< FEBRUARY >
As the closure of the winter transfer window loomed, Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink added a third and final addition to his squad with the capture of wide-man Abdenasser El Khayati from former club Burton, for a fee in the region of £350,000, having notched eight goals in 26 matches during the campaign to date for the Brewers.
With Sandro having joined West Brom on a loan deal a few days earlier, fellow high-earner Leroy Fer also departed the club on a temporary basis, as he headed to Swansea for the final four months of the season, with the club unable to shift either player on a permanent basis, which would be the aim once again in the summer.
Having also tried to move on Rob Green for the final few months of his deal, a transfer failed to materialise, with the goalkeeper well and truly in the cold owing to the clause in his contract that would trigger an extension if he played 30 league games, and Alex Smithies and Matt Ingram now ahead in the pecking order.
After finishing January four games unbeaten, albeit three of those matches ending in draws, play-off hopefuls Ipswich were the visitors to Loftus Road for the first of five league matches in February, and it would be Rangers this time round who would be the benefactor of a late match-winning goal to snatch maximum points.
After a dominant first-half for the R`s in which Ipswich goalkeeper Bartosz Bialkowski kept his side in the game to ensure it was goalless at the break, Rangers were on the front foot again throughout the second period, but it looked like Hasselbaink`s first home win would have to wait, as the side failed to make their dominance pay.
With just two minutes of normal time remaining, El Khayati, who had come on with 10 minutes left to play, found the ball out on the right-hand side, before driving into the Ipswich box, and hitting what looked like an attempt at goal, that ended up on the head of Matt Phillips at the back post to secure the win for the R`s.
It was arguably one of the performances of the season so far, which came at a good time, with Fulham up next the following weekend at home, and the fans eager for the players to avenge the crushing 4-0 defeat that had occurred at Craven Cottage back in September, and the Whites without a win in their last five league outings.
In a first half that Rangers were run ragged by their visitors, the game was effectively killed off in the final 10 minutes of the half, as Slavi?a Jokanović`s men hit three goals before the break, causing déjà vu for the R`s fans, in what was becoming another embarrassing performance at the hands of a fellow London rival.
First, a ball through the Rangers defence found Ross McCormack with space in the box to hit a fierce shot past Smithies on 35 minutes, which was closely followed by a Moussa Dembele headed goal, as he was left unmarked just yards out to double the away side`s advantage and give the Whites exactly what they deserved.
On the stroke of half-time the contest was over, as Dembele`s effort bounced off the right post and into the path of Tom Cairney, whose deflected effort nestled into the Rangers goal to send Fulham on their way to recording just their third Championship away win of the season, and the bragging rights with a league double.
Rangers did manage to grab a goal in stoppage time as Tjaronn Chery squeezed the ball through a number of bodies from a Daniel Toszer corner, but it was little consolation to the R`s fans, who had now seen the side concede seven goals in two games against the Whites, while managing just one goal at the other end.
The result saw the club drop down to 14th, with a trip to basement club Bolton to come, who despite their position would prove difficult opponents, having won their last two league home fixtures, and narrowly lost 3-2 away at promotion-chasing Brighton the previous weekend, while the R`s had picked up just four away wins.
In a game low on quality, Conor Washington almost gave Rangers the lead with a superb piece of play, as he used his strength to win a long ball upfield from Nedum Onuoha, before nutmegging a Bolton defender to race into the penalty area, only to see his well-hit attempt saved by Ben Amos down low in the Trotters` goal.
Having nearly given the home side the lead with a brilliant overhead kick, the highly-rated Zac Clough did manager to break the deadlock with a superb curling right-foot shot from outside of the box, giving Smithies no chance as the ball flew into the top corner to give Bolton something to protect for the final 20 minutes.
With just seconds of the match remaining, and back-to-back losses for the R`s on the cards, Matt Phillips helped to snatch a point with almost the last kick of the game, when he beat two Bolton defenders to open up space on the edge of the area, and hit a low left-foot strike under Amos to secure a share of the spoils.
It didn`t get any easier for Hasselbaink as a midweek trip to promotion hopefuls Sheffield Wednesday came next, which had the makings of a comfortable home win, but to some surprise, Rangers managed to record a second successive 1-1 draw, as they frustrated the hosts after having initially taken the lead on the hour.
Having seen Smithies save from the spot from Atdhe Nuhiu following a foul in the box on Gary Hooper minutes after the restart, the R`s made their hosts pay for their missed opportunity 10 minutes later, as a clearance from a Wednesday defender fell nice to Daniel Toszer on the edge of the box, who rifled home a left-foot shot.
The lead would however last just six minutes, with Nuhiu making up for his earlier spotkick miss after he rose above two Rangers defenders to meet a cross into that came in from the left to head the ball low into the right hand corner to give Smithies no chance of denying the frontman a goal once again to level the scores.
While a creditable point, it meant Rangers were without a win in three, and 13 points adrift of 6th place, and the chances of a return to the Premier League at the first time of asking were becoming slimmer with each game that passed, so a win at home to Birmingham was imperative to keep the distant dream alive.
Gary Rowett`s side occupied 7th spot ahead of their trip to Loftus Road, having lost just one of their previous nine matches, in which they had managed to record six clean sheets.
Fortunately for Hasselbaink, the side put in a similar performance to that against Ipswich, and not Fulham, as they took a deserved lead just after the half hour mark, thanks to some fine work down the left from James Perch, who managed to steal possession from Ryan Shotton in the Birmingham right hand corner.
The fullback then drove into the opposition area, before laying the ball off to Chery, who took a couple of touches to steady himself, before spinning and hitting a shot across goal that ended up in the bottom corner of the Blues goal to put Rangers in the driving seat, thanks to goal number six of the season for the Dutchman.
The lead was doubled just four minutes later as Sebastien Polter was felled in the box as he approached the visitor`s goal, which was coolly converted by Junior Hoilett to make it 2-0, which was how it stayed, to give Hasselbaink just his third league win at the helm, to cut the gap to the play-offs to 11 points after 34 matches.
League position: 11th (P34, W10, D14, L10)
QPR Season in Review – February
< FEBRUARY >