Stoke City vs Queens Park Rangers. Sky Bet Championship.
Report and highlights from the Sky Bet Championship clash between Stoke City and QPR at the bet365 Stadium as Jacob Brown scored the winner to all but end the hopes of Mark Warburton's side of reaching the play-offs.
Saturday 23 April 2022 18:43, UK
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.
Stoke's assistant Dean Holden: "When we scored the goal, it was the least we deserved going in 1-0 up at half-time. We went in with 16 crosses, seven corners and 10 shots, which was pleasing. We knew what they were going to come with; it was win or bust for them. But we restricted them to very little and I think we controlled the game without the ball in the second half.
"Overall, it was good to get a 90-minute performance at home, which we've not done enough of. It was a pleasing day all round, but the big frustration is that it's five wins from seven and it's too little, too late. But at the same time, nobody can
question the character of the players as well. We're playing against good teams so credit to the players, and we've got to
finish as high up the league as we can now."
QPR's Mark Warburton: "I'm very disappointed with the first-half performance; we looked like a team trying not to win. We were better in the second half, but still two or three gears below where we should be. I talk a lot about having no regrets in what you do, and if you leave the pitch with no regrets then you can hold your head high. Maybe they need to feel that regret.
"There's still a lot to play for. We have a responsibility to the QPR fans, each and every one of them. When I hear people say they're meaningless games, you're a pro playing in front of people who have paid money to see you play so I can't have that. We've got two games to beat last year's points total and then we'll see where that leaves us, but it is frustrating because the team were in a really strong position and we've let ourselves down."