Un’appy ‘arry

Villa scored a vital win on Saturday against Harry Redknapp’s QPR. Dave Woodhall describes the day’s dramas.

Aston VillaIt’s been a pretty underwhelming season, but Saturday was one of its most memorable days. QPR at home has been looming on the horizon for weeks, the ultimate in “if we can’t win that one…” games. They’d won their last two, to allow the media to wind up the Harry Redknapp myth a bit more. Another win was definitely vital for Rangers while Villa’s three points the previous week at Reading had provided a bit of breathing space.

The importance of the game was underlined by a crowd of 38,594, beaten only in the league at Villa Park this season by the visit of Manchester United, and as that’s the sort of game which draws those who want to see the opposition this could well have been the biggest gathering of genuine Villa supporters for some time. They certainly made their presence felt in an atmosphere that proved once more that when the occasion demands, Villa Park can be as lively as any ground in the country.

And for once the match proved equal to the build-up. Villa started off well, QPR came back into the game, Brad Guzan pulled off a string of top-class saves then Rangers went ahead. In fact they could have scored another couple as Guzan showed his class yet again, but Gabby Agbonlahor equalised against the run of play and on the stroke of half-time.

Villa were well on top for much of the second half, Andreas Weimann put them into the lead and the match could have been wrapped up, but in a repeat of the first half, an equaliser came against the run  of play. Given the situation, Paul Lambert might well have settled for a point (indeed, his predecessor would have probably settled at half-time for a one goal defeat), but instead urged the team forward. Besides, Christian Benteke hadn’t scored his obligatory goal yet. He got it with eight minutes remaining, QPR missed a chance to draw level with almost the last kick of the game and the three points won by Villa mean the visitors are as good as down.

Reading also seem doomed after an expected defeat at Old Trafford, while the weekend’s other results left just four points separate eight clubs fighting to avoid the third relegation place. Wigan’s fortuitous winner on Sunday afternoon gives them hope and keeps Newcastle in danger. Sunderland are also in trouble, with the natives restless and Martin O’Neill the focal point of their anger after they could only draw with Norwich, who had their keeper sent off.

At this time of the season the adage that one club always drops from a seemingly safe position right into the thick of the relegation scrap gets a regular airing and while you could say that the role is being fought out by the two north-east clubs, they’ve never really looked safe so we have to look elsewhere for the prime candidates. It might seem strange this late on to think that a team in eleventh place should have anything to be worried about, but Stoke have won just five points in ten games, they seem unable to score and they haven’t got the easiest of run-ins.

Villa still aren’t out of trouble by any means, but there’s a fresh spirit about the club that bodes well. Not only was it back to back wins for the first time in almost two years, both came after the team had gone a goal down. However the season ends, the team are giving their all now, and that’s something that couldn’t have been said a few weeks ago.

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