.
Zamora managed to play on and continued to cause Wigan problems, nearly lobbing Carson at the end of normal time before, six minutes into extra-time, setting up Charlie Austin’s winner. On the edge of the box, he received Morrison’s throw, span and flicked it into the box. Austin, still sharp, got in front of Leon Barnett and the finish was simple. Wigan, exhausted by their long season, could not continue it to one more game.
Queen’s Park Rangers (4-2-3-1): Green; Simpson, Onuoha, Dunne, Hill (Yun, 50); Barton, O’Neil (Morrison, 69); Doyle (Zamora, 65), Kranjcar, Hoilett; Austin. Substitutes not used: Hughes, Henry, Murphy, Benayoun.
Wigan Athletic (3-5-2): Carson; Boyce, Caldwell (Barnett, 74), Kiernan; Perch, Gomez, McArthur (Espinoza, 36), Maloney, Beausejour; McManaman (Waghorn, 71), McClean. Substitutes not used: Crainey, Al Habsi, Maynard, Collison.
Referee: M Clattenburg (Tyne & Wear).
Queen’s Park Rangers 2 (Austin 73 pen, 96)
Wigan Athletic 1 (Perch 9) AET; QPR win 2-1 on aggregate
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