Football: Saunders off the boil as Villa hang on

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The Independent Online
Queen's Park Rangers. .2

McGrath (og) 5, Penrice 40

Aston Villa. .2

Richardson 26, Parker 47

Attendance: 14,915

A GAME to warm the cockles of your heart. Particularly if you are Manchester United who saw two of their leading challengers of last season stay firmly at barge-pole's length.

Both QPR and Aston Villa probably know they are chasing the runners-up position and it showed as the game was slow to heat up. But when it did the thing boiled away merrily.

Villa - ending a run of two successive League defeats but losing Andy Townsend with a knee injury which will require surgery - twice had to come from behind as Rangers pricked the visitors' dominance with scruffy goals. They were answered by clean, low strikes from the edge of the area and, after scorning some embarrassingly easy chances, Villa were left to hang on as Rangers finished strongly.

They had been given a gift of a start - ironically by Paul McGrath, who was celebrating his 34th birthday. David Bardsley's cross flicked off Andy Impey's head and the defender, half turned, headed in to his own goal.

Villa's Garry Parker put through a cross which, spectacularly cleared by Alan McDonald, indirectly led to Villa's first equaliser.

Another birthday boy, Kevin Richardson, marked his 31st by picking up the clearance to fire past the left hand of the diving Jan Stejskal.

Villa were utterly dominant but Saunders, woefully off target all afternoon, flashed a header wide and suddenly QPR were ahead again when Gary Penrice bundled the ball over the line from a near-post corner. Twice within 60 seconds, Houghton put Saunders clear on Stejskal but each time the goalkeeper saved, as the former Liverpool striker's barren run stretched to 10 games.

Two minutes into the second half, Parker's low shot put Villa level to set up a storming finale in which Rangers rode their luck to the finish by threatening to steal three points.

Dalian Atkinson scooped over from six yards and the substitute Tony Daley hit the side netting. Penrice, coming strongly into the game, had a dangerous shot blocked and a header flashed wide before his cross opened the way for Bradley Allen, only for McGrath to rescue his day with a brilliant intervention.