Steven Caulker scored the last of four late goals into his own net to give Liverpool a 3-2 win over Queens Park Rangers after an extraordinary rollercoaster finale at Loftus Road. Trailing 1-0 from another own goal, from Richard Dunne, midway through the second half, substitute Eduardo Vargas twice equalized in the final minutes either side of a Philippe Coutinho deflected effort to seemingly give the side bottom of the Premier League a much-needed and thoroughly deserved point. But, while they were poor for much of the encounter and certainly second- best in the first half, Liverpool showed impressive resolve to twice go back in front, with their winner coming five minutes into injury time when Caulker haplessly took the ball past his own goalkeeper.
It was a vital three points for Liverpool to take them up into fifth place as they attempt to make up lost ground at the top of the table. Brendan Rodgers can reflect on his team securing successive win for the first time this season, but, fresh from the news that Daniel Sturridge would be out for another month, in terms of quality, this was hardly a display to inspire confidence that they are back on track. Another listless performance form Mario Balotelli was characteristic of his team’s and reached its nadir when he somehow blazed over with an opening goal of the contest at his mercy. Liverpool had improved by that point in the second half, largely thanks to Steven Gerrard moving back to his deep-lying role. Dunne’s own goal after a quickly taken free-kick rewarded Liverpool before the arrival of Coutinho and fine second-half showing from Raheem Sterling saw them somehow over the line late on.
But it was none the less a result that flattered the visitors and was incredibly harsh on the hosts. With Bobby Zamora leading the way up front, Harry Redknapp’s men produced a display in sharp contrast to the meek offerings served up since their return to the Premier League. Liverpool’s defense were unable to deal with the physical pressure repeatedly put upon them and they could easily have been a couple of goals down at the break. Instead Leroy Fer struck the crossbar twice, while Glen Johnson had to make a goal-saving challenge. Vargas added a cutting edge to take advantage of more woeful Liverpool defending, but it was to be QPR’s failings at the back that were ultimately more costly.
It certainly didn’t look that way at the start. QPR reverted to a back three with which they began the season, but with veteran former Manchester United defender Rio Ferdinand this time left on the bench. It was Liverpool’s back line that was tested far more and looked far more vulnerable in an opening 45 minutes that surely provides a blueprint for QPR going forward if they are to survive the drop this season.
Through pushing up and applying pressure, while aiming aerial balls forward for Zamora, Liverpool’s much-troubled defense looked ill at ease. That was evident inside the first 10 minutes when both Johnson and Martin Skrtel failed to clear the ball to allow Charlie Austin to get through on goal. Simon Mignolet made a good stop on that occasion, but he was twice grateful to the frame of his goal to keep the match goalless by halftime. The excellent Zamora was involved in both instances, first running in down the side of Dejan Lovren and cutting the ball back for Fer, who, seemingly preoccupied by an incoming challenge, found the top of the crossbar rather than the back of the net. Just over five minutes later Fer struck the same area of the woodwork, this time when getting ahead of Mignolet to head against the bar from Zamora’s cross.
Liverpool had been horribly disjointed in the opening half, with the decision to move Gerrard to the forward most of the three midfielders backfiring. The veteran skipper had precious influence on proceedings, other than to shoot wide of the post with Liverpool’s best moment of the half right before the interval.
Rodgers switched Gerrard back behind Emre Can and Jordan Henderson at the break, but it still took a fine diving save from Mignolet to prevent his side falling behind to Sandro’s shot at the start of the second half. Liverpool did slowly improve, although they still failed to come anywhere close to the heights of last season. They should none the less have been in front just past the hour mark. Sterling began running at opponents to inject life into his side and it was exactly that route that led first to a clear chance for Adam Lallana that Alex McCarthy repelled and then could only watch as Balotelli blasted the rebound high into the stands.
The goal did soon come. It was Sterling’s quick thinking that led to it, leaving QPR’s players, including Dunne, still collecting their thoughts and their breath as Johnson put the ball in the box and, facing his own goal, the experienced Irish center-back turned it into the net. That looked like being that before one of the most remarkable finales ever seen to a Premier League encounter.
On loan from Napoli, Vargas showed the type of skill and energy that has so impressed for Chile to get his first goals in the Premier League. With three minute remaining he followed up his own cross into the box and, after Liverpool poorly failed to clear and Austin headed back across, he was perfectly placed to volley in from close range. At the other end, Liverpool broke swiftly through Sterling and Coutinho’s shot took a crucial deflection off the heel of Caulker to find the corner of the net. Neither side could close out the game, though. More poor set-piece defending from Liverpool allowed QPR an immediate response when Vargas’s near-post header from a corner crept through Joe Allen and Mignolet on the line. But the last word in a final few minutes that neutrals, if certainly not the two managers, wish could have gone on even longer, was Liverpool’s. Sterling’s pace caused panic once more and Caulker nudged the vivacious attacker’s low cross home with Balotelli waiting behind him to claim his first Premier League goal.