Queen Park Rangers' chances of beating the drop look bleaker than ever after defensive mistakes cost them dear in tonight's west London derby 3-2 loss at Fulham.
Harry Redknapp has just seven matches left to pull off the greatest of escapes after tonight's utterly avoidable 3-2 defeat by the Thames. Last season QPR suffered a staggering 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 gifted the Cottagers their first two goals, bringing down Ashkan Dejagah to allow Dimitar Berbatov to net an eighth-minute penalty. Things got worse soon after when Samba lost possession of the ball on the edge of his own box, allowing Berbatov to coolly slot home past Julio Cesar.
Clint Hill then put a John Arne Riise cross into his goal, but QPR rallied and launched the unlikeliest of comebacks. Adel Taarabt, who stormed out at half-time of last season's Craven Cottage encounter, 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 potentially season-defining 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 box.
However, the Rangers defender had not accounted for Dejagah latching onto the loose ball and his late challenge on the winger saw referee Lee Probert point to the spot. Berbatov stepped up to take the resulting penalty and nonchalantly sent Julio 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 poor challenge on Giorgos Karagounis. Ruiz's effort from the resulting free-kick drifted just wide, before Berbatov somehow headed wide from close range.
Berbatov bags an early brace
QPR were failing to cope with the hosts, who would had a second had Brede Hangeland not seen a glancing header blocked by the giant frame of Samba. That good work was soon undone, though, as the January signing stumbled again. Samba was caught out by the evergreen Duff, whose hassling saw the ball end up at Berbatov's feet, allowing him to burst into the box before finishing with aplomb.
Fulham fans were quick to goad their rivals, before a wayward Bobby Zamora strike saw the target of their ire aimed at their former striker. Remy and Andros Townsend saw 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 Rs right-back almost turned a Berbatov cross into his own goal.
And, after Urby Emanuelson replaced the injured Dejagah, things got worse for QPR. 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 home by Hill. However, QPR gave themselves a glimmer of hope late in the first half when Taarabt ran at the hosts' backline before firing low past Schwarzer.
Nedum Onuoha came on for Hill for the start of second period, which the visitors started with renewed intensity. Remy saw a shot deflect just wide ten seconds in and, after a strike was blocked by Hangeland, had a chance from the penalty spot in the 49th minute.
Probert 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 French international, though, soon made amends, losing marker Philippe Senderos and continuing forward before thrashing home off the underside of the bar.
Townsend saw a long-range shot saved soon after but QPR's pressure soon petered out, with Samba next to threaten with a snapshot 20 minutes from time. Remy wasted a glorious chance to level after wriggling free in the box 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 perhaps harsh straight red card for scything down Armand Traore. Remy curled just wide as QPR pressed for an all-important leveller that never came, leaving their Premier League status in serious danger.