Queens Park Rangers have emerged from the depths of despair to book a date with destiny in next weekend's Championship play-off final after an edgy, energetic encounter with Wigan Athletic, reversing a one-goal deficit thanks to a brilliant brace from Charlie Austin, expertly finished when it mattered most early in extra-time.
Hoops chairman Tony Fernandes was dancing in the stands after Austin completed a remarkable turnaround which belied a bruising battle against Wigan Athletic, which for so long looked set to send the Latics to Wembley Stadium for the third time this season.
James Perch's ninth-minute strike had Wigan ahead for 64 minutes in West London, but ultimately Austin's clinical penalty kick followed by a true poachers finish in extra-time proved enough to earn Hoops boss Harry Redknapp a shot at redemption against Derby County a week on Saturday.
Loftus Road was positively bouncing early on and roared the award of a QPR corner kick inside two minutes with fervour, but that fantastic early atmosphere was soon shattered under the weight on an incisive Wigan counter that broke the deadlock.
Perch was the man who finished the move after being allowed to ghost beyond Junior Hoilett at the far post on nine minutes, but much of the credit for that strike must go to James McClean, who made a willing run out towards the corner flag and matched it with a quality cross in the opposite direction.
From there Perch could scarcely miss, although he gobbled up the opportunity from close range with a drive that belied a return of just one goal in all competitions prior to kickoff.
Rangers looked on the ropes for 10 minutes after that bodyblow, with Austin left alarmingly isolated in attack and lacking genuine support.
Wigan looked slick in patches and may have doubled their advantage if McClean had elected to stay on his feet rather than produce a frankly pathetic drive under a desperate challenge from Robert Green.
Referee Mark Clattenburg saw through the shameful effort and awarded a yellow card, much to the relief of a home crowd who needed time to catch their breath after a frenetic start to the match.
Hoops boss Redknapp switched to a 4-4-2 midway through the first half in search of creative impetus in the final third, something their opponents had shown in potent flashes thanks to the pace and endeavour of a front three lead in the main by McClean.
Kevin Doyle joined Austin in attack and soon after Rangers began to see some semblance of end product from a very direct approach, with Nico Kranjcar's jinking run inside providing the platform for Gary O'Neil to flash wide.
Soon after Wigan were rather fortunate to escape with their lead intact after Austin seized on a looping corner kick and turned towards goal, an effort which rebounded back off the forward and just inches wide via the aid of a last-ditch deflection from a covering defender.
The visitors survived five added minutes at the end of the first-half despite strong pressure, which was committed but very limited in terms of approach.
Rangers continued to dominate possession and territory after the break, although once again their efforts were undermined by the lack of a killer pass in the final third.
The corner count continued to rise though as Wigan dropped deeper, inviting pressure which eventually resulted in Scott Carson producing a fine stop to divert Junior Hoilett's dangerous curling cross clear away from danger.
Redknapp threw on Bobby Zamora with 25 minutes left to play, although soon after it was nearly McClean who came within inches of doubling his tally and ending the tie.
The forward managed to latch onto an accidental flick from substitute Roger Espinoza and edge towards goal, but on a slipper surface his second touch beyond Green took him too wide and a late flick from a wide angle could only trickle back off the post.
Frustrated Hoops fans soon went from agony to ecstasy though thanks to a long overdue piece of quality in the final third, as Zamora's flick inside found the driving run of Hoilett, who in turn used his pace to draw a suicidal sliding challenge from Gary Caldwell just inside the penalty area.
Clattenburg was given no choice but to point to the spot, allowing Austin to level the scores on 73 minutes with a clever low finish that sent Carson the wrong way with unnerving ease.
That equaliser opened the game up beyond belief as both sides went in search of a winner, with QPR the most urgent in that request as Zamora turned a chip from 10 yards onto the roof of the net.
Ravel Morrison's introduction just before the equaliser also had a positive effect on the home side's distribution in key areas as they took control of the closing stages, but neither side could find a breakthrough in a tight tie that always looked likely to need the benefit of extra-time.
Once again Rangers began the restart with more purpose and their endeavour was rewarded six minutes into extra-time, with who else but Austin on hand to apply the finishing touch.
The potent predator got beyond Emmerson Boyce to poke home from six yards after a speculative loop from Zamora caused indecision in the Wigan penalty area, as Carson paid a heavy price for staying on his line as Austin pounced for his 19th and most precious goal of the campaign.
Wigan bravely searched for a response in the final 15 minutes but finally showed signs of the tiredness that comes with the exertions of a 62-game season, left to ponder what might have been for much of a pulsating second-leg as Redknapp moved closer to writing another memorable chapter in a remarkably tumultuous managerial career.
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