A DEBUT goal from Djibril Cissé was not enough to secure a coveted away win as Aston Villa fought back from two goals down to claim a point.
Cissé cannoned home an opener before Stephen Warnock put through his own net to cap off a disastrous home start from a home perspective – and the home fans subsequently made their feelings known.
Maybe it provided the desired impetus for their side as Villa – marshalled by the lively Charles N’Zogbia – came back from two goals down.
Darren Bent halved the arrears just before the break with a genuine poachers’ effort – giving the hosts a timely boost and providing a renewed belief among the supporters, who were now getting behind their team.
The second half saw the home side throw the kitchen sink at QPR, with the lively N’Zogbia netting a leveller just moments after Jamie Mackie had missed a guilt-edge chance for the flagging visitors.
A two goal lead surrendered but nevertheless a point gained given the nature of a difficult second period. Both sides will be relatively contented with the overall result with Rangers eyeing a maximum this weekend against Wolverhampton Wanderers.
Mark Hughes gave debuts to three signings with Nedum Onouha, Taye Taiwo and Djibril Cissé with Rob Hulse and Shaun Derry also coming in at the expense of Fitz Hall, Clint Hill, Ákos Buzsáky, Tommy Smith and Heidar Helguson.
Paddy Kenny started behind a back four of Luke Young, Anton Ferdinand, Onouha and Taiwo. Jamie Mackie, Joey Barton, Derry and Shaun Wright-Phillips made up the midfield four with Cissé partnering Rob Hulse up front.
Villa started with Shay Given behind the back four of Alan Hutton, Carlos Cuellar, Richard Dunne and Stephen Warnock, with the midfield four comprising of Stephen Ireland, Ciaran Clark, Stilyan Petrov and Charles N’Zogbia – Robbie Keane played just off Darren Bent.
KICK OFF: ASTON VILLA v QUEENS PARK RANGERS
The prospect of playing Queens Park Rangers has now shifted somewhat, given the change in style and management. Additions in the January transfer window had afforded Mark Hughes the luxury of fielding an experienced forward in Djibril Cissé.
The Frenchman sought to make an instant impact with his new club, displaying the sharp touch and intelligent running of a player in form – certainly not evident that had not featured regularly for former club Lazio.
The start was positive for QPR, even from the off as Joey Barton dummied Stilyan Petrov and virtually sent the eager Bulgarian out of the ground. The early offing was a tentative affair but Rangers rapidly discovered their growing impetus.
Villa were gifting possession to the visiting side in key areas and QPR were capitalising on this with aplomb. Barton and Shaun Derry were combative in the middle, besting their counterparts in Petrov and young Ciaran Clark.
After 11 minutes QPR took their desired advantage and it was a dream start for a lively debutante. Derry and wide-man Jamie Mackie played a neat exchange of passing before the ball fell to Shaun Wright-Phillips.
The lively winger tried his luck but rather typically scuffed it into the path of DJIBRIL CISSÉ and he dispatched with stunning ease – powering home with the outside of his right boot that fairly flew past a talented ‘keeper in Shay Given.
GOAL: ASTON VILLA 0-1 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
The hosts were shell-shocked as Rangers started to go for the throat. Some neat passing play was seeing Cissé play off the shoulder of what was appearing a static back four and testing Cuellar and Dunne for pace.
Villa were offering little in riposte, much to the chagrin of the home support who took exception to their side’s sluggish start. The only respite from Rangers’ threat was a speculative Darren Bent drive straight into the grateful arms of Paddy Kenny.
Cissé tried his luck with an acrobatic effort on the far post before Clark tried his luck from distance only to give Kenny the desirable task of plucking it from the air. Wayward crossing from Ireland and others brought angry overtures from an inpatient home support.
Moments later Rangers had doubled their lead, and if the hosts were unhappy before, their fury was more than evident now. Taye Taiwo sent in an expertly flighted delivery from the left only for STEPHEN WARNOCK to nod into an empty net completely unchallenged.
GOAL: ASTON VILLA 0-2 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Villa received a stern warning from their now vocal home support and promptly raised their game in the latter stages of the first half. Dunne’s powerful headed effort was well-fielded by Kenny – moments later Villa went one step closer.
Keane – playing off the front-man Bent – with a volley deflected off Petrov and cannoning back off the woodwork. Taiwo subsequently cleared away to safety but it was another let off for the flagging visiting side.
In truth they weren’t helped by official Mr Swarbrick – a peculiar referee whose set of decisions lie firmly with the hosts apart from arguably the most glaring – a Villa appeal for a spot-kick fell on deaf ears.
Bent went close with a header with just short of five minutes remaining of the half – glancing an Alan Hutton centre wide of Kenny’s left hand upright. The striker however would make Villa’s dominance pay dividends.
Ireland and Keane played a neat set of passes before Hutton centered for the onrushing DARREN BENT. The forward with aplomb – his 100th goal – as he coasted between his markers to round off a flowing move.
GOAL: ASTON VILLA 1-2 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
The Villa front-line were now in the mood and it was clear that Rangers needed half time in order to regroup. Their previous fruitful outlets were now being closed off as the likes of Wright-Phillips and Cissé were finding space hard to come by.
Villa ended the half the better side but QPR could point to a phenomenal start as the reason for their advantage in the fixture – a game that promised much for a lively second period as McLeish’s charges had a point to prove.
HALF TIME: ASTON VILLA 1-2 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
The bitter blow moments before half time seemed to have a hangover into the second period with Villa once again displaying their more attacking credentials – N’Zogbia at the heart of every flowing move for the hosts.
Previously maligned, the winger was now being featured on his favoured left-side and giving former Villa man Luke Young food for thought for the first time in the fixture at large – Rangers meanwhile were struggling to retain possession.
The refereeing hangover had lumbered into the second half with its intentions laid bare. Young booked for tangling legs with the aforementioned N’Zogbia, while a wild lunge on Wright-Phillips went unnoticed under the watchful eye of official Swarbrick.
Petrov was in the mood to try his luck from distance and only Kenny denied the Bulgarian from levelling matters at Villa Park. Following the break down of a set-piece a powerful drive by Petrov was well-fielded by Kenny.
It was one way traffic and in a bid to change this Hughes withdrew Hulse – looking invigorated following the new boss’ arrival – for midfielder Tommy Smith, another player enjoying a new lease of life following a change in management.
Shaun Derry was subject to vociferous penalty appeals from the home support after he was accused of handling in the area – in truth it was one in many speculative appeals by the hosts that went unanswered by an official that looked a little out of his depth.
Keane then stung the palms of Kenny with a low drive inside the area with all the Rangers could offer in riposte was a deflected cross by Taiwo from the left – falling kindly for Given at his near post.
It was clear that the hosts had the bit between their teeth with Young over-exposed on the right by the pace and trickery of N’Zogbia. The lively winger had free-run of his flank to help set up a wealth of opportunities and chances for the home side.
Barry Bannan came on for Clark and it proved to be a shrewd move from the Scot McLeish as Villa asserted more of a foothold in the encounter. Rangers attempted to counteract this by throwing on Hogan Ephraim at the expense of Shaun Derry.
It proved a change that would see Barton sit deeper and Wright-Phillips play alongside Ephraim in the middle – a bold move and ultimately one that would prove fruitless for a visiting side that was running low on energy and impetus.
Finally for Villa one of many chances made the visitors pay and it was the key man that ultimately levelled the scores. Ireland and Keane combined well down the right before the latter picked out CHARLES N’ZOGBIA.
The Frenchman had all the time in the world to pick his corner and volley home with considerable ease. Rangers undone but Villa proving to be the team on top – and they weren’t finished there.
GOAL: ASTON VILLA 2-2 QUEENS PARK RANGERS
The visibly tired Cissé was then withdrawn – cramping up given the lack of recent fixtures at his disposal. While earlier in the encounter he appeared sharp – it was highlighted how much the Premier League demands in terms of fitness.
His replacement was Federico Macheda, a player on loan from Manchester United with more than just a few points to prove as he struggles to find his way in England’s top flight – further epitomised by his somewhat naive showings in recent games.
N’Zogbia’s shot and Dunne’s header were all that Villa had in a latter period played out predominantly in Rangers’ half. Nevertheless it was enough for the visiting side who claimed a useful point despite their advantage in the encounter.
FINAL WHISTLE: ASTON VILLA 2-2 QUEENS PARK RANGERS