Aston Villa and Queens Park Rangers played out an entertainingly disheveled relegation six pointer on Saturday. We give a few thoughts on Villa's second consecutive win.
Aston Villa came back not once but twice to take all three points from Queens Park Rangers. The win puts the Villa six points clear of the drop, closer to 10th than to the relegation zone. But based on that performance, Paul Lambert and company can't let their guard down just yet.
We've talked all season about the Villa having one good half and one bad half per match. It's certainly a football cliche to say "It's a game of two halves," but for this side, it really is. This team somehow manages to look incredible for 45 minutes and absolutely horrible for the other 45. In this match, it was the first 45 that saw the Bad Villa.
If it weren't for Brad Guzan, QPR could well have up by three or four before the whistle blew. Godzan had a couple of magnificent saves, denying Christopher Samba and generally making Villa fans feel as though everything was under control. But Guzan had absolutely no support from his defenders, so it was depressingly unsurprising when Jermaine Jenas scored in the 23rd minute.
Much of the blame fell on Joe Bennett, on for Nathan Baker, who'd left the match with a head injury just a few minutes before. Bennett misplayed a pass to Barry Bannan, allowing QPR the quick break. With no defenders back to help, it was up to Guzan to rescue a shot from Bobby Zamora. Alas, Guzan toed the ball straight to Jenas, and QPR took the lead.
But for Villa fans, what was much more frustrating than going down to relegation rivals was the fact that the players seemed utterly defeated. The minutes dragged on, with Villa's first shot coming from Andreas Weimann in the 35th minute. Fortunately for our hearts, Villa's second shot found its way into the back of the net. Gabby Agbonlahor got on the end of a gorgeous cross from Matthew Lowton, heading the ball in from close range. The halftime whistle blew seconds later.
A game of two halves, indeed: the Villa were an entirely changed side when they returned from the halftime team talk, despite Lambert having made not a single change. I like to think it was Ron Vlaar gave them all a big cuddle during the break. This team seems like it would respond more to loving touches than a scorching hairdryer treatment.
Villa immediately took the game to QPR, showing off some crisp passing moves and getting forward to pressure Julio Cesar. Unfortunately, the QPR keeper remembered how to do his job, managing to keep out a nice header from Weimann. But two minutes later, JC let his concentration slip again, and it was Andi that made him pay. Bennett, determined to erase his earlier error, slipped the ball through to Weimann, who sent a sharp shot straight past Julio Cesar.
Of course, being Villa fans, it was difficult to really celebrate going ahead. A crushing air of inevitability hung over our heads, as though we knew exactly what was coming. After all, we'd been here before. Many times. And sure enough, QPR's first shot in the second half ended up in the back of the net. Guzan could do nothing to deny Andros Townsend's shot from outside the area.
There were 17+ minutes left to play, and us Villa supporters seemed more worried about the possibility of a QPR win than the idea that our side could come back and grab all three points. Fortunately, for once the Villa players refused to hang their heads in defeat. They continued to apply pressure, and amazingly enough, it paid off. Andi Weimann turned provider this time, sending the ball through to Christian Benteke, who stayed cool enough to put the winner past Julio Cesar.
There were still 9 minutes of terror, plus injury time, to see out. Somehow Lambert resisted the temptation to make a defensive substitution, instead putting on Jordan Bowery for the incredible Andi. Perhaps a strange move, but in the end, no damage was done. Kevin Friend and his band of merry men did their best to influence the end result, making a number of, shall we say, interesting decisions, including the one to add five minutes of injury time to the end of the match.
But most incredibly, Aston Villa hung on. That makes two -- count them, two! -- wins in a row, with five goals scored in the last two matches. Six, if we're being technical about it. Is anyone else daring to hope?