It was a magnificent Roy of the Rovers car-wreck of a game, thrilling for neutrals, agonizing for supporters, full of all the twists and turns and the desperation you’d expect in a crucial game for both sides that might very well decide the season for both.
And Villa, improbably, reached down, found all their fight, and refused to take anything but all three points. QPR were worthy foils, playing to win, throwing everything they had at Villa but coming up short.
Gabby, Andi, and Benteke the Villa heroes on the day, and would you have expected any different? Somehow it would always have to come down to those three and they delivered.
The first half saw Villa controlling possession, but QPR with all the chances, three times Guzan pulling out fantastic saves, only to the see the third come off his outstretched foot and fall to Jermaine Jenas, of all people, who slotted home to put Rangers in the lead. Indeed, it was Guzan who’d clearly kept Villa in the game and kept the score at only 0-1. The post came also came to Villa’s rescue.
For all Villa’s possession, Rangers were comfortably packed in and Villa couldn’t find the final ball to set anyone loose. Conversely, Rangers were coming at Villa with width and speed, enjoying more space and a more confused back four. But when Villa finally did get a quality ball into the box in first-half stoppage time courtesy of Matthew Lowton, Gabriel Agbonlahor got up and headed the ball down and into the back of the net for his second crucial goal in as many weeks.
Down, but not out, Villa had found a way back into the game.
In the second half Villa started the brighter side, and deservedly went up 2-1 on an Andi Weimann goal at the end of a clever little one-two on the edge of the box.
The introduction of Taarabt energized a Rangers side that looked done. Inevitably, it seemed, Villa gave back the lead when a wicked deflection curled the ball just inside the far post past a despairing Guzan.
But today, Villa, propelled by a fantastic home crowd were not to be denied. Andreas Weimann refused to give up on a ball he’d chased and controlled that looked to be sliding over the line, cut it back and over the keeper, and Christian Benteke, scoring his 17th goal of the season after being kept quiet for so much of the first half by Samba, was there sweeping into the box to neatly slot into an unguarded net and put Villa back on top 3-2. Glorious stuff.
The five minutes of extra time tacked on seemed an eternity, the board almost seeming to damn Villa to a draw, Paul Lambert disbelievingly questioning the fourth official. I could barely stand to watch.
Yet somehow, with QPR throwing Samba, Mackie and the kitchen sink into the attack, Villa managed to hold on, deny Rangers a last-ditch equalizer and seal their first back-to-back wins in god only knows how long.
I’m still in awe, not because of the proficiency but the will to win…Villa’s two most important games in years saw Villa find a way to win after trailing in both. Reading, QPR, six points, thank you very much, and hope is very much alive.
Well done the lads.