QUEENS Park Rangers completed their first ever double over Doncaster Rovers as they moved a step closer to a return to the Premier League after 15 year wait.
Rangers had not won in the town since the 1950-51 season, but followed up their 3-0 win at Loftus Road in September with a 1-0 win in the return at the Keepmoat Stadium, where they had lost on their only two previous visits.
The only goal of the game came just after the break when midfielder Hogan Ephraim beat Rovers keeper Gary Woods from the edge of the box.
With Rangers, who have now gone nine points clear at the top, having conceded just 11 goals on their travels in the league this season, it was always going to be a big task for Rovers to get back on level terms, and an even bigger one to go on and win the game - and so it proved.
Rangers’ record over the season speaks for itself and whilst their promotion rivals have all been showing signs of feeling the pressure in recent weeks they have have picked up 15 points from their last six games.
Yet, as was the case at Loftus Road, where the margin of victory flattered the London side, there wasn’t a great deal between the sides in terms of scoring chances.
Rangers were more functional than spectacular for most of the game, and they lacked the sort of magic that midfielder Adel Taarabt can conjure up.
Equally, Rovers missed top scorer Billy Sharp, another man with a few tricks up his sleeve.
What ultimately won Rangers the game was the quality of their back four, in which skipper Fitz Hall was outstanding, and the the fact that their attack had more of a cutting edge in the final third.
That was especially the case early on when Rovers looked to be in for a long afternoon.
Icelandic international striker Heldar Helguson hit the crossbar with an eighth-minute header and the likes of Wayne Routledge, Alejandro Faurlin and Tommy Smith all looked dangerous.
But Rovers gradually started to find their feet and Leicester City loanee Franck Moussa hit the outside of the near post from less than a yard out after getting on the end of a James Coppinger cross.
Gary Woods saved well from Smith on 20 minutes with Moussa bringing out the best in keeper Paddy Kenny with header from a 42nd minute corner.
Moussa had a shot blocked by a defender following a good run from the halfway line within a couple of minutes of the restart.
But it was Ephraim, a late replacement for Taarabt, who cried off on the morning of the match due to a family bereavement, who broke the deadlock on 48 minutes.
“Speaking as a defender, it was disappointing to concede and all the lads feel the same way,” said centre-back George Friend. “It was one of those goals that we probably should have stopped.
“We had looked comfortable enough holding them for a team that is running away with the league. We had a game-plan and we stuck to it and everyone worked hard.
“We started off poorly, which was disappointing, so to get back into the game as we did and actually threaten them was good. I’m sure that we worried them. It was a shame that we couldn’t convert one of our chances.
“They were a big side at the back and we were never going to do them from a set-play. We had to play bright and we tried hard, but unfortunately it didn’t come off today.
“The first goal in a game like that was always going to be crucial because they’d only conceded 23 all season and once they scored they shut up shop.”
Rangers had a good spell after the goal during which Helguson headed wide.
Rovers best chance of an equaliser fell to Moussa, who headed wide at the far post from Coppinger’s cross.
Rovers finished the stronger without creating a clear-cut opening.
“Obviously I’m disappointed but we can take heart from the game,” said Rovers skipper Brian Stock.
“We’ve come up against a very strong QPR team and you could see why they are top of the league.
“To limit a side with the attacking potential they have got to just a couple of chances was encouraging because that is what we’d set out to do.
“With a bit of luck we could have had a goal but you could see why they’ve kept 21 clean sheets this season. They are a solid side.”
Said Rangers boss Neil Warnock: “It was a great result for us. We hadn’t beaten Doncaster up here for a number of years and they had won the last few without conceding a goal, I think.
“With 16 days until our next game I think it was an important victory for us and a professional one. Certain lads today were superb.
“I thought Fitz Hall was a man mountain at the back, but I thought everyone contributed. It was a cracking goal (which won us the game) and he (Hogan Ephraim) took it well.”
I THOUGHT that we matched them after the first ten minutes. But one mistake I suppose has cost us the game.
Any goal in this division is crucial and it was probably more crucial when you are playing QPR.
They are a very well-organised side with a lot of experience.
When they get ahead it is difficult to get any momentum. They break play up and they have players who understand how to kill the game and know what they are doing.
Despite that we showed a lot of character and spirit.