Austin Banks Play Off Final Date.....
The moment of truth was finally here, ninety minutes away from Wembley and the chance to visit the holy grail of English Football for a one off shoot out for promotion back to the Premier League.
Could the R's overcome a strong Wigan side and reach a play off final for the first time in nine years? We were about to find out.
The tension was building throughout the day as the gang shared Whats App messages regarding the ticket prices that had been released by Derby and we were already planning on where we were going to book tickets, taking our minds off the fact we still had a huge ninety minutes plus the potential for extra time and penalties ahead of us.
I was the first to arrive with Sam and Jack, as Luke and Jointy enjoyed a pre-match pint in the Springbok. I was greeted by Michael and Zach (thanks for the beer!) as we had a beverage to calm the nerves that were slowly beginning to get worse as kick off inched closer. Lofty then joined us for a beer before and half cut Jenson, Banksy and Lorna then came along. PK joined us in the stands just in time to hold up our sheets for the mosaic that covered Loftus Road as the players entered the field.
Jess was slightly late owing to train issues, but missed very little.
Two changes were made to the side that drew at the DW Stadium on Friday.
Niko Kranjcar and Kevin Doyle replaced Ravel Morrison, who dropped to the bench, and Armand Traore who missed out completely.
The opening exchanges saw the R's enjoy the better of the play, whilst it was clear to see Wigan's game plan, sit back and catch us on the counter attack through the pace of McClean and McManaman.
However it was Wigan that grabbed an early break through.
Rangers' stood off Beausejour as he slipped a pass to McClean on the right side of the R's box before he whipped in a delightful cross for Perch to tap in from two yards out. McClean was given too much space before Hill lost Perch's advancing run before he opening the scoring.
The early goal dampened what was a great atmosphere inside Loftus Road as the anxiety started to creep into the home fans.
McClean and McManaman were pressure the R's high up the pitch and this meant that Rangers' had very little space to play their usual patient passing game. The high pressing meant that we were often left looking for a long ball to Austin, who was isolated up front on his own and was in desperate need of support from his team mates.
With 20 minutes gone O'Neil's backpass left McClean through on goal as he took a heavy touch before diving over Green and appealing for a penalty. Absolutely shocking dive! He's obviously been taking lessons from Jordi Gomez!!
Rangers' then made a tactical change on the half hour as Doyle moved into a more advanced position alongside Austin as Hoilett and Kranjcar occupied the wings.
This then saw the home side become a lot more of an attacking threat and the chances then became a lot more frequent as we searched for an equaliser.
Kranjcar was becoming a heavier influence on the game and was the more likely to be the one to unlock the solid Wigan defence. He forced the first save out of Carson as he picked up the loose ends of a corner before turning Perch inside out and unleashing a drive that Carson done very well to divert wide for a corner.
This gave us the hope that was needed to drive us forward as O'Neil flashed an effort wide before Austin saw a header cleared off the line by McClean.
At half time we were scratching our heads as to how we did not take any of the chances created, with crosses flashing across the box without a final touch being applied and Carson being in fine form when called upon. The optimism was there, however we needed that all important breakthrough before we overcommitted players and get caught out by Wigan's lightening counter attacks.
The second half started as it ended, with the R's in the ascendency. Two quickfire corners were won, with Hoilett coming closest to testing Carson, with his shot flying just wide.
Redknapp made his first change just five minutes into the half as Clint Hill was replaced by Yun Suk-Young. Joey Barton took over the captains armband.
It was clear to see why the change was made as we soon saw Yun bombing up and down the left wing and providing the width we were lacking down that side of the pitch.
Joey Barton was involved everything good about the R's as he was winning the midfield battle as well as keeping the heads up of the team as he looked to do all he could to get us back in the game.
With twenty five minutes left on the clock, super sub Bobby Zamora entered the fray in the place of Kevin Doyle.
Wigan then had a golden opportunity to extend their lead. Sloppy Rangers' defending lead to McClean being clean through and forcing a great stop from Green but as the ball bobbled loose McClean's second effort hit the outside of the post! Massive let off!!!
Instantly after that Ravel Morrison replaced Gary O'Neil.
A minute later some sharp interchanging passes saw Barton feed Hoilett on the edge of the box before the Canadian fire just wide once again.
On 72 minutes the chance we had been waiting for arrived!
Following passes from Morrison, Kranjcar, Barton and Simpson we saw Zamora expertly flick the ball into the path of the on rushing Hoilett, who was then taken down by Gary Caldwell inches inside the box... Penalty!!
Up stepped the ever reliable Charlie Austin and he rifled the penalty down the left hand side to bring it level at 1-1!!
Bobby Zamora took a nasty kick from Scott Carson as the Wigan keeper looked to smash the ball clear to stop him getting the ball and instead volleyed Zamora's right leg.
The home crowd were lifted once again and the belief was there for us all, this was going to happen it was just a case of when not if, should the R'continue to play with such intensity.
Zamora's inclusion saw him hold the ball up exceptionally well and bring players into the game, he was a man on a mission and looked like he was up for the fight and proving that he was the one to really make a difference in the attacking third. He almost done that as he latched onto a long ball and looped the ball over Carson's head only to see his effort rest on the roof of the net.
The remaining minutes were played out as both teams looked to settle for extra time.
A second short break for the gang as we took the opportunity to stretch our legs before the drama continued as we had thirty more agonising minutes to put ourselves through, no nails were left to bite, we just had to rely on the remains of the mints I had in my pocket.
Despite the R's looking like they were carrying some heavy legs in Dunne and Kranjcar, they still kept the tempo up and continued to take the game to Wigan in search of that second goal.
Five minutes into extra time it actually happened!
Danny Simpson's throw in was cleverly looped into the box by Zamora and there was Charlie Austin to poke the ball home from close range!! Cue pandemonium!!!!
The final twenty five minutes were extremely nervy, with Rangers' played the ball in the corner for the final seven minutes and done all they can to run the clock down.
There was very nearly one final twist as Kiernan's effort in second half injury time took a massive deflection and dropped millimetres wide of the far post!
Following what felt like an additional five minutes and four Wigan corners, it was finally over!!
Wembley, Wembleyyyyyy we're the famous Queens Park Rangers and we're off to Wembley.........
What can I say?? I'm rambled on for what seems like a lifetime now in what was a hugely dramatic encounter and every emotion going was experienced throughout the 132 minutes of football we watched!
The atmosphere in the ground was the best it has been for a long time and it was great to see us take a game to a team and get the rewards for it. So many shots were taken and Carson has to take credit for keeping the score down.
Three players stood out for me today.
Nedum Onuoha was solid as a rock tonight and did not put a foot wrong! The Chief has consistently been our best defender for a number of weeks now and is really catching the eye after a host of solid performances.
Joey Barton was immense throughout the game today and was a real leader of men throughout it all. He lead the midfield though the battlefield and lead the team to victory in the final eighty minutes of the game.
Thirdly, who else but Charlie Austin!! The man is indescribable!! He always pops up when it matters the most and scoring 20 goals this season, what a signing he has been!
Onto our Man of the Match. Lofty voted for Hoilett and his energetic performance and winning the penalty that led to our equaliser. We however have a tied vote for Man of the Match as Jenson and Banksy, Jess and Lorna opted for Charlie Austin and votes from Sam, Luke, PK and myself for Joey Barton led to a tie. Usually I would go for an editors choice, however on this occasion I'm going to leave it as Charlie Austin and Joey Barton being our Men of the Match.
Once the lap of honour was over we finally took a moment to catch our breath and savour the moment! Several celebratory selfies were taken of the gang as we let it all take over and let the joy and relief ooze out of our bodies.
So Banksy attends his one game a game a season in the most dramatic game of the season so far, unfortunately for him he has booked his holiday and will not get the chance to visit the new Wembley with us. All is not lost, we will see him once next year!
Well that's my final report of the season as I have given Lofty the honour of covering what will be a special day on 24th May.
I'd just like to say thank you all for your continued support of Lofty Heights and I will look forward to seeing you all next season!!