Niko Kranjcar's curling late free-kick denied Mark Hughes a winning return to Loftus Road as Queens Park Rangers drew 2-2 with Stoke City on Saturday.
Hughes left QPR after a miserable 10 months in charge in 2012, but his Stoke side looked to be on course for three points on his first trip back to Loftu Road thanks to a goal early in the second half from another former Rangers employee, Peter Crouch. The former England forward, who spent the 2000/01 season with QPR, struck in the 51st minute after Steven Caulker had levelled Mame Biram Diouf's early opener on the stroke of half-time. Redknapp looked set to endure a disappointing day, with his captain Joey Barton and midfielder Jordon Mutch having to be substituted after returning to the team after missing last week's 4-0 defeat at Manchester United through injury. However, Kranjcar rescued Harry Redknapp's side from a fourth Barclays Premier League defeat of the season with a superb 25-yard free-kick two minutes from time.
Stoke showcased their counter-attacking prowess in a shock 1-0 win at champions Manchester City in their previous away match and QPR failed to heed that warning as Hughes' men, who were inspired by the outstanding Victor Moses, hurt the London side on the break throughout and were unfortunate not to take all three points.
The hosts controlled the opening stages without threatening Asmir Begovic's goal, and Stoke punished them after 11 minutes when Diouf broke the deadlock. Moses bamboozled Mauricio Isla before sending in a lofted delivery from the left that Crouch rose to knock down to Diouf to nod home from three yards.
Barton's substitution appeared to have made QPR's task even tougher, but Caulker's first goal for the club drew Redknapp's side level shortly before half-time. Mutch sent in a corner to the back post, which Caulker headed across goal and into the net via a wild attempted clearance from Crouch.
QPR failed to build on their equaliser after the interval, though, and Crouch, a player whom Redknapp said in the build-up to this match he wanted to sign in the transfer window, restored Stoke's lead six minutes into the second half. Isla was robbed by Moses, who picked out Crouch with a low cross that the 33-year-old fired beyond Robert Green from 12 yards.
Erik Pieters, who overcame a knock to start for Stoke, might have given the visitors some breathing space shortly after following more good work from Moses, but could only scuff his shot at Green from just inside the area. QPR laboured in their attempts to get back into the match, but Stoke's defensive resilience, and their ever-present threat on the break, meant the home side struggled to get a clear sight of Begovic's goal.
That was until QPR won a free-kick 25 yards from goal and Kranjcar stepped up to arc the ball over the wall and beyond Begovic's despairing dive to ensure the spoils were shared.
QPR manager Harry Redknapp: "It was a great finish from Niko; he's got the quality to do that, he's a quality player. When we got the free-kick I was hoping he could pull the game out of the fire for us and he did that. He was a free [transfer], we pay a third of what he earned in Russia [sic; Ukraine] – that's how much he wanted to come back. It's very rare to see a boy do that. It's a good point today, make no mistake. It's a vital point."
Stoke manager Mark Hughes: "It’s not a defeat but it is still disappointing for us because we didn't take maximum points from the game, when really we should have done. In terms of our general performance and general play we were markedly the better side today and we should have gone on to have won the game relatively comfortably.
"Unfortunately for us, we weren't able to navigate our way through crucial periods of the game, with the final few moments of each half being particularly decisive. It is another point on the road for us, but the overriding feeling is that this was something of a missed opportunity for us."
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