QPR must secure fourth place - and a vital advantage for play-offs

Joey Barton returned to the QPR side with a goal against Watford on Monday

Joey Barton returned to the QPR side with a goal against Watford on Monday - Credit: EMPICS Sport

There is an inevitability about QPR winning at home this season. Charlie Austin’s injury-time winner against Watford sealed a 15th win from 22 games at Loftus Road. One more, against Millwall on Saturday, could secure Rangers a vital advantage in the play-off semi-finals.

With two games of the season remaining QPR are almost certain to finish fourth. That would secure a semi-final against the fifth-placed team – currently Wigan Athletic – with Rangers playing the first leg away from home on May 9, and the return leg at Loftus Road three days later.

The play-offs are brutal, boiling, unpredictable affairs, and there is little doubt that given their impressive record on their own turf this season, QPR would relish the chance to seal a place in final in front of their own fans.

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Watford seemed odds-on to take three points on Bank Holiday Monday. They led, deservedly, through Mathias Ranegie’s thumping strike early in the second half.

The match swung thanks to the influence of two QPR players returning from injury. Austin’s winner was typically clinical, but the contribution of Joey Barton, back after a month out with a thigh problem and scorer of a fine free-kick 14 minutes from time, was also pivotal.

With Clint Hill and Kevin Doyle also back in the side, QPR’s injury problems appear to be easing.

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“We have had a lot of injuries to the guys who you would rely on in big games and big moments,” said goalkeeper Rob Green. “[Against Watford] we had two big players who scored two big goals.

“There are key moments in games when you need people to step up. We have got players coming back to full fitness who can really affect games.

“You can be well organised, but having key players turning up at big times is a key thing.

“The play-offs are intense and you would like to have the players we have on our side. The guys who have been around know what to do on big occasions.”

While Redknapp has personnel returning, his headache now appears to be how to play them. Against Watford he opted for a 3-5-2 formation, with wing-backs Armand Traore and Danny Simpson offering plenty of width but midfielders Barton, Tom Carroll and Ravel Morrison struggling to retain possession.

There were flaws at the back, too, with Richard Dunne partly at fault for the visitors’ goal.

It was a departure from Redknapp’s favoured 4-2-3-1 formation, one which the Rangers manager had also opted for during the 1-0 defeat to Leicester City on Saturday.

On both occasions QPR have laboured. After defeat at Leicester, Austin admitted: “We tried a new system and struggled with it a bit in the first half.”

To experiment with a new system so close to the play-offs is a risk, and Redknapp will need to use the two final league games of the season against Millwall and Barnsley to settle his side in a familiar system.

“We need everybody fit and well and as fresh as they can be and in good form – but it’s no good going into the play-offs off the back of two defeats,” assistant manager Kevin Bond said.

“It’s a balance and we need to go into the play-offs with a bit of momentum and try to win the next two.”