Date:Sunday March 17 2013
Attendance: 38 594
So, its come down to this: A football club that wishes to marry financial sustainability with the promotion of young talent has to beat a club that has spent heavily on experience to the tune of £38m. Villa have cut the wage budget whereas QPR must have rammed the beads on the abacus. An academy club versus a cash regime then. Maybe not that black-and-white but you get the picture. Interestingly, QPR have done what some Villa fans were crying out for earlier in the season- they have spent heavily yet both clubs find themselves in a relegation battle. So which way is right?
I'm hoping we do it today today because we haven't registered back-to-back wins since May 2011 and frankly, we need these three points. They are simply massive. Win this and were six points clear of Wigan who will be two games and 180 minutes of football behind us. I also hope we get the moral victory and prove that despite all the ups and downs, we are doing things the right way.
Its also Acorns day. I'm always proud of the incredible work Aston Villa do in the community and our association with Acorns is one to be celebrated and invested in time and time again, given the incredible work they do with life-limited children. In what is the worst recession since 1930 they need our support more than ever. Hands in pockets then.
We head for the train. We are both quiet and speculate on what might happen as we travel in; on who will conquer in the battle of the relegation dogs. In our hearts we dream; in our heads we both know that defeat is unthinkable. Game on then.
Lambert has gone with the same team and the 4-3-3 formation that beat Reading. Yacuba Sylla has proved to been more than an adequate replacement for the dynamic all-action Fabian 'Fabio' Delph who is still suspended, so no worries there. I would have preferred N'Zogbia for Bannan though momentum is everything, as is confidence. Vlaar has remained fit so the back four of Baker, Vlaar, Clark and Lowton remains unchanged. Up front, Benteke will be the battering ram with Agbonlahor and Weimann feeding off his play. With a big crowd and an electric atmosphere the team will need to be on it today. They will have to give it all.
We start brightly, moving it around with pace. The movement is good. The team have a much better understanding now and Lambert's philosophies seemed to have embedded well. It's fluid football. At the centre of this is metronome Westwood. Pound for pound one of the best midfield players in the Premier League and a brilliant bit of business. Continuity and precision are everything and this boy has both but its the R's who have the best of the opening exchanges. QPR have a series of corners, forcing Bradley 'Goose' Guzan into two superb stops. First, Samba's lopping header looks certain for the top left hand corner but Guzan arcs like superman through the air to palm the shot away. Second, there is panic in the box from the resulting corner. Samba hits a left footed strike which is curling inward. Guzan flies to the rescue with another jaw dropping save.
We force some corners ourselves after more adept passing. Baker flies in for a header though he clashes heads with Samba. That must be like head butting a tank. He attempts to play on though its soon obvious that he is seeing stars. I am now extremely worried because Joe Bennett is hastily being prepped. I have no idea why he is even on the bench. Surely Lichaj is better than Bennett? A chainsawed camel is better than Bennett. I don't mean to be unkind to the nipper but the kid is an accident waiting to happen at the moment. One for the future - preferably not ours. Upstanding citizen that I am, I still applaud him as he comes on. This isn't saying much, mind. I would applaud Vlad the Impaler if he turned out for the claret and blue. (Midfield enforcer of the highest calibre.)
Boy, do I hate been right all the time. Bennett plays a pathetic ball across the middle which is intercepted by former loan player, Jenas. If Jenas lasts the first-half he will have played more minutes at Villa Park against us than when he actually played at Villa Park for us. As he breaks through the middle with Bennett's gift, my moaning doesn't seem to bother him a jot. He finds Bobby Zamora whose shot is met by the legs of Guzan but Jenas follows in for the rebound on 23' minutes. There is no justice in the world. 0-1 QPR.
The travelling hoops erupt into ecstasy. I am now ranting and screaming at Joe Bennett. I quickly predict for the benefit of everyone around me that QPR will target us down the left because that's what everyone does when Bennett plays. Harsh yes but that's the reality of football. It's unforgiving.
QPR are targeting us down the left. (See- I told you so.) Thunderbird puppet Bennett is caught ball watching by Townsend who bursts goal side of the Villa left-back. The ball is cut back but Villa clear. We then have another attack in what is becoming end-to-end. Speedmeister Agbonlahor burns round Bosingwa, brings it back from the byline but the QPR fullback pokes it back to R's keeper, Julio Cesar, who scoops the ball up. It's a clear pass back but referee Kevin Friend bottles it.
I do hate that. The rules are quite clear. How he hasn't seen that I have no idea. If I can see that in L8 he can surely see it from twenty yards. Of course, he'll say that he hasn't seen it. The nearest lino (who has a striking similarity to Uncle Fester) also hasn't seen it. Shocking officiating all round.
Just before half-time £8m January signing, Loic Remy, sends a curling effort toward the top corner though Guzan saves brillinatly. Minutes later the R's are awarded a needless free-kick, much to the ire of the Holte End. Bosingwa's strike hits the inside of the post and rebounds onto Vlaar's chest and then out for a corner. That was as close as it gets without it actually going in. We are living dangerously again.
Villa create a chance out of nothing. Bosingwa is again central to the action though for all the wrong reasons. Lowton sends a speculative ball toward the box from deep. Agbonlahor leaves Bosingwa for dead on 45' minutes and heads past a statuesque Cesar. Local boy, local hero, local goal.1-1.
And that's half-time. What a perfect way to end half time. We head to the concourse, armed with the trusty tea flask to debate the referee's performance. The Mrs and I agree that Kevin Friend is not a Premier League standard referee, saluting our shared wisdom with a lactose-free cheese pitta. Not your usual match day fare but it fills a hole. We both salute Brad Guzan- wonder keeper, before returning to our seats. (Thank you Lord for his gigantic, ball smothering hands.)
We came from behind in the last game but can we do it again? We start the second half on top. QPR look drained so we are keen to press. So far, so good. Central to our efforts is the work rate of the Austrian marksman, Weimann. He is all over QPR, hunting down any second ball in his path. N'Zogbia then comes on for the excellent Yacuba Sylla. Lambert is obviously looking for the winner and is intent on playing attacking football. Sylla takes the applause for a good performance.
Bennett seems to have found some composure at half-time and he's looking sharp going forward. He combines nicely with Weimann, sending an inviting ball over to the back stick. Weimann meets it though Cesar puts it over. Great save from the Brazilian international. However, Weimann isn't done with Cesar yet. A Bennett run creates a moment of space for Weimann which the Villa striker pounces on. He uses it well, spins and shoots from just outside the box, beating the R's keeper with a fine strike to the bottom left-hand corner on the 59' minute. Cesar could have done better there. He must have come out with concrete in his boots but what do I care. I explode into mad, delirious celebrating which involves incoherent swearing, chanting and random hugging of men I do not know. 2-1 Villa
We are completely dominating. We have a glorious chance for 3-1 when Benteke, who is being well marked by a combination of Hill and Samba, plays a one-two with right-back Lowton. The Villa fullback storms into the box though he drags his shot wide. That could have been the match.
Despite being on-top, QPR equalise. A tame shot from Spurs loan man, Townsend, takes a deflection off Vlaar. The ball evades Guzan to find the net on the 73' minute. Here we go. I can't believe it! A goal from nowhere on the counter. The home crowd sinks but quickly finds its voice again. We have to snatch a winner and we, the 12th man, are part of that. The players need us now. I'm roaring my beloved Villa on. Lion hearted for life. 2-2.
Villa re-impose themselves. Weimann is chasing everything. He chases a looped up ball toward the byline. QPR lack urgency and he collects, chests and controls it on the line to take it past his man. He cuts it back...... Bentekeeeeeeeeeeeee! Its there. An 81' minute winner, surely. That was a deadly, finish from the giant Belgian. I ascend into the Villa heavens in a volcanic eruption of Villa based evangelic fever. Madness reigns on Holte Lower. The Mrs is close to tears. I am once again hugging grown men I do not know. That's my Aston Villa! 3-2 Villa.
The Harry 'get out of jail card, Houdini act, sell us the big fella for a monkey' Redknapp band wagon is currently falling apart. The R's fans, who have suffered enough this season, are now suffering some more. Its pure ruthless, football.
To their credit, QPR are now attempting to batter an equalizer out of us. They go all out for a point, pegging us back. Jordan Bowery comes on for Weimann on the 84' minute in an attempt to give us another outlet. The Austrian international walks off to a standing ovation and cries of his name. What a lung busting, all guns blazing performance from the Villa striker. A shiny new contract is in the post, son. Absolutely outstanding.
Almost immediately Loic Remy has a great chance to equalize. The ball finds him unmarked in the box but his header goes begging. That was a glorious chance. We are carrying some luck at the moment. About time as well because a lot of things have gone against us this season.
Everyone on the Holte Lower is standing as deafening whistles ring around Villa Park. There will be five minutes of added time. Unbelievable. Not only is the referee blind, his fourth official can't count. My heart is beating like a drum. Despite Villa's time wasting and gamesmanship I know QPR will craft one last chance. It falls to Clint Hill. He sends a rocket toward the top corner from just outside the box but its narrowly over. Far too close.... and that's it. Referee Kevin Friend blows for full time. 3-2 Villa
We have done it. We have won two games on the bounce and are now six points clear of the drop zone. Magnificent performance. The R's players look devastated. They hit the turf, physically and mentally exhausted, having given everything. Unfortunately, everything was not enough. A team of young guns, hungry and inspired, have come back from the brink to take the game and beat them. The level of fitness and commitment shown by Villa in the second-half were just incredible. Amazing character. This is now a battle hardened team who never say die and in the end they were too much for QPR. They get knocked down and then they get up and they come back with a punch. This is a team still gaining experience but these kids are no push overs. They are mentally tough.
The crowds are singing all the way back to Aston. A curly haired kid sits aloft dad's shoulders waving his Villa flag as if to lead the crowd on. We all follow. Aston Villa are back.
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Date:Sunday March 17 2013
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