The focus at Loftus Road was on Harry Houdini’s great escape but it was Pragmatic Paul who will have taken greater satisfaction out of this draw.
A permanent moniker for the Villa boss might be found towards the end of the season, but a slightly different aspect to Paul Lambert’s management style was certainly evident against QPR.
The Scot’s commitment to play thrill-a-minute attacking football is all well and good, but Villa do not have quite enough Premier League points – and arguably not enough match-winners – to justify such a cavalier approach at the moment.
Lambert to his credit recognised this.
And clearly this was borne out with an altogether more measured display from his side on a crisp afternoon in west London.
After all, QPR are winless this season and it was essential that Villa did not leave the capital having got the Redknapp bandwagon rolling.
This was a performance that embodied Lambert the player, as much as the manager. Grit, determination and hard work when their backs were against the wall.
In the past many of these players would have crumbled under the tidal wave of pressure from QPR after the home side had equalised. Here we go again, the travelling Villa fans must have thought, in between taunting Redknapp.
At the back-end of September that very thing happened. Villa took the lead at St Mary’s against Southampton – but an onslaught from the home side and they went down 4-1. You would have found more backbone in a jellyfish on the south coast that day, but in Shepherds Bush Villa battled and ground out a result from a game that Lambert had clearly earmarked as one they must not lose.
Lambert made two changes to his starting line-up as Eric Lichaj came in for the injured Enda Stevens, while Chris Herd replaced Andreas Weimann.
With captain Ron Vlaar out injured, Villa lined up in a formation that varied throughout the contest from 3-5-2 to 5-3-2, and even ended up as 5-4-1.
Darren Bent was welcomed back – for this game at least – after Lambert handed the £24m striker a place on the substitutes’ bench ahead of Jordan Bowery.
The claret and blues seized the early initiative, though, and capitalised on QPR’s fragile confidence when they opened the scoring in the eighth minute, with a 25-yard screamer from Brett Holman.
Villa won the ball off QPR in the final third and Ashley Westwood played a diagonal ball into Holman, and the Aussie showed great technique to execute a fierce half-volley with his left foot, which QPR keeper Robert Green managed to get a hand on, but could not stop.
Villa’s lead lasted 10 minutes as Guzan’s net was breached by Jamie Mackie who managed to get on the end of a cross from Samba Diakite and plant a header into the bottom-left corner.
Christian Benteke had the ball in the net shortly after, only to see the assistant referee flag for offside.
The frantic pace did not lessen and QPR had two great chances to take the lead through winger Shaun Wright-Phillips. Esteban Granero dinked a beautiful ball over the top of the Villa defence in the 29th minute but Guzan was off his line in a flash to narrow the angle and block the Wright-Phillips shot.
Three minutes later Wright-Phillips burst down the right flank and drilled a low shot, which beat Guzan but rebounded back out off the post.
A long delay after a Stephane M’Bia neck injury slowed Rangers’ momentum before the break, but Redknapp’s side were the dominant team after the interval.
Wright-Phillips continued to pose the main threat to the Villa defence as he spun Nathan Baker and saw his shot deflected.
Ryan Nelsen brought a fine save out of Guzan, with a hooked shot from the resulting corner in the 54th minute, while the Villa keeper did brilliantly to parry a Ji-Sung Park shot shortly afterwards.
With Villa overrun, Lambert introduced Fabian Delph and Karim El Ahmadi to give protection in front of a back five.
Interestingly this was also the kind of substitution that Lambert’s predecessor Alex McLeish would have been castigated for during his tenure as Villa boss.
But it worked as the sting was taken out of QPR’s attacking threat. Another brilliant save from Guzan denied QPR in the 81st minute, when Taarabt’s corner found the head of Clint Hill, but the American keeper tipped it on to the crossbar.
Villa seemed content to collect a point and looked to hit on the counter, and with Reading and Southampton both having lost, this point took them two clear of the Premier League relegation zone.
Lambert had also, perhaps, made his point as well.
By Timothy Abraham