After the high-profile home matches against Chelsea and Manchester City, Queen's Park Rangers returned to the routine yesterday with a frustrating 1-1 draw with West Bromwich Albion.
This was Rangers' first game at Loftus Road since their rousing 3-2 defeat to Manchester City and it was nearly just their second home win of the season until, with 10 minutes left, Shane Long equalised Heidar Helguson's first-half header.
It is these games which will decide whether Rangers stay up, but they did not show the required ruthlessness to score a second goal, before they were painfully caught on the break. "It's almost like we lost the game, it's such a disappointment" their manager Neil Warnock admitted afterwards. "I thought we were so far ahead. We had so many chances, and they weren't half-chances, they were clear chances."
Jay Bothroyd returned for QPR to add stature to a forward line, while captain Joey Barton returned from suspension to replace Shaun Derry in midfield.
Barton demonstrated why he is key to Rangers' survival hopes after 20 minutes. Jamie Mackie, who embodies Rangers' energetic and muscular approach, bustled into the box, but charged straight into Jonas Olsson. The ball broke to Barton who looked up and clipped the ball delightfully to the back post, where Helguson headed home.
West Bromwich just did not attack in the same numbers. They had their moments, but only thanks to smart pieces of individual play: a Graeme Dorrans reverse pass to Jerome Thomas, or a Thomas back-heel to the advancing James Morrison, both of which resulted in tame shots at Radek Cerny.
Buoyed by the lead, Rangers surged forward. Alejandro Faurlin, even more imaginative than Barton, found Shaun Wright-Phillips who shot past Ben Foster but was ruled offside. "We've missed out again on a major decision," Warnock said afterwards. "He was well onside. It does disappoint me. At 2-0 I don't think there's any way back for them."
The second half began brisker than the first: the desire for a second goal was obvious. Barton, leading from the front, charged down Olsson's clearance and exchanged passes with Helguson. Through on goal, Barton could not quite aim his shot the useful side of the post.
The price of failing to score a second was soon clear to Rangers. Morrison, the visitors' most accomplished player, threaded a delightful pass down the inside-left channel to substitute Peter Odemwingie, whose cross was deflected by Luke Young. The diversion took the ball away from Cerny, away from Danny Gabbidon and to Long, who tapped the ball in.
QPR (4-2-3-1): Cerny; Young, Ferdinand, Gabbidon, Traore; Barton, Faurlin; Mackie, Bothroyd (Buzsaky, 74), Wright-Phillips; Helguson.
West Bromwich (4-4-1-1): Foster; Reid, McAuley, Olsson, Shorey; Brunt, Mulumbu (Scharner, 83), Morrison, Thomas (Odemwingie, 65); Dorrans (Tchoyi, 78); Long.
Referee Martin Atkinson.
Man of the match Barton (QPR).
Match rating 4/10.