Henry Clark / @HenryWAClark
Jackson Irvine netted a late winner to hand Hull City an unlikely 2-1 victory over QPR at Loftus Road.
The Australia international provided the drama in what was otherwise a dour affair, latching onto a Jarrod Bowen free-kick to slide past ‘keeper Joe Lumley.￼
QPR boss Mark Warburton made four changes in a bid to halt the hosts’ run of three games without a win over the Christmas period and it was one of the recalled players that had an early impact.
Rangers started on top and Nahki Wells capitalised on some slow play by Tigers defender Jordy De Wijs to deliver an inviting ball that the Dutchman just managed to recover and clear.
Ilias Chair, also recalled to the starting lineup for the hosts, was QPR’s main threat during the first period as he continued to evade the attention of City midfielder Leonardo Da Silva Lopes.
It was Chair who opened the scoring and put QPR into a deserved lead with 20 minutes played. The Tigers defence switched off for a short corner by the hosts and Chair found space on the edge of the box to drill a crisp, low strike past the despairing George Long.
The tricky Eze, who is being rumoured with a move to the Premier League in January, found Wells who crossed for Luke Amos. His goal-bound effort was well-blocked by Stephen Kingsley before the visitors scrambled the ball clear.
Grant McCann’s men were struggling to show any sort of the reaction he would have hoped for following a disappointing 2-0 defeat at home to Nottingham Forest on Boxing Day as the hosts were sharper all over the pitch.
Bowen, playing in his unfavoured number nine position, dropped deeper into midfield to try and spark the Tigers into life and found ex-QPR winger Josh Bowler on the right.
He beat Ryan Manning to the by-line before delivering a tame ball across the 6-yard box that was inexplicably fumbled by Lumley under no pressure. George Honeyman was on-hand to pounce and prod the ball over the line for his first goal since joining from Sunderland in the summer.
Despite scoring against the run of play Bowler then forced Lumley into a full-stretch save with a curling effort after cutting in onto his favoured left foot.
With City already struggling with a growing injury list they suffered a further blow as the recently returned Kingsley leaving the pitch in tears with a hamstring injury on his first start since September.
On 36 minutes Rangers had their best opportunity to retake the lead as clever play by Wells drew centre back Reece Burke into midfield. Luke Amos exploited this space with a defence-splitting pass into Chair that left him with just Long to beat.
Chair couldn’t double his or the hosts’ tally, though, as Long produced a wonderful finger-tip save to deny the Moroccan midfielder.
Half-time: QPR 1-1 Hull City
The second-half once again saw Rangers dominate possession and territory without creating too many clear cut chances. Ryan Manning’s cross-come-shot forced a back-peddling Long to tip over his bar on the hour mark before he then jinxed past Matthew Pennington and forced Long to beat away his cross.
With 20 minutes left to play and the game still in the balance, McCann opted to introduce striker Tom Eaves at the expense of winger Kamil Grosicki and the target man proved a nuisance for Grant Hall and Toni Leistner in the Rangers back-line.
The ex-Gillingham forward nearly had an immediate impact too, heading just wide from a Pennington cross from the right.
Rangers responded with their best chance of the half as Eze found Wells on the left before the former Huddersfield striker produced a dangerous ball into the box which just evaded the stretch of substitute Jordan Hugill who would have been left with the simplest of tap-ins.
As the game threatened to peter out Hull City’s star man Bowen who is being linked with a move to the top flight of his own produced a moment of quality to justify his rumoured £20 million price tag.
With 90 seconds of normal time to play, his curling free-kick from 35 yards found the unmarked Irvine who made no mistake from five yards out to spark wild celebrations from the visitors’ bench and move the Tigers within three points of the playoffs.
Full-time: QPR 1-2 Hull City
Warburton will be desperately disappointed that his side didn’t capitalise on their dominance throughout the 90 minutes to halt their winless run. But once again the Tigers showed heart away from home when they were perhaps lacking in quality, a trait which will stand them in good stead if they are to mount a playoff push in 2020.