Adel Taarabt scored and was sent off as Queens Park Rangers beat another Champions' League contender in a season that could yet end in the unlikeliest of escapes from relegation. But Tottenham's hopes of reaching the senior European competition were hit as they dropped out of the top four.
Spurs joined Arsenal, Chelsea and Liverpool on the list of the big guns that have fallen hard at Loftus Road. QPR's fourth successive home win showed that they have the knack of raising their game against teams that their League position suggests they have no right to beat, but they won this one the hard way.
Taarabt's second yellow card, for kicking the ball away 12 minutes from time – the eighth time a red card has been shown to a QPR player this season – put victory in jeopardy. However, late heroics from Paddy Kenny, the Rangers goalkeeper, and his defenders kept Tottenham out in a frantic finish and lifted Mark Hughes' men above Wigan into 16th place. "We won't know [the importance of the result] until the end, but it was a fantastic performance," Hughes said. "We were really disciplined and didn't allow them any clear-cut chances. You ride your luck but it would have been a travesty if we hadn't won."
Tottenham have lost form at the worst possible time for their own ambitions and the chances of Harry Redknapp, their manager, of taking charge of England team. Overtakenby Newcastle earlier in the day, they have won only once in nine League games, have not taken three points away from home since 27 December and have only scored in one of their past six away games.
But Redknapp still believes that his side will finish in the top four. "There are four games to go and I'm confident of winning them, and we might have to," he said. "But Chelsea play Newcastle and I don't think they'll both win that one. I'm not worried about the way we're playing. We had all the game today. It was one-way traffic. But they got bodies behind the ball and we couldn't get on the end of one. We just couldn't get a goal."
Deprived of Emmanuel Adebayor and Louis Saha by injury, they were unable to make the most of their dominance of a congested midfield. In Scott Parker and Luka Modric they had the two players who looked most likely to find a way through the crowds, and when they combined to win a corner that found the head of Gareth Bale, Kenny made the first of a series of good saves.
Instead of being a goal down, QPR were one up five minutes later when Mark Clattenburg awarded a free kick for a challenge 25 yards out by Sandro on Taarabt. The former Tottenham midfield player got up to swerve the ball over the wall and past the right hand of Brad Friedel, who seemed to be wrong-footed.
Back came Spurs and after 29 minutes an equaliser looked likely as Kenny parried Rafael van der Vaart's angled shot into the path of Jermain Defoe. As the ball bounced up in front of him, he nodded the ball over the stranded goalkeeper, but it dropped on to the crossbar.
The more the game went on, the more Modric, Parker and Van der Vaart were confronted by a wall of blue-and-white-hooped defenders. Every time they tricked their way past one or two, there was always another opponent waiting, and Kenny as a formidable last line.
When Taarabt departed, after Clattenburg was reminded by an assistant that he had already been shown a yellow card, the task became harder as the Moroccan had been tirelessly covering the runs of Kyle Walker, but Tottenham still could not force an equaliser. Hughes said: "Losing Adel at the end made it difficult but it was a great goal, and as a performance from him I thought it was really disciplined."
QPR (4-2-3-1): Kenny; Onuoha, Ferdinand, Hill, Taiwo; Derry, Diakite (Buzsaky, 70); Mackie, Barton, Taarabt; Zamora.
Tottenham (4-1-4-1): Friedel; Walker, Young, Gallas, Assou-Ekotto (Rose, 66); Parker (Dos Santos, 84); Van der Vaart, Sandro (Lennon h-t), Modric, Bale; Defoe.
Referee Mark Clattenburg.
Man of the match Kenny (QPR).
Match rating 7/10.