QUEENS Park Rangers plucked a deserved point at the death with Richard Dunne scrambling the ball into his own net in injury time.
After several chances went awry once more Rangers were dealt a timely blow when referee Mr Oliver was the solitary spotter of an innocuous spot-kick.
Trying to decipher why the incident was given it could only be assumed that Gabriel Agbonlahor was subject to a push – even though no visiting players or supporters appealed.
The industrious Barry Bannan put the spot-kick home with aplomb and when QPR were denied a penalty and saw Armand Traoré rightfully sent off, you could be forgiven for thinking the writing was on the wall.
Step forward Heidar Helguson – the substitute proved every bit the useful striker when he rolled his marker and slammed across the target for Dunne to net his ninth own goal of his career.
Villa were content to eat up the time and play on the break, and the poetic justice remains that this time added on was when ten-man QPR were able to preserve their good recent record.
Neil Warnock was forced into one change from the side that defeated Wolverhampton Wanderers handsomely last weekend – Fitz Hall coming in for the inured Danny Gabbidon.
Paddy Kenny started behind a back four of Luke Young, Hall, Anton Ferdinand and Armand Traoré – Alejandro Faurlín and Shaun Derry lined up in the middle.
Joey Barton started in advance flanked by Shaun Wright-Phillips and Adel Taarabt with Jay Bothroyd retaining his role as the lone front-man.
Villa made one change from the side the side that drew against Newcastle with the injured Darren Bent being replaced by midfielder Stephen Ireland.
Shay Given started behind a back four of Alan Hutton, James Collins, Richard Dunne and Stephen Warnock, while having to deploy a midfield five in the absence of Bent.
Ireland, Stiliyan Petrov and Fabian Delph started in the middle with Charles N’Zogbia and Barry Bannan starting wide of lone striker Gabriel Agbonlahor.
KICK OFF: QUEENS PARK RANGERS v ASTON VILLA
The excitement and sense of expectancy in the air outside the ground was notable as the new-look Queens Park Rangers hosted Aston Villa for the first time since they were relegated in 1996.
On that day Kevin Gallen was the man of the moment and a victory of similar calibre would have been most welcome against Alex McLeish’s organised outfit. The undefeated side hadn’t pulled up many trees, but were going about their business quietly and efficiently.
As the modern day QPR took to the field in front of a packed Loftus Road it helped to hammer home the message that Rangers were back and the new found glitterati in their line-up lit up the occasion in the early offing.
Shaun Wright-Phillips was proving as influential once again in the early stages, and his link-up play with Adel Taarabt saw Jay Bothroyd haring away down the left. His resultant effort deflected wide of Shay Given’s near post and away for a corner.
Despite the focus and attention notably on the new inclusions it was an old head – if you’ll excuse the expression – Taarabt, that lit the touch paper and was inches away from a remarkable opening goal.
Receiving the ball from Alejandro Faurlín, the Moroccan international spun his marker before unleashing a dipping, curling effort that clipped off the right-hand upright and away for a goal kick. A moment of genuine inspiration in a useful opening for the hosts.
Bothroyd was proving useful leading the line, playing off the central defensive pairing before showing good strength to bring others into play. There is little question that this part of his game is flourishing but where it matters most, Bothroyd appears to be suffering.
Highlighted against Newcastle a fortnight ago, Bothroyd latched onto a set-piece from Joey Barton, only to glance wide of the upright when well-placed. A disappointing effort that went awry but nevertheless more positive creativity from the hosts.
Wayward efforts from skipper Barton and the Argentine Faurlín were all that Rangers could supply in terms of cutting edge, as that important opener was once again proving elusive at Loftus Road.
Villa to their credit were looking organised, if a tad defensive given the quality of some of their players. The likes of N’Zogbia seemed more harnessed to his defensive duties as opposed to the freedom that players of his craft crave.
It suited the likes of Barry Bannan a lot better, as the box to box midfield man continued to impress, doubling up at the back before providing that extra thrust on the counter-attack. It was testament to the fitness levels of the young Scotsman.
For Rangers dominance and creativity, it was the visitors who nearly clinched the opener with a moment of genuine class. Anton Ferdinand was rather suckered into fouling Agbonlahor in what was a correct decision – a free-kick given just outside the area.
Petrov and Bannan stood over the ball, and the impressive latter bent an effort that saw Paddy Kenny perform heroics in the goal to tip the ball onto his left-hand upright and away. Fans stood to applaud a truly commendable save.
It was a half that belonged to Rangers on the balance of play, but a warning shot was once again fired as Villa showed why they are the established Premier League side going closest with their sole opportunity in the fixture.
HALF TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-0 ASTON VILLA
Villa were the first back on the field, and judging by the demeanour of boss McLeish on the touch-line, his half time team-talk was one to leave the ringing firmly in the ears of his charges.
It was borne out on the field with the visitors growing more influential in terms of possession and creativity. The industrious Bannan was key to this down the right with Fabian Delph seeing more of the ball in the attacking third.
It was disciplined, regimented, organised – whatever you wanted to use to describe it, but it had a little more substance going forward following what was no doubt an eventful half time team talk.
Bannan once again looked over the top for the onrushing Delph who managed to clip beyond the onrushing Kenny. Defence exposed and breached, the ball tricked agonisingly towards the target before drifting thankfully away.
Then came the game’s major talking point – Warnock’s teasing cross drifted across Agbonlahor and wide for a goal kick, which is exactly what the crowd had thought the referee had signalled for – given the lack of any appeal it stunned the Rangers supporters and players alike to see the referee lining up for a spot-kick.
His linesman seemingly wasn’t interested, not lining up in his place, while the realisation slowly crept in with the ambivalent travelling support who cheered when Bannan was seen grabbing the ball and putting it on the spot.
Barry Bannan lashed the spot kick just beyond the out-reached palm of Kenny, just away to his left, as Villa snatched a second half lead. The visiting supporters saw the fruit of their desired attacking endeavour come to the fore, as just a touch of attacking prowess saw them into the lead.
GOAL: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 0-1 ASTON VILLA
Neil Warnock was beside himself on the touchline – and while this conjures up amusing images for many opposition supporters, even the most fervent of the anti-Warnock brigade could feel an element of sympathy after such an innocuous decision.
The very fact that it was given more displayed an air of ambition on the part of the referee – seemingly wanting to see and make what was always going to prove a controversial call without the support of his arguably better placed assistant.
It seemed to stifle the hosts who saw Villa press their attacking endeavours for the first time, and only some useful defending from former Villa man Luke Young saw N’Zogbia slam an effort into the side netting.
To their credit, QPR never relented in terms of their endeavour and despite the growing scepticism in the ground they continued to try and create meaningful opportunities in spite of what was an extremely well-drilled Aston Villa side.
Wright-Phillips’ excellently placed effort saw Given parry away and not even the newly introduced DJ Campbell could sniff out an opportunity in the box. As the game grew onwards Villa were content to eat up the seconds.
The aforementioned Given was key in buying the seconds off a referee that was naive at best. He appeared to be being well marshalled by the games’ more experienced professionals while the seconds ticked away.
The sad thing proved to be that despite what was becoming an open encounter it was the official that continued to court the media attention, which some could argue was his overall goal from the off.
An Adel Taarabt corner worked its way to Derry on the edge of the area when his subsequent effort hit Alan Hutton flush on the arm. It was a pretty clear cut decision that Mr Oliver waved away right away – it was proving futile to change the mind of an official that was keen to court controversy.
Despite a string of Villa players dishing out free-kicks on the edge of the area, none received the formality of a second caution – justifiably however Armand Traoré’s lunge on substitute Marc Albrighton bought him an early shower.
The Senegalese international mistimed his challenge, but had consistency reigned there would have been several sent from the field on the day. It was understandably seeming like one of those days for the R’s.
Tommy Smith came from the bench and his burst and cross didn’t find a frustrated Campbell and the writing appeared to be on the wall. Step forward Heidar Helguson, the substitute broke free down the left and delivered a powerful grounded cross.
Campbell was in close attention as a string of deflections culminated in Richard Dunne seeing the ball come back off his outstretched leg and nestle into the net beyond the forlorn Given.
GOAL: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-1 ASTON VILLA
It took the roof off Loftus Road as the ground rose to celebrate a third minute injury time equaliser. It was a sickener for Villa who had their organisation undone in a moment of sheer madness.
The time allowed for various instances of game-breaking by the visiting side proved to be a decisive factor, as the injury time strike proved poetic justice for Rangers who had to endure similar tactics against Newcastle.
The R’s retained the ball well in the final few moments before being able to celebrate what was unquestionably a point gained, while James Collins epitomised the Villa feeling by collapsing to the floor.
Turning what would have been a tough defeat to swallow into a point gained will help garner an already buoyant team spirit – no question that despite the talking points, it was well deserved for the hosts.
FULL TIME: QUEENS PARK RANGERS 1-1 ASTON VILLA
QUEENS PARK RANGERS
Paddy Kenny, Shaun Derry (Heidar Helguson 79), Fitz Hall, Adel Taarabt, Jay Bothroyd (DJ Campbell 66), Alejandro Faurlin, Armand Traore, Joey Barton, Luke Young, Shaun Wright-Phillips (Tommy Smith 87), Anton Ferdinand.
Shay Given, Alan Hutton, Stephen Warnock, Richard Dunne, James Collins, Stephen Ireland, Charles N’Zogbia (Andreas Weimann 86), Gabriel Agbonlahor, Fabian Delph, Stiliyan Petrov, Barry Bannan (Marc Albrighton 72).