Stoke City as good as ended QPR’s play-off hopes with a 1-0 victory despite the absence of boss Michael O’Neill.
The former Northern Ireland manager, who underwent surgery for a hip replacement in midweek, watched on from home with a phone-line to assistant Dean Holden.
And O’Neill’s messages were received loud and clear as the Potters coasted to a comfortable victory thanks to Jacob Brown’s stabbed effort before the interval.
The visiting Hoops, who were only three points below the play-offs prior to the game, were resigned to an eighth defeat in 11 outings.
The hosts, in the midst in a purple patch after four wins in six matches, started firmly in the ascendancy and could have opened the scoring inside the opening two minutes. A Josh Tymon cross was flicked on inadvertently by a QPR head to the feet of Lewis Baker, whose prodded half-volley dropped narrowly wide.
Despite Stoke’s bright start, they nearly found themselves fall behind in bizarre circumstances when Taylor Harwood-Bellis almost mis-controlled a pass directly into his own net.
Rangers keeper Keiren Westwood rolled back the years with a sequence of impressive stops, first denying a venomous Romaine Sawyers strike from range with his feet after it took a wicked deflection.
The lively Tymon then found opposite wing-back Tommy Smith in a promising position, but the latter’s first-time effort curled harmlessly wide.
Josh Maja continued the hosts’ assault before half-time when he attempted to guide a curling effort into the far corner, but again the 37-year-old Westwood was equal to it.
However, the Potters’ persistence eventually paid off in added time when QPR failed to clear a corner and poacher Brown was on hand to rifle in his 13th league goal of the season from an acute angle.
The restart made no hindrance to Stoke’s dominance, with Westwood again required in quick succession to keep the Rs in the fixture.
First, Harwood-Bellis’ powerful header was palmed over before a cute Sawyers cutback found Maja in a promising position, only for the latter to also be thwarted.
Despite spending the majority of the fixture penned in their own half, the visitors still remained within touching distance and threatened an unlikely equaliser.
George Thomas handed the Potters two warning signs after the hour mark, first advancing forward before blazing high over the target from a promising position.
The Wales international then struck the post with a header from an acute angle, setting up an intriguing and frenetic final period of the fixture.
A 931-strong travelling support tried to rouse a late leveller to reignite their play-off ambitions, but Mark Warburton’s side came up short.
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