Aston Villa 3 QPR 2 match report: Christian Benteke sends Rangers hurtling towards drop
Villa striker's late winner leaves Redknapp's side seven points
Villa Park exploded in celebration at the final whistle yesterday. Paul Lambert, the Aston Villa manager, was out on the pitch embracing his team while Queens Park Rangers players lay sprawled, wondering what might have been.
The visitors had dominated the opening half, and even in the fifth minute of added time so nearly snatched a point as Clint Hill's shot flashed just over the bar.
The margins could not have been more narrow but this archetypal game of two halves had finally swung Villa's way with Christian Benteke's close-range winner after 81 minutes opening precious daylight between Lambert's side and the bottom three.
As against Reading last weekend, Villa had come from behind as they posted successive League victories for the first time since May 2011. It felt like a hugely significant victory, creating a six-point gap between them and 18th-placed Wigan, while keeping QPR bottom.
The pivotal moment of a breathless contest came in first-half injury time when Julio Cesar, the QPR goalkeeper, stood rooted to his line as Matthew Lowton's cross arrived from the right flank and Gabriel Agbonlahor found himself free to nod the ball down into the wet turf and into the net. Up to that point, QPR had controlled the match and deserved to be leading by more than Jermaine Jenas's opening goal.
"If we had come in 4-0 up at half-time it would have been about right," said Harry Redknapp, the Rangers manager. "It was the best I've seen us play in the first half."
QPR had begun confidently with Christopher Samba forcing two fine saves out of Brad Guzan, the home keeper. It was no real surprise when Jenas then struck against his old club midway through the half, and nor was it a surprise that the goal followed a Villa mistake.
The average age of Lambert's starting XI was 23, and for the third match running one of their young defenders was culpable for an opposition goal. Joe Bennett, who had replaced the injured Nathan Baker, delivered a loose pass in the middle of the pitch which was picked up by Jenas. The January signing from Tottenham played in Bobby Zamora for a low shot, and although Guzan saved, Jenas followed up to turn in the rebound.
It was all QPR. Andros Townsend took out four Villa players with a crossfield run before shooting over, Guzan tipped over Loïc Rémy's dipping strike, and then Jose Bosingwa's free-kick struck a post. "Some of those saves were outstanding," said Lambert, who also had the highest praise the "phenomenal" forward Andreas Weimann, a key figure in Villa's second-half resurgence.
He had already seen one headed attempt turned over by Cesar when he put Villa in front on 59 minutes. When Park Ji-Sung cleared a Villa corner, Bennett recycled the ball and fed Weimann with his back to goal inside the Rangers box. The Austrian turned magnificently to create the space for a shot and he drove in hard and low, Cesar getting a hand to the ball in vain.
It did not help Rangers that they had lost Zamora, the focal point of their attack, at half-time – "a blow" for Redknapp, who explained that the striker had not trained all week because of flu – but the visitors showed the spirit to respond as Townsend, just like Jenas, struck his second goal in as many games.
Rémy and Park worked an opening for the Tottenham loanee and his low strike took a deflection and bounced away from Guzan into the bottom corner.
It looked a deserved point given Rangers' first-half superiority, but there was still one final twist to come as substitute Charles N'Zogbia scooped the ball between two QPR defenders and Weimann broke into the six-yard box and cut the ball back for Benteke to drill in Villa's third.
"The last goal was a poor goal," said Redknapp. Yet if this match was further evidence of the low defensive standards which have cost English teams in the Champions' League this season, it still made for utterly compelling viewing.
The result was a big step for Villa, who now have momentum for the survival fight, according to Lambert. "There are still eight games to go but after what we've done here we have momentum. We have a really tough game against Liverpool next, but the crowd are really behind us."
As for QPR, they somehow ended the day seven points from safety on 23 points, and, by Redknapp's estimation, need four wins and two draws from their remaining eight fixtures. "We have to keep going, it is going to be hard, but if we keep playing well we can win four or five games," he added, still wondering how this one had got away.
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