Queens Park Rangers are one step away from an immediate return to the Premier League after a 2-1 victory over Wigan Athletic on Monday in the second leg of their Football League Championship play-off semi-final.
Charlie Austin scored both goals for Rangers, equalising from the penalty spot in the second half before bagging the winner in extra time from substitute Bobby Zamora's cross.
James Perch had put Wigan ahead in the ninth minute, but they were unable to hold on despite leading for more than an hour.
The first leg ended in a scoreless draw last week at Wigan's DW Stadium, giving QPR a 2-1 aggregate victory. Rangers will face Derby at Wembley in the final on May 24 after the Rams defeated Brighton and Hove Albion 6-2 over two legs in the other semi-final.
At stake in the play-off final is a place in next season's Premier League—a promotion that could be worth up to £120 million, per a Deloitte report cited by Reuters. QPR are hoping to secure immediate promotion back to the Premier League after being relegated from the top flight last spring.
Rare to see neutrals so invested in a play-off final. Derby in many ways the paragon of grassroots/sustainable footy ... and then QPR.— Zack Goldman (@ThatDamnYank) May 12, 2014
After last week's drab draw, the second leg had a goal in under 10 minutes. Perch did the honours for Wigan, turning in James McClean's driven cross from the left. The visitors were flying, but it turned out to be their high point of a long evening.
QPR looked to equalise right away and appealed for a handball in the 20th minute when Wigan's James McArthur controlled the ball in his own box. Replays were inconclusive as to whether McArthur had used his arm or his torso, and referee Mark Clattenburg waved play on despite QPR's strong protests.
At the other end in the 23rd minute, Wigan nearly had a chance after McClean ran on to a poor back pass by Gary O'Neil. Bursting into the box, McClean went to ground after playing the ball past Robert Green.
The QPR goalkeeper had not made any contact, however, and Clattenburg booked McClean for simulation.
One minute later, Perch rolled a cross into QPR's box for Shaun Maloney, whose shot was partially blocked and then saved by Green.
QPR came close again in the 33rd minute, Niko Kranjcar forcing Scott Carson to save a rasping shot from the edge of the box. O'Neil flashed a shot across the goal in the 37th minute, and Austin saw his header cleared off the line by McClean two minutes later.
As the second half began, QPR dominated possession while continuing to chase an equaliser. Kranjcar had a volley blocked in the 55th minute, and Richard Dunne headed off target from close range following a corner two minutes later.
But for all of QPR's territorial dominance, Wigan had a big chance to score a second goal in the 68th minute. Picking up a loose ball on the edge of QPR's box, McClean saw his shot saved one-on-one by Green before hitting the rebound off the near upright.
QPR earned a lifeline in the 72nd minute as Junior Hoillet won a penalty after drawing a foul by Caldwell just inside the box. Austin kept his nerve and converted the spot-kick to draw the hosts level with 17 minutes remaining.
Finally back on level terms, QPR pushed on in search of the winner. They came close in the 82nd minute, when Zamora lifted a chipped finish on to the roof of the net as Carson raced off his line trying to block.
The teams remained level at 1-1 after 90 minutes, sending the match into extra time. Both sides used all three substitutions in regular time, making fatigue a potential factor in the 30 extra minutes.
QPR took the lead in the 96th minute, Austin poking into the net instinctively from Zamora's lofted ball into the box.
Wigan tried to hit back quickly, Leon Barnett sending a header off target in the 99th minute. Austin then came close to completing his hat-trick in the 106th minute, but Carson tipped his looping shot over the bar.
McClean had a shot blocked as Wigan tried to counter at pace in the 113th minute. Then, in the closing seconds, Robert Kiernan's last-gasp effort was deflected dangerously just wide of the post.
|Starting XI||Half-Time Rating||Final Rating|
|Yun Suk-Young (for Hill, 50')||N/A||7.3|
|Bobby Zamora (for Doyle, 65')||N/A||7.3|
|Ravel Morrison (for O'Neil, 69')||N/A||6.2|
Ratings via WhoScored.com
QPR manager Harry Redknapp praised his side's performance and said a change in system—to a two-man strikeforce—led to the victory. Speaking to Sky Sports, he said:
It's been a fantastic night. (Wigan) started well. I thought for 20 minutes they came out and we had problems with their system. We wanted to put pressure on but we couldn't get out, we didn't have an out ball.
Then we went with two up front and I think the game changed then. From then on, I thought we were the better team. All round it was a great performance. We showed a lot of character, great character. Everybody dug in.