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Benteke's brilliance rescues Sherwood as Ramsey and Phillips shine - report
Thursday, 9th Apr 2015 00:45 by Clive Whittingham

QPR led twice, trailed once, and eventually left Aston Villa with a 3-3 draw on Tuesday night as the relegation battle served up a pulsating six-pointer.

How do you like your arteries? Thickened and throbbing? Good. This was a stressful, blood curdling ordeal.

The money Sky and BT are pumping into the Premier League makes dropping out of it costlier than ever. You could smell the desperation coming off Aston Villa and Queens Park Rangers at Villa Park on Tuesday. Two clubs in it up to their tits, facing dire consequences of demotion. Two willing, but flawed teams. Two managers who recognise draws in such fixtures are little use and decided to go for a win instead.

Carnage ensued. The sort of game that makes Paolo Sousa sad, even if he doesn’t watch it, or even know it’s happened. Just generally disappointed that it exists.

Both teams were beset with injuries before the kick off. "I don't want to be one of those managers making excuses about injuries," said Villa manager Tim Sherwood before making a succession of excuses about injuries in the build-up. Two of the players he cited – Kieran Richardson and Tom Cleverley – started the game.

Absentees were more keenly felt by the visitors. Rangers' shock 4-1 win up the road at West Bromwich Albion on Saturday had served as a polite knock on a coffin lid apparently nailed shut by Everton the previous week at Loftus Road and sent the travelling faithful scrambling for tickets on Tuesday morning resulting in a box office shambles. Those who did make it into the packed upper tier at one of English football's famous old venues didn't have to wait long for their reward – Bobby Zamora, so key to the Hawthorns rout, intelligently reversed a chipped cross into the danger area with the visitors' first meaningful attack of the game and Matt Phillips arrived late from his right wing berth to head home from close range. Joey Barton's flighted ball out of his own half to Charlie Austin in the build up certainly worthy of note.

But Eduardo Vargas had been ruled out for the season with a knee injury suffered against the Baggies and left back Yun Suk-Young had been knocked into the middle of next week in a collision with his own goalkeeper Rob Green. While the South Korean waits for his team mates in the future, a total change to the left side of the team was required. QPR have been picking central midfielders out of position on the left wing all season thanks to Harry Redknapp's doomed quest to build for a back three formation back in the summer and the lack of options open to his successor Chris Ramsey was clear for all to see with the selection of ageing centre half Clint Hill at left back with Niko Kranjcar ahead of him on the flank.

That combination was a disaster. Villa started with Christian Benteke up front flanked by youth team graduate Jack Grealish on his full league debut and speedster Gabby Agbonlahor. That created a three on two situation for centre halves Nedum Onuoha and Steven Caulker and left Hill stuck between coming infield to help them out, or sticking wide left and trying to stop the right-sided raids of Leandro Bacuna. He needed help from Kranjcar, but the Croatian looked leggy and disinterested from the start, and Villa had the freedom of that side of the pitch as a result. Kranjcar is no kind of left winger, and his ghosting, drifting style can make him a sublime attacking threat at times – but his lethargy and apparent lack of fitness here was hard to forgive.

The attacks were ceaseless, coming in waves. Benteke equalised almost immediately after Villa had fallen behind, picking the ball up in an offside position before marauding into the penalty area and striking a deflected shot past Green and into the top corner. Linesman Mike Mullarkey, who the FA deemed good enough to represent them at the World Cup, was yards behind play when the ball was knocked and kept his flag down – as he did later on when a ball drifted a yard beyond the byline for a goal kick. Play on the verdict.

Green had already rushed from his line to deny Benteke superbly with a leg save after five minutes, and did likewise to Grealish on the quarter hour as the defence imploded again and Barton made a mess of an attempted sliding clearance at the far post. The R's were then indebted to Sandro for his bravery, blocking a fierce drive from Ron Vlaar with his face as the ball fell to the Dutchman from a corner – Green alive and alert to stop the rebound dropping in under the bar. Agbonalahor turned past Caulker far too easily moments later – Hill came across and executed an old fashioned clear out challenge. When Kranjcar was skinned by Bacuna and Benteke headed a fraction wide from the resulting cross, via a deflection, the writing seemed to be on the wall.

The annoying thing about the second goal when it did arrive, however, was that QPR were actually on the attack at the time – keeping the ball alive around the edge of the Villa penalty area they somehow contrived to not only lose possession, but also then allow first Agbonlahor and then Benteke to streak away into a totally unmanned half of the pitch. The giant Belgian's finish, wrong footing both Green and the backtracking Hill with one deft touch, was sublime.

Kranjcar's evening didn't improve much. Fed up, he executed a ridiculous lunging tackle on Cleverley and received the easiest yellow card of referee Craig Pawson's career. Agbonlahor glanced the cross from the free kick wide of the post.

It was a miracle that QPR were only 2-1 down at half time. Not only were they wide open down the left side, and losing every ball pumped up towards Benteke, but they were also outnumbered in the middle of midfield, meaning an impossible work load for Barton and Sandro. Villa won every second ball that dropped around the penalty area almost unchallenged and the R's struggled to escape their own penalty area as a result.

Sherwood told reporters afterwards that if it had been a boxing match, the referee would have called it off at half time. But boxing matches don't have half times, and 2-1 is no kind of unassailable lead whatever Tactical Tim might think and say in the brief interludes between his pitch incursions and haranguing of passing linesmen which Pawson was happy to allow to continue unchecked all night.

Perhaps Villa's loud-mouth manager became complacent, because five minutes after half time his one-time assistant Chris Ramsey made his move and Villa's reaction to it wasn't so much slow as non-existent. In the end the home team would require a moment of Benteke brilliance four minutes from time to rescue a single point from a match they should have finished in the first half. Sherwood may like to consider his own part in that, if he has time between his Life and Times of Harry Kane after dinner speaking circuit engagements. Villa really needed their manager to react to what his opponent had done but he seemed too busy with the histrionics and official baiting.

Ramsey removed Kranjcar – more of a mercy killing than a substitution – and Mauricio Isla, who hadn't had as bad a time of it as Hill but is still far too willing to stand off his winger and allow a dangerous cross come in. With Benteke in monstrous form, QPR simply couldn't afford that sort of slapdash play any longer. On came Armand Traore for the left side, and Karl Henry for the middle of the park. The differences were plentiful and instant.

Rangers began going about their work with three centre halves, and Hill's aerial ability meant the amount of headers Villa won from a steady stream of long balls down the field dropped from 100% to about half. Of those won, QPR were now able to retrieve a good few of the situations, with Henry supporting Barton and Sandro in winning the second balls as they dropped. Henry also pushed on through the middle to challenge Villa's deep lying midfielder Carlos Sanchez – the Colombian had played a quarter back roll completely unchallenged by QPR's midfield in the first half but now, with Henry buzzing around him, his form collapsed. Suddenly Villa looked nervous. Balls were passed back to goalkeeper Brad Guzan more than they were played forward. One free kick, awarded on the left flank, was booted straight into the side stand. QPR were quicker, sharper, more energetic, more effective. They took the game over and dominated it. Even Traore looked half decent.

The visitors were perhaps fortunate a stray pass from Barton that went straight to Grealish was subsequently poked straight at Green, but that was against the run of play and an equaliser arrived a minute later.

It should have come via a Charlie Austin penalty kick. The extra man in midfield, the renewed purpose, the added possession higher up the field, all provided a wonderful platform for Matt Phillips to set to work on Villa left back Kieran Richardson. The former Blackpool winger had a superb second half. Ten minutes after the break he burst past his man and delivered a cross into the area which was, fairly obviously, right in front of Mullarkey, stopped with the palm of Delph’s hand. Mullarkey officiated all evening like somebody who'd been the victim of a blunt trauma to the back of the head in the tunnel immediately before kick-off and he looked right at the incident and scratched his right arse cheek. Craig Pawson, whose grasp of the handball rules could kindly be described as "loose" as anybody at the recent QPR v Spurs game would testify to, also looked gormless and gave nothing.

The Villa fans behind that goal rejoiced and mocked, knowing they'd got away with one. But their joy, and the fury high in the away end, was tempered immediately. Phillips delivered the resulting corner to the near post and Clint Hill glanced in what, officially, will go down as the first Premier League goal of his career.

Instant mood and momentum change. The Villa fans now silent, the home team wilting, QPR flooded forward. Phillips against Richardson a key battle. Austin twice dragging shots wide when well placed. As Sandro tired, Michael Doughty was introduced for an impressive cameo – he should surely be used more when fresh midfield legs are required and was very decent here. Austin was booked for a challenge that Sanchez seemed to make a lot of, but in the modern game and with referees like Pawson you've seen red cards issued. Personally, I don't even think it looked like a foul. I would say that.

It was the confidence and tempo that was noticeable about the second half QPR. They hardly looked like a team ensconced in the drop zone. Given that, they should have gone onto win. With all the momentum behind them they took the lead with 12 minutes left for play as Phillips humiliated Richardson once again and delivered a precise low cross that Charlie Austin controlled, spun around and smacked into Guzan's net. The away end was a seething mass of humanity. The Villa fans in the corner rushed to attack the celebrating QPR striker.

Sherwood, prancing up and down, blaming everybody except himself, made three substitutions either side of the goal – Matt Lowton, Joe Cole and Charles N'Zogbia on for Grealish, Bacuna and Cleverley. But he'd been outdone by Ramsey and somewhere deep within him he'll know it.

In the end, as so often at Aston Villa over the last three seasons, it fell to the brilliant Benteke to pick the jail lock. Make no mistake, without the Belgian they'd have lost here.

Steven Caulker will be disappointed with his poor clearing header, and Hill with his rash tackle and yellow card on N'Zogbia that conceded a free kick in such a dangerous position. But the strike itself was unsaveable, and undefendable – too high for the wall, too accurate for Green, flying into the net off the post.

The fear then was the disappointment would be too much for QPR. That the momentum would swing and the defence would creak once more. You could suddenly feel a late winner in the air, with all the associated pitch invasions and Sherwood histrionics that would have come with it. Cole slid in on a near post cross and diverted the ball wide as four minutes of stoppage time was indicated.

But, finally, it seemed like the energy reserves were spent. If it was indeed a boxing match, it was one of those Frank Bruno bouts from the mid-90s: riotously entertaining, physically exhausting, with zero technique and skill involved – Benteke and Phillips apart. It was a thrilling, absorbing spectacle – Villa's in the first half, QPR's in the second, fairly tied at the end. Both teams were applauded off, despite the result doing little for either campaign, and rightly so.

There was simply no pride and honour in the way Harry Redknapp's QPR went about their away games. "Bonus games", to be written off altogether, and approached with a defence parked on the six yard box and an attitude of "maybe we'll hold out for a point". Roll up, roll fucking up.

QPR have now scored as many goals away from home in one weekend as they did in all of the Redknapp away matches this season. If Rangers had approached all their away games as they have done the two this weekend, they'd almost certainly be in the same position in the league, because the defence is a football equivalent of the rope bridge in an Indiana Jones film. But giving it a go, trying to score, playing to win, leaving it all out there, not dying wondering… it felt strangely elating, despite the failure to win, despite the late goal. Two matches, two performances and seven goals for QPR and their fans to be proud of whatever happens to them at the end of the season.

Links >>> Knee Jerks >>> Photo Gallery >>> Ratings and Reports >>> Message Board Match Thread

Villa: Guzan 6; Bacuna 6 (Lowton 75, 6), Vlaar 7, Clark 6, Richardson 4; Sanchez 6, Delph 6, Cleverley 5 (N'Zogbia 81, -); Grealish 7 (Cole 70, 5), Benteke 9, Agbonlahor 7

Subs not used: Baker, Okore, Weimann, Given

Goals: Benteke 10 (unassisted), 33 (assisted Agbonlahor), 83 (free kick, won N'Zogbia)

QPR: Green 7; Isla 5 (Traore 50, 6), Caulker 5, Onuoha 6, Hill 6; Phillips 8, Barton 7, Sandro 6 (Doughty 70, 7), Kranjcar 4 (Henry 50, 8); Zamora 6, Austin 6
Subs not used: McCarthy, Hoilett, Mitchell, Grego-Cox

Goals: Phillips 7 (assisted Zamora ), Hill 55 (assisted Phillips), Austin 78 (assisted Phillips)

Bookings: Sandro 34 (foul), Kranjcar 35 (foul), Austin 57 (foul), Hill 82 (foul)

QPR Star Man – Matt Phillips 8 A player reborn under Chris Ramsey, and thankfully moved back out to the right wing after that ill-fated experiment with him on the left. Two assists and a goal, a harrowing night for his marker Richardson, a wonderful display of wing play. No other Premier League player has more assists since the turn of the year.

Referee – Craig Pawson (Sheffield) 5 In his defence, he can't very well be expected to run the offsides and goal kicks as well as referee the game, so he was badly let down by Mike Mullarkey on the line who had one of those evenings where you couldn't help but wonder if everything is alright at home. And with his eyesight. But Pawson isn't refereeing well at the moment. Fouls that were bookings one minute, weren't even given as a free kicks the next. He doesn't know what a handball is.

Attendance – 33,708 (1,300 QPR approximately) QPR, clearly caught on the hop by the surge in demand after Saturday's result, advertised tickets on sale on the night, then promptly reopened sales on Tuesday morning and sold the allocation, then announced there were to be no sales on the night, after people had set off. A rare shambles. No noticeable problems outside as a result thankfully, and a great atmosphere in the away end throughout. The improvement in supporter mood since Redknapp's departure is noticeable.

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GetMeRangers added 01:57 - Apr 9
Great report
Odd isnt it. Reverse the situations and we were playing one of our last fours games at home against a relegation rival. One we would be saying we needed to win, having bossed a first half, then our manager makes the wrong substitutions and we barely scrap an equaliser.... The disappointment of some, would have been replaced by outright fury on this board.
This was a bad result for Villa
I am certainly not complaining. Saturday was the first away game for my youngest two and yesterday has made my two away excursions something to be relished, even if we do go down. I know the hope will probably be cruelly dashed, but atm I am on cloud nine

YorkRanger added 07:20 - Apr 9
Captured the emotion perfectly, whilst disappointed I had to revert to 5 live rather than attend in person due to the tickets confusion, on reflection I'm not sure my nerves would have coped with it. Another roller coaster night supporting Queens Park Rangers.....

batmanhoop added 08:09 - Apr 9
I've been supporting the r's from the mid-sixties and I swear my nerves with them are getting worse. When Charlie got the third I needed to get out of the house. Only, being out in the sticks now it was pitch black, had to endure the final 12 minutes with the rest of you

adhoc_qpr added 09:45 - Apr 9
Regarding the ref and linesman, wasn't there a clear and obvious freekick that wasn't given for a foul on Phillips just outside Villa's box just prior to them marching up the pitch in the move that led to their equaliser too?

BrianMcCarthy added 10:11 - Apr 9
Excellent report, Clive.


HastingsRanger added 10:43 - Apr 9
As always, looked forward to your report after an encouraging display. I believe, as others here do, that my doubts on Sherwood are being vindicated. In Ramsey, we have a better man.

Only problem is can he save us, too similar to the 95/96 Premiership is that we are starting to play reasonably well but with games running out relying on others failure.

At least we can look forward to upcoming games!

Antti_Heinola added 12:15 - Apr 9
Brilliant report. The Sousa line is sublime.

tsbains64 added 12:21 - Apr 9
fantastic report great to see the fans getting behind the team and having faith in staying up

SimonJames added 14:37 - Apr 9
Great stuff as always.

johnhoop added 14:59 - Apr 9
Excellent report Clive. Particularly liked the line that our defence is "the football equivalent of the rope bridge in an Indiana Jones film."

Southend_Rss added 16:42 - Apr 9
Excellent report Clive, was telling the other half that i was sitting behind you all game and how you get a report as detailed as this out after every match is a credit to yourself.. Just wish we could have hung on but you were right about the wall positioning.. Roll on Chelsea!!

Northernr added 16:59 - Apr 9
Yeh, in the end the wall was irrelevant sadly, great free kick. Sorry for attacking you after Charlie Austin's goal :-D

Southend_Rss added 17:53 - Apr 9
Ha ha no worries, normally end up on the floor or end up flying forward a couple of rows when we score anyway!!

terryb added 18:34 - Apr 9
Thank you Clive.

All I've asked for is that we play with pride & fight. (Winning would also be nice!). I think it fair to say that we have seen plenty of that recently.

Hopefully we will see the same again on Sunday. At present the management, players & supporters appear to be together. What a change from earlier in the season!

Loft1979 added 18:35 - Apr 9
Excellent report.

dixiedean added 19:38 - Apr 9
Just when my blood pressure returned to normal I read this and it all came flooding back. Thanks Clive ! Yes Ramsey does deserve credit and overall I'm very much in favour of him HOWEVER, I can't believe it took him so long to remove Niko who was clearly the major weakness in that set-up. At the very worst he should have come off at half time, if not after 30 mins by which time poor old Clint had been torn a new ars so to see him come out for 2nd half was a mystery. Sure enough the first 5 mins was an exact repeat. That position is a big problem, as all the people who've played there have been just terrible or very unreliable - Hoilett, Niko, Traore.All 3 goals were very annoying - the 1st 2 especially. Surely in training they were told to get Benteke on his left foot and don't let him check back on to his right and shoot ( as Isla did ) ? And the 2nd one was schoolboy stuff and you could see it happening 2 mins before it did- real car-crash stuff. Why was Hill left alone on half-way line at our corner ? It wasn't the only time and surely at any level you always leave someone behind who can run eg Isla ? Notwithstanding Hill being more of a goal threat from corners- as he proved. Ramsey must learn from that. We could all see it and you don't need a Pro licence to work out what Hazard & co will do if afforded the same space. If Traore can give a decent showing as he did at Villa then he must play there in a 5 man midfield, otherwise I can see us getting shredded on Sunday . I fancy us for a draw though .Bring on the low-life !

Myke added 21:25 - Apr 9
Was abroad so only managed to get result. It seems our second half was much improved. Just curious why Villa didn't exploit Isla's withdrawal down their left flank? It seems a very imbalanced line-up; 3 centre=halves and no right back behind 3 central midfielders and no-one on the left side. Obviously it worked but wondering how Phillips benefitted from having the right side of the pitch to himself instead of being over-run. Or did Onuoha move over to right back? It didn't sound like that from your report . Oh well what the hell - roll on Chelsea

extratimeR added 21:29 - Apr 9
Thanks Clive

What a night! I'm ok with this result, as Chris Ramsey said, ( I think), "I would have been happy with four points before this" I certainly would have taken a draw at West Brom and win at Villa.

Phillips is doing wonderful stuff, if only we could get Fer back in the centre of mid-field,
it would really take the pressure off our full backs, (as they could play higher up the pitch).

Amazing effort and pride shown.

Bring em on!

Great report Clive as usual, (love the Harrison Ford Rope bridge)

TacticalR added 12:32 - Apr 11
Thanks for your report.

OK, we could have been a lot more than one goal down at half time, but we deserved something for hanging in there. Ramsay's substitions were effective because both Isla and Kranjčar were having bad games. We could have done with all three points, but a point was probably a fair result.

Isla. Just couldn't handle Benteke.

Kranjčar. Looked off form. Overhit free-kicks, got caught on the ball, and made a wild challenge on Cleverley.

Zamora. Brilliant reverse ball and cross for the first goal.

Phillips. Really coming into his own. Scored the first goal, put in the cross for Hill for the second goal, dragged the ball through two men for the third goal.

Hill. At last he's got his goal. Is this going to be this season's Shaun Derry moment?

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