Football League World
·28 November 2023
Football League World
·28 November 2023
Ben Pearson's 89th-minute own goal and Chris Willock's stoppage-time strike secured the three points for the hosts after Lyndon Dykes' brace and goals from Stoke duo Ryan Mmaee and Wouter Burger left the game level at 2-2 heading into the final blows.
The Potters were forced to play with 10 for more than half an hour after Enda Stevens was shown a second yellow and the hosts capitalised - scoring more than one goal at home for the first time in more than 400 days - to pick up just their third win of the season and climb above Rotherham United into 22nd.
Terry Venables - the former R's player and coach who won promotion back to the First Division and took the West Londoners to an FA Cup final - was honoured ahead of kick-off after passing away at the age of 80 over the weekend.
Cifuentes would no doubt love to have half the success El Tel did at Loftus Road and there is optimism that things are moving in the right direction under the Spaniard but after two draws and a defeat, it was a first win that he was searching for on Tuesday night - having failed in the previous three attempts.
His side would make the perfect start as Dykes put them ahead from the penalty spot in the 11th minute. Enda Stevens pulled down Steve Cook as he tried to convert Ilias Chair's cross to the back post and referee James Linington blew for a spot kick, which the R's Scottish number nine hammered into the bottom right-hand corner.
There was encouragement for both sets of attackers in what was a frantic opening half hour. Stoke's front four linked up well without ever finding the killer pass while Paul Smyth, Jack Colback, and Chair were all able to scare the visitors with darting runs forward.
Neil's side were happy to commit bodies forward as they searched for their equaliser but that left space for the R's to exploit. They did just that in the 32nd minute when Colback fed Chair, whose outside of boot through ball went straight through Pearson, rebounded off Elijah Dixon-Bonner and into the path of Smyth but his shot was parried behind by Jack Bonham.
Bonham would come to his side's aid again just before the break, denying an unconvincing Dykes in a one-on-one after he'd seized on Ciaran Clark's under-hit pass. That would prove a pivotal moment as the Potters were level just minutes later.
Luke McNally's hacked clearance was misjudged by Dunne, allowing Tyrese Campbell to fly down the right and through on goal. Asmir Begovic raced out to smother his effort but was unable to keep out Mmaee's 45th-minute equaliser from the resulting corner. The Potters forward saw his initial volley blocked but reacted fastest to smash in the leveller at the second attempt.
The momentum swung back the R's way seven minutes into the second half when Stevens, who had been booked when he gave away the penalty, was shown a second yellow card for tripping Chair as he raced into the box from the right.
But it was the 10 men of Stoke that would strike next as Burger, offered far too much space by Cook on the edge of the box, curled one past the diving Begovic and into the bottom corner to put the visitors ahead just before the hour.
That was a sucker punch for the hosts but they still had the player advantage and pushed hard to make the most of it. Chair rattled the post but it was Dykes, who'd miss had been so costly before the break, that found the breakthrough in the 79th minute. The Scotland international took down a looping blocked cross on his chest before volleying into the bottom corner from the edge of the box.
And Cifuentes' side still had time for a winner. Substitute Ziyad Larkeche battled hard to win the ball in the Stoke corner and drive a probing cross across the box, which Pearson turned into his net to give the R's an 89th-minute lead.
The West Londoners weren't done yet either as Chris Willock, another sub, capped off the victory by sneaking an edge-of-the-box strike in at the near post after the ball had been won in midfield.
A first victory for Cifuentes, who has ended the R's eight-month wait for a win at Loftus Road. The future looks bright under the Spanish coach.
Asmir Begovic - 6
Osman Kakay - 6 (Reggie Cannon (62) - 6)
Jimmy Dunne - 5 (Jake Clarke-Salter (73) - 6)
Steve Cook - 6
Kenneth Paal - 6
Elijah Dixon-Bonner - 5 (Chris Willock (62) - 7)
Sam Field - 7 (Charlie Kelman (73) - 5)
Jack Colback - 7 (Ziyad Larkeche (88) - 7)
Paul Smyth - 6
Lyndon Dykes - 8
Ilias Chair - 7
Jack Bonham - 7
Lynden Gooch - 5
Luke McNally - 6
Ciaran Clark - 5
Enda Stevens - 3
Ben Pearson - 5
Wouter Burger - 7 (Josh Laurent (82) - 5)
Andre Vidigal - 5 (Ki-Jana Hoever (58) - 6)
Tyrese Campbell - 6 (Daniel Johnson (71) - 5)
Bae Jun-Ho - 6 (Mehdi Leris (71) - 5)
Ryan Mmaee - 7 (Wesley (82) - 5)
Unused subs: Tommy Simkin, Michael Rose, Dwight Gayle, Jordan Thompson, Wesley,
That includes 1,123 away fans.
Cifutentes was delighted to have won his first game as R's boss - dedicating it to the fans, the players, and Terry Venables.
"A rollercoaster of a game," he said. "A fantastic win for all of us. Not only for me as a manager, obviously, I was looking forward to it, especially at home.
"I'm very happy, first of all for the players because they're working really hard, really well in the week, and it was not easy to accept that against Norwich we didn't get any points. Secondly, for the supporters because they've been amazing since my arrival.
"And also, I really wanted to win this game for the memory of Terry Venables, all his family so it was important for us to make sure we could win. Especially in a game like this, with everything that happened - the red card, the penalty, them taking the lead. It was a milestone for us definitely."
Neil vented his frustration at the influence of the referee after the game but found positives in his team's display.
"I thought there was two horrific decisions in the game that changed the complexion of the game. The first one, if you've seen the penalty back, for me it's as soft a penalty as you're likely to get. I thought in the second half, Ciaran Clark had ones that were far, far worse.
"The sending off is really soft. Really, really soft. I thought both decisions were really poor."
"Really disappointing," Neil continued. "Because let's be honest, if both teams had 11 on the pitch, we by far and away the better side in the game for me. They had a few moments, which for me came from us giving the ball away in the first half, but I thought we were the brighter side, we took the lead deservedly. I thought we were going to go on and win the game quite comfortably."