Doncaster Rovers may have seen in the new year with a defeat but there was plenty to suggest 2014 will not be as unhappy as perhaps expected.
To say the 2-1 loss at Loftus Road was a heartbreaker provides all you need to know about the brave performance from Paul Dickov’s men against the division’s big name rich outfit.
Returning striker Charlie Austin powered home a header three minutes into injury time to snatch all three points for relieved promotion-chasers Queens Park Rangers, denying Rovers a deserved share of the spoils and sending them tumbling into the bottom three.
They had been fully justified half-time leaders courtesy of a strike from the recalled Theo Robinson, which was ultimately cancelled out by a fortunate finish from Matt Phillips.
A group sapped of all confidence during December, Rovers started the new year brimming with the stuff as they took the game to Harry Redknapp’s Rangers.
The concerns over the inexperience of the defence evaporated as the back four turned in a superb performance, marshalled by Paul Quinn.
Luke McCullough in particular impressed, certainly in the second half when Rovers found themselves under increased pressure.
And in attack there was renewed fluidity and threat.
If there was an element of a gamble in Dickov opting to start teenager Alex Peterson ahead of Federico Macheda and Robinson against Millwall, this latest decision paid off at Loftus Road.
It was a move that demanded a reaction and Dickov was not to be disappointed.
Macheda in particular showed renewed drive, dropping deep to claim possession while strike partner Robinson looked to threaten with his pace operating off the shoulder of Richard Dunne.
The two forwards combined superbly for the game’s opening goal two minutes from the break.
Macheda collected a clearance just inside the Rangers half, turned and darted forward before releasing Robinson who slammed the ball into the far corner from just inside the area.
The goal delivered a half- time lead that Rovers fully deserved after crafting the better of the chances.
The game was much more open than perhaps expected with the hosts affording Rovers plenty of time on the ball.
Both sides were guilty of giving the ball away in midfield but Rangers were the greater offenders, allowing Rovers the better of the play.
Ross Turnbull was forced into one save in the first half and it came inside the opening five minutes when he easily claimed an Austin header.
Niko Kranjcar pulled a shot wide from the edge of the area in the best of a series of speculative first half efforts from Rangers.
Rovers, on the other hand, were much more composed in the opposition half. Mark Duffy just failed to connect with a cross from Robinson while Richie Wellens really should have opened the scoring after darting clear in the area only to fire wide.
Macheda should have done better also six minutes from the break when Duffy sent him through but he fired wide on the angle.
The Italian redeemed himself superbly minutes later with excellent composure to play in Robinson for the goal.
Redknapp sent on Andrew Johnson after the break with QPR switching to a standard 4-4-2 with wide players clearly instructed to send high crosses into the box.
One such ball brought the equaliser but it also came with a dose of good fortune and only after Rovers had been denied what seemed a clear -cut penalty.
Wellens was toppled by the already cautioned Gary O’Neil claiming a high ball into the box but referee Graham Scott was not convinced.Within seconds Rangers were level.
Benoit Assou-Ekkotto’s cross stuck under the boot of David Cotterill as he attempted to clear, allowing Johnson to stab a shot on goal before squaring to Phillips who slotted into an empty net.
QPR turned up the heat as the half wore on but the composed Rovers defence looked capable of holding on. Austin fired a couple of warning shots of what was to come with a pair of back post headers that failed to find the target.
Turnbull produced a fine save to deny Kranjcar who drilled low from the edge of the area.
A certain degree of over-exuberance from Rovers played into QPR’s hands as the game reached injury time.
A free kick close to the corner flag was sent into the area rather than played cautiously and Rangers broke ruthlessly from the clearance with Austin heading home within seconds.
It brought late disappointment but what came before delivered a good deal of optimism.
QPR: Green 6, Simpson 6, Dunne 6, Onuoha 6, Assou-Ekotto 7, Barton 7, Kranjcar 7 (Traore 84), O’Neil 6, Benayoun 6 (Johnson 46), Hoilett (Phillips 13, 7), Austin 7.
Subs not used: Murphy, Hill, Carroll, Henry.
Cards: Yellow: O’Neil 14, Johnson 90.
Rovers: Turnbull 6, Wakefield 7, Quinn 7, McCullough 8, Stevens 7, Cotterill 6, Wellens 7, Furman 7, Duffy 7, Robinson 7 (Brown 78), Macheda 7 (Forrester 82).
Subs not used: Maxted, Woods, De Val, Bennett, Peterson.
Cards: Yellow: Brown 86.
referee: Graham Scott (Oxford)