If it weren't for bad luck, QPR would have no luck at all.
In a tight contest at Bolton this weekend, Queens Park Rangers survival hopes took another painful blow as Ivan Klasnic's late winner sealed the last of the "winnable" games in the schedule. Ahead of the brutal run-in campaign, the R's spirited effort was not enough to avoid their fifth defeat in the last seven games More frustrating was the disallowed goal scored by Clint Hill, which was clearly in before being knocked back out of goal by keeper Adam Bogdan.
With the pressure of relegation mounting, QPR put forth a strong case to remain in the Premier League, but once again were unable to overcome defensive lapses that cost them vital points. With an uphill battle against some of the league's best, the R's have precious little time to escape the the drop in the coming months.
QPR started out with an organised defensive plan, a novel accomplishment given their back-line woes this season. Playing conservative early, they withstood Bolton's probes and began to make possession and passing their focus, a sign of the evolution of Mark Hughes' impact on the team. With some solid footing to start, including a vital clearance off the line by Bobby Zamora in the opening minutes, the R's began to test the home side. Zamora led the way with a gutsy short range effort that crashed off the bar, setting up the corner that would lead to Hill's phantom goal.
Barton's delivery was uncharacteristically on target, and the racing Hill delivered a headed effort that found purchase, only to be deflected back out of the net and off the bar by the keeper. The linesman later said he could not see the play and the match continued, which was little solace to the desperate QPR fans who were screaming for the goal. The FA's announcement the same day that it supports the introduction of goal line technology was correct, but too little, too late for the frustrated supporters. Owner Tony Fernandes, in attendance and in good position to see his team's fortunes ignominiously batted away, was rightfully thermonuclear in his rebuke of the decision. With the kind of money at stake should the club go down, Fernandes' reaction put a face to the disappointment of the fan base.
It was a shame for Hill as well, who has elevated his play in the last few weeks as the Hoops attempt to escape the drop. His just reward denied, he raced back in full voice, but there was no hope in the referee awarding the goal. Hill struggled early in the season and saw his place in the first team fluctuate before returning to the Championship on loan to Nottingham Forest. Under the new regime he's been pressed into service at centre back despite the arrival of high profile and higher wage players. He's been a gamer for the R's, delivering physical and alert performances in the new role and thriving to provide some semblance of security at the back. In contrast to the minimal impact of some of the big name players that have done little to keep the club up, its a reminder of the value of players of Hill's ilk.
Despite the strong start, another mistake in the defence cost QPR a goal, as recently signed Wanderer's defender Tim Ream delivered a pin-point cross that Darren Pratley headed home to put Bolton ahead. Nedum Onuoha had been guarding Prately, but missed his assignment on the quick break, allowing him to meet the ball unmarked and redirect it past Paddy Kenny. QPR's defensive lapses have been legion, and this was another in the litany of avoidable goals that have accumulated on the camel's back this season. It's not broken yet, but the straws are being readied for placement.
QPR's counter attack produced some chances as the first have ground on, culminating in a stoppage time set-up between Djibril Cisse and Zamora that fed Onuoha a shot that Bodgan was able to control. Fresh off suspension, Cisse wasn't finished and put the visitors even just after the restart with some help from another questionable decision by the officials He looked just a bit offside as Shaun Wright-Philips drove the center of the pitch, where his pass deflected up over the defenders to find the Frenchman alone in the penalty box. He cooly finished with a low bullet away from the keeper to even the scoreline as the defenders waved their arms for a flag. The karmic satisfaction of getting a break QPR's way lifted some of the gloom, but the lack of creativity killed any momentum gained by the goal. Adel Taarabt's absence was sorely felt, and the improving relationship between Cisse and Zamora was not enough to break the deadlock. Late substitutions of Jamie Mackie and Akos Buzaky produced a flurry of activity, but QPR could not find a way through.
With time running out and the tension mounting, the R's defensive woes reared their ugly head once more. Ryo Miachi's deep run in their end drew all the attention, but super-sub Ivan Klasnic rushed into the void created to receive the ball behind Anton Ferdinand and drilled a low shot under Kenny's diving arms. It was a death blow for QPR, the loss of a hard earned point and what could have been so much more. They worked solid possession and safe defending for much of the match, but were undone again by a few bad moments that were more than enough for the opposition to exploit. Bolton played well and tested them, but there were numerous opportunities for the R's to take hold of the game.
At the close of the 'easy' portion of their schedule, the hope that sprung from yet another hasty makeover in January has evaporated and the sense of dire consequences hangs thick over the club. The run-in will feature fixtures against the Premier League's best and brightest, including Liverpool, Sunderland, Arsenal, Man U, Tottenham, Chelsea and Manchester City. Even the seemingly soft fixtures left - Swansea at home and West Brom away - are no guarantees given the R's inexplicable ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. They aren't done yet, but with the way they've played and the breaks that have gone against them, it is very, very hard to see any light at the end of the tunnel.
The club has a break until the Liverpool match at Loftus Road on March 21st, and can expect the thunderous home supporters to get behind them once again. More than anything else, they'll need some luck and a lot of hard work if they hope to stay up next season.