Aston Villa have still not won at home in six attempts since Bonfire Night, but after trailing 2-0 to big-spending Queen's Park Rangers with less than half an hour played last night, they summoned a fightback to prove the fire still burns inside their players.
Mark Hughes' new charges were cruising after Djibril Cissé's early welcome-back-to-England strike and Stephen Warnock's own goal, only for Darren Bent's 100th Premier League goal to give Villa hope. It was realised 11 minutes from time when Stephen Ireland released Stiliyan Petrov for a cross which Charles N'Zogbia volleyed emphatically home for his first goal in the claret and blue.
Villa remain in mid-table, while Rangers go into the six-pointer with Wolves three points clear of the relegation zone instead of the five that looked likely before Bent struck.
Rangers' deadline-day dealings saw them field three newcomers, although Bobby Zamora, the England striker who made the short trip from Fulham, was not signed in time to face Villa. Cissé, however, went straight in at the deep end after his transfer from Lazio, joining Taye Taiwo and Nedum Onuoha in making his bow, and within 12 minutes he was on the scoresheet.
Villa's concentration appeared to go Awol as first Jamie Mackie and then Shaun Wright-Phillips were given time to pick their passes, the ball eventually being worked to the unmarked Cissé. From 12 yards his shot was unforgiving, ensuring he emulated his scoring debuts for Liverpool and Sunderland.
He had not found the target once in his final 22 games in Italy. Cissé celebrated with a double somersault in front of the Holte End. The mood in its vast banks darkened further in the 29th minute. Wright-Phillips was again involved, feeding Taiwo on the left flank. From the Milan loanee's deep cross, Warnock, under no pressure from a Rangers forward and with Richard Dunne poised to head clear, inexplicably nodded into his own net.
As the home faithful booed their side, the visiting fans sang "You're so embarrassing". Jamie Mackie was fortunate not to concede a penalty after appearing to handle, but Villa halved the arrears before half-time when Bent reached his landmark with a crisp finish from Alan Hutton's low cross.
Villa put Rangers on the back foot from the restart, prompting Hughes to wait less than 10 minutes of the second half before replacing one of his two strikers, Rob Hulse, leaving Cissé to forage alone.
Robbie Keane operated in a deeper role than before he departed these shores for LA Galaxy. Nevertheless his shot, shortly before the hour, proved too strong for the sprawling Paddy Kenny to hold. Rangers were grateful for the keeper's rapid recovery as Bent prepared to snap up the loose ball.
Substitutes: Aston Villa - Bannan 5 (Clark, 70). Queen's Park Rangers - Smith 5 (Hulse, 54), Ephraim (Derry, 73), Macheda (Cisse, 81).
Booked: QPR - Young.
Man of the match Ireland. Match rating 7/10. Possession: Aston Villa 70% QPR 30%.
Attempts on target: Aston Villa - 15, QPR - 3.
Referee N Swarbrick (Lancashire). Attendance 32,063.
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