QPR’s perfect penalties sink Everton and leave Benítez staring into space

Seny Dieng thought that he had given QPR the edge. So did the majority inside a stadium that pulsed to the raucous beat of an enthralling Carabao Cup tie, including a pitch invader who made it as far as the centre circle, despite looking a little unsteady on his feet. He would be bundled away.

But what was happening now? Dieng had stood up to Ben Godfrey’s penalty kick for Everton in the second round of sudden death, beating it away, only for the referee, Kevin Friend, to spot that the QPR goalkeeper had left his line. Retake, he said. Godfrey scored and Everton had a lifeline. It was a marginal call by Friend. Everton led 7-6.

How was QPR’s mettle now? How was that of Dieng? Pretty solid, as it turned out. They refused to lose their focus, to let a memorable victory slip through their fingers. Up stepped Luke Amos, a substitute, playing his first football in 11 months after cruciate knee ligament surgery, to score in nerveless fashion.

Then came Dieng’s moment. He read the intentions of Tom Davies, plunging the right way to paw the kick against a post and away, and the scene was set for Jimmy Dunne. The central defender lashed the ball past Asmir Begovic, the upset was realised and three sides of the ground rocked in celebration.

Rafael Benítez stared into the space in front of him. The Everton manager had experienced defeat for the first time at the club on Saturday – the 3-0 reverse at Aston Villa – and he had demanded a reaction. Benítez was not afraid to say that the ability of his players to bounce back would have a major bearing on their season.

QPR had a real go, as they tend to under Mark Warburton. With Ilias Chair and Chris Willock to the fore in the first half, all twinkle toes and sharp distribution, they took a 2-1 lead into the break. Charlie Austin scored both their goals, with Lucas Digne on target for Everton in between.

It was a different story after the restart, one of Everton control. They equalised for the second time through Andros Townsend, a one-time QPR player, and they chased a winner thereafter. Benítez sensed the moment he had demanded. But it did not come.

Abdoulaye Doucouré, another substitute, thought he might have had a penalty on 75 minutes when he was touched by Rob Dickie only for Friend to be unmoved.

QPR rode their luck at times, they showed their resilience at all times and, in the end, Warburton could praise his players to the rafters.

Rangers have been in good form since the turn of the year, winning twice as many games as they have lost, and they took the lead moments after Dieng had made his first save of the night – a low one to deny Anthony Gordon after a sweeping Everton counter.

The breakthrough came after Willock showed off his electric footwork before playing a no-look pass into Chair, who had broken in behind the Everton defence. He laid the ball off to Sam McCallum, who crossed and, when Begovic could only parry, Austin craned his neck to direct the header home. Gordon could not make the goalline clearance.

Everton rallied. There were groans from the home crowd when Yoann Barbet slipped to allow Alex Iwobi clean through. QPR are prone to these sort of lapses but Dieng made the one-on-one save.

Everton pressed on and the equaliser was a beauty, Townsend picking out the run of Digne up the inside left channel with a floated pass. Digne’s finish, a first-time volley low into the near corner, was also lovely.

QPR deserved their half-time lead and it was Austin who provided it. Once again, Chair was prominent, his cross from the left setting up Austin for an aerial duel with Godfrey. The striker won it comprehensively and the headed finish was marked by deftness.

Everton’s second equaliser came straight after the interval and it was created by André Gomes, who drilled a low corner towards Salomón Rondón at the near post. At first, it felt as if Gomes had miskicked but not so. Rondón flicked on, Mason Holgate contested the next phase and there was a kind break for Townsend, who swept home from point-blank range.

Everton grew in confidence, they pressed on to the front foot. Townsend enjoyed himself and both Gordon and Digne threatened to get in behind the QPR wing-backs. Gordon’s close control and direct running was a feature of an encouraging performance.

Doucouré helped to tighten Everton’s grip and, after his penalty appeal, there was another near miss from Michael Keane, on as a substitute, who headed over. QPR would not be broken.

“We did quite well,” Benítez said. “We had 17 attempts and showed good character but we still have to be better in both areas. We conceded too easily and missed chances that made a difference.”

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