QPR’s six-game unbeaten run came to a shuddering halt as they were out-thought, out-fought and out-finished by Stoke at home in a 2-0 defeat.
Charlie Austin had the opportunity to level from the penalty spot in the second half after Tyrese Campbell’s early goal, but fluffed his lines. Then Mario Vrancic capped a stylish performance in style for Stoke’s second as the visitors narrowed the gap between the two playoff-chasers to a single point.
Buoyed by recent wins, QPR had an air of confidence to their start. With wing backs Osman Kakay and Sam Field pushing up high, they looked threatening down the flanks and had Stoke pinned back in the early stages. And it was from the left-hand side they fashioned their first chance, Potters keeper Adam Davies stopping Ilias Chair’s header smartly following Chris Willock’s floated cross into the box.
Tyrese Campbell (R) celebrates putting Stoke in front inside the opening 15 minutes
That warning shot seemed to wake the visitors up though, and QPR’s Seny Dieng was forced into a fantastic double save to deny first Campbell then Steven Fletcher, though Fletcher was later called offside.
In the 14th minute Campbell got revenge. Vrancic split the QPR defence superbly with a delightful pass, finding the striker who had timed his run to perfection. Suddenly in acres of space, Campbell bore down on Dieng before slotting home coolly to give Michael O’Neill’s side the lead.
The goal came slightly against the run of play but Stoke immediately found their groove after it — Vrancic languid, elegant and running the show.
Mario Vrancic (centre) produced a measured finish to seal the win for Stoke at Loftus Road
It was telling that the normally influential Chair had been surprisingly, if fittingly, sedentary for the hosts, but he flashed into life after 34 minutes. His ball across goal was calling out for a finishing touch, but Charlie Austin couldn’t provide it.
O’Neill will have been pleased with his side’s attitude, as they fought for every first and second ball — led from the front by Fletcher and Campbell. The latter combined brilliantly with Vrancic down the left-hand side as half-time neared, but the former saw his shot deflected to safety.
With the hosts struggling to assert themselves in possession, Stoke went into the break 1-0 up and in control. Soon after it, however, Davies was forced into an excellent save to deny Austin’s volley, which had looked destined for the net.
With the game opening up, Stoke nearly doubled their lead on the counter, but Dieng was equally smart to tip over Josh Tymon’s well-struck effort.
QPR were handed a lifeline after 61 minutes when Vrancic inexplicably dragged Yoann Barbet to the floor and referee Tony Harrington pointed to the spot. But Austin’s penalty was weak, and Davies stopped it impressively, diving low to his right.
Charlie Austin (L) blew a great chance to level matters when he missed a second half penalty
It proved a gift the hosts couldn’t afford to spurn. A quarter of an hour later, Vrancic collected the ball in space 35 yards out from goal. The Bosnian took a few touches, before curling the ball past a despairing Dieng and winning redemption for his earlier indiscretion.
Not to be outdone, keeper Davies had one more stunning stop to make — denying substitute George Thomas when a goal looked inevitable. A clean sheet that was earned — and then some — for the Welshman, as Mark Warburton’s men were cruelly reminded of the bitter taste of defeat.
QPR (3-4-2-1): Dieng 6.5; Dickie 6, Dunne 6, Barbet 6; Kakay 6.5, Johansen 7, Dozzell 5.5 (Amost 67min, 6), Field 6.5 (Thomas 80); Chair 6.5, Willock 7; Austin 5 (Gray 74, 6).
Booked: None. Manager: Mark Warburton 6.
STOKE (3-5-2): DAVIES 8.5; Wilmot 7, Batth 6.5, Fox 6; Smith 6, Allen 6, Sawyers 7 (Clucas 57, 6), Vrancic 8, Tymon 7; Fletcher 7 (Ince 90), Campbell 7.5 (Brown 67, 6).
Booked: Fox. Scorers: Campbell 14, Vrancic 78.
Manager: Michael O’Neill 7.
Referee: Tony Harrington 6.5. Attendance: 13,968.
QPR-STOKE MATCH STATISTICS
Shots on target