Queens Park Rangers’ position is so poor that slight improvement will not save them. Harry Redknapp has stabilised Rangers but he knows that he needs to transform this side. They played competently enough – and that is notable - in the new manager’s first home game, and deserved their point. But they need more than that, and soon.
Redknapp said afterwards that he was “pleased with the performance” as “only one team was going to win it”. But Rangers did not, despite having more chances after Jamie Mackie’s header had drawn them level. So they equalled Swindon Town’s 15-game winless start from 1993/94. Redknapp had said in mid-week that they needed “top six” form to stay up. This was not that.
“There was only one team creating chances. The woodwork saved them a few times, they were never a threat. Having gone behind early our heads could have easily dropped. But they didn’t. We came storming back. We dominated the game from then on.”
This was an anxious afternoon and Rangers did not find the fluency required to win the game. They had the better of the second half, in which Brad Guzan made three good saves, but could not do enough. There are only so many home games against weaker opponents and QPR had already hosted Swansea City, Reading, West Ham and Southampton before yesterday.
“We need to get a win on the board,” admitted Redknapp. “We just needed something to fall for us. Then it is lift off time.”
Aston Villa have already fought their way to an eight-point margin ahead of QPR, and Paul Lambert was delighted with another display of character and maturity from his new team. They were only truly threatening for the first and last 15 minutes, but held their own when Rangers were threatening to go 2-1 up.
“It was a really tough game,” said Lambert. “I’ve got nothing but praise for my team. In the first half especially they were excellent, I couldn’t be more happy with the team and their progress. Any point you get away from home is vital.”
Redknapp was roared on by the home support but Lambert took the early advantage, arranging his players in a novel 5-3-2 system for which Rangers were unprepared.
Villa controlled the first few minutes, thanks to a tidy triangle in midfield of Ashley Westwood, Barry Bannan and Brett Holman. Nine minutes in it helped them ahead. A brisk passing move ended with Westwood finding Holman who, with no pressure on him, struck the ball left-footed in between Rob Green and the far post.
Rangers soon realised where Villa were weak, and started attacking down the flanks. Jose Bosingwa embodies the worst of the Mark Hughes era, but he was a dangerous threat down the right wing, combining with Shaun Wright-Phillips against the rather isolated Eric Lichaj.
The game was moving in Rangers’ direction and it did not take long for the equaliser. Bosingwa pulled the ball back to Samba Diakite who clipped the ball into the box. Mackie, one of the Neil Warnock old-boys now back in fashion, directed a perfect header beyond Brad Guzan and in.
The noise was no surprise and nor was the spell that followed. Shaun Wright-Phillips sensed vulnerability in behind. Twice he was put through. The easier shot he hit at Guzan, the harder second chance against the post. A long delay after a Stephane M’Bia neck injury slowed Rangers’ momentum before the break.
Either team, then, could have seized the start of the second half but it was Rangers who did so. Ji-Sung Park came on to add industry to midfield, and QPR’s drive was relentless. Wright-Phillips had a shot deflected wide. Guzan saved from Ryan Nelsen’s volley and then from Diakite and then from Park. That was the spell when Rangers should have won the game, and they did not.
Lambert needed to act and made three changes. Clint Hill headed against the bar but Villa’s energy injection helped them to stifle QPR, and their sharper midfield dominated possession in the final minutes. Karim El Ahmadi nearly won it, volleying just wide with one minute left. Bosingwa had to scramble the ball away from Benteke, about to score. But there was little point in relief.
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