Mar 16 2013 By Yann Tear
Aston Villa 3-2 QPR
RANGERS' hopes of staying up suffered a massive blow after they somehow contrived to lose a game they could have put to bed by half time.
In a six-pointer they dared not lose, the worst case scenario came to pass, and for all the vastly improved form of late, it is going to take a massive upturn in fortune to repair the damage done today.
There was no hint of the calamity to come during a first half that suggested the guile and experience of Harry Redknapp's men would be too much for Villa's young side.
Indeed, the players' frustration at the end of the first half was clear, with several kicking the turf in anger when the whistle sounded.
It was entirely understandable given the way they had utterly dominated proceedings up to the 45th minute, playing the crisper football and showing none of the anxiety you might expect from a match of such vital significance.
It was already something of a mystery that the score was only 1-0 and even more of a mystery when Villa made a mockery of what had gone on before when Gabby Agbonlahor got on the end of a cross launched from deep by Matt Lowton to nod past Julio Cesar.
The home goal had led a charmed life up to then, with Brad Guzan making three outstanding saves to deny Chris Samba (twice) and Loic Remy, while Jose Bosingwa also rifled a free-kick against an upright.
Rangers' goal came on 23 minutes when early sub Joe Bennett gave the ball away in midfield and Jermaine Jenas (pictured) whipped a pass out to Bobby Zamora on the left edge of the area. Zamora's low shot was saved by the feet of the impressive Guzan, but Jenas had continued his run to tap in the rebound.
That goal was thoroughly merited and had it not been for two superlative saves in particular, Rangers would have had a more handsome reward for their first half efforts.
Guzan had to really stretch to flip a towering Samba header from a free-kick and made another one-handed reaction save to deny the man-mountain defender moments later. Villa failed to deal with the corner that followed Samba's first effort and the centre half clipped a shot from the edge of the area that again looked destined for the net.
Remy pushed forward into the striker role after the break, as a clearly unfit Zamora made way for Junior Hoilett. But it was always likely to be a different game anyway, now that Villa, buoyed by the first half let-off, were back in the hunt and attacking the Holte End.
And sure enough, Villa cashed in on 59 minutes when Andreas Weimann rifled a low left-foot shot past Cesar's left hand – the Villa scorer played in by Bennett, who had picked up a loose clearance from Ji-Sung Park following a corner.
Weimann forced the corner in the first place, having got onto the end of a Bennett cross to head at Cesar from close range.
Villa were now a side transformed and Lowton could have rendered Rangers' situation much worse on 65 minutes, when he played a one-two with Christian Benteke inside the area, only to slide the ball wide with the goal gaping.
But on 73 minutes, a driving run from Andros Townsend – helped on by Remy and Park – gave the Spurs midfielder a sighter on the edge of the area and his low shot flashed into the bottom corner, having taken a slight deflection off Villa skipper Ron Vlaar.
That goal quietened down the home frenzy for a while, and with Adel Taarabt replacing Fabio, Rangers looked to be carrying the greater menace again.
We should have known better. In the next Villa attack, Charles N'Zogbia and Weimann worked the ball to the Rangers byline and a pull-back gave Benteke an opening he gratefully accepted, sweeping the ball in from 12 yards.
Remy had a golden opportunity to tie it up immediately, but headed wide from eight yards after Hoilett had scampered down the left to lift in a delicious cross that should have been put away.
Clint Hill fired just over at the death, but it should never have come to the need for a desperate late flurry.
Line up: Julio Cesar; Bosingwa, Samba, Hill, Fabio (Taarabt 66); Remy, Park (Mackie 87), M'bia, Jenas, Townsend, Zamora (Hoilett h/t). Subs not used: Murphy, Wright-Phillips, Granero, Onuoha, Hoilett.Attendance: 38,594