QPR missed the chance to return to the top of the Championship after being beaten 2-0 by Birmingham at St Andrew’s. Auston Trusty and Emmanuel Longelo, on loan from Arsenal and West Ham respectively, gave a spirited Birmingham a platform for victory with their first-half goals.
The Birmingham goalkeeper John Ruddy saved a 79th-minute penalty from Lyndon Dykes to ensure there would be no late fightback from the visitors. It capped a miserable return to the West Midlands for the QPR head coach Michael Beale, Steven Gerrard’s former assistant at Aston Villa who recently turned down the vacant manager’s job at Wolves.
QPR also lost former Birmingham loan defender Jake Clarke-Salter and forward Tyler Roberts to injuries before half-time. A freakish goal gave Birmingham a great start as they took the lead inside four minutes. Trusty’s hopeful overhead flick looped over the helpless goalkeeper Seny Dieng after Krystian Bielik returned Hannibal Mejbri’s corner to the danger area after it had been punched clear.
Undeterred, QPR attacked the home goal and Ilias Chair’s curling free-kick needed a firm hand from goalkeeper Ruddy to help it over the bar. Roberts was just as close with a side-footed effort from the edge of the box that deflected up off Harlee Dean and on to the roof of the net. QPR then lost Clarke-Salter and Roberts in the space of six minutes before they conceded a second goal in the 29th minute.
The left wing-back Longelo teased Ethan Laird before cutting inside to the corner of the penalty area and rolling in a low shot that crept inside the far bottom corner of the net. Rangers tried to hit back and a curling free-kick from captain Stefan Johansen was inches away, although replays showed a corner was incorrectly awarded after no contact from a Birmingham player.
The substitute Sinclair Armstrong missed two chances for QPR before the break when he scuffed his shot from eight yards out then glanced over. Dykes also sent a low drive skidding just wide as the high-flying visitors sought an immediate reply following the restart.
But Birmingham were growing in confidence and Longelo’s inviting cross just needed a touch for a third goal, only for it to fall fractionally behind Scott Hogan. Ruddy’s heroics came when he made a superb stop to keep out Dykes’ spot-kick after Longelo was judged to have raised his foot on Laird as they challenged for a deep cross.
“I think everything that could have gone wrong did,” Beale said after the match. “I don’t want to take anything away from Birmingham because they’re a good team with a real spirit. You could see it because I thought they fought for every first and second ball and they ran hard and made the game ugly for us.
“They got the first goal and it was going to be an uphill battle, but I thought we responded quite well from that,” the QPR manager added. “We were a bit unfortunate with an effort from Tyler Roberts that hit the bar. But for us, pretty much everything went wrong.”
The Birmingham manager, John Eustace, praised Ruddy after his “unbelievable” penalty save helped the hosts see out victory. “John has been superb since he has come in, he really led by example. I want people at this football club with a point to prove and who want to fight and scrap for each other.
“As soon as I spoke to John in the summer, he said he’s got a point to prove because he wanted to play and Birmingham is a fantastic club,” Eustace added. “He’s been promoted out of this league, his experience has been brilliant.”