Mark Hughes thanks lucky stars after remarkable victory
Queen's Park Rangers 1 Stoke City 0
Monday 07 May 2012
The first roar was the loudest. When Djibril Cissé turned Anton Ferdinand's last-minute flick in at the far post, winning the game, the crowd erupted. The second wave of noise, a minute later, marking James Morrison's equaliser at the Reebok Stadium, was nearly as powerful. Then the third, on the final whistle, propelled thousands of joyous Rangers fans on to the pitch.
Invasions like this in the Premier League are rare. But this was one of the most remarkable 10-minute turnarounds of the season. Rangers, somehow, finished the day two points clear of Bolton Wanderers. Mark Hughes' side's future is in their own hands now. More importantly, though, they might not need to win, or even draw, at Manchester City next Sunday to survive.
This is a rather good position for QPR to be in, but especially so given how the afternoon developed. For 89 minutes they were very poor, devoid of any plan of how to score a goal. And as they aimlessly threw themselves up against Stoke City's brick wall, Bolton scored one and then another at home against West Bromwich Albion.
Going into the final minutes here, it looked as if Rangers would end the day two points behind Bolton. That would have demanded that they win at the Etihad Stadium as a minimum requirement. Given that City are unbeaten at home in the league this year, and are one win away from the title, while Rangers have the league's worst away record, the chance would have been a rather remote one.
"Things seemed to have happened and stars have aligned, and things have fallen our side of the line and we're thankful for that," a relieved Hughes admitted afterwards. "The fact that with one game left we still have our fate in our hands is something we're grateful for."
The nervousness which coloured the whole afternoon at Loftus Road could have been much worse. After just four minutes Stoke City made and missed their only good chance of the game. Peter Crouch, their willing lonely target, flicked the ball on to Cameron Jerome, who stabbed the ball over from six yards out.
Even without going behind early, the fear was afflicting enough. The Rangers fans reacted to every one of Andre Marriner's decisions, no matter how trivial, with desperate anxiety. The players never looked comfortable on the ball, or confident in one another.
"It wasn't a great game," Hughes said, with some understatement. "We have played much better, but the momentum of recent weeks was difficult to replicate. We needed momentum to get the ball down and play and create that ourselves. Towards the end we got a little bit anxious, knocking longer balls trying to make something happen."
There will not be many worse half-hours of football than the first one here. For too much of this season Rangers have been an assortment of individuals, with none of the common bonds of trust and understanding which make a team. Even in the 37th league game of the season, this was evident. Rangers' only real route to goal was through Adel Taarabt, who won a free-kick for himself, and had it palmed round the post by Thomas Sorensen.
Before the interval Joey Barton headed straight at Sorensen, but that was that in a poor first half. The fans were desperate to see Djibril Cissé at half-time, but had to wait five more minutes before he replaced Akos Buzsaky.
Hughes moved to a 4-2-4 but for all the attacking intent there was none of the craft needed to unpick a massed defence. Taye Taiwo hammered a free-kick into the wall, Taarabt had some shots deflected behind and Cissé, just starting to threaten, had a header saved by Sorensen.
Shaun Wright-Phillips and Jay Bothroyd were the next ones thrown on. West Bromwich had pulled a goal back. Wright-Phillips had a shot go behind for a corner. Taarabt took it, Ferdinand flicked it and Cissé finished, prompting that first wave of noise.
"They still showed belief, they still showed qualities," Hughes said. "They kept believing, that belief has to be there, and each and every one of them demonstrated that."
QPR: KENNY 6/10; ONUOHA 6; HILL 5; FERDINAND 7; TAIWO 7; MACKIE 6; BARTON 5; DERRY 6; BUZSAKY 5; TAARABT 7; ZAMORA 6
Stoke: SORENSEN 7; HUTH 6; UPSON 6; SHAWCROSS 6; WILSON 5; FULLER 5; DELAP 5; WALTERS 5; WHELAN 5; JEROME 5; CROUCH 6
Scorer. QPR: Cissé 89.
Substitutes: Queen's Park Rangers Cissé 7 (Buzsaky, 50), Wright-Phillips (Derry, 81), Bothroyd (Zamora, 81). Stoke City Shotton 6 (Wilson, h-t), Whitehead (Fuller, 78), Jones (Jerome, 78).
Man of the match Cissé. Match rating 6/10.
Possession: QPR 53% Stoke 47%.
Attempts on target: QPR 12 Stoke 1.
Referee A Marriner (West Midlands). Attendance 17,319.
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