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Men's football QPR consolidate play-off potential as Luton lack cutting edge

Goals from Chris Willock and Charlie Austin see off energetic visitors

Queens Park Rangers 2-0 Luton Town
by Dan Nolan
at Kiyan Prince Foundation Stadium

QPR consolidated their position in the Championship play-off places tonight as goals from Chris Willock and Charlie Austin put paid to Luton Town’s labours.

Cooly side-footing over keeper Simon Sluga after an early upfield clearance from Ilias Chair, and nodding home a header from the centre of the box in the early stages of the second half, Willock and Austin lifted the hosts up to fifth in the Championship with their side’s only two shots on target, and left their energetic visitors rueing a lack of composure in front of goal despite a preponderance of attack. 

The league’s cruelty might only be admired by the neutral: before kick-off there were just four points between 11th-placed Luton and the play-offs, but only 12 to the relegation zone — the latter now more on their minds as the weekend’s action plays out. For their part, QPR will still feel a pressing need to register their first back-to-back wins since nearly two months ago, as the chasing pack remains within touching distance.

The only show in town after the international break, some fans parted with close to £40 to make it on the night. But they must have been thankful to not be watching in the pub, as a frenetic, end-to-end start lit up a near-capacity crowd.

Hatters fans will have fancied their side much more in the opening salvos, however, with the extra width and midfield numbers provided by their 3-5-2 set-up letting west London’s own Elijah Adebayo and former Wycombe man Fred Onyedinma in for early chances.

But it took just ten minutes for the hosts to break the spell. As Luton were unable to make the most of a corner, Ilias Chair cleared upfield to Willock who, having stolen a march on what little remained of the Hatters defence, watched the ball bounce before calmly side-footing over Sluga as he rushed out of goal.

The 10th-minute strike started to settle the hosts into their shape, but they still looked vulnerable, especially when Luton attacked down the right wing. Harry Cornick notably found himself within acres of space to the right of the Rs box – to the home fans’ vocal incredulity – soon after the goal, and Adebayo had a shot as that same space opened up again.

But, having steered themselves into half-time unscathed, the hosts delivered their sucker punch on 54 minutes: Willock digging out a cross from the left of the 18-yard box for Jimmy Dunne who, rising above the defence with his back to goal, nodded it back to Charlie Austin in the centre of the area for a simple header home.

It was decisive, but there followed no shortage of opportunities for Luton, who for all their pace in attack and set-piece chances (a tantalising free-kick clattered into the wall by James Bree in the 69th minute) were simply unable to show composure when it mattered — having only three shots on target of a total of 16.

Substitutes Cameron Jerome and Admiral Muskwe combined to provide a late scare — but the latter's shot was cheered behind by the home faithful as it flew well wide, and the hosts broke up play effectively in the closing minutes to seal a crucial three points before a key tie against fellow high-flyers Huddersfield on Wednesday.

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