Queen’s Park Rangers failed to win a Premier League game at the15th time of asking this season. By common agreement this match against a poor, anonymous Villa side was as “must win” as they come. Out team managed only to draw against fellow relegation strugglers in Harry Redknapp’s first home game in charge. This left many fans wondering whether the result effectively condemns us to relegation on the first day of December ?
Make no mistake the direction of travel under the new manager is positive. Redknapp adopted the same starting formation as against Sunderland in midweek. The structure was again 4-1-4-1, with Stephane Mbia reprising his successful role of protecting the back-four. There were two personnel changes; one enforced change of Robert Green coming in for Julio Cesar in goal, and a more controversial selection of Shaun Wright-Phillips over Djibril Cisse, with Jamie Mackie pushed up into the lone striker berth. This decision raised many eyebrows prior to kick-off, although in truth those of us who witnessed the Sunderland game saw a limp performance from Cisse, especially towards the end when he looked increasingly disinterested.
As is becoming the repeating story of the season, Rangers conceded an early goal after a relatively bright start. After just seven minutes Brett Holman found himself in acres of space in front of the R’s penalty box following a good pass from Ashley Westwood. The Villa midfielder struck the ball sweetly to the left of Green, who could only palm it into the corner of the net. Green could perhaps have done better, but the fault lay with the outfield hooped players who were caught ball-watching.
As so often in recent times the Loftus Road faithful were silenced. Thankfully though, this didn’t transmit to the home team which started to have good spells of possession. Mackie, Adel Taarabt and Samba Diakite all stood out in taking the fight to Villa. Rangers grabbed an equaliser ten minutes after the Villa opener as Mackie glanced a looping header from a Diakite cross above keeper Brad Guzan. This sent the QPR fans into rapture as many believed that this was the start of ‘The Great Escape’.
And there were plenty of reasons to believe it was. Bar the Villa goal, Rangers were putting in an improved home performance. Jose Bosingwa was having a much improved game, looking more confident defending and coming forward. The defence was looking a tighter unit until the half-hour mark when Stephane Mbia collided with Gabby Agbonlahor. After six minutes delay the stricken Mbia was stretchered off to a standing ovation after his athletic display. Shaun Derry came on to slot in front of the back-line.
This hiatus and enforced change seemed to destabilise the R’s a little. Luckily for QPR, Villa were largely unambitious, with the odd half-chance for Christian Benteke ensuing.
As the half drew to a close, the diminutive Wright-Phillips continued to divide opinion. The midfielder had had a decent, if unspectacular half, and became more potent towards the break. On two separate occasions in the space of a few minutes, he collected long balls and ran in on goal. The first time he was one-on-one with Guzan, and spurned the chance to put the R’s ahead by tamely shooting into the advancing keeper’s midriff. Second time around Wright-Phillips rattled Guzan’s right-hand post with his shot.
The second-half commenced with a second R’s change, with the largely ineffectual Granero being replaced by Park Ji-Sung. Whilst the new substitute slipped and slided on the Loftus Road turf as if he were wearing no studs, the game slowly fizzled out as a spectacle with Villa seemingly happy with a point.
This was particularly so when Diakite was injured in a challenge and was replaced by Junior Hoilett around the 70 minute mark. Rangers went 4-4-2, but without Diakite Rangers lost tempo and drive. The nearest the R’s got to goal after that was on 80 minutes when a Clint Hill header met a Taarabt corner which Guzan pushed onto the bar and away to safety.
It wasn’t so much the performance which was so disappointing, but rather the implications of the result. With Rangers now 7 points away from safety and unable to beat teams like Southampton and Villa at home, you have to wonder where the next points are coming from ?
Harry is instilling some change, but can he turn it around before it’s too late ? It’s not all over yet, the fat lady has yet to tuck into her Christmas dinner let alone make a grab for the microphone. But it’s looking like a long, bleak winter for R’s fans. Wigan away on Saturday now becomes the next “must win” game.
Team: Green 6, Traore 6, Hill 7, Nelsen 7, Bosingwa 6, Diakite 7 (Hoilett 6), Taarabt 7, Wright-Phillips 6, Granero 6 (Park Ji-Sung 6), Mbia 7 (Derry 7), Mackie 7
Subs Not Used: Murphy, Ferdinand, Fabio, Cisse
QPR MOM – Mackie. Incredible running and energy in a performance which drove the team forward. Took his goal well.
Aston Villa MOM – Agbonlahor. The stand out quality in an anonymous, workmanlike team.