This was a tale of two clubs in the grip of opposing fields of end-of-season gravity: one for whom the season appears to have gone on too long; the other for whom it may yet end a little too soon. A frantic, claustrophobic match of opposing 4-5-1 formations was settled by Adel Taarabt's first‑half free‑kick for an impressive Queens Park Rangers. The ball was floated rather than driven over the Tottenham Hotspur wall: Brad Friedel might feel he should have moved quicker to get a hand to it.

The 1-0 scoreline was fair, though. QPR were compact and energetic, whereas Spurs were a distinctly underwhelming proposition as a team chasing entry to European football's elite competition – not just low on creative vim but also thin on bench-strength and late-season energy. Tottenham are now fifth, with one win in their past nine Premier League matches.

Asked if Newcastle United were the biggest threat to Champions League qualification, Harry Redknapp remained almost cussedly upbeat. "We're the biggest threat to ourselves. We've got to win our games and if we do that we'll be OK," Redknapp said, ignoring the fact that, although victories against Blackburn Rovers, Bolton Wanderers, Aston Villa and Fulham are all achievable, there is a three-point gap to be made up on the top four.

It is tempting to look for a single reason why Spurs' season has curdled. Some have suggested, rather glibly, that Redknapp himself has been harried by England's attentions, overcomplicating his teams in a vain audition for the role of international tactical sophisticate. This is, of course, nonsense; injuries, lack of form, and a roster of 56 contracted players that still seems strangely thin have been the causes of Spurs' malaise. Aaron Lennon, the right-hand engine in the flying 4-4-2 of early season, was a scurrying footnote at Loftus Road; the appearance for the last six minutes of Giovani dos Santos – the £4.7m signing who has started two Premier League games in four years – was equally telling.

As ever, though, Spurs' fortunes seemed intertwined with the degree of influence of Gareth Bale. Attempts to broaden and diversify Bale's role have been mixed, often leaving him wandering the pitch in in-between areas that fail to make use of his basic strength: exhilarating direct running from deep positions. Redknapp sees no future for Bale at Spurs as a left‑back but here he played much of the game with his back to goal and took 73 minutes to finally make a run down the left from inside his own half, leaving Joey Barton tramping quicksand in his wake, and getting in a low cross. "I couldn't ask any more," Redknapp said of an undeniably committed performance. "We camped in their half, we just couldn't break them down. Once they got the goal they could sit in all day. They just didn't come out, there were no holes, no gaps to play in."

Deprived of Emmanuel Adebayor and that renowned treatment-room perennial Louis Saha, Redknapp's one-track version of an enforced 4-5-1 cast Jermain Defoe as a rather lost looking figure, a lone jack russell of a centre‑forward, often 20 yards from meaningful support. Again Redknapp bemoaned his options. "We don't have the biggest squad. Chelsea made eight changes today to play Arsenal, and still looked good. You look at my bench today. I only had one striker and two centre‑halves. We were desperate."

This is partly self-inflicted: Saha and Adebayor were hardly likely to provide unstinting Stakhanovite support for Defoe, the only first-team striker scheduled to be at the club next season. The industrious Steven Pienaar, a natural-looking fit with Bale on the left, is playing very well on loan at Everton ("He wanted to leave," Redknapp shrugged).

Victory leaves Rangers thee points clear of the relegation spots. Afterwards Mark Hughes spoke in glowing terms of his players' tactical discipline: "We had a gameplan that worked really well. They showed the qualities we'll need at the end of the season." Matches against Chelsea, Stoke City and Manchester City await. Rangers will be without match-winner Taarabt for the first of them after he was sent off here, receiving a rather unnecessary second yellow card for kicking the ball away.