As the yellow ball of winter was seen for the first time, Manchester City continued to add to their autumn almanack of goals. It is 39 now in 11 games, though yesterday's three were only just enough to overcome a gallant Queens Park Rangers, doing their bit along with Swansea and Norwich City for the reputation of the Championship and the clubs it sent to a higher level last May. But for the crossbar keeping out Heidar Helguson's late header, City would have been held for the second time this season, just as they were a few miles down the road at Fulham.
They started slowly, went behind and were pegged back after taking a 2-1 lead, before Yaya Touré headed the goal that keeps them five points clear of their quieter neighbours at the top of the table. It is proving an exciting journey, not least because they look considerably less impressive going backward than forward. Both goals against them, like Helguson's late effort, came from high crosses that should have been dealt with better by a combination of the England defenders Micah Richards and Joleon Lescott, and Stefan Savic, who was making his first Premier League start in place of the suspended – and missed – Vincent Kompany.
There was still a dazzling array of attacking talent, however, with Sergio Aguero elusive behind Edin Dzeko, who came alive to equalise and become a constant threat, plus the incomparable David Silva. Rangers plugged away, always threatening from the set-pieces of Joey Barton, who sadly marred his performance with a bad tackle on Silva late in a compelling encounter.
City may have scored a goal every 23 minutes away from home this season, but at that precise moment of the game Rangers were closer to a goal than anything that had gone before. Barton took a corner on the right and Helguson rose above Richards to head just beyond the far post. It was a warning the defenders did not heed and five minutes later they were behind from a Barton free-kick on the same flank. Once again neither Richards nor Savic were first to it, Jay Bothroyd leaping between them for a fine header.
Before half-time he should have scored again. A casual pass from Dzeko set Rangers going and the striker met Jamie Mackie's cross nine yards out, but headed weakly wide. Just before that the England goalkeeper Joe Hart brought off a superb double-save, keeping out first Mackie's drive and then Helguson's follow-up.
Dzeko was to redeem himself with an equaliser two minutes before the interval. James Milner made it for him with a shrewd pass into the inside-left channel, although there was still much to do. The Bosnian striker did it with aplomb, coming inside, holding off a challenge and finishing with a perfect low shot just inside the near post.
The home crowd must have felt it was hard to fall behind when they did, only seven minutes into the second half, all the more so since Barton had just demanded a save at full stretch by Hart. They could not, however, deny the quality of the goal. Dzeko moved out to the left to create it with a low cross that Silva took down with the most delicate touch, simultaneously taking the ball away from Danny Gabbidon and into space for himself to drive past a helpless Kenny. The worry for a while was that City would run away with the game. Twice more in quick succession Dzeko drilled in shots.
With Alejandro Faurlin driving them forward, Rangers were able to gain parity again, albeit in controversial fashion. Bothroyd met Armand Traoré's cross with a header that would probably not have defeated Hart but for a touch by Helguson who, deep into the six-yard box, looked clearly offside. City protested in vain, poured forward and went back in front with Yaya Touré far enough advanced to head in from Aleksandar Kolarov.
In a contest played in good spirit, there were two disappointing disciplinary moments towards the end, featuring players that would not have been difficult to predict. Barton was booked for a wild tackle on Silva and Mario Balotelli had been on three minutes when he lifted the ball cleverly over Luke Young then fell preposterously to try and win a penalty.
City's assistant manager David Platt, standing in for Roberto Mancini, said: "We had a very tough game in Villarreal on Wednesday and could have done with another 24 hours to get over one or two knocks. So it's a good win." If there is such a thing as a good defeat, QPR's Neil Warnock felt this was one. "We've made three errors against the best team in the country and been punished," he said.
QPR (4-4-2): Kenny; Young, Gabbidon, Ferdinand, Traoré (Hill, 90); Mackie (Smith, 84), Faurlin, Barton, Wright-Phillips; Bothroyd (Puncheon, 76), Helguson.
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Hart; Richards, Savic, Lescott, Kolarov; Y Touré, Barry (Balotelli, 75); Milner, Aguero (Johnson, 68), Silva; Dzeko (K Touré, 88).
Referee: Martin Atkinson
Man of the match: Silva (Manchester City)