QPR vs Stoke match report: Nico Kranjcar’s clever late strike spoils Mark Hughes’ return

Queens Park Rangers 2 Stoke City 2: Kranjcar secured a point with a lovely free-kick just minutes from full-time

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The Independent Online

Two low-scoring teams, with only three goals between them in eight previous matches, produced an  unexpected flurry and a dramatic finish, albeit with the help of some poor defending. Stoke City, hard work to watch away from home in the Tony Pulis era, even for their own supporters, finished disappointed not to have further improved what is becoming an  impressive record on the road and now extends to five matches unbeaten.

Their manager, resigned to a poor reception on his return to Shepherds Bush after a disastrous second season in charge of Queens Park Rangers, received what might be called a standing  ovation – “stand up if you hate Mark Hughes” – but was more concerned about losing two points in the last few minutes after his team were pushed back when they could have been further ahead.

“Today was a missed opportunity,” he said. “In terms of chances I thought we were the better team on the day. We should have had enough about us to see the game out and in the last ten minutes QPR looked like a team that were beaten but we encouraged them.”

The encouragement came with a succession of free-kicks, bringing yellow cards for Mame Biram Diouf, Ryan Shawcross and Steve Sidwell, the last of which offered Niko Krancjcar the opportunity to extract revenge for some brutal treatment. From 25 yards out the elegant Croatian, recruited on a season’s loan from Dynamo Kiev, drove the ball over the wall and high into the net to earn Rangers an important point.

 

Hughes - sacked following a testing 10-month spell in November 2012, after which the west London club slipped to relegation amid financial turmoil - was expecting plenty of abuse from the home supporters, and it was only a few minutes before chants against the former QPR boss rang around Loftus Road.

The Welshman has, though, steadily rebuilt his reputation at Stoke, whom he guided to an impressive ninth-placed finish last season, and Hughes was pumping the air as Stoke went ahead.

The ball was played out to Victor Moses on the left, and his lofted cross was headed down by Crouch, who held off former England team-mate Rio Ferdinand, and Diouf nodded it past Robert Green.

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Mamae Biram Diouf heads Stoke into the lead

Kranjcar is one of those players Harry Redknapp likes to sign at regular intervals for his various clubs. Peter Crouch is another Redknapp chases at every opportunity and the lanky striker, who first appeared for QPR as long ago as 2000, may be on his radar again for January if he continues to perform like this. He ran Victor Moses close as Stoke’s best player and the pair were heavily involved in both their team’s goals.

In the 11th minute, Moses demonstrated his mastery over the struggling right-back Mauricio Isla and crossed to the far post, where Crouch leant on Rio Ferdinand to head across goal for Diouf to nod in. Crouch had a more reluctant hand – or foot – in the equaliser just before half-time, diverting Steven Caulker’s header from a corner into his own net just as Charlie Adam was about to clear it.

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Steven Caulker replies to draw QPR level

Failing to “manage the game” in the modern jargon at that point, Stoke took apparent control of it again early in the second half when Moses, going past Isla once more, cut back a low cross for Crouch to strike beautifully with Ferdinand stranded.

With Sandro injured on Friday, Joey Barton and Jordon Mutch both substituted because of hamstring trouble, and Charlie Austin and Eduardo Vargas too easily contained, Rangers looked disjointed and reliant on Kranjcar’s fierce shooting.

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Stoke celebrate Diouf's opener

His free-kick with only two minutes to play brought what Redknapp called “a good point, make no mistake”. After heavy defeats in two difficult away games at Tottenham and Manchester United, they will take greater heart into forthcoming visits to Southampton and West Ham before Liverpool visit in a month’s time.

Line-ups:

QPR (4-4-2): Green; Isla, Caulker, Ferdinand, Traore; Mutch (Henry, 50), Barton (Barton, 33), Fer, Kranjcar; Vargas (Zamora, 70), Austin.

Stoke City (4-2-3-1): Begovic; Bardsley, Shawcross, Wilson, Pieters; Nzonzi, Whelan; Diouf, Adam (Sidwell, 70), Moses (Arnautovic, 78); Crouch.

Referee: Martin Atkinson.

Man of match: Moses (Stoke)

Match rating: 6/10

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