Aston Villa came into today's match at Villa Park needing to get a win against Queens Park Rangers to make their lives easier. Despite numerous efforts they could only manage the draw in a torrid affair that showcased almost no defense and a brilliant effort by Christian Benteke.
The match took almost no time at all to get started. In the seventh minute, Villa put in one of the worst moments of defense we've seen all season and let the ball pinball around the box. Inevitably, QPR got the early quick goal off of the head of Matt Phillips. But before we could all even get reset, Christan Benteke pegged one back in the 10th minute to even the score. The ball took a pretty ugly deflection on its way to the goal, but you don't get bonus points for style.
After that frenetic opening, things settled down a touch. Or at least as much as things can settle between two teams who are locked in a battle to see who can defend less. If you were a neutral match, it was undoubtedly thrilling. Villa had most of the ball, but they were looking shaky enough that every QPR possession was full of possibility. It was on one such opportunity in the 33rd minute, though, that saw the Rangers' make a dumb mistake that was fully taken advantage of by Benteke. Gabby Agbonlahor tackled for a loose ball and popped it up to Benteke at the halfway line. The Belgian then sprinted up the field before slowing down just enough to let two defenders blow past him. With only Rob Green between him and goal, he popped it over the keeper to make it 2-1, which is how it ended at halftime.
The second half only took ten minutes to see shambolic defending take charge again. QPR had a corner and while Kieran Richardson looked on watching the sport unfold around him, Clint Hill (who?) glanced a header into the Villa goal. It was Hill's first goal since 2013 and his first ever Premier League strike, and it put the two teams level again. And then Richardson decided to keep up his woeful defending and gift QPR their third goal. In the 78th minute Charlie Austin latched onto a ball into the box passed by a QPR player who was marked by both Richardson and Carlos Sanchez. Neither could do anything.
But Christian Benteke had other feelings about the day. With Villa sitting in 18th and staring down a loss in the season's most important match, he lined up for a free kick just outside of the QPR box. And in the 83rd minute he took that free kick, banged it off the post, and put it in the goal to put Villa level. There were eleven minutes left to play, but that was to be the last goal.
Villa come away with the draw and they're still above the drop. But it's hard not to be disappointed. With a match in hand, we can now be passed by Burnley if they can win and we've got matches coming up against Spurs and Manchester City. Sure, it was better than a loss. Of course it was. But this wasn't a great result. I hope you're all ready for a terrifying run-in.
Now to the quick thoughts:
- This match was so stupid. I say that in the best way possible. At least the first half (as I write this at halftime) was enthralling. You had wide open play and JUST enough defense to make it a close match.
- Christian Benteke played like the 2012 version of himself. Which, thank heavens. He played like flaming garbage against Manchester United (the goal notwithstanding) and he's done that a lot this year. But Saturday's match was a fluke for Benteke under Sherwood. This was closer to what we've expected to see. Maybe we can rely on the big man again.
- Tom Cleverley had one of his best matches in a claret and blue shirt. He was everywhere in the midfield, making powerful runs and putting in great crosses.
- Jack Grealish probably earned himself another start. Great passing, great positioning, and pretty much everything but a goal.
- As tempting as it is to feel good about the result (we were just a few minutes from losing and dropping into the relegation zone, after all) we shouldn't be fooled. With a draw, Villa are going to have to rely much more on the results of other clubs. Survival isn't impossible, but it will be very difficult. QPR seem to have figured out their road woes and Burnley look quite threatening lately. Unless Villa can nick an unexpected win somewhere, this very well could come down to the last day of the season. And if it does, we will probably have one point from two QPR matches to thank for it.
- But if you were a neutral fan? Good lord, what a match that must have been.