Date: 15th June 2016 at 1:04pm
Written by:

< DECEMBER >

Neil Warnock`s short spell back at the club came to an end after four games at the helm when the team travelled to Reading on a Thursday evening, once again on television, the previous three of which had all ended in defeats to nil for Rangers.

As is often the case when the two clubs meet at the Madejski Stadium, it wasn`t one for the neutral, as both sides struggled in the attacking areas, and despite the introduction of Austin from the bench just after the hour, the game looked to be heading for a goalless draw as the final whistle beckoned.

Deep into stoppage time, Rangers had one last opportunity as they were awarded a corner in the dying moments, and from that they managed to deliver a killer blow, as Nedum Onuoha rose highest at the back post from an Alejandro Faurlin before heading a tame effort past Ali Al-Habsi in the Royals` goal.

It was a just the second time the club had managed to record back-to-back clean sheets and victories after 19 games, moving them up to 11th in the table, with the imminent arrival of Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink from League One leaders Burton Albion imminent.

His appointment at the club was announced the following day, with the news splitting opinion amongst the fan-base, with many disappointed Warnock was not given the job for the remainder of the season, while others saw it as a positive move from the club, hiring a young, up and coming highly-rated manager.

The Dutchman had a week to work with his new squad ahead of a tough first fixture in charge, with Burnley visiting Loftus Road in his opening match.

While eager to get off to a good start, Hasselbaink resisted the temptation to go with Austin from the off, with the striker still no fully fit, and he got a good response from the players as they came flying out of the blocks, playing a high-pressing game and edging the first-half over Sean Dyche`s men.

The Clarets began to come back into the game after the break, but the Rangers defence managed to keep Andre Gray largely on the periphery, and almost got Hasselbaink`s reign off the perfect start, only for Grant Hall to see his goal-bound header cleared off the line in the final minutes.

It was the third successive match in which Rangers had managed to shut their opponents out, something that had proved impossible in the opening months of the season, but there was slight concern at the opposite end of the pitch, with just three goals scored in the previous seven matches.

Hasselbaink`s start didn`t get any easier as league leaders Brighton the next opponents at Loftus Road three days later, the fifth time Rangers had been selected for the television game, and it promised to be a difficulty evening as Chris Hughton`s men were still yet to taste defeat in the league 20 games into the season.

Just like the Burnley game, the R`s shaded the opening half, but the scores remained goalless at the break.
The match was then turned on its head with two goals in two minutes from the Seagulls 10 minutes after half-time, the first from Dale Stephens from a corner, and the second a long-distance effort from Rajiv van La Parra that should have been a routine stop for Rib Green, but instead gave Brighton a two nil lead.

Making his first start in five games, Austin gave the side a lifeline just after the hour when the ball bounced nicely in the Brighton box from a Matt Phillips cross, and the striker made no mistake to smash it into the roof of the net from a tight angle to halve the deficit.

With Rangers piling on the pressure, desperate to level the scores, an unsavoury incident occurred with five minutes remaining, as Lewis Dunk`s high and reckless challenge on Faurlin resulted in the defender being shown a second yellow card, for a challenge that was easily worthy of a straight red.
The R`s continued to push for an equaliser, and they eventually got what they deserved as Faurlin`s delivery from a corner was met by the head of Austin, who brought his goal tally for the season to double figures, while also securing a second creditable point for Hasselbaink.

It was five games without defeat for the club as they sat in mid-table, with the play-offs still a realistic expectation, with just six points separating the R`s from the top six.

Two away trips then followed, the first of which came against Bristol City at Ashton Gate, who had found life back in the second tier difficult, as they found themselves just one point above the relegation places, having managed to pick up maximum points on just four occasions on their return to the Championship.

With Austin again missing through injury, Rangers struggled to get going in the first-half, and were fortunate to go into the break level, but they managed to punish their hosts on 56 minutes, as Junior Hoilett picked up the ball midway in the Robins` half, before playing a one-two with Sebastian Polter, who laid it off on the edge of the box for the winger to hit first time into the bottom corner.

He almost doubled the lead as he struck a sweet left-foot strike that crashed against the bar, but Rangers were unable to hold out for the win, as Aaron Wilbraham slid in unmarked at the back post to stab in a cross into box with 10 minutes remaining to make it three draws in three for Hasselbaink.

A trip to sixth-place Ipswich Town followed on Boxing Day, and once again Rangers found themselves in front courtesy of a Hoilett goal, as the Canadian turned in a Leroy Fer cross with his head just on the stroke of half-time, with both sides having struggled to create many clear cut chances in the first period.

Mick McCarthy`s side were back level on 77 minutes thanks to an acrobatic effort from Jonathan Douglas, before a sucker punch was delivered in stoppage time, as the Rangers defence failed to deal with a delivery into the box, allowing Ipswich defender Luke Chambers to steam into the area unmarked to head past Green.

It inflicted a first defeat for Hasselbaink, with an eight-point gap now separating the club from both the final play-off position and relegation zone, ahead of the visit of Huddersfield Town to West London for what was the final league fixture of 2015.

The year would end in disappointing fashion, as Rangers extended their winless run to five games, despite having taken the lead late on as Sebastian Polter found himself with the ball at his feet yards out, back to goal, before swivelling and hitting a low shot into the net to put the R`s one up.

As was becoming a familiar trend however, the lead did not last long, as Nahki Wells bent a curling free-kick over the Rangers wall ensure the Terriers returned north with a point, the least they deserved, in what was a performance that couldn`t have been more in contrast to Hasselbaink`s opening to matches.

After his first five games at the helm, he had seen a return of just three points, as the club occupied thirteenth spot.

League position: 13th (P24, W7, D9, L8)