Karl Henry’s first goal in more than two years was enough to decide an entertaining end of season affair in West London.
It was a goal worthy of winning the match, but whether QPR were deserving victors was another matter as City enjoyed the better of the chances and no shortage of possession.
Lee Johnson made two changes to his side following the 4-0 thumping of Huddersfield Town at Ashton Gate in City’s last home fixture of the campaign.
Nathan Baker replaced former Aston Villa team-mate Derrick Williams to make the last appearance of his loan spell, while Aaron Wilbraham was preferred to Kieran Agard up front as Johnson continued to deploy a 4-4-2 formation with a midfield diamond.
It may have been a game with little riding on it beyond personal pride, but it was watchable stuff from the start.
City endured an early scare when Richard O’Donnell played with fire inside his own six-yard box before confidently playing his way out, while Lee Tomlin was quick to put his stamp on proceedings.
First a well-disguised pass into the feet of Wilbraham almost resulted in a chance for Joe Bryan, before the Bournemouth loanee sent a curling shot only inches wide of the top corner from 20 yards.
O’Donnell was flying to his right to keep out Abdenasser El Khayati soon after, but City were playing the better football.
Bobby Reid, with his fresh appetite for shooting on sight, collected a pass from Luke Ayling on the edge of the box and turned on to his stronger right foot before rifling a low drive just a yard past the post.
Meanwhile, Jonathan Kodjia’s influence was growing. A cheeky Tomlin nutmeg sent the Frenchman running into the box, teeing up Bryan for a blocked shot, before Kodjia combined with Ayling and turned inside only to be snuffed out as he pulled the trigger.
City were getting closer but would have to wait until the last ten minutes of the first half to seriously trouble QPR keeper Matt Ingram.
Again Kodjia was involved, escaping down the right touchline and carrying the ball inside, but Ingram advanced quickly and smothered the danger as City’s leading marksman tried to clip the ball over him.
The hosts had offered little but twice came close to edging in front shortly before the interval.
Clint Hill’s looping header had beaten O’Donnell but not the anticipating Wilbraham, before Baker was perfectly positioned to complete a double of goal-line clearances after some fine footwork from former City loanee Ben Gladwin set up Grant Hall.
There was still time for Tomlin to get on the ball again and look to shape another curler inside the far post, but as Henry slid in to block, Tomlin’s shot looped up over Ingram and bounced off the top of the crossbar on its way over.
The passing of half-time did nothing to slow down the spectacle once the action restarted – all of which was being played in Rangers territory.
Kodjia, Reid and Tomlin were all off target from presentable openings – the latter a free kick that sailed only agonisingly wide – before Marlon Pack picked out Tomlin on the edge of the box from an eye-catching corner that invited City’s number nine to take the ball on his chest and send a half-volley just over, as he tried in vain to better his goal of the season contender against Huddersfield.
City were becoming increasingly dominant, but were undone by a sucker punch 18 minutes into the second half courtesy of an unlikely source.
Gladwin was the architect, leading the charge on a rare QPR breakaway, and finding Henry in alien territory on the left corner of the box.
The former Wolves midfielder is generally known for his tackling rather than his shooting, but produced something special to beat O’Donnell with an inch-perfect curling effort that started outside the far post before nestling inside the top corner.
Johnson made all three of his substitutions five minutes later, as Luke Freeman joined teenagers Zak Vyner and George Dowling in entering the fray. Wilbraham, Bryan and Ayling were sacrificed.
City were somehow denied a spot-kick when Kodjia appeared to be impeded by goalscorer Henry, before QPR substitute Sebastian Polter came within a whisker of putting the result to bed with a thunderous strike that cannoned against the angle of post and bar.
Johnson’s young guns continued to probe, with the average age on the field suddenly slashed, but Scott Golbourne’s angled drive across goal was the closest they came to forcing a late equaliser.