CHARLIE Austin’s well-taken brace was the difference as Queens Park Rangers edged out a spirited Huddersfield Town at Loftus Road.
The Terriers bossed the first half in which Nakhi Wells, Danny Ward and Jonathan Hogg spurned glorious openings while Rangers hit the bar and the post in a rare venture forward.
Rangers picked up the tempo and had the lead early in the second half when Austin latched onto a deft flick on to power beyond Alex Smithies.
Rangers took their foot off the pedal and were duly punished as Adam Hammill clipped a cross back for Nakhi Wells to level with a fine poacher’s effort.
Austin and Rangers had the last laugh however. A glut of failed corners finally culminated in Benoit Assou-Ekotto sending a set-piece in for the Rs top scorer to nod home.
Harry Redknapp names two changes from the side that defeated Ipswich Town last time out. Yossi Benayoun and Joey Barton dropped out with Karl Henry and Andy Johnson coming into the line-up.
Rob Green was behind a back four of Danny Simpson, Richard Dunne, Clint Hill and Benoit Assou-Ekotto. The midfield comprised of players all playing centrally – Tom Carroll, Karl Henry, Gary O’Neil and Niko Kranjcar – Johnson partnered Charlie Austin in attack.
Huddersfield started with Alex Smithies behind a defence of Tom Smith, Anthony Gerrard and Murray Wallace, with a midfield quintet of Adam Hammill, Jonathan Hogg, Oliver Norwood, Adam Clayton and Paul Dixon with Danny Ward partnering Nakhi Wells.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v HUDDERSFIELD TOWN
Rangers came into the fixture in the knowledge that Leicester City had secured a fine late win at Leeds United and pushed themselves clear at the Championship summit. A bitter pill to swallow but nevertheless an important game against a resurgent Huddersfield.
Indeed from the off, the Terriers looked an entirely different prospect to the side that faced Rangers at the Galpharm Stadium as they pressed and maintained an early advantage at Loftus Road.
Danny Ward had two glorious chances in the early stages, first sending a dipping drive just over Rob Green’s upright, before pealing away on the left hand side of the area and dragging a guilt-edge chance wide of the right-hand post.
Andy Johnson suffered when being caught in the side of the face with a stinging Ward set-piece, but it served to rather stir the forward who had been anonymous in the opening stanza. His flick on the end of Niko Kranjcar’s centre was hacked off the line by Anthony Gerrard.
It was a rare flicker of light in an otherwise drab display from the hosts and Huddersfield continued to flourish. First Green gas forced into a fine save when Hammill sent a stinging set-piece towards target.
Rangers responded with an errant Gary O’Neil strike before Charlie Austin nodded wide from an Assou-Ekotto cross. Town spurned another glorious opportunity to open the scoring when Wells played in Jonathan Hogg, who could only place straight at the grateful Green.
Johnson burst into life when he engineered a useful shot from a Kranjcar miss-hit, but unfortunately it fell kindly for Smithies to gather. It was proving tough going for the hosts, with Town having the better running in this fixture.
Rangers then embarked on a frenetic phase of play – a rare well-guided corner from Kranjcar was met by Austin with his header coming back off the post. Hill steered an effort back on goal with Smithies pulling off a world-class save to deny the defender.
The ball then dropped to Karl Henry who looped a header back towards goal which clipped the bar and was hacked away to safety. It was a rare moment of excitement for a home crowd that had to endure wave after wave of away pressure.
That brought to an end a first half which Huddersfield dominated but could not find the killer instinct in front of goal. Possibly the only positive that Rangers could take into the break after a disappointing opening half.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-0 HUDDERSFIELD TOWN
With Gary O’Neil getting his knee heavily strapped before the break, Harry Redknapp elected to withdraw him with Matt Phillips coming on in his stead. He took up residence on the right, with Assou-Ekotto having to hold up the left flank on his own.
Andy Johnson’s smart touch and turn saw his effort culminate in a smart block before the visitors made an early change with Danny Ward replaced by James Vaughan – clearly a popular figure among the travelling support owing to several goals in recent campaigns.
Rangers had the advantage ten minutes into the half from relatively nothing. A speculative long ball was flicked on by Kranjcar and then Johnson into the path of CHARLIE AUSTIN. The forward shrugged off the attention of two defender before lashing a ball into the top right hand corner.
It really was a bolt out of the blue for QPR who had been found wanting thus far in the clash. The visitors could consider themselves a little hard done by, but nevertheless Rangers had taken one of their only chances to date.
While Rangers saw their tempo visibly dip from the levels that helped them take the lead, Huddersfield continued to press and nearly had their reward when Gerrard looped a header goal-bound that Green was able to tip over after scrambling across his goal.
Sean Scannell entered the fray at the expense of Oliver Norwood and the visitors got just reward for their persistence on 67 minutes. Hammill worked the ball well down the left-flank to get to the by-line and his cross found NAKHI WELLS, who nodded home with aplomb.
The guided header was a real poachers finish from a forward that had been ably marshalled up until that point. His second in two games was well received by the travelling 1800, who along with their side, celebrated wildly.
The disappointment was more than evident around the ground, with the home support having seen their side already haul themselves out of a pit once – they’d have to dig deep again to not only stem the tide of Huddersfield attacks, but attempt to carve out some threat of their own.
To their credit, Redknapp’s side did rally – Matt Phillips loosened up from a more stringent role inside following the host’s goal and looked a genuine threat. Karl Henry chanced his arm from the edge of the area only to see his shot canon back off a manful defensive unit.
Henry then turned provider with the former Wolverhampton Wanderers man crossing for the aforementioned Phillips – the winger’s header was misguided and a call from Charlie Austin waiting in behind him may have yielded a better outcome.
Danny Simpson was next to chance his arm as QPR piled forward. The full back rather saw the headlines as he worked his way into the box, inexplicably cutting inside and skewing a left-footed shot into the side netting.
Another swift counter-attacking move saw Phillips buy some space down the right, his shot in towards the near post was well fielded by Smithies and palmed away for a corner. Adam Hammill was withdrawn and his slow amble from the field rather riled the home crowd.
It mattered not as Rangers took the advantage after a prolonged period of pressure. The resultant corner saw Assou-Ekotto find CHARLIE AUSTIN at the far post – the forward’s header was powerful, purposeful and ultimately successful.
It was a breath of fresh air to see a cross and header executed with such aplomb, and begs the question why Rangers don’t take that approach more often. Nevertheless, Rangers once again took a cautious approach to proceedings in a bid to protect their advantage.
Andy Johnson was withdrawn with Armand Traoré coming on in his place – a player rejuvenated in recent weeks in a new left midfield berth. His direct running and crossing was a menace to the visiting rearguard, flashing in several fine crosses for Austin to field.
A couple of brief scares ensued as Huddersfield attacked with purpose, but for the neat build up play – the lack of end product really stifled the visitors, none more so than when Oscar Gobern’s piledriver threatened to trouble even the corner flag.
The seconds that Huddersfield understandably wasted amounted to four minutes of added on time – the a Terriers had bought themselves a stay of execution in the encounter, but unfortunately for them, it was to no avail as Austin’s QPR picked up the maximum.
Rangers moved into the automatic promotion places, as while Huddersfield excited, the ruthless streak eluded them. With Vaughan, Wells, Paterson and Ward at their disposal, that will be something undoubtedly improved upon as the season wears on.
As for QPR – this is not a victory that necessarily augurs well in terms of overall play, but two goals for Charlie Austin made it three wins from three – a definitive requirement if they are to chase down leaders Leicester City.