For an hour, the new bronze statue of Sir Alex Ferguson was not the only new inanimate object at Old Trafford. The woeful Manchester United players were static too. It appeared that the Harry Houdini effect had performed its first trick.
Harry Redknapp, the new QPR manager, was in the directors' box. His name was on the team sheet too although he will officially take charge on Sunday and left the match-day duties to Mark Bowen, who was assistant to Mark Hughes before his sacking last week.
"It's a desperate day," Bowen said afterwards. "Mark is my friend. What happens tomorrow, I really don't know. I'm still employed but I don't know what Harry's plans are." Bowen defended Hughes much-criticised transfer dealings. "When we stayed up last season, I looked at Southampton and Reading and the squads they had were stronger," he said.
"We brought in 12, 13 players, but can you name me a single player we let go who is playing in the Premier League now?"
For 12 minutes, after Jamie Mackie's bundled goal had given QPR an unlikely lead, they dared to dream but they were soon playing statues too. By freezing at two corners, they allowed United to come from behind and win for the eighth time this season and the sixth in the Premier League.
Darren Fletcher headed their second goal, the first time he has scored since returning from a year-long absence through illness in what was also his first league start. "It's been a long road back for the boy," said Ferguson, who praised the midfielder's "Trojan" spirit.
QPR had hoped to enjoy their own fairy tale but, although key shareholder Kamarudin Bin Meranun and chief executive Philip Beard celebrated Mackie's goal, Redknapp sat motionless, almost expressionless, as he did throughout this encounter until he left in the 87th minute. Surely he was not trying to beat the traffic.
With QPR pinned back once they took the lead, United struck three goals in eight minutes. "Losing a goal sparked us into life," Ferguson said. For all QPR's resolve, endeavour, work-rate and organisation, it seemed inevitable that they would not hold on.
That has been the story of their campaign up until the past couple of weeks, when it appeared some players were losing heart. Changes were made for this game - as Hughes had planned - and the old guard was recalled.
Jamie Mackie once again symbolised QPR's fight while two old campaigners in Shaun Derry and Clint Hill showed a little too much fight as they squared up to United players. "We expected that Queens Park Rangers would have a sudden surge determination, enthusiasm," Ferguson said, adding that, "It happens all the time when a team loses their manager. It's a strange thing. You change your manager and get a couple of results and they got very close to that."
Close but no cigar. QPR's hopes went up in a puff of smoke. The visiting supporters had run a repertoire of songs, for Derry, Mackie and a brief chorus of "one Harry Redknapp", when Mackie intervened to send their vocals soaring.
It also came from a corner, played short by Kieron Dyer to Adel Taarabt, who returned the pass. Dyer was afforded far too much space and took advantage with a low cross that goalkeeper Anders Lindegaard pushed straight to Mackie, who turned the ball in.
The goal followed a dire first half from United — "lethargic," Ferguson said - and a dogged one from QPR, whose goalkeeper Julio Cesar was forced into two routine saves from Wayne Rooney. Robin van Persie and the woeful Ashley Young thrashed shots into the side netting. Anderson made the difference as a 59th-minute substitute, galvanising his team-mates and providing some much-needed drive. Five minutes after he was brought on, along with Javier Hernandez, United were level.
That followed Bowen reshuffling his defence, effectively to field four centre-halves. None could stop Danny Welbeck from heading Rooney's corner into the turf before Jonny Evans stole ahead of Hill to nod the into the net.
Four minutes later, another corner. This time the execution was even simpler, with Fletcher charging in between two QPR defenders to head powerfully home. Once ahead, the result was not in doubt, although Anderson constructed the pick of the goals by driving superbly from his own half and slipping a pass to Hernandez, who took one touch and nervelessly swept the ball beyond a stunned Cesar.
QPR's resistance flickered, with Ferguson complaining that his team began "idling" again and Rafael had to be alert to divert Hill's header off the line.Redknapp had gone by then. If he had any doubts of the scale of the task ahead, they were dispelled. Get QPR out of this dilemma and there might be another statue erected, at Loftus Road.