ALBION slipped a sickening 3-2 defeat at Loftus Road as they let a two-goal lead slip against QPR.
It was a hugely frustrating outcome for Albion who could claim to have been the better team for so much of the contest but were undone by twin forces of Charlie Austin and their own fallibility at corners.
All three of Austin’s goals sprang directly or indirectly from the source laying to ruin so much promising football from Alan Irvine’s team which had seen them open a two-goal lead inside 20 minutes as Joleon Lescott and Silvestre Varela scored their first for the club.
But a hotly-disputed penalty, converted by Austin, from QPR’s first corner brought Rangers back into the game before the in-form striker pulled them level in the 48th minute and then grabbed the winner three minutes from normal time.
A same-again Albion line-up were facing a Rangers outfit buoyed by the return from suspension of top scorer Austin but the opening was dominated by the Baggies.
They might easily have been two goals to the good before eventually striking, with Craig Gardner forcing Robert Green into a diving save inside two minutes after Stephane Sessegnon had provided the set-up.
Then Brown Ideye snatched at a real opening – Sessegnon once more the provider – in the seventh minute and sent his right-footed shot-on-the-turn high over from a good position.
The Baggies' record signing was nevertheless playing a full and energetic role in this impressive opening spell and it yielded the breakthrough three minutes later after Gardner had forced a corner.
Sebastien Pocognoli’s service was touched on by Sessegnon at the near-post enabling Lescott to score with a second header Green could only palm into his net. It was the defender’s first goal for more than two years.
It was no great surprise when Albion doubled their lead in the 20th minute – and a memorable moment it was for Varela. As Gardner broke down play, he set off towards a stretched Rangers defence and played a perfect one-two with Sessegnon. That played Varela clear and he casually slipped his finish under Green as he advanced.
Amid this impressive Albion dominance, it was frustrating for the visitors to hand QPR a cheap route back into the match. But from the home side’s first corner in the 24th minute, referee Craig Pawson spotted James Morrison getting enough of a hold on Leroy Fer to award a penalty.
Albion’s protests came to nothing and Austin slammed home the penalty with meaning.
But the Baggies quietened Rangers’ revival and created the best openings before the break. Green produced an outstanding save from Sessegnon – playing his game of the season so far - in the 40th minute from the best of them.
Instead it was Rangers who were level three minutes after the restart when a Joey Barton corner proved their undoing.
Richard Dunne won the first header which eluded a full-stretch Ben Foster put cannoned off the bar. Bobby Zamora turned it back into the centre of the penalty area for Austin to nab a point-blank second.
A richly-entertaining second-half then had the minutes racing away as the two teams went at each other with gusto. Albion always produced the more measured football while Rangers were restricted to the counter-attack but dangerous nonetheless.
It was difficult to believe neither team could add to their total but it was a terrific Foster save in the 79th minute as he defied Austin which was the next most difficult action for either 'keeper.
Albion threw on Saido Berahino for Ideye with 20 minutes remaining and he nearly sneaked a third at the near post at the end of a Gardner cross.
But then came the sting in the tail for Albion. Maddeningly, Barton produced a poor 86th-minute corner which flew straight to Sessegnon only for Albion’s man of the match to miscue his clearance for another corner.
And this one was the killer as Austin eluded Albion’s marking and met Barton’s corner with a powerful header.
There was time for one final moment of frustration for the visitors as Berahino broke away and found space to fire a left-footer which cannoned away off a post.
Albion: Foster, Wisdom, Lescott, McAuley, Pocognoli (Gamboa 90), Gardner, Dorrans, Morrison, Varela, Sessegnon, Ideye (Berahino 69).
Subs: Myhill, Baird, Dawson, Yacob, Mulumbu.
Goals: Lescott (10); Varela (20)
QPR: Green, Onuoha, Caulker, Dunne, Suk-Young (Hill 29), Vargas (Hoilett 67), Barton, Henry, Fer, Austin, Zamora (Krancar).
Subs: McCarthy, Ferdinand, Phillips, Mutch.
Goals: Austin (24, 48, 87)
Bookings: Dunne (foul, 39)
Referee: Craig Pawson (Yorkshire)
Attendance: 17,560 (1,475 Albion fans)
Albion star man: Stephane Sessegnon