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xV: Villa finally responded to adversity in a good way at QPR

When Aston Villa went behind after 18 minutes at Loftus Road on Saturday, things looked bleak. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth.

Burton Albion v Aston Villa - Sky Bet Championship
BURTON-UPON-TRENT, ENGLAND - SEPTEMBER 26: Albert Adomah of Aston Villa celebrates scoring his team's 2nd goal during the Sky Bet Championship match between Burton Albion and Aston Villa at Pirelli Stadium on September 26, 2017 in Burton-upon-Trent, England.
Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images

Welcome to Expected Villa (xV), a post-match column on the stats behind Villa’s results.

One of the reasons I really love looking at football through a mathematical lens is that it allows us to sidestep our conventional, results-based bias to take a look at how the match actually played out. Did it play out exactly how we saw? Which moments are emphasized?

Aston Villa came from behind to win away from home. Yeah, that’s right. It was beautiful.

QPR got everything they deserved for their tactics

Aston Villa were a little disjointed early, and QPR took advantage, as they bundled home the opening goal from a scrappy corner kick. This was bad for Villa, who hadn’t come from behind to win away in more than four years.

But Ian Holloway was the Villans’ best friend Saturday, as from there, he largely set his team up to defend in numbers and pack the box. For a while, it was working, as Villa would set up great chance after great chance, only to either see (a) a deflection or (b) a save by Alex Smithies, who was able to set up in the only window to shoot through. Defending like that, however, is like playing with fire — and after enough blocks and good chances gone untaken, Villa finally got their bit of fortune when the referee whistled for handball right before half-time.

The QPR players and Holloway were upset that the penalty was given, but if you go back and watch the handball, you’ll see eight QPR defenders in the penalty area. That type of tactic let Villa back into the game and allowed for the Claret and Blues attack to find its footing, something it didn’t really have before the opening goal.

Villa had the perfect response to going behind

Last time out, Villa went behind particularly early to Sheffield Wednesday, and weren’t able to properly climb back into the match until it was too late. That was far from the case Saturday, as Villa dominated the remaining 72 minutes at Loftus Road to come from behind.

It took until about the 30th minute for the Villa attack to start clicking, but once it did, the numbers were impressive. In the final 30 minutes of the match, Villa outshot QPR 23-9, and of those 23 shots, a whopping 20 were taken from inside the penalty area. And Villa were taking good shots, too — six of the 23 were on target, one hit the woodwork, and another seven were blocked by a QPR defender. There’s no wonder that Villa underperformed their xG totals on the scoresheet yesterday.

I’ve talked before about needing to be able to get results from different positions, and rescuing three points from a goal down has been something Villa have been awful at for years. It’s certainly no way to regularly win a football match, but the best teams in any division have the ability to turn around a few results each year to help pad their points total. Villa haven’t been doing that, and it’s something that really hurt last year.

Villa may only rescue three points from a losing position a couple more times this year if they’re fortunate, but those points could be the difference between promotion and another season in the Championship.

Also: Albert Adomah is the damn man.

If Villa can just play at their current pace the rest of the year…

If you look at the table, you’ll note that Villa are seven points off second place — and that’s a moderately decent gap to Sheffield United. This early in the season, though, it’s more prudent to focus on yourself than everyone else, and most specifically your point totals. A team that averages two points per match is nearly always going to win automatic promotion. A 75-point haul is typically good enough for a play-off spot, with 80 all but guaranteeing you a shot at the end-of-season lottery.

Aston Villa have 29 points through 17 matches, which is a 78.5-point pace. In other words, Villa are sitting in fifth and have played to the level of a play-off side this year.

In order to hit 90 points, typically good enough for second place, Villa will need 61 points over the remaining 29 matches, a target that’s certainly attainable for a team of this calibre. In fact, it’s a pace that the squad’s currently playing at. Over their last 10 matches, Villa have 22 points (7-1-2) — a pace that, if carried to the end of the season, would result in a 93-point haul.

Is it feasible for this team to continue to play at this pace for the remainder of the season? I’m not entirely sure, but it does feel like this team has another gear it hasn’t hit yet. If it hits said gear, Villa could be in business.