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Queens Park Rangers' chances of beating the drop look bleaker than ever after defeat in the west London derby at Fulham.
Harry Redknapp has just seven matches left to pull off the greatest of escapes after this 3-2 defeat by the Thames.
Last season QPR suffered a 6-0 defeat at Craven Cottage and it looked like there could be a similar scoreline after a dominant first-half display by the hosts. Marquee January signing Christopher Samba had an evening to forget after bringing down Ashkan Dejagah to allow Dimitar Berbatov to net an eighth-minute penalty, and a subsequent error which was again exploited by the Bulgarian striker, who coolly beat Julio Cesar for a second time.
Chants of "going down" echoed around Craven Cottage when Clint Hill put a John Arne Riise cross into his goal, but QPR rallied and launched the unlikeliest of comebacks.
Adel Taarabt reduced the deficit on the stroke of half-time before Loic Remy netted moments after seeing a penalty saved by Mark Schwarzer.
The veteran Australian had to be at his best for the rest of the match and, despite Steve Sidwell's late sending off, Fulham held on, condemning QPR to a damaging defeat.
The hosts started brightest and, after early warning shots from Riise and Damien Duff, Samba thought he had thwarted Berbatov with a decent tackle inside the area.
However, the visiting defender had not accounted for Dejagah latching on to the loose ball and his late challenge on the winger resulted in a penalty. Berbatov took the spot-kick and nonchalantly sent Cesar the wrong way to give Fulham an eighth-minute advantage.
Stephane Mbia had to be alert to stop Bryan Ruiz grabbing a quickfire second, before Hill received an early booking for a late challenge on Giorgos Karagounis. Ruiz's effort from the resulting free-kick drifted just wide, before Berbatov headed wide from close range.
QPR were failing to cope with the hosts, who would have had a second had Brede Hangeland not seen a glancing header blocked by the giant frame of Samba.
That good work was soon undone, however, when Samba was caught out by the evergreen Duff, whose hassling forced the former Blackburn Rovers defender to lose possession in his own area. The ball fell to Berbatov, who applied a smart finish.
Remy and Andros Townsend then had strikes deflect behind as QPR pushed for a response, with the latter also seeing a fierce drive go inches wide.
Fulham, though, were still in control and almost went further ahead through Jose Bosingwa after the R’s right-back almost turned a Berbatov cross into his own goal. Things soon got worse for QPR when Hangeland, showing the skill and poise not normally associated with a centre-back, directed a deft backheel into the path of Riise, whose driven cross was deflected in by Hill.
However, QPR earned themselves a glimmer of hope late in the first half when Taarabt ran at the hosts' backline before firing low past Schwarzer.
Rangers came out with greater intent after the interval as Remy's shot was deflected just wide 10 seconds in and, after another strike was blocked by Hangeland, the Frenchman had a chance to reduce the arrears further from the penalty spot in the 49th minute.
Referee Lee Probert again pointed to the spot after Karagounis was fooled by the quick feet of Taarabt, but Remy's penalty was saved to his left by Schwarzer.
The France international, though, soon made amends, losing marker Philippe Senderos and continuing forward before thrashing a fierce strike in off the underside of the bar.
Townsend’s long-range shot moments later was well saved while Samba threatened next with a snapshot 20 minutes from time.
Remy passed up a good chance to level after wriggling free in the area and firing over as QPR pressed for a leveller, which would have come from Zamora's boot had Schwarzer not got down low to save.
Fulham were on the ropes and their hopes of hanging on were made even tougher when Sidwell received a straight red card for a scything down Armand Traore.
Remy curled another chance just wide as QPR pressed for the all-important leveller, but it would never come, and now their Barclays Premier League status appears to be in serious jeopardy.
Fulham manager Martin Jol: “It was a great game for the spectators. Overall it was a bit disappointing at 3-0 up and then you make it difficult for yourself.
"Hopefully 39 [points] will be enough, but it is tough you can still go down. Hopefully, we can go a bit higher but first we will celebrate the three points."
Queens Park Rangers manager Harry Redknapp: “A disastrous first half cost us, they were the worst goals I've seen in my life. They were scandalous goals. It was an absolute disaster.
"We came out in the second half and murdered them. We missed another penalty which has cost us again.We had enough possession in the second half; when it went 3-2 I thought we would win the game. We had twice as many shots as them.
“We are not giving up - we have got to win at Wigan. We have to keep going at the end of the day, we need another 14 points."
|13 Apr 2013||v Aston Villa (A)|
|07 Apr 2013||v Newcastle (A)|
|27 Apr 2013||v Everton (A)|
|20 Apr 2013||v Arsenal (H)|
|17 Apr 2013||v Chelsea (H)|
|19 May 2013||v Swansea (A)|